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Hung Up in Bemidji
Hung Up in Bemidji
Price: 1.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny right off the bull, 16 Aug 2014
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If you've read "Bullwhacked" - and I hope you have - you'll welcome the protagonists like old friends. Kathy Cohen hits the ground running with a dry sense of humour and a wisecracky turn of phrase that fits her chosen setting like a glove. Here are your old favourites: Cooper Lydell - former bull-rider, turned manager of his son Tommy (a better bull-rider, before the kid got injured towards the end of "Bullwhacked"), now taking a job as a barrel-man that his long-time, salt-of-the-earth, capable, barrel-riding girlfriend Darla told him about because there'd been a murder...

And so the scene is set again for more inept, amateur but ultimately somehow successful crime-solving in amongst the bashes and bruises - this time in a flourishing travelling rodeo outfit owned by a guy called Floyd Wiley. No spoilers, but here's a flavour of the writing you can expect: "Floyd Wiley was a son-of-a-bitch if ever there was one. He even looked like a son-of-a-bitch."

Cooper doesn't see himself as a private detective, but life seems to have a habit of pitching him into these situations, with his team of willing but deeply flawed deputies from Book 1 - Pickett, Reanna and Clyde - on hand to help him survive the case. Clyde is a committed hypochondriac who this time can't keep his balance for dizziness caused by something that sounds to Cooper like `Manure's disease'. Along the way, if you're as ignorant as I was, you find out things you never knew - about `bull-shaggers', for instance, or the cost of a barrel. You learn quite a lot about how hard rodeo life is, and the philosophy required to deal with it.

Kathy Cohen describes this as a comic novel and that's precisely what it is - an easy and highly enjoyable read.


The Light Of A Bright Sun (Hayward Book 1)
The Light Of A Bright Sun (Hayward Book 1)
Price: 1.81

5.0 out of 5 stars "Even crap helps grow crops", 13 Aug 2014
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This is an extraordinary and a humbling book. Reading it reminded me how I had felt 55 years ago when studying Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” for ‘A’ level English. There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so, and depression is a terrible thing. It is a demon, not only for the poor and abused, born into dysfunctional families. Winston Churchill’s name for it was “Black Dog”. Sylvia Plath could not escape its clutches, wonderful poet though she was and married to another wonderful poet and strongly supportive person (Ted Hughes). I finished reading Thurman’s often depressing and ultimately wonderful book on the day we all got the news that Robin Williams had taken his own life. His wife of three years said she had lost her best friend…

Thomas, one of the main characters, was metaphorically raped by life, and actually raped by two older stronger boys when he was 8. I am not a reviewer who tells the story, as I prefer to leave that in the more capable hands of the writer to whom the story belongs – especially this story and this writer. When his baby sister is born with Down’s Syndrome to face the ignorance and prejudice of those around her, Thomas becomes her best friend…

There were times when the hopelessness that pervades much of the book seemed almost hideous. It felt as though Thomas had been fatally flawed in much the same way as Shakespeare’s tragic heroes were flawed, and that in his case he was choosing to drown in self pity rather than take the positive steps that were always available to him. PTSD is another factor, of course, when living your life in a war-zone, and the evidence of man’s inhumanity to man is often overwhelming.

Early on, however, Thurman observes that “even crap grows crops”. This book is about how hard it is for so many people to forgive and forget the crap that life throws at them, and that only love and kindness has the power to heal the mind. It’s so hard when you hurt so much; but it IS possible. The stark choice is EITHER to become bitter and twisted like so many around you, and to create a whole lot more crap on your own (as we see in conflicts all over the world - especially today in Gaza and Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan) OR to heed the message of giants like Jesus or Gandhi..

The power of Thurman P. Banks Jnr’s writing, and his relentless clarity of vision, were the two things that gave me the strength to keep going. “In the Light of A Bright Sun” is full of sharply drawn characters and pithy turns of phrase. The dénouement blew me away, and I know this book will stay with me. I will go on doing my best, as Thurman does, to “doubt like Thomas, love like Jesus, and forever say Maybe.”


Flipka
Flipka
by Jt Twissel
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.50

5.0 out of 5 stars “Oh, good grief! what a fandango!”, 5 Aug 2014
This review is from: Flipka (Paperback)
I was drawn in immediately by the skilful way JT handles this most American of genres – the first person private investigator telling the story in a wisecracky way. The first character we meet has “pent up cigarette smoke escaping through every orifice north of his neck.” I admired the way she didn’t just have the protagonist announce who she was and what she was doing, but instead released the information in intriguingly small doses. “His eyes were so clouded over that the doctor in me wanted to tell him he could get help for cataracts. But I was sure that would be none of my damn business too.”

