Formula Q by Alexander Charalambides

Hard-charging jetcar driver Vittoria Tarno and her intrepid racing team Goofé Troupé take their legendary racing prowess to Mars in this heart-stopping, totally cinematic look at next-gen interplanetary auto racing.

But this spectacular spectator sport turns into a dangerous death duel somewhere along the way and you, the lucky reader, will be riveted to your chair for the ride of your life.

Master storyteller Alexander Charalambides has once again crafted an instant YA/NA classic that will entertain anyone who enjoys racing, gaming and stories about lovable, irreverent underdogs — all served up with a healthy dose of standout science fiction.

In Formula Q, the author expertly sets up a dangerous no-win situation for the perennially trash-talking troupe when mega bad guy Admiral Suresh invites them to tour the red planet’s racing venues and vie for the coveted, ruby-encrusted Spearhead of Ares.

Only problem is, racing rules are radically different on Mars and each race more closely resembles a death-defying demolition derby than the elite Grand Prix events that Goofé Troupé dominates back on Earth.

In addition to highly detailed racing tactics narrative and a sophisticated video game feel throughout, there’s also a surprising depth to each of the major players that begs an almost involuntary bond between reader and character. Daytona Dave, Normal Dog, Father Gravity, The German — they all bring a creative something extra to the story, often adding a startling depth that makes the reader root for them both on the track and off.

But back to the races. After setting a new speed record, Vittoria is squarely in the crosshairs of Martian competitors and fans alike, whose planetary pride has been wounded by her success. Even a gesture of peace at a local mall’s retro arcade backfires, and some brilliant back seat driving to help one of the rival team members best a game’s high score goes unrewarded. But it does allow the Earthians to better understand that winning isn’t everything on Mars — it’s the only thing. And it often means the literal difference between living and dying for these people.

Excellent writing, expertly crafted dialogue and a few memorable turns-of-phrase also make this book a must-read:

For example, on viewing Mars’ domed and sparkling capitol city for the first time from planetary orbit, Vittoria sums up her impression succinctly: “From here the whole thing looks like Christmas in an anthill.”

And, speaking of Mars’ strongman dictator Admiral Suresh’s quirky proclivity for big words and archaic pronouns, Dave observes drily: “He hollers like a drunk in a thesaurus factory.”

Where does it all end? Do Daytona Dave and the rest of Goofé Troupé return home victorious — or with their collective tails between their tail pipes? It’s a winner-take-all exciting finish you won’t want to miss.

Five-plus stars to Formula Q. It’s three cuts above the usually cliched YA fare, and a rare good read.

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Encore: A Contemporary Love Story of Hypnotic Abduction by Tantra Bensko

Miriam waits in the wings of the theater night after night, anxiously inhaling the aura of the woman for whom she is an understudy.

She is, in theater parlance, a “standby” awaiting the instant in which she must assume the lead role in a sweeping, allegorical dance production that pays tribute to a curious retelling of the Atlantean legend, intertwined with elements of Camelot and Tibetan Buddhism.

For if Susan, the production’s lead dancer, should fall victim to one of her cancer-induced coughing fits and be unable to proceed, Miriam will have her big chance to be a star — adored by many in the audience, but reviled by a few hecklers who shout hate-based epithets about the production’s racial and ethnic bias.

It’s Andrew Lloyd Webber on steroids as performers in the troupe draw and send powerful aura-based energies throughout the venue, aided by the production’s resident hypnotist — a mysterious yet powerful man they call Dune. He is married to Susan; yet he seems more than a little attracted to Miriam. Or is that just all in Miriam’s very active imagination?

Indeed, Miriam’s inner dialogues drive much of the opening action in this remarkable sequel to the author’s award-winning book Glossolalia. In that groundbreaking novel, set in a not-so-distant future, insidious agents of the Nevermind control thought worldwide and work within shadowy conspiracies and large corporations to influence international affairs.

In this book, a cult has grown up around elements of the Atlantis story, and society has become divided — often violently — depending upon one’s beliefs. You’re either for one faction or another, with very little middle ground.

And this conflict serves as a complex backdrop in the development of multifaceted characters like Miriam, Susan, Dune and others to weave a dark — yet highly entertaining — tale.

As in the first book, there is lyrical writing and memorable turns-of-phrase everywhere. Such as:
“His red lips showed exquisite pain and pleasure with the tiniest movements of pointed corners. In the dream, he dressed like Lord Byron. We lived wild in the gorse, swam in stars together, became wind whipping up wildfire turning heather to passion. We were a lighting storm. We were eternal.”

