Itsy Bitsy SpiderAuthor:
313 pages The Rundown
In order for an action-thriller to work, it must always be in motion. I can never feel comfortable, in control, or safe. I have to care about the hero. The bad guy has to be bad
. There needs to be a love interest and she has to be pretty and nice and occasionally vulnerable. I mean, really, if she isn’t vulnerable why the heck do we need a hero? If one’s adrenaline doesn’t spike at least once per chapter, the book doesn’t earn a five star review. If I don’t get an urge to put on 3-D glasses and eat some popcorn while I’m reading it, it doesn’t get a five star review. Bottom line, if its not fun, why bother? These were my criteria for evaluating Itsy Bitsy Spider
by debut author Kimberly Shursen.
Matt Christenson is a young, handsome investigative reporter for the Boston Globe. He’s assigned to track down a missing lawyer with connections to Mayor Jack McCallin. Instead, Matt stumbles upon Claire, the mayor’s beautiful daughter, and her little girl, Lizzie. With the help of a few trusted friends Matt discovers Claire and Lizzie are caught in a tangled web of lies originating from the mayor himself. This bloody web stretches from one end of Boston to the other, and now it’s trapped Matt. Claire holds a secret so devastating the mayor will do anything to silence her. The mayor commands Boston’s cops, underworld, and media. There is nowhere to hide as the web tightens around Matt, Claire and Lizzie. Matt becomes part of the story and finds himself falling for Claire, even though it might cost him his life. Itsy
is always in motion. I can think of only two chapters where it even thinks about slowing down. The action takes place across the City of Boston, where Matt and his team find themselves imperiled by the mayor’s powerful allies. I always felt a little on edge, because I knew the characters were never safe. Like them, I never knew who to trust and expected betrayal at every turn. I cringed a few times worrying about Lizzie, Claire’s little girl. The easy-going hero, Matt Christenson, is also very likable. I can see a series of books with him as the hero and can easily see Itsy Bitsy Spider
being turned into a screen play.
Never pretentious and always entertaining, Itsy Bitsy Spider
is a state-of-the-art action thriller. Enjoyably easy to read, I had a strong urge for popcorn the whole time I read it. Now, where are my 3-D glasses?
Five out of Five Stars.
Kimberly Shursen Links: Itsy Bitsy Spider on Amazon
Kimberly Shursen’s Website
Kimberly Shursen on Facebook
, and LinkedIn
Editor’s Note: A UBR alumni and founding member, Kimberly Shursen departed
our staff a year ago to pursue new opportunities. We told her when she published
her first novel, we would be honored to review it, but she wouldn’t receive any
special favors or consideration. This reviewer bought this book and did not
receive a free copy.
REVIEWER: Candi Sary
GENRE: Southern Fiction / Literary Fiction
AUDIENCE: Adult /Young Adult
EDITOR: Diana J. Ewing
PUBLISHER: Self-published through BookBaby
Jason Lee Rainey lives in Hadlee, Mississippi in the 70s and 80s. He knows nothing about his deceased father until his first day of school when his mother tells the boy that his father was a hero. As the novel progresses, the story of his hero father slowly unfolds and coincides with Jason Lee’s coming-of-age struggles to grow into a worthy son.
Jason Lee’s father was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and Jason Lee himself comes to understand the ugly truths of racism through his friendship with a black boy named Samson Johnson. He’s told at school that the interracial friendship isn’t right, but his mother, Cassie, assures him, “It’s a tough thing to do in these parts, but you be friends with anyone you want, Jason Lee. Don’t let nobody tell you different, you hear?”
The tragedy of losing his father in the Vietnam War is not only a great burden on the boy, but also on Cassie. Despite her strength in raising Jason Lee on her own, she never completely mourns the loss.The two are reminded of the war daily as Cassie’s twin brother, Mooks, a traumatized Vietnam vet, lives with them. When Cassie finally breaks down, Jason Lee is faced with yet another hardship. And it certainly is not his last. Challenges continue to come at him in the small, racist town, while Jason Lee struggles to respond in ways that would make his father proud. The Clock of Life
by Nancy Klann-Moren is one of those books where everything about it feels right. The novel unfolds with the ease of good old-fashioned storytelling. It’s a pleasure spending time with Southern talkin’ Jason Lee. Opening the book is like sitting down on the front porch with this hopeful kid from a less than hopeful town, and listening to him try to make sense of life. His musings are raw and his interactions with other characters are refreshingly honest. Nothing feels forced—even the setting comes to life organically through the boy’s casual observations.
