Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A. Keith Carreiro - The Penitent - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

A baby is born and placed in his dead mother's arms. When the funeral shroud is cast over her, his father decides to name his son Pall. It will soon become a name that strikes a shiver into the hearts of those who hear it in combat. A lone survivor on a battlefield many years later, Pall dazedly recovers from the wounds of war. Despite the dead cast about him, everything he looks upon is unfamiliar to him. Wandering away from this scene of carnage, he encounters John Savage, a giant of a man who puts Pall within the sight of Savage's seven–foot, nocked longbow. What ensues from this deadly encounter is an elusive journey for truth. Yet, it is haunted not just by a ravening demon that is out to destroy Pall and John, but by the vision of a startling beautiful young woman protecting Pall from afar.




My Review

Upon reaching the end of this book, I was left scratching my head a little over the title. Why is Pall a penitent? In my mind, he's nothing but a force for good, singing a magical song that tames evil and battling evil with a sword earmarked to defend the defenseless. He doesn't commit any egregious crimes or heinous acts as far as I can see. Sure, he kills a bully of a brute in a bar fight, but sheerly out of self-defense. In fact, I'd label him more of a victim, than a perpetrator, when he's hogtied in an abandoned farmhouse by a roving group of sadistic men.

So what does he have to be sorry for? Why is he the one who needs to beg forgiveness for his sins?

It turns out the answers to those questions are hidden somewhere inside Pall's faulty memory.

At present, he can only see but darkly into who he really is. Which begs the question: So what did Pall do in his past that was so very regrettable?

Well, I'm guessing it has something to do with the striking figure of a girl named Evangel. We get to meet her only briefly inside one of Pall's dreams, and the moment the two of them lock eyes with each other. Wow, what a moment! But right when things start getting good... Pall wakes up.

Thankfully, the author provides a tempting little sneak peek into book two with the opening chapters of Evangel's backstory, describing her God-given mystical abilities. Now, I really can't wait to find out what happened between her and Pall. Who is the true penitent? Him or her? I'm crossing my fingers that he didn't do anything to hurt her, anything he needs to confess.

***

The Penitent can be purchased at:
Amazon
Lulu

Prices/Formats: $3.99 ebook, $13.99 paperback
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 254
Release: November 1, 2016
Publisher: self-published
ISBN: 9781365287077
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

A. Keith Carreiro earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard Graduate School of Education, with the sequential help and guidance of three advisors, Dr. Vernon A. Howard, Dr. Donald Oliver and Professor Emeritus, Dr. Israel Scheffler. Keith’s academic focus, including his ongoing research agenda, centers upon philosophically examining how creativity and critical thinking are acquired, learned, utilized and practiced in the performing arts. He has taken his findings and applied them to the professional development of educational practitioners.

Earlier in his teaching career he was a professor of educational foundations, teaching graduate students of education at universities in Vermont, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. He currently teaches as an adjunct professor of English at Bridgewater State University, as well as teaching English, philosophy, humanities and public speaking courses at Bristol Community College.

He lives in Swansea, Massachusetts with his wife Carolyn. They have six children and 13 grandchildren. They belong to an eighty–five–pound golden retriever, an eight–pound Maltese, and an impish Calico cat.

Due to his love of family, he has seen his fervor for history, as well as his passion for wondering about the future, deepen dramatically.

Starting on May 23rd until October 9th of 2014, he sat down at his computer on a daily basis and began writing the first book of a science fiction/fantasy thriller in a beginning series about the quest for human immortality.

Links to connect with A. Ketih:
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Blog


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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bonnie M. Hennessy - Twisted - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

An old tale tells the story of how a little man named Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold and tricked a desperate girl into trading away her baby. But that’s not exactly how it happened. The real story began with a drunken father who kept throwing money away on alcohol and women, while his daughter, Aoife, ran the family farm on her own. When he gambled away everything they owned to the Duke, it was up to her to spin straw into gold to win it all back. With her wits and the help of a magical guardian, she outsmarted the Duke and saved the day. Well almost… Her guardian suddenly turned on Aoife and sent her on a quest to find his name, the clues to which were hidden deep in the woods, a moldy dungeon, and a dead woman’s chamber. This is not the tale of a damsel in distress, but a tenacious, young woman who solved a mystery so great that not even the enchanted man who spun straw into gold could figure it out. Not until Aoife came along.




My Review

How does growing up in a broken family affect the type of relationship you'll have with your future spouse?

It's not necessarily a theme one would expect from a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, but I, for one, appreciated the more mature "twist." It shows a layer of depth, not often associated with young adult novels. Mainly because it brings up an interesting point: How does witnessing the behavior of one's parents color the way a person views love later in life?

