Reviews

A Pleasant Trip into the Fantastic

Touch of the White Wolf
By B.J. Hunter
Palmas Publishing
152 pages

Touch of the White Wolf  leads readers into a journey of discovery that is humorous, yet tugs at the heart and mind. Perhaps White_Wolfmy perspective is bent, yet the very concept of a human transformed into an animal makes me want to laugh. What makes me excited about this novel is that the author turns the implausible into a reality. Readers will be able to step through their imaginations into the story, which eases one past the fanciful episodes among the forest creatures into poignant reflections about what it means to dominate, and how the natural world might see humankind.

B.J. Hunter, immersed in Florida’s wildlife since her teens, cared for squirrels and other animals at a shelter in her youth. That background allows her to weave a narrative embedded with pathos. The first-time author gives the reader a sense of the unbreakable ties between the human and natural worlds as the main character, Jenna, recounts sights, sounds, sensations and emotions.

At the same time, the experiences of a teen who is not even sure about where she fits in her birth family, stretches the bounds of belief. Best news, is that Hunter who works in the concrete, legal world during the day, cleverly reaches toward the abstract in words. The author prods readers to traipse beyond the limits of their disbelief into the unfamiliar, even as the switch from homo sapiens to canis lupus happens:

A wave of dizziness hit her and she fell back into her chair. Looking for the fox, she saw it running back into the forest. She tried to get up and run after it, but she couldn’t stand and instead tumbled forward onto the ground. What was going on?

She looked down at her feet, they were covered in white fur. Her hands had become paws and her whole body had become that of a wolf. She was covered in thick white fur from head to toe. She looked back at the fox who had stopped and turned to her.

The fox didn’t seem to notice the change in Jenna’s appearance , and called to her, “Come on, we haven’t much time!”

Jenna tried to quell her rising panic as she tried to figure out the transformation.

It took a moment for it to hit her, the fox was actually talking to her in growls and barks – and she understood him! 

OK, I can accept that a teen discovers her inner wolf. At the same time, as a reader, I did not feel Jenna’s “rising panic,” even in my thoughts. At first, I saw the seemingly laid back introduction of that key plot element as a weakness. I gave the author’s approach a second look, and realized the technique gives the story an Alice in Wonderland affect. Jenna’s out-of-nowhere transformation scene is a gateway to a slew of surprises. The narration positions the reader as a witness to the fantastic.

I won’t reveal much more about the plot, because the novel deserves to be read. Touch of the White Wolf is a treat for young mind’s that crave the relief of an imaginative world.  Jenna is brave, loyal, kind and self-sacrificing, and manages to avoid the stereotypical teen angst. Those who love heroes will be more than satisfied. Readers who like intrigue will find the girl’s sojourn of discovery to fulfill a legend compelling. Lovers of the fantastic will enjoy when the heroine teams up with a dragon.

As I flipped the last page, I wanted to tell Hunter, “give me more.” Adventure lovers will concur. This debut to what I hope will be a series, effectively manages characters and plot to draw the readers’ attentions to the environment, other creatures, and slips in a subtle commentary on the fate of bullies.  
 

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Hamilton in Love for Young Hearts

New York Times best-seller Melissa de la Cruz, noted for the critically acclaimed Blue Bloods series dives into the 18th Century romance of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza hamiltonSchuyler. Out flows a historical saga that teens and young adults are sure to find filled with intrigue and delight. Read an excerpt of Alex and Eliza: A Love Story, due for release by Penguin Random House on April 11.

“Hamilton,” the Broadway play is likely to be on the must-see list for years to come. The popularity of that representation of George Washington’s brash young aide and statesman bodes an even greater reception among youth. Hamilton is now back on many Americans’ radar.

De la Cruz targets Eliza, a rebel as the youngest of three daughters one of the fledgling nation’s leading families, and shows how that nature drew her to the rakish Col. Alexander Hamilton. She is part of one of New York’s most elite families. Hamilton, born on the West Indies island of Nevis, is exuberant that his appointment as chief aide to the leader of the Colonial Army in 1777 affords him a chance to marry into a high society.

