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Review: Marine Park by Mark Chiusano

[ 0 ] November 22, 2014

marine park book coverReviewed by Alisha Churbe

Marine Park is a debut short story collection by Mark Chiusano. Chiusano is well-published and his interlinked short story collection follows the stories of two brothers, Jamison (the older) and Lorris (the younger) as they grow up. The stories are told from many different points of view and from different points of time throughout the boys’ lives. A few of the stories focus on only one of the brothers, but all of the stories have a strong tie to the setting of Marine Park. Marine Park is an interesting place that resides too far from Brooklyn to be reached easily, but it still has a feeling of being just on the outer reaches of a city.

I enjoyed the description of the landscape and how its location – both in being close and remote from the city – makes it an interesting and very unique place to explore through the eyes of the characters.

The collection holds seventeen stories ranging from short (5-7 pages) to long (15-20 pages). Each story stands on its own, but somewhere there is a tie back to one of the brothers and a very strong bond with Marine Park. Many of the stories lacked in a clear conflict and I didn’t feel like Chuisano pushed his characters far enough at times. In “Why don’t you,” the tension just started to build as the story was ending and I was left to wonder how all the pieces were meant to fit. Others, like the story of Vincent and Aurora, where a wife is pitted against her husband, were so rich in subtext, you felt the tension buried deep within the characters.

Chiusano’s collection is a good debut and the stories are written well, thought through and distinctive in voice. The stories are written without true dialogue, more so as recollections of events having occurred. This technique makes the stories and characters feel quiet and loud at the same time–an interesting style.  Chiusano is very consistent and forthright with his characters and voice. He’s a joy to read and I will pick up future collections to watch how Chuisano’s storytelling style evolves.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Gaza by Jean-Pierre Filiu

[ 0 ] November 21, 2014

gaza by filiu book coverReviewed by Nikhil Sharma

For many people, Yasser Arafat was the one who single handedly lead the war for liberation of Palestine and after his death nobody of his stature ever came up in the region to replace him. Such myths have crept in the common psyche because of ignorance on our part and selective propagandized hoopla the media creates around personalities and events. The Lebanon War of 2006, waged against Hezbollah by Israel, is what got me interested in history of the region.

Several commendable books on this subject have been written by historians and journalists. Avi Shlaim’s Iron Wall is an excellent book on Israeli-Palestinian conflict; The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk is a thriller with first-hand accounts of war-reporting; while Holy Land, Unholy War by Anton La Guardia unearths personal histories of many displaced Palestinians. Martin Gilbert’s Churchill and the Jews seemed to be a biased one-sided account all in praise of Churchill–he wasn’t even criticized for his racial prejudices. But to top it all, In the Name of Sorrow and Hope by Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof read like a horribly ghost-written collection of essays and I had to donate it during a book donation drive in my office in 2007. The power of Jewish lobby in the U.S. as documented in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt cannot be whisked away under the carpet–it is the Big Elephant nobody wants to talk about. Gaza by Jean-Pierre Filiu – the subject of this review – chronicles political history of a region besieged by buzz of drones and tumbling of bombed buildings.

Gaza is a “small territory of 360 square kilometers, wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea” with a “coastline of around 40 kilometres” where “more than 1.5 million souls live out their daily lives”. Gaza has been recently in the news due to insurmountable loss of lives and barbaric destruction. The author begins with Hyksos, who “established themselves in the Middle East in the eighteenth century BC”. And then starts a history of Gaza/Palestine changing hands between Semites, Canaanites, Persians, Romans, Umayyads, Abbasids, Mamluks, Mongols, Ottomans and many in between. The name Palestine derives from ‘Philistia’ which is of unknown origin. For the general reader, the mere mention of so many civilizations would be confusing, especially as no historical context has been given about most of them in the book. This could have been done to keep the length of the book within manageable limits.

It is well evident from the earlier chapters that Palestine has had many influences over thousands of years, with each having left a unique imprint on its culture and life. Coming to modern times when British Mandate was formally announced over Palestine in 1920, the author writes about “Zionist inclination of the Mandate, accentuated by the personal sympathies of Sir Herbert Samuel, head of civil administration”. Later during Nazi overtures, the immigration of Jews is documented by numbers: “9,533 in 1932 against 61,854 in 1935” and “recently arrived settlers made no attempt to cultivate relations with their Arab neighbours”. The majority of the book covers the period of second-half of twentieth century. Seemingly, the Arabs of Palestine have paid for the crimes of Nazis, only this time the sufferer of earlier times has become the perpetrator. This is not to justify the mindless violence that dominates every aspect of life in Gaza and West Bank and originates often from the various militant brigades bent upon the killing of Israelis, who then respond with a gravely disproportional force. At one point in the book it feels like you are reading repeatedly the same thing – rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli territory and Israeli reprisal attacks killing children and women in Gaza. Maybe that’s how life in a war torn zone perpetually is. The conflicts within a conflict of Hamas against Fatah, the various militant factions, the opposing external influencers, and the economic hardships faced against the dreaded Iron Domes make the region highly convoluted to untangle. The author has painstakingly and brilliantly analyzed the different factions in Palestinian politics. Hamas, for example, is so sensitive towards criticism that it arrests those who voice it.

