Monday, February 6, 2017

A. Keith Carreiro - The Penitent - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

A baby is born and placed in his dead mother's arms. When the funeral shroud is cast over her, his father decides to name his son Pall. It will soon become a name that strikes a shiver into the hearts of those who hear it in combat. A lone survivor on a battlefield many years later, Pall dazedly recovers from the wounds of war. Despite the dead cast about him, everything he looks upon is unfamiliar to him. Wandering away from this scene of carnage, he encounters John Savage, a giant of a man who puts Pall within the sight of Savage's seven–foot, nocked longbow. What ensues from this deadly encounter is an elusive journey for truth. Yet, it is haunted not just by a ravening demon that is out to destroy Pall and John, but by the vision of a startling beautiful young woman protecting Pall from afar.




My Review

In the midst of a post-apocalyptic descent into savagery, the tender heart of humanity is still beating strong.

Where?

In the family.

Pall is a young warrior who is brutally tortured by a gang of marauding thugs. Before they're able to kill him, he's lucky enough to escape into the forest, where he takes comfort in his happy childhood memories. Even though his mother died giving birth to him - hence his name, Pall - he grew to love his stepmother just as much. Looking back, Pall deeply appreciates, how along with his father, the two of them created such a loving environment for him to grow up in, despite the tragic way he entered the world.

As he grasps the sword his father made for him, he is filled with pride, knowing how it was forged from the metal of "heaven's own starry host." It's a blade that knows not defeat, a priceless gift, and Pall is well aware that by wielding it, he is sworn to uphold his calling to protect the weak, the ill and the aged. The job falls to him to uphold justice in a land ravaged by violence and cruelty, and Pall willingly shoulders the burden of responsibility that comes along with that.

Yet even among so much hostility, Pall encounters kindness in the form of a young, married couple and their two little girls. His heart immediately goes out to them when he sees how vulnerable they are, and he agrees to help them cross a raging river with their wagon full of supplies. It's a beautiful expression of camaraderie and goodwill, knowing that even if they make it, they're still going to be facing nearly insurmountable odds to stay alive.

Despite the unforgiving environment, Pall is able to see in them a reflection of his own upbringing, and it gives him hope that maybe all is not lost. A glimmer of what he remembers so fondly still remains, and Pall cherishes the love this family has for each other. For him, they are a bright light shining through the darkness, refusing to go out.

And I, for one, love the message that goes along with that.

***

The Penitent can be purchased at:
Amazon
Lulu

Prices/Formats: $3.99 ebook, $13.99 paperback
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 254
Release: November 1, 2016
Publisher: self-published
ISBN: 9781365287077
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

A. Keith Carreiro earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard Graduate School of Education, with the sequential help and guidance of three advisors, Dr. Vernon A. Howard, Dr. Donald Oliver and Professor Emeritus, Dr. Israel Scheffler. Keith’s academic focus, including his ongoing research agenda, centers upon philosophically examining how creativity and critical thinking are acquired, learned, utilized and practiced in the performing arts. He has taken his findings and applied them to the professional development of educational practitioners.

Earlier in his teaching career he was a professor of educational foundations, teaching graduate students of education at universities in Vermont, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. He currently teaches as an adjunct professor of English at Bridgewater State University, as well as teaching English, philosophy, humanities and public speaking courses at Bristol Community College.

He lives in Swansea, Massachusetts with his wife Carolyn. They have six children and 13 grandchildren. They belong to an eighty–five–pound golden retriever, an eight–pound Maltese, and an impish Calico cat.

Due to his love of family, he has seen his fervor for history, as well as his passion for wondering about the future, deepen dramatically.

Starting on May 23rd until October 9th of 2014, he sat down at his computer on a daily basis and began writing the first book of a science fiction/fantasy thriller in a beginning series about the quest for human immortality.

Links to connect with A. Ketih:
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Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Blog


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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bonnie M. Hennessy - Twisted - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

An old tale tells the story of how a little man named Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold and tricked a desperate girl into trading away her baby. But that’s not exactly how it happened. The real story began with a drunken father who kept throwing money away on alcohol and women, while his daughter, Aoife, ran the family farm on her own. When he gambled away everything they owned to the Duke, it was up to her to spin straw into gold to win it all back. With her wits and the help of a magical guardian, she outsmarted the Duke and saved the day. Well almost… Her guardian suddenly turned on Aoife and sent her on a quest to find his name, the clues to which were hidden deep in the woods, a moldy dungeon, and a dead woman’s chamber. This is not the tale of a damsel in distress, but a tenacious, young woman who solved a mystery so great that not even the enchanted man who spun straw into gold could figure it out. Not until Aoife came along.




