The Beethoven Years

Robert L. Shearer
iUniverse, 355 pages, (paperback) $19.95, 9780595463343
(Reviewed: August, 2013)

A richly-detailed saga of a schizophrenic New Yorker who believes he is Beethoven, this elegant novel combines the rigor of a case study and the excitement of a psychological thriller, neatly framed by meditations on big issues such as creativity, the search for identity, the passage of time and the shrewdness of God.

A professor of philosophy and music at Florida Tech, author Robert L. Shearer has conducted deep research on street people with problems, Beethoven's life and current psychiatric treatments. The results are anything but academic. His fiction is achingly real and profoundly moving—the work of an original, finely tuned writer.

Shearer's indelible protagonist is a near-genius calling himself Ludi Vann (a self-styled riff on “Ludwig van Beethoven”) who communes with William Blake and a Martian, argues with God in musical code and has, in his 40s, become so obsessed with Beethoven that he imitates the deaf composer's handwriting (a crucial plot point) and conjures up his own Immortal Beloved (another linchpin) in the person of the Quaker idealist who runs Ludi's halfway house along with her husband.

He’s white, but delusional Ludi sometimes speaks in vivid black street English. “I got the machine,” he explains to his touching homeless friend Blind Boy Eddy. “I can show them the way back. That why I deaf: I know the abyss and how to make it echo in sound. Sound that damn mean something.” Shearer's priceless supporting cast includes three shrinks, two amusing musicologist/detectives and, late in the book, a cigar-smoking fat man named Louis Eastwind, the key to a murder Ludi may have committed years earlier.

Minor complaints: the author repeatedly misspells the anti-psychotic drug Clozaril (it's not “Clorazil”) and a few of his tormented-yet-funny minor characters tend toward unbelievable eloquence.

Little matter. This impressive plunge into madness reveals two “beautiful minds”: Ludi Vann's and Robert L. Shearer's. Long may they both endure.

Author’s Hometown
Melbourne Beach, Florida

Author’s Current Residence
Melbourne Beach, Florida

Source: BlueInk Reviews

The Haunting of the Smith's House

Mike Scygiel
iUniverse, 128 pages, (paperback) $11.95, 9781475911060
(Reviewed: August, 2013)

As the title notes, this book is about a haunting – one that, unfortunately, proves less suspenseful than the plot outline might indicate.

Although Frank Jones begins telling the story of a house haunting in his neighborhood, the narrative confusingly drifts in and out of an omniscient point of view. Jones starts by introducing readers to George Smith and his family, who moved to town because they fell in love with a Victorian home dating to the 1700s. The Smiths own a hardware store where another character, Harry Stoner, works. As it turns out, George’s wife is a terrific cook, and her pies beat out those of Stoner, the fair’s previous winner.

The day before Halloween, Stoner (later called “Harry warden” [sic] and “Barry Warden”) steals an axe from the store. The following night, he murders the entire Smith family with the axe because he’s angry about losing the pie contest. Twenty years later, a new family (whose members also have names that change) moves into the house and is haunted by Stoner’s ghost, although nothing very significant happens to them.

The misplaced apostrophe in the book’s title is but the first of an untold number of grammar, spelling, structure, point-of-view, time, setting and other errors in the writing mechanics. To make matters worse, the narration is redundant in the extreme. Consider this random paragraph: “All of a sudden, Steve and Deanna woke up from hearing there [sic] son Jeff screaming. What is going on [sic] said Steve as he got up to see what is going on with his son Jeff as he was screaming? [sic] He ran out of his bedroom to see what was going on with him as he ran out of the room. Jeff ran up to his dad and was very scared, as Steve saw him looking like he was very scared.”

As this excerpt demonstrates, the novel is extremely challenging to read. As a result of such technical issues and the story’s lackluster plot, it is unlikely to attract a wide audience.

