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.
Literary Fiction Length:
180 pagesThe Rundown
What is the difference between a good book and a great book? People talk about a good book, perhaps recommend it to a friend or even rate it on Amazon. On the other hand, a great book connects in a very personal way. A great book is inherently honest, without a shred of manipulation. It gets inside you... tugs, digs, and performs reconstructive surgery on your heart and soul. A great book leaves you no place to hide and forever changes you to the day you die. Is The Watchman
by debut novelist Matt Langford such a book?
Adam is a mentally disabled teenager caught up in the everyday maelstrom we call life. He cannot speak beyond a few simple words. Most of his language is made up and known only to him. He possesses a very limited grasp of the past, with even less understanding of the future. Everything exists in the now, and revolves around him. Adam’s family, which is the same as saying his entire universe, is falling apart. His younger brother and sister are growing up and changing in ways he cannot comprehend. His parents’ marriage slowly grows cold under strain of a father’s joblessness and alcoholism. Adam is also changing, physically becoming a man, imposing more unrelenting demands and needs upon an already stressed family. The book begins with a short entry from an expecting mother’s journal, full of hope and love for the baby she carries inside. The Watchman
ends with a father’s touching connection with his oldest son. The Watchman
is an ambitious book by any standard, but Matt Langford took this challenge to a higher level.
The author tells this story exclusively through Adam’s perspective. In doing so, he forces the reader to actively participate and make their own translations of Adam’s world, their own conclusions about the motivations of the “normal” people surrounding him. Langford pulls this off masterfully. With short, simple and brutally effective prose, Langford creates more character development, more humanity
, in a few sentences than most authors can create in whole chapters. In only 180 pages Langford boils a family’s existence down to its raw essence.
This is the point in my review where I usually point out something I found wrong with the book. If there were editing problems with The Watchman
, I didn’t notice. I was too busy losing myself in the story. For two days it took over my life. A book hasn’t done that to me since I was a kid.
Is The Watchman
a Top Pick? Of course, but good books can be Top Picks. “Top Pick” seems like such a small kudo for such a profound novel. So, does The Watchman
qualify as a great book?
A few nights ago I attended my child’s school play. During the presentation loud, inappropriate laughter and other strange noises emanated from the back row. There, an obviously mentally disabled boy of perhaps thirteen squirmed next to his mother. He smiled, touched, flailed and spoke in a language known only to him. Tenderly, and with the utmost patience, his mother tried to simultaneously restrain her boy while watching her other child in the play. It could have been a scene right out of The Watchman
. Until the day I die I will never look at a mentally disabled person, or their family, again without thinking of Adam.
This great novel earns Five out of Five Stars. Matt Langford Links:Matt Langford’s Blog
and Amazon PageThe Watchman on Amazon
Matt Langford on Facebook
, and Goodreads.
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: Hemingway Man
AUTHOR: Jim Maher
GENRE: YA Coming-of-Age
LENGTH: 224 pages
THE RUNDOWNWill Charles’s father is dead, a fact that disturbs and unnerves him. During his father’s funeral, a friend of his father’s stops Will. With a hand tenderly on his shoulder, he tells him, “You’re the man of the house now.” It’s a common saying, one many have uttered, but Will takes it to heart. At sixteen, he does not feel like a man and yet he knows he must become one. The question is how. His good friend, Viktor, makes a passing comment, saying, “Ernest Hemingway was pretty manly.” That’s all it takes to set Will on a journey investigating the tenants of manhood. His English teacher tells Will about Hemingway, saying, “To read him is to know him.” Looking for a shorter solution than diving into a bunch of dusty books, Will stumbles upon a Bathroom Digest shoved in with the other reading material in his “thinking spot”. It states, “Ernest Hemingway’s four tasks for entering manhood: Plant a tree. Write a book. Fight a bull. Have a son.” Now Will knows how to be a man. The question is how can he possibly complete these tasks? With his best friend at his side, Will embarks on a journey of the soul to find his ultimate destination: manhood.
The premise of this book really grabbed me from the start. How interesting to pin all your hopes and dreams on a literary figure who put an end to his life with a shotgun. And yet, the question of Hemingway’s manliness is so intriguing it has captivated generations. As a former English teacher, I loved the idea of a sixteen-year-old boy searching for identity in a man so fraught with mystery. It’s a great plot for a coming-of-age story such as this. The voice Maher employs for Will is altogether humorous and heartfelt, silly and sincere. The comparisons and connections he makes are brilliant. “My room was sick white. The kind of white that made white people want to be called pink people.” And Will strikes me as a modern-day Holden Caulfield, with the same ponderings and torments.
The issue arose for me with pacing. There is so much musing and speculating on life the plot got lost along the way. You could read for a chapter without much forward progression. I think Maher might be smart to employ an editor to help him trim down the speculation and ratchet up the action. Otherwise teen readers will unfortunately pass.