My Review

Aoife is a strong, modern heroine, a girl who's not only out to define herself, but a girl who flat out refuses to be defined by others. She's not interested in fitting into any preconceived gender roles that are laid out for her. She's ready to wear the pants in the family if she has to. Getting all dolled up to land a rich husband … no, thank you. Her freedom is what's most important to her. She's definitely not someone who's won over by false flattery or sparkly gifts. How refreshing!

All she's looking for is for someone to have faith in her abilities. That's it. Sounds simple, right?

Yet even in a fairy tale setting, those around her continue to underestimate her. And I admire how their lack of insight only fuels her determination even more. She's had enough of the hypocrisy. She's not about to be subdued by anyone or anything—not if she can help it. No one's going to control this feisty lass.

Until her drunk, philandering father loses her in a game of cards to an arrogant, young duke. Yet even then, Aoife doesn't let the overwhelming sense of disappointment crush her. She's good at getting herself out of impossible situations, and she's quick to hatch an escape plan in order to free herself from this hasty, unwanted marriage.

But after awhile, she comes to learn that the idea of ever finding a soul mate, or "perfect" love, may not really exist. It becomes clear to her that, when threatened, darkness lurks inside every heart, including her own. When the duke finally lets down his guard and shows her the light he has burning inside his tormented soul, I really started pulling for the two of them to make it—especially when Aoife, herself, begins to hope that she can ultimately win in this twisted game of love, despite the losing hand she was dealt at the beginning.

Even though she's willing to give the duke a second chance, it's still not going to be easy for her to adapt to being a wife. The insecurities that her mother repeatedly drilled into her head begin to influence her—like how a man would only ever want her for her body or that she's a woman so therefore she needs the protection of a man in order to survive.

Yet Aoife is not a girl who runs away from what scares her. Instead, she courageously decides to trust her new husband, and when she does, she discovers that she may be the only true source of love he's ever had in his life. Thus, giving her what she's always wanted—a purpose.

***

Twisted can be purchased at:
Amazon

Prices/Formats: $2.99 ebook, $12.99 paperback
Genre: Fantasy, Mythological, Fairy Tale
Pages: 306
Release: November 11, 2016
Publisher: self-published
ISBN: 9781539753421
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Bonnie grew up a shy, quiet girl who the teachers always seated next to the noisy boys because they knew she was too afraid to talk to anyone. She always had a lot she wanted to say but was too afraid to share it for fear she might die of embarrassment if people actually noticed her. Somewhere along the line, perhaps after she surprised her eighth grade class by standing up to a teacher who was belittling a fellow student, she realized that she had a voice and she didn’t burst into flames when her classmates stared at her in surprise.

Not long after that, she began spinning tales, some of which got her into trouble with her mom. Whether persuading her father to take her to the candy store as a little girl or convincing her parents to let her move from Los Angeles to Manhattan to pursue a career at eighteen as a ballet dancer with only $200 in her pocket, Bonnie has proven that she knows how to tell a compelling story.

Now she spends her time reading and making up stories for her two children at night. By day she is an English teacher who never puts the quiet girls next to the noisy boys and works hard to persuade her students that stories, whether they are the ones she teaches in class or the ones she tells to keep them from daydreaming, are better escapes than computers, phones, and social media.

Links to connect with Bonnie:
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Monday, December 5, 2016

Nancy McCabe - Following Disasters - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

On her twenty-first birthday, Maggie Owen receives an unusual birthday gift: a house. That same day, the house’s owner, her aunt, dies. For three years, Maggie has been fleeing her childhood demons: the deaths of her parents, estrangement from her terminally-ill aunt, and a betrayal by her best friend. But now her career on the road, following natural disasters in temporary insurance claims offices, ends abruptly as Maggie returns home to face her past. But why does the house hold a mysterious spell over her? Why does she have the persistent feeling that her aunt is haunting her? Why did her aunt lie to her about the circumstances of her parents’ deaths? Who is the ghost child that may be hanging around the house? And what’s with the guy next door who seems so hostile toward her? FOLLOWING DISASTERS is tightly woven ghost story that raises questions about legacies and their influence on our choices.




My Review

It's fascinating to see how the relationships women have with one another, inevitably end up affecting the relationships they have with the men in their lives.

