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Book Reviews

The Love We All Wait For
A Plague of Scoundrels
Heroes Arise
Outside Child
My Half of the Sky
Over the Edge

 

THE LOVE WE ALL WAIT FOR

"Lee Doyle has written an engaging, and sometimes dark, coming-of-age story set in the Salinas Valley in 1975. Sheila O'Connor is 17, still mourning the death of her father six years ago, and her mother is about to remarry, to Sheila's dismay. Her little sister, Annie, loves her mother's fiancé, her older brother, Josh, has joined the Marines, and her relationship with best friend, Ingrid, has hit a rocky patch. Classic situations, and in Doyle's confident prose, fresh and unsentimental . . .

Lee Doyle has a way with characters and an equally deft way of describing the Valley landscape, where it's hot and dry, and eyes are always squinting against the sun and the wind. 'The soles of my flip-flops seemed soft when they made contact with the pavement. The air was dense, resistant to movement.' Later the wind would blow through the valley to wash away the dust, the metallic odor of pesticides and the 'shivering smell' of the steer ranch in the foothills. When Josh leaves town, the quiet of the Sunday morning 'was like an ache I couldn't quite locate. It was in the haggard slump of buildings. In the stark, lonely quality of the light.'

Sheila thinks she can make her way through the world while taking care of her loved ones, but she finds she can't change people. Instead, she learns how to deal with abandonment, how to survive pain and how to grow from her experiences, finding joy in the midst of sorrow.

Lee Doyle has written a lovely, affecting coming-of-age novel of one girl's transformation in the face of sadness and loss."

Marilyn Dahl
"Shelf Awareness"
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"A woman threatens her daughter's boyfriend with the knife 'she uses to cut cow brains for tacos,' a character explains in Lee Doyle's novel about growing up in Salinas, The Love We All Wait For, new from Walnut Creek's KOMENAR Publishing."

Anneli Rufus
"East Bay Express"
Link to review


"Lee Doyle's prose is a warm, swift wind that sweeps away the haze of everyday life to offer a startlingly clear view of that greatest mystery, the human heart."

Lewis Buzbee
Author of "The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop"


"The Love We All Wait For is world-weary and unsentimental as only a seventeen-year-old can be. I loved this book from start to finish. Crisp, vivid, perfect."

Kathi Kamen Goldmark
Author of "And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You"

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A PLAGUE OF SCOUNDRELS

"In these days of erratic economies and caustic politics, escaping into a good novel soothes the soul. A Plague of Scoundrels by Jon Cory (Komenar, 2008) takes the reader far away to another time and place, on a fantastic adventure. The protagonist, Elliott Vail, is an unemployed stand-up comedian. His nightclub gigs are floundering and his pockets are empty, so he answers an intriguing ad for free rent. His odd new landlord parades around the apartment in full Robin Hood regalia. The next thing you know, Elliott is transported to London in 1665. Of course, with his poor comedic timing he arrives just before the outbreak of the Black Plague. Soon our hero is entangled in intrigue, pursued by rapscallions and dueling with thugs. He also manages to romance a comely serving wench who is more than just a one-dimensional character. Through it all, Elliott would rather quip than quit. His sly humor keeps him sane and gives the reader plenty of laughs. A Plague of Scoundrels is a quick read and is perfect for unwinding at the end of a long day."

Leslie A. Burton
Professor, Golden Gate University School of Law
Review published in Law Practice Magazine


"Hot off the presses, Alamo author Jon Cory brings his first novel, A Plague of Scoundrels to print. It is a book that is 'designed to put a smile on your face', according to Jon . . . The humorous and romantic novel takes readers on a wild ride through London and the rural English countryside that will not soon be forgotten . . . A Plague of Scoundrels is engaging for all ages."

Alamo Today
Download the full review (PDF)


"KOMENAR Publishing's theme line is 'Compelling Fiction for the Habitual Reader.' At Grit Lit, we believe that's a wonderful goal. And they've certainly got a winner in Alamo author Jon Cory's first novel, A Plague of Scoundrels (Komenar, $24.95, 230 pages).

