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  TWO BY AUTHOR JOEL DENNSTEDT

SAVOR THIS ONE!
     The first offering in this collection introduces us to Becky, the doll that talks. As a matter of fact, she is the co-narrator of her tragic story, and we hear from her again later in this anthology. (Which is why I recommend more than one reading of this book!) "When Dolls Talk" is a work of tremendous artistry and psychological insight that must be read at a slow pace - savored and contemplated, even - in order to get the underlying meaning of each story. I will not go into the details of each piece here, for to do that would spoil the surprises awaiting the reader. Let's just say this collection is guaranteed to satisfy the fan of really intelligent and well-written horror. And yet, there is more here than your typical horror stories. Case in point is the surprisingly touching "The Old Place," which is my personal favorite. Kudos to author Joel Dennstedt, who should be sought after by every mainstream publishing house in this country. I highly recommend this work, not only for its literary brilliance, but also for its amazing depth.

 

     “Hermit” is an exquisitely written ethereal story about Gabriel, a man who has chosen to eschew society and live a simple life of meditation and study. His only companion is a stray and very independent cat, Nisarga, who he calls “N” for short. Unlike Gabriel, Nisarga is fully involved with the world around him and leads a life that is a counterpoint to Gabriel’s life of non-involvement. Early in this story, we learn the effect of Gabriel’s self-imposed isolation: “Gabriel felt less real, less involved, less a part of things in the world. He did not feel himself to be a person, but a kind of witnessing awareness only.” And, later, in a flashback to a thrift store purchase of a coffee mug we see a description of Gabriel’s reality: “...a mug he found sitting alone on a discount-store shelf – a ceramic version of himself...”
      Yet, that is okay with Gabriel; he doesn’t see that as a negative thing. However, his quiet and predictable world is shaken just a little when the young, whimsical, Theresa, a college student on summer break, enters his life. Theirs is a May-December friendship, a joyous and eye-opening interlude for the reclusive Gabriel and searching Theresa. She is a vivacious person who is fully involved in the world around her, curious as a kitten and as friendly as a puppy. Gabriel finds her fascinating and compelling. He begins to feel long-buried emotions and yearnings, the very foundations of the not-so pretty life he had left behind.
      Author Joel R. Dennstedt skillfully takes us inside the head and heart of his protagonist, within which he introduces the reader to spiritual theories and truths that make one stop and think, ponder and digest, and then exclaim, “My gosh! That is SO true!” Especially intriguing is the question presented early in the book, “Who were you before you were born?” How many of us have pondered that? And, yes, that question is answered beautifully later on, and you, the reader, will be thinking about it for years to come!
     I highly recommend “Hermit,” not just for the splendid lyricism of author Dennstedt’s narrative, but also for his intimate revelations of the God-given beauty that lay deep within our souls.
      And - what the heck - as an added bonus, he shows us a great new way to prepare English muffins.




More Indy Authors


     From roller-skating carhop to English teacher, Gladys H. Ashenfelter takes us with her on her journey through her many jobs over the decades. Laced with humor, historical tidbits, and honesty, "20 Jobs: A Memoir" is a hard-to-put-down read. We see her mature from an insecure and inexperienced teen worker to a successful woman who has fought more than her fair share of battles in life.
     As a writer, Gladys brings such descriptiveness to not only the jobs, but the work environments, her family dynamics, and the mores and morals of the times (past and present) that we feel we are walking her path with her. Laced with self-effacing humor and nuggets of self-discovery, she shares her mistakes and failures in addition to her triumphs. There are many laugh out loud moments in her memories, and one can not help but admire her determination to better herself through formal education and the lessons learned through life experience.
     "20 Jobs: A Memoir" is a fascinating and delightful read. I highly recommend it not only to the adult reader, but also to teens who are just setting foot in the job market, for it shows the truth of how that first humble low paying service job is a necessary step toward the reward of finding our true path.

 


    

"The Tree of Rebels" is an absolute page-turner that kept me reading well beyond my bedtime. As a matter of fact, Chantelle Atkins's brilliant writing, characters, and compelling story line had me doing the "one more chapter" thing into many sunrises. I will not go into describing the plot here, since other reviewers have already done that. This is a very satisfying read with distinct characters who propel the story forward. I am giving this book (the first in a series) my highest recommendation.

