Prey for the Soulless

K.R. Lugo
iUniverse, 392 pages, (paperback) $21.95, 9781475994735
(Reviewed: October, 2013)

K.R. Lugo’s novel Prey for the Soulless is set in a society of the not-too-distant future that has lost its moral conscience.

The story begins as two gladiators fight to the death in combat reminiscent of ancient Rome. Thousands cheer on the blood sport in person, while billions more watch on high definition flat screens and gamble on the outcome.

In the next match, the stakes grow higher as Jason White (aka Ramses), the gladiatorial champion with over 500 kills to his credit, claims to have found God and refuses to fight. He is summarily blown to bits by snipers. After a moment of hushed shock, the bloodthirsty crowd cheers just as lustily for the assassination as they did for the gladiatorial combat.

In Lugo’s world, the Constitution has been amended to allow the Games to satisfy the sadistic pleasures of the population. Big business, led by Marcus Powers, the world’s richest man, has taken most of the power from the government, and the Earth seems headed for the end-times. It appears that the only ones competing with Powers are the bosses of organized crime.

While the author has a gift for pacing and description, portraying the gore of the battles in meticulous detail, the novel has two major faults. First, there’s no protagonist with whom readers can empathize. Every character is a “bad guy”; some are just more evil than others. For the novel to join the ranks of the great apocalyptic stories such as Stephen King’s The Stand, there has to be someone to root for. Second, Lugo introduces several plot elements that are never developed. (For example, Powers plans to run for president, but he never does.)

Still, in an age when video games celebrate violence for its own sake, a book that relies on graphic violence should find its niche. Readers who are solely interested in action may enjoy the novel, as Lugo displays considerable talent in this regard.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Spanish Springs, Nevada

Source: BlueInk Reviews

The Chronicles of Lux Veritas: Evil at the Gates

Christopher Dignan
iUniverse, 360 pages, (paperback) $20.95, 9781475951837
(Reviewed: October, 2013)

Fantasy, mythology and philosophy unite in this juvenile fiction novel about three teenagers who journey to the brink of heaven and hell.

Fifteen-year-old orphan Solas Gambit unwittingly embarks on his harrowing adventure after discovering a magic sword inscribed “Lux Veritas” (“truth is my light”). Solas desperately follows his grandmother into a demonic vortex, which also takes the sword and his two friends, Dorian and Amy.

The teens awake in the land of Purgator – naked and aged by 10 years. They meet otherworldly beings, including trolls, fairies, nymphs and hellhounds, most of which want to kill the three friends and steal the sword. To rescue Grandma Gambit and escape this land, the trio must defeat Chaos, the Lord of Darkness, and his army of Daemonia.

With substantial echoes of The Lord of the Rings (epic journey, magical items), Star Wars (hidden family relations, small good team versus large evil army) and, most notably, Harry Potter (Solas, Dorian and Amy are nearly interchangeable with Harry, Ron and Hermione), much of the story feels derivative. Even so, the familiar elements mix well with new characters and plot twists. Often-used themes, such as “emotions are your enemy,” remain relevant nonetheless.

Throughout the journey, Solas often refers to classic rock music, which briefly distracts the teens from their dire circumstances. Feisty Dorian deals with stress by dropping F-bombs and other obscenities, which might draw disapproval from parents and librarians but should not disturb most readers in the older range of the targeted audience. Young adult readers should enjoy the light humor, gory violence and coming-of-age issues, such as identity and sexuality, as well as the strange creatures inhabiting this highly literate story.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence

Montreal, Canada

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Language Power

Byron Renz
iUniverse, 522 pages, (paperback) $30.95, 9781475971460
(Reviewed: October, 2013)

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” Enter Language Power, a hefty volume that attempts to capture the thinking that goes into effective writing.

Author Byron Renz starts with the most basic element: the word, as communicated by “emails, texts and tweets,” working his way up through sentences, paragraphs and finally documents. He organizes the book into a three-stage learning process: theory/principles (how words are broken down into basic components to construct a message), technique (practices to either inform or persuade) and practical application (applying language to common forms of business communication).