Simple cause and effect, yet fascinating nonetheless.

First, the female perspective. Aoife's father is a loaf of a drunk, who shrugs off his breadwinner duties by blowing what little gold he has in the village brothel. Unfaithful father, check. While at home, Aoife has to deal with a fault-finding critic of a mother, who refuses to lift a finger to help ease their precarious financial situation. Bitter, broken mother, check. Which means the task of providing for the family ultimately falls to Aoife, so much so that she cares little about how she presents herself to the world. She knows she doesn't act or dress like a young lady should, and I love how she doesn't care about appearances. Yet it's tragic at how determined she is not to give any man a chance. No one—and I mean, no one—is going to get through the walls she's built up around her heart. Sadly, she prefers the only thing she's ever known, taking care of her impossibly weak father and her unappreciative mother.

Then, there's the male point of view. The Duke, also known as Ronan, is a child born out of lies and betrayal. Unfortunately, his mother isn't the woman he thought she was. Over the course of his childhood, he felt the truth, but it was never spoken aloud. Illegitimate birth, check. Now as an adult, he can't begin to fathom the thought of ever being loved by anyone, much less his future wife.

The entire concept is completely foreign to him.

Until he lays eyes on Aoife … and tricks her father into getting her to marry him.

Simply put, he wants her because she doesn't want him, and he pursues her with the sole intent of getting the better of her. Sure, he's attracted to her—more like frustrated with her—since he sees how she treats everyone with kindness, and he wants her to be kind to him, too. It's sort of sweet that all he really desires is her love and affection. But it's also maddening that he's too afraid to show her his vulnerable side. Instead, he chooses to play the part of the big, strong man, hiding who he really is from her.

And with Aoife, love can't be forced, and I admire that about her. She's human, set in her ways just as much as Ronan's set in his, and at first she judges him harshly. The last thing she feels like doing is reforming a spoiled, pampered man. Yet despite herself, she starts to warm up to him when he tries to get to know her better. Her tender heart can't resist his pleading eyes and things begin to change between them. But just when she starts to lower her guard, he retreats back to his selfish, manipulative ways, scared of the hitherto unknown feelings she's bringing to life inside him.

This back and forth drama goes on for a while, until there comes a tipping point in their relationship when a dire set of circumstances winds up bringing them closer together. They realize that the only way forward is if they come together as a couple. And that made me smile because Aoife ends up falling in love with the man she was so determined to escape, and Ronan learns how to care about someone besides himself, someone he deeply and truly loves.

Their relationship is no longer about their hangups over their parents' failed marriages. From this point on, it's all about making a go of THEIR marriage, by protecting their unborn child from a certain "little man."

***

Twisted can be purchased at:
Amazon

Prices/Formats: $2.99 ebook, $12.99 paperback
Genre: Fantasy, Mythological, Fairy Tale
Pages: 306
Release: November 11, 2016
Publisher: self-published
ISBN: 9781539753421
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Bonnie grew up a shy, quiet girl who the teachers always seated next to the noisy boys because they knew she was too afraid to talk to anyone. She always had a lot she wanted to say but was too afraid to share it for fear she might die of embarrassment if people actually noticed her. Somewhere along the line, perhaps after she surprised her eighth grade class by standing up to a teacher who was belittling a fellow student, she realized that she had a voice and she didn’t burst into flames when her classmates stared at her in surprise.

Not long after that, she began spinning tales, some of which got her into trouble with her mom. Whether persuading her father to take her to the candy store as a little girl or convincing her parents to let her move from Los Angeles to Manhattan to pursue a career at eighteen as a ballet dancer with only $200 in her pocket, Bonnie has proven that she knows how to tell a compelling story.

Now she spends her time reading and making up stories for her two children at night. By day she is an English teacher who never puts the quiet girls next to the noisy boys and works hard to persuade her students that stories, whether they are the ones she teaches in class or the ones she tells to keep them from daydreaming, are better escapes than computers, phones, and social media.

Links to connect with Bonnie:
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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Nancy McCabe - Following Disasters - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

On her twenty-first birthday, Maggie Owen receives an unusual birthday gift: a house. That same day, the house’s owner, her aunt, dies. For three years, Maggie has been fleeing her childhood demons: the deaths of her parents, estrangement from her terminally-ill aunt, and a betrayal by her best friend. But now her career on the road, following natural disasters in temporary insurance claims offices, ends abruptly as Maggie returns home to face her past. But why does the house hold a mysterious spell over her? Why does she have the persistent feeling that her aunt is haunting her? Why did her aunt lie to her about the circumstances of her parents’ deaths? Who is the ghost child that may be hanging around the house? And what’s with the guy next door who seems so hostile toward her? FOLLOWING DISASTERS is tightly woven ghost story that raises questions about legacies and their influence on our choices.




