Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways by Jane Hanser

Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways by Jane Hanser
Publisher: Ivy Books
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (160 Pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Joey, the chocolate Labrador, loves to run and run. Living in the neighborhood of the Boston Marathon, he runs as many as twelve miles a day, early in the morning, with his dad. But after they return home from a run, Joey still wants more, much more. Keenly observant, he allows no opportunity to explore the world pass him by. But will his insatiable sense of discovery lead him to gratification? Or to danger? A decision Joey makes early one morning forever changes his life and the lives of his mom and dad, his running partner.

Joey is a wonderful chocolate Labrador with a lot of energy, boundless curiosity, and unquenchable love. He tells his own story, from the time that he was a newborn until the present when he is ten years old, and it is really fun to listen to him. Yes, he knows the rules. He just chooses to circumvent them, in his quest for new adventures. He does decide that some rules are worth following. For instance, he knows that when he goes on the early morning runs with his dad, that he can stay off leash if he stays close by. And Joey loves nothing more than to run, free, alongside his dad, with occasional stops to sniff and explore.

Joey’s world is filled with wonder, and it is heart-warming to read about it. It is also many times very humorous. He goes cross-country skiing with his mom and everything is going fine until Joey sees “Mary, our mail carrier, going from house to house; with Mom in tow, off I galloped toward Mary to get some of the pocketful of tasty dog biscuits she carries with her in her pockets. What happened to Mom? I don’t recall. The last I heard her, she was calling, “Joey, stop. STOP!” and the last I saw her, she was heading right for the hedges.” This is when Joey realizes that he isn’t a working dog.

One day, Joey’s enthusiasm and energy gets him into real trouble. He is hit by a car. Joey’s views about his extended treatment seem realistic. He doesn’t understand, or he doesn’t want to understand, why things have changed. He also manages to teach his mom and dad how to listen to what he’s trying to say. The growth in the bond between Joey and his family is amazing to watch.

Animal lovers are sure to enjoy this heartfelt story of an amazing dog. Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways is a wonderful glimpse into ten years in the life of a delightful dog.

Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) by Arthur Marshall Fell

Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) by Arthur Marshall Fell
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (90 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) is a humorous story about Dr. Sam Landover, an unpretentious high school mathematics teacher, grounded in Jewish tradition, who despite himself gets tangled up in the middle of choosing a rabbi for Shalom Center. Improvising his way through the confusing jumble, the story becomes a mixed-up stew, like the tasty Jewish dessert called tzimmes.

Want to learn a little bit about the Jewish religion, Jewish people, and how no matter what faith or none, all people can act a bit silly? This is the book for you.

Mr. Fell writes a tale about two rabbis who are looking for work. It’s a humorous look at life with Jewish touches. I know nothing about the Jewish faith, so his glossary at the back of the book was quite helpful. Most of it I understood without referencing that. I found the story amusing.

There are two shuls in the local area and both are looking for a rabbi. There are men and women on the boards of both, and the applicants are one male and one female. When the vote is tied, the decided voter abstains from voting. They need help!

I’ve never thought about feminism being a factor in a Jewish environment. I’m used to men holding all the positions of importance (even in the Catholic life I grew up in) and was surprised they had a female rabbi. It gets even more complicated when the two rabbis’ begin to develop a romantic interest in each other.

Mr. Fell’s main character, Sam, has to walk the tangled path between the two shuls and try to maintain peace in each. I like how he handles the problem and resolves it with the best results you could hope for. While they are busy eating cheesecake and talking religious differences, you begin to find yourself chuckling and turning the page to see what happens next.

This is a good humorous read with some Jewish terminology that can mean more than one thing and a fun result at the end.

Mr Fix It by Noel Thomas Fiems

Mr Fix It by Noel Thomas Fiems
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (19 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A father loses his son, will he also lose his daughter?

There are some things even the most talented handyman can’t fix.

The character development in this short story was incredibly well done. Within a handful of pages I knew exactly why the main character was acting the way he was. I even caught a few glimpses of the kind, gentle parent he must have been before the terrible accident that changed his family forever. It’s hard to discuss the plot in any more detail than this without giving away spoilers, but its gut-wrenching themes brought a tear to my eye.

