Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Michael J. Bowler - Spinner - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

Fifteen-year-old Alex is a “spinner.” His friends are “dummies.” Two clandestine groups of humans want his power. And an ancient evil is stalking him. If people weren’t being murdered, Alex might laugh at how his life turned into a horror movie overnight. In a wheelchair since birth, his freakish ability has gotten him kicked out of ten foster homes since the age of four. Now saddled with a sadistic housemother who uses his spinning to heal the kids she physically abuses, Alex and his misfit group of learning disabled classmates are the only ones who can solve the mystery of his birth before more people meet a gruesome end. They need to find out who murdered their beloved teacher, and why the hot young substitute acts like she’s flirting with them. Then there’s the mysterious medallion that seems to have unleashed something malevolent, and an ancient prophecy suggesting Alex has the power to destroy humanity. The boys break into homes, dig up graves, elude kidnappers, fight for their lives against feral cats, and ultimately confront an evil as old as humankind. Friendships are tested, secrets uncovered, love spoken, and destiny revealed. The kid who’s always been a loner will finally learn the value of friends, family, and loyalty. If he survives…

My Review

Pulse-pounding, spine-tingling, chill-inducing horror.

Michael J. Bowler, a prior screenwriter of scary movies, should stick to what he does best because his writing comes alive when he delves into the crazy, demented things that go bump in the night.

The opener where the poor, feeble Special Ed teacher is mauled to death by a massive wave of demonic cats is brilliantly jaw-dropping in the sheer terror of how it unfolds. Bowler employs the right amount of tension and gore that'll have the hair standing up on the back of your arms. It's a scene that reminds me of the best R.L. Stine novels I used to read as a kid—the ones that would leave me terrified to turn the page, but too morbidly enthralled not to.

As a reader, there's a two-sided fascination that encompasses such a visceral level of fear. One, we're glad it's not happening to us, and two, we can't turn away from watching it happen. In fact, we WANT to watch it happen. There's a primal curiosity that's aroused that can only be satisfied through fiction. We don't want to stare at a car crash as we drive by, but we do. We don't want to watch continuous replays of a plane crash, but we can't look away. But in story form, we know it's not real, and we're able to feast on the delightfully juicy details in our own little private nooks because we know what we're reading's not real—even though it feels like it is.

And that uneasy sense of foreboding is certainly captured at Eucalyptus Park. The streetlights go out one by one. The wind picks up. And strange things begin to occur. And what makes it even more frightening is that it's all happening to a paralyzed boy in a wheelchair. He can't run away. He can't call for help. He has to depend on his friend to get him out of there as a dark, hooded figure comes at them with a knife.

Great stuff!

I love passages like, "Individual drops made a pop pop pop sound like bullets he'd sometimes hear in the neighborhood at night," and "The wind felt like a whole football team pushing against him."

For me, I would've liked the novel to have been shorter and focused more tightly around those types of scenes. I'd take twelve to fifteen concisely written chapters of sheer horror over the lengthy conglomeration of genres the book turned out to be. I'd scrap all the subplots and concentrate on Bowler's strengths—because the man can definitely bring it. He just needs a firmer editing hand in order to show off his skills to their best advantage instead of letting them get bogged down in the wordiness of overly detailed "camera angle" movements and repetitive dialogue that doesn't advance the plot. Having ten characters speak in one scene gets confusing for even the most diligent of readers.

SPINNER doesn't have to contain YA, LBGT, and a whole alphabet soup of different subject matter in order to find an audience. Horror fans know good writing when they see it, and Bowler should be rewarded for what he's accomplished in these pages, whether or not readers have to sift through all the teen speak and inner self-loathing to discover the true gems hidden within.


Spinner can be pre-purchased at:

Format/Price: $6.99 ebook
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Pages: 463
Release: August 5, 2015
Publisher: YoungDudes Publishing
ISBN: 9780994667519
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of eight 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 in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), Running Through A Dark Place (Bronze Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, and Spinner.

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,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

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 is currently outlining a sequel to Spinner.

His goal as a YA 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.

Links to connect with Michael:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Jerome Charyn - Bitter Bronx - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

Brooklyn is dead. Long live the Bronx! In Bitter Bronx, Jerome Charyn returns to his roots and leads the literary renaissance of an oft-overlooked borough in this surprising new collection.

In Bitter Bronx, one of our most gifted and original novelists depicts a world before and after modern urban renewal destroyed the gritty sanctity of a land made famous by Ruth, Gehrig, and Joltin' Joe.

Bitter Bronx is suffused with the texture and nostalgia of a lost time and place, combining a keen eye for detail with Jerome Charyn's lived experience. These stories are informed by a childhood growing up near that middle-class mecca, the Grand Concourse; falling in love with three voluptuous librarians at a public library in the Lower Depths of the South Bronx; and eating at Mafia-owned restaurants along Arthur Avenue's restaurant row, amid a "land of deprivation…where fathers trundled home…with a monumental sadness on their shoulders."