My Review

The disasters in this book are mostly of the heart. The plot follows the underlying tension that builds between introverts and extroverts, and the fallout that results because of it. On the whole, the book presents a study in contradictions since neither group ends up the clear-cut winner in the grand scheme of things. The introverted remain paralyzed, wallowing in their mistakes and regrets, while the more extroverted characters tend to lead unsatisfying double lives, burying their problems beneath the surface, pretending they don't exist, only to discover that they do.

The bottom line is that no one gets through life unscathed. Yet does the pattern of jealousy and betrayal need to continue down through generations of a family? Can the cycle of following disaster after disaster ever be broken?

The book offers a glimmer of hope that with knowledge comes power. For Maggie, the main character, her parents are dead, but not for the reasons she was led to believe. She comes to the painful revelation that she's been living with a false set of facts. When she finally finds out the truth about what happened, it completely changes the outlook of her life.

Now she doesn't view herself as such a screw-up. She comes to the realization that there's no set standard she has to live up to anymore. When it comes to living her life, she's the one making the rules in defining what success means to her and what constitutes her own personal happiness.

It's an affirming finish to a book that works through two generations of a family's pain, covering everything from health problems to untimely loss to infidelity. In the end, the silence is broken. Secrets are revealed, and true healing can finally begin.

***

Following Disasters can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $9.99 ebook, $16.00 paperback
Genre: Gothic, Horror, Ghosts
Pages: 234
Release: October 1, 2016
Publisher: Outpost19
ISBN: 9781944853037
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Following Disasters is Nancy McCabe's first novel. She has also published four books of creative nonfiction, including Meeting Sophie: A Memoir or Adoption; Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge: A Journey to My Daughter's Birthplace in China; and From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood. She is a regular blogger for Ploughshares and has published work in Newsweek, Writers' Digest, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, Fourth Genre, and other magazines and anthologies. Her work has received a Pushcart and six times made notable lists in Houghton Mifflin Best American anthologies.

Links to connect with Nancy:
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tricia Dower - Stony River - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

It wasn’t all poodle skirts and rock ‘n’ roll. From its deceptively innocent beginning—two young teens exploring the riverbank and spying on “Crazy Haggerty’s” dilapidated house—through the intertwining story lines of paganism, murder and sexual violence, Stony River shows how perilous life was for some girls in the 1950s. Absent mothers, controlling fathers, biblical injunctions, teenage longing and small-town pretense abound. The threat of violence is all around: angry fathers at home, dirty boys in the neighborhood, strange men in strange cars, a dead girl and another gone missing.

The central mystery, inspired by the crimes of Robert Zarinsky as documented by Robin Gaby Fisher and Judith Lucas in Deadly Secrets (Newark Star–Ledger 2008), keeps the reader guessing until almost the very end, when the frightening truth is revealed. In this coming-of-age mystery, three girls learn who they are and what they’re capable of surviving—and forgiving.




My Review

This is a thought-provoking book. It's dark, disturbing at times, but the way it's crafted is a marvel to behold. The author knows what she's doing. She paints a picture with words, instead of jamming a bunch of random, meaningless details down a reader's throat. In essence, she shows what it was like to be a female adolescent in the late 1950s.

The social rules of engagement are implied, but never fully spelled out. A girl is to supposed to somehow intuit them as she goes along. For example, a popular girl only befriends a chubby classmate, so that all the boys will look at her, and not at her friend. While it's expected for a girl to always say yes when a boy asks her to dance, whether she wants to or not.

But these little courtesies and schoolyard dramas, quickly cross into dangerous territory when these young, impressionable girls come to believe they need to bend over backward—and do whatever it takes—to look good in a man's eyes. Forget common sense. Throw gut instinct out the window. As one by one they start to go missing, before one eventually turns up dead.

The adults in the novel always seem to avert their eyes to tragedy, until it's too late. A young girl is molested and gives birth to her father's baby, and no one wants to talk about it. Another is beaten with the belt of her stepfather, but everyone pretends not to notice. No one wants to get involved in anyone else's problems. As far as "the grown-ups" are concerned, what happens behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors.