While its genuine language and tone make it an enjoyable read, it’s the story’s depth that makes the novel so memorable. Nancy Klann-Moren takes an intimate look at the impact the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War had on one small family. She shows how these two chapters in our history deeply changed individuals. After reading his father’s journal, Jason Lee says, “And the whole idea of doing right for others, just because it’s right, consumed me.” This revelation, in the mind of one young Southern boy, gives an up-close look at how momentous change in a country takes place one person at a time.
Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird
, The Clock of Life
is a thoughtfully told, powerful story.
THE LINKSBuy it on AmazonBarnes & Nobel NookBarnes & Nobel Print
THE REVIEWERCandi Sary, author of Black Crow White Lie, has made the finals in several writing competitions, including the William Faulkner William Wisdom Writing Competition and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in coastal Southern California with her husband (while her 2 kids are off at college), and can often be found surfing the waters of Newport Beach. You can find her at www.candisary.com
Author: Candy Korman
Genre: Gothic Horror (Short Story)
Publisher: Lymehouse Productions
Length: 65 Pages
Something is amiss at the Usher Institute for the Study of
Criminal Psychopathology. It seems the prominent families who send their criminally insane brethren for safekeeping have a bone to pick with the head psychiatrist. Or do they? The doctor is the sole narrative voice as he tells the story of the institute’s checkered past to an unspeaking journalist. Within the first few pages, the doctor assures his visitor that he is not paranoid, which of course invites the reader to look for clues to unlock the source of the unreliable narrator’s suspicions.
The doctor proceeds to make his case by informing his visitor, “Money blunts the instruments of law—and The Usher houses the evidence.” What ensues is a refreshing take on modernizing various aspects of some Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories for today’s readers. The dark secrets of some of the city’s most powerful families are skillfully rendered: a son entombs an enemy in an airtight wine cellar, a mother kills others so their life force can keep her daughter alive, as well as the killer who keeps an artsy photo album of all his victims.
Along the way, the story of the cuckolded sea captain who built the house transpires, as does the tragic nature of the doctor’s doomed love affair when he confesses, “That is the worst fate a healer can face—the incurable nature of some diseases.” All of which begs the question of what exactly is ailing the good doctor? It’s quite delightful to watch his paranoia grow and reach its inevitable conclusion.
When all is said and done, and the doctor has cried, “I am your judge and jury. I am your executioner, too. Watch as the pendulum swings closer and closer to you,” the reader will indeed ponder the thin line that separates reality from fantasy. After all, as the end of the story reminds us,“All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.”
THE RECOMMENDATION Poed
is the right book for anyone who enjoys skillfully-crafted and suspenseful prose. The novella stands on its own merits, but anyone who is even slightly acquainted with the works of Edgar Allan Poe will no doubt be fascinated and in awe of what Candy Korman has managed to achieve. 5/5 Stars.
on Amazon Candy’s Monsters Blog
Candy’s Monsters on Facebook
, GoodreadsCandy Korman Author Page on Amazon
THE REVIEWERJeri Walker-Bickett is an author, editor, and teacher. Her short story collection, Such is Life, is now available. Lost Girl Road, forthcoming, is a ghost story of psychological suspense set in the woods of northwest Montana. Despite growing up in the rough Idaho mining town of Wallace, she earned multiple writing degrees, and became a devoted English teacher who has since left the classroom to pursue writing and editing full time. Food and travel continually inspire her creativity. She currently lives in North Carolina with her wonderful husband and their demanding pets. You can connect with Jeri’s social networks via her twisted book blog, What do I know? located at JeriWB.com She also invites you to browse the selections on her Amazon Author Central page.
