A Tight Grip: A Novel About Golf, Love Affairs, and Women of a Certain Age

Kay Rae Chomic. She Writes Press, $16.95, paper (225p) ISBN 978-1-938314-76-6

When 46-year-old local golf celebrity Jane “Par” Parker is arrested by Deputy Dee Dee Virgil for driving under the influence, the incident becomes front-page news. And while Par is still determined to win an upcoming golf tournament, she finds herself forced to confront her marriage to alcoholic Nick, the anniversary of her father’s murder, and herself. Chomic’s novel may appeal to fans of the genre, but it suffers from an unlikable protagonist. Additionally, a lack of tension, predictable plotting, and underdeveloped characters will prevent many readers from ever fully engaging with Par and her struggle.

Due Unto: Denmark Vesey’s Story

K.F. Jones. Two Harbors Press, $24.95 paper (396p) ISBN 978-1-62652-732-4

Denmark Vesey is known to history as the leader of an attempted slave revolt in Charleston, S.C., in 1822. This novel from Jones depicts Vesey’s life: his youth, his enslavement, his emancipation, and his re-enslavement. Later, while in Charleston, in 1799, Vesey won a lottery prize that allowed him to buy his freedom, though he was later arrested and executed for planning the slave revolt. Jones creates a plausible depiction of Vesey’s life and struggle, as well as ably rendering the tragedy and indignation of slave life. While the addition of a love story slows the novel’s pace and is somewhat distracting from the central narrative, fans of historical fiction will find Vesey’s story fascinating and well told.

Far Away, I Land

Viki Alles-Crouch. Inkwater Press, $21.95 paper (370p) ISBN 978-1-62901-025-0

This novel follows the lives of a young Hungarian girl named Erzsike during World War II; a Sri Lankan boy named Prema, who is abused by his father; and Robert Cross, a British soldier haunted by war memories. Over the course of the book—which in its structure is somewhat reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas—the many story lines and lives eventually converge. While Alles-Crouch excels at description—those of the Sri Lankan setting are particularly well rendered—the novel’s pacing is uneven and some of its characters are too broadly drawn. Readers will likely be less curious about how the stories connect and more interested in getting a richer portrayal of the main characters.

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.

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.

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.

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—his own—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.

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.

The Killer App: Would You Die to Be Young Again

John Writher., $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.

The Rule of Equity

Jonathan Neville., $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.

★ 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 rehired 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.

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.

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.


Catalyst: How Confidence Reacts with Our Strengths to Shape What We Achieve and Who We Become

Steven Smith and David Marcum. Veracity, $9.99 e-book (110p) ISBN 978-0-9915680-0-0

In Smith and Marcum’s fascinating study of what constitutes true confidence—a “catalyst” of human achievement—the authors examine research on character strengths, expose how strengths can become weaknesses or “counterfeits,” and offer an exploration of how both strengths and weaknesses might play out in readers’ lives. The authors make thoughtful, well-argued points about which traits come from places of strength and which come from a places of weakness and overcompensation. Readers will certainly recognize some of the character traits discussed here in themselves. And while the authors could have provided more tools to help readers dissect strength and weaknesses in their own lives, this is an engaging study that will be useful to most people.

Midlife Cabernet: Life, Love & Laughter After Fifty

Elaine Ambrose. Mill Park Publishing, $12 paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-9883980-7-8 Ambrose faces the frights, frustrations, and fancies of aging in this refreshingly honest and laugh-out-loud funny survival guide for middle-aged women. Infusing her prose with sarcastic dark humor, the author offers homespun recommendations on dating and sex, raising adult children, and the physical effects of aging—all with brazen cheer. From stressful divorces and facing Christmas alone to disastrous sexual misadventures nothing is sacred or off limits. The author’s prose is lively and entertaining, with statements like “one of the many advantages of living in the last third of life is that I don’t accept crap from anyone.” Sure to be irritated and edified, women over 40 will find a lot to like here.

★ My Soul Is Among Lions: Pages from the Breast Cancer Archives

Ellen Leopold. Valley Green Press, $9, paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-9898737-0-3

In this important collection of articles and essays, righteous outrage, education, and the redeeming power of love inform powerful narratives of women battling breast cancer. Leopold’s book documents not only the fear and pain of the disease but also the economic, political, and gender conflicts women have faced seeking proper treatment. Among the many highlights is Katharine Lee Bates’s poignant account of the death of her life partner, Katharine Coman. In “Shopping For The Cure,” profit-induced charities are exposed, while the public cheerfully buys into corporate interests in “The Tyranny of Cheerfulness,” exchanging activism for “cause marketing.” Urging readers to be advocates of change, this collection exposes a culture almost as destructive as the disease that it unwittingly accommodates.

The Ambivalent Memoirist: Obsessions Digressions Epiphanies

Sandra Hurtes. CreateSpace, $12.95, paper (217p) ISBN 978-1-4923-5972-2

Hurtes offers up a scathingly honest memoir full of compassion and wit that infuses ordinary events with intimacy and intensity. A divorce and overbearing parents complicate Hurtes’s attempts to reinvent herself in Brooklyn Heights. Teaching college English courses and preparing her first essay collection, she must address her own pain and doubts, as well as her parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. Hurtes makes her raw, intimate struggles relevant to anyone who has loved, lost, and grappled with indecision and missed chances. Writing as art and psychological salvation is at the heart of this book, taking “readers deep below the surface” of words toward personal vindication.

The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival in the Caribbean

Rita M. Gardner, illus. by Mike Morgenfield. She Writes Press, $16.95 paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-63152-901-6

Their father claims they are in paradise, but shadows fall over Eden for an American family forced to settle in a beautiful but volatile and poverty-stricken Dominican Republic ruled by dictator Rafael Trujillo. In this poignant, jarring memoir and coming-of-age story, Gardner recounts the pain, sacrifices, secrets, and infrequent joys of a dysfunctional family heading towards catastrophe. Throughout, storms serve as rich metaphors for pain, tragedy, and isolation, while natural beauty and family love clash with violent personalities and cruelty. Gardner has written a rich, haunting book that vividly captures her childhood and makes everyday turmoil vital through precise and honest prose.

Children’s Fiction

Kell, the Alien

Darcy Pattison, illus. by Rich Davis. Mims House, $10.99 paper (116p) ISBN 978-1-62944-021-7

After Kell and his alien parents become stranded on Earth, Kell is forced to enroll as a third-grade student and adjust to life on this planet. (Conveniently, they look just like humans and speak English perfectly well, though they do shed their skin at awkward times.) When Kell’s classmate and neighbor Bree tells him that she wants an alien-themed party for her ninth birthday, Kell volunteers his family’s services. Understanding humans (especially “Earthling girls”) is tricky for Kell, and he’s also trying to avoid the school principal, Mrs. Lynx, who is obsessed with finding aliens. Despite setbacks, the party is a success, launching an event-planning business for Kell’s family’s and setting the stage for later books in Aliens, Inc. series from author/publisher Pattison (Wisdom, the Midway Albatross). Kell’s observations of Earth and details about life on planet Bix are amusing, and Davis’s wiry b&w line art further enlivens an engaging, accessible story. Kell’s struggles to fit in will resonate just fine with Earth’s readers. Simultaneously available: Kell and the Horse Apple Parade and Kell and the Giants. Ages 7–10.