Friday, June 19, 2015

Michael J. Bowler - Spinner - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

Fifteen-year-old Alex is a “spinner.” His friends are “dummies.” Two clandestine groups of humans want his power. And an ancient evil is stalking him. If people weren’t being murdered, Alex might laugh at how his life turned into a horror movie overnight. In a wheelchair since birth, his freakish ability has gotten him kicked out of ten foster homes since the age of four. Now saddled with a sadistic housemother who uses his spinning to heal the kids she physically abuses, Alex and his misfit group of learning disabled classmates are the only ones who can solve the mystery of his birth before more people meet a gruesome end. They need to find out who murdered their beloved teacher, and why the hot young substitute acts like she’s flirting with them. Then there’s the mysterious medallion that seems to have unleashed something malevolent, and an ancient prophecy suggesting Alex has the power to destroy humanity. The boys break into homes, dig up graves, elude kidnappers, fight for their lives against feral cats, and ultimately confront an evil as old as humankind. Friendships are tested, secrets uncovered, love spoken, and destiny revealed. The kid who’s always been a loner will finally learn the value of friends, family, and loyalty. If he survives…

My Review

Freak. Idiot. Loser.

These are just some of the hurtful names that are hurled at Alex and his Special Ed classmates. They're the misfits of Mark Twain High, the ones no one wants to be seen with. But Alex has it especially hard because he's also in a wheelchair, and the popular cheerleaders have no problem adding another insult to the list.


Author Michael J. Bowler admits in the foreword to SPINNER that he has a special place in his heart for those with disabilities because he, too, suffers with a hearing impairment and for years he was in charge of students just like Alex and his friends as a teacher in the public school system. He knows what makes these kids tick based on his own personal experiences, and from observing what other kids go through. He pens a full and comprehensive outlook from both sides of the issue, a feat that really brings his characters to life.

He portrays Special Ed teenagers not as victims but as heroes. They don't need anyone to fight their battles for them. They stand up for themselves. The deck is certainly stacked against them, but they prevail by working together and believing in each other. And they have a lot of issues they need to combat—limited language processing skills, attention deficit disorder, the inability to stop talking. They can't read well enough to find a name on a tombstone or look up someone's address in the phone book. They can't understand multi-syllabic words that authority figures from cops to priests use with ease. But they have the know-how to drive a truck through a high speed chase and the brute strength to climb up an apartment balcony. They learn to play to their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses.

And that's a good thing because in SPINNER they're embroiled in a centuries-old mystery, that nobody really understands. All they know is that Alex has been granted some kind of mystical power that allows him to heal people, and drive away negative emotions. In the book's afterword, Bowler admits that Alex is the character who's most like him because of their shared empath abilities. Alex feels what others feel, and he hates seeing people suffer. But he's able to fix everyone except himself. He gets really down about being in a wheelchair, and that's when his reckless side emerges, leading to all sorts of trouble.

Relating so easily to people isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just becomes overwhelming when Alex is unsure how to channel it. Some people want him dead. Others want to use him for what they can get out of him. Alex doesn't know where to turn, but he trusts his fellow classmates. Society dubs them as intellectually challenged, but to him they're the bravest guys he knows. They may be afraid to follow him into danger, but when they're put to the test, they come through time and time again.

Alex is proud to call them his friends, or as Bowler lovingly puts it, "losers touched by God."


Spinner can be pre-purchased at:

Format/Price: $6.99 ebook
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Pages: 463
Release: August 5, 2015
Publisher: YoungDudes Publishing
ISBN: 9780994667519
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of eight novels—A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), Running Through A Dark Place (Bronze Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, and Spinner.

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook. He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He is currently outlining a sequel to Spinner.

His goal as a YA author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world.

Links to connect with Michael:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Jerome Charyn - Bitter Bronx - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

Brooklyn is dead. Long live the Bronx! In Bitter Bronx, Jerome Charyn returns to his roots and leads the literary renaissance of an oft-overlooked borough in this surprising new collection.

In Bitter Bronx, one of our most gifted and original novelists depicts a world before and after modern urban renewal destroyed the gritty sanctity of a land made famous by Ruth, Gehrig, and Joltin' Joe.