TITLE: Merciful Flush
AUTHOR: Lance Manion
In the vein of Dave Berry and Robert Fulghram, Merciful Flush is a compilation of ramblings that belongs beside the toilet. Be warned, though. Lance Manion is not as family friendly as his funnyman literary counterparts. Without hesitation, he crosses the line from downright crass to just plain wrong.
Lance Manion mixes hilarious first-person stories with a melee of facts, creative fiction and general musings. He runs the gamut between laugh-out-loud funny, uncomfortably awkward and slapstick silly. By the time you finish Merciful Flush, you will know where (and how) Lance pees in a urinal, how he feels about ugly people, and the average flow rate of Lake Itasca.
With some weeding and tightening, Merciful Flush would be a bathroom reader to keep you on the john long after you’re done with business. The problem is, the book spawned from a line of blogs, and reads as such. Unedited, unorganized and in desperate need of a professional eye, Merciful Flush fell short of its potential.
If you want to get a dose of Manion humor, check out Lance’s blog at www.lancemanion.com
. Once there, if you find yourself lingering or laughing out loud, you might enjoy having Merciful Flush on your bathroom bookshelf. But be sure to keep it out of the reach of children.
THE LINKSBuy it on AmazonLance Manion's blog
Welcome to the end of the world as seen through the eyes of William Hill. William is just your average 40 something divorcee, a man who creates beautiful works of art in the form of wind chimes and basically minds his own business. Speaking in the first person, William paints a vivid portrait of how it all began and why he finally decided to make the trip to the island.The Island Book, One Part, One (Fallen Earth)
spends a lot of time giving us the background and building the central character. There is not a lot of action, but that doesn’t mean you will get bored. I found William to be an interesting character, someone I could call a friend in real life. William did his time in the corporate world, wearing a suit and tie to please his wife. When the marriage finally breathed its last breath, he took a look around and found that he was not where he wanted to be. So he did something about it. He remade his life into the image of his dreams, dreams he put on hold during the course of his marriage. I found myself drawn into the dream, wishing I hear the beautiful music his hands and the wind create (I have always wanted to build wind chimes myself!).
I was also able to clearly identify with William’s relationship with his late father and the way he came to appreciate the gifts his father gave him only in hindsight. As the daughter of a difficult man, I can relate. So often in our youth we resent our parents, only to look back through the eyes of experience and see how much they gave us. This is what Williams describes for us in realistic detail. A lot of time is spent on building this relationship for the reader, a relationship with a man who cannot be an active character in the story. Or can he? I am intrigued by this, how a man long dead can impact the survival of his son when the world and all its modern conveniences disappear.
Can I be honest here? I chose this book for my first review because it wasn’t too long. Sure, the story seemed like one I would enjoy, but my first criteria was not to get into something I wouldn’t have time to finish and then write up. Let me tell you, it was hard to stop at Book One. I wanted to keep going, to see what would happen next. The action really starts to show some promise in the final few chapters and I found myself downloading Parts 2-4 and the Final Chapters before I even considered writing this review. I managed to stop myself from going more than a page or two into Part 2, but I am itching to get back into Williams world.
I give The Island
four out of five stars.This week’s guest writer, Tamara Tipton, is what we term here at UBR as a“power reader.” If she isn’t reading, listening to an audiobook, or watching TV (books with moving pictures!) she is likely unconscious. She has 2 blogs, writes reviews of the hit show Castle for fanbolt.com, and is a contributing author for The Falling Skies Blog. When not looking for the next great novel or blogging she’s a certified pharmacy technician, a wife, and the mommy and chief litter box cleaner to a herd of furry felines.
TITLE: Uno Kudo: Naked
GENRE: Anthology, feminist literature
THE RUNDOWNUno Kudo
is an anthology on its second year, a compilation of art and literature from all walks of life, with one common theme. The title, Naked
, says it all. Risqe, heart-stopping, honest, but not always beautiful, each story and picture has some element of nakedness about it. The images and words within Naked
are sometimes abstract and other times powerfully blunt.