There were a few times when the narrator seemed to veer off topic, but sometimes appearances can be deceiving. What impressed me about his flashbacks were how applicable they were to everything that was currently happening in his life. Mr. Fiems clearly chose every single word he used carefully even if their meanings weren’t immediately apparent to this reader. I’d recommend reading it through again a second time to anyone who has a similar response to their first interaction with these characters.

One of the hardest things about experiencing a loss, no matter what kind of loss it is, has to do with how easy it is to replay critical moments in one’s mind over and over again. It’s unbelievably tempting to get sucked into this cycle of regret and shame, but that doesn’t make it a healthy, longterm decision. This tale perfectly captured what it feels like to wade through such a tangled mixture of emotions.

Mr Fix It is a must-read for anyone who has ever been overwhelmed with grief.

The Retail by Joshua Danker-Dake

The Retail by Joshua Danker-Dake
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Humor
Length: Full Length (310 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Aspiring writer Penn Reynard has just joined the ranks of America’s fifteen million retail workers: fresh out of college with an English degree, he can’t find a job anywhere except at the local big-box hardware store. Working returns, Penn experiences firsthand the often comical absurdity, chaos, and shenanigans of the retail world. At least he has a new romance with a coworker going for him—if he doesn’t screw it up. The constant pressures of dealing with hostile customers, oblivious coworkers, and overbearing management begin to take their toll on him, though, and as his desired career path threatens to fall out of reach, Penn struggles to break free of retail’s clutches.

Few things are more disheartening than being stuck in a soul-shredding job.

The amount of time that was put into developing Penn’s personality made him one of the most memorable characters I’ve met so far this year. Penn’s flaws happen to be things that deeply irritate me, so I can’t honestly say that I always liked him. I can say that he made me think, though, and that he was written in such a way that I paused about a third of the way through his tale to see if it was actually a memoir. Penn comes across as a three-dimensional person, metaphorical warts and all. That isn’t something that’s at all easy to accomplish, and it’s whetted my appetite for more from Mr. Danker-Dake .

This book includes well over two dozen different characters, many of whom have nicknames that weren’t always easy to connect to their actual names. At times I mixed up the identities of certain employees and customers that made less frequent appearances because there was such a large number of them drifting in and out of the plot. It would have been really helpful to have a brief list of their names as well an indication of whether each character was an employee of the store or one of their regular customers.

Worldbuilding is definitely one of Mr. Danker-Dake’s strengths. Not only does he create incredibly complex settings for his characters, he allows Penn to slowly change in response to the things that happen to him. In some ways the setting almost functioned as its own character due to how much influence it had on Penn’s personal development. Watching this unfold was a treat, and it made me curious about what this author will come up with in the future.

I’d especially recommend The Retail to anyone who has ever worked in the service industry or who wonders what it’s like to be on the opposite side of the booth, till, or help desk.

The Hanging Tree by Michael Phillip Cash

The Hanging Tree by Michael Phillip Cash
Publisher: Red Feather Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (75 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Enter a world where spirits roam the earth in Michael Phillip Cash’s haunting new novella, The Hanging Tree. Set amid the eerie backdrop of Long Island, an area famously steeped in old legend, two young would-be lovers contemplate their future while visits from those who have come before them reveal the lure of fate…and the power of free will. At seventeen years old, Arielle’s relationship with her parents is slowly deteriorating. Angry and defiant, she is at a loss on how to cope with the tumultuous situation in which she finds herself. Arielle’s only comfort is Chad, an eighteen-year-old young man who seems to truly understand her struggles. Arielle and Chad meet beneath the low-hanging branches of what the local community has nick-named the “Hanging Tree”. An ancient and majestic landmark, it has long been rumored that the tree is haunted by ghosts. These ghosts span various centuries and vary wildly in age, but each one of them has one thing in common: their deaths are all somehow connected to the tree itself. As Arielle and Chad commiserate over their current situation and their precarious nature of their future, the spectral inhabitants of the Hanging Tree witness their conversation. One by one,the ghosts begin reminiscing about their own lives-and deaths- as they examine the inner demons with which their human forms long struggled. An eerie meditation on the oft-overlooked power of choice, Cash’s The Hanging Tree will stay with readers long after they turn out the light.

What happens when you test your boundaries under the infamous Hanging Tree?

Seventeen year old Arielle is rebelling against her father’s will. She is dating a boy her father doesn’t approve of. She decides, against his wishes, to go with the boy on a date under the infamous Hanging Tree. When things start to happen, will she make the right choice and get away or will her fate be tied to the tree?

