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Tales from the Palace of the Fairy King

Daniel Z. Lieberman. CreateSpace, $8.99 paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-4996-6557-4

First-time author Lieberman draws on classic fairy-tale conventions while infusing them with modern sensibilities in seven well-told and entertaining original stories. Many traditional elements are present—star-crossed lovers, stalwart peasants, beautiful princesses, terrifying monsters, and enchanted artifacts—and most of the stories result in some sort of happily ever after. However, Lieberman also throws in a few twists that subvert expectations—good deeds are rewarded, but noble hearts don’t always win out. One recurring theme has protagonists dying for an unrealized love, only to find an unexpected reward. Absentee and neglectful parental figures make several appearances (the self-involved king and queen in “The Princess and the Goatherd,” fed up by their newborn daughter’s crying, leave her at the castle and take a long vacation), a seeming statement about modern consumption and distraction. While there are some oddities (the very brief “The Little Cloud” reads like a fable, “The Dark Forest” like a short middle-grade fantasy), Lieberman generally achieves the goal of creating stories that feel like lesser-known tales that have slipped through the cracks over the years. Ages 11–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Yellow Balloon

Tiffany Papageorge, illus. by Erwin Madrid. Minoan Moon (www.myyellowballoon.com), $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-9903370-0-3

Papageorge sets her nostalgic debut in an unspecified period in the early 20th century, imagining a time when rocking horses, tire swings, and dominoes were all the entertainment a boy might need. The boy in this case is named Joey, and his eyes gleam as he explores a carnival with his parents, receiving a yellow balloon from a “ripe old man” selling them. Joey and his balloon are inseparable, but the relationship is short-lived: playing in the sandbox, “somehow, some way, it slipped off his wrist.” In the story’s most effective moment, readers turn the book sideways, and a gatefold spread opens to emphasize the gulf of sky between Joey and the balloon. Papageorge and Madrid give substantial weight and attention to Joey’s emotional life, but the story’s impact is weakened by purple prose (“The cool air wrapped around him while the dark clouds of spring hung like huge sacks of treasured rain”) and artwork that, while polished, manipulatively pulls on heartstrings (Joey’s world literally turns gray after the balloon disappears). Rather than sharing Joey’s sorrow, readers may just feel sorry for him. Ages 4–8. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Rise and Fall of Homo Economicus: The Myth of the Rational Human and the Chaotic Reality

Yannis Papadogiannis, trans. from the Greek by Nick Roussos. CreateSpace, $17.85 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-4996-4667-2

This debut from Greek journalist Papadogiannis consists of a thoughtful but overly familiar consideration of the limited ability of economists to forecast the financial future. He points out that economics is considered a science meant to explain a rational system; the problem is that human beings are not rational and do not behave in a way that science can predict. The result: time and again, economics has failed us. Most of the book is an exhaustive illustration of this thesis, tracing the history of the “dismal science” from the Crusades through the Industrial Revolution and up to the present. The pace picks up during a discussion of financial crises that takes in tulip mania in the Netherlands in the 17th century, the Great Depression, and finally the 2007 crisis. Papadogiannis looks to address the larger question: did we, economists and civilians alike, trust so much in economics’ infallibility that we allowed it to contribute to the Great Recession? Though this is a worthy effort, all of the ideas it broaches have been raised elsewhere and earlier. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot’s Daughter

Rebecca Wallick. Maian Meadows, $24.95 trade paper (354p) ISBN 978-0-9913648-0-0

In this invigorating recollection of an era when airplane travel was new and glamorous, and test pilots were daredevils and role models, Wallick explores her father’s career as a test pilot for Boeing stretching from the ’40s well into the ’80s. She recounts her own life and experiences as a family member, usually on the periphery of the action and sometimes along for the actual ride. Likewise, she includes the experiences, stories, and escapades of her father’s colleagues to paint a larger picture of the industry and its evolution. From the early 707, Boeing’s first commercial jet airliner, to the 747, from military airplanes to civilian aircraft, Wallick’s father, former U.S. Navy aviator Lew Wallick, flies them all, often risking life and limb, and the author brings those stories to life. She writes of pilots’ playful tendencies to roll their craft in midair—no easy task with commercial jets—and of Howard Hughes’s eccentric, unpredictable participation. For anyone interested in this period or the faded mystique of the early jet age, it’s a great resource. However, Wallick writes from the odd perspective of an outsider blessed with insider knowledge, dispensing vast amounts of technical jargon and model numbers in a dry manner, occasionally turning a delightful history into something more narrow and tedious. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Vineyard We Knew: A Recollection of Summers on Martha’s Vineyard

Kevin Parham. Pria Publishing, $15.95 trade paper (318p) ISBN 978-0-9849485-0-5

Supported by 33 photographs, Parham, a professional musician, warmly describes the idyllic African-American childhood summers spent with six cousins on Martha’s Vineyard, before it became a vacation spot for the rich and powerful. The memoir is a tribute to Parham’s grandmother, Carrie White, the family’s strong-willed matriarch, who had brought her brood to the picturesque island off Massachusetts since the 1930s, setting up seasonal residence in an old two-bedroom house. Parham details the spirited interaction between his cousins while painting a candid portrait of his hard-working mother and ultra-hip stepfather. His lyrical descriptions of the Vineyard—with its bicycling, boats, fishing, clamming, and crabbing—and anecdotes of youthful exuberance are peppered with classic tunes, dancing, early love, cheap wine, and house parties. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rally Caps, Rain Delays, and Racing Sausages: A Baseball Fan’s Quest to See the Game from a Seat in Every Ballpark

