Sunday, December 2, 2018

Paper Tigers - sex, politics and journalism

Hello, commies!
It's tempting to think that opposites attract. There are many classic love stories involving partners from the opposite sides of the barricades. Lou Aguilar's Paper Tigers is not your typical Pride & Prejudice tale. Set in post 2016 election DC, it is a story of two ambitious journalism interns trying to reconcile their libidos with their ideological differences.

Two ambitious new interns at the Washington Post—a cowboy conservative and a patrician feminist beauty—match wits and sparks while vying for a reporter slot. But can chemistry trump ideology in the mad age of Donald Trump?

They came to the Washington Post from opposite sides—Nick Jarrett, the conservative son of a Wyoming rancher, and Laura London, an Ivy League feminist firebrand. They are young, bright, and attractive. Sure, they’re just copy aides, glorified gophers, relegated to delivering parcels and answering phones on different news desks. But someday, they'll be Post reporters who will save America—either from the Left or the Right…if only they can solve their "silly" romantic issues first. Chief among them are their radically opposed politics —sexual or otherwise.

My thoughts:
What does it take to make a career in journalism nowadays? The media is saturated with stories of dubious credibility, and the readership is jaded, overstimulated and polarized. There is very little place for idealism and personal expression. The young copy aides at Washington Post are up for the challenge. The author introduces us to an ensemble cast of twenty-somethings. The focus is on Nick, whose conservative views make him a bit of an oddity in the oasis of liberalism, and his colleague/love interest Laura, an entitled feminist. Laura thinks of herself as a free-thinker, but in reality all her "strong opinions" are just canned slogans. She comes with the whole bouquet of liberal beliefs: vehemently pro-abortion and self-proclaimed atheist (though on one occasion she calls herself an agnostic). We are talking about someone who champions other women's uteri and nipples yet tolerates abuse from her own boyfriend Phil, justifying his behavior. She praises the New Man archetype (metrosexual, submissive beta-male), yet she is drawn to Nick's cowboy demeanor. For a liberated woman, who is free to pick her own sexual partners, she puts too much stock into other women's approval of her relationships. Like most "empowered women", Laura is deeply insecure and conflicted underneath that veneer of girl power. The proverbial shoemaker without shoes. Personally, I found it a bit surprising that Nick, so blunt and genuine, would take serious romantic interest in Laura. Even though the author suggests otherwise, I personally see Nick's pursuit of Laura as a social experiment. He wants to see if flexing his Prince Charming muscle will break Laura's defenses. When the push comes to shove, he puts his journalism career first and makes rather bold moves to make a headline splash, knowing that it will not score him any points with Laura. It's pretty obvious that their relationship is doomed, despite the physical attraction. Opposites may attract short-term, but they don't form lifelong matches. "Paper Tigers" is an enjoyable read regardless of your own political beliefs. You will catch yourself nodding and smiling, whether you watch Fox News or CNN.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Underdog Manifesto - a downward Odyssey through South Boston

Cheers, commies!
Release day! My latest literary monstrosity is here, Underdog Manifesto, via Crossroad Press. I am going to burn in hell for this one, as it contains trigger upon trigger for everyone, regardless on what side of the political barricades you're on. I thought it would be appropriate to have this novel released right before Thanksgiving. Be thankful you are not Sean McLaine. Special thanks for the talented and handsome cover model Christopher Bopp who depicted the downtrodden Boston Irish protagonist. 

After serving time for nearly killing his student—a crime he maintains he didn't commit—Sean McLaine, a puny drama teacher finds himself broke and friendless on the streets of South Boston at the peak of the Great Recession. His joints have been destroyed by compulsive weightlifting and his mind poisoned by the subtly sadistic prison psychologist.

Salvation comes in the form of an Irish mobster who welcomes Sean into his clan and offers him a chance at a new life. A few plastic surgeries, fake documents, and a sham marriage help the underdog reinvent himself as a philanthropist. His radiant face now fronts one of the largest organ trade enterprises.

To add a finishing touch to his saintly image, he adopts a mentally ill orphan named Casey. Diagnosed with juvenile schizophrenia and believed to be a menace to society, the girl spends most of her days in isolation with no access to electronics. When the flimsy child morphs into a moderately attractive teenager and catches the eye of a film student, Sean's lukewarm paternal affection takes a sinister turn. His inner demons that had been dormant for years become more active, and the weight of his secrets becomes a bit too heavy for his shoulders.

