Review: Everybody has a story… These are ours…

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Everybody has a story... These are ours...
Everybody has a story… These are ours… by Audrey N. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This author has one of those rare “ears” for the beauty in words, sentences, and ideas. “The Closet” is reminiscent of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and “Chamele’s Rules” is reminiscent of The Help. My favorite story, that is, the most deeply disturbing and darkly beautiful, was “Fading Frost.” It was also the most troublesome. It never held my suspension of disbelief. Both the characters’ actions and complacency seemed contrived to fit the desired plot, but the plot itself was original and harrowing. Two of my favorite sentences in the book:

Between them they had 11 children, three grandchildren, five dogs, two cats, a bird and had been married 138 years.

I wonder who you complain to, or to whom you file a report, when for four days in a row the weathermen are wrong.

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Review: Pieces Like Pottery: Stories of Loss and Redemption

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Pieces Like Pottery: Stories of Loss and Redemption
Pieces Like Pottery: Stories of Loss and Redemption by Dan Buri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so pleased to see so many positive reviews of this first publication by new author Dan Buri. I have always gravitated toward short stories, and this collection is so unique it beckons a new kind of reader. The stories are intimately yet subtly connected, giving both a feeling of cohesion, and that slightly thrilling feeling of spying a little clue that reveals how two characters from two separate stories are connected. In that way the author has structured it almost as a mystery novel, challenging the reader to pick up the individual pieces of the story and piece them together into a grander whole. Where it differs from a novel is of course, each story is self-contained and standalone, with a consistent, separate plot and point. But just as importantly, it differs from a typical short story collection in the following way: Each story follows the overarching theme, each story fits together into a larger story the reader is challenged to uncover, and most importantly of all, there really is no “strong” or “weak” story in the collection. In most collections, the reader will typically find at least one story they “liked best” and one they “didn’t get” at all. Not here. I can honestly say there isn’t a single bad or lacking story in the collection, and likewise, no single story dominates the collection or stands head and shoulders above the rest.

I welcome Mr. Buri to the community of creative writers, slightly surprised by the depth and originality of this first work. I am happy to have discovered this new voice and I hope to see more out of him in the future, hopefully something completely different, exploring a completely new avenue, and equally challenging and original. Mr. Buri reveals within himself a commendably deep emotional intelligence, the ability to convey grief, heartache, troubled love, healing, empathy, and a host of other equally difficult emotional wells to draw from. He deals with themes ranging from a parent losing a child, to a husband and wife taking a break, to a false criminal accusation, to visiting an ailing childhood mentor, without ever breaking pace or compromising that steady drumbeat of a moody atmosphere he’s created and maintained in this work. This is an author with lots of potential, and bravo for his first work.

* I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. *

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Review: London Tsunami & Other Stories

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London Tsunami & Other Stories
London Tsunami & Other Stories by Jaq Hazell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Looks like I have the honor of writing the first review. This is an excellent collection by an excellent writer and I look forward to reading more of her stuff. I’ve been focusing a lot more on indies lately, with mixed results. I’ve found in London Tsunami exactly what I’ve been looking for, though: extremely talented contemporary short story authors, the modern, living, active writers with the very real potential of joining the greats.

The best story in the collection was the first, Legend. I read it just before bed, and it absolutely stunned me. It reminded me of Antaeus and a handful of “classic” short stories in the vein of Ray Bradbury or Literary Cavalcade. Children decide to do something adventurous, daring, or naughty, get carried away, and a looming sense of foreboding swoops down ominously to confront them. There’s something about that classic Daedalus & Icarus symbology that’s extremely unnerving and fascinating, and I believe the short story is its natural home.

I also enjoyed Under the Flight Path, Stuff, and London Tsunami. The running theme in the book, if there is any, is a quiet sense of despair or bitterness, the feeling of treading water at the end of your strength, watching the world around you begin to come apart at the seams. While there are lots of stories in this collection, many of them too short, I appreciate the author’s artistic voice, and her ability to see the dramatic emotional turmoil of ordinary everyday life.

* I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. *

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Review: The Best Bits of Physics

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The Best Bits of Physics
The Best Bits of Physics by Alasdair C. Shaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked it. It’s split into two halves that don’t seem to have anything to do with one another. Half 1 is a short breeze through major concepts in physics. Half 2 is a list of do-it-yourself physics experiments. Half 1 takes a dozen or so physics concepts like thermodynamics, general relativity, absolute zero, and attempts to distill each to about a page of short, lay explanation. This does not succeed, not through any fault in the writer, but because it is an impossible task. I am well-read in these areas, but trying to read it from a lay perspective, I can see how none of these short walk-throughs add anything to understanding. The author is trying to do what the Michio Kakus, Carl Sagans, Stephen Hawkings, and Guy Murchies have been doing for years: teaching high level physics to laypeople. Perhaps this concept would work better as a Glossary of Physics Terms for reference, not explanation.