Also available as an ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Sawyer, Michigan

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Blind Revenge

Bob Tait
iUniverse, 443 pages, (paperback) $24.95, 9781475972108
(Reviewed: August, 2013)

In this suspenseful novel set in the present-day West, Angeline Reichert is determined to take back control of her father’s cattle ranching empire in southwestern Colorado.

Raised by her father Rusty away from the ranch, she has been taught to believe that her brother Julian — whom she has never met — stole the ranch from Rusty. What she doesn’t know is that the estrangement was based on Rusty’s deep-seated prejudice against Julian’s Mexican wife. For his part, Julian is unaware of Angeline, who is more than 20 years his junior. As far as he knows, he had only one sister, also named Angeline, who died in a car accident years earlier.

Following Rusty’s untimely death, Angeline sues Julian for her rightful inheritance. But Angeline isn’t the only one interested in the oil-shale-rich Diamond T ranch. As outside forces conspire to take over the ranch, the body count grows. Meanwhile, Angeline is forced to team with Julian and face the truth about Rusty’s obsessive need for revenge.

Author Bob Tait has written a reasonably solid book with a strong sense of place and competent pacing. On the surface, the book appears to be just another bad guy vs. good guy tale, but Tait tackles a larger issue once Angeline meets Julian. Angeline’s right to the ranch hinges on her blood relationship to Julian. DNA tests prove they are full brother and sister, yet it soon comes to light that she couldn’t possibly have the same birth mother. How can this be?

The answer lies in modern-day science, not sci-fi, but it begs the issue: How far is too far when it comes to interfering in human reproduction? Rusty’s real plan for revenge turns out to be not only unethical – but downright creepy.

The book could use tighter editing; Tait throws too much information at readers in the first chapters, and he also spends too much time introducing secondary characters. On the whole, however, readers who enjoy a narrative that combines the beauty and majesty of the West with modern-day science will find this a satisfying read.

Also available as an ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Phelan, California

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Africa: A Photographic Safari

Carlyle Thompson
iUniverse, 158 pages, (paperback) $14.95, 9780595443888
(Reviewed: August, 2013)

Carlyle Thompson spent five days on photographic safari in Kenya, South Africa. This narrative, part journal, part travelogue, is based on his experiences.

There’s a charming innocence about Thompson’s journey: He often tears up at the landscape’s beauty, for example, and at the hospitality and poverty of the native people. But too often his naivety becomes cloying. Carlyle is sickened by the sight of trees stripped of their bark by feeding elephants and feels sorry for the “innocent trees that had suffered so much punishment for their participation in the beautification of Africa.” Common lizards merit as much attention as elephants. A leopard track outside camp makes him seriously consider abandoning his trip (whereas most people would be thrilled to see a predator's track, usually one of the highlights of being on safari).

At worst, Carlyle’s writing bogs down in minute, irrelevant detail, describing everything from his morning shower to his stomach growling at mealtime to his nightly prayers.

At best, Carlyle’s work gives brief glimpses of the inner man. He struggles with the safari’s cost and wonders if he’s being selfishly indulgent. Occasionally, he reveals a sly, delightful wit. In one passage, for instance, he describes delivering the holy word to an annoying fly by swatting it with a Sunday school book. His descriptions of tribal people gathering honey and dancing are vivid. Unfortunately, these illuminating moments are infrequent.

While the book is called “a photographic safari,” Carlyle’s photographs seem to be an afterthought: 48 small, black-and-white images scattered throughout like hidden jewels. These are the best parts of the book: beautiful, sensitive, well-composed and engaging. They could easily have been published as a photo essay and Carlyle’s writing used to accentuate his art.

Greater emphasis on the photography and less upon narrative would have made Africa: A Photographic Safari of interest to a wider audience. As published, the book will appeal mostly to Carlyle’s family and friends.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence

Houston, Texas

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Trying to Catch the Wind

Josef N. Ferri
iUniverse, 194 pages, (paperback) $16.95, 9781475969139
(Reviewed: August, 2013)

This is a memoir of, in the author’s own words “a love that was more than a love” — the story of the teenaged Joseph N. Ferri and Marilyn, a young woman he meets at a Friday night dance.

