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Book Award Contest & Podcast

Category: 2017 Book Award Contest (Page 1 of 3)

Jorie and the Magic Stones – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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A. H. Richardson

In A. H. Richardson’s Jorie and the Magic Stones, Marjorie Weaver, who prefers to be called Jorie, is a spunky almost-nine-year-old with a personality as bright as her long red hair. After going to live with her aunt in the intimidating Mortimer Manor, Jorie discovers a mysterious book about dragons under the floorboards of her room. Soon after, she finds herself magically transported to the mystical land of Cabrynthius. There, Jorie discovers that she is the prophesied “Child with the Hair of Fire,” who must locate the three Stones of Maalog and return them to the great dragon, Grootmonya. She returns with her friend, Rufus, and the two children then embark on an imaginative adventure, full of dragons, magic, and peril around every corner.

Jorie and the Magic Stones is a wonderfully creative chapter book for children, similar to classics like The Chronicles of Narnia in depth and content. It’s full of complex magic and an alternate world detailed enough to satisfy adult readers, while narrated by the innocent, age-appropriate voice of a child. While Jorie and the Magic Stones does contain themes of darkness and/or evil, it never feels too scary. Rather, it promotes kindness, intelligence, creativity, and perseverance in a manner that is both straightforward and thought-provoking.

A. H. Richardson’s descriptive writing style and pure creativity made Jorie and the Magic Stones a pure joy to read. It’s exciting and immersive, and chock full of humor, adventure, and magic that will thrill readers of all ages. Although it is meant to be a children’s book, Jorie and the Magic Stones is the type of exhilarating fantasy book that the whole family will enjoy.

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

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There’s a Goat in My Oatmeal – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Jeff Whitcher

A classic perspective on humorous children’s poetry, There’s a Goat In My Oatmeal: Poems and Drawings by Jeff Whitcher is quite delightful.  Throughout the book, readers will discover whimsical concepts interwoven throughout the poetry.  More often than not, the author writes with a rhyming cadence.  However, the reader will encounter a few oddities tossed in along the way.  Those ”interesting facts” pop up only a time or two, but they seem somewhat out of context and break the flow of the rest of the book.  That shouldn’t deter potential readers though.  If those feel incongruent with the rest of the book, just skip over them.  Beyond the comical approach to the poetry, author Jeff Whitcher has also included a number of entertaining sketches that will grab the reader’s attention and bring a smile to his or her lips.

Some of the poetry seems to come from the view of a child whereas other poems seem to come from the view of a parent.  That can be a bit confusing initially, but many of them will still bring a giggle bubbling to the surface.  There’s a Goat in My Oatmeal as a whole and the poem with the same title as the book’s title are great to read to one’s children outloud, and they are great poems for younger readers to explore on their own.  Witcher looks at things and events through a very interesting lens.  For example, he writes about “The Old Woman and the Shoe”, and yes, she is the old woman from the traditional nursery rhyme, but reading about her from Witcher’s view is very cute and as mentioned above will likely bring a smile and giggle if not a full belly laugh from young readers.  There’s a Goat in My Oatmeal would make a nice addition to one’s family library as well as local libraries’ children’s sections.

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

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Chrysalis and Clan – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Jae Mazer

In Jae Mazer’s Chrysalis and Clan, Beth thinks she’s on her way to a normal, albeit distressing, visit with her aging mother. However, one cryptic speech and a murder-suicide later, Beth wakes up in a hospital, full of fear and doubt. Who is she? What is she? She’s not so sure anymore. Meanwhile, her daughter, Etta, is caught in a tragedy of her own. A “boogeyman” has ravaged their family, and now, he’s relentlessly hunting her. Etta and Beth must find each other and band together to survive a devastating whirlwind of death, horrifying creatures, and the dark unknown.

Chrysalis and Clan is certainly not a book for the faint-hearted. It is a unique and seamless blend of traditional and modern horror stories, the paranormal, and science-fiction that, although done well, may be a bit too graphic for certain readers. Fans of the horror genre in general, though, are going to love this one. There are a few small plot holes here and there (such as the finer details of the otherworldly beings represented in this book), but none are so gravely detrimental as to ruin the overall reading experience. Rather, Chrysalis and Clan was immediately captivating, and never slowed down from there.

There are two main aspects about this book that make it such a winner for the horror genre, the first of which is Jae Mazer’s impeccable pacing. Chrysalis and Clan’s plot unravels in a manner that is simultaneously methodically mysterious and on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting. The second winning aspect is the phenomenal use of description. From basic character descriptions to unraveling scenes of carnage and horror, Jae Mazer consistently delivers a vivid, enthralling image with her well-chosen words. Frankly, it is so clearly portrayed that it could make an excellent transition to film, one day. Chrysalis and Clan is a truly thrilling horror novel, one that does justice to its genre while still maintaining its own bone-chilling, expertly concocted individuality.