And this deliciously foreshadowing phrase:

“The future licked my skin and made it shiver.”

And, this pensive passage:

“We’re inside a story, I thought. The edges of our story are like moss, the little viney spots in the yard by the terraces and the spaces between the fence posts and the rocky hill, inhabited by glowing imagination since I was a child giddy with breathing into other worlds.”

As this storyline unfolds, Susan suddenly falters during the last performance of the season, and Miriam, aura glowing, glides in to flawlessly finish the show to accolades and bravos. Susan, meanwhile, is whisked off to a remote castle owned by a friend of Dune’s — ostensibly to convalesce.

But there is more to Dune’s motives than helping his wife get better. She soon finds that she is a virtual prisoner in the feudal keep, dodging rats and listening furtively to Dune and his fellow Nevermind agents plan the eventual overthrow of the world. And it gets even better after that, with aborted escapes through hidden passageways, unforeseen plot twists, and surprise character reveals that will keep you turning pages right through to the end.

This is not meant to be a lighthearted romp through arcane information about ancient legends and curious customs that, in the book, have arisen to divide nations. It’s more than that — much more.
It is a masterwork of storytelling with a very sharp edge and a keen wit to boot. It peels back the intricate subderma overlaying each major character’s persona, revealing our all-too-human vulnerabilities to mass suggestion. And it once again points up the critical need to be ever vigilant in guarding our very thoughts in an increasingly invasive society.

Five and a half stars to Encore and to its visionary author, Tantra Bensko. The first novel in the Nevermind series won a gold medal for excellence in writing. The sequel should win platinum. And it’s a book that should be on everyone’s reading shortlist this summer.

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Maximize Your Book Sales With Data Analysis by Mike Kowis & Sharon C. Jenkins

It often comes as a shock to writers — particularly the authors of novels and other works of fiction — that once the supposedly “hard work” of crafting a well-written book is over, there then looms a more daunting and perplexing task. How do I market and promote my work?

How, indeed?

There are many resources available — more than ever before — to help guide the way through the often perplexing gauntlet of marketing tactics available to authors.

The secret is (a) to find the good ones and (b) to learn to leverage their considerable power and global reach to accomplish your biggest goal.

Which is to sell as many books as you can.

Oh, sure, some of the more esoteric writers will sniff self-righteously at the goal of commercial success. But those of us with mortgages to pay and mouths to feed must up their marketing and promotional game to its highest level.

This compact, yet powerful book can help you do that.

Don’t be put off by its overly clinical title and chapter headings. Because beneath the decidedly un-writer-like prospects of having to “analyze critical data” and “create a business plan,” there is a virtual gold mine of practical tips and techniques to be had here for achieving bestseller status.

Mystified by the prospect of using pay-per-click ads to create awareness of your book’s existence? Don’t be. The authors of this book break down not only the “why” of the reasoning behind this effective technique, but more importantly, the “how” on creating a successful campaign.

Social media marketing guides leave you still bewildered at the sheer numbers they force you to analyze?

This book pulls back the veil on how to do that easily by using a couple of tried and true Internet platforms — Google Analytics chief among them — to finally discover what potential buyers are doing once they reach your point of sale — typically your Amazon page or your author’s website.

What? Don’t have a website yet? You’d better, if you really want to catapult your sales into the stratosphere.

Public speaking leave you feeling discouraged? Don’t be. Learn to embrace and leverage public appearances to best advantage.

In short, this handy guide with the off-putting name should be required reading in both MFA degree programs for “serious” writers and in nonfiction seminars alike. We award five and half stars to its authors for producing such a helpful guide.

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Cerberus Confidential (Primordial Realms Book 1) by Stacy Benedict

Detective Niels Troelsen and his partner Detective Elan Cohen are once again primed for canine intrigue in Cerberus Confidential, author Stacy Benedict’s offbeat and incredibly creative new science fiction/mystery mashup.

In this slim volume, the two detectives must figure out just what happened to a libidinous lady who has stepped away from her husband and boring job to seek adventure with her problematic paramour, who is himself torn between what he ought to do and what he knows in his yellow-bellied heart he will do.

And so a first-rate conundrum begins to consume the two Canine caste Primordials — who in actuality hail from a faraway world called Arimoi. They’re on Earth to protect humans — from other humans.