Orphaned by an unwed mother, Hamilton, whom John Adams once described as, “the bastard brat of a Scottish peddler,” is from the wrong side of the blanket, yet bright and ambitious. Eliza Schuyler is a child of privilege to the manor born. What happens when they met according to historians became an epic love story.

Cruz is more than able to excite young hearts. Her Blue Blood series sold more than three million copies. Also, her Witches of East End series became an hour-long television drama on the Lifetime network.

 

A Tale That Can’t Be Told Too Often

Hidden Figures
The American Dream and the Untold Story
of the Black Women Mathematicians
Who Helped Win the Space Race
William Morrow and Company

 

Paperback – 576 pages – 978-0-06-246644-0
Paperback – 368 pages
Downloadable Audio – 978-0-06-247207-6
MP3 CD – 978-1-4417-0970-7
Ebook – 368 pages – 978-0-06-236361-9

Even if you closely watched former President Barack Obama’s actions, you might not have noticed the administration’s less controversial deeds such as the awards of the Presidential Medalhidden_figures of Freedom. As of this summer, more and more Americans have discovered that among the many great achievers the White House honored was a representative of a corps of truly unsung heroes. Mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson, long retired and living in Hampton, Virginia, is one of a hardly acknowledged crew of black women responsible for NASA’s (the then-National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) early success.

Those who know black life in this country during Segregation will attest that the story is nearly incredible. Yet, without Human Computer Project head Margot Lee Shetterly’s account of their experiences in the above cited book the accomplishments and struggles might have been overlooked. That too should be noted for those who flocked to movie theaters during  December 2016 to check out director Theodore Melfi’s  at-points-lighthearted drama, Hidden Figures.

The movie unearths and gives a nod to Johnson and mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Hoover who broke down the walls against color and gender at the then-Langley, Virginia space launch headquarters. As a review in Publisher’s Weekly promised, the text probes “relationships among blackness, womanhood, and 20th-century American technological development,” to create a work that is “crucial to understanding subsequent movements for civil rights.”

More than anything the film and book serve as a reminder of African Americans’ perseverance and adaptability as tools for survival.Those are traits many in U.S. society have cast aside, and about which many born after 1965 are unaware. The story of Johnson and the others cannot be told to often, and their strengths might need revival.

From the Cradle…Girl Power

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Under the “you have got to see this” heading, on a day (20 Jan. 2017) for odd happenings, I discovered Disney Hyperion Books’ news of an early trainer on Feminism by Buzzfeeed senior writer and artist Loryn Brantz. No Joke! The book actually released on April 4. Nonetheless, since the upcoming political climate threatens to reset the national dialogue on gender equality, the selection might be worth a look.

Feminist Baby likes pink and blue.
Sometimes she’ll throw up on you!

Feminist Baby chooses what to wear
and if you don’t like it she doesn’t care!

That is from the text.

The push for gender equality, as the philosophies that under-gird the movement, have rapidly evolved throughout the past four decades.I am not certain whether the work can be classed as Third Wave of a fourth wave of Feminist thought. Recent political and social efforts to mainstream transgender issues have endowed discussions from the Betty Friedan/Gloria Steinem era with new questions. That said, the push for equal access and opportunities between men and women persists.

The cardboard pages and text in large type manuscript  is listed for “ages 0 to 2.” The story is described as a tale about “a girl who’s not afraid to do her own thing, and wants to make as much noise as possible along the way!” begs to be explored.

I have not read the whole book,  yet the backgrounder and excerpts peaked my interest. The work is clearly not just for babies. At the same time a read-aloud with the hashtag FeministBaby is bound to take many readers and their bundles of joy in intellectual paths where they might not have gone before. Or, it might keep a few Americans on the road toward a more enlightened future.