But there comes a tipping point when the voices of these girls won't be silenced any longer. When their supposed innocence gives way to the disturbing realities of life, their ideas, about what the world is really like, begin to change. They realize they've been fed a line of bull. And maybe, just maybe, that's a good thing. After battling through a whole host of issues, they become survivors, no longer ignorant to the truth and the harshness of life, and how poorly they've been protected from it.

***

Stony River can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

Prices/Formats: $10.99 ebook, $15.95 paperback
Genre: Crime, Historical, Coming of Age
Pages: 320
Release: October 6, 2016
Publisher: Leapfrog Press
ISBN: 9781935248866
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Tricia Dower confesses to smoking a river punk or two in Rahway, New Jersey, where she was born and raised by perfectly fine parents who did not keep her hidden in a spooky house. A graduate of Gettysburg College and a Phi Mu, she built a career in business before reinventing herself as a writer in 2002. Her literary work has crossed borders and won awards. She expanded a story from her Shakespeare-inspired collection, Silent Girl (Inanna 2008) into Stony River, which was first published in Canada (Penguin, 2012). Her novel, Becoming Lin (Caitlin Press), was released in Canada in 2016. A dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Dower lives and writes in Brentwood Bay, BC.

Links to connect with Tricia:
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Facebook
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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Rich Zahradnik - A Black Sail - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

On the eve of the U.S. Bicentennial, newsman Coleridge Taylor is covering Operation Sail. New York Harbor is teeming with tall ships from all over the world. While enjoying the spectacle, Taylor is still a police reporter. He wants to cover real stories, not fluff, and gritty New York City still has plenty of those in July of 1976. One surfaces right in front of him when a housewife is fished out of the harbor wearing bricks of heroin, inferior stuff users have been rejecting for China White, peddled by the Chinatown gangs.

Convinced he’s stumbled upon a drug war between the Italian Mafia and a Chinese tong, Taylor is on fire once more. But as he blazes forward, flanked by his new girlfriend, ex-cop Samantha Callahan, his precious story grows ever more twisted and deadly. In his reckless search for the truth, he rattles New York’s major drug cartels. If he solves the mystery, he may end up like his victim—in a watery grave.




My Review

Do the biggest crimes occur when the biggest events are happening? This story certainly gives merit to the idea. It's summer 1976 and preparations are in full swing for the Fourth of July Bicentennial celebration. Tall-mast ships from all over the world are descending upon New York City for this once-in-a-lifetime event. From a PR standpoint, the cops, the media, they all know they need to make the city look like a fun and happy place. But what if the underground criminal element doesn't agree?

A few days before it's all set to go down, a body is found beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Almost immediately, the murder is hushed up since a whole lot of drugs are taped to the woman's corpse. The NYPD assumes it's likely the Chinese sending a message to the Mafia (since the mob supposedly doesn't kill women and children), as they battle for control of the city's narcotics trade. No one in charge wants word of this getting out until after the festivities are over. They can't afford for a drug war to erupt in the middle of everything, compromising the safety of the millions, attending the event.

The book lays out one cardinal rule when it comes to crime in New York City—it usually occurs when the sun goes down. So things get even crazier when hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry is stolen right out of the Empire State Building—in broad daylight. A flock of reporters literally run to the scene, giving the cops no chance to cover it up. And just when things can't get any hairier, the situation almost spirals out of control when the Coast Guard is forced to intervene after gunshots are fired and a boat explodes on the water across the harbor in Newark. Yet strangely enough, the next day, nothing manages to make it into the papers about it.

I liked the parallels that were drawn to the present day. In 1976, there are bombings in Boston. There's discord with Russia. There's a strong racist element among those in power. And there's a presidential election, looming in the fall. When you look back, in some ways, the United States wasn't so different than it is today, which is alternately scary and comforting, depending on how you look at it.

In the current age of terrorism and gun violence (by and against) police, it's interesting to compare 1976 with 2016 and wonder just how much is going on that we don't know about. The only thing is that now camera phones are beginning to change the story, shining a light on things that authority figures would much rather keep us in the dark about.

And that's what great storytelling, like this book, gets us to do—think, look beyond the surface and question the status quo.

***

A Black Sail can be pre-ordered at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $4.95 ebook, $15.95 paperback
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Pages: 264
Release: October 1, 2016
Publisher: Camel Press
ISBN: 9781603812115
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (A Black Sail, Drop Dead Punk, Last Words).



The second installment, Drop Dead Punk, won the gold medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs). It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews IndieFab Book of the Year Awards.



"Taylor, who lives for the big story, makes an appealingly single-minded hero," Publishers Weekly wrote of Drop Dead Punk.



Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter.