Cory describes Scoundrels as a fun, entertaining story. There are no lessons to be learned. And you don't have to wade through mountains of pesky details to get to the good parts. It's a fun book to just kick back and enjoy.

Elliot Vail is a San Francisco comedian who will do anything for cheap rent. Then Edward Bockman offers him free rent in exchange for some odd errands. Little does Elliot know that his new landlord has invented time travel and is carrying on a hot and heavy tryst with a former mistress of England's King Charles II.

Jon Cory's debut novel takes readers on a delightful journey through London and rural England. You'll meet a cast of characters including petty thieves, the local hangman and a great French villain. Plus the usual sexy wenches.

All in all a rollicking great comedic romp."

Myles Knapp
Bay Area News Group
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"You mix a time travel device with a high-tech genius, add a dram of Restoration England, include a dose of plague and a damsel in distress—a very lovely damsel I might add—and mix it up with a San Francisco comic . . . And what have you got? A very funny and fun story! I thoroughly enjoyed A Plague of Scoundrels."

Dennis Erokan
Founder of the Bammy Awards


"Jon Cory's witty debut novel is no ordinary romp down the river of time to seventeenth-century England. When a second-rate comedian meets a farmer's clever daughter, the result is first-rate adventure that captures the meaning of life."

Laurel Anne Hill
Author of "Heroes Arise"


"Just when I thought I knew what was going to happen, big surprise. The plot took another direction and made me laugh. Lilly. Bockman. Grundel. Elliot. Excitement, humor, real characters, continuous surprises, romance, time travel, what more is there? A great read for summer, winter, spring or fall."

Richard Cook
Owner, Sunrise Bookshop

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HEROES ARISE

"Heroes Arise by Laurel Anne Hill is a surprisingly exciting and moving story that gripped my attention from the first word and wouldn't let me put it down. This author's first work shows a strong talent and a remarkable future."

Jean M. Auel
Author of "The Clan of the Cave Bear"


"I enjoyed reading Heroes Arise very much . . . How a culture lives by rules of retribution or trust is revealed in the pressure of one tense scene after another, and the narrative of Gundack and Rheemar flies along."

Kim Stanley Robinson
Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of the "Science in the Capital" series


"Heroes Arise provides a fascinating journey into an alien culture, one more open and honorable than our own---although like us in its capacity for violence. As I read, I was reminded of classic tales by Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore, yet the story has a modern sensibility and depth of characterization. A promising debut for Laurel Anne Hill."

Madeline Howard
Author of  "The Hidden Star
"


"Heroes Arise follows in the tradition of all good parables using elements of the imagination to illustrate its moral center."

Richard Cook
Owner, Sunrise Bookshop, Berkeley, CA


"I adore this book . . . Hill has a gritty, vibrant writing style that cuts its way to the heart, with heroes who are truly larger than life. I heartily recommend Heroes Arise."

Laura LeHew
Award-winning poet


"A richly detailed world, fascinating characters, and a stirring quest all make for an auspicious debut from an exciting new talent."

Robert J. Sawyer
Hugo Award-winning author of "Hominids
"


"No stereotypes here . . . A fine job, and well worth your reading time."

Allen L. Wold
Author of the "Rikard Braeth Saga"


"In Heroes Arise, Hill has created a rich, fully-realized fantasy world with a wonderfully textured background---mythology, history, tribal customs---and then stripped it of all pretense to give the reader a sleek, fast-paced adventure story."

Michael D. Pederson
Publisher/Editor, "Nth Degree"


"A real page-turner"

Sandy Raschke
"Calliope: A Writer's Workshop by Mail"
Download the full review (PDF)


"This future fantasy set on an alien planet with harsh deserts and mountains is about both the tolerance between the native reptilian people, the kren, and humans. Rheemar, a human, has gone way beyond the usual in his learning customs and language (as well as can be given with physical limitations). He pairs up with kren trader, Gundack, to search for his kidnapped younger sister, while Gundack seeks revenge on his wife’s murderer, Tarr.
 
