Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Song for Julia by Charles Sheehan-Miles

A Song for Julia. Charles Sheehan-Miles. Cincinnatus Press. December 2012.  320 pages hbk, pbk and ebook. ISBN#: 9780988273658.

Julia is a Harvard student who lives with a memory that almost destroyed her family and probably ended her father’s career as a foreign service diplomat.  The memories are always there but she tries to live a better life free of tangled relationships because the last one resulted in a broken heart and an aborted baby.  But now Julia meets a punk rock singer, Crank Wilson is a heart-breaker with the ladies but on meeting Julia that slowly changes, more so because Julia is constantly stating she will not see him again.

So what will happen when he meets her family.  For Crank and his father, a Boston cop, and his brother, who has Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism, are always at odds.  They try to keep out of fights because these upset his brother who gets out of control when upset.  Crank demonstrates tremendous anger when his mother is even mentioned.  Not a happy family, to say the least!

Julia’s mother is constantly harassing her to behave “properly,” always dropping comments on how much she owes the family because of her past shame. She is a nag, in plain English, and was never present for Julia when she needed her mother the most.  Yes, she made a terrible mistake that affected everyone, but surely there must come a time when the past does not haunt the present and everyone accepts responsibility for what could have been avoided, perhaps.

A Song for Julia is a fine story about the past can distort the present and future so that the main characters are so busy protecting their emotionally wracked persons that they almost lose the joy that could move them forward into a caring, whole relationship.  Secrets are meant to be exposed and the pain of revelation with its multiple causes and effects is worth the cost of speaking truth.  Charles Sheehan-Miles brooks no hypocrisy, excuses, etc. as reasons not to be true to one’s higher nature.  In A Song for Julia, this author crafts a fictional song that is as radical as punk and as an incisive as a healing scalpel to the worst and best in human nature.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab

The Girl in the Wall. Daphne Benedis-Grab. Merit Press. YA Fiction. December 2012. 272 pp. pbk.  ISBN # 9781440552700.

Sera made a difficult choice to save a life by telling the truth. Now she’s paying for it day after day after day.  Her peers at school are treating her like “pariah of the year.”  Now her family is insisting she attend the birthday party of her ex-friend, Ariel.  It’s all very uncomfortable until rock star Hudson Winters (real name Hunter Winters) begins to croon a song Sera loves.  The mesmerizing effect of his singing is cut short by the burst of gunfire and then the hell begins!

Two people are died and a group of killers is holding the rest of the party attendees temporarily until they realize the person they really wanted to kill, Ariel, is missing. So begins an awful night of threats, murders, fire, and more while Ariel is hidden in the walls of her home. It’s a place where Sera and she hung out and played when they were much younger.  But now Sera has to make a choice to betray Ariel again or prove her loyalty. The cost of either is huge!

As the night progresses, the remaining youths know there will be no help until well into the next day.  They, therefore, begin to plan on how to attack the killers and at the same time gradually discover who is behind this insane, cold-blooded attack and why. It’s NOT a pretty picture, no matter how one sees the choices and possible outcomes.

During this night Sera discovers that Hudson (Hunter) is a regular guy with his own sad story.  It’s his strength and ideas that help Sera tolerate the intense pressure and plan for a different alternative to the end they all expect.  At the same time, Ariel has the time while in hiding to think about who are her true friends and make a decision that might just save her own life.

The Girl in the Wall punches the reader with its very real brutality and poignancy.  The author knows well how to increase the tension but also make it something compassionate and moving, not just another made for TV drama.  Superbly done, Daphne Benedis-Grab!  YA readers will love this novel, for sure!

Tempestuous by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

Tempestuous: A Twisted Lit Novel. Kim Askew and Amy Helmes. Merit Press. YA Fiction. December 2012. 256 pp. pbk.  ISBN # 9781440552649.

Miranda Prospero, a once upon a time very popular teen, is working in a corn dog fast food stand to pay off her punishment fine.  What’s the deal?  It turns out Miranda was the dupe of a shyster teen who put together a group of geeks who would write essays for other students and in another incident arrange to have others take the SAT.  Fake IDs, etc. were eventually discovered and the scam turned into a criminal event, with Miranda taking the heat for all of it. 
So here she is in a greasy dump which turns into an all-nighter because she and her teen friends (and enemies) are snowed in and then locked in.  However, as Miranda is known as the “Teflon teen,” she’s initially annoyed but then decides to make the best of it. She’s planning a 17th birthday party for her fellow worker, Ariel.  There aren’t too many customers around and teens being teens, Miranda and her friends decide to hearty-party all night long.

The first problem arises when it turns out that one of the mall kiosks has been robbed; and since the mall is locked down, that means the robber is also still hidden among them.  Add to that the scene in which Miranda gets handcuffed to a guy, Craig, whom she’s not too crazy about.  No, they can’t find a key, so imagine being cuffed all night.  How will she figure out a visit to the lady’s room?

The night gets even crazier with plots and counter-plots, misunderstandings and confessions that might be real and might be plotted for worse scenarios.  Will the criminal be found? Miranda refuses to give in to fear and it is her wacky plans that save the day – or at least hope to!

Tempestuous, a novel again having Shakespearean allusions toward The Tempest, is a funny read that again highlights a Twisted Lit series worth the attention of all teens and young adults!  Nicely done!