The latter portion contains the most useful information: examples of letters, business plans, grant applications and, especially, resumes. Chapter 9 discusses the differences between standard resumes and curriculum vitae (CV) and the circumstances where each is best used, also offering suggestions on how to most effectively describe one’s experiences to emphasize marketable skills.

Such information is helpful, but unfortunately does not justify a 500+ page book. Most of what Renz conveys is deeply buried in passive voice and excessive explanation and pontification. For example, in Chapter 7 on persuasion, a discussion of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (a five-step technique designed to induce an audience to a specific action) is so confusing that the connection between effective writing as a means to inspire people is completely lost. Chapter 6 – also on persuasion— provides a one-sided argument in support of the Affordable Care Act. As anyone who has ever tried to sway others knows, understanding all the facts, including the opposition’s thinking, is essential to creating an effective argument.

In sum, while there are nuggets of information here that will prove useful to readers, other books have tackled the subject much more effectively and succinctly. Readers would do far better to read (or re-read) Hemingway and take it from there.

Also available as an ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Fort Collins, Colorado

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Imprisoned by Hope

Dolores R. Attias
iUniverse, 285 pages, (paperback) $18.95, 9781462025077
(Reviewed: October, 2013)

Set in the late 1950s, this romance novel tells the story of Elena, a Cuban immigrant looking for love and a fulfilling life in New York City.

Elena has left behind a broken marriage and abusive husband and now works in a hair salon that she eventually buys. Roberto is the love of her life, a man who mostly showers her with gifts and rapt attention but occasionally rages and is manipulative and controlling. Roberto also is keeping a big secret from Elena, a devout Catholic: the fact that he is Jewish. And he hides a darker secret that could undermine their relationship.

The book begins with promise and ample description, though absent the steamy, titillating scenes that are the draw of most of today's romance novels. Elena is sympathetically drawn, and the plot offers ample potential for dramatic action as the story progresses. Unfortunately, while author Dolores R. Attias drops enticing breadcrumbs in all directions, she fails to develop most of the side action, deflating the book’s emotional resonance. In addition, she occasionally paints clich├ęd scenes, such as a carriage ride after dinner around Central Park under a full moon. There are some issues with word misspellings, as well.

Attias, a native of Cuba, does capture the era well, mentioning details such as Mary Martin's performance in South Pacific and references to Hedy Lamar. She also authenticates Elena's heritage by sprinkling in Spanish phrases. (However, none of these are translated, leaving readers unfamiliar with the language a bit in the dark.)

Overall, while this novel may appeal to more chaste fans of the romance genre and perhaps to immigrants who share a similar background, it isn't likely to draw a wide audience in its present, tepid form.

Also available as an ebook.

Author’s Current Residence

Apple Valley, Minnesota

Source:BlueInk Reviews

Elements: Prism's Edge

Grace Snow and Jack Wilde
iUniverse, 335 pages, (paperback) $20.95, 9781475977257
(Reviewed: September, 2013)

This creative young adult fantasy novel set in 2021 follows the adventures of Lily, a teenaged human girl who transforms into the supernatural Light Element of Earth. Highly detailed and skillfully plotted, Elements: Prism’s Edge is intended as the first in a series of books based on the role-playing game, Elements, created by co-author Jack Wilde.

Following the shocking murder of the previous Light Element, Lily assumes her new role after assignment by the Elders. Naive and kind-hearted, she seems unsuited for the often-violent job of channeling powerful light through her body as she joins forces with other Elements (such as Fire, Wind, and Shadow) to preserve peace in the world. Although as an Element, Lily will not age or get sick, she can be murdered, and mysterious Dark Elements undermine Lily and her co-horts’ efforts by waging deadly attacks against them. The book provides an exciting look into her transformation and evolution as an Element.

