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Book Reviews

Book Reviews (6)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014 01:52

"The Hopeless Pastures" Keith Soares

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The Oasis of Filth – Part 2
The Hopeless Pastures

"The Oasis of Filth" delivered a sudden and shocking conclusion. In "The Hopeless Pastures," part two of the trilogoy, Keith Soares provides an impressive follow up that picks up where "Oasis" ends.

The doctor now lives outside the city walls, in a shack hidden deep in the woods. His companion is Addy, a rugged but loyal dog. They eek out their existence as the doctor, a man in his 60's, grapples with feelings of futility and hopelessness – what does he have to live for? This changes, though, when Alain, another refugee, discovers them.

Alain is a welcome addition to their family and having another human presence seems to reinvigorate the doctor's spirit and outlook. They eventually settle into living a "comfortable" but cautious existence, acutely aware that their world is filled with blood lusting zombies infected with the highly contagious RL2013 virus, as well as other refugees fighting for their own survival.

With "The Hopeless Pastures", it's as if Soares knew the reader would need a moment to exhale, digest, and come to terms with what happened at the end of Part 1. Although the story slows down a little, it doesn't become monotonous or boring. Like the characters in the book, as a reader, you can't let your guard down for too long. Before you know it, you are smacked in the face with a twist and the pace picks up like a runaway train. All aboard for the book number three!

You can check out the cover art for the third and final installment in the series, "From Blood Reborn" Part 3 at www.keithsoares.com.

Thursday, 02 January 2014 23:59

"Casting Shadows Everywhere" - LT Vargus

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In "Casting Shadows Everywhere," sixteen year old Jake, by his own account, is a pussy. Harassed, put-upon, and bullied since childhood, he has never stood up for himself; even when his insides urged him to do so.

His friends are limited to his cousin Nick, his would-be-protector whose twisted take on life begins to mold Jake. Beth is the sweet object of Jake's affection and Robert is his autistic schoolmate.

The tale is written as a diary-of-sorts. Through it we see how ineffective and unaffected Jake is. Even as his life becomes more chaotic, he remains disconnected from almost every action, as if he was an observer but not a participant. Whether it's his first kiss, or his finding a woman sleeping in the house he burglarizes, or eventually becoming a bully himself, most of his actions are punctuated with "ya know?" or a 'meh' type comment. The few times Jake claims to feel "alive" are typically the times we'd prefer that he not.

Change is inevitable and over the course of the book, as Nick-the-burglar becomes Jake's mentor, Jake begins to change. The bullied becomes the bully. The change is sadly fascinating and perhaps a bit ironic; Jake spends much of the book talking about how the brain works, how it sifts through information, how people process right and wrong, yet the lessons are lost on him. He reads the info; he doesn't apply it.

Jake isn't easy to care about partially because he doesn't care. Clearly he feels a fondness toward his two friends. But outside of that, he has passion for virtually nothing.

I wish I had known more around the "why's" of Jake's actions. He is reasonably attractive, he does well enough in sports, he's tall and strong enough to defend himself, and he's smart enough to take college courses. So what's up with him? The book hints that it's a lack of a role model, and I did wonder: Where in the HELL are the adults in this kid's world? There doesn't seem to be one who is active in his life. This includes his mom, who for unclear reasons, he doesn't respect. She merits no more than three or four entries in his journal.

Maybe she deserves it. Maybe her parenting skills were grossly lacking. The kid was slipping out every night to steal shit. Did he have no curfew? Was mom knocked out on Ambien? Or was she slinging hash at Mel's Diner, trying to provide a decent life for the two, and she didn't know what he was up to? We don't know; Jake never tells us.

Time passes, and one day Jake discovers that Nick is up to far more than just burglarizing homes. Jake sets out to resolve it. Yet as he tries, the disconnect between what Jake should do and what Jake does remains. To state it as Jake might, 'I'm not sure if the left side of his brain and the right side of his brain are communicating. Ya know?'

