Last Song and Dance by Christopher Woods

Last Song and Dance by Christopher Woods

Story Summary

LAST SONG AND DANCE is an illustrated novel which tells the grim story of Cy Sullivan, failed alcoholic author who has returned to his hometown after years of scandal and disgrace, not in triumph but simply to die. He has but a week to compose his great American novella, Curse of the Blue Nun which he structures in relation to the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis. A surrealist bible of sorts–but unlike the original, this one does not purport to be true.

Stylistic influences/parodies run the gamut from biblical parables, Shakespeare to various 20th century modernists—Joyce, Faulkner, Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs etc as well as film noir, supernatural horror and even Fellini. I employed a number of voices ranging from erudite to jail house slang to hillbilly (my Kentucky voice) so it’s a veritable literary collage. The artist at Bookfuel did a great job with my visual designs which were primarily inspired from Gustave Dore although it concludes with a pastiche of Grant Wood’s American Gothic which is quite nice. While this all sounds rather heavy and artistically over the top, Last Song and Dance is very much a black comedy which takes nothing seriously including itself or its failed author. The LSD initials of the title are appropriate given the hallucinatory quality of much of the writing. I believe there is a potential cult audience but as of today, it’s only sold three copies and there is no browsing on these sales sites nor is it visually displayed on Bookfuel’s site which is primarily genre or non fiction/ self help that sort of thing so it’s a bit of an orphan as such…

Amazon Link – http://amzn.to/2BBqONP

San Francisco Book Review – 5 Stars

Christopher Woods has penned a curious yarn in the Last Song and Dance. The book is written in a unique style unlike any other. It addresses a chaotic set of contentious characters who dare to be noticed, each with an eagerness for confrontation. With wonderful black ink drawings that capture the mood of the characters of the story, the author paints an ominous narrative. Last Song can be compared to Sanctuary by Paul Monette for its imagery and imaginative style. Many of the illustrations feature symbolic references to the plot that add intrigue to the story, forcing you to reflect on the meaning of certain passages. Much of the narrative reads like dialogue, but conveys a meaning of reaching into the mind of the character. The storyline is complex, with a variety of characters who seem to share certain traits.

The storyline focuses on tested confrontations. Although these keep the reader busy, they add depth to the plot. It’s a little misdirected in places, giving the reader a chance to compare that part with other parts. This tends to function like a red herring in a mystery. You cannot tell if it’s a blooper or a ploy until you finish it. Sorry—no spoilers!

Christopher Woods does a fine job at depicting the characters with verbiage, the illustrations bringing them to life. The intricacy with which the characters are woven into the plot shows us only glimpses of what’s to come, kind of like a foreshadowing of events. The reader must do a lot of work to put the story together in his or her mind as he or she reads. This provides an overall aura of mystery, motivating the reader to keep turning the pages. And the text flows along fast, making it easy reading.

If you want to sit down and read something to contemplate and capture your attention, then you’ve come to the right work. Last Song kind of reads like a fairy tale or fable, yet some of the characters are using profanity that would not be appropriate for children under 18, and the characters appear to engage in behavior that would also not suit young readers.

Reviewed By: D. Wayne Dworsky

Last Song and Dance

Author Bio:

Christopher Woods is aging gracelessly in Louisville, KY, USA. He lives in a box with his failing typewriter, Clarabelle and albino blind/deaf creature, Spot who is over fifty years old and rumored to be the world’s oldest living dog, if that is indeed its species. This is the first novel by Mr. Woods and assistants Clarabelle and Spot but, in all likelihood, is their last song and dance

The Prize by Geoffrey M. Cooper

the prize cover

The Prize by Geoffrey M. Cooper

Book Summary

What does it take to win a Nobel Prize? Deceit, fraud, even murder? Set in the competitive world of cutting-edge medical research, The Prize is a science thriller in which jealousy over the discovery of a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease leads to fraud, betrayal and violence.

