the Split: Part 1 By Noel Thomas Fiems

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Aurik hears voices. They’re in his head all the time. It’s weird, but not as weird as when his father can hear his innermost thoughts. He’s got The Change — a worldwide condition of the young, brought on by a thoughtless scientific experiment years earlier.

This is the premise that drives the story of what happens when the earth is kicked back almost a century in technology, forced to live once again by the barter system and constantly on the lookout for the warning signs that signal the DNA resequencing unique to The Change.

Author Noel Thomas Fiems brings a complicated quantum theory backstory to life as we follow a driven, yet kindly, scientist father and his only surviving son, at work in the Adirondack Mountains repairing broken items for neighbors after The Split — the cataclysmic event that is bringing about The Change.

Nineteen-year-old Aurik heads out through the dense forest to The Island, where doctors and clinicians have gathered to perform operations on those who aren’t yet fully consumed by The Change. But will such an operation make Aurik’s voices go away?

While Aurik seeks a way through the mountains, federal forces are trying to collect him for “special” study. It seems his DNA results are worthy of much closer scrutiny, and they’ll do anything to capture him.

Meanwhile, Aurik picks up a couple of traveling companions on the trail, and they all go in search of a guide who can get them through a mysterious forest that stands between Aurik and his destination. Among other dangers, it harbors vicious packs of virulently mutated wolves.

The author turns a good phrase now and then amidst the adventure. He describes the uneasy yet peaceful quiet of the forest that lies ahead of them:

“The sun’s rays sliced through the tops of the trees in the back of the clearing, casting thousands of individual beams. Before hitting the forest floor, they reflected off floating pollen and dust; the air was on fire. The quiet reminded Aurik of the Notre Dame in Paris.”

Why are the wolves hunting Aurik? Their dark secret harbors fierce thoughts of revenge. “The beast landed on the ground quietly. The size of a steer, its tail flicked out behind it. . .”

And what of The Island? Will Aurik and his friends arrive safely? And what will they find there?

Five stars to this diligently-researched, well-written novel that will appeal to YA readers, post-apocalyptic fans, and science fiction aficionados as well.

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Britain at War 1939 to 1945 By James Lingard

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“Who cares about Poland? Where is it, anyway? What is to become of us?”

So exclaims author James Lingard’s mother at the beginning of the murderous world conflict that would ultimately claim millions of lives on both sides of the Atlantic — and indeed, from both allies and foes alike.

As a young boy in Britain during the critical war years of 1939 through 1945, Lingard and his mother and father endured many hardships and constantly lived in peril, as did all of the U.K.’s citizenry. This is his excellent story, well-researched for historical accuracy, but highly personalized to maintain the interest of even the most casual reader.

Recalling his first air raid, Lingard tells us the first words of an air raid warden, who had been looking for them while they huddled in a nearby wood — survivors of a picnic dangerously interrupted:

“I was about to say you should have been in your shelter. But the shelter received a direct hit. There’s no trace of it. Just a huge crater. You’d all have been blown to smithereens.”

It is war’s capriciousness in dealing out life and death that the author documents so eloquently in this book. Bombs fall in regular and terrifying numbers. The nation’s leaders come dangerously close to making disastrous decisions. And the stalwart British people do what they must to survive yet another day.

On a trip to the shore, Lingard waves happily to a low-flying airplane. Its German pilot waves back. And the small boy narrowly escapes arrest as a spy.

Lingard’s mother frequently listens to the wireless for war news, but is often more captivated by music such as “Run Rabbit Run,” played at a fast tempo to speed up production in the factories.

“We still had no effective answer to the German might. Hitler’s bombers continued to harass us, and he tried his utmost to starve us into submission. In the period May to December, 1940, the enemy sank 745 merchant vessels with a gross tonnage of over three million tons. On 17th to 19th October, German U-boats sank 33 ships, twenty of which were in one convoy . . .”

It is this very attention to detail — combined with the book’s inherent human interest — that elevates it above so many books about World War Two. For me personally, it put a very real face on a dark period in civilized history — a period which I, like so many others of my Baby Boomer generation, only experience through watching dry documentaries on The History Channel.

