The Lives That Live Between Us – Entered in the 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

Kai Raine

These Lies That Live Between Us by Kai Raine is the first book in the What Words Have Torn Apart series. War has come to the continent as the army of Seleukos marches against its neighbors. This book follows Gwenaëlle on her journey to uncover the location of The Phoenix – a mythical weapon capable of helping her country win the war.


These Lies That Live Between Us is an epic tale of sisterhood, political drama, and magic. If there is one thing this book could benefit from it is perhaps more explanation of the nature of The Words. The reader has almost as much knowledge of The Words as the characters do, but the characters have the advantage of being exposed to stories about The Words from childhood. Including one of these short tales about The Words and Speakers – something the characters themselves would have read or heard – would elevate this part of the narrative. Including more information about The Words in the story itself would work just as well. Overall, These Lies That Live Between Us leaves the reader wanting to delve deeper into vast history of this world.


Kai Raine has created a fully-developed, complex world. Though the reader is not exposed to each country, it is clearly established that each has its own culture and societal norms. The characters are well-developed, and the stakes are real. Raine deftly balances the stories of Nicole, Gwen, and Estelle while commenting on the nature of power and sisterhood. She has done an excellent job crafting a unique world inhabited by relatable characters. These Lies That Live Between Us by Kai Raine is a must-read for fans of high fantasy and young adult fiction.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

The Long Passages – Entered in the 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Paul Winder

The Long Passages: Paths of Self-Discovery by Paul Winder is a memoir consisting of many individual experiences. From growing up on a farm to retirement on the Florida coast, Winder presents the reader with numerous glimpses into various aspects of his life.


The Long Passages: Paths of Self-Discovery gives the reader a window into Winder’s life experiences. Unfortunately, it is difficult to see how these short vignettes would appeal to anyone outside of the author’s family and friends. The nature of memoirs is that they are deeply personal. As such, it helps if the reader is familiar with the person whose experiences form the basis of the memoir. The vignettes sometimes verge into problematic territory particularly when discussing the students that the reader used to mentor. This is largely due to the period the author worked in counseling, but it is hard not to wonder about the racist undertones. This could be particularly off-putting for some readers. One way to counter this would be to remove these experiences altogether, or carefully reword them to make it clear that these undertones were not intentional.


This collection is well-served by its organization and structure. The stories flow easily from one to the next, presenting the reader with a full picture of the life Paul Winder has led. Particularly captivating are the pieces that detail life on a Pennsylvania farm after the war. These stories alone could be brought together in a book focusing exclusively on Winder’s experiences growing up and working on a farm; something that would appeal to any reader interested in farming and homesteading. Ultimately, The Long Passages: Paths of Self-Discovery by Paul Winder presents a glimpse into various aspects of the author’s life, but it may only appeal to a small number of readers.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

Shawnee Falls – Entered in 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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David Rhodes

Shawnee Falls by David Rhodes tells the story of Fleetwood “Fleet” Rasor, a deputy marshal in Shawnee Falls, Indiana. Shortly after receiving news of an unexpected promotion, Fleet discovers that there is more to his quiet little town than he ever imagined. Fleet suddenly finds himself racing through time to preserve his new way of life.


One of the main issues with Shawnee Falls is the characterization of Fleet. He is simply too good at everything. He’s given a promotion over his coworkers, despite being the new person on the team. He knows how to win any fight. He figures out the solution to any problem in very short order, eliminating most sources of conflict within the story. This characterization makes it very difficult to form an emotional connection to the character. One way to solve this is to write Fleet as a character with problems. Give him things to struggle with and people to argue with – in addition to Scott. Make the reader wonder whether Fleet is going to triumph in the end.


The strongest aspects of Shawnee Falls are the worldbuilding and incorporation of historical events. Rhodes establishes clear rules for his version of time travel, and he sticks to them. This consistency makes it easy for the reader to suspend disbelief and engage with the plot. The inclusion of the Reno Gang as an historical set piece is also well executed. Rhodes has done the research necessary to recreate the world Seymour, Indiana in 1866. Details like these make of Shawnee Falls believable and compelling. Shawnee Falls by David Rhodes will appeal to readers who enjoy time travel and a good caper.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

My Crunchy Life – Entered in 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

Mia Kerick

My Crunchy Life by Mia Kerick is a young adult novel focusing on the experiences of being transgender, queer, and in high school. The novel follows Kale, a new convert to the crunchy, hippie way of life as he grapples with his feelings towards his classmate Julian. Julian is going through changes of his own as he makes the decision to begin living as the girl he has always known himself to be.