In "Lorelei," a lonely hearts grifter returns home and finds his childhood sweetheart still living in the same apartment house on the Concourse; in "Archy and Mehitabel" a high school romance blossoms around a newspaper comic strip; in "Major Leaguer" a former New York Yankee confronts both a gang of drug dealers and the wreckage that Robert Moses wrought in his old neighborhood; and in three interconnected stories—"Silk & Silk," "Little Sister," and "Marla"—Marla Silk, a successful Manhattan attorney, discovers her father's past in the Bronx and a mysterious younger sister who was hidden from her, kept in a fancy rest home near the Botanical Garden. In these stories and others, the past and present tumble together in Charyn's singular and distinctly "New York prose, street-smart, sly, and full of lurches" (John Leonard, New York Times).

Throughout it all looms the "master builder" Robert Moses, a man who believed he could "save" the Bronx by building a highway through it, dynamiting whole neighborhoods in the process. Bitter Bronx stands as both a fictional eulogy for the people and places paved over by Moses' expressway and an affirmation of Charyn's "brilliant imagination" (Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune).

My Review

What really intrigues me about this splendid, little anthology is the way the author makes himself a part of it, yet holds back from claiming it's the slightest bit semi-autobiographical.

And he has every right to do that.

Let him work his magic in a fictional setting rather than give a play-by-play account of his life. It's more fun this way. He can be as creative as he wants to be without having to stick to a timeline or rigid set of facts. He can explore facets of himself through the guise of different characters. It broadens the scope, stretching the gossamer veil over our eyes, only giving us a purposefully distorted view of himself in order to more fully engage our imagination.

What really tickled my fancy is that Charyn even names one of the characters, Jerome, a male model who's traded like a piece of meat when all he wants is to further his literary ambitions and save the girl he loves from herself. "Archy and Mehitabel" is the classic doomed love story of Central Park privilege versus Bronx practicality. Jerome isn't enough for his lady love, and he knows that. Her mind is her treasure and her downfall, while his striking appearance is his. He's not taken seriously, and some of the bitterness of the book's title weighs heavily on his shoulders.

The high school teacher who is banished to the outskirts of civilization in "Milo's Last Chance," also bears some Jerome-esque qualities. He's expected to fail at his job, but instead he succeeds with the youth of the Bronx, filling their hearts and minds with the poetry of Byron and Keats. He even gets some of them into Harvard and Yale, garnering the attention of a PBS documentary crew. His modus operandi goes something like this, "He would find a rare prodigy—a girl from Senegal or a boy from Martinique—who dared dream of college, and Milo tutored such prodigies, helped them to write a decent composition." But he couldn't save himself. Having an affair with a former student breaks his spirit when she uses him to get her into a college in Maine, before running off with the owner of the town lap dance club, and eventually marrying him. Milo never recovers from the betrayal. He just plods through life, the fire having gone out of him.

But perhaps my favorite insight into Jerome's psyche comes through the voice of Dee. She's been "dubbed the photographer of freaks" and goes through the gestational pains that can be associated with a writer. She's "a huntress," who relentlessly pursues her subjects. She beleaguers them with her flashbulbs until they drop the mask they're hiding behind, showing her their real souls. She's presented thus, "She'd always been clicking, clicking with her eyes long before she had a camera." In essence, you can picture a writer clicking away in much the same way at a keyboard. But there's a reluctance to her work, especially when she wears down the giant of the Bronx who just so happens to be her friend. Jerome says it straight out, "She'd manipulated Eddie Carmel." Charyn even gets Dee to voice her embarrassment aloud to make some kind of amends, "I took advantage of you, Ed."

There's an interesting line to be crossed when blending reality with fiction because inevitably the two inter lap. Writers draw inspiration from the people they meet, regardless of how they meld their personality traits together. For any writer, this can create a conflict of conscience. How far is too far? That's why I think it's wise for Jerome to wrestle with these questions in prose instead of autobiography. He wants to talk about his past. It's burning within him to be released, even if he chooses the form he's most familiar with in order to tell it and share it with the rest of us. He may be bitter about the Bronx, but that's okay, because beneath all the sorrow you can tell it still fascinates him too.


Bitter Bronx can be purchased at:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $9.99-$12.49 ebook, $24.95 hardcover
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780871404893
Publisher: Liveright
Release: June 1, 2015
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Jerome Charyn's stories have appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The American Scholar, Epoch, Narrative, Ellery Queen, and other magazines. His most recent novel is I Am Abraham. He lived for many years in Paris and currently resides in Manhattan.

Links to connect with Jerome:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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