Pam Weller makes the discovery of a lifetime when she finds a drug with the potential for treating Alzheimer’s. But her success threatens the supremacy of Eric Prescott, a leading figure in Alzheimer’s research. Lusting relentlessly for the Nobel Prize, Prescott fears that Pam’s work will derail his ambitions. He seduces one of Pam’s research fellows and enlists her in a plot to brand Pam a fraud and steal her discovery. But when an investigation threatens to uncover their plot, Prescott kills his co-conspirator and fakes a suicide that places the blame squarely on Pam. Leading Pam into a world where nothing is real, except threats to her career, her freedom and even her life.

In a novel of intrigue and suspense, The Prize explores the human side of science and drug discovery, exposing the pressures and ambitions that can drive the betrayal of scientific ethics and lead to fraud in medical research.

Amazon Link – http://amzn.to/2DJmePo

Colorado Book Review – 4.5 stars

Scientists are often thought of as being hardworking and disciplined and the kind of people whose reason and intellect usually prevails over the baser human traits of envy, hubris, and greed. The Prize’s Pam Weller sure fits that description. As a matter of fact, her years of perseverance have led her and her team to one of the most monumental scientific discoveries of our time – a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. It’s the kind of work that could easily garner her a Nobel Prize. While her research is quite promising and there is much cause for celebration, not everyone is so thrilled with Pam’s findings. Eric Prescott, a renowned scientist and Alzheimer’s researcher in his own right, is watching his own chances at the prestigious award slip away as Pam appears to have had the scientific breakthrough he had long been hoping for. He decides he can’t let that happen, no matter what the cost.

While author Geoffrey M. Cooper is no stranger to writing (he has several non-fiction books under his belt), this is his debut novel. You wouldn’t know that from the way he writes. His sentences are smooth and lean. The dialogue feels natural; the means and motives of his antagonists are solid. He does a brilliant job of simplifying the testing involved in medical research for us non-scientists while still maintaining the integrity of the processes. Cooper effortlessly changes the point of view between characters, allowing the reader to know who did what before those in the story do. Hence, the real thrill in this thriller comes from seeing if the good guys will put all of the pieces together before it’s too late, or if Eric Prescott will get away with his crimes. The Prize is a clever, suspenseful page-turner for seasoned lab-coat wearers and novice geeks alike. The real question here is not whodunit, but what took Geoffrey M. Cooper so long to start writing fiction. If he ever gets tired of test tubes and academic politics in real life, The Prize proves that he has the imagination and literary chops to have a robust second career as a writer.

https://coloradobookreview.com/2017/12/12/the-prize-by-geoffrey-m-cooper/

Author Bio

Geoffrey M. Cooper is an experienced cancer researcher and scientific administrator, having held positions at Harvard Medical School and Boston University. He is the author of the cell biology text, The Cell, as well as several books on cancer. The Prize is his first novel. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Charmer Boy Gypsy Girl by Victor Harrington

Story Summary:

The essence and meaning of transcendent love between two people—the kernel of human existence—is often found in the crucible of war. Such was the love between Bosko, a Serbian boy, and Admira, a Bosnian girl, who were caught in one of the most barbaric and brutal periods of the last century: the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Amazon Link – http://amzn.to/2AdQOCr

Indie Reader Review:

CHARMER BOY GYPSY GIRL is a novel about enduring love in impossible circumstances. Bosko is a handsome and charming Orthodox Serb. Admira is a Muslim Bosnian with gypsy blood running through her veins. In spite of their religious and ethnic differences, when they meet at a New Year’s Eve party and share a kiss they know that it’s fate. As Yugoslavia begins to splinter and lines are drawn between ethnic groups, the couple will have to fight to stay together — and alive.

CHARMER BOY GYPSY GIRL is meticulously crafted, drawing on ample historical details to bring to life one of the most horrifying events of the 20th century: the siege of Sarajevo. Based on the real-life love story of Bosko Brkic and Admira Ismic whose heart-wrenching tale captivated the world in the 1990s, Victor Harrington’s novel is a powerful reminder that love can prevail in even the most brutal conditions.