The literature in Uno Kudo: Naked
ranges from poetry to short stories, and the quality of writing ranges from amateur to practiced prose. With a slightly feminist bent, most of the content embraces sexual expression, fear, or awakening. But other times, the theme of emotional nakedness takes place of the physical. With stories about prostitutes, suicide and loneliness, Uno Kudo isn’t the most uplifting collection of stories, but it is definitely thought-provoking.Naked
is, without a doubt, a coffee-table book. With large, striking images, professional-grade paintings and well-placed prose and poetry, the book is a piece of art in and of itself. And in that respect, the publication fell short. In order to truly allow Naked
to shine, the editors needed to weed out some of the less professional contributions and the publishers needed to spend more time producing a quality piece of art. The cover needed to be hard-back, the binding spiral-bound, and the pages needed to be printed professionally in order to allow the art within to truly shine.
If you’re looking for a risqué coffee-table book that will entertain and possibly even shock your visiting guests, Uno Kudo
is worth checking out. But you might want to skip Naked
and wait until they release their next anthology. There were some gems within Uno Kudo: Naked
, but overall the production needed a revamp, with more practiced authors and artists, and a professional printing process.
While some of the individual images and stories in Uno Kudo would have earned a higher rating, the overall production only earns 3 out of 4 stars.
You can find Uno Kudo: Naked
on Amazon here
, Facebook here
and the blog here.
Title: Pale Queen’s Courtyard
Author: Marcin Wrona
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Length: 320 pages
Historical fantasy’s mission is to bring a specific period in human history to life through myth and legend. Successfully writing historical fantasy is tough for several reasons. Just like straight-up historical fiction, the historical fantasy author must operate within the confines of actual history. However, the historical fantasy writer must also delve deeply into the myths, legends and folklore of that period; simultaneously keeping facts straight while letting the imagination soar into the realm of speculative fiction. Combining fact and myth in an entertaining format is a tall order, and it's easy for an historical fantasy writer to get lost along the way. In Pale Queen’s Courtyard
, author Marcin Wrona has no such trouble and delivers a tale to satisfy any fantasy reader.
Leonine is a handsome thief with a tragic past and a very special talent – magic, a gift punishable by death in Wrona’s version of ancient Mesopotamia.
When tasked by a wicked sorceress, leader of a forbidden cult, to steal a magical object he sets off a chain of events that sweeps him into a deadly chase. He must elude a band of zealous soldiers led by a ruthless priest-warrior called The Hound. Things get complicated when Leonine rescues a little girl also hunted by The Hound. He soon discovers she possesses an untamed magic so powerful it endangers herself and all around her. Leonine, who for so long has suppressed all feelings of love, begins to think of this girl as a daughter. Now his old employer, the wicked sorceress, wants the girl’s power as her own. If he keeps the little girl, the Hound will surely find them. If he abandons the child to the sorceress, she’s doomed. Leonine is running out of places to hide, from both his enemies and his own past.
Wrona’s debut novel is well written and edited. His prose is excellent and the plot moves quickly and smoothly. Pale Queen’s
characters are fully fleshed and memorable. My only issue with Pale Queen’s Courtyard
is the avalanche of historical and mythological names that immediately hits the reader. I found it difficult at first to keep track of places and characters. I had to do a lot of jumping around to re-look up the formidable host of unfamiliar proper nouns. This creates an initial barrier which may discourage less persistent readers. A map would have helped, too. Don’t fear, because with just a little patience the characters and plot quickly gel and carry the reader deep into the book.
While this initial noun barrier was sufficient to nudge Pale Queen
out of my top picks, it shouldn’t discourage fantasy fans from reading this book. Pale Queen’s Courtyard
is a worthy novel, especially for lovers of historical fantasy. Suitable for early teens and up, Pale Queen’s Courtyard scores 89 out of 99 cents.
99 Cents Worth of Marcin Wrona Links:Marcin Wrona’s BlogMarcin Wrona on TwitterPale Queen’s Courtyard on Amazon
TITLE: The Map of Lost Memories AUTHOR:
Kim Fay GENRE:
Ballantine Books (hardcover August 2012, paperback June 2013)LENGTH :
336 pages REVIEWER:
Yvonee LiebleinTHE RUNDOWNThe Map of Lost Memories
takes the reader on an expedition – back in time to 1925, across the world -- from Seattle to Shanghai to the Cambodian jungles – and on a journey of personal discovery. Author Kim Fay masterfully captures the texture of time and place in this riveting international treasure hunt led by Irene Blum, an American on a quest to find copper scrolls that contain the lost history of Khmer, an ancient Cambodian civilization.
