Friday, September 26, 2014

Review: A NATIVE’S TONGUE by Michael Dennis

In Michael D. Dennis’s touching new novel, A Native’s Tongue, a young man, torn between two women, struggles to find his way in the world.

Charlie Winters has never been an overachiever. He is used to just getting by while living with his single mother and working a dead-end job at a cheesesteak stand. Meanwhile, he’s constantly grappling with the voice of his sister, who died in a tragic car accident years earlier, echoing in his head.

So when Violet, an older woman, sets her sights on Charlie and refuses to let go, he follows along. He soon finds himself immersed in a destructive relationship that still fails to fill the void within him.

But then he meets Jennifer, a mystical young woman whose energy and life convinces Charlie to pursue her, even through the darkest corners of Los Angeles, and sets their lives upon a path that can’t be stopped.





My thoughts: “Did the endless portrayals of love and romance in novels really exist?” (6)

Each chapter relays the POV of each character. It was odd that some were written in the 1st person and others were in the 3rd person. The chapters with Charlie were in 1st person Pre-Violet/Jennifer; and the chapters with Violet and Jennifer were in 3rd person Post-Charlie. Sometimes the POV would switch within the same chapter, but it wasn’t at all confusing. The enticing part was the mystery in the Post-Charlie segments that begs to answer the question: What happened to Charlie and how did Violet end up in prison?

The whole story mainly revolves around Charlie and his battle with loneliness, depression, and substance abuse. He was never able to deal with the loss of his sister. “After her death, time disintegrated. Each second pulsed through my body in passing immobility: my lungs ceased to expand and I curled like a contortionist in the circus of my own dreadful reality. I was a captive to this pain and the memory. All I wanted was for death to inject me with a taste of its poison.” (42)

The author takes the reader on a wild ride through L.A.’s seedy underside paved with deception and debauchery. “For some reason, few people even believed dying was possible in this city. The fountain of youth flowed so freely that no one ever talked about lying down in the earth forever…In my opinion, there were those of us who feared death, those who had experienced it and still feared it, and those, like me, who welcomed its presence.” (59)

Charlie was trapped in the hard clutches of Violet when he meets the fragile, innocent beauty, Jennifer. It was sad how he got dragged away without knowing her name. This scene was tragic and lovely—almost Shakespearean.

Poor Charlie couldn’t stand Violet, a manipulative, cold woman. “How does someone own a human being? How was it possible to capture a human spirit? My body had separated and my spirit had gone somewhere, wandered off into a distant space, like a specter or wraith. I was owned. My body belonged to someone. She had taken what was, innately, the only real property I had.” (77)

Charlie is a lost, sensitive soul. He may seem like any other young, arrogant douche bag, but his heart resonated a soft empathy. Charlie’s love for Jennifer was enigmatic; it was definitely a love taken from the pages of the Dark Romanticism era—everlasting and naïve.

The ending, of course, left me with puzzled unfulfillment. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it or what exactly happened. On top of that, I didn’t get the meaning of the title: A Native’s Tongue. That was a head-scratcher.

Captivating and well-written! Sprinkled with dark humor, the story contained a mixture of emphatic beauty and brutal sensitivity.

 
My rating: 4.5 stars


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Excerpt of A NATIVE'S TONGUE by Michael Dennis


CHAPTER 1.

Jennifer Bannister’s footsteps echoed down the hall. The uniforms of the inmates dampened the sound. Her ears tried to follow the faint sound, if only to affirm that she was still moving forward. There wasn’t anyone to hold her hand. She just trusted that each sign would guide her in the right direction.

I’ll get there at some point, Jennifer thought, trying to convince herself that she was doing the right thing. You can’t get lost in here; they don’t let you go off course. Her words slipped away. She felt the cold air settle over her skin. She glanced at a placard marked Visitors Only.

In the cool air, her skin tightened. Jennifer shivered and wished she were somewhere warmer. Seeing Violet for the first time was going to be hard enough. She was going to look the woman she hated most in the world in the eye. She didn’t want to be shaking from the cold and covered in goose bumps.

Jennifer peered through the bulletproof glass at Violet. There were markings embedded in the glass, swirls that made it harder to look directly into Violet’s eyes. Jennifer picked up the phone and listened. Violet grabbed it and began to speak, “It was never you that he loved. You know that right?” Violet’s voice was raspy.

Her expressions and mannerisms changed from static to fully engaged. She stood up and waved her hands maniacally at Jennifer, and then she slammed her fist against the glass.

Jennifer hung up the phone. Her blonde hair got caught in between her hand and the receiver as she placed it back on the black hook. Turning, she slid out of the red plastic chair and down the corridor, guided by the exit sign’s green light. In the stale air of the prison, she searched for a pack of cigarettes, unsheathed a Parliament, lit it, and smoked nervously.