This is a story of revenge, redemption, forgiveness, and acceptance. The characters grow within the fantasy framework and show that very dissimilar beings may not be so different down deep. This is a very worthwhile read and ends much differently that you might expect. We rated it four hearts."

Bob Spear
Heartland Reviews


"The world-building in this book is pretty darn cool. The entire tale is told slowly, moment to moment, in a way that focuses on the world, races, and traditions rather than the plot. In some ways this is good; the unusual biology elements, for example, can be pretty fascinating. However, at times it feels rather over-done, as if the book is trying a bit too hard to construct the perfect, seamless world for the reader. I suppose it feels as though the writer is a little too aware of the reader . . .

There's definitely a highly unusual talent at work here with regards to the world-building and the unusual ecology and biology elements. However, some additional polishing would help to take further books to the next level of enjoyment. I often found myself simultaneously having difficulty putting this book down, while yet frowning over things that just struck me a little… wrong."

Heather Grove
Errant Dreams Reviews
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"This isn't an 'easy' fantasy. The author doesn't try to couch it in a familiar culture or in everyday trappings that allow the reader to slide gently into the knowledge that the setting isn't our own. You have to be willing to jump into the world Ms. Hill has set up with both feet.

That being said, the story is very unique . . . This is a story of trust, of faith and of a quest to regain and retain honor. Don't be surprised to find yourself thoroughly engaged, and checking to see whether you have six arms of your own!"

Giant Steps Books and Toys, An Independent Online Bookstore
Read the full review

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OUTSIDE CHILD

"In Alice Wilson-Fried's debut mystery, Outside Child, pre-Katrina New Orleans comes alive again with patois and a poignancy. Fast paced, down home and real, Outside Child rivets you to the page, keeps you turning pages and brings a vanished New Orleans back."

Cara Black
Author of the "Aimee LeDuc Series
"


"The tenor and allure of Alice Wilson-Fried's Outside Child is steeped in the mysteries of New Orleans, and some of its secrets are revealed in this, her debut novel."

Gary Phillips
Author of "Bangers"


"Outside Child is a Creole stew of crime, politics, and Southern manners that gives me a true flavor of New Orleans before all that water washed away some of the spice. Alice creates a female protagonist who's authentic and real. The sibling relationship that's central to the story evokes Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins and the colorful relationships that make that world so exciting."

Kevin Arkadie
Writer/Producer, "New York Undercover," "The Temptations," "Soul Food, The Series," and "The Shield


"A fascinating new character makes an entrance in Alice Wilson-Fried's Outside Child (KOMENAR, $24.95). In pre-Katrina New Orleans, we meet Ladonis Washington, the sole black employee in an otherwise all-white public relations firm. Ambitious to a fault, she attempts to ignore hints of the firm's double-dealings, but when a friend gets chewed up in the blades of an excursion paddle wheeler, she finally decides to investigate. Attempting to help, but just as often muddying the already-stagnant waters, is Ladonis' dope-smoking brother, HeartTrouble, a man not averse to running a few scams of his own.

Heavy on atmosphere and character, Child evokes a New Orleans that is, sadly, no longer there. But in these pages, all the wiles and woes of the seductive city are trotted out as Ladonis prowls its now-vanished streets and waterways, experiencing its crumbling tenements and moss-draped oaks, glorying in the city's spicy gumbo of blacks, whites, Cajuns, Creoles, Indians, and alligators. Ladonis makes such a memorable debut that I hope this outside child (slang for illegitimate) returns soon to stick it to The Man."

Betty Webb
Small Press Reviewer, "Mystery Scene Magazine"
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"Highly recommended [5 stars]...When I picked this book up, I stopped reading every other book I was in the middle of reading. I rarely do that. This is a MUST READ.

