War Eternal: Book II: The Emergent Threat by J.F. Cain

A beautiful seacoast sunrise enters a mansion’s lavish bedroom to find a fallen angel wrapped in the arms of a mortal man; and not just any angel. Aranes had been the Superior of all Celestials until just last night when she sacrificed her immortality to save the life of Alex, the man now at her side.

It’s a sensual start to standout author J.F. Cain’s new book, War Eternal: Book Two: The Emergent Threat. In this powerful sequel to Angels’ Whispers, Cain reveals that it’s not the first time Aranes has tasted mortality. Indeed, angels have been walking the earth since before time began, engaged in the tumultuous task of protecting us from evil forces that would otherwise soon overwhelm and destroy the human race.

But, as the story unfolds, the celestial beauty finds that this incarnation is different; she has lost her angelic powers — the terrible price exacted by The Source in exchange for Alex’s life. And the timing couldn’t be worse.

Just as in the first book, Cain thoroughly imbues her well-defined characters with style and immense believability. It becomes no stretch at all, therefore, to find oneself as a reader relentlessly rooting for the Angels as they engage demons, vampires and a host of similar bad guys in a series of cinematically staged fight scenes — all in deadly pursuit of Aranes’ and Alex’s demise.

During one particularly intense battle, it is revealed that Alex’s best friend is not human. Turns out, he’s been here for at least the past ten years, watching over Alex. Upset by the revelation, Alex flees in his Aston Martin. This proves unwise as it makes him easy prey for Aranes’ evil nemesis Lyla to pounce on him with a host of her demonic minions. And yet another otherworldly set-to takes place.

From epic Biblical battle scenes to steamy, yet restrained, sexual interludes, this book once again measures up mightily to expectations, giving readers still more of everything a fan of this genre might expect — and then some. As the book careens toward a climactic conclusion — with still another epic sword-wielding battle — Lucifer reaffirms his goal of world domination and sets the stage for a decisive third book with the most astonishing revelation of all. Readers will be suitably shocked, and we all will eagerly await Book Three, due next year.

Five-plus stars to this sensational sequel. While many long-awaited sequels fall short of expectations, The Emergent Threat proves to be more than equal to the task. It’s a triumph in storytelling that should move author J.F. Cain to the forefront of her genre.

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Campanile: As it was Where it was – by Peter Melaragno

A hurried promise to a dying man lies at the heart of a remarkable book by one of the best new writers in Indie publishing today.

In Campanile, first-time author Peter Melaragno draws deeply on his Italian-American heritage to bring life and a wealth of color to his brilliantly drawn, yet achingly conflicted lead character, Ethan Canavaro.

Ethan is haunted throughout the book by his pledge to return to a poverty stricken town in Mexico to rescue the granddaughter of a terminally ill acquaintance. For years afterward, the girl dances in and out of Ethan’s consciousness, alternating her appearance as either a wide-eyed young girl or a withered old woman.

In reality, she is neither, having perished in the desert trying to reach the United States only months after Ethan left Mexico. Yet still the guilt lingers, decades after the fact.

The novel traces Ethan’s subsequent journeys across many time zones and through many troubled relationships in search of solutions to questions both articulated and unspoken. Unforgettable characters appear, go away, and then reappear in a series of slow reveals that very effectively hold readers in suspense. What, for example, becomes of Ethan’s first professed love, Ariadne? Indeed, she haunts his thoughts almost as much as the unfortunate deceased granddaughter, Dina.

And then there are the solid supporting male cast members as well, like old friend Victor, who knew Ethan’s equally troubled father, and kept a dark secret about him close for many years.

There are many other players intersecting and crisscrossing Ethan’s past, present and future: Teodolinda, his widowed grandmother, whom he oddly wished had never left her village in Italy; flamenco artist, Maya, who figures subtly but importantly in the unfolding back story; and young, yet wise-beyond-his-years, Khalil, whose trusting friendship with Ethan may yet be his redemption.