In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by New York's Center for Fiction.



Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where writes fiction and teaches kids how to publish newspapers.

Links to connect with Rich:
Web Site
Facebook
Twitter
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Blog


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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Michael J. Bowler - A Matter of Time - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

The world's greatest evil stalks the world's greatest ship, and the only one who can stop him hasn't been born yet. Jamie Collins is a junior at Santa Clara University in 1986. He has friends, a professor who mentors him, and a promising future as a writer. Then the dreams begin - nightmarish memories that transport him back to a time and place fifty years before he was born: Titanic's maiden voyage in 1912. When Jamie discovers a foreign cell in his blood that links him to the famous vessel, the two timelines begin to overlap and he realizes an unimaginable truth - something supernatural stalks the ill-fated ship, something that will kill him if he can't stop it first. And the only way to stop it may be to prevent Titanic from sinking. But even if he can figure out a way to do that, should he? What will be the effect on history if he succeeds? And what about the lady he wasn't supposed to fall in love with? As her destiny becomes entwined with his, Jamie discovers the value of friendship, the power of love, the impact of evil, and the vagaries of Fate.



My Review

What I like about a Michael J. Bowler novel are the sub-plots within the main plot. And the standout in this one has to be the main character's calling to be a writer.

Jamie has always been a bookish kid. Even now that he's in college, he still lives in his head, instead of the real world. To his friends, he's known for having a vivid imagination, which is why no one believes him when he says he has to hire a boat to take him to the middle of the North Atlantic on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. According to him, he's slowly turning into a vampire, thanks to a series of troubling dreams he's been having about being onboard the doomed ocean liner. (On a side note, I love how he makes it all happen simply by handing over the MasterCard his parents gave him for any "emergencies" that might come up.)

He doesn't understand what's happening to him, but deep down he feels he has to do this. He's out to find his destiny, but what he doesn't understand is that sometimes it finds us whether we're ready for it or not. He believes in what he's doing because he feels it. He's positive he's right about this, even though his insistence on following through on this hunch is bordering on obsession.

Jamie doesn't think the way other people do. He's not afraid to delve into his inner self to see what's there. But there's a danger in that when he withdraws further into himself, and starts acting like one of his characters. It's sad that his exceptional mind makes him feel very much alone.

And really that's where Jamie's identity crisis stems from. His father is a hard man. He doesn't accept his son for who he is. He's displeased with him because he's not the kind of man he wanted him to be. It's the classic case of the husband blaming the wife for babying a grown son.

But when Jamie steps foot on the fishing vessel that's going to take him to the Titanic's last known coordinates, he meets someone who gets him, the captain of the ship. They have a lively discussion about "Moby Dick" and the dangers of excessive pride. And the literary allusions keep coming, most notably in the Hamlet-like decision Jamie's going to have to make, if indeed, he's able to journey back through time. If he chooses to alter the past, is he ready to accept the consequences of changing the future ... and possibly making things worse than they are now?

And the kicker is, that the ship's captain used to be like Jamie's father. He didn't understand his bookish son either. It's not until after he died, that he bothered to read any of the books that are now lining the walls of his cabin. In Jamie, he sees the man his son could've become. And he'll stop at nothing to do whatever he can to help him.

Even if it means, setting him adrift at sea, to write the next chapter in his life.

***

A Matter of Time can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

Formats/Prices: $2.99 ebook, $12.95 paperback, $14.95-$21.83 Audible
Genre: Historical Fiction, Suspense
Pages: 340
Release: March 2, 2012
Publisher: Outskirts Press
ISBN: 9781432787110
Click to add to your Goodreads list.


About the Author

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of nine novels—A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner – 2013 Wishing Shelf Book Awards; Reader Views Honorable mention; Runner-Up Rainbow Awards; Honorable Mention - Southern California Book Festival), Running Through A Dark Place (Bronze Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), There Is No Fear (Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America; Spinner (Winner Hollywood Book Festival; Honorable Mention San Francisco Book Festival; Bronze Medal from Reader’s Favorite; Literary Classics Seal of Approval; Runner-Up - Southern California Book Festival; Honorable Mention - Halloween Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), and Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot (Honorable Mention in the London Book Festival and The New England Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards).

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II.”

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He has finished writing a novel based on his screenplay, “Like A Hero,” and another book aimed at the teen market. He hopes to find a publisher or an agent for both.

His goal as an author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world. The most prevalent theme in his writing and his work with youth is this: as both a society, and as individuals, we’re better off when we do what’s right, rather than what’s easy.