Outside Child, by Alice Wilson-Fried is a marvelous masterpiece of murder and mayhem on the Mississippi . . . This is a debut novel by a storyteller with a natural gift for capturing the southern dialect and conversational speech from both ends of New Orleans' society. At times her characters' conversations touch your emotions like a symphony that plays to the depth of your soul. It can be sharp, quick, witty, laughable, attacking and often deadly. The characters are memorable, so much so that it could easily be adapted to a screenplay or live theater. Each character is shaped by their speech and the role they play or the nickname they're called by. How can you forget Laundry Man, Preacher Man, HeartTrouble, L’il Boy, JockStrap and Big Blake?

My favorite scene from the book is when Ladonis visits her mother. Her mom is complaining because Ladonis doesn’t visit often and says to her, 'You don’t miss the water till the well is dry.' Now who can’t relate to this remorse ridden remark? I immediately felt guilty for women all over the world. The words are priceless. Ladonis on the other hand has nicknames for her mother’s three personalities and decides that this day she is Martyr Theresa. On other days she may call her Sick Puppy or Pissed Off.

This situation is so real, images of a time ticking by come to mind. Ladonis is too young to get that yet. It's a mother daughter thing. You love your mom, yet she drives you crazy. This conversation touches my heart and I felt the writer is very honest in her portrayal of their relationship. She makes you think about how precious the time you spend with your mom is and she captures the moment here beautifully.

Wilson-Fried, who grew up in the Magnolia Housing Projects, tackles the racism and social aspects of New Orleans. She shows how the marginal members of society, blacks, women and gays are still the city’s outside children. To break into the New Orleans’ white male dominated business and political arena there are challenges and tough choices needed to succeed with the endurance of a marathon runner. This is a theme that does not overpower the story but is the story. The mystery is a bonus, a wonderful who-done-it.

Anxiety ridden moments of anticipation will make you read on. You will hang on a limb at the end of each chapter. Don’t miss reading this pre-Katrina New Orleans thriller."

Donna Edwards
Reviewer, Bookworm's Dinner
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"An 'outside child,' as Alice Wilson-Fried informs us as an introduction to Outside Child, her debut novel, is a child born of a relationship between a married man and an unmarried woman. It is a term in use in New Orleans (though not exclusively) where Outside Child is set, and, as Wilson-Fried's fine, complex story unfolds, it takes the meaning of the term across a number of different levels while staying true to its original definition.

New Orleans is a city that is almost immediately addictive, yet which gives up its buried mysteries reluctantly, if at all. The only way to truly know it is to access the mind and memories of its residents. Wilson-Fried, a New Orleans native, takes her readers on a journey through the city that includes the tourist haunts as well as the neighborhood mix that gives the city its true flavor, one that most visitors to the city obtain but of a hint.

Ladonis Washington is the protagonist of Outside Child, a strong woman who by dint of strong will and hard work has overcome the twin grindstones of adversity and bad circumstance to earn an MBA and a place in the New Orleans business world. She continues, however, to have those jealous and uncomfortable with her success nipping at her heels --- what is referred to locally as the 'crab in the barrel syndrome' --- and while she does not let it overcome her the effect is nonetheless wearing. These include Jack, her boyfriend, and HeartTrouble, who, in Washington’s own words, is her 'no-account, con artist' brother. The bright spots in Washington's life are her office job with Floating Palace Steamboat Company and Tim Ganen, the man who is guiding her through the minefield of executive employment. When Ganen suddenly and suspiciously experiences a grisly death within the paddlewheel of the Magnolia Belle, the Floating Palace's prize steamboat, Washington takes it upon herself to conduct her own investigation into the violent end of the one man above all others who was willing to give her a chance in the corporate world. Washington's investigation is not exactly welcomed by the corporate higher-ups at Floating Palace. Her primary source of help, surprisingly, comes from HeartTrouble, whose canny street sense is of more use than Washington's book knowledge as Washington jumps with both feet into a mire that mixes equal part corporate corruption and street violence. And it is the relationship between HeartTrouble and Washington, as well as the cultural and social intricacies of New Orleans, that is the true, subtle strength of Outside Child, the mystery which is its foundation notwithstanding. New Orleans, for better or worse, is a city whose social elements blend and mix, but have never quite set; Outside Child provides a subtle glimpse behind that curtain.