The book is academic in its treatment of the subject, and at times so detailed that the general reader will get mired in the complexities. I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone who is totally unaware of politics of the region. A cursory knowledge about ancient history and various civilizations would be of great help before you start reading this one. But for someone who has read a book or two and is armed with a basic understanding of the issues, this book will be a treasure trove of historical facts, while taking you deep inside the machinations of how Palestinian politics is much more global than of any other region. It brings to the fore not just the mainstream players who have been feathered by the international media, but also others about whom you would seldom read in newspapers and magazines. The author, however, admits that “the act of writing a history of Gaza involves many difficulties…in many cases parts of the archives have been destroyed in the course of successive conflicts, while other sections have been moved out of the territory”.

Lives of Palestinians have for long been subject to conflicting interests of different stakeholders – Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, U.S., Russia and what not. Even after more than six and a half decades of conflict, peace and dignity is nowhere to be had. They try to make most of their lives while the world merrily celebrates “Nobel Peace Prize” and the media summarily creates heroes like Malala while a Palestinian ‘Anne Frank’ garners only subjugated attention.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Nikhil Sharma is a technology professional and over the last few years has discovered a newfound interest in literature, predominantly non-fiction history. He lives in Mumbai.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Oxford University Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

[ 0 ] November 21, 2014

lock in by scalzi book coverReviewed by Caleb Shadis

Lock In by John Scalzi was much better than I expected. In fact, it was a very good book. The audiobook I listened to was read by Wil Wheaton and he did an excellent job as the narrator as well. This book takes place in our not so distant future–about 30-35 years after a terrible calamity had struck.

The story starts about 25 years after the pandemic that eventually comes to be called the Hadens Syndrome. It started as a serious flu which was just as deadly as most others, only more virulent.  It also had a long gestation time; those sick and spreading it were not aware of doing so until it was too late. Some recovered like normal and others experienced a second stage of meningitis like symptoms. Of those that survived a small percentage suffered the lock in. Lock in was basically like being a conscious person stuck in a comatose body. No body movement, no eye blinking, nothing.

The name Hadens was attached to the disease after President Haden’s wife suffered through the lock in. The President initiated a full blown effort on finding ways to help the millions of people suffering from lock in. After about two years it really paid off. Those afflicted with lock in were fitted with neural nets that allowed them to send and receive input from different devices, and controllable robots were made to fill a need. Along with the robots, they had web based system that allowed them to communicate with each other.

Now to the present day–Chris Shane is starting his first day on the job as an FBI agent just as millions of Hadens are taking to the streets in protest over a bill that was passed cutting funding to a program that subsidized health care costs. Chris and his partner Leslie are part of the FBI Haden specialist team. Anytime a Haden is involved in a crime it falls into their jurisdiction since a Haden can be across state lines when actually committing the crime. Chris’ first crime scene is at a hotel where a loveseat was thrown from a window and a deadman and a Integrator are found in the room.

This is the start of a rollercoaster ride for Chris’ first week of work. He travels across the country to investigate and even spends some time on the Navajo reservation. There is a big conspiracy going on with a lot of money behind it. Not everything is as it seems and known ‘truths’ are needing to be questioned. Hadens appear to be behind the crimes, but who, how, and why are all tough questions to answer and they are running out of time.

I thought Lock In had a great storyline; it brought up a lot of issues around the treatment of minorities as well as how we all treat and view each other. The mystery was less of a who did it and more of a how was it done. I really liked the social commentary because it was so well blended in as part of the story. Great job by both John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Audible.com. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: Thankful for Today by Roitman Trillo

[ 3 ] November 20, 2014

thankful for today book coverI have a copy of an adorable children’s book, Thankful For Today by Roitman Trillo, to give away!

Open to US residents only

About the book

Whether sunny, cloudy or rainy Little Bear is grateful and finds joy in every circumstance the day brings.

Inspired by the prayers of a three year old, this beautifully illustrated story celebrates the little blessings in the life of a child. Published by Fun With A Message.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Guest Post: Marilyn Horowitz

[ 1 ] November 20, 2014

the book of zev book coverPlease welcome Marilyn Horowitz, author of The Book of Zev, as she answers a few of our questions!