Eric S. Kabakoff. Eric S. Kabakoff, $17.99 (268p) ISBN 978-0-98954720-8

A baseball devotee since childhood, first-time author Kabakoff dissects the soul of our national pastime, going beyond Detroit’s rally caps, Miami’s rain delays, and Milwaukee’s racing sausages to decipher the chemistry between the fans and their favorite teams, the local food, and the home stadiums. His accounts of the games of all 30 professional teams are very different from the lofty commentaries of TV talking heads; they are more like the chatter of a regular Joe, and convey a deep love of the sport and its traditions. Kabakoff decides to visit every major league ballpark, from August 2005 to September 2011, comparing teams and fans. Baseball fans will delight in Kabakoff’s entertaining, heartfelt observations on the sport, providing a view from the stands with a hot dog in one hand and a program in the other. (Booklife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wielding Crimson

D.M. Enslin. D.M. Enslin, $2.99 e-book (288p) ASIN B00KO97JYW

Enslin’s debut, an ambitious urban fantasy with hints of romance, is marred by a lackluster, slow-moving plot. Wielders are people gifted with the power to control fundamental aspects of reality such as fire or distance. The sadistic Greek flesh-wielder Orestes Angelou works as an assassin for the mysterious Sect. Induna, a member of the Ndebele tribe of Zimbabwe, begins a long journey based on a series of visions. Layla Russo, a young human celebrity chafing at her lack of privacy, enjoys a vacation with friends that leads to an unconvincing romance with Greek light-wielder Philippos Doukas. The book is riddled with errors (such as “Senior” for “Señor”) that make it difficult to read. All the elements of a great story are here—new love, dangerous intrigue, fanciful powers—but they never come together, and the overly dramatic finale is completely unsatisfying. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Smile Again, Jenny Lee

Carlo Caldana. CreateSpace, $10 trade paper (230p) ISBN 978-1-492102-55-7

With a blow to the knee, a thug ended the professional career of tennis star Jenny Lee, the protagonist of this middling suspense yarn set in San Francisco. Broke and despairing, Jenny has little to hope for until she’s approached by a lawyer, Charles Landale, who’s looking for her estranged father, Howard Dancy. Landale states that he needs to resolve some important legal matters with Howard, and Jenny guesses that it involves some money that she could eventually inherit. She soon realizes that Landale has not been straight with her about who he is, or why he’s seeking her parent. Jenny proves a decent amateur sleuth as she tries to learn her father’s whereabouts, though she benefits from an unlikely string of good luck. Caldana (The Wallenstein Testament) offers solid prose that compensates only in part for a meandering plot and a less than satisfying resolution. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Least Wanted

Debbi Mack. Renegade, $3.99 e-book (254p) ISBN 978-0-9829-5081-4

Mack’s unconvincing second Sam McRae mystery (after Identity Crisis) finds the Maryland lawyer fighting for two very different clients. Belligerent Shanae Jackson, who has drug problems, hires McRae to defend her 13-year-old daughter, Tina, who broke an old woman’s arm in an attempted purse-snatching. McRae must deal with a bright but uncooperative Tina as well as Rodney Fisher, the girl’s mostly absent and neglectful father. McRae is also assisting in the legal defense of Brad Higgins, who has been accused of embezzlement by his employer, Kozmik Games. As McRae digs into that case, she suspects someone set Higgins up. Meanwhile, Tina risks going to prison after the prosecutor in her case moves to have her tried as an adult. A clue provides an unexpected link between Higgins’s problem and Tina’s predicament. Unlicensed, unorthodox investigator Darius Wilson Jr. provides much-needed help as the twin investigations improbably morph into one deadly situation. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Junior Arsonists Club

Craig Tollifson. Ozgood Books, $0.99 e-book (67p) ASIN B00LXTV2GS

“Zhanna wanted to burn the couch. I watched the TV. She watched the couch. It was like that every night.” So begins Tollifson’s (Mother) hilarious dark comedy about a 12-year-old girl hell-bent on setting the living room seating aflame and the woman who’s become her unwilling sentinel. Zhanna, adopted at age nine from a Russian orphanage, has never bonded with Marilyn, and with a glibly unconcerned father/husband away from home more often than not, the two have established an uneasy détente, aided by night vision cameras, motion sensor alarms, and a wholly inept and inappropriate therapist who can’t seem to grasp the gravity of Marilyn’s situation: “I felt heat coming from the door and worried if the window in Dr. Gary’s office would open, and if we could safely get out,” Marilyn narrates. “We were two floors up and I had no memory of whether or not the building had a fire escape.... My throat was closing. These could be the last few moments of my life.” An arresting narrative from beginning to end, Tollifson’s short novel introduces a cast of characters you’ll remember for some time. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/10/2014 | Details & Permalink

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