After Irene is passed over for the prestigious museum curator job she felt she’d earned and was born to do, she takes the rare map she’s been given and begins her quest. She forges ahead into unknown geographical and emotional territory, fueled by the desire to not only discover the century’s most significant find, but also by a driving need to restore her confidence and reputation. The Map of Lost Memories
made it effortless to forget that I was reading on a couch in the year 2013, not traipsing through the world Fay brings to life. She writes, “As the docks receded, Irene rolled her window down, but the air felt as if it were being pushed through a furnace. It was that merciless equatorial hour that circles around noon like a vulture, when no alternative, not even hiding in a dark room with an electric fan, could bring the kind of relief a person needed, a relief that reached one’s core.” Vivid details like these force a welcome surrender into a myriad of settings -- lush, humid, gritty, refined.
Beyond the intense action that makes The Map of Lost Memories
a page-turner, the emotional landscape of the heroine’s uncertainty-filled adventure is riveting. Irene is never sure whom she can trust, and neither is the reader. From a temple robber to a love interest with a mysterious connection to Irene’s past to a trusted mentor who may not be who he seems, Irene is constantly questioning alliances and ultimately fortifying her belief in her instincts and her own fortitude. THE RECOMMENDATIONThe Map of Lost Memories
delivers. Its engrossing characters, jump-off-the-page settings and action-packed, historically detailed plot bring an exotic world to life. The novel also reveals so much about what it means to be vulnerable yet fearless when embarking on the inner and outer journeys that define us. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A native of Seattle, Kim lived in Vietnam for four years and still visits Southeast Asia frequently. The Map of Lost Memories,
her debut novel, is a 2013 EDGAR AWARD FINALIST for Best First Novel by an American Author. A former independent bookseller, Kim is also the creator of the To Asia With
Love guidebook series and author of Communion: A Culinary Journey Through
Vietnam, winner of the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards’ Best Asian Cuisine Book in the U.S. She currently lives in Los Angeles. LINKS Visit Kim's websiteBuy the book on Amazon
ABOUT THE REVIEWERYvonne Lieblein is a writer and creative producer from the seaside village of Greenport, Long Island. Visit yvonnelieblein.com to read about her novel,
The Wheelhouse Café, “get lit-erary” novel nights out, and other evolving projects.
TITLE: Thank God for Boll Weevils
AUTHOR: Rhett Barbaree
PUBLISHER: Tiger Iron Press
COVER DESIGN: Julianne Gleaton
GENRE(S): Southern Fiction/Christian Fiction
LENGTH: 162 pages
Big stories are often told by small books. Thin novels tucked away in the back of museum gift shops, historical societies, and indie publisher websites can hold sweeping tales of civilizations in crisis and the giants who save them. Thank God for Boll Weevils
by debut author Rhett Barbaree is such a book. This is the gentle, unpretentious and inspired story of two girls. Separated by race but united in faith, they trust God with the little and big things in their lives. By Providence they find themselves in the right place at the right time to help save a civilization from economic destruction wrought by a bug.
We follow nine-year-old Janie through her everyday adventures growing up on her father’s cotton plantation in south Alabama in the early 1900s. Janie’s world forever changes when Sipsey, a black sharecropper’s daughter, arrives at Melrose Plantation. The two girls become fast friends as they grow to womanhood in a culture caught between the dying remnants of the Civil War generation and the dawn of the New South. That world is threatened when a tiny cotton-eating insect, the boll weevil, sweeps across Dixie. Enter one of Sipsey’s Tuskegee college professors, famed scientist George Washington Carver, whose timely peanut research saves, and forever changes, the South. The challenges faced by the characters in Thank God for Boll Weevils
are viewed through the prism of an uncomplicated, practical Christian faith, where daily relationships of trust are established with a loving God and outcomes are left in His hands. This faith saturates the culture like the Alabama humidity, transcends racial barriers, and forges two girls into lifelong sisters.