And what makes this book even more intriguing is that these relationships span different eras in time. We meet Maggie and her college friend, Erin, in the 1980s while getting to know Maggie's mother, Sarah, and her Aunt Beth, through flashbacks occurring from the 1950s onward. Yet, the same dynamic plays out between the two sets of women—the perks of physical beauty compared to inner beauty.

Erin is the girl who can get any guy she wants, much like Maggie's mother, who's described in her day as quite the head turner. While Maggie seems to take after her plain-looking aunt, preferring not to be noticed, content to be quiet and withdrawn. However, their reticence doesn't do them any favors since both are betrayed by their more attractive counterparts. When Maggie's boyfriend and Aunt Beth's husband fall victim to the temptation of the flesh, the two of them are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered trust.

When Aunt Beth dies, she leaves Maggie her house, providing her with the means to make a fresh start. But as Maggie begins the process of sorting through her aunt's things, she feels old wounds reopening, refusing to be healed. She questions whether she is doomed to live an exact replica of the life her aunt lived, now that she's trapped under the same roof. Can she forgive those who wronged her or will she live the remainder of her days mired in jealousy and regret?

The kicker is: maybe Aunt Beth provided Maggie with a way out of her pain after all. Her aunt is well aware of the pitfalls she, herself, stumbled into, and as the house begins to reveal its secrets, it's clear that she doesn't want Maggie to have to suffer through what she went through. She wants more for her than that.

And it all becomes apparent when Maggie meets her new next-door neighbor.

Joe.

***

Following Disasters can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $9.99 ebook, $16.00 paperback
Genre: Gothic, Horror, Ghosts
Pages: 234
Release: October 1, 2016
Publisher: Outpost19
ISBN: 9781944853037
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Following Disasters is Nancy McCabe's first novel. She has also published four books of creative nonfiction, including Meeting Sophie: A Memoir or Adoption; Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge: A Journey to My Daughter's Birthplace in China; and From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood. She is a regular blogger for Ploughshares and has published work in Newsweek, Writers' Digest, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, Fourth Genre, and other magazines and anthologies. Her work has received a Pushcart and six times made notable lists in Houghton Mifflin Best American anthologies.

Links to connect with Nancy:
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Facebook
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Goodreads
Blog


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Monday, October 3, 2016

Tricia Dower - Stony River - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

It wasn’t all poodle skirts and rock ‘n’ roll. From its deceptively innocent beginning—two young teens exploring the riverbank and spying on “Crazy Haggerty’s” dilapidated house—through the intertwining story lines of paganism, murder and sexual violence, Stony River shows how perilous life was for some girls in the 1950s. Absent mothers, controlling fathers, biblical injunctions, teenage longing and small-town pretense abound. The threat of violence is all around: angry fathers at home, dirty boys in the neighborhood, strange men in strange cars, a dead girl and another gone missing.

The central mystery, inspired by the crimes of Robert Zarinsky as documented by Robin Gaby Fisher and Judith Lucas in Deadly Secrets (Newark Star–Ledger 2008), keeps the reader guessing until almost the very end, when the frightening truth is revealed. In this coming-of-age mystery, three girls learn who they are and what they’re capable of surviving—and forgiving.




My Review

I really liked how the voices of these three teenage girls were distinct. Each one stood out, independent of the others. I always knew who was talking even when the point of view would change. They didn't blend together in my mind, which often happens when reading a typical coming-of-age novel where all the characters sound the same.

But there's nothing typical about this book or its characters. They're all looking for that pivotal male figure in their lives, although none of them seem to find him.

Tereza is the wild child, jumping from the fire right into the frying pan. Abused by her stepfather, she runs away from home, only to wind up married at fifteen to a violent schizophrenic. With below average reading skills, she thinks she can rely on her looks to get by, turning tricks in the backseat of cars in order to gain a sense of power over a man. Although, when her husband turns out to be a cold fish in the bedroom, she soon learns just how unreliable of a strategy that can be.

Linda is the overweight overachiever. The good girl who never puts a foot out of place. She does everything her parents tell her to do, until their marriage begins to unravel right in front of her eyes. With more freedom, she begins to act out, accepting rides from strange men, and nearly paying the ultimate price for her reckless behavior.

Miranda is the mystical fairy child. Her father hides her away from the world after she gives birth to their incestuous child. When he dies unexpectedly, she's freed from her prison of seclusion of books and pagan rituals. However, she's unable to cope in the real world, quickly becoming the gullible target of all those who believe they're "helping" her.