My Crunchy Life seems, at times, to be unsure what it wants to be. The book is told primarily through journal entries written by Kale and Julia – or so it seems. The problem is that the book doesn’t fully commit one way or the other. The use of first person narration certainly supports the idea of the journal entry narrative. However, each time the book turns away from introspection and towards dialogue it fails to indicate whether it is still operating under the journal conceit. Clarifying the format and style of the narrative would strengthen the book.


Kerick tackles very heavy topics in this novel and she manages to do so in a very approachable way. The LGBTQ community is still sorely underrepresented in popular culture and the arts, making this novel a welcome addition. Kale and Julia are realistic characters that are easy to relate to regardless of the reader’s identity. Kerick does an excellent job of incorporating issues experienced by all high school students regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation in a book that also heavily focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ characters. My Crunchy Life will appeal to readers of young adult fiction who are looking for an exploration of the high school experience and the trials and tribulations of LGBTQ youth.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

Grief Comfort Guide – Entered in 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Marie Lenay Rogus

Grief Comfort Guide: A Personal Journey from Loss to Light by Marie Lenay Rogus is part self-help book, part memoir. Rogus gives the reader advice on how to deal with grief, including breathing and meditation exercises. Also included are personal stories related to the family members she has lost over the years.


If there is a weakness to Grief Comfort Guide: A Personal Journey from Loss to Light it is that the book seems unsure what it wants to be. The first half of the book provides an explanation of grief and its many manifestations. Rogus explains how and why grief can hit us at seemingly random times. She provides the reader with exercises to help calm themselves when the grief flares up. The second half of the book is far more personal in nature. Rogus presents accounts of life with the family members she has lost throughout the years. At times the book veers sharply away from the grieving process. The connection between the two halves of the book is tenuous at best. This connection could be reinforced through a more thoughtful explanation of the reason for including these personal stories. More of an effort could also be made to highlight the differing ways grief manifested in each situation.


Grief Comfort Guide: A Personal Journey from Loss to Light is well-written. The stories are told in great, vivid detail. It is easy for the reader to conjure images of the people and places in Rogus’ life. Her passion for helping people heal after a loss is clear and her approach differs from the traditional self-help books. Grief Comfort Guide: A Personal Journey from Loss to Light by Marie Lenay Rogus is a good resource for anyone experiencing grief and looking for a self-help book that approaches the topic in a different way.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

The Truth About Melissa – Entered in the 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Lisa Mayme Corbit

The Truth About Melissa: A Soul Mate Experiment by Lisa Mayme Corbit follows Lisa as she begins her life in Seattle. Not long after relocating she meets an awkward man named Jonathan who has, unbeknownst to Lisa, been looking for someone almost just like her for the last four years. What follows is an exploration of their relationship. The Truth About Melissa: A Soul Mate Experiment is loosely based on events in the author’s life.


This book will not appeal a wide cross-section of readers, this is perhaps its biggest drawback. A nonfiction memoir about relationships is necessarily going to have a narrow readership. Though the relationship at the heart of the book is thoroughly explored, the narrative is concerned with little else. The ending of the book also leaves a bit to be desired. The resolution is murkier than some readers may like, but perhaps that is the point. Relationships can be messy, after all.


The Truth About Melissa: A Soul Mate Experiment is a well-constructed book. The narrative is clear and easy to follow. The pacing is excellent, speeding up towards the end at just the right time. The characters, though often frustrating, are well-developed and realistic. It is easy to picture real people living these experiences. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy memoirs and relationship narratives. The Truth About Melissa: A Soul Mate Experiment by Lisa Mayme Corbit will force readers to confront their own ideas about relationships and to question the nature of marriage in modern American society.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

Helen of Troy, Illinois – Entered in 2018 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Annie Sereno

Helen of Troy, Illinois by Annie Sereno is a quirky romantic comedy set in the American Midwest. This novel follows Helen Hubler, a young twenty-something who left her small-town life in the dust when she moved Manhattan. Helen returns to her hometown to try and sell her childhood home, but things quickly become complicated when Helen meets the potential buyer, Dr. Gordon Ruckman.


If Helen of Troy, Illinois has a weakness, it is the predictability of the plot. This novel follows the standard romantic comedy plot-line. There is nothing truly groundbreaking here. Readers familiar with romantic comedies will not be surprised with how things end up for Helen. The only way to address this issue would be to fundamentally change the nature of the plot or the characters so that it deviates from the standard formula.