How refreshing, then, to have this warm and intimate look inside a great nation’s stalwart struggle against almost insurmountable odds — and to rejoice with the author at its ultimate survival.

Five stars to Britain at War, and a hearty recommendation to librarians everywhere to acquire a copy so future generations can become enlightened.

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Young Marian A Viper in the Forest By Mandy Webster

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In this excellent YA tale, a teen-aged Maid Marian shows that she is far from the winsome and demure young lady who captures the heart of Robin Hood in later life. In fact, this compelling book gives us an extraordinary look at what might have been the genesis of their relationship — and it’s a story that will capture the hearts and minds of adult readers, too.

We first meet Robin, Marian and Midge as they are scampering to their secret treehouse with goodies they’ve liberated from the castle’s kitchen. Soon, however, things take a much more serious turn as Robin is about to be horsewhipped for interfering with the punishment of a local carpenter.

Luckily, Marian’s father, the Sheriff of Nottingham, intervenes just in time, and the tale takes off from there, with Marian firmly in the lead. She makes a strong female protagonist, and it is refreshing to see this courageous young woman portrayed as something radically different from the passive maiden we’re used to seeing.

Deprived of her mother since birth, she quickly grew into a tomboy — despite the best efforts of Robin’s mother to slow her down:

“The mistress of Loxley took the child under her wing and schooled her in the ways of a lady. (But) Marian knew she would never handle a needle and thread with the proficiency with which she wielded a sword.”

Still, there’s a strong protective streak in Marian when it comes to fourteen-year-old Robin, whose headstrong ways lead him into all sorts of peril. One night she gets wind of his adolescent plot to burgle the home of a neighboring nobleman. She sets off after him, riding in man’s clothing through the night. The author’s description draws the reader into the moment with practiced ease:

“Poppy’s hoofbeats echoed through the lonely laneways. The quiet was briefly broken by the shouts and laughter of the drunken clientele as they passed the brightly lit tavern outside the walls of the castle. Then the sounds faded into nothingness as Marian and her mount sped toward the forest.”

It’s not all midnight rides and swordfights, however. There’s a hint of romance as Marian can’t seem to get the thought of one young man out of her mind — even though she’s been betrothed since birth to Robin. Her conflicting feelings confuse and bebother her.

But a new mystery throws these thoughts aside as the countryside is roused in search of a bold robber, who strikes wealthy homeowners in the dead of night while they sleep peacefully upstairs.

Robin swears it’s not him. But, then, who could it be? Marian decides to find out. But events take an unexpected turn and Marian’s curiosity leads her into a situation for which she is totally unprepared.

This is an imaginative tale with good guys and bad guys, medieval merrymaking and sinister plot twists that will keep you guessing until the very last page. Don’t miss this five-star gem. Download today!

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The Betrayal of Ka By Shea Oliver

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Kadamba is a typical teen. He’s about to graduate high school and claim the love of the girl he adores when suddenly his world implodes. One moment he’s selling the interplanetary drug rath to a ten-year-old, the next he’s awaiting sentencing for the boy’s death.

This is the dramatic start to The Betrayal of Ka, and this science fiction thriller doesn’t let up from there to its surprise ending. In between, there is darkness and light, corruption and redemption — and, in all fairness, the reader should know this is NOT a typical, breezy YA novel.

The two planets of Koranth and Zoranth have survived the Exorthium Colonial Wars and have emerged as the primary worlds in this epic tale, connected by interplanetary portals and ruled by ruthless and dominant Corporations.

Tomar Donovackia is head of one of these powerful galactic firms — and he is also a TransProphetic, born with extraordinary mental and physical abilities. “He could move from one place to another in the blink of an eye, including through the smallest of holes, such as a keyhole.”

Celestina Wiroviana is Minister of Interplanetary Corporate Relations — the most powerful woman in a hundred solar systems — and also Tomar’s lover. Together, they are making plans for domination of the universe — including Earth, where Dylan and his younger brother Bjorn live with their mother in the teeming town of Denver, Colorado.

