Dark Remains by Sean McMahon

Dark Remains by Sean McMahonDARK REMAINS, a young adult novel by Sean McMahon, is the story of two damaged children and the harrowing journey of their survival. Told from the point of view of the thirteen-year old heroine, the story deals with poverty, abandonment, and cruelty to children in the 1840s, long before the great social reformers of the early twentieth century took up the plight of society’s abused.

I loved this book. Reading it was exciting, like the first read of OLIVER TWIST. Mr. McMahon’s prose sparkles. His sense of history shines. The seamy side of 1840s London comes alive in the pages of DARK REMAINS.

It is 1842 and Maggie Powers and her younger brother, Tom, are mudlarking on the banks of the Thames. From the first sentence, we are caught up in the story:

There was no reply. Maggie cupped her hands to her mouth – ready to call once more, when a small boat, drifting down the centre of the river, caught her eye and distracted her for a moment.

Their mother is dead, their father imprisoned because of his role in Chartism, one of the earliest worker movements. Led by Maggie, the two children search for food, shelter, and Mr. Turner, a friend of their father who is bound to help.

Although Maggie has the perception and moral compass of an adult, even she can be tricked. Before their odyssey ends, brother, sister, and sidekick, Jack, take up with Charlie and his gang of homeless children, scavenge for food, have a brush or three with the law, are pursued or assisted by vivid characters worthy of Charles Dickens. They witness murders in the dark of night, meet and are kept by the haunting Countess Jouvente who claims to have fled persecution in France. The ending features the redoubtable Mr. Blake, a character modeled after England’s early detectives.

There are adventures in every paragraph, twists at every page turn. Action is punctuated by letters or quotes from documents having to do with the Chartist movement or with the imprisonment and appeal of Thomas Powers.

I highly recommend the book to readers of all ages who love a breathless adventure in another place and time.

My Rating: 5 Stars

About the Author. Sean McMahon lives in Liverpool, England and Dark Remains is his debut novel. He is currently working on the second novel in the series, and hopes to publish sometime during 2012.

Dark Remains is available in paperback and ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.
ISBN: 978-145654304

The Communion of Saints by Richard Stone

The Communion of Saints by Richard StoneA Gripping Story, an Entertaining Paranormal

THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS: A THRILLER by Richard Stone is the first book of his Last Man thriller series. I found the story intriguing and the subterranean landscape entertaining, despite the fact that at first I had problems knowing where I was, distinguishing up from down, at times unable to tell who was saying what to whom. COMMUNION deals with the anguish of a man fighting the forces of change, his resistance on the road to belief, grace, salvation—whatever you want to call it. It deals with the agony of confusion.

The author tells the reader that the novel takes place in Grand Rapids. If so, it’s not the Grand Rapids I know. Matter of fact, apart from a rare nightmare and the odd hallucination, the story’s reality is not one with which I am familiar. But, okay, I thought, time to stretch the mind. So I picked up the book and soon could not put it down.

The story starts when Otto meets his friend, Thomas, in a bar. They bump into a weird cast of characters. Otto’s adventures begin.

Otto is overcome by, chased by, fights off wave upon wave of paranormal creatures, a huge cast of celestial beings who fight for the heart and soul of this man—angels, devils, super human men and women. They intrigue us with wings and scales and power. All the while, the reader wonders what’s going to happen to Otto. Which Otto, you might ask, for there are two—the Otto who has long been the “project” of his fire and brimstone friend, Thomas, and “Other Otto,” his erstwhile alter ego. Otto, it seems, is changing.

In his quest (or test), Otto revisits somewhat familiar territory now grown wild and distinctly other. But assuredly Otto is in an altered state of reality, a place called Underground. Being human, he is under the influence of devilish creatures. Along the way he meets former friends, new ones, and celestials—from seraphs to devils, all with supernatural powers. And he has guides—Constance (my favorite), Anna, Regina—and a father, Frank, who looks for him. Not only is the landscape Kafkaesque but the place itself is one of the main characters. Otto is constantly on the brink. In the end we find out that … but, no, I won’t spoil it for you.

THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS has a gripping storyline played out on a burnt-out stage, a set worthy of Orlando Furioso or Batman, but influenced by the traditional Judeo-Christian world view. It has a definite beginning, middle, and an end that will surprise. If you are a reader into paranormal thriller, you will love this book.

Presentation. There are numerous typos and this edition could use a proofreading scrub behind the ears. And the ebook formatting isn’t perfect. Sometimes typesetter marks are used, other times, not.