Links to connect with Michael:
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Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Blog
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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Claudia Riess - Semblance of Guilt - 99¢ Ebook Sale, Review, Excerpts & Giveaway



About the Book

Ellen Davis’s husband left her for another woman. Post-divorce, she’s trying to reassert her independence and lands a job as a reporter for her local newspaper. One of her assignments is covering weekly items on the police blotter, which is how she gets to know Lieutenant Pete Sakura—a handsome, witty Japanese- American Ellen is drawn to immediately.

Another of Ellen’s assignments is interviewing for the paper’s “Around The Town” column, and in this capacity, she meets Graham and Sophia Clarke, newcomers to the community. He’s an administrator at Columbia; she’s his beautiful Greek wife. Ellen and Sophia become fast friends, so it comes as a great shock when Sophia ends up dead.

Sophia Clarke is found murdered, and to all appearances, Ellen is the last person to have seen her alive. When Ellen’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, she’s arrested, and evidence steadily mounts against her. Ellen takes matters into her own hands as her romantic feelings for Pete intensify. Closing this case could either save Ellen or lead to her destruction.


Review

Wanting control. Wanting respect. Wanting it all. There's a tug-of-war going on in this mystery novel, and I never knew what side of the rope I was going to end up on.

Claudia Riess's writing style involves a lot of back and forth, plenty of push and pull. One minute I was inside the head of one character, one minute the next. Reading a chapter, I was in one place before the scene shifted to another. It left me with an unbalanced, unhinged sort of feeling, like I was never exactly sure what was going to happen or what was going on. I just had to trust Riess and hold on for the ride.

Take for example when Riess frames Ellen Davis, her main character, for a murder she didn't commit. Ballsy stuff that's all wrapped up in the conundrum known as Graham Clarke. Sometimes, Ellen is afraid of him, and sometimes she's not. At first glance, he seems harmless enough, a college admissions advisor, sporting preppy horned-rim glasses, a hen-pecked demeanor, the whole nine yards. However, once Ellen befriends his wife, Sophia, that's when my impression of him began to change. Ellen starts picking up on the more sinister edge to his personality…albeit a little too late.

Needless to say, Ellen doesn't see it coming when Sophia winds up dead and she's the one accused of being the killer. (Even though, I did…from reading the blurb!) Right from the start, it comes across as almost too neatly done, as if Graham had targeted her ahead of time, casting her in the starring role of offing his wife. My biggest mistake was the same as Ellen's. We both underestimated nerdy Graham, not believing him capable of being as cunning as he turns out to be.

It's not until later on in the novel when the comments of his deceased mother are revealed, that Riess beings to show how her cutting words continue to emasculate Graham from beyond the grave. His mother even goes so far as to leave her inheritance to charity in order to spite him. So it's no surprise when his resentment of his wife's wealth bubbles up and spills over. He's sick and tired of living to please the demanding women in his life. First, his mother, then his wife, then his college-aged mistress. He snaps, not intending to play second fiddle to anyone anymore. Mama's boy, Graham, is taking charge now—let the pieces fall where they may. Watch out, Ellen. He wants a new life, regardless of who he has to destroy in order to get it.

Let's say this: Reiss knows how to pen one heck of an elaborate plot—one that certainly left my mind spinning.


Excerpts


After navigating past the desks, she knocked on the door of the cubicle. No response. The second, more deliberate, rap was answered with an impatient “Come!”

Ellen entered the office and was somewhat taken aback by the sight of an attractive Asian man in shirt-sleeves awkwardly poised by the side of his desk, arms out, legs spread one behind the other, the front one slightly bent, the rear rigidly locked. He looked, she thought, as if he were trying to keep his balance on a skateboard. His attention was fixed on an open book sitting at the edge of his desk. “Give me a second,” he said testily, without taking his eyes off the book and at the same time adjusting the position of his front foot to a more pigeon-toed angle.

“I won’t ask what you’re doing,” Ellen said.

“Smart.” There was a sound of raised voices coming from the outer room. “The door!”

She closed it. “However, maybe you’d like to know what I’m doing?”

He ignored her question. “Damn, I’m not getting it.” He glanced up. “Do me a favor, take a look at number fifty and tell me what the hell is wrong here.”

Ellen approached the desk and peered down at the open book. A two-page spread of photographs showed a man in what looked like an usher’s uniform demonstrating a series of exercises. “Is this tai chi?”

“This is a pain in the ass. Could you look at the picture, tell me where I’m off, please?”

“‘Fair Lady works at Shuttles,’” she read aloud. She looked up from the page at him then back down again. “I see where you are. Figure fifty-A. It says: ‘Elbow bent, your right hand comes to your center line, fingers pinched together…’” She looked up. “For starters, your fingers aren’t pinched together.”

