Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Karina & Robert Fabian - Infinite Space, Infinite God II - PDF Giveaway & Review

Nuns in outer space? Churches in virtual reality? Priests as robots? Sometimes the most unlikely pairings lead to the most interesting literary achievements. In Infinite Space, Infinite God II, the creativity of science fiction is merged with the morality of Catholicism. The result is a collection of 12 short stories edited by the husband and wife team of Rob and Karina Fabian. While fun and imaginative, the anthology forces the reader to confront some serious issues. Would a human clone have a soul? Would aliens be considered a part of God's creation? Would religious vocations continue to exist beyond Earth's gravitational pull? These thought-provoking issues are explored in a way that satisfies both the techno-geek and the religious philosopher.

The stand-out piece, The Ghosts of Kourion by Andrew Seddon is placed in the lead-off spot for good reason. It is a fascinating look at the open-ended possibilities of time travel. After tragically losing his wife and daughter, Professor Robert Cragg leaves the confines of the year 2655 to journey to the ancient Greek city of Kourion circa 365 A.D. His goal is to witness firsthand the destruction of the fabled city on the day it was ransacked by a legendary earthquake. Christianity is in its infancy and the pagan gods of Zeus and Apollo are succumbing to the writings of Paul and the rulings of Constantine. Knowing he cannot change the past, Robert nevertheless fosters an urge to save a young girl and her family from the impending disaster. However, the Self-Consistency Principle holds sway. Robert expounds on it by saying, "I can't travel to the past unless I've already been there, and when I get there I'll do what I've already done."

The moral implications of time travel are staggering. Why doesn't Robert revisit a time when his wife and daughter are alive? Because he'd merely be observing what had already happened. He'd be watching a rerun of his past life, not living his current one. Why doesn't he warn the citizens of Kourion before the earthquake? No one would believe him. The alarm had never been raised, so he could not raise it. His powerlessness is acute.

Seddon explores Robert's emotional conundrum in a telling passage. Knowing that I could not avert the disaster should have helped me observe with clearer objectivity and act more naturally. It should have helped prevent mental and emotional damage. It should have helped avert self-condemnation. My job was to observe history, to do what I had done, and not to despair over how events had turned out. How could I have foreseen that this poor, simple girl with the mule would affect me so?

The collection is filled with mind-bending imagery. A nun battles poisonous snakes during a spaceship rescue mission in Karina Fabian's Antivenin.
Her screams stuck in her throat. Not twelve, but twenty snakes, at least, writhed on the floor and shelves and over the dead man - from his puffed and discolored face, she knew there was no way he could be alive.

Aliens hunt their prey inside a church during Mass in Alex Lobdell's The Battle of Narthex. Suddenly a massive black figure emerged from behind a forward column, glided into the sanctuary, and leapt up onto the white marble altar. It stood staring coldly out at the people. It was an unnerving sight to see the ghostly figure standing upon their altar, peering out coldly for its victim while the smiling young priest continued talking just a few feet away. The pygmies had a word for such a wrongness: abomination.

With human cloning moving ever closer to reality, it's moral implications are becoming a pertinent issue. In Derwin Mak's Cloned to Kill, the question is raised - is a human clone a piece of property or a human being worthy of an immortal soul? The flip-flopping of rhetoric is addressed by clone creator Dennis Rowicki. "The baptism of clones shows the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. For years, the Church opposed the cloning of humans. For years, you said only God has the right to create human beings through natural procreation. Yet you eagerly baptize the clones created by the process you condemn." Mak depicts the Church as standing firm on human rights regardless if the person is naturally or synthetically born. As expressed by the clone, Lorraine, "Only inside this church [I am human]. I am non-human outside it."