From the beginning, the two believe themselves soul mates. But the romance is plagued from the first date when a speeding driver clips Ferri’s motorcycle, breaking Marilyn’s leg. Marilyn’s parents order her to stay away from Ferri, but the two manage to continue their new relationship through late-night phone calls, notes secreted in and out by friends, and clandestine meetings.

If first loves are typically overly sweet and thick with drama, this young romance is doubly so: “During our conversation on Friday, August 13, 1965, having embraced the extraordinary scope and reality of pure love,” writes the author, “I boldly proposed my life and love to Marilyn, and she accepted … In the darkness of that night, two people holding telephones … wept tears of profound joy.”

Despite a distance from these events of nearly 50 years, Ferri still writes with the fervor of a love-struck young man — and that is often his undoing. The constant declarations of the uncommon depth of their love and the repeated references to love songs and poetry quickly become overkill and even the dreaded “purple prose.” Yet, when Ferri writes about his teenage exploits, such as boating an unknown number of miles with no life jackets or navigation system, the story’s interest picks up. And the question of what becomes of this romance, particularly later in the book, is enough to keep readers engaged.

Ferri obviously put a great deal of thought and effort into this story, but his heavy-handed style greatly undermines the work. As such, the memoir is likely to be of interest to friends, family and perhaps some like-minded romantic souls of that bygone era.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Buffalo, New York

Source: BlueInk Reviews

The Library of God

Fabrizio Pacitti
iUniverse, 239 pages, (paperback) $16.95, 9781475976557
(Reviewed: August, 2013)

Imagine if there were a secret order of learned men who amassed great knowledge centuries ago and have passed down the legacy not only to protect this fabulous library, but also to keep it secret because the knowledge in the library is so advanced that mankind isn’t ready for it. That possibility forms the core of The Library of God.

In modern-day Rome, three unrelated strangers receive cryptic letters that lead them to a hidden underground passageway. There, they meet an elderly (225 years old) religious man who sends them on a mission to find the library and its keeper. This mission will require them to decipher codes, find hidden passages and avoid being killed by a rival sect. The ingredients are all here for a hot summer read, but the reality turns out to be a tepid stew of Nancy Drew Meets the DaVinci Code Meets Indiana Jones.

That’s because our heroine, an ex-nun named Marina, has an almost adolescent excitement to finding clues and solving riddles. Her cohorts, a police commander and an academic, are helpful at translating Latin, interpreting symbols, and summoning arcane knowledge in the nick of time. While this will hold interest for some, what’s lacking is any real suspense building; flat characters and implausible situations sabotage the tension. Readers will also wonder: If this secret sect is so smart and has so many resources, why would it rely on three amateurs to do its bidding?

The story is peppered with Latin and Italian, always translated for the benefit of readers. It’s also, unfortunately, replete with punctuation errors (“’I’d like to take credit for this but I was really just looking for a restroom.” He said.’”) And misspellings: “colonel” becomes “coronel” about halfway through the book. In the world of the face-paced mystery, these are serious speed bumps. Overall, The Library of God earns high marks for an interesting premise, but lower ones for delivering on it.

