Monday, June 15, 2015

Michael J. Bowler - Spinner - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

Fifteen-year-old Alex is a “spinner.” His friends are “dummies.” Two clandestine groups of humans want his power. And an ancient evil is stalking him. If people weren’t being murdered, Alex might laugh at how his life turned into a horror movie overnight. In a wheelchair since birth, his freakish ability has gotten him kicked out of ten foster homes since the age of four. Now saddled with a sadistic housemother who uses his spinning to heal the kids she physically abuses, Alex and his misfit group of learning disabled classmates are the only ones who can solve the mystery of his birth before more people meet a gruesome end. They need to find out who murdered their beloved teacher, and why the hot young substitute acts like she’s flirting with them. Then there’s the mysterious medallion that seems to have unleashed something malevolent, and an ancient prophecy suggesting Alex has the power to destroy humanity. The boys break into homes, dig up graves, elude kidnappers, fight for their lives against feral cats, and ultimately confront an evil as old as humankind. Friendships are tested, secrets uncovered, love spoken, and destiny revealed. The kid who’s always been a loner will finally learn the value of friends, family, and loyalty. If he survives…

My Review

Orphans always have a way at tugging at the heartstrings, and Alex O'Sullivan is no exception. Born with spina bifida and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he never knew his parents. Not only that, but he was told they tragically perished in a fiery car crash. He wasn't just given up for adoption, he was left without any living family members and thrown into an impersonal foster care system to fend for himself.

But what makes Michael J. Bowler's young adult characters so unique is how adoption can become a life-changing, transformative process for them—if they connect with the right people who are willing to care for them. Once placed in a loving, stable environment, they finally get a chance to flourish and thrive.

The novel starts out with Alex at the mercy of his current foster guardian, Jane. She's the worst of the worst, a manipulative con artist who's only in it for the money. She takes in as many juvenile offenders, former gang members and handicapped teens as she can house under her roof, siphoning every last penny out of the stipend she receives from the state. She gets away with feeding them next to nothing, and even encourages them to pummel each other while videotaping their altercations, hoping to make a quick buck on the side. This is her way of punishing them for "starting trouble."

But despite her numerous threats of intimidation and her constant barrage of verbal abuse, Jane is afraid of Alex. He has a secret power, an uncanny ability to control her emotions whenever she speaks. It's a special gift he dubs "spinning," hence making him the "Spinner" of the book's title. For Alex, spinning is the only thing he's good at.

Yet not all adults fear Alex's talent. Nathan, the father of his best friend, thinks he possesses an extraordinary gift. He welcomes Alex into his home without trepidation, seeking to adopt him and make him a permanent member of the family. He knows how close his son, Roy, is with Alex and how many times Alex has saved his boy from mortal danger, and he wants to offer Alex some kind of protection. Nathan is genuinely concerned about Alex's well-being. He knows how Jane treats him, and he wants to get him out of her house for good.

Alex is grateful for Nathan's offer of assistance until a boatload of secrets from his past begin to emerge, starting with a video message from his dead mother that Jane tries to keep from him. Is he "the boy with round legs" who's the source of an ancient Iroquois legend and the healer the Bible itself references? As he begins to sort through the clues his mom left for him to uncover his true identity, he learns that he may not be alone in the world after all. There just might be someone who shares a special bond with him that runs a whole lot deeper than blood—a conjoined power that could very well corrupt the entire human race.

Alex faces a tricky dilemma. Does he move on and start a new life with the people who mean the most to him? Or does he explore this new tie to his affections that he never even knew existed until now? It's a weighty decision for a fifteen year old to make, but the beauty of a Michael J. Bowler novel is that he always gives his adolescent protagonists the power to choose what they want based on what kind of person they want to be.

It's a dual journey of self-discovery and acceptance that culminates in an epic battle between the forces of good and evil. Will Alex be the great peacemaker or the great destroyer? Will he choose love over hate?

Bowler sums it up best, "Thoughts don't make us good or evil. Actions do."


Spinner can be pre-purchased at:

Format/Price: $6.99 ebook
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Pages: 463
Release: August 5, 2015
Publisher: YoungDudes Publishing
ISBN: 9780994667519
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of eight 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 in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), Running Through A Dark Place (Bronze Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, and Spinner.

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,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

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 is currently outlining a sequel to Spinner.

His goal as a YA 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.