Two overweight guards carrying guns in nylon hip holsters directed her to the parking lot, where they offered her matching robotic waves good-bye. The midnight blue 2005 Jaguar xk8, which her parents loaned her for this visit, was the only vehicle in the parking lot row. Her parents thought she would feel safer in their car rather than her own bright red Honda.

In either case, she seemed to fit this car, or the car fit her a lot more. Her lean physique matched the lines on the Jag, and it made her feel more mature. She was constantly trying to act older than she was. Jennifer went around to the passenger side of the car and opened the rear door. She set her oversized black leather purse on the back seat and took out a translucent orange bottle filled with tiny white pills. She slung her head back, popped two, shut the door and walked around to the driver’s seat.

The heat had melted the surface of the Jaguar’s leather seats, reducing the fabric to a buttery texture. Jennifer’s blonde hair clung to the sides of her shoulders, heavy with sweat. She retrieved her car key from the passenger seat, pressed the key into the slot, and burst into tears, suddenly unable to move.

Jennifer hadn’t eaten all day. The heavy dose of Xanax caused her to feel excessively nauseous. She blacked out and fell forward, hitting her forehead on the steering wheel. The car increased in temperature with the late afternoon heat. Her powder-white skin grew red.

“Miss. Are you alright? Miss?” A young guard, Bill Marsh, had spotted the car, and decided to go in for a closer look.

When Jennifer didn’t move, he took out his club and smashed the window. She woke up from her temporary coma and lashed out.

"You Fuck!" Her voice was barely audible, even with the window smashed. Her energy was gone.

"Miss--I, I’m sorry you didn't look okay."

"I am! What business do you have involving yourself in my business? Do you know what you did? You just fucked up my car, you moron.”

“Look, I just saw you from my station.”

To Bill, her face looked familiar, though he couldn’t place where he had seen her before.

"You have no idea. Sitting in your stupid box, behind that intercom.

"I’m sorry, I know we’ll pay for the window. Hell, if the prison won't, I personally will." Bill said.
***
 
 
 
A Native’s Tongue is about a young man trying to find his way in the world. He struggles to keep the woman he loves while entangled in the sex, drugs, and tragedy of Los Angeles. It was inspired by real events,” says Dennis.
Love and tragedy collide in Dennis’s poignant new novel, A Native’s Tongue.
 
Charlie Winters has never been an overachiever. He is used to just getting by while living with his single mother and working a dead-end job at a cheesesteak stand. Meanwhile, he’s constantly grappling with the voice of his sister, who died in a tragic car accident years earlier, echoing in his head.
So when Violet, an older woman, sets her sights on Charlie and refuses to let go, he follows along. He soon finds himself immersed in a destructive relationship that still fails to fill the void within him.
But then he meets Jennifer, a mystical young woman whose energy and life convinces Charlie to pursue her, even through the darkest corners of Los Angeles, and sets their lives upon a path that can’t be stopped.
Escaping to the California coast, Charlie and Jennifer finally find what they’ve always needed. But a sudden illness quickly pulls them both back to LA. It is there, amid the sex, drugs, and split-second decisions that pulse through the city, that tragedy strikes—threatening to tear Charlie and Jennifer apart forever.
A Native’s Tongue is available for sale on Amazon in ebook and paperback.
 
About the Author:
 
Michael D. Dennis is an author and playwright who earned a degree in English literature from Loyola Marymount University. Winner of a LMU Playwriting Award for his play Death of a Watchdog, Michael also had his play, Hen in the Field, produced at the Whitefire Theatre in 2012. His highly anticipated debut novel, A Native’s Tongue, will be released in June 2014. Michael currently lives in Santa Monica, California with his girlfriend and two dogs, Jack and Aurora. To learn more, go to http://www.michaelddennis.com/ or connect with Michael on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/michaeldaviddennis) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/MichaelDDennis).
 
 
 
UP NEXT: My review of A Native's Tongue
 
 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: SKIVE by Paul Adam Levy

Why? Why do I go to a job I hate? Why am I with this person every waking minute? Why do I even get up in the morning? Why, why, why? Insanity or stupidity?  

 
This is the story of a man going about his repetitive, daily routines with bitter doubt and sarcasm.  “I needed to knock myself down to a self-hating drone with all the fight chiselled away. I needed this job to work its black magic on me before I could stomach a morning of hard manual labour.” (6) Don’t we all?

“I was on my feet, torn between throwing a chair through the window and smashing my skull open on the wall.” Plagued by gut-wrenching decisions, the main character (often called either “Al” or “Alex” – for some reason we don’t know his real name) trudges through life questioning every ounce of his existence.