Of the three, Miranda is the one I connected with the most. All three girls are on separate journeys of self discovery, and it's fascinating, at the end of the novel, when they all start to overlap. Yet for me, Miranda was the only one who remained true to herself throughout the journey. She didn't care about appearances or sacrificing her integrity to get ahead. She just wanted to help people. It can be argued that she suffered the greatest amount of trauma, yet her heart remained pure. She wasn't out to advance herself, she was only seeking the truth.

And, of the three, I think she's the only one who found it.

***

Stony River can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

Prices/Formats: $10.99 ebook, $15.95 paperback
Genre: Crime, Historical, Coming of Age
Pages: 320
Release: October 6, 2016
Publisher: Leapfrog Press
ISBN: 9781935248866
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Tricia Dower confesses to smoking a river punk or two in Rahway, New Jersey, where she was born and raised by perfectly fine parents who did not keep her hidden in a spooky house. A graduate of Gettysburg College and a Phi Mu, she built a career in business before reinventing herself as a writer in 2002. Her literary work has crossed borders and won awards. She expanded a story from her Shakespeare-inspired collection, Silent Girl (Inanna 2008) into Stony River, which was first published in Canada (Penguin, 2012). Her novel, Becoming Lin (Caitlin Press), was released in Canada in 2016. A dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Dower lives and writes in Brentwood Bay, BC.

Links to connect with Tricia:
Web Site
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Blog


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Monday, August 1, 2016

Rich Zahradnik - A Black Sail - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

On the eve of the U.S. Bicentennial, newsman Coleridge Taylor is covering Operation Sail. New York Harbor is teeming with tall ships from all over the world. While enjoying the spectacle, Taylor is still a police reporter. He wants to cover real stories, not fluff, and gritty New York City still has plenty of those in July of 1976. One surfaces right in front of him when a housewife is fished out of the harbor wearing bricks of heroin, inferior stuff users have been rejecting for China White, peddled by the Chinatown gangs.

Convinced he’s stumbled upon a drug war between the Italian Mafia and a Chinese tong, Taylor is on fire once more. But as he blazes forward, flanked by his new girlfriend, ex-cop Samantha Callahan, his precious story grows ever more twisted and deadly. In his reckless search for the truth, he rattles New York’s major drug cartels. If he solves the mystery, he may end up like his victim—in a watery grave.




My Review

I like that Taylor is a reporter with a heart. Although in New York City, that's a dangerous combination. The story does a good job in showing just how competitive the newspaper business was in 1976, long before it had to worry about being supplanted by digital media. So it's no surprise that Taylor itches to be the first to shed light on the crime being committed day in and day out. However, he's more selective than most. He cares about the stories that none of the big papers cover, the victims no one cares about.

That's because he allows himself to be hemmed in by the facts... and his conscience. It's admirable that he won't run with a lead unless he can verify it. However, sometimes when he does, a person who doesn't deserve it, winds up getting hurt. And it's to Taylor's credit that he has a hard time swallowing the guilt that comes along with that. Instead, he ends up carrying it around with him, like a dark cloud hovering over his head with only a few, intermittent bursts of light filtering in, every now and then, mostly brought about by his ex-cop girlfriend and his comical dog.

Frustrated and unsatisfied with where his career is heading, at times a palpable sense of depression overwhelms him. Yet this apparent weakness goes to show how human the guy is. The paper he used to work for folded. Now he's doing AM radio spots for a wire service that are meant to make crime in the Big Apple sound scary and threatening to those who've fled to the suburbs. He's basically writing filler for the real estate advertising, paying for his work. Truth be told, it'd get any old school newspaperman down.

But he doesn't let it stop him. He wants justice for a woman whose body he personally witnesses getting pulled out of the harbor, and he's determined not to rest until he does. Even if it costs him his job, his sanity, even his life. Because that's the kind of reporter he is, and it's why you'll enjoy reading about him.

***

A Black Sail can be pre-ordered at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $4.95 ebook, $15.95 paperback
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Pages: 264
Release: October 1, 2016
Publisher: Camel Press
ISBN: 9781603812115
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (A Black Sail, Drop Dead Punk, Last Words).



The second installment, Drop Dead Punk, won the gold medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs). It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews IndieFab Book of the Year Awards.



"Taylor, who lives for the big story, makes an appealingly single-minded hero," Publishers Weekly wrote of Drop Dead Punk.



Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter.



In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by New York's Center for Fiction.



Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where writes fiction and teaches kids how to publish newspapers.

Links to connect with Rich:
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Facebook
Twitter
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Blog


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Monday, July 25, 2016

Michael J. Bowler - A Matter of Time - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

The world's greatest evil stalks the world's greatest ship, and the only one who can stop him hasn't been born yet. Jamie Collins is a junior at Santa Clara University in 1986. He has friends, a professor who mentors him, and a promising future as a writer. Then the dreams begin - nightmarish memories that transport him back to a time and place fifty years before he was born: Titanic's maiden voyage in 1912. When Jamie discovers a foreign cell in his blood that links him to the famous vessel, the two timelines begin to overlap and he realizes an unimaginable truth - something supernatural stalks the ill-fated ship, something that will kill him if he can't stop it first. And the only way to stop it may be to prevent Titanic from sinking. But even if he can figure out a way to do that, should he? What will be the effect on history if he succeeds? And what about the lady he wasn't supposed to fall in love with? As her destiny becomes entwined with his, Jamie discovers the value of friendship, the power of love, the impact of evil, and the vagaries of Fate.



My Review

Yes, this is a story about the Titanic and vampires and other mind-bending plot twists. But what got to me was the spirit of undying love, nestled in the book's pages. I admit I'm an unabashed romantic, and there was just something about the passages, featuring Jamie and Kate that really moved me.

You just have to go with the idea that Jamie is a college student from 1986 who somehow is able to board the Titanic on that fateful night in 1912. While trying to get his bearings, he bumps into Kate, a wealthy young widow, who's below deck, attempting to procure some chocolate ice cream for her son's bedtime treat. It turns out Kate's husband died eight years ago, and she's been on her own ever since she was eighteen, resisting the idea of getting involved with another man … when she locks eyes with Jamie.

The sheer emotion of that moment can be felt in the title line: "It was inevitable that he'd find her one day, it was only a matter of time."

Is it a case of insta-love? Sure, it is. But it's so beautifully written that it makes you want to look past it. Jamie feels like Kate is the one he's been waiting for his whole life. She doesn't do anything to stand out, besides be herself. Beneath her soft, gauzy dress is an inner strength that he can't help but be drawn to. And let me tell you, I've read almost every one of Bowler's novels and this has to be the most touching scene he's ever written.

She's someone he can't have. Jamie always believed that he'd never find someone like Kate, someone who'd love him for a lifetime. Yet they meet at the wrong time under a horrible set of circumstances. It wasn't supposed to happen this way, but it does, and it made my heart ache just reading about it.

I like it when Bowler gets, for lack of a better term, romantic. Although, he never lets us inside Kate's head, the thoughts running through Jamie's are heartbreakingly tender. It's painful to see how perfect they are for each other, only to see them torn apart due to the tragic events of that terrible evening.

But their unexpected reunion? That's when you'll need to keep a box of tissues handy. It's a tearjerker of a moment, reminiscent of "The Notebook," or for that matter, any great love story, grounded in sacrifice. Love is glorious, but it also brings a lot of hurt and pain along with it. But Jamie makes it clear that he's willing to endure whatever fate befalls them. The few precious moments he got to spend with her on the Titanic make it all worthwhile. While after getting separated from Jamie and ending up in a lifeboat, Kate vows to never give up hope at finding him again.

They make the choice to love each other, and it's moving to behold.

***

A Matter of Time can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

Formats/Prices: $2.99 ebook, $12.95 paperback, $14.95-$21.83 Audible
Genre: Historical Fiction, Suspense
Pages: 340
Release: March 2, 2012
Publisher: Outskirts Press
ISBN: 9781432787110
Click to add to your Goodreads list.


About the Author

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of nine novels—A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner – 2013 Wishing Shelf Book Awards; Reader Views Honorable mention; Runner-Up Rainbow Awards; Honorable Mention - Southern California Book Festival), Running Through A Dark Place (Bronze Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), There Is No Fear (Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America; Spinner (Winner Hollywood Book Festival; Honorable Mention San Francisco Book Festival; Bronze Medal from Reader’s Favorite; Literary Classics Seal of Approval; Runner-Up - Southern California Book Festival; Honorable Mention - Halloween Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), and Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot (Honorable Mention in the London Book Festival and The New England Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards).

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II.”

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He has finished writing a novel based on his screenplay, “Like A Hero,” and another book aimed at the teen market. He hopes to find a publisher or an agent for both.