My Rating: 4 Stars

About the Author: Richard Stone is a writer of supernatural/psychological thrillers. He can be found Underground.

Out of appreciation to his readers and friends, the author will donate
20% of profits from his work to Dégagé Homeless Shelter of Grand Rapids.


Publisher: ParaRealm (January 9, 2012)


Four D by Gregory Morrison

Inside a Mind Gone Feral

FOUR D is a collection of four stories by Gregory Morrison that I would describe as speculative fiction.

While the author is a talented writer with a bright future, reading FOUR D was a painful experience for me. There were times of absorption as I groped for understanding, times of interest, especially in the first story, but most of the time I was perplexed, much as the first readers of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” or readers of, say, Albert Camus’ works must have felt.

In his opening remarks, the author tells us that the hero “lives in a world of disappearing people and objects, which might or might not be important.”

It was the phrase, “might or might not be important” that puzzled me. After reading the book, however, I decided that FOUR D was a wild ride inside of a mind gone feral, and that whatever meaning could be squeezed from the words, derived from such a tragicomic experience, but that meaning did not reside in the words themselves. Put another way, the author seems to be saying that there is no meaning, only life devoured by meaninglessness—what the author calls “space” in the first short story.

Some of my favorite works have a character similar to the protagonist in FOUR D, but there is always a foil, someone with a rational mind, a character of equal weight, but a lucid, caring, flesh and blood character, one who lends perspective. I didn’t see any such character in any of the stories so as a reader I felt like I was drowning.

At times FOUR D had a wry humor:

My mother sent me an apple pie with a card. “I’m scared,” it said. What does she mean? I’m scared too! She saw something else. Her phone stopped working, and now we are writing letters to each other. “How are you?” “Making a soup.” “I’m ashamed.” She mentioned the crow that had disappeared in front of her while flying by. It was the biggest event in her life; mine will be tomorrow.

Gregory Morrison has great promise. He writes in English, a language that is not his mother tongue and this in itself is an amazing feat. But while there were times of clarity and humor, in the end, FOUR D did not work for me because of its repetitive narrative, much of which could have been cut, because of its sometimes stiff language: what little dialogue it contained was cumbersome, for example, this telephone conversation,  location 1688:

“Hi, Bob!” “Hi, Luidgi, how are you? Everything all right?’ Bob had some worry and care in his voice. They all already know that we have split up, Luidgi was guessing. “Everything is just fine!” he answered. “Do you know what day it is?” “He’s busy; you know him. We are meeting in a restaurant called ‘P.’ I’ll text you the address.” “See you later, Bob.”

I applaud the author for attempting something radical. With revisions FOUR D could be cutting edge, but for me this edition falls short. I would recommend it for the reader interested in speculative fiction.

Note: there are some grammatical errors that were overlooked in the edition I read. In two places “sell” was used to refer to cell phone, and the following, location 224: “She changed her underwear and pulled her hear back with a hair band.”

My Rating: 3 Stars

About the Author: Gregory Morrison is originally from the Ukraine and works as a script writer and author. He has written scripts for short films such as “Stain Remover” and “Frankie Said Relax.” In his free time, he likes traveling, spending time with friends and is an amateur photographer. Morrison currently lives in London.


The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachman (And Other Stories) by Ken Brosky

I loved reading this important collection of short stories, THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF MICHELE BACHMANN (AND OTHER STORIES) by Ken Brosky. I loved them because of their imagery, their breathtaking but unconventional beauty. I’m hard put to call my favorites, but I’m going to try. Each story is its own literary gem. There are ten of them and one essay. In all of them, the writing is true, the voice strong, the main characters stroked in with a few phrases.

Except for the title story, all works have been previously published, and the list of their publications is impressive—The Barcelona Review, Santa Fe Writers Project, Gargoyle Magazine, Pif, Cream City Review, to name a few.

Reading Ken Brosky’s work gave me my own journey. After looking at the cover (unimpressive) and reading the author’s foreword and directorial previews, I told myself I’d reached into the bag and dredged up the writing of yet another tongue-in-cheek turk.

Then I began to read the stories, once straight through, and, afterward, touching back and forth through my Kindle to highlighted locations. It took me an afternoon; I couldn’t put the book down. The words and the stories quickly burned away my initial misgivings. This collection is a tour de force by an author with a powerful, unique style.

I’ll not go through each story’s plot. You can read the summaries for free if you have a Kindle or a Mac or PC by downloading a sample.