Our Postpartum Nightmares

It is not often that a celebrated literary work can be paired with the title of one of the nation’s most controversial race films and end up a cinematic critical success. That is what viewer’s will find in actor/writer/director Nate Parker’s film, The Birth of a Nation. The film, styroninspired by William Styron’s 1966 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Confessions of Nat Turner, earned  a rare standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. Critics have praised the work as bold. The film might come off lighter at the box office, yet in the film industry there are whispers about an Oscar. All that, despite the fact that the movie title hails word for word from the 1915 U.S. classic silent film drama by the late director D.W. Griffith, considered to be lethal racist propaganda.

Seymour Stern’s D. W. Griffith’s 100th Anniversary The Birth of a Nation, edited by Ira Gallen  offers insight into the director and the title of the early Twentieth Century movie. However readers not afraid to look squarely into the nation’s historic racial literary heritage might want to check out novel that inspired Griffith, Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan.

The story of Nat Turner’s ill-fated slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, originally came to most American’s attention through Styron’s work, yet there is a narrative attributed to Nat Turner. It is said that  The Confessions of Nat Turner The Leader of the Late Insurrections in Southampton, Va. As Fully and Voluntarily Made to Thomas R. Gray… is a confession from a prison cell before the slave preacher turned radical abolitionist was hanged in August 1831.

As the true story goes, Turner and as many as 57 compatriots roamed the back roads Virginia plantations on the night of Aug. 21, 1831 and slaughtered whole families of slaveholders in a bid for their freedom. They are said to have killed as many as 65 whites. The rebels were captured and killed by white militiamen who killed as many as 200 non-rebel blacks in retaliation. Also, at that time Virginia and the other colonies tightened the grip on slaves and free blacks with laws that forbid or restricted the rights to education, assembly, bear arms and vote.  

This story and others are part of the birth and emergence of American society that haunts and depresses many citizens. Most people do not like to talk or think about slavery. Even more know so little about the past that an exploration of the above mentioned books is worthwhile. Indication’s are, those who check out Nate Parker’s film will leave shocked and inspired. Perhaps the exposure to this important tale through the literature behind it, will lessen the blow.

An Edge of the Seat Treat

Halversham

***** [great]

By RS Anthony
Amazon
ASIN: B01GYU9KWS

Malaysian author RS Anthony breaks a lot of rules. First, most experts will say that authors Halvershamshould write what they know.  Halversham, her second novel, will make a reader awe at her grasp of the sights, sounds, scenes and population of the British countryside. A brief bio says the writer travels quite a bit, yet  readers will wonder how she can so graphically sketch the environs of the habitat and not live there. Second, writers say, “never tease the reader.” Anthony drops revelatory crumbs of mysteries in this story as tantalizing as the muffins of the main character’s aunt to draw readers into a series of secrets the boy can’t wait to solve.

Andrew J. Monaghan, an American, 16-year-old with daddy issues, is an unlikely hero. He is a typical teen with the requisite outrage and anger only someone raised in privilege can afford. The comparatively slow, two-year decline toward death of his mother Patricia shoves the bright kid into an emotional black hole, and he figures that a bid to recapture the warm feelings and memories in a place where he and she spent their happiest days is his only means of escape. His dad Paul, a driven, desperate tycoon trapped in his own struggle with loss, realizes that the boy might be best off with a month in the family’s erstwhile country home in a village called Halversham.

As readers quickly discover, the name of the place is prettier and more polished than its residents’ deeds. Anthony’s tightly written prose and descriptions make readers feel as if they are walking the streets and sampling the cuisine. The baked goods and meals are so vivid at times, I felt I could taste them. Worse, I was peeved by the realization that I could not. Similar feelings of contradiction arose toward the key characters.

I wanted to know many people in the story – Andy’s Aunt Magda, his cousin Corinne, the reviled and reclusive Mr. Milton, and the Doynes. Anthony’s skills at characterization are so sharp that I felt an acquaintance with most of them through the protagonist’s eyes and thoughts. That said, the more I was exposed to those people, the more emotion they drew from me. I was certain that if the encounters were real, the pleasure will not be mine.