Excessive use of adjectives slows the pace and increased the length of the story, but these descriptions may help bridge the gap for younger (video and role-playing) gamers more accustomed to sensory overload than using their imaginations while reading. The first sentence on page one is typical: “The first rays of light spilled through the glass doors, splashed across the pristine fluffy white carpet, and reached across the white comforter that covered the small wood-frame bed, barely missing the pastel face of a small fifteen-year-old girl who slept there.”

Another minor flaw is anachronistic slang, already trite today, which should be hopelessly outdated by 2021. Phrases such as “So let’s pull the lead out,” “Glad you all accepted my invite,” and “Cut the act” are among many uninspired retorts used by these futuristic characters.

Despite these weaknesses, the book holds much appeal. Young adult fantasy aficionados will enjoy the well-developed characters and the game-like quality of the Elements: Prism’s Edge.

Also available in hardcover.

Author’s Current Residence
Monument, Colorado

Source: BlueInk Reviews

The Eyes in the Tree

Carolyn VanderBeek
iUniverse, 197 pages, (paperback) $14.95, 9781475989175
(Reviewed: September, 2013)

Telling a story from an animal’s point of view can be tricky to pull off – especially in a book written for adults. It almost immediately raises the concern that the book will fail, due to an overdose of cuteness. And yes, The Eyes In The Tree is cute, at times, but it is also a charming tale and one that manages to relate all kinds of information about the animal kingdom.

This is the story of six chickens – two Plymouth Barred Rocks, two Silver-Laced Wyandottes and one Buff Orpington and one Rhode Island Red – who are adopted as chicks and taken to live on a farm belonging to a kindly, animal-loving couple. Given names to fit their characteristics, they explore freely by day, and spend nights in their custom-built coop.

The chickens learn about life and about other animals and predators. But there’s a bigger picture here, one that tells of the need for kindness and caring for each other. “You can’t give into fear,” explains a little fowl. “It will paralyze you until you are afraid to move. On this farm … all the animals look out for each other. The horses, squirrels … alert us to danger. That is our best defense … Until the alarm is sounded, live your lives, relax, enjoy yourselves.”

On the surface, this is a book about six silly, whiny, boastful chickens growing up, and it does occasionally push the cute factor. But the bigger message underlying this tale,which speaks to the importance of good, kind care for animals, more than compensates for it. This is a book that will surely make animal lovers smile –and occasionally cringe, such as when talk turns to instances of animal cruelty or neglect. But it’s also a tale anyone looking to be entertained, animal lover or not, might enjoy.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Longmont, Colorado

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Miracles happen...sometimes

Cliff Koch
iUniverse, 85 pages, (paperback) $11.95, 9780595473687
(Reviewed: September, 2013)

Cliff Koch has written Miracles happen…sometimes in order to fulfill his late wife Pam’s wish that the story be told of her battle with adult respiratory distress syndrome, pancreatitis, and other grave medical conditions caused by her eating disorder. Through first-person summary from Koch’s perspective combined with a section told in Pam’s voice, the book details the numerous illnesses caused by her eating disorder, which started in the early 1980’s.

The bulk of the book details the time period from the fall of 2002 through 2005, when her acute pancreatitis spiraled into adult respiratory distress syndrome, peripheral vascular disease, kidney failure and bilateral pneumothoraces (the collapse of both lungs).

This is not a study of Pam’s character and life. Instead, it is a review of hospital visits, including Orange Hills rehabilitation facility and Lakeview Medical Center. Pam’s parents, Doris and Lucien, as well as her sister Eileen recur throughout Koch’s descriptions of late-night emergency room visits and heated arguments with hospital staff.

Miracles happen…sometimes is focused on the medical procedures that Pam undergoes—such as a bilateral amputation of her feet —and the miscommunication between Cliff and various medical and billing staff. Koch says of applying for Social Services, “…it would have been easier to apply for a job at the C.I.A.” The transitions between each exhausting and harrowing emergency room visit are repetitive and distract from the account, as do the numerous verb tense and conjugation errors.