Five spirits are tied to the tree. All of which have a historical connection to the spot because of their deaths. The characters are a witch and her granddaughter, a cat, two young male lovers and a woman called the Gibson girl who died after being brutally raped. Each story is brought to life by the author and we as readers get a glimpse into the past of Goody the witch and her granddaughter Claire and the horrors that led to their demise as Goody was put to death for witchery after her granddaughter commits suicide. As she died, Goody cursed her murderer and his family.

The two young lovers’ tale is equally tragic and we glimpse a time when it was nearly a death sentence to admit that you were gay and in love. The only ghost that really is never talked much about is the Gibson girl and the horrible rape that led to her death.

Arielle sits against the tree fending off the amorous boy whose attention she craved. Should she give in and allow him access to the body he wants or keep herself pure for someone worth having? Each of the ghosts in the tree interacts with her and the boyfriend, driving him away with spooky sounds and moving tree limbs.  When the ghost cat finds itself in a perilous situation, will Arielle make the right choice for her and for the cat? Some decisions we make linger long after the grave. Can Arielle save herself before she becomes another victim of the tree?

I really enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting. Page after page I had to know what happened to Goody and her granddaughter Claire. The two young lovers were also tragic and I loved their story just as much. Arielle is a girl like so many teenagers. Angry and trying to find her way, she considers giving away her body, one of the only things she has control of. As the night develops she learns to listen to the wind and hear the whispers between the branches.

Great story and I look forward to more spooky tales from Michael Phillip Cash.

Almost Perfect by Diane Daniels Manning

Almost Perfect by Diane Daniels Manning
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (322 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

An old woman who has given up hope and a boy who believes the impossible wonder if life would be perfect at the Westminster Dog Show.

Seventy-year old Bess Rutledge has dreamed of winning the Westminster Dog Show all her life. Despite her decades-long career as one of America’s top Standard Poodle breeders, she has decided she’s too old to hold on to her foolish dream. She sells off all the dogs in her once famous kennel except for the aging champion McCreery and his mischievous, handsome son Breaker. Part of her senses they might have been the ones to take her to Westminster, if only she’d dared to try.

Bess meets Benny, a teenager with mild autism who attends a therapeutic special school, and learns he has a dream of his own: to impress his self-absorbed mother. Benny is drawn into the world of dog shows and becomes convinced he has found the perfect way to win his mother’s attention. If he can win Westminster with either McCreery or Breaker, he just knows she will finally be proud of him. Getting Bess to go along with his plan, however, is not going to be so easy. . .

The title of this book sums up how I felt after reading it, that is was ‘almost perfect’.

It’s an enjoyable read with a theme I think we can all relate to about striving for perfection to please others and not yourself, and realizing that it might be too late to live your dream.

I loved how all the characters interacted and were eventually changed by one another. There’s Bess and Benny each wanting something and then realizing it’s basically the same thing and finally coming together to make it a reality.

The author did a great job showing us how Bess was once like Benny’s mother. Benny wants nothing more than his mother’s attention and approval and Bess’ son David wanted the same thing but her dog breeding business came first. Can she right a wrong using Benny and will her and David’s relationship ever be healed?

Benny did at times have dialogue that seemed a bit beyond his years and was the only weakness in this story. All characters were well rounded and the setting so clearly described that I felt myself emerged in this small town setting.

And who doesn’t love a book with animals? For this one it’s poodles and a lovable dog name McCreery who I felt myself cheering for when Bess and Benny decide to let him compete at the Westminister Dog Show. I won’t give away what happens but the book has a great ending that puts a smile on your face.

One final thing I like about this book is the author is donating 100% of the profits from its sale to various charities serving children and animals so what better way to help them out and get an enjoyable read in the process.

It Was Fight or Die! by Raymond Cook

It Was Fight or Die! by Raymond Cook
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full Length (224 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

“It Was Fight Or Die!” © 2014 by Raymond Cook is a 224 page story about the conflict between settlers coming to Colorado and the bands of Indians that inhabited that land in the 1890’s. Before the coming of white people to the land that would be called the ‘Colorado Territory’ many groups of Indians inhabited the land.

The Apache, Arapaho, Comanche, Crow, Kiowa, Paiute, Pueblo, Shoshone, Sioux and the Ute tribes relied on vast hunting and fishing grounds not only for food but also clothing. Some tribes lived peacefully near each other, traded and sometimes even inter-married between tribes. Other tribes though were bitter rivals and attacked each other.