Then as the story unfolded I had the definite feeling the plot had been conceived by some method similar to the one I suggest in my booklet “Ideas for at least a Billion Stories” (downloadable free from my website folks! http://bit.ly/1ka0iuM) designed to help writers think outside the box. It certainly makes a change to find a high-flying academic expert on hysteria in the adolescent female and Jungian Dream Theory currently occupied as the props lady for a Los Vegas casino show, nicknamed Flipka by the Russian acrobats (that being “a Russian term of endearment for a difficult broad”). Her talents don’t end there; she also paints Santas and Easter bunnies in store windows.

OK, you think, I’ll go along with this crazy plot because the difficult broad certainly has a way with words. Frances De La Tour (wonderful English actress) once said to Alan Bennett (wonderful English playwright) “People don’t actually speak like that, you know”, to which he replied “I know. It’s called “style”.

48% into the book, the plot went into hyperspace; but you go with it because you’re on the same spaceship, boldly going where maybe no author has gone before…

The wacky, utterly unbelievable plot is, however, merely the vehicle for JT Twissel to demonstrate her enviable skill set. Highly knowledgeable in a number of disciplines, she is very well read (I’m a sucker for literary references), sharply observant when it comes to individual character definitions, with a wickedly dry sense of humour and a wonderful command of language. 59% into the book you will meet the very likeable pilot Captain Wug, capable of such sentences as “May I ask, mellifluous one, why you want to know about the miasma behind our legendary monadnock?”

It’s a hoot from start to finish; though I’m not sure all the inhabitants of the fine state of Nevada would go all the way with me on that one.


A Field Beyond Time
A Field Beyond Time
Price: 3.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The capacity of human beings to create their own destiny, 31 July 2014
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This may be the wisest, and most cleverly crafted, book I have ever read. Anyone whose childhood was spent in a house where there was profound unhappiness will identify with every word.
Lesley Hayes was/is a trained psychotherapist, and her profound knowledge of the human psyche informs the deeply insightful portrayal of her characters. With consummate skill she weaves the different strands of this painfully beautiful story into an intricate, complicated and ultimately moving tale.
Never judgemental, she describes the events in childhood that turn each of her protagonists into the adults they become, with their individual, equally tormented struggles to “somehow, eventually, ...make sense of it all.” She writes beautifully. I could quote hundreds of examples (I have the highlighted passages in my kindle notes to prove it!) , but will settle for two – just to give you a flavour:
“She had never been deemed to care enough, even though the data about what ‘enough’ might be had never been forthcoming.”
“There was an undeclared dialogue always between them these days – sometimes more audible than the words melting away into silence in the space where intimacy should be.”
Reading this book, we experience the wide range of human responses to mental cruelty: from what Freud described as “ordinary unhappiness” through ‘pathological narcissism’ to utter ‘insanity’, from terrible anger to inexpressible grief, as each character strives to find a peaceful place somewhere on their battlefield of life. What terrible things we do to one another, and how amazing it is in such circumstances that many of us manage to be as ‘sane’ as we are.
I am deliberately not telling the story, but as it unfolded I found myself increasingly unable to put the book down. I so longed for some of these characters to find their redemption in each other, though I knew from painful experience how indifferent the universe is to endings – happy or otherwise.
We cling to hope, and I was so grateful to Lesley Hayes for leaving us with some. So skilful is she, however, in the telling of her tale, that you are never sure – until the very end. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It isn’t merely a good book. It’s a great book – and there aren’t that many of those.


The World of Rigel Chase: Rise of the Shaper
The World of Rigel Chase: Rise of the Shaper
Price: 2.44

5.0 out of 5 stars A challenging and entertaining read, 25 July 2014
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This is a well-written story about a talented, sensitive, good kid. We get a hint of magic almost immediately. Miss LeBlanc, the children’s librarian, awards Rigel the monthly prize for drawing once again. This time it’s a round medallion almost as big as his palm. While presenting it she whispers in his ear:”This is very special. Always keep it with you and don’t let go of it. Don’t give it to anybody you don’t trust. Also, use it on your drawings.”

What did all that mean? We don’t have to wait long to find out…

There are promisingly deft touches early on. “[Madeline] tilted her head down the necessary few inches to meet his gaze, brushing his tan hair with her own. ‘Rigel, you’re very sweet, but there’s being sweet, and then there’s… reality.” I was reminded of that immortal line in ET: “This is reality, Greg.”