Links to connect with Michael:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Jerome Charyn - Bitter Bronx - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

Brooklyn is dead. Long live the Bronx! In Bitter Bronx, Jerome Charyn returns to his roots and leads the literary renaissance of an oft-overlooked borough in this surprising new collection.

In Bitter Bronx, one of our most gifted and original novelists depicts a world before and after modern urban renewal destroyed the gritty sanctity of a land made famous by Ruth, Gehrig, and Joltin' Joe.

Bitter Bronx is suffused with the texture and nostalgia of a lost time and place, combining a keen eye for detail with Jerome Charyn's lived experience. These stories are informed by a childhood growing up near that middle-class mecca, the Grand Concourse; falling in love with three voluptuous librarians at a public library in the Lower Depths of the South Bronx; and eating at Mafia-owned restaurants along Arthur Avenue's restaurant row, amid a "land of deprivation…where fathers trundled home…with a monumental sadness on their shoulders."

In "Lorelei," a lonely hearts grifter returns home and finds his childhood sweetheart still living in the same apartment house on the Concourse; in "Archy and Mehitabel" a high school romance blossoms around a newspaper comic strip; in "Major Leaguer" a former New York Yankee confronts both a gang of drug dealers and the wreckage that Robert Moses wrought in his old neighborhood; and in three interconnected stories—"Silk & Silk," "Little Sister," and "Marla"—Marla Silk, a successful Manhattan attorney, discovers her father's past in the Bronx and a mysterious younger sister who was hidden from her, kept in a fancy rest home near the Botanical Garden. In these stories and others, the past and present tumble together in Charyn's singular and distinctly "New York prose, street-smart, sly, and full of lurches" (John Leonard, New York Times).

Throughout it all looms the "master builder" Robert Moses, a man who believed he could "save" the Bronx by building a highway through it, dynamiting whole neighborhoods in the process. Bitter Bronx stands as both a fictional eulogy for the people and places paved over by Moses' expressway and an affirmation of Charyn's "brilliant imagination" (Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune).

My Review

With a title like BITTER BRONX, there has to be a villain.

And that man, according to Jerome Charyn, is Robert Moses, the man who cut the borough in two.

He came in his white hard hat, posing for pictures and shoving his expressway project down people's throats. He didn't know how much long-lasting damage he was doing at the time, believing he was a savior figure to them. But what he did was create a irreparable rift through the seam of intersecting cultures that continues to grow even wider.

Moses is the antagonist that ties the collection of thirteen short stories together. Generations of Bronx residents are the sacrificial victim to his short-sighted legacy. In "Major Leaguer" the impact of the Cross Bronx Expressway (built from 1948-1972) lives on, "And the heartless din of traffic from that highway had been ringing in Will's ears now for a good quarter of a century." It becomes something that has to be endured, long after the tall man, who handed out lollipops to yesterday's children, departed without having to justify his actions to the adults of today.

Charyn goes on to blame Moses for the Bronx falling into a state of "permanent recession." He's the harbinger of nightmares for those who regret calling the place home. Charyn even likens the highway to a not so silent character, "a phantom that crawls between the lines." And the most perplexing thing is—Moses didn't even benefit financially from his idea. He didn't get rich by bulldozing these neighborhoods. He had a noble aim, a charitable ambition, that ended up sullying his reputation for generations to come.

It's amazing that one man could wreak so much havoc in such a short period of time. But thanks to him, the melting pot bubbled over. The drug lords control the turf now, forging sharp divides between all differing races and ethnicities. There's a pecking order to the lineup that continues to shift based on whoever's on top of the totem pole at any given moment. It makes for a very unstable environment, one cops won't even patrol anymore. The residents are left to fend for themselves against the outbursts of violence and petty extortion.

Sometimes, the moral of the story is: It's better to have left things alone rather than to have meddled with them at all. The North Bronx and the South Bronx should be united as one, not forever divided into two. The aching rib is slow to heal, probably because it never will.


Bitter Bronx can be purchased at:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $9.99-$12.49 ebook, $24.95 hardcover
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780871404893
Publisher: Liveright
Release: June 1, 2015
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Jerome Charyn's stories have appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The American Scholar, Epoch, Narrative, Ellery Queen, and other magazines. His most recent novel is I Am Abraham. He lived for many years in Paris and currently resides in Manhattan.

Links to connect with Jerome:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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