Miracles happen is interesting if for no other reason than it's a first-person account of the day-to-day life of caretaking the seriously ill. Those in the medical professions would benefit from reading this to deepen their understanding of the stressful day-to-day life of caretakers. It isn’t likely to appeal to a general reading audience, however, due to the fact that the experiences Koch recounts are not contextualized into a discernable narrative shaped by reflection or personal growth.

Also available as an ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Anaheim, California

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Lighten Up America

Lisa Clark, MD
iUniverse, 95 pages, (paperback) $12.95, 9781462057177
(Reviewed: September, 2013)

Lighten Up America’s expert author, a family practitioner whose work with patients inspired this book, provides an excellent overview for those learning about and figuring out how to deal with excess weight. In addition to covering every phase of life, from childhood to the 70s and beyond, and ranging in topic from men to menopause, this book provides helpful tidbits and specific suggestions for managing your weight using clear, concise explanations.

Dr. Lisa Clark cuts through the mumbo-jumbo and hype about various diets and miracle solutions, offering practical advice and medical insights readers might not get elsewhere. Those concerned about thyroid disease causing weight gain, for example, will find specifics on symptoms as well as types of hormones found in the bloodstream that serve as indicators. The author also discusses, among other topics, postpartum weight gain, weight management during menopause and, in one chapter, weight issues specific to men.

The author’s calm, conversational and accepting tone — for instance, that “baby weight” often takes several months or more to lose and that women past menopause can expect to gain a few pounds — makes the text easy to swallow, even for the most self-critical reader.

The book is not without its quirks, including the lengthy subtitle (“Odds and not so [sic] Fat Ends….FROM THE FAMILY PRACTICE DIARIES, BOOK 1”), which begs the questions: What are the “Family Practice Diaries”? And when is “Book 2” coming out? And while the author has a workmanlike grasp of the language, a good line edit would help eliminate repeated words, such as the use of “calories” six times in one paragraph on page 10 and occasional unnecessary diversions.

Still, case studies, patient success stories and even a handy place for notes in the back of the book make it an invaluable companion for anyone wanting a practical, lifelong approach to losing weight, from five pounds to 50 or more.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Miramar Beach, Florida

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Startup

Glenn Ogura
iUniverse, 474 pages, (paperback) $25.95, 9781475988550
(Reviewed: September, 2013)

Author Glenn Ogura is a California resident and the executive vice president of a laser micromachining business, so it makes sense that his first novel, Startup, dramatizes a business battle with millions at stake in the world of Silicon Valley tech companies.

Zack Penny and a group of fellow engineers believe they have invented a new technology that will produce paper-thin video displays. The invention won’t just make them rich; it will also get them out from under the iron fist of their employer, Allen Henley, the powerful CEO of Silicon Valley tech firm DisplayTechnik.

Unfortunately for the group (and their startup company, Imagination), Zack’s girlfriend Mary Anne — who’s also Henley’s daughter — betrays Zack by essentially revealing the plans to her father. Henley’s scheme to crush the startup (and Zack) by any means necessary forms the core of the story.

It’s not a bad idea for a business/legal thriller, but there aren’t enough exciting story developments in Startup to justify its length. The plot is often predictable, particularly some standard third-act changes of allegiance, before a jarringly violent conclusion.

A critical flaw: Henley’s villainy is so unabashed that Startup might as well have had him eat a live puppy in his first appearance. It’s unfathomable that Mary Anne could believe, as she claims, that her father could have a “good heart” when he’s written throughout as a vile, sociopathic maniac.

Ogura shows flashes of potential as a storyteller, especially in defining his characters with colorful details. However, drama takes a back seat to melodrama throughout Startup. The story would be greatly improved by trimming a good 100 pages of people yelling at each other and by including a denouement much more in character with the business/legal thriller that the first two acts promise.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Oakley, California

Source: BlueInk Reviews