“The Rise of the Shaper” is all about ‘reality’, which for us humans is – of course – a figment of our own imagination. “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” The other thing about thinking is – as Shakespeare pointed out - that “our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.” You may start something, but how it finishes is anyone’s guess. What happens when – as Rigel does - you create characters with free will? The way the author sets up and develops these themes is what made the book particularly interesting for me.

On the rather challenging ‘suspension of disbelief’ front, Teramind is saved from cartoon-character overload by the fact that Rigel is brilliant at drawing and has shaped it all to begin with. That neatly makes everything possible in a meat-balls-and-spaghetti tree, chocolate rivers, lemonade springs and big rock candy mountain way. Anything can be possible, without having to remind yourself too often that your finger just slipped off the ‘I can force myself to go along with this’ button.

The vocabulary is unusually and appropriately challenging for children. Jason is happy to throw in gems like anachronism, ironic, traumatic and redoubtable, while exploring “the carnivore conundrum” in a universe where all the animals are sentient and loquacious! The law on Fardarean has “provisions for extenuating circumstances”. I thoroughly approve – too many books for children ‘dumb down’ unnecessarily.

While adventuring in that dimension of the universe that contains the planet Fardarean, Rigel is accompanied by an engaging and highly intelligent fly with an extensive vocabulary. Kio is too small to be noticed, but he talks a lot of sense in a voice much louder than anyone has a right to expect. He is the one with some kind of grip on how Fardarean and Outerworld interrelate, and the disastrous consequences that may ensue when chunks of one universe are unceremoniously dumped into another by a child ‘shaper’ who doesn’t yet know what he’s doing.

If Kio doesn’t know the answer to a question (or a conundrum) off the bat, he has a hand-held computer he can consult! He’s an early test for your powers ‘to suspend disbelief’: i.e. once you’ve swallowed him, you’re ready for anything!

The book is really into its stride by the time Rigel uses his medallion to dial up an engaging little ‘fireburrow’ called Pin in order to dig him out of a difficulty (29% in). This he agrees to do in return for his own lake. For me, that was when it really started to feel like Wonderland. Finding himself in a barren, rocky crater which fireburrows used to test explosives, Rigel asks: “Why are we in such a dangerous locale?”

“We don’t use it anymore.” Pin informs him. “There’s nothing left to blow up.”

The world of Rigel Chase is a complicated one. I’m sure Jason was right when he wrote “It’s easier for younger ones to accept this reality”; but the doors this book opens and the questions it raises for children to ponder makes it a 5 star read. And what is more, there IS more. ‘The Rise of the Shaper’ ends with Rigel setting off on another great adventure in the universe of myriad possibilities.


The Convict and the Rose
The Convict and the Rose
Price: 2.45

5.0 out of 5 stars A great - and painfully honest - story, 14 July 2014
Luther Martin Stone and Tommy “Red” Johnson have been sentenced to 25 years in the federal penitentiary for armed bank robbery – to run concurrently with the fifty year State of Texas sentence they already have. I didn’t know when I began reading it that this was a “true” story: biography and autobiography clad in a “fiction” coat.
The focus of the book is not on the crime itself – we’re given no details in the opening chapters, other than his assertion that he didn’t do what he’d been convicted of, or on the terrors of prison life, though those are alluded to. The writer is far more interested in the character of Luke himself – a man who cares about the love of his life - Darlina Flowers - his four kids and a music career on the outside, who protects his friend Red and won’t stand for the bullying of any other vulnerable prisoners – but who nevertheless has a character flaw that has (a) got him into the mess he’s in and (b) goes on making things worse for him.
He learns his lessons the hard way, but is intelligent enough to know that the very thing that protects him – his dislike of authority, and his unwillingness to take any crap from anybody – is also what’s destroying him: “He didn’t have any control over much of anything right now other than his own mind.” And he really needs his freedom.
THAT’s what makes the book interesting…
Jan Sikes writes well – simply, but with apposite turns of phrase - as does her main character. While recovering from his operation for perforated stomach ulcers the words flow from Luke’s stubby yellow pencil: “…all the sad songs I’ve ever sung gather around to see me cry…” She also is the mistress of arresting simile: “…my left leg is throbbin’ like a robin’s ass.” Sheer poetry!
The lack of characterisation in the usual sense, or the more normal layering of descriptive and explanatory detail gives the narrative a curiously allegorical feel. We’re told what the character does or says or thinks and the moral message gathers steam. A month can go by between paragraphs. It’s an unusual narrative technique, and I found myself reading on as much to discover how the writer went on handling it as to find out what actually happened.
It was quite a jolt when almost as an aside towards the end of Chapter 10 Darlina tells us that Luke is still married to Joyce. Joyce?! We found out the names of his four kids early on, and we know that Luke’s parents have been helping to look after them, and we sure as hell knew about sweet Darlina, but this was the first we’d heard of a wife named Joyce (I don’t think I missed it…).
This is a pilgrim’s progress: a flawed man who has had to be taken to the depths of despair and hopelessness to discover his inner talents, which he can then develop using the power of his indomitable spirit. It almost doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in the man as he is painted: it’s the message you’re grappling with.
It’s a long, episodic story but stick with it. A key event in chapter 13 highlights for Luke the key fact that though his body is captured his mind and soul are not. “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage…” From then on he strives to be “positive in a negative place”.
Gradually the irony emerges: that Luke had to be imprisoned to find his freedom, whereas Darlina IS free, only to find that she is imprisoned “behind invisible bars of loss and loneliness”. They both learn that there is more than one way to be strong.
Great literature it ain’t, and doesn’t claim to be. Great and painfully honest – and in the end deeply moving - story it most certainly is.