The book hits a slight snag right at the end with the final installment Dyads by Ken Pick and Alan Loewen. Nearly three times the length of the other stories, the selection slows the pacing of the anthology having it drag to the finish line. The plot revolves around a race of fox-like creatures who practice what the Vatican believes to be an authentic derivation of Christianity. Trouble ensues when a Bible-thumping Earthling desecrates their place of worship in what amounts to act of religious terrorism. Yet there is something off-putting about the native inhabitants that makes it difficult to sympathize with them.
They exude a aura of otherness such as in the passage: Her ears flattened down, came up; white showed around her cat's eyes; her mouth worked as her delicate fox face passed from anger to shock to puzzlement. Finally she looked up at him, head cocked and faint squeal in her throat. "Yerf?" Whether it be their beady eyes, pointed ears or sharp teeth, it is a bit repulsive to view their animal-like qualities in relation to one of humanity's oldest religions.

Overall, the collection expands the role of faith through the endless possibilities of the sci-fi genre.

Infinite Space, Infinite God II edited by Karina & Robert Fabian is available for $18.95 at Amazon.com and at ISIGSF.com.

A PDF review copy was provided by KarinaFabian.com.

For a complete list of blog tour dates, visit FabianSpace.

Karina Fabian
is the co-author of the Tribute Books release, Why God Matters: How to Recognize Him in Daily Life.

Sorry, there is no winner to announce - we did not receive any entries for this giveaway. :(

Monday, November 15, 2010

Murray Tillman - Meet Me on the Paisley Roof - Giveaway & Review

First impressions can be deceiving. The first chapter of Murray Tillman's Meet Me on the Paisley Roof is the ultimate turn-off. Six solid pages of a manure fight between three teenage boys isn't exactly an appealing introduction to 1956 Georgia. However, Tillman's nostalgic look at small town life is redeemed through the likable trio of Trussell Jones and brothers Cassidy and Ronnie Childs. Thankfully, Tillman doesn't dabble in sentimentality. Instead, he paints a realistic picture of adolescence where, more often than not, adults fail to live up to their assigned roles.

When Trussell's father dies, he is left in the care of his stepmother, Loretta. Saying the two don't see eye-to-eye is putting it mildly. Loretta feels Trussell is an ungrateful lout whose sole purpose in life is to cause her grief. While Trussell feels adrift with no one to turn to, when Loretta, for all intents and purposes, gives up on him. All she provides are the bare essentials of food, clothing and shelter, and an occasional note on the kitchen table. Things get so bad that Loretta even brings a gun into the house to "protect" herself from a boy who means her no bodily harm.

The Childs brothers on the other hand are witnessing firsthand the deterioration of their parents' marriage. With their alcoholic father spending the greater part of the week on the road, they come to realize that the stability in their lives no longer exists. As the eldest, Cassidy is contemplating moving with their father to another town, while Ronnie seeks a way to cope with his feeling of abandonment.

While dealing with serious subject matter in an era that bespeaks Ozzie and Harriet perfection, Tillman infuses the book with an abundance of humor to keep the tone from becoming dark and introspective. They are, still after all, boys and a series of hijinks and pranks ensue from hot-wiring Loretta's car to "borrowing" a gang member's motorcycle. They even manage to unknowingly kidnap an intoxicated solider, trample to death a panic-stricken monkey and dress in drag to sneak into the hospital.

But being hot-blooded American males, the opposite sex is a frequent topic of discussion. Trussell, after harboring a lifelong crush on Ellen Harmond, finally acts on his feelings when teased into submission by Cassidy and Ronnie. Hilarity ensues. While late for church, Trussell ends up getting dressed in the backseat of an older girl's convertible while flying through the streets of downtown Columbus. A sight Ellen just happens to take in from the backseat of her parents' car. Another wardrobe malfunction occurs when Trussell is forced to wear a spangled cowboy shirt for his piano playing debut on a local television station. An ensemble that, through a twist of fate, Ellen gets to witness in person. Another time while on a picnic lunch in a secluded spot, Trussell is just about to make a move when Cassidy appears out of nowhere spoiling the moment. When the two finally start to make an emotional connection, Ellen comes across a nude picture of herself
in Trussell's garage that Ronnie drew for his friend's birthday. Nothing in Trussell's courtship of Ellen comes without mishap, but to Ellen's credit she refuses to give up on him.