Overall, the book is a good read, especially for those who have an interest in Ernest Hemingway and the Modernist writers. It could use a fresher cover and some trimming. Jim Maher is an author to watch in my opinion. I’d be interested to see his next book.
You can find Jim at his website.
You can find Hemingway Man on Amazon.
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: FireSeed One
Author: Catherine Stine
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Publisher: Konjur Road Press
Length: 298 pages
Reviewer: Katie French
In prime post-apocalyptic fashion, Catherine Stine’s FireSeed One
takes readers on an adventure through a world devastated by global warming. The world as we know it has fallen to ruin. Spiking temperatures have caused much of the United States and other nations near the equator to become uninhabitable. Humans have taken up living in the polar regions on boats or man-made islands. In such a harsh world, our protagonist, eighteen-year-old Varik, has had it relatively easy. His father is one of the agar farmers, cultivating sea life for the Earth's dwindling food supply. But then, Varik’s father dies unexpectedly, leaving Varik in charge. To top off his plight, a thief tries to make away with his father’s precious stock of plant seeds, seeds that Varik needs to keep the agar farm growing. When Varik confronts the thief and stop her, he learns the burglar is Marissa, a rich, powerful young lady who has fallen in with a group of terrorists. Together Varik and Marissa, with help from his lovable sidekick best friend, set off to help those suffering in the Hotzone regions. They must find the elusive Fireseed plant, the possible salvation of those starving in the hottest parts of the world.
The first thing I noticed about FireSeed One
was the amount of time and thought Stine put into the creation of Varik’s world. Stine did not miss a beat, including those small, but ever so important, details about life on an agar farm. Extensive research must have gone into building such an elaborate world. It is this detail that separates the so-so stories from the epic feats of world building wonder. I was impressed with how Stine seemed to know the ins and outs of her planet. It really added depth to a fast-paced, interesting story.
The characters were likable, with the exception of Marissa who, I suspect, was meant to be menacing. The plot was well-paced. There were times, however, when I felt as though I was not properly “seeing” Stine’s world. Descriptive detail is a must when presenting a world so different from our own and I felt there were times when it was lacking. I also felt as though the story could use a well-formed antagonist to keep our heart pumping through those middle chapters.
Speculative fiction lovers will enjoy Stine’s take on how our society will evolve. Minor problems aside, the price point is right at $2.99 and the nine illustrations add to the value of a well-done book.
LINKSFireSeed One on AmazonCatherine Stine's website
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Editor: Faith Williams
Length: 194 pages
Evie is a sixteen-year-old stuck in the small town of Mokelumne Hill with a population of 619. She dreams of getting away, but there are few opportunities for her to travel. Home life is somber as she and her parents continue to mourn the death of her older brother, Clyde. When he was alive, Clyde had promised Evie he would get her out of their small town and take her to a special beach town he'd discovered. When an unexpected friend of Clyde's shows up at the local cafe, Evie learns that even after death, her brother intended to follow through on his promise.
Evie and her two best friends, Charlotte and Kia, hop in a turquoise VW bus and take a six-hour drive to the completely different world of Waverly Beach. Crowds of people in bikinis and trunks hang out on the beach as well as the surf shops, restaurants and stores just across from the pier. The beachy vibe is laid-back yet exciting. In this dream vacation, the girls get an authentic taste of the Southern Californian surf culture as they meet the locals and even learn to surf. Complete with a summer romance, Evie has a teenage girl's fantasy vacation until the fantasy takes in a dose of reality. When it's time to leave, Evie takes one last paddle out in the water for more than just closure to the end of her summer.
Greta Rose Evans, the author of The Infinite Summer
, is seventeen years old. It's hard not to keep that in mind when reviewing this book. To write, edit and then publish a novel at that age is impressive. Her age is apparent in that the story is not as refined or complex as novels written by more experienced writers, but this is an admirable first step toward her writing career. Though the novel stays quite simple, Evans does offer glimmers of her young wisdom throughout. She keeps her story flowing smoothly and this quick read is enjoyable.
While there are technical shortcomings from her age, the essence of the novel does in fact benefit from it. Reading a YA novel actually written by a young adult is refreshing and authentic. The open spirit, the excitement over new experiences and new ideas, and the grand hopes and dreams that still feel possible at that age are all apparent in Evans' writing. The adult author trying to conjure a YA voice might not capture all the subtleties that Evans naturally brings out in her work. The experience feels honest as a reader taking in the view from Evans’ current perspective. It is also a pleasure to read an optimistic YA novel that celebrates the excitement of being a teenager. The difficulties are certainly addressed, but the joyfulness shines through.
THE RECOMMENDATIONThe Infinite Summer
is a perfect beach read, and if you don't have a beach nearby, Evans' writing will certainly make you feel like you're there.
You can find Greta Rose Evans on GoodReads
, and her book on Amazon
and Barnes and Noble
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
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