Suffice it to say the stories and essay in UNAUTHORIZED are knit together by recurring themes, by the same syntax, similar imagery, and, most of them, by the same character—the narrator—who, in many of the stories, functions as the main character.

Instead of summarizing the plot of each story, I’d like to touch on some of the elements in four of them:

  • The title story, “The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann,” especially the end, because it is an index into the mind of the author and what the stories give to me as a reader.
  • “On the Tenth Day, I Kept It Down,” because of the story’s gravitas and how the experience of genocide is given to the reader through sense of place.
  • “I Can’t Just Turn It Off,” because of choice and endings.
  • “The Third Pile,”—my favorite—because of the possum.

In the title story, the main character, Tyler, falls in love with a fellow worker. Well, at least in his mind, he does. Tyler who works with a married woman, Stacey, meets her husband, Vince, whom he thinks is a turd. Later Tyler comes on (sort of) to Stacey, and Vince beats up Tyler. The narration is told in the third person, but the reader knows it’s Tyler’s point of view. All the fat has been squeezed from this story. It ends the way life does, not with a bang:

Tyler lay in the empty flower bed, listening to the sound of a car engine, listening to the sound of tires treading over hard snow. He put on his gloves and stared up at the dark clouds overhead, aware that he was here in the flesh and yet not here in the flesh at all but rather simply a mind that consumed the world. He opened his mouth and let snowflakes fall on his tongue.

“On the Tenth Day, I Kept It Down” is about survival after witnessing the genocide in Darfur. The sense of place is graphic, the smell of burning meat, cloying, the buildings, the cafes, the people …

… all faded into the horizon quickly now as the sun cast a haze over the desert, obscuring time and distance into one blurred, soupy discharge of brown-and yellow.

In the preliminary notes, Ken Brosky tells us that Gargoyle editors liked the story, “I Can’t Just Turn It Off,” but not the ending. In this collection, the author gives us the story and all three endings. You, the reader, get to pick. I won’t tell you my favorite. The story is about a wounded soldier returning from Iraq who begins working for his patriot uncle, searches for his missing leg, has an accident and altercations. The title has multiple meanings, some apparent, others, not so.

Themes of the “The Third Pile” include love and friendship, loss, and, especially, its survival. I thought I’d read it all when it comes to grief, but I hadn’t met Brosky’s storytelling, his way with words and imagery—his understated prose, the significant but seemingly minor detail in the lives of his characters held up to the light for slow examination. Most of all, I hadn’t met the possum in “The Third Pile.” I’m not going to give away the scene. You’ll have to read it for yourself, and I urge you to do so. In the opinion of this reviewer, the story is a masterpiece.

Stories and essay included in this collection:
“The Phreaks”
“On the Tenth Day, I Kept it Down”
“Apocalypse Wow!”
“The Third Pile”
“Deer Tales”
“One in Six”
“Amazon.com,” an essay
“Altered Beast”
“I Can’t Just Turn it Off”
“The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann”
“Positivity Squares”

My Rating: 5 Stars

About the Author. Ken Brosky’s blog, “The Death of a Dream” can be found here. Currently averaging three short story publications per year, the author has an MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

My Temporary Life by Martin Crosbie

A Coming of Age Novel with a Mesmerizing Story

Martin Crosbie’s book, MY TEMPORARY LIFE, is a sensitive, coming of age novel with a storyline that held me captive. The novel is filled with emotion—humor, joy, heartache, grief. It deals with the loneliness of children who have lost and the agony of their adjustment. It deals with the lives of adults who have been abused as children.

It is the story of Malcolm, an adolescent who lived in Scotland with his parents until his mother returned to her roots in Canada, leaving her husband and son behind in Scotland. After his parent’s divorce, Malcolm began what he called a “temporary life,” spending his summers in Vancouver with his sometime mother and her men, returning to live with his father in Scotland during the school year. He leads this disjointed life without many friends until an unfortunate display of his own loyalty changes the direction of his life. With the help of a father-figure and other friends in Canada, he grows up, prospers, falls in and out of relationships, finally meets the girl of his dreams. It is at this point that the story surprises. The action, never slow, picks up a notch or two, and the rest of the story is a harrowing ride to the end.

For me it was an engrossing work of literary fiction. I loved the scenes of Malcolm and his friend, Hardly, growing up in Scotland, loved his surrogate father, George, and George’s sister, Rose, and how the author painted those characters. I really, really liked the author’s understated prose and I loved the opening:

I think I first smelled booze on Gerald when we were eleven, and as far as I know he’s been drinking ever since.