His goal as an author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world. The most prevalent theme in his writing and his work with youth is this: as both a society, and as individuals, we’re better off when we do what’s right, rather than what’s easy.

Links to connect with Michael:
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Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Blog
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Monday, July 18, 2016

Claudia Riess - Semblance of Guilt - 99¢ Ebook Sale, Review, Excerpts & Giveaway



About the Book

Ellen Davis’s husband left her for another woman. Post-divorce, she’s trying to reassert her independence and lands a job as a reporter for her local newspaper. One of her assignments is covering weekly items on the police blotter, which is how she gets to know Lieutenant Pete Sakura—a handsome, witty Japanese- American Ellen is drawn to immediately.

Another of Ellen’s assignments is interviewing for the paper’s “Around The Town” column, and in this capacity, she meets Graham and Sophia Clarke, newcomers to the community. He’s an administrator at Columbia; she’s his beautiful Greek wife. Ellen and Sophia become fast friends, so it comes as a great shock when Sophia ends up dead.

Sophia Clarke is found murdered, and to all appearances, Ellen is the last person to have seen her alive. When Ellen’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, she’s arrested, and evidence steadily mounts against her. Ellen takes matters into her own hands as her romantic feelings for Pete intensify. Closing this case could either save Ellen or lead to her destruction.


Review

Ellen Davis is a female character who challenges what it means to be a woman in today's world. When her husband leaves her for someone else, it makes her question her whole identity. So in order to hold on to a semblance of self-worth, she sets out to forge a new life for herself, vowing never to become dependent on a man again.

But things start out on an awkward foot when her boss at her newspaper job, knowing she's newly single, makes a pass at her, and of course, she wastes no time shooting him down. But fate has other plans for her when she arrives at the police station for one of her assignments and comes face to face with Lieutenant Pete Sakura, a man she finds herself instantly attracted to, much to her chagrin.

To say this encounter upends Ellen's dogged determination to remain single is putting it lightly. She's so distracted by the feelings Pete has stirred up inside her that she unwittingly falls into the trap of a much more devious man, Graham Clarke. He just moved to New York and she meets him to conduct an interview for the society column, but things aren't as innocent as they appear. Graham's not interested in having his name in the paper. He's looking for a willing victim to take the fall for the murder of his wife and Ellen, of all people, ends up being charged with a crime she didn't commit.

For the rest of the story, Ellen struggles with the idea of victimhood. She was played for a fool by her husband and now by a smooth talking manipulator like Graham. As she battles her way through an exhausting trial, Pete wants to be there to support her, but she keeps pushing him away, afraid of being duped yet again. Her instincts are telling her that Pete's not like any of the men who've hurt her before, but she keeps refusing to believe it.

All because she wants to save herself. She refuses to be any man's damsel in distress. But the question remains: Can she really find her way out of this alone?


Excerpts


After navigating past the desks, she knocked on the door of the cubicle. No response. The second, more deliberate, rap was answered with an impatient “Come!”

Ellen entered the office and was somewhat taken aback by the sight of an attractive Asian man in shirt-sleeves awkwardly poised by the side of his desk, arms out, legs spread one behind the other, the front one slightly bent, the rear rigidly locked. He looked, she thought, as if he were trying to keep his balance on a skateboard. His attention was fixed on an open book sitting at the edge of his desk. “Give me a second,” he said testily, without taking his eyes off the book and at the same time adjusting the position of his front foot to a more pigeon-toed angle.

“I won’t ask what you’re doing,” Ellen said.

“Smart.” There was a sound of raised voices coming from the outer room. “The door!”

She closed it. “However, maybe you’d like to know what I’m doing?”

He ignored her question. “Damn, I’m not getting it.” He glanced up. “Do me a favor, take a look at number fifty and tell me what the hell is wrong here.”

Ellen approached the desk and peered down at the open book. A two-page spread of photographs showed a man in what looked like an usher’s uniform demonstrating a series of exercises. “Is this tai chi?”

“This is a pain in the ass. Could you look at the picture, tell me where I’m off, please?”

“‘Fair Lady works at Shuttles,’” she read aloud. She looked up from the page at him then back down again. “I see where you are. Figure fifty-A. It says: ‘Elbow bent, your right hand comes to your center line, fingers pinched together…’” She looked up. “For starters, your fingers aren’t pinched together.”

“Just hold the book up so I can see it from a better angle, okay?”