A very easy read, Thank God for Boll Weevils
is mostly told though Janie's perspective, but occasionally through Sipsey’s. Barbaree’s dialogue is effective and authentic, his prose adequate to the task at hand. He hits his stride when he slows down the narration and we see the girls moving though their daily lives, interacting with Melrose Plantation’s colorful cast of characters. Barbaree absolutely shines when telling the tale through Sipsey’s perspective, especially when she first arrives at Melrose as a child. We feel her trepidation and experience her relief as she surrenders her problems over to God. In fact, I think this would have been a better book if Barbaree wrote the majority, or even all of it, through Sispey’s eyes, not Janie’s. Through Sipsey we see Barbaree’s writing at its finest.
While a good first novel, Thank God for Boll Weevils
has a few challenges. Fortunately, because the novel is short none of these issues sink the book. First, the pacing is very uneven. Some parts seem to drag, especially in the middle, due to a marked lack of tension. In other places it zips by, exacerbated by the first person perspective that shallows the prose and occasionally gives the impression of a letter, not a novel. When delivering the novel’s spiritual message, Barbaree is most effective when he masterfully weaves it into the dialogue and characters’ internal thoughts. Sometimes, however, he delivers the message in sermon-style chunks. The net effect is as if someone hit the plot’s pause button and everything came to a stop. Overall, the reader hits a bump here and there, but always gets back on track.
With its original blend of Southern flair, historic fiction, and faith-based messages, Thank God for Boll Weevils
is suitable for all ages and a worthy read. With only a few “bugs” this debut novel earns Rhett Barbaree a solid down payment of 80 out of 99 cents on what I believe is a promising writing career. 99 Cents Worth of Rhett Barbaree Links:Thank God for Boll Weevils
Rhett Barbaree on Facebook
Thank God for Boll Weevils on Facebook If you enjoyed this review, follow Underground Book Reviews on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter.
You can also follow Brian Braden on his blog, Facebook and Twitter
and buy his book, Carson's Love. If you are an agent or publisher you can make the smartest financial decision of your life and offer Brian a contract on his brilliant
novel, Black Sea Gods.
As dystopian literature is my drug of choice lately, Fallen
by Traci Slatton sparked an interest in me. As with all good dystopians, this book is sets in a post-apocalyptic world, France to be specific. Devastating mists are attacking the earth, devouring anything composed of metal, including human beings. The deaths the mists deliver are atrocious. Worse still, the crippled society that remains leaves survivors scrambling to stay alive. The protagonist, Emma, is a tough, spunky and likable mother who takes in a horde of eight displaced children. Emma leads the group through the hellish landscape, searching for food and shelter while avoiding the deadly mists. Then she meets Arthur, the bold leader of a group of men. They strike a bargain: Emma gives herself to Arthur and he, in turn, takes care of her and her children.
Things take an interesting turn when the characters reveal they have psychic powers and abilities. Newt can see the future. Emma can heal. Arthur can control the mists. Emma and Arthur also learn that their no-strings-attached relationship is morphing into something neither one of them can control.
The book is expertly written. It’s clear from page one that Slatton knows what she is doing. Having degrees from Columbia and Yale pay off for this writer. The opening grabs you right from the start and then you wait, breathless, to know what will happen to these characters that you grow more fond of on each page. It almost made my top picks category except for one thing. As soon as we learned Arthur could control the mists, the antagonistic force was neutered and it took a long time for another source of peril to appear on the scene. This left the middle a bit saggy and tensionless.
Overall, it is an excellent read and one that dystopian fans will enjoy. It doesn’t necessarily fit neatly in a YA category as the protagonist is an adult and there is sexual content. However, the sex scenes are tastefully done (think of movies panning into the fire as the characters begin to strip). The content and subject material is appropriate for older teens and adults. It’s a quality read for any dystopian fan, teen and adult alike.
You can find Traci Slatton here.
You can find Fallen here. If you enjoyed this review you can follow Underground Book Reviews on Facebook or Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter. You can also follow Katie French on Facebook, Twitter and on her website.