The heart and soul of Tillman's writing comes through, when he shows his young characters actively making decisions that will affect the outcome of their lives. They are not passive players in a world controlled by adults. Instead, they are forced to deal with mature issues at a tender age. With Loretta's beauty parlor in dire financial straits, Trussell must choose whether or not to leave his embattled stepmother and live with his Aunt Cora in Birmingham. With her mother battling cancer, Ellen must decide whether or not she wants to find strength and support in her relationship with Trussell, whose own mother succumbed to the disease. While Ronnie feeling unwanted in his own home, acts out in a dramatic way in an attempt to bring his family back together.

Through their trials and tribulations, what they come to understand is that regardless of the adults in their lives, they at least have one another. A touching moment occurs between Ronnie and Trussell.

"Do you love me?"
"Do you love me?"
"Sure I do, Ronnie. You're just like a brother. You know that."
"Yeah, well, same here, buddy. Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"That you love me."
"Oh shoot, that's just something you ought to know."
"Well, I didn't."
"Well you should."

Another scene between Trussell and Ellen confirms the sense of family the boys have created for themselves.

"Trussell, you did witness a miracle."
"Yes, sure [Cassidy and Ronnie] went to lots of trouble, but where's the miracle?"
"Their gift to you, Trussell, was love. You laughed with them. Your gift to them was love. There's the miracle. I don't have any friends who could or would do anything like that for me."

Overall, it's well worth the climb to meet the boys up on the Paisley roof.

Meet Me on the Paisley Roof by Murray Tillman is available for $14.95 at Amazon.com and at MeetMeOnThePaisleyRoof.com.

An advance review copy was provided by Bascom Hill Publishing.

Congratulations to our winner: Amy Steiner!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kathleen Kent - The Wolves of Andover - Giveaway & Review

"The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, English political philosopher (1588-1679)

Life in 1673 Massachusetts lived up to Hobbes' expectations. In The Wolves of Andover, Kathleen Kent offers a realistic depiction of survival through the eyes of colonial woman, Martha Allen. With a sharp eye for detail, Kent does not shy away from historical accuracy in order to create a romance full of beauty and lightness. Instead, she depicts rustic settlers living in primitive conditions in close proximity to livestock. Many are hanging on by a thread against Indian attack, disease and poverty.

Martha's strength is that she rises to meet these challenges. Having reached the age of 20 without a husband, her father can no longer afford to care for her. Martha is sent to live with her cousin, Patience and her family as a servant. Patience is suffering through a difficult pregnancy and requires help around the house. Martha takes on the role of housekeeper caring for Patience's children, Will and Joanna; her husband, Daniel and their indentured servants, John and Thomas.

When a pack of wolves starts terrorizing the countryside, Martha forges a bond with Thomas despite his being 30 years her senior. While attempting to ensnare the lupines, his quiet, steady demeanor captures the interest of the sharp-tongued girl. While strong and physically fit, Thomas' fate lies in the hands of Patience and Daniel. His hope rests on their granting him a parcel of land upon completion of his servitude. Martha's future too is uncertain once Patience is delivered of child.

Yet affairs of the heart come second to survival in this inhospitable environment. The yard is full of mud from freezing rain. Food is improperly stored on the damp cellar floor. A chilled bed struggles for warmth from the hearth. A garden is fertilizes with dried fish and manure while a battery of flies hover overhead. A lover's hands are full of rasping and unyielding calluses. A woman's threadbare bodice is stained with sweat. Not exactly the stuff of romance novels.

