Pale Highway By Nicholas Conley

pale

The panoramic view from the windows of the Bright New Day Nursing Center offers stupendous views of the restless, turbulent Atlantic Ocean — but none of the briny, ever-so-salty air that Gabriel Schist craves.

He can’t leave the facility. He has Alzheimer’s, and the world has become an endless series of prisons — his stark little room, the common area dotted with other hopeless patients, and, of course, his own body, which has, in the end, betrayed him and exiled him to this endless netherworld where he resides, neither living not dead.

Pale Highway is the poignant story of one man’s journey into that cold, lonely, ever-narrowing corridor called Alzheimer’s. His attendants patronize him, his roommate talks too loud, and his daughter dutifully visits — but not too often, because the place depresses her almost as much as it saddens him

Author Nicholas Conley has clearly been a caregiver at some point for someone with this debilitating condition. He writes eloquently of the emotions and daily indignities endured by patients around the world. This story puts a face on the disease, and forces the reader to climb inside the disoriented body of Nobel-winning resident and famed microbiologist Gabriel Schist — the man who cured AIDS in this fictional tale set in the near future.

The writing is painstakingly vivid, evoking unexpected emotions from the reader that cut like the point of a serrated blade:

“Somewhere in the distance, the Crooner’s never-ending singsong echoed through the halls. Looking to his side, Gabriel noticed that Edna Foster had rolled her wheelchair up next to him. Her sons were gone, too. Together, they were childless parents of parentless children.”

And, so go the days, one folding endlessly into another — until fellow resident John Morris contracts what is euphemistically being called the Black Virus. Gabriel is galvanized into action, trying to persuade the nursing home’s staff to let him crack the code that will provide a desperately needed cure.

But, once again, Schist’s body betrays him, and he finds himself battling his own mental shortcomings as he searches for the elusive microbiological solution. He begins talking to the ever-present slugs that infest the nursing home — and they talk back to him! Reluctantly, they even agree to help in his quest for the cure.

This brilliant sci-fi work is a tour-de-force of great writing and meticulous research, all wrapped in a scientific thriller that will have you hoping that Gabriel can solve the life-threatening dilemma before it’s too late — both for him, and for mankind.

Five stars-plus for Pale Highway. It is a striking example of what can be achieved when imaginative writers tackle socially significant themes. We’re all the beneficiaries.

Amazon Link

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Pale Highway By Nicholas Conley

Review By Don Sloan

pale

The panoramic view from the windows of the Bright New Day Nursing Center offers stupendous views of the restless, turbulent Atlantic Ocean — but none of the briny, ever-so-salty air that Gabriel Schist craves.

He can’t leave the facility. He has Alzheimer’s, and the world has become an endless series of prisons — his stark little room, the common area dotted with other hopeless patients, and, of course, his own body, which has, in the end, betrayed him and exiled him to this endless netherworld where he resides, neither living not dead.

Pale Highway is the poignant story of one man’s journey into that cold, lonely, ever-narrowing corridor called Alzheimer’s. His attendants patronize him, his roommate talks too loud, and his daughter dutifully visits — but not too often, because the place depresses her almost as much as it saddens him

Author Nicholas Conley has clearly been a caregiver at some point for someone with this debilitating condition. He writes eloquently of the emotions and daily indignities endured by patients around the world. This story puts a face on the disease, and forces the reader to climb inside the disoriented body of Nobel-winning resident and famed microbiologist Gabriel Schist — the man who cured AIDS in this fictional tale set in the near future.

The writing is painstakingly vivid, evoking unexpected emotions from the reader that cut like the point of a serrated blade:

“Somewhere in the distance, the Crooner’s never-ending singsong echoed through the halls. Looking to his side, Gabriel noticed that Edna Foster had rolled her wheelchair up next to him. Her sons were gone, too. Together, they were childless parents of parentless children.”

And, so go the days, one folding endlessly into another — until fellow resident John Morris contracts what is euphemistically being called the Black Virus. Gabriel is galvanized into action, trying to persuade the nursing home’s staff to let him crack the code that will provide a desperately needed cure.

But, once again, Schist’s body betrays him, and he finds himself battling his own mental shortcomings as he searches for the elusive microbiological solution. He begins talking to the ever-present slugs that infest the nursing home — and they talk back to him! Reluctantly, they even agree to help in his quest for the cure.

This brilliant sci-fi work is a tour-de-force of great writing and meticulous research, all wrapped in a scientific thriller that will have you hoping that Gabriel can solve the life-threatening dilemma before it’s too late — both for him, and for mankind.

Five stars-plus for Pale Highway. It is a striking example of what can be achieved when imaginative writers tackle socially significant themes. We’re all the beneficiaries.

Amazon Link

The Butterfly That Returned By Serene Martin

Review By Don Sloan

butterfly

In The Butterfly That Returned, author/ poet Serene Martin delivers verse that is at once introspective and lyrical.

In a series of thirty-three “heartfelt messages,” she examines self-truths, relationships and — above all — the need to believe in yourself.