Author’s Current Residence
Miami, Florida

Source: BlueInk Reviews

A fabulous BlueInk review of Bellhaven

“This compelling story within a story tells the tale of one man’s tragic teen years in the early 1970′s as the South struggled with racial integration. It begins when Father Matheny is sent by the diocese to “spy” on Father David Mills. Usually, Matheny is sent to investigate priests suspected of various unholy acts, but Mills’ sin is his attention to “the homeless, the hungry, and the junkies” in a parish dominated by the affluent. Matheny is a reluctant spy and rather than asking Mills useless questions, he requests that Mills tell him his story. And so he does. The son of a pastor of a huge church, David Mills is an A-minus student who loves to read and write. His father’s church has just begun to allow African-American students into its private academy and tensions are high. Then, Mills finds himself coming to the rescue of Melissa, one of the three new black students, and soon the two fall in love. As predicted by many, it can only end badly. Once Mills has shared his story, the characters return to the present matters at hand. The plot is well-conceived, the story engaging and written with skill and knowledge about the church, race issues and the South in the 1970′s. Here, Mills shares a poignant moment with his father, who has grown distant: “The forty-four-year-old minister reached wordlessly for his son. David stood, and they embraced as if no one else had ever loved either of them. In that moment, David Mills would have crossed the dark depths of hell for his father, and his father would’ve given all he had to go on the journey with him.” While, the author is occasionally guilty of adverb overkill – “They kissed, warmly, deeply” — and the narrative can sometimes feel overly sweet, this is a pleasure to read overall, a story that should particularly appeal to readers pondering universal questions of love, hate, forgiveness and faith.”

Click here For Full Review

Judas the Apostle is 5 Star

“A linguistics professor’s inherited relic sets an arms dealer on her trail in Mayhall’s debut religious thriller.

Dr. Clotile “Cloe” Lejeune flies to Louisiana with her son, J.E., for her father’s funeral. Once there, she learns that her dad was murdered by a professional who was apparently searching for something in his house. Cloe surmises that the murderer was looking for an African oil jar that her father left to her. Local priests believe that the jar may contain the Gospel of Judas, an ancient text which could rock the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church.

Click here For Full Reviews

Bestseller Tales of a Hollywood Housewife

“After a whirlwind courtship and a trip to Las Vegas, Betty and Lee are married. In this unique memoir, both hilarious and touching, we follow Betty as she creates a family with Lee, and is by his side as he works with Marlon Brando, John Wayne and a host of other stars. She is the ultimate hostess and Hollywood housewife. Nobody knew what was really going on at home – until, unable to take Lee’s womanizing, drinking and abuse, Betty leaves him and strikes out on her own. What follows are adventures that could only be Betty Marvin’s; from the building of her career as an artist. To a love affair with an Italian king, to dire straits as investment con artists leave Betty suddenly homeless. After years of the Hollywood life, Betty is left with only her car, her dog and her typewriter. Forced to employ all of her skills to survive, she comes out on top. This is the story of a woman who finds the real riches that come with learning the value of a joyful life.”

Click here For Full Review

Flew by the Seat of My Pants

“What a life’s adventure!

This was a wonderful life’s story from a most creative storyteller. From a humble beginning, this little Jewish kid did it all, overcoming prejudice, and a Father’s low expectations, to reach the pinnacle of education…and then starring in Hollywood movies. In between, he built a sailboat, and sailed to Hawaii and back. A wonderful story, indeed, of a warm, loving family man looking back on a most interesting life. Exhilarating, indeed…a great read. Thank you, Art Frankel!

Flew By the Seat of My Pants: Funny and touching!

What a great book. Actor/author/adventurer/teacher Art Frankel shares his life with you in a way that will make you laugh (and cry). A great story-teller with a quick wit and an easy, personal writing style, Frankel shares stories that are more than enough to fill three lifetimes. A great, fun read about a man who has truly lead an amazing life– and isn’t afraid to talk about it!

What a life!

Thoroughly enjoyed this book! The author has such a diverse background, has done so many different and interesting things, and has succeeded at all of them. The story is told with such ease it makes the reader feel as if the author is sitting across the table telling you the story of his life over a good cup of coffee!

Click here For Full Review

Flew by the Seat of My Pants

Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey,Ted Danson, Ethan Hawke,Tom Selleck, Pierce Brosnan, Jennifer Lopez, Jerry Seinfeld

What do they all have in common?

iUniverse author Art Frankel- that’s what- he has acted with them all!