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

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The Heart of It All – Entered in the 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Weston Mitchel

In Weston Mitchel’s The Heart of It All, Austin Kyle longs to be nothing more than a normal college student. However, after a series of blood transfusions following a car accident, his blood now contains a mysterious, promising cure for cancer. Now, he is extraordinary beyond his wildest imagination, and Dr. Greer knows it. She has been trying to find a cure for cancer, and Austin can help her do just that. Their mission soon becomes a race against the clock, though, as Austin’s girlfriend, Mia, succumbs to her leukemia – which only Austin has the power to save her from. 

The Heart of It All holds a ton of promise, but unfortunately, it falls short in execution. For starters, there is a significant lack of editing to blame; run-on sentences and various other grammatical errors run rampant, distracting from the story itself. Also, The Heart of It All is poorly organized, jumping between time periods, locations, and characters’ perspectives often. A simple prologue about the car accident, then following one character (Austin) throughout the present-day events for the rest of the novel would have served it far better. 

Despite all this, The Heart of It All is still quite an enjoyable read. Its greatest strength is its use of description; Weston Mitchel’s writing style and use of descriptive language was simply wonderful. His characters were intriguing and complex, and the story itself seemed believable and inspiring. The Heart of It All requires extensive improvement to accentuate the great ideas and solid writing, but the incredible potential is already there.

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

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Nowhere Else I’d Want to Be: A Memoir – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Carol D. Marsh

Nowhere Else I Want to Be is Carol Marsh’s heart-wrenching memoir of her time living and working at Miriam’s House in Washington, D.C. She founded Miriam’s House in 1996, as a place for homeless women suffering with AIDS and addiction to receive the care, shelter, and safety that they so desperately needed. In providing for these women, who came from backgrounds incredibly different than her own, Carol had to learn to face her own shortcomings: privilege, discrimination, poor leadership skills, and an overwhelming, yet often denied, desire to be liked. In doing so, she, along with the staff and residents of Miriam’s House, transformed it into a safe haven for victims of AIDS and their families, saving dozens of lives in more ways than one. 

In terms of content, Nowhere Else I Want to Be is certainly not the easiest book to read. It is rife with tragedy, from abandonment to parental neglect, devastating illness to inevitable death. It weighs on the heartstrings in a manner that most books cannot achieve, largely because the stories Carol Marsh shares are all real. These “characters,” who often seem larger than life in some respects, existed once, and now, do not. It’s an awful feeling, to fall in love with each quirky, lovable woman as Carol did, only to be forced to face their eventual demise. However, the tender tone in which each woman is described is admirable and honorable, shining a spotlight of love and acceptance on an otherwise horrific life. It’s devastating, but profound, in all the best ways.  

Nowhere Else I Want to Be is not a book easily defined, as it balances perfectly the qualities of humor, love, sadness, disdain, and acceptance, combined into one spectacular memoir. Carol Marsh takes her readers on the same journey she once walked, alongside society’s forgotten as they struggle to better themselves, contribute to communities who continuously reject them, and just survive, at any cost. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, easy, but it is forever worth it. Nowhere Else I Want to Be is a treasure as much as it is a tragedy, if for nothing else, for Carol’s bold, dignified, and honest approach to a truth best not left forgotten.

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

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Unchanging Points of Light – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Edwin A. McDonald

Edwin A. McDonald, III’s Unchanging Points of Light: Finding Your Way in the Dark is a philosophical, self-help style book with a fascinating theme. Using real-life examples from current and historical events, McDonald details how to recognize certain “threats” in one’s life, look at them objectively, and discover a way to shine a light in dark times. Unchanging Points of Light is, as he says, his “personal effort to push back the darkness and shine a very bright light on some of the biggest issues of our day.”

Edwin A. McDonald, III expresses his reviews eloquently and thoughtfully, but he does seem to divert from his own subject matter, at times. These diversions usually took the form of his expression of his own political views. While he did eventually tie these diversions back into the main theme of Unchanging Points of Light, his blatantly expressed opinions may alienate certain demographics of readers. Granted, these opinions are still interesting to read, but risking allowing readers to disagree with him could damage the overall effectiveness of this book. 

Despite this, Unchanging Points of Light proves itself to be a most worthwhile read. The sheer amount of research, thought, and introspection that went into this work is admirable. Edwin A. McDonald’s narrative style is gentle and honest, presenting each point not as a lecture or rant, but as valuable guidance that will surely benefit all readers in some way. Unchanging Points of Light: Finding Your Way in the Dark is a treasure trove of precious wisdom, tailor-made to help the “seekers, skeptics, and believers” of the world find the light in their lives.

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

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Cyber Crisis: It’s Personal Now – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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William Keiper

Cyber Crisis: It’s Personal Now is author William Keiper’s comprehensive guide to the dangers of the internet. In this quick read, Keiper explores the threats lurking behind each click, including identity theft, hacking, catfishing, money scams, credit card fraud, theft of private information, and cyberbullying. He also shares helpful tips and pointers detailing how to avoid these devastating tragedies. Keiper’s decades worth of experience in software and computer technology are spilled onto the page, giving readers a short and snappy reality check about how they can protect themselves online.