Amidst the political upheavals and school violence of post-election America, the battle for Sean's soul begins. Very soon he discovers that hell has no bottom—you can always sink lower.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Brian Trent's "Ten Thousand Thunders" - a sci-fi take on resurrection and transfiguration

Hello, commies!
Today's gem is Brian Trent's latest sci-fi novel Ten Thousand Thunders, recently released via a new publisher Flame Tree Press. If you appreciate literary sci-fi with references to theology and mythology, this novel is for you!

Having just been killed in a mysterious shuttle explosion, Gethin Bryce is back to uncover what happened. An unusually gifted investigator with the InterPlanetary Council, Gethin is tasked with seeking out the truth behind unexplained anomalies that lie outside IPC control.

His investigation takes him from the luxurious enclaves of Earth’s elite, to the battered Wastelands beyond civilization’s protective thrall. Linking up with an inquiry team from a planet-spanning corporate powerhouse, he also befriends a grim and reluctant outlander who has an important piece of the puzzle—evidence of a sadistic entity which threatens not just civilization, but all life…

My thoughts
Ten Thousand Thunders is a long-awaited novel by Brian Trent, who has already created a solid following of discerning sci-fi fans. His short speculative fiction has been published in some very elite venues. I happen to know (from reading interviews with the author) that he identifies himself as a skeptic and an agnostic. It's somewhat ironic that he incorporates so much Biblical as well as pagan mythological imagery into his writing. The theme of resurrection and transfiguration permeates this fiction. The author also has very high expectations of his readers. He does not dumb down or sugar coat. He expects his readers to have a solid foundation in mythology and classic sci-fi. I saw some reviewers imply that his writing is too dense, complex and a challenge to their attention span. I am not going to argue with that assessment. This particular novel is not a "page turner" in the sense that you skip through the pages between daily tasks. You have to savor his writing in small amounts as if you would sip good red wine. Sometimes you have to pause, go back and reread certain passages. It's not a light read, but it trains and disciplines your brain to appreciate and enjoy this kind of intricate writing. The investment is well worth it. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Daniel, My Son - a father's nightmare

Happy Halloween, Commies!

What would Hallow's Eve be without a chilling read? Not everyone has time for one of Stephen King's 1200 page titans. John B. Rosenman's speculative short stories are literary, thought-provoking and satisfying. This Halloween consider his psychological horror story Daniel, My Son

Suppose you went out trick-or-treating with your seven-year-old son on Halloween and something terrible happened? He ran up a walk to a house and just disappeared, and you could never find him. Suppose a year later on Halloween your grief-stricken wife demands that you take the plastic, candy-filled pumpkin container which is all you could find of your only child and retrace the route you went with Danny? She tells you that unless you find him and bring him back to her, you should never return.

What would you do?

And what—if anything—will you find when you go out into the night on this mad, hopeless quest and visit the same sympathetic neighbors as the year before?

My thoughts
Daniel, My Son is an exploitation piece in some way. It exploits a very common parental fear, that of losing your child under mysterious circumstances. It is horrifying enough to lose your child to an illness or an accident, but when your child goes missing, there is no body, no autopsy report, no closure. In John B. Rosenman's story, a bereaved father delves into grief and self-loathing after his only son Daniel goes missing on Halloween. Is there any way for this family to be reunited? What deal must the father make with the dark forces to bring back his son? This is a potent story to be enjoyed on Halloween - or any other day. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

For Want of a Penny - a YA survival tale set in Victorian England

For Want of a Penny is the first part of a two book Victorian saga –The Nightingale Chronicles is set in 1840s Colchester and the east end of London. A family tragedy means Sarah is forced to go into service at Grey Friars House as an under nursery-maid. Meanwhile her younger brother Alfie, to avoid being taken into the workhouse, runs away to London to seek his fortune. 
Although the situation wasn’t of her making Sarah thrives, but just as she is becoming established in the household her past returns to shatter her happy life and she is dismissed without references. 
Alfie arrives in London but is tricked and sold to work as a slave on a coal barge. However, eventually he prospers and begins to make himself a better life.