While it is a love story, CHARMER BOY GYPSY GIRL is also very much a stark examination of the cruelty of war. In its pages, we see the best and the worst of humanity. As Sarajevo is under attack, life comes a matter of day-to-day survival. Serbs and Bosnians are pitted against each other, but Bosko and Admira refuse to let their love become another casualty. Rather than allowing their relationship to dominate the narrative, Harrington uses it to contrast their grim surroundings, highlighting the senselessness of war and the resilience of the human spirit.

Superbly written and well-researched, CHARMER BOY GYPSY GIRL portrays one of the most ruthless periods of modern history in haunting prose. Harrington does not hold back in his depiction of the ethnic cleansing that took place during this tumultuous time and reminds us through Bosko’s friend, Matko, of our responsibility to safeguard life. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” says Matko; these words remain relevant today.

Ultimately, CHARMER BOY GYPSY GIRL is a tribute to that most powerful of emotions which rules us all: love. Admira and Bosko are vivid characters who stick with you long after the final page has been read, almost as if they are begging you to remember that, in the end, love must triumph over hate.

~Christine-Marie Liwag Dixon for IndieReader

CHARMER BOY GYPSY GIRL, an epic story of love and survival

Author Bio:

Author Victor Harrington has the quintessential writer’s family history. The adventure began in 1850 when Edward, an Englishman in the British Army, fell in love with a Muslim princess whose family lived in Agra. Victor’s American paternal great-grand-mother was the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor from New England. The author was born in India in 1958, and his family immigrated to Canada in the late 1960s.
For Victor, New York remains a city that creates its own temporal distortion where a writer can observe, for a moment, the many worlds past, present, and future that make up the space-time continuum of his city.
Charmer Boy, Gypsy Girl is Victor Harrington’s first novel, and he has recently completed his second.

Becoming by Fouad Azim

Story Summary

This is a story of blooming love and betrayal, about children coming of age, of conscience and the sociopaths who lack it; it is a story about trust and how true love empowers and heals us. In the end, it is a story about humanity and the eternal struggle between good and evil.

Nyla and Junaid are classmates learning about the world around them and in the process discovering themselves. They must endure and survive a path fraught with confusion and peril if they hope to emerge victorious, though not necessarily unscathed. They will learn of innocence and its loss, about how budding love can be snuffed out if not cared for and its formidable power when nurtured and protected. They will become closely acquainted with evil, with its insidious presence in plain sight and how it mangles and corrupts those it touches. They will have to confront and defeat it if they can. If you think you recognize some of the characters described herein, it is only because the human experience around the world and in the different cultures is not unique, and we all share some of the same burdens and the joys of similar emotions and trials as we go about learning to find ourselves.

The setting is the foothills of the Margalla Mountain range, a part of the lesser Himalayas, north of Islamabad in Pakistan, during the 1990s.

http://amzn.to/2xwmgHB

Pacific Book Review

Author Fouad Azim has written Becoming, an emotionally gripping novel about young love in the1990’s Pakistan which will enthrall readers.

Becoming tells the story of classmates Nyla and Junaid. Junaid is a shy young man who comes out of his shell once he falls in love with the intelligent and independent Nyla. Their fledgling romance is threatened by the jealousy of Jahal, an emotionally unstable boy who is determined to break them up. Nyla and Junaid must overcome Jahal’s wicked actions and other obstacles to discover true love.

This book is a unique coming-of-age novel about young love in a land far away from the United States, which is still a universal story. Junaid’s sensitivity and devotion to Nyla is admirable and makes him a relatable protagonist. Nyla is a strong character that isn’t just a passive love interest for Junaid. She’s a self-sufficient young woman that is brave throughout Becoming as she fights the cultural traditions that try to keep her from Junaid. Jahal is the perfect antagonist as the psychologically disturbed villain of the novel. Though he commits horrific acts, Azim’s writing doesn’t limit him to a one-dimensional monster. Jahal is more of a wounded soul than a soulless anti-hero.