 

 


His confidence expanded at me in the small hallway. I felt blasted by it, shot down. His feet were spread slightly, his legs apart, his chest puffed and ready for war. I felt my insides shrivelling up as I stared at him. I felt them rolling over and dying within me. I sensed right away that he was nothing like Frank Bradley, nothing like anyone. He stood in the hallway as if he owned it. He was smiling broadly, the skin around his pale blue eyes wrinkling, and he gave off the air of a man who has never doubted anything in his entire life, not a thing. I couldn’t imagine he had ever been scared, or unsure, or embarrassed or fragile. I felt a bit like I ought to drop down onto one knee. He kept his arm around mum, and they presented this united front to me, the enemy.”

 

Thus begins the war between young Danny and his mother’s boyfriend Lee. It is the whopper of all the ongoing wars in Danny’s life, the most damaging and horrific of all the thorns in this boy’s side. Yet, Lee often refers to Danny as his thorn as their ongoing battles escalate and the violence between them escalates. As one reads on, the question arises, who is the thorn in whose side?

 

Author Chantelle Atkins has written a terrific and terrifying story here; a dark tale of severe child abuse, the drug culture, and the seedy side of small town life. But it is not all dark, for Danny finds his refuge and respite in his chums, and there are several instances of sweet moments of intimate connection as these boys sort out their troubles together. These kids are no angels. They love a good scrapping against the local bullies, and they love to escape into booze and drugs whenever the opportunity arises. Yet, it is Danny who sinks further and further into self-medication when the love of his friends is not enough to dull his physical and psychological pain.

 

Ms. Atkins does a tremendous job creating and individualizing each of the many characters in this moving and compelling novel. The boys become the reader’s friends, and the antagonists become the reader’s antagonists. Her descriptions of their surroundings, the town, their homes, their hideout, are just as strong; these become characters in their own right, entities that enclose the boys within their boundaries for better or for worse. Her use of musical references of the time (the 1990’s) is like a soundtrack of Danny’s angst, for without this music inside his head, he would truly go mad.

 

“The Boy With the Thorn In His Side” is brilliant in so many ways. The author’s grasp of psychology believably propels this character-driven saga to its harrowing conclusion. Her talent for creating suspense keeps one turning the pages. She warms our hearts with moments of tenderness and solace that unite the reader and characters.

 

This is a long read that could use some trimming. There is occasional redundancy and superfluous forays into Danny’s and Lee’s thoughts. However, these minor flaws do not diminish the readability or compelling pace of the story.

 

            A part of me wants to give this book four stars because of this, but the part of me that appreciates brilliant writing, strong characters, and a compulsively page-turning-one-more-chapter narrative strongly desires to give it five.

FIVE STARS! Get this book. You can thank me later.

 



     "War usually begins small... Inside us. In communities like these. A microcosm right here at Pennycott..."

     Previous reviewers have already described the story in this excellent novel, so I will focus here on the writing and overall quality of author Kate Jay-R's "The Other Side of Carrie Cornish." It is refreshing to find an Indy novel written by an author with so much talent, and it is frustrating that she does not have the backing of a major publishing house to give this work the marketing that would give it the audience and attention it deserves.
     Kate Jay-R infuses the narrative with razor-sharp insight and generous doses of black humor. Her characters - even the minor ones - are so well written they jump off the pages; each has their own voice and perspective. They are people we have all encountered in the course of our lives: people we love or hate, people we empathize with, people we find irritating, and people who cause us to question our long-held viewpoints. Additionally, she has even managed to create a distinct characterization of the bureaucracy that is the British social welfare system.
     "The Other Side of Carrie Cornish" is an entertaining, page-turning, laugh out loud, read that will leave you considering how you fight your own wars (and even which of those wars are worth the battle). After all, "War usually begins small. Inside us..."
    Do I recommend this book to you? Emphatically... YES!


     This is a disturbing yet touching story about Bobby, a physically abused boy, and the events of one summer that changed the course of his life. Written mostly in Bobby's narrative voice, it is hard to put down.

     Author Ronnie L. Richards, himself a survivor of childhood abuse, has utilized his pain and the damage in its wake to craft this unforgettable tale. Yet, don't think this is a happily-ever-after account. It is full of raw honestly, intimately-drawn characters, and ironic humor. His description of the little Oklahoma town and the isolated farmhouse that is home to Bobby and his parents perfectly sets the atmosphere of arid, unrelenting, hopelessness. The parents are reflections of that isolation and hopelessness - the father a raging alcoholic, and the long-suffering mother barely keeping her sanity through all the beatings. Yet, Bobby and his mother are truly the strong ones in this situation, their steadfast love for each other their impetus to persevere, even if it means sacrifice.