She held the book, show-and-tell style. He went through a variety of disconnected motions, clearly becoming more frustrated. “Shit.”

Ellen had formed a perception of the Japanese male as meditative, controlled, mysterious, soft-spoken, one who quietly went about transcending the material world while politely manipulating it. She had never realized she harbored this fully defined and fallacious stereotype until that moment, as she was looking at what appeared to be its antithesis. “If your phone rings, should I answer it?”

“Forget it.” He dropped the pose, took the book from her and put it back on the desk. “I’m all out of sync.”

“Now I’ll ask. What are you doing?”

“Getting my goddamn yin and yang together. My doctor tells me I have an ulcer and prescribes pills, but I don’t like pills. I’m taking up the eastern approach.”

“But isn’t tai chi Chinese?”

“Yeah, so?”

“‘Sakura’ sounds like a Japanese name.”

“Let me ask you a question. You ever eat chow mein?”

“Well, yes.”

“I rest my case.” He waved her toward the chair on the other side of the desk and dropped down into his own. “Sit.”

She remained on her feet. “I’m Ellen Davis. I was told you had the data for the Chronicle’s ‘Blotter’ column. I’m just here to collect it.”

He threw up a hand. “What’s the point of that column? All it does is stigmatize the poor saps who appear in it. There’s no investigation of circumstances, no disclaimers stating charges could be erroneous. Just a cold-blooded list of citations.”

“It’s supposed to serve as a deterrent,” she said without conviction. “Actually, I don’t particularly like the column myself, but I don’t make up the rules. I’m sorry I messed up your exercise routine. May I have the material, please?”

She became aware of herself as an unattached, uncompromised individual as she once was at Penn. She sensed the boundaries of her being as clearly as she felt the hem of her knit dress pull tightly against her legs with each step she took. It was as if she had never been married, had instead dressed for an interview and walked straight out of west Philadelphia into Morningside Heights.

Mid-block between 109 and 108 Streets, as she was passing a shoe store and scanning the view across the way, her attention was drawn to the bright blue awning of Charlie’s Snack Bar. At that moment the door to the restaurant opened, and a tall young woman with cropped red hair and wearing a tight black turtleneck sweater, clingy black pants and black cowboy boots, stepped out into the daylight. The girl stood aside to allow the man behind her to pass, and as he emerged completely into the sunlight, Ellen recognized Graham. She was about to hail him, when he took a step toward the redhead and Ellen realized he was with her. Unable to tear her focus from the scene or insinuate herself into it, she backed up into the shadow cast by the overhanging eave of the shoe store.

While Graham snapped down and adjusted the removable sun-visors of his eyeglasses, the young woman reached into the breast pocket of his blazer, drew out a pair of sunglasses he must have been holding for her, and put them on, in the process grazing her breasts against his left elbow. The act defined them as intimate friends, yet the distance springing up between them immediately afterward seemed devised to refute it. They stood apart talking to each other, their postures stiff and formal, their not touching as conspicuous as an open embrace.

Ellen watched them as her years at Penn were sucked into a black hole, and all she could remember was her husband Kevin dropping the bomb, telling her he was leaving her. Watching Graham and the redhead across the street was like catching the discovery scene she had missed, seeing it replayed for her benefit, like a burlesque in which she was both captive audience and object of scorn.

Almost at once she felt a connection with Sophia.

Sophia pulled her hands away and struck out at Ellen in one continuous movement, throwing herself off balance and stumbling sideways. She stared in horror at the gouge one of her nails had made on Ellen’s chest, and Ellen, stunned by the violence and not yet feeling the pain, gazed in disbelief at the drop of blood tracking toward the scalloped edge of her white satin bustier.

“Go—get out of here,” Sophia rasped. “I’m afraid what I might do to you. Get out, get out.”

The blood trickled onto the rim of smooth white fabric, forming a small, irregular stain. Ellen looked up at Sophia. The woman she thought she knew had become a trapped animal, her eyes wary-wild.

A sharp pain from the nick in her chest jolted her from her numbing inertia. She moved quickly from the room, feeling the tears coming, holding them back, postponing them as she ran silently down the hall. She descended the steps with blazing deliberation, her pace quick and even, her focus on reaching the door and disappearing into the sheltering night. She could feel her eyes, static-wide in bewildered alarm, betraying her attempt to appear in total control. Still, she focused straight ahead, concentrating on her goal, hearing Anna calling her name but moving through the sound, pacing herself to simulate haste without flight as she sliced through the clear zone of the foyer and pushed open the storm door. Midway across the porch she collided with an incoming guest, all pearls and black silk, the woman’s staccatoed “Shit!” like a gunshot in an open field of combat.