Azim’s writing is evocative and poignant. The hills and caves of Pakistan are described so vividly that readers can imagine they are in the rugged terrain of the South Asian countryside. He also easily captures the complicated social lives of teenagers and how fraught young relationships can be in Becoming’s dialogue. Though there are some cultural differences between Western and Eastern culture in the book, the universal themes of the novel comes through to the readers. Azim also expertly handles sweet romance and dangerous drama throughout the novel. This story has exciting and suspenseful moments which will leave readers wanting more.

Becoming would be best for fans of the Kite Runner and Khaled Housseni. The novels both have similar stories about friendships in South Asian countries and both authors write masterfully about love. This book would also be good for fans of historical fiction, especially of fiction set in countries outside America. The novel would be perfect for readers of all ages. Becoming could would be great for young Pakistani or South Asian culture in general will learn a lot from this book as well. Fouad Azim’s novel shows how love can conquer hate, making Becoming an unforgettable novel which all readers will love.

http://www.pacificbookreview.com/becoming/

https://youtu.be/GET4cXmZCuc

Rule #1 Don’t Be #2 by Daniel Milstein

Book Summary

Want to be in the world’s top 3% of achievers?

Would you like a road map to get there?

In his fourth book, RULE #1 DON’T BE #2,bestselling author, CEO, and NHL Hockey Agent

Daniel Milstein inspires like never before, challenging us to dream BIG with his charismatic candor, giving us each a compelling glimpse into our own limitless potential.

Read Dan’s riveting account of overcoming adversity to reach the top and countless

stories of others who’ve dominated their respective fields against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Framed in Dan’s fast-paced, conversational style and his best-loved, thought-provoking quotes,

we’re gifted the life-changing lessons of the world’s greatest achievers.

http://amzn.to/2vafzgl

Here’s what Top Achievers say about RULE #1 DON’T BE #2 – You Get What You Work For Not What You Wish For.

This book is hard-hitting, straightforward and life-changing. It teaches you how to join the “big league” in your work and personal life.”
Brian Tracy

Dan Milstein is a living testament to the indomitable American spirit and showing how hard work, positive thinking and a laser focus can drive accomplishment and success.”
Carol Cain
Emmy Award Winning Journalist
CBS-TV & The Detroit Free Press

 The skills he teaches can be used by anyone to develop their own business and sales efforts.”
Ross Rojek, San Francisco Book Review

“Reading this book not only is an engrossing experience – it is an uplifting one.”
Grady Harp, Top 100 Amazon Reviewer

 This book is a true gem, it is empowering, inspirational, ruthlessly honest, but most importantly it is probably the most outstandingly motivational book you will ever read, if you REALLY want your dreams to come true.”
Susan Keefe
Midwest Book Review

 “His compact book is eye-catching, utilizing a variety of font sizes and styles and mixing colorful text and graphic backgrounds. Each chapter title spurs the reader to think and act.”
Recommended.
The U.S. REVIEW of BOOKS

Rule #1 Don’t Be #2 is a life-altering, life-enhancing, life-embracing read that offers a practical and thoroughly ‘user friendly’ instructional guide that is impressively well written, organized and presented. While very highly recommended, especially for community and academic library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections.”
Midwest Book Review

If the ideas aren’t unique to this work, the packaging itself exhibits a great deal of flair. The book is small and compact, smartly uses lots of large type and a second color for emphasis, and employs a graphically engaging format that makes skimming a snap. Give Rule #1 Don’t Be #2 an A-plus for style.”
Foreword Clarion Reviews

Manhattan Book Review 4 Stars

In this book, author Daniel Milstein provides a manual for success. The author escaped the former Soviet Union as a teenager, coming to the United States almost literally penniless. He has since built a business empire with interests in finance, sports management, publishing, and film. The book is laid out in 25 short chapters with pithy titles such as “Go Big or Go Home,” “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” and “Stand Up and Be Counted.”