Bitter Bronx is suffused with the texture and nostalgia of a lost time and place, combining a keen eye for detail with Jerome Charyn's lived experience. These stories are informed by a childhood growing up near that middle-class mecca, the Grand Concourse; falling in love with three voluptuous librarians at a public library in the Lower Depths of the South Bronx; and eating at Mafia-owned restaurants along Arthur Avenue's restaurant row, amid a "land of deprivation…where fathers trundled home…with a monumental sadness on their shoulders."

In "Lorelei," a lonely hearts grifter returns home and finds his childhood sweetheart still living in the same apartment house on the Concourse; in "Archy and Mehitabel" a high school romance blossoms around a newspaper comic strip; in "Major Leaguer" a former New York Yankee confronts both a gang of drug dealers and the wreckage that Robert Moses wrought in his old neighborhood; and in three interconnected stories—"Silk & Silk," "Little Sister," and "Marla"—Marla Silk, a successful Manhattan attorney, discovers her father's past in the Bronx and a mysterious younger sister who was hidden from her, kept in a fancy rest home near the Botanical Garden. In these stories and others, the past and present tumble together in Charyn's singular and distinctly "New York prose, street-smart, sly, and full of lurches" (John Leonard, New York Times).

Throughout it all looms the "master builder" Robert Moses, a man who believed he could "save" the Bronx by building a highway through it, dynamiting whole neighborhoods in the process. Bitter Bronx stands as both a fictional eulogy for the people and places paved over by Moses' expressway and an affirmation of Charyn's "brilliant imagination" (Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune).

My Review

The simplicity of Jerome Charyn's sentence structure carries with it so much power. You can tell he chooses the words he wants in a painstaking fashion in order to convey the emotion he's after.

How does he conjure the horror of a homeless shelter?

"It was like living in an ocean of unwashed feet."

Not many writers are capable of doing that. It's something only the greats are known for. The first name that comes to mind is Hemingway and his no frills style. That type of writer makes writing a craft. It's just not done anymore, or done right. It's nice to see someone like Charyn take up the banner and herald it into the future.

BITTER BRONX is a compilation of short stories with a multitude of crisscrossing themes, published separately at one time or another from 2006 through 2013 in various literary periodicals. The unifying thread is the tension between men and women with the shadow of mental illness hovering over "the brick wasteland" of New York's northernmost borough.

For Charyn, love fails because the mind can't handle the full implications of it. Women are institutionalized. Men slog through life, coping with depression. Yet men and women can't seem to live without each other, despite the inevitable heartache and pain any potential union is bound to cause. Charyn gets specific when it comes to what the human heart desires. He labels the upside of love as "perfect passion" with jealousy and violence as its inevitable downside. Attraction is coupled with confusion until the dividing line between the two is no longer distinguishable.

Take for example, "the bluest eyes in all of Manhattan." They come with the warning, "Never touch the boss's daughter."

There's a push and pull throughout that makes for an bittersweet blend of longing and despair. Charyn shows how the two are linked by having fun with a kooky assortment of fiercely independent ladies and the downtrodden men who try to win them over.

At the heart of it, no one wants to be in the Bronx. It's the last outpost for many. Some never left. Others arrive because they have nowhere else to go. It's not the ideal setting for love to thrive. It's harsh, brutal, draining. Past success is quickly forgotten. Future ambitions are easily thwarted. The present is a no man's land of get what you can get, while you can get it. There are no long term commitments when surviving into the next day comes with no guarantee.

Charyn captures this sense of anxious inertia brilliantly. The Bronx wants to move ahead. It wants to rediscover itself. But it can't. And for now, the best Charyn can do is make it happen in the pages of his book.


Bitter Bronx can be purchased at:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $9.99-$12.49 ebook, $24.95 hardcover
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780871404893
Publisher: Liveright
Release: June 1, 2015
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Jerome Charyn's stories have appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The American Scholar, Epoch, Narrative, Ellery Queen, and other magazines. His most recent novel is I Am Abraham. He lived for many years in Paris and currently resides in Manhattan.

Links to connect with Jerome:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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