Finally, we must mention the preponderance of superb writing in this book. On just about every other page there is a truly outstanding passage, from the simply lyrical to the markedly profound. Here are a few examples from early in the book:

It was at just that moment of suspended mystery, a crossroad of hands, that Ethan found himself at a singularly pristine bend of life’s river.

It is the pervading sense of dislocation that dogs him; the sense that no matter where he is or whatever he is doing, he is never where he is supposed to be.

He reflects on how the perpetual motion of life seems to halt so cleanly at certain difficult beats, how emotional upheavals sink into memory as postcards rather than video.

“All gangsters are patriots,” she said. “You didn’t know this?”

“And what is not strictly forbidden will happen again and again. Always.”

So, in the final analysis, as a reader, come for the crisp, polished writing. But stay for the book’s stunning conclusion in which much is made clear and one is left with deep satisfaction at a thoroughly absorbing piece of fiction from beginning to end.

Five plus stars to Campanile. It is an impressive start to what we hope will be a long literary career.

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The Big Bopper by Reb MacRath

Holy kick-butt P.I. fiction! It’s two heroes for the price of one in this sensational new series by the creator of noir legend Boss MacTavin.

MacTavin teams with the diminutive detective formerly known as Dirty Boy as he morphs from Boss’s indispensible sidekick into the easy-walking, tough guy-talking Diogenes Baryshnikov, and, still later, into a classy, sartorially splendid private eye in his own right. His name by the end of the book is no less than Chief. That is, Chief Armstrong — The Big Bopper.

The Scene: Seattle, Washington. The Players: D.B. Boss, and a small but deeply dedicated team of other operatives. The Caper: creation of a unique new detective agency here. It is speedily christened Seattle BOP: (Bureau of Protection, Payment, Payback, Providence, Placation, Prudence, Pacification.) Or a hundred other possibilities, as needed.

It won’t be easy.

They’re hamstrung at every turn by employer-imposed behavioral restrictions. Like no fighting. But D.B. still finds ways to debilitate and discourage the feckless foes who test him.

Their initial assignment deals with an alleged case of insurance fraud. But when the beneficiary of the settlement dies mysteriously, the case escalates to murder one in this self-proclaimed “cool gray city of uncommon funk.”

The author skillfully inserts character after outre character: beautiful Ammy, formerly a homeless waif and now Flow Director for Seattle BOP; Duncan and Starr Jackson, D.B.’s married team of go-to operatives; Dirk Ramsey III, makeover manager for the image conscious Gestalt Insurance; Giorgio Amande, man about town and cage fighting aficionado; Buster and Elena Blackmon, incredibly rich couple-swapping swingers, complete with a diamond chip in ear and nose, respectively. And so many other red herrings that you’ll think you’ve wandered into the Seattle Fish Market.

It’s a delightful detective book, though, deeply layered with a reveal a minute to send your suspicions down a completely different byway, and leading up to a masterful denouement that will leave you wilted with cranial exhaustion.

And the author’s many turns of priceless phrase are at once lyrical, pithy, and streetwise:

“I didn’t make my bones or fortune by tiptoeing on eggshells. Were there corpses ahead? C’est la vie…and la mort.”

“The three feel (they are) about to be goosed by good luck.”

And our favorite:

“Chief could handle a goon with a snotlocker as red as a June rose.”

Five plus stars to The Big Bopper. It’s the debut of a new hard-boiled detective who measures up mightily.

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My Name is Nelson: Pretty Much the Best Novel Ever by Dylan Fairchild

It’s Christmas day in dusty, barren Raindale, New Mexico, and exotic dancer Tiffany Golden hears a local news report that changes her life forever. A mysterious, blinding bolt of light has leapt from the heavens to incinerate a feed shed belonging to one Herbert Hickelcropper, a local llama farmer.

And with that singular piece of plot development in place, author Dylan Fairchild goes on to weave a brilliant and unique sci-fi novel called My Name Is Nelson.