As the iUniverse Publishing catalog continues to be enriched, we are being constantly surprised by our authors, not only in the quality of their work, but in who they are and the stories they have to tell. Award winning Flew by the Seat of My Pants: A Few Crashes, No Casualties by Art Frankel, the memoir of his amazing life, is one such example.

From teacher to sailor to soldier to actor, Art has done it all; as he says:

“with the support of my beloved wife, Shirley, and a healthy dose of dumb luck, I’ve managed to accomplished things that most people only dream of”

This is a cracking, funny and sometimes moving story of a regular guy who has made things happen in his life; but enough from us, let’s see what some of the readers the readers are saying.

Read more: iUniverse Book Review: Flew by the Seat of My Pants

Majik: The Beginning

Jack McGlame
iUniverse, 121 pages, (paperback) $11.95, 9781475932874
(Reviewed: August, 2013)

In this work of juvenile fiction, a young court magistrate wants nothing more than to escape the humdrum world of politics and royalty and become a wizard. To do so, he must forge new ties and overcome old fears.

Author Jack McGlame has a clear sense of character and plot, and can bring the fantastical to life, as when best friends Wilhelm and Tibed explore the Hidden Valley of Majik, finding newborn dragons and games where life and death hang in the balance. He's even included two board games at the back of the book that are themed around the story; both require the reader to photo-enlarge the board and make pieces, but they look engaging and allow the reader to continue the story when the book ends.

Majik falls short, however, when McGlame misuses words (“reigns” for “reins”, for example), and writes dialogue that meanders around a topic without actually saying anything. “ ‘I am sure there is enough of Majik to go around, rarely the same, always a game. No matter what I do, I am to start at a beginning. No matter the start or finish, the result is always the same. Only the real magic is revealed in every play of the game,’ I concluded.” Much of the talk is like this, and it stalls the story instead of moving it forward. It's also frequently unclear who is talking, which only adds to the confusion.

This could be a fun fantasy novel, but a book aimed at young readers needs careful editing for grammar and usage, along with tighter plotting to keep their interest. As written now, Majik: The Beginning has lots of potential and a great friendship at its heart, but it needs polish to bring these things to the fore.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence

Source: BlueInk Review

Insomnia and Stretch to Sleep-Program

Claes Zell
iUniverse, 176 pages, (paperback) $15.95, 9781475979978
(Reviewed: July, 2013)

On the cover of Insomnia and Stretch to Sleep™ -Program, author Claes Zell promises “a ten minute program before going to bed, to improve your sleep.” Zell speaks from experience—as a chronic insomniac himself he was highly motivated to find a remedy for his sleep deprivation.

It’s clear from the many scientific sources the author cites that he has researched the subject extensively. Unfortunately, the book suffers from several drawbacks.

First, readers will find a full 85 pages of unrelated sleep information before getting to the program itself. This information, (sleep positions, sleep architecture, sleep hygiene, and more) is delivered in too compressed a space and often presented in dry, textbook-style narrative. Occasional personal commentary doesn’t always flow well and can seem out of place.

It is not until Part 3 that the author describes the theoretical underpinnings of his program, which include aspects of the central nervous system, Eastern philosophies of health and healing, and the importance of exercise and stretching. In this section, he also belatedly describes the profile of the person (restless, with stiff legs or muscles, never feeling restored, and always in a hurry) who would benefit most from the program. The “how to” portion of the book begins in Part 4, when various muscles and related stretching exercises are described and illustrated.

The book contains confusing syntax and many typographical errors. For example, the introduction includes this head scratcher: "People with poor sleep can't have any form of out coming disruption and weak sleep abilities craving all forms of solutions." While admirable that the author, not a native speaker, wished to write in English, this is a case where an editor’s services is needed to help shape the content more cohesively.