Louder Than Words by Laurie Plissner

Louder Than Words. Laurie Plissner. Merit Press. YA Fiction. December 2012. 272 pp. pbk.  ISBN # 9781440556652.

Sasha’s world came to a screeching halt on the night when a devastating accident killed her parents and younger sister.  Sasha can’t remember a thing that happened that night. All she knows is that she’s been unable to speak since that awful night!

A famous psychiatrist who has practiced around the world seems unable to make any progress with Sasha. But now her attention is distracted by a young fellow student she meets.  Ben has the uncanny ability to read the minds of people he is close to in physical space.  It’s unnerving to say the least and yet Ben’s gentle revelations of Sasha’s thoughts begin to make her face what a private hell she’s created for herself by constantly focusing on her inability to communicate. 

The challenge Ben springs on Sasha is quite startling, especially considering that she has totally fallen for him and wants to be treated like a girlfriend.  To Ben, however, Sasha needs to overcome her disability, to totally heal as much as one can in her experience.  Her anger over this ultimatum and the help of Ben’s mother, a woman with her own unique alternative therapy skills, pushes Sasha to a new level.

The clues and memories that return are gradual and then absolutely stunning when it all comes together.  While the end might be considered too neatly tied up, it is very, very real to Sasha and is worth reading to see what finally frees her from her own self-imprisonment and a very real danger!

Louder Than Words is a fast-paced, young adult novel that will rivet readers’ attention to the very last page.  Nicely done, Laurie Plissner!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chojun: A Novel by Goran Powell

Chojun: A Novel. Goran Powell. Ymaa Publication Center. December 2012. 240 pages. ISBN #: 9781594392535.

Many years ago, thousands of viewers enjoyed the movie character "Miyagi" in "The Karate Kid." But Chojun is the story of the real karate sensei or teacher Chojun Miyagi and his story is a worthy, very human and therefore real account of what it is like to fully engage in karate in and out of extraordinarily difficult times!

Kenichi Ota is the narrator of this tale, a young boy initially who wants to train with Miyagi but is told to practice holding his breath while underwater in the shores of Okinawa in its pre-WWII period.  So he obeys and then begins the phenomenally difficult physical training that reads almost like brutality and yet never daunts the spirit of Kenichi.  He helps build and prepare the training tools and his master grants him just enough conversation and verbal teaching to balance out the pain Kenichi is physically enduring.  It is training for a daunting future!

Then war arrives after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, the Second World War.  One way in which this account differs from other historical accounts from a Japanese point of view is that the people of Okinawa realize very quickly that America is a very strong country whose military are slowly but surely edging their victorious way to overcome the soldiers on Okinawa's land.  They believe they are prepared, but Kenichi takes us through the period before, during and after the devastating Battle of Okinawa.  This is not to be missed writing as it exposes the stress upon the physical, mental and spiritual strength and solidity of Okinawans. Characters are uniquely traumatized and struggle to hold onto compassion and sanity when all seems to be journeying toward inevitable death in all areas of one's life.

Chojun: A Novel is superb historical fiction as well as an action-packed account of the complete training in mind and spirit of the sport and art, Karate!!! Wonderful and a must read for anyone who loves karate as well as martial arts, war stories, and human stamina in its best and worst forms!  Amazing! 

Cherokee Talisman by David-Michael Harding

Cherokee Talisman. David-Michael Harding. Q&CY Books. November 2012. 368 pp.  ISBN #: 9780615652535.

This fictional account is written to break the stereotype of the "savage" Native American Indian, in particular two Cherokee leaders.  Totsuhwa, a Cherokee shaman, is first trained by the leader Tsi'yugunsini, "Dragging Canoe" or "Dragon." The Dragon knows that the white man will return numerous times, each time committing the Indian leaders to sell more and more land and leave behind what is useless or unproductive land.  Worse yet, the land the white man is really stealing is not treated with reverence.  In fact, The Cherokee tribe fails to understand how anyone can "own" land that is a gift from God. When agreement fails, stronger weapons and manipulation through the gifts of material goods and alcohol weakens the Indians into confusion and surrender of all they treasure!

This is a sad but necessary tale to be told.  What the reader needs to see is how the "Dragon" mentors Totsuhwa with a constant attitude of care and compassion, urging war only in self-defense.  While Indians are always depicted as "scalping savages," here we learn that the white attackers often scalped, tortured and shot their Indian victims and burned homes and lands of Indians as well.  An endless cycle of violence is perpetuated on both sides.  General Jackson is portrayed in truth as being no friend of Indians whom he saw as an obstacle to westward expansion of American explorers and settlers.

Totsuhwa is a loving, cherished husband of Galegi and devoted father who trains his child to honor the gifts of nature, in one potent scene punishing his child for ignoring the need to return to the earth something in place of what has been taken.  It is written as a fair, reasonable, and poignant exchange that the son never forgets, even though eventually he must learn to live with the white man who will always be far superior in numbers and whose ways will continuously diminish the dignity of the Cherokee and other tribal members. Forgiveness is too late but truth-telling is sorely due in this 21st Century of a people not only driven from homes but almost completely exterminated.

Cherokee Talisman is a well-written, obviously well-researched, and honest novel to a comprehensive treatment of Indian-American relationships, an excellent addition to a more fair treatment of Native American history and the genre of historical fiction.