While there are countless useful facts and statistics throughout Cyber Crisis, hardly any of them are cited. Although William Keiper claims in his introduction that all the information he’s sharing can be readily found in an internet search, he shares little to help readers find the sources of this information (through using citations, perhaps). This raises an alarming possibility of plagiarism or untrustworthy source material; Keiper could have easily avoided this skepticism by being forthright and clear about where he got all his material from. Also, the organization of this book seems disjointed. Many of the passages seem hastily thrown together or underdeveloped, while others read far too much like a textbook. Cyber Crisis is not as balanced as it could be.

However, Cyber Crisis is still a most worthwhile read. Statistics aside, its underlying message is imminent: “Readers, protect yourselves.” William Keiper’s tips for prevention and internet safety are invaluable, as are his real-life examples of the consequences of reckless oversharing. His narrative is short and to the point, keeping readers engaged and offering quick solutions to the risks he exposes. Cyber Crisis: It’s Personal Now is perhaps one of the most important books for any and all readers to experience since, as William Keiper aptly put it, “it’s personal.”

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

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Ancient Blood – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Brian McKinley

In Brian McKinley’s Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony, Avery is obsessed with vampires- their culture, their way of life, their history, everything. After a one-night stand with a woman whom he later realizes is an actual, real-life vampyr, Caroline, he begs her to change him. However, he soon learns that being a vampyr is not as idyllic as it once seemed. Avery and Caroline are hunted, captured, and imprisoned by Caroline’s brutal and ruthless Creator, Sebastian. Together, they must find a way to escape their inhuman captivity, all while reconnecting with their own lingering humanity in the process.

Much of Ancient Blood, although entertaining, seemed far too rushed. Many key plot points were skimmed over or skipped altogether, as if Brian McKinley was constantly in a hurry to get onto the next event in the story. This rushed narrative ultimately harmed the novel in certain areas, most notably in the lack of chemistry between Avery and Caroline. More thorough development and elaboration throughout the story would have been invaluable to Ancient Blood. Instead, in some ways, this novel still reads like an unfinished draft.

Aside from that, Ancient Blood was a most enjoyable horror novel. Its humorous, conversational narrative helped balance out some of the darker aspects of the story. Also, Brian McKinley’s use of descriptive language was stunning; no matter the subject, everything was described thoroughly and vividly. There was plenty of thought and research put into the several “species” of vampires noted in the novel, making the entire book even more captivating. All in all, Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony could use a fair bit of revision here and there, but it’s already excellent as is. Without ever feeling cliché or tired, Ancient Blood shines a whole new light on the traditional vampire as we know it.

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

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Chameleons: A Novel Based Upon Actual Events – Entered in the 2017 Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Marcus A. Nannini

In Marcus A. Nannini’s Chameleons, a human skeleton is discovered in Kailua, Hawaii. It is identified as belonging to the engineer of a Japanese midget submarine involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. His logbook contains a dark secret: he and the commander of the submarine came ashore afterwards and assimilated themselves into the local Japanese-American population. Navy investigators must race to find the “chameleon” commander, and finally uncover the truth behind a haunting historical mystery.

In some ways, Chameleons feels a bit unbalanced. While the descriptive passages were excellent, much of the dialogue seemed lacking. In some areas, certain characters’ speech was so full of slang and jargon that it was difficult to follow. At other times, the dialogue between characters seemed stiff and unnatural. Considering how interesting other components of this novel are, the awkward dialogue was rather disappointing.

Aside from that, Chameleons was a rather entertaining read. Marcus A. Nannini included a little bit of everything in this well-rounded novel, from history and culture to mystery and drama.  It’s a fascinating and fully immersive recipe that’s full of intricate details and surprising twists. Fans of historical fiction or thrilling mysteries will surely be captivated by Chameleons from its very first page.

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

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The Grand Gypsy – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Ottavio Gesmundo with Ottavio Canestrelli

The Grand Gypsy: A Memoir is the enchanting story of Ottavio Canestrelli, an Italian circus performer. Born into a circus family several generations long, Canestrelli was raised under a makeshift big-top, performing alongside his family members and a colorful menagerie. As an adult, he traveled the world, both as a performer and while in the army. He shares his stories of growing up in a circus, living and fighting through both World Wars, crossing paths with grand historical figures like Gandhi, and carrying on the legacy of the Canestrelli Circus. After Canestrelli passed away, his grandson, Ottavio Gesmundo, polished and published his grandfather’s memoir, honoring the man he knew as The Grand Gypsy.

This book opens with a quote by author, historian, and editor, Dominique Jando: “Artists from old Italian circus families are the keepers of a precious wealth of historical knowledge.” That alone sums up Ottavio Canestrelli’s memoir perfectly. His words are, quite simply, precious. His life experiences and unique voice in sharing them help shed a new light on one of the most fascinating and tumultuous eras in history. Peppered with additional text from his grandson, Gesmundo, and a plethora of captivating historical photographs, The Grand Gypsy is an outstanding literary experience from beginning to end.

The Grand Gypsy is equal parts an entertaining portrait of circus life, a war drama, a heartwarming snapshot of family life, and a thrilling memoir. By the end of the book, Ottavio and the Canestrelli family feel welcome and familiar, as if all who read The Grand Gypsy: A Memoir are now truly a part of the Canestrelli legacy, too.

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

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