The Little Big Clockmaker: A time when clocks ticked much louder.
The Little Big Clockmaker: A time when clocks ticked much louder.
Price: 0.77

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming and Clever - highly recommended, 10 July 2014
This is a delightful fairy tale told in the classical style (Once upon a time…) and replete with much loved characters and themes: a humble clockmaker, a rich and powerful lord, an old woman with magic powers, from rags and riches to rags again, learning important lessons on the way. Beautifully told, with lots of deft touches in the language; there are also one or two jokes for adult readers to smile at along the way! It is perfect for reading to your little one at bedtime; and if you live anywhere near Chester it has the added advantage that you can take her / him to stare at the clock which gave rise to the tale.
Charming and clever – highly recommended.


Bullwhacked
Bullwhacked
Price: 2.68

5.0 out of 5 stars A heck of a ride, 5 July 2014
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This review is from: Bullwhacked (Kindle Edition)
First of all, Kathy Cohen knows her stuff. This is a setting I knew nothing about and it was such a pleasure to learn from someone who clearly knows it inside out. “What a piece of work is a man” is an exclamation that echoes almost daily in my head; but witnessing the playing out of familiar human hopes and dreams, achievements, disappointments and simple pleasures in the totally unfamiliar world of bull-riding and rodeos deep in one of America’s heartlands was for me a really enjoyable experience.
Secondly, the lady writes at least as well as she rides. This is assured writing: deceptively detailed, accurately observed, clearly heard and strongly felt. I was swept along for the ride – wherever it chose to take me - knowing from page 1 that I was in safe hands. Detail makes a real difference. Just one example: Cooper retired “after he’d had a particularly bad run-in with a bull named Kevin.” As I went further into the book I realised that it was the norm for the bulls to be named. My favourite was the white Brahmin called “Make my Day”.
There is depth too: in the underlying, apparently coincidental imagery. Right after we’re told that what was to have been a short stint as Tommy’s manager eventually became a permanent position for his father, Cooper “swerved to avoid some road kill spattering the centreline and watched for his turn.” Shortly after, a red Mustang “with a blonde at the wheel” shoots out of a gas station in front of them. In Cooper’s opinion “young people – gals particularly – just weren’t good drivers. Thought they were immortal, owned the road.” Not long after that the truck that Cooper had been sold as new starts giving off steam from a split radiator hose and grinds to a halt… Things are often not what they seem on the surface, and life has a habit of flattening you out of nowhere.
Whether the reader is conscious of it or not at the time, the subliminal messages carried by these images concern youth versus age, and not being able to teach a new dog old tricks. It is preparing us for lethal collisions up the line. I really admire that level of skill. It is sadly lacking in so many books, and I’m always grateful when I find a writer who knows how to do it.
By the time I was 20% into the book the only thing I was taking issue with was the author’s description of “Bullwhacked” as a ‘comic’ novel. For me so far the elements of the story that might have been considered ‘comic’ had only served to emphasise the underlying sadness of a story about loss, betrayal, big mistakes, disappointment and… emptiness. If these characters were kings and generals this would be tragedy, with comic relief to help you bear it. Sometimes the sadness in the incidental detail is almost unbearable: like Cooper’s incidental memory of when Tommy was little and used to scream all night in the truck: so he and Darla got a tent and pitched it far enough away so they could hardly hear him.
The more I read the more I was drawn in. I needed to know how this funny/sad comedy of errors finally panned out. I loved the speech rhythms too: clearly audible in the dialogue but also in the writer’s choice of sentence structures. Occasionally I felt like I was riding a sentence like one of those white Brahmin bulls. 68% in I sat on one for 53 words before hitting the main clause…
75% in and the dysfunctional dénouement started to unwind; chaos ensued and it really WAS funny. Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? NOT…
Bottom line…? Kathy Cohen is a terrific storyteller and “Bullwhacked” is a heck of a ride!