The story goes on to tell of the Rainman-like research scientist Nelson Troutman’s all-consuming drive toward creation of a limitless energy source. Then, it explores the poignant but platonic relationship with heart-of-gold stripper Ms. Golden. And, it reveals the fate of two brutal groups who engage in what Troutman calls “mean” behavior. (Hint: Don’t set a place for any of them at dinner tonight…)

The book has been dubbed by its author as “pretty much the best novel ever.” We don’t know about that. But it’s safe to say he’s crafted a potential bestseller — and, possibly, a hit movie. Clearly, the rapid-patter dialogue would play well on the big screen.

But it’s the audacious plot that really grabs the reader’s attention.

Troutman is a former long-suffering orphan who has been bullied and made to feel “different” all his life. But that’s over now. He has developed a next gen wonder weapon that can cruise the global skies indefinitely without landing and with only minimal operator input. And when that operator — in this case, Troutman himself — becomes aware of a situation anywhere in the world where innocent people are being “treated mean,” he unleashes the weapon’s onboard death ray, instantly vaporizing bad guys and buildings with equal aplomb.

It’s a tremendously entertaining storyline with rich characterization and cinematic action scenes designed to draw you deep into the book. And, in terms of sheer storytelling mastery, it’s one of the best books we’ve seen in awhile.

We give My Name Is Nelson five-plus stars and look forward to an equally well-written sequel.

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Permeable Divide by Ellen Rachlin

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“In her splendid fourth collection, poet Ellen Rachlin explores what she calls the “Permeable Divide”–the breach between the living and a loved one lost to death, the gap between confidence and hesitation, the gulf between banking and art, and perhaps most devastatingly, the chasm between freedom and habit.

“Rachlin combines her deliciously unique talents and background to speak about the differences between money and value. She crafts aphoristic and well-aimed poems that explode when we least expect them to–into a tender understanding of the rifts in our world. I don’t often read a book of poems straight through, but I did that with Permeable Divide. I was catapulted from line to line, moved and inspired.” Molly Peacock

“There is no fooling grief, Ellen Rachlin wisely writes, in her elegant, clear-eyed book, Permeable Divide. These are incorruptible poems of life’s inevitable losses that always harbor emotional barter. Bad weather is useless as sorrow, the poet insists; but sorrow, without self-pity, is what Rachlin recognizes– honestly, calmly, and compassionately — as part and parcel of our sentient human design.” – Emily Fragos

“In her stunning new book, Ellen Rachlin explores, as if from a philosopher’s point of view, the world around her. Reality, at times, is observed from a distance–a traveler contemplates the landscape and reckons, “The natural world is never enough.” These are gems of poems which seek clarity while catching flashes of light.”-Elise Paschen

“Math, science and the crunching of numbers show up in Ellen Rachlin’s book next to stars, supernovae, meteor showers and memory, a desire for order. She collapses the time between memory and implosion.” -Kate Gale

The Great American Cat Novel by dhtreichler &‎ PhantomCat

When Bengal Charlie, the Secretary General of the United Cat Nations, disappears under the most mysterious of circumstances, the suspects start quick-stepping into focus faster than — well, a cat on a hot tin roof.

In this ambitious paen to George Orwell’s classic allegorical tale Animal Farm, author dhtreichler weaves together a fascinating mystery cum cautionary tale in which dogs and cats are struggling to achieve a peaceful coexistence.

The narrator of the story is a Maine Coon cat novelist who invents a strong female protagonist, a hard-bitten Big Cat security agent with the improbable name of Amethyst Leopard. She dives into the investigation with fierce determination and begins backtracking the Secretary General’s last known movements.

The missing feline won a Nobel prize for his feat of negotiating a shaky accord between disparate factions of dogs and cats the world over. But it seems not everyone is ready to bury the centuries-old hatchet. Hit dogs — including a gun-wielding Pit Bull — try to take out Amethyst early in the investigation, but she perseveres,  methodically putting together a long list of probable perps.