Book Synopsis

The Book of Zev is a political thriller that tells the story of two gentle people who change the course of history. Zev Bronfman, a strapping 32-year old-virgin, angry atheist, refugee from a religious Jewish life, and former engineer for the U.S. Patent Office in Alexandria, Virginia, drives a cab and sleeps around in New York City. After a bitter divorce, Sarah Hirshbaum, a beautiful, redheaded, depressed, God-hating kosher chef, seesaws between yoga and too much red wine. Independently, the two consult the same psychic who inadvertently sends Sarah Zev’s session tape. When Sarah contacts Zev to pick up the recording, a series of events forces them to connect with a powerful terrorist in order to thwart his plans to destroy the UN and Israel.

Click here to read an Excerpt of The Book of Zev

Interview with Marilyn

Q:  Where did you come up with the idea for this book?

A:  The opening quote is what inspired me to want to write this story: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”

Q:  Was there a person that was your inspiration for this book? 

A:  I was returning on a train from a screenwriting conference where I’d conducted a workshop on creating great characters using my trademarked writing system, and met a man, a religious Jew, who was having a crisis of faith. We talked for three hours and the next thing I knew, I was writing a book.

Q:  Who would you like to thank for getting you where you are today? 

A:  I would have to start with God, followed by my maternal grandparents, who wrote a book together, Faith through Reason, an attempt to reconcile Judaism and Christianity. I would thank the real person that the character of Sylvie is based on. Then there were my parents, who had a vast library, which I read almost in its entirety. I also thank my first grade teacher, Mrs. Rank, who produced my first play when I was in first grade, and Lou Stanek, a writing teacher who guided me through my first attempts at writing fiction. And finally, I must thank Mrs. Wallace, my third grade teacher, who published my short stories in the school magazine. Then there’s my ex, who helped me develop my writing system, and Michael Zam, who inspired me to write my first nonfiction book on my writing method.

If I had to thank one person above others, it would be my mother, who helped me put together that first play and even made my costume for the play. My mother also edited part of The Book of Zev before she died, and was always my toughest critic.

Q:  Tell us how you got yourself to where you are today?

A:  I wrote my first play at six, my first “book” when I was eight, and kept going until I went to film school, where I began to write films.  A friend asked me to take over her screenwriting class, and after that I began working as a script doctor, producer, and a private writing coach. Years went by and then one day I realized I’d forgotten my dream. My mother was terminally ill, and I suddenly became aware that life is very short. Soon after, I met the man on the train, and three years later, here I am, a soon-to-be- published novelist!

Q:  What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?

A:  Writers, write! Write about everything, write all the time, scribble notes, and be patient with the process. When you are writing and start to stress out, remember that you can’t read the label when you are inside the jar.

The motto of my trademarked writing system is: Don’t Get It Right, Get It Written, and I live by that.

Q:  How do you see yourself in ten years?

A:  Prolific, happy, healthy, successful, respected and financially secure.

marilyn horowitz photoAbout Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Ida Horowitz is a producer, writing coach, and award-winning professor of screenwriting at New York University. From her books on her trademarked writing system—now standard reading at NYU—to her appearances at Screenwriters World and The Great American Screenwriting Conference & PitchFest, Marilyn has guided the careers of literally hundreds of writers. She is currently featured in the Now Write! Screenwriting Anthology (Tarcher/Penguin) and in the upcoming The Expert Success Solution (Morgan James). Her production credits include And Then Came Love (2007), starring Vanessa Williams.

Follow Marilyn at her website, www.marilynhorowitz.com and connect with Marilyn on Facebook

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Review: 31 Days by Marcia Gloster

[ 1 ] November 20, 2014

31 days book coverReviewed by Poppy Johnson

31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction by Marcia Gloster is a true story of the author’s life in Salzburg, Austria during the summer of 1963. She traveled Europe with a friend, ending up at an art school, and succumbed to the pedantic sexual love affair with one of her instructors. The scenes of the love affair are graphic but tastefully written at all times. The scenes are loving and never anything other than a beautiful experience for the reader to enjoy.

At the beginning of the affair, Marcia (the student) is told by her beau (well, he wasn’t really) that she has to follow his rules and never question him on their relationship. The relationship does develop, intricately and slowly, from a puppy dog type of school-girl crush on the teacher to a full on blown out affair with a much older man.

Marcia is definitely the weaker party in the relationship and is unable to resist the charms of this man. And I hate to spoil it for you, but the affair never becomes a truly eclipsing life event for the author since – dare I say it – all she really is to the guy is a booty call. Her lover disappears for days at a time, shows jealousy if she forms other relationships or becomes involved with men her age, sleeps with her shamelessly and never ever becomes her man, boyfriend or fiancé.

Does she see him years later? Or does their relationship survive? I’ll let you read it and be the judge to the worthiness of the tryst. The book is recommended for adults – although the sexual scenes are tastefully written, this is not a book for children or teens. The book is also recommended for anyone moving in or out of a relationship since there are some interesting lessons to be gleaned from these pages.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by The Story Plant. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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