The Crystal Navigator: A Perilous Journey Through Time
The Crystal Navigator: A Perilous Journey Through Time
Price: 3.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Most definitely my kind of book, 25 Jun 2014
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This book rang bells for me immediately. It was about bright children, as my books are. It wasn’t afraid to use interesting phrases like “chromatic aberration” and “inordinately fast synapses firing simultaneously”) and literary references such as ‘Den Vinter Svampe’ and ‘The Steady Gaze of Tawosret’s Mummy’. It took magical and unusual events in its stride, and was beautifully written in an uncluttered way. I felt a spooky affinity with the writer…

I’m always happy to revisit Wonderland, and if Lewis Carroll can be allowed a talking white rabbit, Nancy Lodge must certainly be allowed a dignified corgi named Wilbur. Wilbur is not impressed with wizards of the flowing beard/knobbly stick and pointy hat variety because “you have to jump through funnels to get near their zip code.” Fair enough…

Lucy is on a quest to rediscover her confidence. She strives so hard for perfection in all things that the slightest mishap en route to it can derail her. Getting an ‘A’ is all that matters. Wilbur has chosen his current shape to challenge her rigid assumptions. She has jumped on to the red path, which may not be all that far from the yellow brick road… “You have so much to learn” he tells her, at which point Lucy sighs with relief. “That’s okay… I like learning.” Yes yes YES.

Poetic description abounds. Lucy’s feet sink into “night-soaked” grass. The air has “diamond brilliance”. And how about this for a sentence: “It was as if every part of her was giggling, especially her heart.”?

Wilbur comes from the planet Wilwahren (= ‘seeks to safeguard’) and has done amazing things: he has rescued poor parallelograms from the beastly blabbermouths (somewhere no doubt quite close to where the borogroves were mimsy, and the mome raths outgrabe). He has even sewn up a black hole or two.

He takes her back to the Renaissance and to other centuries to meet great painters and discuss their work with them. He warns her about never ever using an anomaly when out of her own time-zone, and patiently explains what an ‘anomaly’ is. The painters reveal the special significance of many details in their paintings: reminding us how rewarding it can be to take a detailed look
.
Lucy regularly reminds me of Alice. When Wilbur tells her not to worry about him so much but instead to “appreciate the here and now” she replies “I am! I can appreciate more than one thing at a time, you know.”

When the Navigator malfunctions they find themselves in other seminal times and spaces. This is history, geography and psychology, swallowed with liberal doses of delightful nonsense. Human reality, after all, is largely a figment of human imagination. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the language spoken on Saturn’s sixty seventh moon has no metaphors or past participles.

This book will broaden children’s minds, increase their vocabularies and teach their imaginations to fly. It is most definitely my kind of book.


The Decision: Lizzie's Story (The Decision Series Book 1)
The Decision: Lizzie's Story (The Decision Series Book 1)
Price: 2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking and deeply enjoyable read, 23 Jun 2014
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An essential criterion for any good book – as it is for any good poem – is that it should say something important about the human condition in a powerful way. 'Lizzie’s Story' does that from the beginning. I have rarely read an opening chapter so powerful and profound.

Lucy Hay has a sharp eye for telling detail and an almost pathological awareness of the discrepancy between human potential and actual achievement within the constricting contexts of family and social class. It hurts like Hamlet, and Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.

The action is intimately observed, each character scrupulously and minutely drawn. Lizzie tells this story in all its manifestations, and each time you are convinced it must be largely autobiographical with the kind of descriptive detail one associates with someone’s personal reality – e.g. “I could see all five of my sisters, their eyes wide, at least one of them delighted I had fallen from grace with such a bump.” I could quote a hundred more examples.

For all those reasons I was SO not ready for what happened 22% into the story. I won’t give it away, but it is extraordinarily effective. I saw that technique employed in a film once, but I don’t recall having come across it in a book. I think it works spectacularly well.

This is an important book about the human condition. It doesn’t run along the tramlines of a predictable genre, preferring instead to follow the urgings of Lucy Hay’s heart, her scrupulous and endearing honesty, her superb eye and very sharp ear. How many Lizzie’s can there be? Well one, of course, but layered, deep, analytical and sensitive to the nth degree.

“Lizzie’s Decision” should be required reading for all teens (Michael Gove take note!). It’s a very thought-provoking and deeply enjoyable read.


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