In the end, Jake learns some very powerful lessons about himself and what life is really about. I'm just not sure that he learned everything that he should have. But maybe that's what happens when you make life-altering decisions at sixteen years old. Or maybe you can't see clearly when you're "Casting Shadows Everywhere."

In her debut novel, L.T. Vargus has fashioned a modern day commentary about the repercussions of bullying, of controlling others, and of not loving one's self. It's a powerful theme; and the tale lingers long after you turn the last page.

Sunday, 15 December 2013 19:48

"Barely Breathing" - Michael J.Kolinski

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Barely Breathing

Barely Breathing, by Michael Kolinski, has so many good reviews on Goodreads that I couldn't help but purchase it. I must admit, I had high hopes.

The story tells the tale of an early-thirties gent named Jake Woods who, after surviving a mass murder, is pulled from a deep depression by his distant cousin Jana who invites Jake to her California home for a visit. When Jake arrives, she is nowhere to be found. As days pass, Jake becomes increasingly worried, and he begins to search for a cousin he doesn't know so well.

Jake believes himself to be a bit on the innocent side, as he does hail from Iowa, and unprepared for the search. Fortunately, he's intelligent, resourceful, sarcastic, and borderline mouthy. A former wrestler, he can hold his own in a fist fight, he's got biceps for days, and his looks are movie star or, at least, porn star handsome.

His girl Friday is Laurie Summers, Jana's best friend. She has a heart of gold and a bit of baggage, and she is dedicated to locating her friend.

Jake is an affable character; he and Laurie have an easy chemistry that permeates the book. As central characters, they are both pleasant to be around.

I was a bit distracted that almost every time Laurie was introduced into a scene, Jake reminded me how breathtakingly beautiful she was. Is this girl Aphrodite incarnate? Finally I got it. Jake was mesmerized and I was supposed to be as well.

I also had a couple "nit-picky" issues with the book. One was was the tendency for the author to telegraph – he'd tell us there was going to be an upcoming problem before the problem occurred.

The other issue was the lead character's tendency to ramble, muse, and share thoughts that might reveal character but didn't move the story along.

For me, both of those tendencies robbed the book of what I wanted most: Tension!

Jake's cousin is missing, for crying out loud! I'd imagine the search for a missing person would be an exhausting emotional frenzied search – especially if there are bad guys involved, especially if you didn't know if you were making the right choices, and especially if you thought someone had been murdered. Yet the story didn't create any tension until about page 188. Some of which wasn't as harrowing as it could be because of statements made earlier in the book (or the author's affinity for making comments that deflate the energy).


I could see Laurie's face now. Her mouth was hanging open, and she was gasping for breath. Her palms were bracing against the dashboard, leaving wet stains. She was sweating through her clothes. She was doing better than I.

"You okay?" I asked.

"I liked it better when you drove like an old lady."

Really? A murderer is rushing the car and that's what the characters say?

Unfortunately, lines that seem incongruous with the scene abound in the story. (I began to think that the author preferred dry-wit to tension. No problem. He's the author. His choice. Right?) What tension the book has lasts for about 50 pages, and then the book moves back into its slower pace.

This isn't to say that the book isn't good. It was just paced a little too slowly for this reader.

Let me add, there is a jaw-dropper toward the book's finale, and the final chapter is a sweet ending. Overall, I enjoyed Mr. Kolinski's style, and I would definitely recommend the book for the mystery-lover. My sole request is the next time I read a mystery called Barely Breathing, I'm able to hold my breath from anticipation as I turn each and every page.

Sunday, 15 December 2013 19:25

"The Lust for Love" - Sharmisa Garner

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The Lust for Love

You may remember Sharmisa "Extra" Garner as the tiny, feisty, outspoken contestant during the second season of For the Love of Ray J. Ms. Garner's writing debut is The Lust for Love. In it, the author offers the reader "hot and steamy advice for your love life" and ambitiously promises that by the end of the book, the reader will know "what men want," "what women want," "what it means to be "just friends," and how to deal with the "fear of love."