What do all these characters have in common? They are central to the intertwining plot of this fascinating story, which moves from one scene to the next with the speed of a space shuttle.

We find Ka being prepared for transport to the penal colony where he will spend the next twenty-five years at hard labor. It’s painful to visualize the process, which is just the first of many horrific and futuristic scenarios laid out vividly in the book:

“Again he watched as the box began to move backwards out of the stacks of cells. As it had before, the box that he was in began changing and shrinking to become shaped exactly like a coffin, forcing Kadamba into a prone position. The transparent end of the box disappeared, and Kadamba simply lay there, accepting his fate.”

Meanwhile, Celestina Wiroviana has consolidated her military might and become the dominant force on both worlds, stopping many wars and vowing planetary peace. But it’s the beginning of a much larger betrayal — and now Ka is part of it, identified as good soldier material and transferred from prison to a mandatory ten-year tour of duty in the Elite Special Forces.

And what of Dylan and his family? At fifteen he’s found his first love. Adelita, with dark, wavy hair and a timidity that tugs at his heart.

The book rolls on. Celestina discovers a mysterious sword with a storied past, and Ka visits London, Washington, D.C., and Bangkok, searching for TransProphetics — the key to establishing an interplanetary portal and the imminent rape of planet Earth.

What finally happens in this finely told tale? Does Ka continue in his role as elite soldier? Does Celestina find a way to use the fabled sword to strengthen her hold on the planets? And do Dylan and Adelita have even the remotest chance at a happily-ever-after ending to their part in this sweeping narrative?

Five stars for The Betrayal of Ka, and a warning that, as the saying goes, “once you start this book you won’t want to put it down.’

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After Dad By Ralph Cohen

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It is 1966 and Frank Kovacek has died of a heart attack, leaving his family to grieve for him — each in his or her own unique way. This is the overarching event that drives this excellent debut novel by Ralph Cohen.

Jenny seems to glimpse her father everywhere, and even feels his hand ruffling the top of her head from time to time. Margot recalls vividly the trip she and her siblings took with her dad to the fishing barge — it left her traumatized for months afterward. And Toby, for his part, feels compelled to visit his dead father’s workshop one day, hoping for a hint of Old Spice, but instead nearly severing his hand with a power saw.

The characters are believable, achingly vulnerable, and the writing in the book is often lyrical — all hallmarks of great writing. For example, Margot’s father explains that July fourth fireworks are to honor fallen soldiers, who have gone up into the heavens to become stars.

“I turned the idea over in my head, and after awhile I could almost picture it — a million sparks flying up into the night, each one a soul that the War had snuffed out.”

And so the months and years go by. Ruth, Frank’s widow, whimpers and cries softly in another man’s bed — it’s too soon, too soon. And Jenny, who has been afraid of boys and men since an unfortunate experience soon after the funeral, finally gets a date, but it ends badly. Margot winds up in a failed marriage, and Toby acts out his anger and frustration by engaging in a round of petty home burglaries.

The loss of Frank continues to leave emotional ripples long after he’s been buried. After going through a particularly rough patch trying to graduate high school, Margot and her mother have a verbal confrontation that escalates rapidly to a painful conclusion for Margot.

“The slap wasn’t so terrible — it only stung for a moment. What hurt was the look in her eyes. It was the same look she used to give Dad at his most shiftless moments.”

The reader follows each of the family members as they stumble and cope their way through life, and we see the profound effect the loss of a flawed but desperately needed man can have on those he leaves behind. This is their story, after all — Frank Kovacek only makes a cameo appearance at the beginning of this hauntingly beautiful, carefully connected series of vignettes.

And, in the end, there is resolution for some, inescapable consequences for others. Trust me, you will remember these players long after they’ve exited the stage and you’ve turned the book’s last page.

I give five stars unequivocally to this fine first effort by Cohen and look forward to more of his high caliber fiction in the future.