The book is structured something like a manual, with its short chapters and large print for key points. It is easy to read, targeting the busy reader interested in putting ideas into action. Principles of hard work, clarifying goals, and improving individual performance prevail throughout. The book offers examples of success stories such as Ben Carson, a brain surgeon and member of the Trump administration, who rose from poverty through his dedication to education. The book also has exercises such as focusing on and writing down goals. It is well written, has a strong writing style, and is professionally packaged by the author’s publishing company. The most impressive part of the overall book is the author himself, who is a role model for his advice, an important feature of the motivational/self-help genre. Without such success, an author is not credible. Another important part of this work is that “success” is self-defined, hence the focus on personal goals, but the author’s techniques for reaching those goals seem applicable across a range of areas. The individual reader might regard Milstein’s personal success story of managing an international corporation as a nightmare when applied to herself, but she may have a dream of achieving success in the arts. The author’s strategies of defining this goal and of maintaining focus on and working toward it are still applicable to that reader. My one criticism of the work is it tends to be repetitive. The theme of setting goals, for example, is repeated throughout. But any solid work, fiction or nonfiction, has a theme. The author has in this work achieved the goal of reaching “number one.”

Reviewed by Stacia Levy
https://manhattanbookreview.com/product/rule-1-dont-be-2-you-get-what-you-work-for-not-what-you-wish-for/

Confessions of an American Doctor by Max Kepler

Book Summary

In 2005, I was arrested by agents from both the US Postal Service and the Food and Drug Administration for the importation of illegal human growth hormone and botulinum toxin (Botox) from China.

At the time of my arrest, I was a thirty-seven year old Harvard graduate with medical and post-doctoral degrees. I attended one of the finest residency and fellowship training programs in the world at the University of California, San Francisco. I played two sports in college, earned awards at every level of education and training, had wonderful friends and a beautiful three-year-old daughter. Having grown up the son of a restaurant manager and a housewife, I had transcended the humble beginnings of a small Midwestern town to become the quintessential American Dream.

Or so I thought.

But with my arrest on felony importation charges, everything I had worked so hard for was swept away and the entire trajectory of my life was indelibly altered. I would embark on a three year battle not only for my medical license, but also for my freedom. This journey would lead to intense personal introspection, and in that process, I would discover with ugliness, there was also beauty, and with punishment, mercy.

There are many reasons I have written this manuscript, with one of the most important being that I hoped my story would resonate with others who have gone through difficult circumstances as a consequence of a dark side of their personality. With this book, I hope to inspire others to accept and embrace the good and bad, while continually striving for improved self-understanding and acceptance.

I have changed names primarily for legal purposes, but the facts are unchanged. Although the events described in the book occurred more than ten years ago, I think about them nearly every day. The shame and humiliation are ever-present. Any simple Google search of my name reveals the truth, and that truth has affected me over and over, despite the years, as it probably should. As the judge told me that day in a federal courtroom, “You have betrayed the public’s trust.”

This is my confessional.

Buy on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2tcoKre

San Francisco Book Review – 4 Stars

Confessions of an American Doctor is a true account of a doctor in the United States. The author has used different names to respect of the privacy of his patients and peers.

The novel opens with the arrest of Dr. Max Kepler, a rheumatologist by profession. As he is being handcuffed, the events of the previous few months flash before his eyes. He then writes a detailed account of his past, leading up to his venture into cosmetology and anti-aging clinics.

Divorced and bored with his job at Cade County Hospital, he partners up with Lance, who promises him a partnership in a startup, and together they work on medicine aimed for hair growth. Starting with that, they then foray into hormone supplementation as well as Botox and Mesotherapy. Using loopholes in the medical system of the US and the FDA, they manage to bypass standard checks as well as to use substandard compounds imported from China. Lance leads him to meet a range of businessmen interested in financing their projects. Dr. Kepler is too excited at the prospect of incoming money, and he doesn’t bother doing background checks on the sources of funds. He opens a wellness clinic by the name of Forever Lithe, which branches out to multiple locations across the country. He administers Botox, Mesotherapy, and other anti-aging and cosmetology treatments, eventually resulting in a healthy number of patients.