Even scenes of love are tempered by the harsh setting. Martha comes across Thomas bare-chested in the barn. However, he is at work slaughtering a crippled calf. Thomas steals admiring glances at Martha, while she is submerged in a boggy marsh gathering wild leeks. When the village Casanova makes a play for Martha, Thomas pushes his body to the breaking point in order to beat his much-younger competitor in a harvest mowing contest. When wooing her, Thomas backhandedly compares Martha to a doe in a fable saying, "You are the deer shot through with arrows whose heart grows cold for want of being taken."

Yet the focus of the book revolves around Thomas' past. Was he the man who swung the blade that beheaded King Charles I? The regent's son, King Charles II is unwavering in his determination to find his father's killer supposedly well-hidden in the New World. A group of hired torturers is bidden to bring back the man who took his father's life.

The novel is succinctly split between the story of Martha and Thomas and that of Thomas' pursuers. It jumps between alternating chapters delineating the approaching meeting point of the two plot lines. This weakens the work as a whole. Instead of staying in the Massachusetts Bay Colony throughout the narrative, a plethora of characters and settings is introduced as the hit men make their way from England to Boston Harbor. The progression of the book loses its steam when divided between what amounts to two stories that are better off standing on their own. While attempting to bring more history into the novel such as the royal court, the back alleys of London and life aboard a merchant ship, Kent falters by veering off course instead of concentrating on the plight of her two main characters.

Overall, Kent's Wolves bites off a bit more than it can chew.

The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent is available for $24.99 at Amazon.com and at HachetteBookGroup.com.

An advance review copy was provided by New York Journal of Books.

Congratulations to our winner: Doreen Riopel!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kathryn Borel - Corked - Giveaway & Review

How do some books get published? In the case of Corked, it is apparent that if Kathryn Borel wasn't a radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, her memoir would not have seen the light of day. It seems the Hachette Book Group took a chance on Kathryn more for who she is than what she wrote.

The angle focuses on the struggle of a father and daughter to connect. Kathryn records her mixed emotions regarding her father, Philippe. During a trip to France, they visit world-renown vineyards. Philippe is a
wine connoisseur, while Kathryn is uncomfortable expressing herself in the language of the palette.

Her emotions are corked. They are not gaining release. Months prior to the trip, she accidentally killed a jaywalking pedestrian. Due to the coincidence of her boyfriend's father having previously died in a car crash, their relationship becomes strained and eventually ends. She cannot return the intensity of his love, yet she continues to reach out to him in moments of weakness. Kathryn is fully aware that she is selfishly using him, but can't seem to help herself.

Philippe's feelings, on the other hand, are always on the surface ready to explode or shrouded beneath a sulky silence. He's either making a scene in a restaurant over a perceived lack of service or refusing to utter a word during a winery tour due to the supposed impoliteness of their host. He also frequently acts inappropriately around his daughter appearing in nothing but a towel or discussing his sexual prowess.

An aspect that is especially grating is the display of insensitivity. In grade school, Kathryn joked about having Down Syndrome and reflects on the moment in a comical light. When arguing with her father while driving, she threatens to crash into a tree causing a murder/suicide. She continues to hound her ex-boyfriend with emails and text messages while having casual sex with three different men.

The pair's manners regarding hygiene are quite atrocious. Philippe reuses soiled Q-tips. Kathryn picks lint out of her belly button in public. They find camaraderie in the sentiment, "Do you ever get the feeling that you just want to take a baby and kick it across the room and watch it smash against the wall?"

Philippe is not the best of fathers. He has a hard time remembering Kathryn's date of birth. He lets strange men ogle his daughter's breasts without saying a word. But the main point of contention is that he didn't offer Kathryn the emotional support she needed after the accident. As their trip comes to a close, Philippe reveals a long-held secret about his past. Does this excuse his cowardly, selfish behavior? Does this revelation mark a turning point in their relationship? It's hard to say.

Overall, wine aficionados will delight in Corked's vintages, but readers thirsting for a heartwarming memoir need to open another bottle.

Corked by Kathryn Borel is available for $23.99 at Amazon.com and at KathrynBorel.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by BookNAround.

Congratulations to our winner: Zohar Laor!