That being said, Helen of Troy, Illinois does not really suffer because of its predictability. A well-written narrative does not need to reinvent the wheel to be satisfying, and this novel is nothing if not satisfying. Sereno has created a complete world for her main characters to inhabit. Helen’s mother Lena has a storyline that is entirely divorced from Helen’s storyline, and her position as the local beautician affords her access to all sorts of gossip. This makes the world feel complete. The reader knows that behind the main story of Helen and Gordon, a whole town of characters are quietly going about their lives. Helen of Troy, Illinois by Annie Sereno will appeal to any reader looking for a quick, quirky read with a satisfyingly happy ending.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

Entrance – Entered in 2018 Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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J.J. Sorel

Entrance by J. J. Sorel is the first book in the Thornhill Trilogy. The book follows Clarissa Moone, a twenty-one-year-old woman who has just landed the job of a lifetime – personal assistant to the more eligible bachelor in town. Clarissa resolves to stay focused on her work, but that can only last so long when working for the alluring Aiden Thornhill.


Sorel’s book is another in a long line of post Fifty Shades of Grey romance. The weakest part of the narrative is the plot itself; it is incredibly cliché. A young woman, beautiful without trying, lands a job working for a super-rich, super-eligible, and super-damaged bachelor. The two soon embark on a sordid love affair complete with inappropriate stalking, jealousy, and enormous amounts of sex. Unfortunately, there is no aspect of the plot that sets this book apart from the crowd. Spending more time delving into the psyches of the main characters would help to resolve this issue. They need some defining characteristics or experiences that set them apart.


Entrance is nothing if not a complete story. The book is well-structured, and the characters have distinct – if cliché – personalities. The quick pacing of the book makes it the perfect afternoon or weekend read. The intimate scenes are sure to get the reader’s blood pumping. Sorel displays a knack for erotic descriptions that bring the romantic antics to life. J. J. Sorel’s Entrance, the first book in the Thornhill Trilogy, will appeal to readers who are looking for a quick, sexy read replete with the sordid details.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

Think.Laugh.Cry – Entered in 2018 Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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William Baga

Think.Laugh.Cry in 100 Pages by William Baga is a collection of three short stories designed to make you think, laugh, and cry. In “Isaac’s Apple Phi” the reader is given a glimpse into a dystopian future controlled by mega corporations. “Take 2” is a comical look into the life of a mildly dissatisfied middle-aged man fantasizing about being cool. Finally, “Let Nature Decide” is a dark vignette about a man looking to settle a vendetta.


The bulk of the narrative in “Isaac’s Apple Phi” is presented through exposition; such is the nature of the information delivery system that Xylem is interacting with. Unfortunately, this prevents the reader from forming an emotional connection to Xylem or the world he is living in. This choice causes the climax of the story to fall a bit flat. One way to counter this is to allow the reader to experience Xylem’s inner monologue while receiving this information. Show any conflict he may be feeling and let him live with that conflict for just a little while.


Think.Laugh.Cry in 100 Pages stands out because of various genres this collection encompasses. Each story is individual and fits nicely within genre conventions. The short stories are each fully developed. “Isaac’s Apple Phi” challenges the reader to make a connection between Isaac’s gardening pursuits and the dystopian world inhabited by Xylem. “Take 2” hits all the right comedic notes. Baga does a wonderful job of portraying the outlandish dreams of a man who mostly likes his life, but still feels as though he is missing out. “Let Nature Decide” captures the range of emotions that a person like Danny would experience after a massive betrayal. Think.Laugh.Cry in 100 Pages by William Baga will appeal to readers looking for a quick read that exposes them to different genres, while also forcing them to think about the world.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

Sky of Dreams – Entered in 2018 Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Robert A Cozzi

In Sky of Dreams, Robert A. Cozzi presents a collection of poems and prose anecdotes dealing with themes of love, loss, nature, and life. The poems portray the natural world and intimate relationships, while the prose vignettes provide a peek at the author’s remembrances of childhood.


Sky of Dreams suffers from a general lack of organization or structure. The poems do not appear to be organized in any particular order; they may very well be presented in the order in which they were written. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, the collection comes off as haphazard and disorganized. Organizing the collection more deliberately, or making what organization there is clear, would help make the collection feel complete and polished. Additionally, some of the poems in the collection are presented in different fonts than the majority of the pieces and there is no apparent creative reason for this. If this is an intentional choice, indicating in some way why the choice was made would help clear up any confusion the reader experiences. Otherwise, it comes off as sloppy.


Cozzi displays a command of language that takes his work to another level. The descriptive nature of his work is very evocative, particularly in the pieces that focus on nature. The author pours so much of himself into his work. The reader cannot help but come away from Sky of Dreams with a sense of the author himself. Cozzi’s short prose pieces convey the reality of childhood experiences while also demonstrating a struggle for understanding that continues into adulthood. Sky of Dreams by Robert A. Cozzi is a short poetry collection that serves as a reflection of one man’s life. Readers looking for a contemplative look at life and loss through the lens of nature and childhood may find much to like here.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

 

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