Half 2 has some wonderful experiments, for parents and teachers especially. Earlier, I mentioned a direction problem, because things that were explained in Half 1, like General Relativity can’t be demonstrated by household experiment. So there is a sharp disconnect between the two halves. Overall, this is a great reference for teachers & parents attempting to brief children on the subject and inspire them. But in terms of explanatory power, it just doesn’t touch the masters.

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Review: Jerry Is Not a Robot

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Jerry Is Not a Robot
Jerry Is Not a Robot by Gregory Marlow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fun little story. It’s easy to tell how much the author loves Isaac Asimov. The premise is simple and engaging: the enigmatic master invites the enthusiastic apprentice to help work on his “project.” Slowly, the layers unfold and the true nature of the “project” becomes apparent. But you don’t know until the catharsis whether the enigmatic master is working for good or ill gains.

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Review: Fear Itself

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Fear Itself Fear Itself by Bill Palmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love these little urban legends come to life. Reminded me, obviously, of the classic creeper “Altered States,” but also of dozens of other medical, psychological experiment gone wrong type stories. This is exactly the kind of thing that floats around the internet. What fascinates me most about it is the question: What exactly makes it compelling? The idea is 1) you find yourself the subject of an innocuous experiment, 2) you start to lose yourself and question the motives of the experimenters, 3) you lose it, and 4) the experimenters scratch their heads, saying “we never thought someone could react so strongly.” What is the pathology here, the symbology, that reels you in, as this author effectively has? I don’t know, but I like it.

I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Seawind

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Seawind Seawind by M. Blackwell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book starts out very well, then gets silly. Then it gets sillier and the silliness takes off with a mind of its own until it’s the silliness itself that has to be resolved. The book is a ghost story, set in Cape Cod, and the exposition leading up to the first sighting, is extremely well written. I was impressed with the author’s ability, her grasp of the English language, her command over setting and mood. Unfortunately, the first ghost sighting sends this book in a new direction, that of a Scooby-Doo mystery, with a bona fide group of mystery solvers hitting the local library and folklorist to solve a 150-year-old murder. If I wasn’t disappointed in the first genre shift, I was certainly disappointed in the second. The story climaxes and resolves as a fantasy, with witchcraft begetting pagan gods and involving the unlikely hero: the pet housecat. Had the cat spoken, I probably would have had to put it down, but fortunately she stops short of talking animals.

I would have to say that this is a young adult fantasy novel with the plot of a ghost murder-mystery story. It will doubtless appeal to many readers. I only wish the author would have utilized the reserved, moody prose from the beginning of the story throughout, and resisted her temptations to explore the cliche side avenues along the main road of her idea.

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Review: Branding of a Heretic

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Branding of a Heretic Branding of a Heretic by Kal S. Davian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this story more than I expected. Although I knew it was fantasy, I read through the first couple of pages and liked the draw of the prose. Yes, characters have wings and tails and furry ears and the story is set in a made up, fantastical world. However, it is a very human story that stays true to the plot. The plot itself is a simple retelling of Galileo’s downfall. The heroine makes a groundbreaking discovery, excitedly shops it around to her fellow scholars, challenges the powers that be to consider its legitimacy, and is ultimately (hope I’m not giving anything away here) branded a heretic. Having said that, I’m afraid I can’t very well praise its originality, but nonetheless, the author kept the story on point and re-delivered that simple, all too human lesson: that power is an enemy of truth.

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Review: The Man Who Remembered The Moon

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The Man Who Remembered The MoonThe Man Who Remembered The Moon by David Hull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The quintessence of science fiction. As a reader who has never placed a high value on space ships, aliens, futurology, and made-up words, I have a muddled relationship with science fiction. I choose to qualify my taste as “social” science fiction (think Atlas Shrugged, Fahrenheit 451, Flowers for Algernon), implying that a) all those elements are forgivable only if they advance a social commentary, and b) that at the opposite polar extreme are works of “cheap” or “formulaic” science fiction. David Hull accomplishes the feat of contributing to the body of work of the former. The Man Who Remembered The Moon is an exquisite piece of short social science fiction, answering the beautifully simple prompt of: imagine the moon disappeared tomorrow, but you were the only one who ever remembered it was there to begin with. He opens with a bang on page one, and takes the reader through many stages of frustration and insanity with a doctor-patient mental hospital plot. While I am sure there are no political intentions here, he does an excellent job placing the reader in the shoes of a mentally afflicted person. This superreal advancement of empathy immediately cries attention upon different forms of therapy. Can the patient be led out of the fog of delusion by logical argument? By appeal to family love? By letting the delusion “play out”? Etc. Hull is also a learned man, enriching his prose with references to astronomy, physics, medicine, and literature. I am very glad to have discovered this writer, and look forward to following his work.

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Review: Water Minute Mysteries

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Water Minute Mysteries, by P. Aaron Mitchell

I read a few of these stories, and honestly, did not feel drawn to them in any literary way. The author has an interesting concept, akin to a morning sudoku puzzle, to go online and read a cleverly crafted minute mystery, guess whodunnit, and check his solution with the author himself. Interesting, but not exactly my thing.