In “Get On With It,” she affirms her belief that there are higher forces at work in us — and for us — every day:

“Call it faith. Call it the law of attraction. Call it the placebo effect. Call it God . . . Call it whatever you want and get on with it. Because life is so much better when you believe there are larger forces working for you and with you. . . You are the genius in the fool of every doe-eyed believer of the power of life.”

In “Feeling It,” the poet reveals that actions really do speak louder than words::

“Our dreams have wings / But it is our belief in them that gives them flight / Not words of faith / Our vibration of faith”

In “Good Enough,” a little girl offers up a prayer — and is surprised at the response:

“A single lonesome prayer she had once uttered in the depths of the night when she thought no one was listening had pierced the heavens / A prayer that she almost forgot she even said / And then she realised beyond any doubt / That we are all good enough for good things”

And finally, in “I Am You, ” the poet examines the miracle of just Being:

“I am the curve of your smile and the depth of your remorse / I am your friend and the friend of your enemy / I am what I am and I am you”

Each poem or long verse is uplifting and encouraging, and I also found this short collection to be wonderfully soothing.

Five stars to The Butterfly That Returned. It is a refreshing read.

Amazon Link

The Game By Angie West

Review By Don Sloan

game

A Crypt Keeper, a kilted Scotsman, and three ominous doorways. All these intriguing fictional elements — and much, much more — come together in a wildly imaginative extended short story entitled, simply, The Game.

Author Angie West takes the reader through a modern-day looking glass and into a sinister world where board games come hideously to life and you must play your way back to reality — or die trying.

Lei and her best friend Iris get together at Lei’s house for their traditional game night. But something goes terribly wrong as the young ladies begin to play a board game called Mechant — which translates to “evil” in French. Dark clouds swoop in around Lei’s house as they begin and CRASH — a window blows inward, simultaneously throwing them into darkness.

When they regain their senses, they are in the graveyard depicted on the gameboard, and a smarmy character calling himself the Crypt Keeper beckons them toward the doors of an old mansion. His message is simple: “Play, or die” — or forfeit the game and spend eternity trapped inside the confines of the game with him.

The ensuing action is chillingly vivid as both girls go through Door Number One in search of three keys to be exchanged for freedom if the game’s three levels can be executed successfully. Before they can escape the perils of Level One, however, the Crypt Keeper shows up and demands to hold Iris hostage in exchange for Lei’s life. Reluctantly, Iris agrees to sacrifice her freedom, and the dark figure dissolves, with Iris in tow.

Does Lei fight her way to freedom and rescue her best friend from board game hell? Or does the story simply end on a macabre and ghastly note, with both women doomed to play the game endlessly while they both grow old?

This is a hugely entertaining read, and well worth the price of purchase. Five stars to The Game. Great job, Ms. West!

Amazon Link

Prophecy By Benjamin A. Sorensen

prophecy

Trust. It’s not a word that’s used idly in this excellent new fantasy novel by Benjamin A. Sorenson. Trust is the currency of the realm in the rival kingdoms of Kaylar and Mandyth. But Jard and his beautiful sister Arana are on the run from a swarm of bloodthirsty Kaylarian Knights, and it’s hard to know who is worthy of trust.

The Dragoncrystal has been stolen by someone who looks exactly like Arana. But the Knights’ modus operandi is to slash first and ask questions later — if at all. To complicate matters further, Arana discovers that she can read minds at will, and always has a devastating green spark ready in the palms of her hands. It turns out to be useful when a Knight gets too close and she slams him through a wall.

Not bad for a diminutive, four-foot-tall blonde who, until recently, was just a simple farm girl.

They escape to the city of Marsa, on the border between the two kingdoms and ally themselves with a storyteller named Telas. But their combined efforts are not enough to throw off their pursuers and they flee with a nomad named Ahl-Jer to the principal city of Mandynth.

Meanwhile, Stalarn — the Knight who was thrown into a wall — and the wizard Lord Dalen are still hunting for Arana, but they are far behind. Stalarn is forced to go his own way, crossing the sea to avoid pursuit by his own order of Knights. He failed in his initial mission to kill Arana and, as a result, his own life is forfeit.

In Mandynth, Arana has been taken prisoner. Jard goes to find her, but at the moment of her imminent rescue, he receives a shock: she doesn’t want to be rescued. The mystery deepens when they escape into a snowy forest and encounter a being who is ages old. He reveals a startling fact: the world is now in mortal danger because of the theft of the Dragoncrystal, and only Arana can help.

This extraordinary story develops quickly and then escalates into a full-fledged saga that keeps readers guessing through endless twists. The characters are skillfully developed, with just enough flaws to make them utterly believable.

The result is a heroic quest by a new, exciting female protagonist. Arana is on a critical mission to avert a new War of the Dragons — a war that could have grave consequences for all mankind — and all the magical creatures we meet in the course of the narrative.

But what if, instead of averting the war, she starts it?

Buckle your seatbelt and cancel your appointments. You quite literally won’t want to put this book down, even to sleep. Five-plus stars to Prophecy, and a thunderous welcome to a dynamic new storyteller.