My thoughts:

I didn’t realize that Fenella Miller had so many mainstream romance novels. The first book of hers that ended up in my hands “For Want of a Penny”, an early Victorian, working class coming of age story. Personally, I enjoy reading about the Oliver Twist crowd. Following a freak accident that claims the life of their younger half-brother – and incurs the wrath of their aloof stepfather – Sarah and Alfie, two working class teenagers, are left to fend for themselves. Their sickly mother is in no position to defend them as she embraces what psychologists call “learned helplessness” and chooses the path of least resistance – in her case, following her alcoholic husband to another city to “start a new life”. With help from a local minister, Sarah is able to secure a sought after position as a nursemaid in a wealthy household. It takes her a while to establish herself in a predominantly female team, where an ally can turn into a rival. Alfie discovers that his street smarts are not sufficient. After being tricked into slavery and spending several months in horrible conditions, he breaks free and finds himself on the streets. His freedom is short-lived. Almost immediately, he finds himself a member of a boy gang, where his literacy gives him special status. Remember, this was a time before social media. People grieved and lamented in private. They did not air their sorrow to the world. The characters process their emotional suffering in silence, sustained by their will to survive. Despite all the disturbing social issues addressed in the novel, “For Want of a Penny” does not have a dark and heavy vibe. I’d recommend it for young adults interested in learning more about how their peers lived 170 years ago.

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Date for Hannah - a coy stab at body positivity

Hello commies and YA junkies!

Today's honorable defendant is Callie Henry (aka Kate Regnery), a prolific bestselling author of romance. I do not normally read any kind of romance, sweet or spicy, but on occasion it's helpful to pick up something outside of your comfort zone. It's one of those "know thy enemy" things. I have very mixed feelings about the whole body positive movement, so A Date for Hannah caught my eye. As someone who has struggled with body image and body dysmorphic disorder, I must say that the title character is a little too coy and sweet. She's one giant vanilla marshmallow. Not enough pepper. 

High-schooler, Hannah, has always been self-conscious about her weight, so when hottie swimmer, Liam, pays her extra attention at her sister's wedding, she has a hard time trusting his interest. Throughout the evening, Liam's charm wins her over, until they're falling hard for each other. But the next day, Hannah learns something that may ruin it all.

My thoughts
It is what it is. An unrealistic sugar-vanilla heart-warmer. I realize this author is trying to churn out a book a week and has to resort to assembling stock expressions without getting into psychological nuances. It is not meant to be stimulating or mind-opening. It's supposed to give every chubby girl (as long as she has a cute face and a docile personality) hope that a hot guy will fall for "what is on the inside". I do not know how much time the author spent conversing with overweight women struggling with body image and sexual confidence, but I recommend that a little educational expedition to make her writing more raw and realistic - if that is indeed her goal. Maybe I shouldn't assume that she wants to present a realistic picture of a larger woman's sexuality. She is in the business of producing feel-good non-offensive fiction for teens that will not ruffle any feathers or raise too many questions. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Childhood's Day" by John Rosenman - resurrecting your younger self

Hello commies and sci-fi lovers!

I have read and reviewed several short sci-fi reads by John B. Rosenman. I find his short stories thought-provoking and satisfying, like Twilight Zone episodes. I'd like to share with you Childhood's Day, one of Rosenman's most disturbing and stimulating stories. He takes the popular topic of human cloning and presents it with an original twist. 

Suppose you could have yourself reborn at the age of seven so your younger replica could you help you cope with crippling guilt for the death of your father -- would you do it? And would it be fair to the boy you once were, especially since he will live only one day?

My thoughts:
"Childhood's Day" left me craving more. I am not saying that this piece is incomplete as it is. But I would love to see it developed into a full length novel. There are so many "teasers" and "what ifs" built into this sci-fi piece. It raises so many philosophical, psychological and bio-ethical questions, that the author could easily grow them into a 60-90K manuscript. The issue of human cloning has been a classic staple in the genre of science fiction. In Rosenman's short story "Childhood's Day" it is used as a therapy tool. Imagine resurrecting your younger self for a day to help you deal with repressed trauma. It is a popular question: "What would you tell your younger self?" But what would your younger self tell you? More importantly, would you be ready to hear the truth? Would it help you heal your wounds or open new ones?