The ‘Homestead Act of 1862’ was the match that lit millions of Americans dreams back east of wanting to own their own land out west. Each married couple was eligible to own 160 acres of land out west if they built a home, lived on the land and farmed it for five years. The gold rush era of Colorado too brought thousands upon thousands of pioneers to the rugged Rocky Mountains in hopes of striking it rich.

Some families traveled 1,500 miles by covered wagon to reach Colorado to stake their claim. For those who didn’t want to homestead, they could prospect for gold or silver or start up a business. As wagon trains brought setters to Gunnison County, Indian conflicts occurred frequently and the settlers demanded the U. S. Calvary remove the Indians.

Many battles large and small were fought. With the use of the Gatling gun and cannon, most Indian tribes were forced into surrendering. The Indian people were relocated to reservations with the promise of an annual allotment of cattle to feed their people and good land to live on. But the U. S. Government often times failed to provide the annual cattle allotments promised to the tribes who gave up their lands, hunting grounds and way of life.

If the Indians tried to flee the reservation they were either killed trying to escape or were hunted down and killed. Their children were spit upon and forced to give up their language and customs and learn the English language.

The town of Marble, in Gunnison County was prosperous by 1900. Cattle ranchers needed ranch hands and The Yule Quarry outside of Marble needed workers to work at the quarry.

By 1900 nearly 400 people lived in or around Marble. The town even had its own newspaper and a dentist. Not only that but they were about to have hand pumps in their houses and businesses so they wouldn’t have to go outside to fetch water. The railroad would soon come to Marble too and that would open the area up to even more settlers. But the families in and around the town of Marble needed food, lots of food.

Elk, buffalo, deer and antelope were free for the taking but cattle cost 15 cents a pound. As settlers hunted more game to feed their families, meat for the Indians dwindled. In Gunnison County there were scattered bands of Shoshone, Paiute, Ute and Sioux Indians who refused to go to reservations. As hunting parties returned to their villages with less and less game they knew they faced starvation in the winter ahead.

If they didn’t fight back against the settlers and try to reclaim their lost hunting and fishing grounds, the Indian people would surely to die. The Shoshone, Sioux and Paiute people had no choice but to join forces and make a stand or die trying after they discover an entire village of Ute Indians murdered. This is their story.

Western history about the white man and Indians has never been a pleasant read. The white man was greedy and felt the Indians were below him in importance. They were herded up and put in reservations for the most part. Many died during this process, including anyone that fought against it. No one should have been surprised when they fought back.

Mr. Cook has done a nice job of gathering facts about Marble, Colorado and the Indian wars there. He points out how the land was given free to anyone willing to homestead for five years, or they could buy the property cheaply if they planned to resell and move on sooner. He also mentions the lack of food the Indians got in reservation (many of soldiers in charge of delivering the animals sold them elsewhere and kept the money) and how they got smallpox from the used blankets they were given to keep them warm.

He makes his characters come to life and you care about the white families as well as the Indians. Many of the families had hard lives before they settled in the valley. Misfortune had touched almost everyone in town. Yet, they had courage and were willing to fight for their family and land.

Mr. Cook does a very good job of explaining the Indian’s war strategy. The white man didn’t give them credit for being smart and that was a big mistake. While the white man thought superior weapons and force would win the fight, the Indians used stealth and planning to take them down. This resulted in more guns and horses for the Indians.

I noticed a couple of historical references being repeated more than once in this book. Once is enough to establish the sequence of events. There were also some grammatical mistakes and a misspelling. Nothing too big, but I would suggest the author ask someone with new eyes to read his manuscript before publishing. They might catch these things, and then your book would be perfect.

All in all, it’s an educational read done in a fictional form and it makes reading history much more pleasant. Mr. Cook has the facts down right and his discussion of their motivations is also right on. Life was hard in homesteading days. Life was even harder for the displaced Indians. We have much to learn from history and this author will help you find out about it.

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A Weaver’s Web by Chris Pearce

A Weaver’s Web by Chris Pearce
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (238 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Handloom weaver Henry Wakefield, his wife Sarah and their five children live in abject poverty in the Manchester area of the UK in the early 19th century at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Henry hates the new factories and won’t let his family work in them. He clashes with Sarah, a factory agent, a local priest and reformers, and son Albert runs away. The family are evicted and move to Manchester but are even worse off, living in a cellar in a terrace and have another little mouth to feed.