Amazon Link

 

Ribbonworld By Richard Dee

ribbon

There’s something funny going on under the big dome on the planet Reevis. There’s rampant suspicion of Off-Worlders, an ex-con journalist and, oh, yes, that dead body shoved inside the bathroom of a cheap hotel.

This fast-paced book has all the necessary ingredients for a first-rate whodunit — with the added element of being set on a lonely, isolated planet where a local saying sums up the world’s inhospitable nature: “You may use it, or live on it, and even make money from it, but never forget it can snuff you out without a second thought, or even be aware of your passing.”

Miles Gorham originally came to Reevis — also known as a “ribbonworld,” due to an odd swath of barely habitable land that rings the planet — to do a travel piece on a luxury hotel. But his focus quickly shifts to survival as mysterious forces move into play against him.

Who murdered Nic Stavriedies, the local developer who built the hotel Miles has come to review? Who kidnapped Balcom Industries heiress Layla Balcom? And why are the mayor of Reevis City and the earliest planet pioneer so eager to see Miles on the next transport off the strange new world?

The author shows a fine, practiced hand at describing the stark surroundings and the extensive efforts that have been undertaken to make the overall living conditions as close to Terran as possible — right down to the waving fields of wheat growing under the adjoining farm dome.

Miles falls under direct attack while visiting the farm. He and the farm overseer are literally run off the road and are rescued by a passing prospector, a feisty, independent lady who warms up to Miles back at the hotel a bit later in a romantic side plot.

Meanwhile, the nefarious Balcom people, who control everything and just about everybody on the barren world, are busily scheming to take full command, bribing government officials and falsifying documents in partnership with an organized crime syndicate.

Miles is smuggling secret data that will nail the bad guys, but can he get off the planet without getting killed?
This sci-fi story moves quickly, and the technology that supports the domes, and the desolate yet beautiful environment, play major roles during the non-stop action. The writer is almost cinematic, describing the intricacies that keep the residents of the artificial environments alive and productive, providing even rain and gentle breezes.

In the end, justice is served, but not in a way you’ll expect. The author’s talent for storytelling ties up all the loose ends, and mystery and conspiracy buffs will be well-satisfied.

Five stars to Ribbonworld, an ambitious glimpse into a place our great-great-great grandchildren might very well see.

Amazon Link

The Golden Spark By John Allen Royce

spark

Sixteen-year-old Meagan Roberts returns as a doughty groom to a fierce Spaniard in this adventurous tale of equestrian excellence, the sequel to Into the Dark. The fierce Spaniard is no less than Henry Cortes, and the battlefield upon which he rides is filled with screaming Aztec warriors.

For a time it seems the would-be conquerors will themselves be conquered by hundreds of thousands of the Aztec spearmen, who are expert at fighting hand-to-hand. Even Cortes’ superiority in weapons — his men mow down the warriors from afar with cannon and rifleshot — cannot guarantee their victory against the sheer, screaming numbers of heathen opponents.

But the tide is turned when thirteen Spaniards, mounted on high-stepping stallions, appear over the rise. The natives have never seen horses before and flee in terror before the advancing cavalry.

Meagan, for her part, simply hides and wishes for a chance to climb aboard El Morzillo — Cortes’ favorite mount and, in all likelihood, a Great Horse capable of transporting her through time.

She goes to sleep in 14th century Mexico and wakes up in a stables stall in 15th century England — mysteriously having slept through the time travel — and soon finds herself the ward of a red-faced, heavyset cook with a rich English accent and an overbearing manner — think Mrs. Patmore on Downton Abbey.

“The cook pushed past Meagan and shuttered the window, snapping the latch closed. The woman’s eye fell on the pot, half-submerged (in dishwasher). ‘Not enough to keep you busy, is that the trouble? Start on the stove when you’re finished with the washing.’ Meagan nodded, swallowing at the forbidding black monstrosity being called a stove.”

Meagan, mercifully, winds up in the stables again, then is “adopted” by gypsies after being turned out by the staff of the British manor house. She discovers her Great Horse Nero there, but he is woefully underfed. No time to worry about that, however. She barely has time to get her bearings with the gypsies before she goes to sleep again — and finds herself in Versailles, recovering from ague. She finds Nero in the palace stables, then is invited to ride with the King.

Later, she is “dragooned” into giving the royal court riding lessons, just in time for the St. Valentine’s Hunt. At times, Meagan can barely restrain her exasperation with her dandied clientele.

“In the hothouse of Court life, Henrietta had blossomed into highly obnoxious fruit. ‘Very well, Henrietta. Please stand closer, next to the horse. I can’t throw you up,'” Meagan says crossly.

I won’t spoil the ending by revealing whether or not Meagan gets any closer to her true home in the present day, but suffice to say, there’s still plenty of adventure for her before the end of The Golden Spark.

These stories are so well-written, and expertly edited, they are a pleasure to read. Obviously, the author is himself an experienced horseman, and that intricate knowledge of horses, their habits, and the great love he has for them shines through on every page.

Five stars for The Golden Spark, and eager anticipation for the third book in the Great Horse Trilogy.

Amazon Link