I won’t give too many specifics about the plot to encourage YA readers to sample Halversham’s 163 pages. Readers will be pulled to the edge of their seats as they watch how far Andy will go to find out the answers to the questions he discovers. At the same time, they will be tempted to wonder whether or how they might do the same. They will savor this taste of small town mystery like a slip of 90-percent-pure dark chocolate. The story is filled with disappearances and killings of people and animals, mysterious happenings that drag the main character and readers through a dark, dark place to a new light.

The tightly woven narrative shows that Anthony’s mastery of the ability to build suspense through the manipulation of readers’ perspectives. At every turn, none  of the key characters is as they first appear. Likewise, readers discover through Andy Monaghan’s unfailing efforts to answer the questions that contradict his idyllic memories of Halversham, they are in a place he never really knew.

In the end, readers will find satisfaction with what Anthony offers, yet hunger for more. I know that sounds cliche, but it it clear even the author plans that to be the case. That is likely why Anthony places an invite for readers to sample her 2006 novel, Pork, on the final ten pages of the 173-page ebook.

 

Simple as a science

Rocket Science Made Easy

***** [GREAT]

By Rodney A. Blaukat
Drop Cap Publishing
ISBN: 978-0615841342

The unlisted subtitle on the cover of this 130-page nonfiction work is “a fun book about….Little things that make a big RocketSciencedifference.” Readers who approach the book with a hunger for “fun” or to learn the importance of the “little things” in mind, rather than rockets or science in any form, will not be disappointed. Blaukat whose day job is in consulting delivers everything promised. Rocket Science Made Easy is a series of brief essays or stories that poke readers in the conscience to make them consider why they needlessly strive to make life complicated.

As the writer explains it, most of us make life far more complex than is needed. Story by story, written in the breezy style and length of a blog entry. Rodney’s Hot Dog Stand, the author’s online journal is a great source for more reflections and insight. However, more than the blog, Rocket Science, is filled with tales that  stir  “an ‘ah-hah’ moment” readers can make use of in everyday life. The stories also contain insights that will repair behaviors in businesses, churches and organizations.

The books tone is not preachy. That is a plus in a work that offers advice. Blaukat, a professional trainer, speaker and salesman, yet the author also avoids making readers feel they are in the midst of a sales pitch or workshop.

The well-paced prose and diction is an almost flawless as a tool for motivation because those who love a good, quick read will be easily pulled into his stories. For example, in a chapter cleverly titled, “Tripping Over Mouse Turds” he writes about a “how a small  problem at work had turned into a big deal.”

He explains:

He looked at me and said, “Yeah, they are tripping over mouse turds.” My initial response was one that you might expect when I said, “Excuse me?” He repeated the phrase again. And then I thought about it some more and came to the conclusion he had hit the nail on the head.

How many times have you been in meetings and the conversation turns into a topic that somehow becomes the crisis of the century? We spend hours trying to figure out what picture to hang in the lobby while the receptionist doesn’t have a computer. We spend hours trying to figure out what color the baseball uniform should be while the team is still picking flowers in the outfield. Tripping over mouse turds has become a full time job for some people.

I’ve come to find over the years not everyone particularly likes that phrase. But “tripping over tiny pellets that come from the back end of a small rodent” doesn’t seem to have the same effect. But the end result (no pun intended) is still the same.

 The best thing about Rocket Science Made Easy is that it powers beyond the average self-help book into entertainment. If a readers do not crave the author’s advice, they will find amusement in its 54 first-person narratives. Much like someone you meet at a party, the author slowly reveals himself through the text. The more he shares, the closer the reader will feel until the writer as main character and his advice are trusted.

Give this book to any person who is very busy. Give it to someone who wants to run a more effective business or organization, even a club. A high school or college student might not let you see them read it. After all, they tend to know what life is all about, yet if one of them were to get past the first chapter, they too will be hooked. This is a book for anyone who has the patience to spend time with a story. They will come away better for the encounter.