Unfortunately, this book does not deliver on any of its promises. The book oscillates between being a memoir and relationship advice guide. My primary issue when reading the book was feeling that the author completely lacks any credibility in giving relationship advice. This is not just because she is single, but also because all of the past relationships that the author recounts in her book ended badly with the author getting "played" and being deceived. Ms. Garner does not indicate that she has had any healthy past relationships. Lastly, there are no empirical sources cited for her research and there aren't any quotes from men validating her theories. The advice offered in the book is harmless enough. It ranges from common sense (men like matching bra and panties) to cringe-worthy ("if you can't cook, you don't deserve a good man any way." Yes, ladies, that is an actual quote from the book). However, there is nothing new, fresh, or ground breaking in this book.

For women that are seeking straight forward, honest advice on men, dating and relationships, I recommend reading Play or Be Played: What Every Female Should Know About Men, Dating and Relationships by Tariq "K-Flex" Nasheed. Fair warning, some of Mr. Nasheed's observations may border on misogyny (such as the chapter How Men Really Judge Women in which he ranks women as A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, D-Class, or F-Class females) but you will not find a more honest look at the psychology behind contemporary African American dating.


Review by Wanda Gray

Sunday, 15 December 2013 19:14

"The Oasis of Filth" Part 1 - Keith Soares

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The Oasis of Filth by Keith Soares is a story narrated by a family doctor 10 years after the outbreak of a rare disease RL2013; a hybrid of rabies and leprosy. RL2013 changes normal people into violent, raging, blood thirsty zombies.

The government seals off cities in order to keep the infected away from the non-infected. However, life within the walls isn't what it used to be. With no cure imminent, the government believes that keeping the environment within the walls sanitized will help to one day overcome the disease. "Stay clean. Stay alive," becomes the mantra for those not infected and living in fear has become the norm - fear of the disease and fear of the government.

When the doctor meets Rosa, they become fast friends. Rosa is intrigued by the possibility the rumored Oasis exists. The Oasis is a safe place free of zombies and free of the disease; a myth and legend to most, but something people don't talk about. Unfortunately, her fascination with the Oasis gets back to the government and she is taken away.

This story is at times unsettling because it's so believable, which is a testament to the author. Keith Soares has written a fast-paced, extremely clever and witty, story. One of my favorite lines was, "These days there were only two types of people infected and not infected. I imagine racism was finally conquered." This speaks to what is truly at the heart of the story. It's not so much about the zombies, as it is about people, and how we choose to unite under extreme adversity.

Keith Soares manages to fit in plenty of action and just enough character development for a short story. It's like riding a rollercoaster through twists and turns and then comes to an abrupt end with a jolt. This leaves the reader not only stunned, but wanting to know more...thank goodness there is a sequel!

Reviewed by Brandi Harrington



Tuesday, 26 November 2013 15:17

Love In Translation - Sara Palacios

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Emily’s love life is a mess. She recently discovered that her boyfriend has been cheating, and she can’t get herself together, despite the support of her two best friends Sophie and Deana.

Too many shots of vodka can blur your vision, and give you a hangover. But as Emily’s vision clears, she realizes that she can’t settle; that she has to be strong.

Will Emily’s broken heart mend? It looks like it will when handsome chef Andres walks into her life.

But then good-looking Steven – who’s always been there – proclaims his love.

What’s a girl to do? And who is she to choose?

“Love in Translation,” the debut novel by Sara Palacios is an easy-read, and any woman who has suffered a heartbreak will be able to relate to Emily’s sorrow. She’s had a tough break and is looking for a new love.

Sara P. does an impressive job of making the reader feel connected to Emily within the first few pages. It’s that investment in Emily that will keep the reader interested until the end. It kept me wanting to see Emily's "happily ever after."

I would like to have seen some greater development of the secondary characters. Emily is surrounded by some fun and interesting people that could have added another dynamic to the story. Nevertheless, the book reminded me of a movie “rom-com.” It’s sweet, light-hearted, and feel-good. The added bonus: You might learn a little Spanish when you read it!

Reviewed by Brandi Sawyer

Brandi is a former Kansas City Chief cheerleader, a newlywed, an avid reader, and isn’t afraid to drop the word “bitches” when appropriate.

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