This includes an incredibly imaginative lineup of characters ranging from Dragon Li, the Secretary General’s  ADD-afflicted personal assistant to Bull Durham, the snarling mastiff who heads up the uber-right wing hate group, the Society of Pooches and Cat Antagonizers (SPCA) — and a half-dozen other players who move into and out of the storyline.

The plot turns ever more problematic as Amethyst and her boss Luis Lyons try to keep track of this growing roster of POIs (Persons of Interest) who might have a motive for moving Bengal Charlie out of the way. This includes the outrageous possibility that bad dog Durham is trying to move forward with a secret plot to mass exterminate the estimated 75 million cats in the world. (In a nice touch, Bull always wears a flowing black cape with a blue lining — in case you had any doubts about his villainous nature).

Also vying for the reader’s attention are a few choice turns-of-phrase scattered here and there as the book unfolds.

Speaking of the crying need for a modern literary masterwork that will stand the test of time, the cat narrator yawns and says, “Naps are too important to miss over such a trivial thing as immortality.”

And, as Lyons begins to tire of the seemingly endless line of possible links, he says to Amethyst: “This is as fruitless as a giraffe-stripped nut tree.”

The novel’s clear homage to Orwell’s work is evident throughout as the author puts his cat and dog characters in anthropomorphic positions of authority that continually evoke images of Man’s constant need to assert dominance over one another and over entire racial and ethnic groups — often through deadly measures.

The book reaches its climactic conclusion after side trips to many places in search of clues, including several international locales such as Singapore (Amethyst is forced to ride in the hold — in a crate) and Chicago (where a kangaroo court finds her guilty of dognapping Bull Durham).

In between, the story alternates between a dawning realization of just what the wrenching societal consequences of the historic Peace Accords will be, and the many twists and turns that slowly build suspense and an ever-growing anticipation of the book’s big reveal: where is the Secretary General, and is he alive or dead?

Discover the answer to that question — and be morally uplifted into the bargain — when you read The Great American Cat Novel. We recommend it to anyone wanting to curl up by the fire with an innovative twenty-first century take on allegorical fiction this winter.

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Onions by Cy Young

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Charles Wesley Onions is cruising through life as only a twelve-year-old can: aimlessly consuming all the comic books he can afford, and dodging an endless stream of school bullies. Then, he meets octogenarian Sandrine Galano Fuller and his hapless young life changes forever.

In this captivating offbeat novel, called, simply, Onions, author Cy Young draws the reader deep into the unlikely but fascinating story of Onions’ escape from an adolescent hell of foster homes and petty thievery into a wary friendship with Fuller, who begins the slow process of building the boy’s self esteem.

Written skillfully in the tradition of John Irving and his always-outre casts of characters, Onions rises above the stereotypical coming-of-age storyline so popular among many Young Adult novels these days to render a tale both sweet and fulfilling.

Charles Wesley (C.W.) quickly gets recruited into Mrs. Fuller’s zany campaign to derail a plan by local power brokers to build a taxpayer-funded sports arena. The plan has been cooked up in a smoke-filled back room by crooked city hall officials, who would receive handsome kickbacks from bad apple builders like this succinctly summed-up mayoral crony:

“Zinnerman’s short, hefty legs were crossed at the ankles revealing his passion: red, green, and orange argyle socks. His thin-lipped smile was like the bottom line of a ledger.”

This kind of priceless exposition abounds in the book, which also features such disparate (but crucial) plot elements as skinny-dipping senior citizens, big bore trumpet solos from The Wizard of Oz, and treetop aerobatics by a leaflet-dropping ultralight aircraft.

The narrative dips and weaves its way through Onions’ euphoric highs and devastating lows on the way to a surprising conclusion that finds C.W. many years later standing center stage at Madison Square Garden — a living testament to just what a single act of kindness at a crucial time can do to a troubled teen. It is a moral worth remembering in these perilous times of senseless school violence.

Five-plus stars to Onions for unparalleled storytelling and quirky characterizations that inspire deep reader empathy for some players, disdain for others and a fascination for all.

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