Outside Child is a view of New Orleans as it was prior to Katrina; Wilson-Fried is presently working on a sequel to Outside Child that is set in post-Katrina New Orleans, a place where the dynamics in place prior to the storm's landfall are still in place, even as parts of the landscape have changed. It will no doubt be as intriguing as Outside Child is. This is an impressive debut from an author whose best work is no doubt yet to come."

Joe Hartlaub
Reviewer


"Alice Wilson-Fried's mystery novel, Outside Child, introduces readers unfamiliar with pre-Katrina New Orleans to a society where people can either transcend the social law of gravity in order to rise or must struggle against the social law of gravity in order not to fall. Through the eyes of Ladonis Washington, readers see what Ladonis sees and rejoice or cringe with her as she makes her way through the menace and puzzle of the corporate jungle. This mystery reveals the dilemma of a young woman who, on her way up, tries hard not to lose her way. Her self-imposed demand to solve a status-changing murder tests her resolve, her convictions, and the values she holds dear. And throughout the novel, steadfast, moves the leitmotif of the great river and the paddleboats that ply the waters of the Great Mississippi."

Anne Fox
Amazon.com five-star review


"Outside Child is a remarkable book in that while ostensibly a 'mystery story,' it really is a novel about New Orleans and the folk who have lived and worked there. It is an encomium of how class, gender, race and kin, combine to provide an understanding of the glory, pride and family values of those who created New Orleans, while having to surmount the history of the repression of both class and white supremacy. The people in the book are treated with an understanding and respect that is reminiscent of John Oliver Killens' Youngblood. I can think of no higher praise."

Percy Brazil
Amazon.com five-star review


"Outside Child is a wonderful mystery set in pre-Katrina New Orleans, by first-time novelist Alice Wilson-Fried. The characters, setting, and story are interesting and completely believable. The author has a strong voice and knows her subject well.

In New Orleans, the term 'outside child' describes one born to a married man and unmarried woman, disowned by the father. It metaphorically extends to any outsider. The title refers literally to a particular character's role in the plot, while also describing all of the characters at once, perhaps the author herself, and even (as we know following Katrina) the city of New Orleans and its inhabitants.

The characters (with nicknames like Redboy, Honey Man, L'il Wolf, and HeartTrouble) are interesting and realistic. The brief words of advice from Grandma Lucille which pepper the story with juicy, down-home, and dead-on wisdom make the reader wish for a Grandma Lucille of one's own. The main character and her role in unraveling the mystery are realistic and believable, unlike many other current female (and male) mystery protagonists. Her brother, HeartTrouble, is a brilliant depiction of the conflict inherent in making one's way in a non-accepting world.

The author knows her subject, the Louisiana riverboats, New Orleans politics, and the city's business world, well. This reviewer most appreciated the frequent and completely natural references to the remnants of history, from jazz to slavery, that dot the New Orleans and riverboat landscape.

The author's style is easy, crisp, and flowing. The denouement and solution to the mystery might have been a bit tighter, but this reviewer finds that limitation in virtually every mystery around, so this first-time mystery novelist can hardly be faulted for a general feature of the genre.

The only other limitation is that I enjoyed the color and setting so much that I wished for more--more smells, more music, more everything. The upcoming sequel, with the same core characters, is reported to be about Katrina, which the author's family suffered and survived. This reader awaits that sequel eagerly."

Candace Cohn
"Mystery Fan," Marengo, IL
Amazon.com five-star review


"Outside Child is a fast, gripping read - an inside look at a foreign country hidden deep inside the glitter of New Orleans. The only rule is SURVIVE. The only law is TRUST NOBODY.

No reader will skim or skip a word of this book.