He has an idea that Lance supplies hormones and anabolic steroids to professional athletes, but he feels unconcerned as he is not directly supplying them. They become cautious when their supplies of human growth hormone from China are intercepted at US Customs.

Dr. Kepler didn’t bother doing a background check on Lance, and eventually, Lance’s shady past catches up with him. Lance is subsequently arrested on account of his import and illegal use of human growth hormone for anti-aging purposes on his patients, and his court proceedings are recounted as well. Read on to find out if he feels he is guilty of his crime and what will be the future of his venture with Lance.

The author has given a detailed account of his childhood, relationships, and his struggles through medical education. He also explains the uses of all the hormones they created in labs, which shows his thorough knowledge of pharmacology. His detailed understanding of the medical system of the United States and the loopholes which led to them getting away with using substandard medicines on patients have been described really well. This novel is a treat to read for medical students and current physicians of any country.

Reviewed By: Rabiya Jawed

https://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/confessions-of-an-american-doctor/

Clockwork Strange: Into The Whirlwind by Dale McInnes

Story Summary:

A North American novel inspired by Karel Zeman’s 1955 children’s classic tale Cesta Do Praveku Our first novel begins in 1943 with the disappearance of nine children and their three puppies on a prairie farm when they discover a door to long extinct alien worlds. Their story is one of awe and exploration. It is told as two simultaneous stories, one of the repercussions on the family farm community 25 years later, and the other of how the children struggle to survive their first alien environmental ice age encounter. It is the very first time that the concept of ‘deep time’ will be told through the eyes of children [for both the children and the young adults] and kept as scientifically accurate as a good story can be told. This is the North American Debut of a prehistoric ALICE IN WONDERLAND chronicle of deep time, wherein WONDERLAND is as real as the children who tumble into it.

http://amzn.to/2tGExCj

San Francisco Book Review:

From an author who had experienced the open space needed for a child’s imagination to truly blossom while growing up on a farm in Manitoba, Canada, Clockwork Strange: Into the Whirlwind by Dale McInnes is the first of a series of science fiction books that children will, no doubt, enjoy. Adults, meanwhile, shouldn’t hesitate to read this book at all. It brings back long-slumbering memories of a time when magic was indeed a possibility.

Albert Morley, a man of the early-to-middle twentieth century, is a crazy man, according to some. His sister-in-law isn’t overly fond of him, but really the only thing that’s wrong with him is that he had experienced something extraordinary as a child thanks to a mysterious caboose. For twenty years, Albert had been gone. Nothing had changed upon his return. Now, years later, the caboose has done it’s magic again. Nine kids and three little dogs vanish, never to be seen again.

What happened to these kids and their three little dogs reaches many ears, but what many don’t know is that these kids have been taken to a world and time where everything is big and dangerous. Cats, wolves, mammoths–everything’s big. Armed with writings that can be found in Albert’s diary, the kids have to figure out a way to survive.

Of the nine kids, Daniel assumes the leadership role. When important decisions have to be made, his voice is the one that will most likely be heard. The puppies are out of harm’s way most of the time. The kids use the knowledge from what they see as an added tool to survive. They learn to adapt to their surroundings and do what it takes to survive even when the decisions they have to make become as tough as the mammoth hides they have to cut from mammoth carcasses. Children will love the characters in this book for their bravery in the face of terrifying circumstances and will learn a thing or two about teamwork and smart strategies to fend of predators of the wild.

I did like what the author primarily tried to do and that was to write a story so that readers could experience the less technologically-ridden world of the 1930s to 1950s through the eyes of a child. Childhood is filled with magic. McInnes scatters it about freely in this book. My wish is that McInnes made the absence of the kids more emotionally relatable as we do get to follow the Morley clan back in the real world in the years after the incident with the caboose.