Henry’s love of money overrides his hatred of factories and he starts one of his own, but it is beset with problems. The Wakefields eventually become quite wealthy, but Henry holds the purse strings and this has a devastating effect on the family. Albert is caught stealing and is transported to New South Wales. Her baby’s death, Albert’s unknown fate and society parties become too much for Sarah, who hears voices and is taken to the lunatic asylum. Son Benjamin faces eviction from the family home for having a baby with an orphan girl too soon after their marriage.

Family members, including Sarah who has got out of the asylum and Albert who has returned to England unbeknown to Henry, have had enough and seek revenge.

Every parent dreams of giving his or her children a better life. Henry Wakefield is convinced he has what it takes to pull his family out of poverty…at any cost.

I was impressed by how much detail Mr. Pearce packed into this story. His descriptions of English life in the early 1800s were so extensive that I felt like I was walking alongside the characters as they struggled to survive. My favourite passages discussed how grimly the weakest members of their society were treated by anyone who thought they could get away with it. They weren’t always easy scenes to digest, but they were so well written that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page.

There wasn’t a great deal of character development in this book. The personalities of both the main and supporting characters relied heavily on the use of certain stereotypes about gender, social class, and religion. There were several scenes that would have been much more effective if I could have better understood why these characters behaved the way they did or what prevented them from learning from their previous experiences.

With that being said, this is a fascinating glimpse into the dark side of human nature. It’s easy to point out the faults of others, but it’s far more difficult to be on the other side of that judgement. This tale worked best when it showed just how easy it is to believe that you’re smarter and more resilient than every other person who has been hobbled by the same temptation before.

Reading A Weaver’s Web made me feel as though I’d travelled back in time 200 years. This is a good choice for anyone in the mood for a richly detailed historical novel.

In Sickness and In Health by Sean Michael

In Sickness and In Health by Sean Michael
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (86 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal sex
Rating: 2.5 stars
Reviewed by Cactus

The Jarheads back in a new adventure–a journey through sickness and health with Rock, Rig and Dick, who stand by their man come what may, no matter what they come down with. Colds and flu are no match for the Jarheads, who know that cold medicine’s great in its place, but the one sure cure for what ails them is good old sexual healing.

Even the flu can’t stop these randy boys. Sean Michael’s super popular Jarheads are back in this re-released novella featuring Rock, Rig, and Dick as they screw their way to happiness whether sick or perfectly well. The men are as happy and healthy as ever to start and their sex life has never been better. Then Rock and Dick go down with the flu, leaving Rig with two very grouchy and unhappy ex-marines. Just when they get over the bug, Rig comes down with it himself but the tender mercies of his two men will have Rig fighting for some loving soon enough.

In Sickness and In Health is a re-released story that originally appeared in the Bedside Manner anthology from 2009. I chose it because I have a real soft spot for the Jarheads series and wanted to revisit the trio, but realized when reading the novella that I had read it before. That doesn’t really matter because anyone who’s a fan of the series knows how these stories go. They’re remarkably similar, but any of the shorter stories and novellas are basically all porn with changing configurations of who sucks, who fucks, and who jacks off. The bigger novels actually have a little bit of plot but these shorter stories are entirely sex scenes. In Sickness and In Health is no different.

The story starts and ends with sex and there is little attempt at a plot or storyline. These are just slice of life, or sex, scenes featuring the men with repetitive dialogue and commentary. There are one or two scenes that don’t include sex when the men are sick with the flu and these scenes are kind of why I continue to read the porn heavy Jarheads series. The men are sweet with each other and emotional in a very grunt-orientated way of communicating. There is emotion, but never overly saccharine. The best way to describe these short additions is heartwarming. It’s always nice to see these three men together, although I’m partial to Rock and Rig scenes alone.

Honestly this is not great writing. The scenes are repetitious and the dialogue consists of the same words over and over with a chorus of sex sounds. Surprisingly amongst that little writing there are numerous typos. But really this is classic Sean Michael writing so fans of the author will know what they’re getting. It’s a nice revisit of the Jarhead series and characters because it’s exactly like all the other books with a little bit of emotion and the rest are porn sex scenes. So if you’re in the mood for that, which I was, enjoy it.