There were moments of magic, scenes filled with foreboding, passages that were poetic and ruminative, others that were breathtaking. The masterful handling of Malcolm’s mother, especially in “the car wash scene,” was brilliant. There were many scenes, especially toward the end, that were fast-paced and made the book impossible to put down. It is a book you will not want to miss.

That said, the presentation was less than professional. Had the book been professionally edited and proofread, had the manuscript been converted professionally to ebook format, reading it would have been a more enjoyable experience for me.

My Rating: 5 Stars

About the Author: Martin Crosbie always wrote stories. As his adventures and misadventures took him from Kilmarnock, Scotland, to Vancouver, Canada, he recorded his memories in a series of journals. Today, he’s turning those journals into novels.

You can keep up to date on his newest adventures and read his opinions on everything from Punk Rock to how he’s training for his next marathon on his website.

When not writing, or running long distances, Martin shares his life in Vancouver, with his partner, Jacquelyne, and Spock, the most spoiled cat in the world.

Copyright © 2011 Martin Crosbie
Format: Kindle Edition
ASIN: B006O2P13O

Freedom and Circumstance by Oswald Sobrino

For me, poets and philosophers are like cake and ice cream: they go together. Both wed disparate elements of reality, sometimes explosively, always in startling ways. Both go beyond the words to a place bone deep. When I read or listen to them, my eyes pop. My mouth goes all WOWy. My spirit is refreshed and I’m able to write on. You might say that, like cake and ice cream, poets and philosophers are important human resources.

Take Ortega y Gasset, an influential twentieth-century Spanish philosopher. That’s all I remembered about him from a course I took on existentialist writers many years ago.

Then I picked up Oswald Sobrino’s FREEDOM AND CIRCUMSTANCE: PHILOSOPHY IN ORTEGA Y GASSET, a small, unassuming and very readable ebook with a powerful title. Despite its relatively short length, it is a thorough introduction to the philosophy and significance of Ortega y Gasset (1883-1935) and a very interesting read. Sobrino has a profound grasp of his subject. He gives us Ortega with a clarity of thought and in words that are simple enough for even a neophyte like me to understand.

FREEDOM AND CIRCUMSTANCE elucidates Ortega’s methodology, his philosophical tenets, his significance for the modern age and our time. The book focuses on the basics of Orteguian philosophy, translating into English Ortega’s beautifully written Spanish and making copious use of footnotes that, surprisingly, are a delight to read.

FREEDOM AND CIRCUMSTANCE examines the Ortega y Gasset’s early influences, especially the German philosophers, Ortega’s departure from Descartes and subjective Idealism, and Ortega’s most important works. These include “What Is Philosophy?” a seminal work of the twentieth century published in Madrid, Spain (1929) where Ortega was born, taught, and died. Madrid, Sobrino reminds us, is at “the heart of Spain and on the edge of Europe, both physically and culturally.”

For me a memorable part of the book was Sobrino’s reminder that Ortega did not have a philosophy or hold to a set of philosophical beliefs. Rather, Ortega was a philosophy, that philosophy for him was “a making in oneself a place and a space where the Universe can be known and known again.”

The author also reminds the reader of Ortega’s meaning of word, circumstance “. . . as crucial to our self-identity.”

Another personal favorite in this book was the picture Sobrino painted of Ortega teaching on a quiet morning in a sunlit park in Madrid at the turn of the twentieth century, lecturing to a rapt audience of students.

This kindle ebook has 1070 locations. That’s about the size of a novella.* Whatever its size, I highly recommend the book. It is a bargain at 99¢, and gave this reader many Eureka Moments.

About the Author. Oswald Sobrino holds an M.A. in Theology, an M.A. in Economics, and a Juris Doctor degree. He is fluent in Spanish and teaches biblical studies and Latin. Philosophy was one of his undergraduate majors—and his favorite. Madrid, Spain, the home of José Ortega y Gasset, is his favorite city. Like Ortega, he received a Jesuit education. Sobrino has ten books for sale on Amazon, including FREEDOM AND CIRCUMSTANCE, and writes a blog called LOGOS.

Photo: Used as cover for FREEDOM AND CIRCUMSTANCE. From Raphael, School of Athens, Michelangelo posing as Heraclitus. Wikipedia Commons.

Copyright © 2011 Oswald Sobrino
ASIN: B006P760XS
Available at Amazon