The Traveling Man By Michael P. King

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Not since The Sting paired Redford and Newman has there been a more perfect con artist story than Traveling Man. It’s got everything: high-stakes swindles, smooth-talking operators, clueless marks, corrupt county officials, plenty of sex — The Sting didn’t have that, unfortunately — and a mobster ready to make everyone go away if need be.

Who could ask for more in the plot of a first-rate thriller? Oh, I forgot to mention the doublecrosses — plenty of those are on tap, too, in this well-written debut novel by Michael P. King.

Tom and Patty Brown partner up with fellow con artist Buddy Ray to construct a land development deal that should net them big bucks, even after giving the current landowners, kindly old Mr. and Mrs. Yost, their share, which, according to the original deal, is half the proceeds from sale of the lakefront property to a big developer.

Problem is, the U.S. Air Force, which leased the land a decade earlier, supposedly left it contaminated, thus making it unsalable without a blue ribbon rating from the county. How do the Browns make that happen? Old story. County official videotaped with his pants down. He’s bought and paid for, and the 40 core samples drilled on the land suddenly are Grade A.

Are you with me so far?

Things are proceeding nicely. Local down-on-her-luck real estate agent Marcie Tolliver is roped in to give the deal legitimacy, but she succumbs to Buddy Ray’s charms — she’s married, by the way — and suddenly a commission prospect becomes an ultimatum to play along.

Wait. There’s more. Patty, not content with her share of the prospective pie, sets up the first of several doublecrosses with Buddy, who is thinking he’s got it pretty sweet, sampling the favors of two lovely ladies and turning a drug deal on the side. Only problem is, he failed to check to see who was behind the adjoining motel room door when the money was dragged out of the duffel bag.

OK. If I tell you much more, I’ll have to kill you, as the old saying goes. But, really, I haven’t given everything away. What I’ve described just takes up the first 23 percent of this fast-moving tale. Trust me, there’s plenty more and it’s not all G-rated highjinks.

To find out the rest of the story — as Paul Harvey used to say — you’re going to have to download the ebook and find out just how twisted a plot can get.

You’ll get more than your money’s worth and find out if these cool, calculating characters get their comeuppance. Stay tuned!

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Mondo Bohemiano By Quentin J. Parker

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Nigel Q. Bunnytail is moving to Spokane, and the event has precipitated a national day of mourning at the cafe peopled by the characters he loves most: Kymber “K.C.” Cuccinatta, Bogdana “Bogey” Pahlanovich, Styles Parkwater — all will miss him terribly.

But it’s not just the quirky names and outrageous characters that will capture your heart in this excellent novel. It’s the author’s flawless and masterful command of the English language that you will remember most.

“Like a mercy killing, sleep claimed Nigel before despair did, and he dreamt that he was a monarch being showered with countless precious gems and coins.”

It’s not that Nigel’s friends don’t understand and fully commiserate with his decision to put distance between himself and a critically flawed relationship. Indeed, they wish him well in his new/old pursuit of white-haired therapist Sigrid Andersen.

But the task of severing the ties with Millicent O’Laughlin may yet prove to be his undoing.

“He was convinced that the pinnacle of human evolution was embodied in their bouncing off each other’s sweaty nakedness. They agreed that they were both built for comfort and speed, like plush luxury sedans propelled by advanced alien rocketry. But that was where their compatibility ended.”

The occasion of Nigel’s imminent departure spawns a Bacchalian party of epic proportions that brings in most of his female conquests from the past, and all of his off-the-beam friends — but no sign of the girl with the fiery red hair. Bunnytail is bummed.

At his new job in Spokane his work companions have names like Fiona Buxton and Tisha Fisha. But compared to his Philadelphia cast of comrades they are as tame as — well, the hutch of fluffy bunnies that Sigrid keeps as pets in her apartment. She’s glad to see him — too glad by half.

What’s in store for the big bohemian? You’ll just need to read this erudite excursion into the thoughts and actions of a memorable cast of characters.

Five stars for first-time author Quentin J. Parker. I hope to see more soon!

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