Picking up speed, she hurtled down the bluestone drive, anticipating the sound of the engine starting up even before she could spot her car.

***

Tuesday, March 13. First day in court. The jury sat knit-browed and entranced, leaning forward so as not to miss a word, not yet settled in their role of deliberative body. To Ellen, they looked as if they’d been caught off guard at the supermarket, a rainbow assortment of shoppers rounded up one afternoon and transported to a box at the opera, best seats in the house.

Ellen sat in a heavy, slat-back chair drawn up close to a long oak table. She was wearing a gray suit and paisley print blouse because Rosenthal had told her to wear something conservative but not somber. The skirt buckled and slid around her waist every time she moved because in the last two months she’d lost ten pounds from under-eating and over-exercising. As she’d taken her seat in the courtroom, she’d snagged her pantyhose on a rough spot on the table leg and felt the rip crawl up her leg, making her feel exposed to the prying eyes in the room. She’d been unable to choose earrings that morning, vacillating between small and large, shiny and dull, gold and silver, fixating on this final aspect of her attire as if she could determine the decision of the jury by choosing the politically correct objects to hang on her earlobes. When Rosenthal blew his car horn in the driveway she’d grabbed for familiarity, the small gold hoops, before allowing herself to be whisked off to the mind-boggling unknown.

Sitting next to her at the oak table, “Try to relax,” Rosenthal whispered in her ear, leaning toward and away from her in one smooth, condensed motion.

Ellen sat back in the chair, her rigid spine meeting hard wood, the word “relax” banned from her body’s vocabulary. Through an impromptu technique of auto-suggestion and deep breathing, she was barely managing to bring under control the strangulating tension in her neck and the explosive blood-humming in her ears. It was not her lawyer’s fault she hadn’t been prepared for Mark Gilbert’s speech. Rosenthal had described the prosecutor’s meticulous approach, but there was no way he could have prepared her for the immediacy of the event: the way Gilbert cocked his left hip as he stood facing the jury; how his dark eyes seemed to glow from some deep passion or conviction; how he flashed her alternating looks of consternation and pity; how he stressed syllables unexpectedly, so that his words jumped against the wall of her chest—“enter the room,” “points of the scissors,” “homicidal violence”; how his brow suddenly furrowed as he reminded the jury—“You and I, we represent the People. We have been charged not to avenge a wrong, but to deliver justice.”

***

“Come up to the bedroom.”

“Yes.”

“Stay the night.”

“Yes.”

“Hurry.” She wanted to be taken on the spot, jammed against the table or pinned to the floor, but delay would set the act apart. She could foresee it, her first experience of absolute exposure—the loss of her true virginity on her sex-worn bed. The chaste and devilish nuances of amazing contradiction lifted the event to the peak of desire. He was one step behind her, holding on to her hand as they climbed the staircase. She was aware of every footfall, every breath, every sound of this outwardly conventional drama. She led him down the hall, almost turning in at the wrong doorway, almost forgetting where she slept, his presence casting an aura of unfamiliarity on the surroundings. He caught her hesitation and uttered a short, nervous laugh, sharing her bewilderment.

As they entered her bedroom, it seemed to lose all connection to her past, as if it had come into existence at that very moment just to harbor them.

In rapt silence they helped each other with the shedding of clothes, marveling at the unhurried pace of the ritual, as if their bodies had agreed to temper urgency with curiosity.

They lay on the white comforter, barely disturbing it in their intent exploration, the upheavals taking place inwardly, while over audacious globes and rises and along newly accessible furrows, their fingers, lips, tongues concentrated movement in targeted pressures, exacting exquisite modulations of sensation from each focal point.


***

Semblance of Guilt can be purchased at:
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99¢ EBOOK SALE!
runs July 1-30, 2016 

Prices/Formats: 99¢ $3.99 ebook, $21.99 paperback, $39.95 hardcover
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 328
Release: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Archway
ISBN: 9781480827851
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"A determined amateur detective who'll garner fans with her refusal to either back down or give up." -Kirkus Reviews

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About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt Rinehart and Winston. On her first novel, Reclining Nude, Oliver Sacks, M.D. commented: “exquisite—and delicate.” Her second, art suspense Stolen Light earned: “complex and intriguing” —Kirkus Review

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