     I highly recommend "Shadow Comfort."



     Very, very good writing style makes this an easy and pleasurable read. "Due for Discard" is full of humor (some really LOL moments!), intriguing characters, and vivid atmosphere. I loved the llamas that shared the ranch with Aimee - a unique alternative to the usual cats and dogs that show up in mystery novels. The protagonist is very likeable, although I was puzzled as to why she was so curious to solve the murder of her boss's wife, since she had only just met the man when she began working for him at the beginning of the book, and really had not developed a close relationship to him. Perhaps Aimee is just one of those nosy types who loves to solve mysteries. Aside from that, I really enjoyed "Due for Discard," and look forward to author Sharon St. George's subsequent books in this series.




     Author Leta McCurry’s “A Shadow Life” is one of the most absorbing novels I have read.

     In a nutshell, it is the story of Laney Belle Hawkins and how she came to change her identity in order to save her life.

     Set in the 1930’s through 1960’s, McCurry powerfully addresses the injustices and powerlessness of many American women during this transitional time period of the Twentieth Century. She does this particularly through the uneducated, unskilled, chronically ill widow Mattie Hawkins, and the marginally educated, sex-obsessed beauty, Ruby Jo Cassity. While Mattie settles for a brutal man only to keep a roof over her head and that of her daughter Laney, Ruby Jo uses her sexuality as a steppingstone toward her dream of escaping her isolated rural existence for a career as a Hollywood actress. In contrast, Mattie’s daughter, Laney Belle Hawkins begins her climb out of the abyss through the efforts of a kindly retired schoolteacher, but is haunted by a demon from her past.

     “A Shadow Life” is a character-driven novel that would have been stronger if the author had interwoven the stories of the characters into the central plot of her protagonist, Laney Belle Hawkins. McCurry's decision to introduce the three main characters in individual stories (separated as "Parts") created a disjointed feel. Despite that, her intimate portrayal of A Shadow Life's characters compels one to keep reading. Author Leta McCurry brings the reader inside the heads of her characters and presents their experiences through their eyes and thought processes, especially in her most defined character, Ruby Jo Cassity. (Ruby is an absolute hoot!)

     Regardless of the structural issue, Leta McCurry proves herself as a talented writer with a gift for immersing the reader into time and place by her almost poetic descriptiveness. I commend Leta McCurry for this profound work.



 

Terry Kerr has written a different take on the standard ghost story in "An Unquiet Past," the story of a writer with a very unsettling past who is sought out by a long-dead woman wrongly executed for murder. Kerr's writing is polished, his characters distinct and believable, and the story he weaves is both horrific and heart wrenching. This is a novel for adults, as the story involves subject matter that is definitely not for children. If you like your horror with a good dose of mystery and sordidness, this is the book for you. My compliments to author Terry Kerr for a job well done!

 


I ordinarily don't read romance novels because I am a jaded old cynic at heart. Yet, the premise of "The Long Walk Home" intrigued me, especially since the protagonists are near middle age (which promises a mature, experienced, approach to that thing called Love - at least in my mind). So, I set my jadedness aside and began reading.

"The Long Walk Home" is a beautiful story that kept me turning the pages. The characters were very well developed and, because of that, I cared deeply for them and what would happen to them.
And yes, the romantic duo did handle the awkward moral issue of their mutual attraction with as much maturity as one would expect from people their age, although there was an undercurrent of hormones gone wild as is the case with teenage hormones or, in this case, passion rediscovered. Some readers found their passion for each other silly, trite, or downright phony; I found it realistic - especially considering the passionless marriage endured by the woman (Fi) prior to meeting the new love of her life (Alec).

Was the story predictable? Yes. Unusual? No.

However, this novel suffers from over-descriptiveness. The author should have trimmed the narrative by about 1/3 or more; I found his blow-by-blow descriptions of the characters' actions and thoughts rather tedious, and largely unnecessary. The cooking segments alone were a test of my patience - after all, this is a novel, not a cookbook. Secondly, the author goes into long tangents describing rescue operations and emergency medical procedures - almost as if he is showing off his knowledge to the readers. Again, totally unnecessary. Third, is there anything Alec can't do? My only additional criticism is with the final chapter - it was simply too quickly wrapped-up, and I did not believe for a second that Fi's daughter would enthusiastically accept the fact that her mother had been in love with Alec while her father had been critically ill. There should have been some initial conflict about this.

Complaints aside, I mostly enjoyed this story of mid-life romance, devotion, and second chances.