Reviewed By: Benjamin Ookami

https://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/clockwork-strange-into-the-whirlwind/

Lucia Zarate By Cecilia Velastegui

Lucia Zarate Cover

Story summary:

Lucia Zárate is based on the poignant, real-life odyssey of the world’s smallest woman. Pretty and gregarious, Lucia Zárate was just twenty inches tall. A celebrity after her ‘display’ at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition, Lucia’s extraordinary, heartbreaking story is one of exploitation by greedy sideshow hucksters and a fishbowl existence on the road, from New York to Victorian London. We follow the adventures of diminutive Lucia Zárate and her devoted governess as they grapple with life and death, finding joy and adventure in their bumpy sideshow journey of more than fourteen years. This is an artfully balanced novel that is a mesmerizing tale of survival, resilience, and the uplifting force of friendship.

Forward Review:

The sad life story of the diminutive Lucia Zárate is intriguing and informative.

Cecilia Velástegui’s historical novel, Lucia Zárate, chronicles the extraordinary life of the tiniest person who ever lived. The opening pages, lyrical and riveting, paint Mexico with vivid brushstrokes, bringing the sights, sounds, and smells of Veracruz and its vanilla bean industry to life.

Like all historical fiction, Lucia Zárate plaits fact and fancy. Lucia Zárate (January 2, 1864–January 15, 1890) holds the Guinness World Record as the smallest human, measuring twenty-one inches tall and weighing less than five pounds at seventeen years of age. Velástegui describes her as “a wisp of a girl, a perfect and miniature thing, whose singular appearance and sparkling personality were as unique as the cherished fragrance of Veracruz vanilla.” Despite her diminutive size, she “spread the velvet folds and lace frills of her gowns in such a way that she extended her personal space in a wide circle all around her.”

Incorporated into the fictitious elements are actual newspaper accounts of Lucia’s nineteenth-century tour of America and Europe. Sometimes these factual reports are artfully woven into the tale; other times, not. As a result, the book wavers between pure history and historical fiction, never landing squarely on either one.

Lucia’s story is told primarily from the vantage point of her governess, Zoila. When Zoila realizes she must extricate herself from her village’s internecine vanilla bean trade skirmishes, as well as from the rumors swirling around her own perhaps-nefarious actions, she tucks a vial of her beloved Felipe’s salvaged blood between her ample breasts and heads out. She secures a position as governess for the improbably tiny Lucia, whose parents have contracted for their daughter to perform in human curiosity sideshows. Zoila accompanies the Lilliputian girl on the decade-long tour, with visits to domestic and foreign heads of state, as well as considerable time spent among seedy denizens and gawking voyeurs.

Lucia and Zoila are well-drawn and complex figures; their emotions ebb and flow according to the particular circumstances they encounter, making them believable characters. Other individuals, however, are less fully developed; they include slimy carnival hucksters, cruel freak-show managers, and greedy parents who want to live in luxury, financed on the back of their tiny treasure of a daughter. Aside from Zoila and Lucia, not one compassionate or multifaceted individual appears in the story. Well-rounded supporting characters would have made the fictive elements more credible.

This sad life story is intriguing and informative. Velástegui’s sensitive descriptions of humans with a variety of deformities and odd conditions is commendable, as is her condemnation of their abominable treatment in nineteenth-century sideshows. Lucia Zárate should appeal to people interested in the human psyche, and those drawn to history should appreciate the author’s adherence to carefully researched historical details. Also, young adults with sophisticated vocabularies should enjoy this book.

Available on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2suSKPT

Author Bio:

Cecilia Velástegui’s historical novels have received international awards: LUCIA ZARATE (2017) is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction and is in competition with an international, literary giant: Arturo Pérez Reverte. Her novel PARISIAN PROMISES won the Paris Book Award (2015), MISSING IN MACHU PICCHU (2014) won first place in the International Latino Book Awards, the nation’s oldest Hispanic literary awards, TRACES OF BLISS (2013) was selected by the Association of American Publishers to the National Book Club, and GATHERING THE INDIGO MAIDENS (2012) was a runner up for the Mariposa Prize. Her children’s bilingual fables were endorsed by the SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, and were finalists for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year.