“Just hold the book up so I can see it from a better angle, okay?”

She held the book, show-and-tell style. He went through a variety of disconnected motions, clearly becoming more frustrated. “Shit.”

Ellen had formed a perception of the Japanese male as meditative, controlled, mysterious, soft-spoken, one who quietly went about transcending the material world while politely manipulating it. She had never realized she harbored this fully defined and fallacious stereotype until that moment, as she was looking at what appeared to be its antithesis. “If your phone rings, should I answer it?”

“Forget it.” He dropped the pose, took the book from her and put it back on the desk. “I’m all out of sync.”

“Now I’ll ask. What are you doing?”

“Getting my goddamn yin and yang together. My doctor tells me I have an ulcer and prescribes pills, but I don’t like pills. I’m taking up the eastern approach.”

“But isn’t tai chi Chinese?”

“Yeah, so?”

“‘Sakura’ sounds like a Japanese name.”

“Let me ask you a question. You ever eat chow mein?”

“Well, yes.”

“I rest my case.” He waved her toward the chair on the other side of the desk and dropped down into his own. “Sit.”

She remained on her feet. “I’m Ellen Davis. I was told you had the data for the Chronicle’s ‘Blotter’ column. I’m just here to collect it.”

He threw up a hand. “What’s the point of that column? All it does is stigmatize the poor saps who appear in it. There’s no investigation of circumstances, no disclaimers stating charges could be erroneous. Just a cold-blooded list of citations.”

“It’s supposed to serve as a deterrent,” she said without conviction. “Actually, I don’t particularly like the column myself, but I don’t make up the rules. I’m sorry I messed up your exercise routine. May I have the material, please?”

She became aware of herself as an unattached, uncompromised individual as she once was at Penn. She sensed the boundaries of her being as clearly as she felt the hem of her knit dress pull tightly against her legs with each step she took. It was as if she had never been married, had instead dressed for an interview and walked straight out of west Philadelphia into Morningside Heights.

Mid-block between 109 and 108 Streets, as she was passing a shoe store and scanning the view across the way, her attention was drawn to the bright blue awning of Charlie’s Snack Bar. At that moment the door to the restaurant opened, and a tall young woman with cropped red hair and wearing a tight black turtleneck sweater, clingy black pants and black cowboy boots, stepped out into the daylight. The girl stood aside to allow the man behind her to pass, and as he emerged completely into the sunlight, Ellen recognized Graham. She was about to hail him, when he took a step toward the redhead and Ellen realized he was with her. Unable to tear her focus from the scene or insinuate herself into it, she backed up into the shadow cast by the overhanging eave of the shoe store.

While Graham snapped down and adjusted the removable sun-visors of his eyeglasses, the young woman reached into the breast pocket of his blazer, drew out a pair of sunglasses he must have been holding for her, and put them on, in the process grazing her breasts against his left elbow. The act defined them as intimate friends, yet the distance springing up between them immediately afterward seemed devised to refute it. They stood apart talking to each other, their postures stiff and formal, their not touching as conspicuous as an open embrace.

Ellen watched them as her years at Penn were sucked into a black hole, and all she could remember was her husband Kevin dropping the bomb, telling her he was leaving her. Watching Graham and the redhead across the street was like catching the discovery scene she had missed, seeing it replayed for her benefit, like a burlesque in which she was both captive audience and object of scorn.

Almost at once she felt a connection with Sophia.

Sophia pulled her hands away and struck out at Ellen in one continuous movement, throwing herself off balance and stumbling sideways. She stared in horror at the gouge one of her nails had made on Ellen’s chest, and Ellen, stunned by the violence and not yet feeling the pain, gazed in disbelief at the drop of blood tracking toward the scalloped edge of her white satin bustier.

“Go—get out of here,” Sophia rasped. “I’m afraid what I might do to you. Get out, get out.”

The blood trickled onto the rim of smooth white fabric, forming a small, irregular stain. Ellen looked up at Sophia. The woman she thought she knew had become a trapped animal, her eyes wary-wild.

A sharp pain from the nick in her chest jolted her from her numbing inertia. She moved quickly from the room, feeling the tears coming, holding them back, postponing them as she ran silently down the hall. She descended the steps with blazing deliberation, her pace quick and even, her focus on reaching the door and disappearing into the sheltering night. She could feel her eyes, static-wide in bewildered alarm, betraying her attempt to appear in total control. Still, she focused straight ahead, concentrating on her goal, hearing Anna calling her name but moving through the sound, pacing herself to simulate haste without flight as she sliced through the clear zone of the foyer and pushed open the storm door. Midway across the porch she collided with an incoming guest, all pearls and black silk, the woman’s staccatoed “Shit!” like a gunshot in an open field of combat.