In sum, while the book may provide an occasional useful factoid or tip, it is not user-friendly for readers needing detailed sleep advice.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Stockholm, Sweden

Source: BlueInk Review

From Behind the Other Chair, Volume Three: The Therapist Roars

Claran D'Orr
iUniverse, 215 pages, (paperback) $20.95, 9781475956207
(Reviewed: July, 2013)

From Behind the Other Chair: The Therapist Roars, by Claran d’Orr, is a densely packed volume of 61 poems. The book is “therapeutic poetry,” according to the back cover, by a licensed marriage and family therapist who found herself later in life afflicted with mental illness so severe she was institutionalized in various settings, including a correctional facility.

In the introduction, d’Orr explains that mental illness is a “microcosm of what is happening worldwide”: spiritual, political, economic and environmental distress. Many of her poems, such as “To Come of Age in a Warring World,” explore these issues in imagery that can be effectively dramatic: “[Angels] turned to me with those eyes / from God’s library, / and all the pieces fallen / were raised in unison, / coupled like the breath / of flames in a holy furnace.” Other poems describe unnamed deities’ disapproval of human destruction: “The gods would stand amazed / … a planet / Panting in dehydration.” This poem’s title, “Dilettante,” is an expression of d’Orr’s criticism of humanity’s immaturity and lack of commitment.)

There’s drama, there’s biblical language — and then there’s just overly busy, a problem that vexes most of this collection. The poem “The Whiplash of Choice,” for example, is accompanied by a photograph of fireworks, an apt metaphor for d’Orr’s abstract, hectic lines: “Should I be plied by a changeling artfully sketched, / or is the looming prevarication self-delineated?” While these questions are potentially engaging, there are too many modifiers; she doesn’t let the ideas come alive through images or concrete details.

While these poems employ a nice range of vocabulary, the collection has a sameness in terms of rhetoric, tone and theme that becomes monotonous. Still, readers who enjoy such subject matter, as well as Romantic-Gothic-esque diction (“ … besmirches my name evermore / In the annals of perpetuity”) will find plenty to chew on in this volume.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Eagle River, Arkansas

Source: BlueInk Review

Malchus One Ear

R. Gordon Zyne
iUniverse, 248 pages, (paperback) $16.95, 9781450207744
(Reviewed: July, 2013)

Angels and demons fight a spirited battle for the souls of the staff and residents of a rehabilitation center located on the seedy side of Brooklyn in this intelligent thriller reminiscent of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.

It’s 1975 and Dr. Daniel Aarons has been hired as director of the rundown drug and rehabilitation center. His spiritual battle begins when Daniel tries to save the center from an imploding budget and evil bureaucrats. He confronts the powers of both demons and angels who, each in turn, attempt to draw him either away or toward God. Daniel is strengthened in his spiritual awakening by a Messiah figure, Malchus, a severely disabled resident, and taught the healing power of relationships through the center’s receptionist, the complex and artistic Stephanie Croix.

Minister-author R. Gordon Zyne creatively exposits Judeo-Christian beliefs as plausible and attractive and weaves this belief system throughout the dialogue and the soulful soliloquies of various demonic, angelic, and human characters. A deep consciousness of the human plight and struggle for meaning is reflected in the characters’ points of view: “A deep blue mist seemed to hang in the room. The two men, both survivors of the Nazi camps, stood in their . . . shrine to sanity and insanity . . . sentinels gazing out across a decaying urban landscape. Beneath them was the dirt and grime of a human-littered forest floor. They tripped over the bones of long-dead dreams and picked at the scraps that dangled from low branches.”

While such passages are intriguing, the author could have achieved even stronger plot and character development by relying less on a frequent omniscient voice in favor of sustaining individual points of view more thoroughly. At times, lengthy omniscient narratives dilute the reader’s understanding of the characters’ evolution or devolution, which is the story’s main focus.

Nonetheless, Malchus One Ear will likely find an appreciative audience among spiritually attuned readers.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Baldwin, Maryland

Source: BlueInk Review