They visit the victim’s place of employment, trendy VigorNourish, to try and unearth some kind of clue that will shed much-needed light on the case. Surveillance cameras in the company’s parking garage give a hint as to the noontime activities of the missing woman and point the pair of detectives in a promising new direction.

A visit to a nearby shooting club puts them in touch with a nervous archery instructor — Ernest Truman — who flees after the brief interview to an emotional meeting for shopaholics and hoarders.

Niels — who takes the form of a dachshund and hides under a table to eavesdrop during the meeting hears the unfortunate archery teacher break down, confessing the purchase of thousands of dollars worth of leather goods — the very items that came tumbling out of a locker rented at the club by the missing woman earlier.

On and on the plot deepens, as every page turn reveals a new suspicious character for the reader’s consideration as a potential perpetrator.

Indeed, this delightfully well-constructed novella overflows with outre characters who jump off the page fully formed and so artfully described you’ll feel you’ve met them somewhere. For example, consider this delicious description of shooting club owner Whitney “Call Me Bullwhip” Foxgloves:

“(In came) a red-faced fellow whose stomach entered the room before him. He wore cowboy boots and a white button-down T-shirt with the words ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ embroidered in gold thread above his heart.”

And, this priceless piece of prose that arises farther along in the investigation:

“Beatrice’s possible murder lurked in every corner of the investigation like a large, fuchsia-colored, and unspoken-about whale.”

So much great writing, so little room in this review to recount all of it.

Five-plus stars to Cerberus Confidential. Come for the curious concept of shapeshifting detectives. But stay for a roundhouse solution to the mystery that would have impressed Charlie Chan.

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Beat Bop: A Varian Pike Mystery by Jack DeWitt

“Five-Plus Stars to Beat Bop” – Publishers Daily Reviews

Smooth jazz-loving private investigator Varian Pike meets enlightened, poetry-quoting thief Ronnie Hayes at the very beginning of the excellent new P.I. mystery Beat Bop, by master storyteller Jack deWitt. And the unlikely duo immediately form an investigative alliance that is at once highly entertaining and totally unique among novels in this genre.

After a back alley fight that’s quickly decided in their favor despite the size advantage of their two oafish adversaries, Pike and Hayes find they are kindred spirits, despite their considerable age difference.

Both can handle themselves in a pinch, both love Thelonius Monk, and both have a view of the laws of the land as more akin to guidelines than actual rules.

But it’s the next pivotal event that truly bonds this fascinating twosome — the murder of a man in a suburban home that Hayes is about to burgle. His original objective is to recover incriminating photos of one of Pike’s young clients. But he has to beat a hasty retreat when police arrive to investigate.

And so, with that, one of the best mysteries this year is well and truly set in motion.

Beat Bop is a confidently-written, erudite novel with major and minor characters that rise well above the standard hard-boiled detective fare. More given to flights of philosophy than to fast-paced car chases, this exceptional read is a thinking man’s — or woman’s — noir mystery, steeped as it is in arcane knowledge of past jazz greats and lyrical poetry by the likes of Walt Whitman.

But back to the plot, which thickens, as they say, when hoodlums tail Pike ceaselessly, pausing just long enough to fire off a round or two at him. He then must connect the Byzantine trail of dots that pepper the path from the brutal murder of the tabloids reporter in a quiet suburb to the yellow journalist’s unfinished story on a hinky investment firm in the Big Apple.

Pike and Hayes must weave carefully through an ever-growing collection of colorful characters designed skillfully by the author to enrich the storyline and enhance the mystery. These players jump fully formed into the reader’s consciousness through some of the most well-written descriptions we’ve seen in awhile:

“He always reminded me of a cartoon rat, big ugly head on a skinny body. We knew each other a little. We didn’t like each other a lot.” And,

“His hair was slicked down with enough grease to lube a Mack truck.”

Pike and Hayes keep at their task despite the worst that can be thrown their way by felonious thugs and corrupt cops, and eventually find a way to pit the bad guys against each other, resulting in the mega fatal “Greenwich Massacre.”

But one of the most satisfying aspects of this book — aside from the salty dialogue and 4D characters — is the ending, which doesn’t offer a happily-ever-after vibe, but rather a sense that characters will play out their own special karma for good or for ill.

Kinda like real life.

We award Beat Bop our very highest rating of five-plus stars. It’s the one mystery this year you won’t want to miss.