Picking up speed, she hurtled down the bluestone drive, anticipating the sound of the engine starting up even before she could spot her car.

***

Tuesday, March 13. First day in court. The jury sat knit-browed and entranced, leaning forward so as not to miss a word, not yet settled in their role of deliberative body. To Ellen, they looked as if they’d been caught off guard at the supermarket, a rainbow assortment of shoppers rounded up one afternoon and transported to a box at the opera, best seats in the house.

Ellen sat in a heavy, slat-back chair drawn up close to a long oak table. She was wearing a gray suit and paisley print blouse because Rosenthal had told her to wear something conservative but not somber. The skirt buckled and slid around her waist every time she moved because in the last two months she’d lost ten pounds from under-eating and over-exercising. As she’d taken her seat in the courtroom, she’d snagged her pantyhose on a rough spot on the table leg and felt the rip crawl up her leg, making her feel exposed to the prying eyes in the room. She’d been unable to choose earrings that morning, vacillating between small and large, shiny and dull, gold and silver, fixating on this final aspect of her attire as if she could determine the decision of the jury by choosing the politically correct objects to hang on her earlobes. When Rosenthal blew his car horn in the driveway she’d grabbed for familiarity, the small gold hoops, before allowing herself to be whisked off to the mind-boggling unknown.

Sitting next to her at the oak table, “Try to relax,” Rosenthal whispered in her ear, leaning toward and away from her in one smooth, condensed motion.

Ellen sat back in the chair, her rigid spine meeting hard wood, the word “relax” banned from her body’s vocabulary. Through an impromptu technique of auto-suggestion and deep breathing, she was barely managing to bring under control the strangulating tension in her neck and the explosive blood-humming in her ears. It was not her lawyer’s fault she hadn’t been prepared for Mark Gilbert’s speech. Rosenthal had described the prosecutor’s meticulous approach, but there was no way he could have prepared her for the immediacy of the event: the way Gilbert cocked his left hip as he stood facing the jury; how his dark eyes seemed to glow from some deep passion or conviction; how he flashed her alternating looks of consternation and pity; how he stressed syllables unexpectedly, so that his words jumped against the wall of her chest—“enter the room,” “points of the scissors,” “homicidal violence”; how his brow suddenly furrowed as he reminded the jury—“You and I, we represent the People. We have been charged not to avenge a wrong, but to deliver justice.”

***

“Come up to the bedroom.”

“Yes.”

“Stay the night.”

“Yes.”

“Hurry.” She wanted to be taken on the spot, jammed against the table or pinned to the floor, but delay would set the act apart. She could foresee it, her first experience of absolute exposure—the loss of her true virginity on her sex-worn bed. The chaste and devilish nuances of amazing contradiction lifted the event to the peak of desire. He was one step behind her, holding on to her hand as they climbed the staircase. She was aware of every footfall, every breath, every sound of this outwardly conventional drama. She led him down the hall, almost turning in at the wrong doorway, almost forgetting where she slept, his presence casting an aura of unfamiliarity on the surroundings. He caught her hesitation and uttered a short, nervous laugh, sharing her bewilderment.

As they entered her bedroom, it seemed to lose all connection to her past, as if it had come into existence at that very moment just to harbor them.

In rapt silence they helped each other with the shedding of clothes, marveling at the unhurried pace of the ritual, as if their bodies had agreed to temper urgency with curiosity.

They lay on the white comforter, barely disturbing it in their intent exploration, the upheavals taking place inwardly, while over audacious globes and rises and along newly accessible furrows, their fingers, lips, tongues concentrated movement in targeted pressures, exacting exquisite modulations of sensation from each focal point.


***

Semblance of Guilt can be purchased at:
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99¢ EBOOK SALE!
runs July 1-30, 2016 

Prices/Formats: 99¢ $3.99 ebook, $21.99 paperback, $39.95 hardcover
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 328
Release: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Archway
ISBN: 9781480827851
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"A determined amateur detective who'll garner fans with her refusal to either back down or give up." -Kirkus Reviews

***

About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt Rinehart and Winston. On her first novel, Reclining Nude, Oliver Sacks, M.D. commented: “exquisite—and delicate.” Her second, art suspense Stolen Light earned: “complex and intriguing” —Kirkus Review

Links to connect with Claudia:
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