Cecilia has a graduate degree from the University of Southern California, is a former Marriage and Family Therapist, has traveled to more than 100 countries and speaks four languages. She serves on the board of directors of several cultural and educational institutions.

The Salad Oil King–by author M.G. Crisci (10th book)

Story Summary:

THE SALAD OIL KING  is a uniquely American tale of Greed-Gone-Mad. Inspired by real events that took place in the 1940-60’s. An unpretentious, diminutive Manhattan-born high school drop-out named Alfonso Gravenese morphs into one of the great scam artists in American financial history.

Watch “Fonso” graduate from a modest childhood scam into an executive who initially steals hundreds of millions of dollars from Federal domestic and international aid programs. And ultimately becomes a cunning entrepreneur who creates a $14 billion Wall Street scam that halts NYSE trading and destroys two venerable brokerage firms.

Along the way, you meet an unforgettable collection of friends, enemies and accomplices. Notably benevolent Mobsters, a jealous and compliant wife, a vicious yet oddly romantic right-hand man, and a collection of opportunistic Government and Church officials.

And a surprising ending that will leave you wondering.

Reviewer called it “A Classic American Crime Story by a Master Story Teller.”  The author says it’s based on real events and the research and interviews took him about 5 years to complete.

Amazon Link

http://amzn.to/2oPX6Sb

5 Stars San Francisco Book Review

http://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/salad-oil-king/

Harold Hardscrabble by G.D. Dess

Story Summary

Harold Hardscrabble, by G. D. Dess, captures the feelings of frustration and helplessness that many of us experience in our daily lives. These sentiments are embodied in the contemplative, quietly charming protagonist, Harold, who, like Walter Mitty, lives largely in his own world of thoughts and dreams. We follow Harold’s transformation from a dreamer to a man of action as he struggles to discover how to live a meaningful life in a materialistic world.

Harold copes admirably with the many disasters and injustices that assail him on his life’s journey; but when he is finally overcome by circumstances beyond his control, he is forced to take matters into his own hands to attain justice for the all the misfortunes he has been made to suffer. This is a story of a quest for self-realization that unfolds slowly as it builds to its explosive climax.

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Harold Hardscrabble met the love of his life in college. Her name is Carol, the attraction, of a physical and intellectual nature, is immediate. Harold sees Carol as having a controlling personality, but he also sees an endearing quality to her vulnerability. They leave college and get married, moving to New York City and to cramped surroundings in an apartment. Harold is an artist within, who is looking for an outlet to unleash the art in his soul, but practicality and his bride push him to the corporate world. Harold works a variety of temp jobs, but his brilliant mind leads to offers of a full time job in a analytical position. Harold still feels insecure but pushes on with the prodding of Carol. The birth of their two children, Jake and Sarah, makes a move to the suburbs an eventuality. Harold thinks back to his time growing up, his propensity to daydream being the fondest of memories. As his children grow, Harold’s mind turns to the pitfalls of commercialism, materialism, and the lack of reality that haunts his existence. He attempts to explain his feelings to Carol but is met with indifference. His thoughts start to take a toll on his home and career. His life takes a tilt toward the mortal when he is diagnosed with prostate cancer. His battle and its unpleasant effects take a backseat to Carol’s departure. Harold emerges weakened from the cancer, drinking more and looking to de-clutter his existence. Will he ever find happiness? Will he ever overcome his own questions and doubts?

Harold Hardscrabble is an excellent, philosophical tale that explores the life of a brilliant, troubled man and his ups and downs. The reader can identify with many of the quandaries that tax the mind of Harold. The existential crises that haunt the titular character make him sympathetic and worth rooting for. The story bobs and weaves but never fails to hold the attention of the reader. A fine read.

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