And, by the way, readers should take note that this is the second Varian Pike mystery created by this outstanding author. Find the others, entitled Hoochie Coochie Man, and Delicious Little Traitor, by clicking the Amazon links below.

Amazon Link to Beat Bop
Amazon Link to Hoochie Coochie Man
Amazon Link to Delicious Little Traitor

The Separation by Thomas Duffy

Finn is a confused young man. And for good reason. He lives on a world in the distant future where the sexes have been separated for the first 22 years of their lives, supposedly for the greater good of society. But in fact, this both solves and creates problems.

Sent away to one of the country’s “boy states,” he grows up feeling the world is a little strange; that something is missing, and that perhaps he’s being lied to.

So he finally goes off to college, and begins to learn some hard truths about life — one of them being the awesome realization that human beings are created by, of all things, other human beings.

Thus enlightened, he enters into a relationship that gives him a son and many more puzzles to solve. He then struggles with career, women, and the overarching notion of finding happiness in life.

In Finn’s world, selfishness is a worse crime than murder. And individual pursuits, psyches, and abilities are strictly controlled in the interest of societal well-being. It is indeed a bleak, joyless existence.

Readers of sci-fi who like social justice issues embedded in their stories will enjoy following the thought-provoking revelations experienced by Finn. Because, for some reason, when all else fails, Finn still wants to survive in this incredibly restrictive world.

It’s a remarkable twist on the traditional coming of age story, powerfully presented as it is with a strong dose of social and political insights mixed in for good measure.

Readers will also likely find themselves rethinking — and reassessing — their own social norms, historical decisions, and personal choices as The Separation rolls to its surprising conclusion. It’s the kind of book that makes us grateful for the relatively unrestricted lives we lead.

This is excellent social reflection sci-fi on the order of The Handmaid’s Tale. And even though Finn’s journey is less harrowing in some ways, it is nevertheless quietly evocative, following him as it does through the pitfalls of a medicated, disciplined, controlled life — a life in which people are born to work, sex drive is suppressed, and all human emotion is regulated for the common good.

Five-plus stars to The Separation. Rarely do we see such an ambitious social agenda combined so effectively with compelling narrative, well-drawn characters, and a story that’s just so eminently readable.

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Flying Jenny by Theasa Tuohy

Laura Bailey doesn’t want much. Just a front page byline in her New York City tabloid about something more substantial than the quality of the finger sandwiches at a Ladies Auxiliary luncheon.

Oh, well, maybe it would also be nice to know who her father was. But for that to happen, her mother would need to show a compassionate side — something she hasn’t done in all of Laura’s 22 years living with her in the cramped little apartment they share in The City.

That’s just one of the deceptively subtle backstory threads underlying standout author Theasa Tuohy’s superb new historical novel, Flying Jenny. The book ostensibly is about the heady late 1920s, when the public went crazy every day over barnstorming pilots and their heroic stunts. And, most significantly, it’s about a petite young eighteen-year-old named Jenny Flynn, whose outrageous feat of flying under each of the four Manhattan bridges begins the book.

But look deeper, past the well-written dialogue that captures perfectly the swell lingo of the day. And the expertly rendered scenes detailing early aviators’ seat-of-the-pants flying style. These are real people a reader can care deeply about — they’re never cliched or stereotypical. It takes superb writing skill to skirt the temptation to render some minor characters two dimensional. But Tuohy succeeds, page after page, delivering a fresh narrative that never fails to entertain.

The main source of tension in the story derives from Laura’s headstrong, stubborn drive to prove herself worthy to report the news in an overwhelmingly male newspaper market. And serving as counterpoint is Jenny’s breezy ability to excel effortlessly, executing the most complicated aerobatic maneuvers as well as any man, without comment or fanfare.

This sets up inevitable conflict between the two lead characters, Laura goading Jenny to push past what’s easy, and Jenny genuinely perplexed at Laura’s need to prove herself. That, and Laura’s achingly vulnerable naivete about men, which leads predictably to trouble.

The story winds its way through the Midwest, as the troupe performs its aerobatic routines for a breathless public, and a slowly simmering subplot involving Laura’s father gains momentum toward a climactic confrontation in which many things are revealed.

We give Flying Jenny five plus stars for its ambitious themes and flawless writing. We seldom see such superb storytelling skills among the dry, dusty tomes that make up so much of the historical fiction genre. Flying Jenny goes well beyond the norm and delivers a spectacular summertime read..

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