The storyteller, a young black woman who follows the much-touted path of education and hard work to the nice neighborhood and the enchanted land of big names and big money and a glamorous job with a Mississippi riverboat company is compelling. Her fear is insistent as she learns that the bad guys look just like the good guys, sometimes better, and every step of her descent into the bowels of the riverboat could be an entrance to another level of Dante's Inferno.

This book epitomizes the reason I co-founded the San Francisco Writers Conference. The author has a captivating story to share and a mesmerizing voice - and should be read. Now."

Wendy Nelder
Co-founder, San Francisco Writers Conferenc
e

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MY HALF OF THE SKY

"You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel."

Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer, "Murder, She Wrote"


"Jana McBurney-Lin's debut novel, My Half of the Sky, is a masterpiece and well worth the ten years it took her to write it. From the first word to the last of its 533 pages, the reader will be captivated by the way the author uses words and nuance and simplicity to create rich characters and settings so vivid it feels like you are watching a classic film."

Jackie Houchin
Freelance Reporter, "The Foothills Paper"


"Lyrical is the only word for Jana McBurney-Lin's prose, yet it's her heroine Li Hui who captures your heart.

McBurney-Lin's novel, My Half of the Sky is a masterpiece of subtlety, insight and drama so finely wrought you become immersed in her story without realizing it. Unlike books that clatter along like rickety roller coasters, looking for cheap laughs or dreadful discoveries, McBurney-Lin maintains a graceful, measured pace. Indeed, this pace feels like the beating heart of her heroine.

It is impossible not to like Li Hui, for her integrity and wholesomeness are absolute. She is a woman of modern China, yet forced to live a prescribed existence. She is more intelligent and educated than her family and friends, yet scorned by them. She suffers under her father's rule, yet flies free in the end."

Kathleen Grant Geib
Staff Writer, The Oakland Tribune, Oakland, CA


"I nominate My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin as a [BookSense] August best pick. Your heart will tear apart right along with Li Hui's as she struggles to 'hold up her half of the sky' while being a respectful and dutiful daughter.

Though Li Hui's culture is quite different from ours, family issues are universal, even when they play out under cultural restraints. This is a powerful coming of age story. Readers will cheer Li Hui on and hope she finds her way.

I'll be hand-selling this book to romantics, explorers, and reading groups. It is a powerful and moving novel. (And I'm ready for the sequel -- what happens now?)"

Keri Holmes
Bookseller, The Kaleidoscope: Our Focus is You, Hampton, IA


"This novel of modern China captures the inner life of a culture foreign to the ways of thought of the contemporary West.  Readers will find themselves immersed in a fascinating world and story."

Richard Cook
Owner, Sunrise Bookstore, Berkeley, CA

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OVER THE EDGE

"Over the Edge is a crime thriller, a love story, and a remarkably knowledgeable and compelling tale about skiing."

Richard A. Lupoff
Author of "Quintet: The Cases of Chase and Delacroix"


"Those who follow the impulse to read Over the Edge . . . are in for an avalanche of fun. Kaplan uses the backdrop of a vintage Jackson to paint an edgy tale of murder and redemption . . . Characters, when not jumping off cliffs, jump off the page."

Robert Frolich
"Big Sky Journal"


"Kaplan writes with an eye for visual detail and a breathless style, with punchy sentences that whisk readers through the action."

Melanie White
"Jackson Hole News & Guide"


"The skiing scenes in Over the Edge are ecstatic, and will make you long for the reappearance of winter."

Betty J. Webb
"Mystery Scene Magazine"


"This debut thriller crackles with energy . . . a taut thriller that I didn’t want to put down."

Darren Sutherland
"Wood River Journal"


"A quick-paced read . . . takes the reader through the trees and over some bumps without destroying any knees."

Dana Dugan
Reviewer/Staff Writer, "Idaho Mountain Express"


“An exciting outdoor thriller that takes on interesting themes of violence and war, particularly through the eyes of two different war veterans, one from Vietnam, the other Korea.  But it's the skiing world of 1969 Jackson Hole that makes this a page-turner.”

Richard Cook
Owner, Sunrise Bookstore, Berkeley, CA

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