“[Simon] saw the light and powered toward it without a moment’s thought about consequences. Doubts silenced by dreams. Routine shattered by opportunity. I hated Simon. I hoped he would fail. I hoped his relationship with that girl I never met would crumble and he’d be stranded in a shanty town somewhere in Asia, begging for food in a language he didn’t know. I imagined him getting hacked to death with a machete after he was caught stealing a handful of rice from a market stall.” (19)

“There’s no goal. There’s no satisfaction. Some people have an eternity of bliss after death, some have a four star cruise around the Caribbean after retirement and some have a bottle of rum after a shift. No one cares. It doesn’t matter. The people who you sit next to on the bus, the ones that pass you on the street, they don’t care if you work forty-five hours a week on minimum wage or have yacht filled with porn stars and champagne. It makes no difference to them. As long as whatever you do doesn’t leak into their world. You could reduce your carbon footprint to zero or kick stray dogs to death, they will never know and they’ll never want to. You could die right in front of them and you’d just be a small blip in a life of theirs that was filled with moments of personal woe and happiness. Your collapsing corpse would be merely an anecdote at the next social event or an affirming showcase of how fragile and short life is. Maybe your dead, limp body would inspire them to redecorate the bathroom or maybe to take a trip around Asia with a girl who did yoga and hated the same things as you. They would never say you lived an honourable life, they would never say you deserved to die, you’d always just be how they saw you last, for better or worse.” (19)

“The more I thought about everything I left behind, the more I knew I could never face it again. The 5am starts, the buses, the endlessness of filling skip after skip, shelf after shelf. And the people, the God damn people. They want things. They want to know where this is, where that is, they want to speak to your superior. They shove disabled kids in your face and shout rape at the top of their lungs. They won’t be happy until you’re dead so they can burn your corpse in a cardboard box and scatter your ashes over landfill. But I didn’t have to go anywhere. I could just sit here, forever.” (35)

The definition of “skive” is the instance of avoiding work or duty—something we ALL dream of doing, but, for some reason, don’t. And whether from boldness, exhaustion, or frustration, this guy says “F-#@ work!” and chucks it all away. Very admirable!

He says what we’re all thinking, and he speaks the truth. Some of the British slang and little typos were a little hard to comprehend at times. And, at times, the language can be slightly crude. The plot slowed down a bit when the guy joined the crazy hobo saying “F-#@ this” and “F-#@ that” so often that it grew tiring. But, of course, it all beckons you back as our hero schleps through the London streets with cynical views for a cold and gruesome world.

Gritty and poignant, this is a tale so colorfully illustrated with diverse characters and hopeless luck that reinforces the age-old mantra: “The world was unfair.” (13)

Brilliantly candid and down-to-earth with a splash of humor! You can’t help but relate to it every step of the way.

My rating: 4 stars
 
 
 


Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: WITHOUT A NET by Jill Blake

Eva has played it safe her whole life. Then she meets Max, “the ultimate hit and run artist.” Of course, Max has never had any interest in settling down with a family, not with his fast, adventure-seeking lifestyle. But suddenly a broken leg and Eva’s smile could make him re-think his perspectives.

Still, with everything she had to go through with her late husband’s illness, infidelities, and all his debt, the last thing Eva needs is another womanizer—you know, one of those “good-looking, cocky, and too charming to stay mad at for long” perps. (86) Oh, the ones that just drive you nuts!

But fate has a funny way of bringing two people together. Max needed a graphic designer for his new book and Eva is the starving artist desperate enough to take anything.

Beginning with the accidental bump of the shopping carts, the reader is immediately thrust into the potential and swiftly budding romance of the two main characters. I thought Max had attributes that were a little too perfect with his sculpted body, surfer’s tan, and his ineffable ability to make women swoon in the blink of an eye; on top of that, he has a PhD, climbs mountains, and can write a best-selling novel. Is it any wonder that Eva fell for this “perfect” type, especially since she did it once before? It’s interesting how people have a tendency to repeat the same pattern.

Of course, Max’s one flaw was his Hugh Hefner status. Frankly, a guy who has 100 ladies on speed dial is not likely to give it all up for one girl. Frankly, I wouldn’t even bother trying. But, supposedly, Eva needs to see that there is something more to Max beneath his conceited, vapid—and, let’s face it, sexy—exterior. I must admit that I was impressed by Max’s researched knowledge concerning the book publishing business. There’s this dialogue scene where he explains the pros and cons of traditional and digital publishing (useful for writers.) Okay, so the guy wasn’t an idiot either.

Witty and well-written, this is a tale of taking risks, jumping at opportunities, and following your heart.

Fun and adorable! A quick and simple love story you’ll enjoy!

My rating: 4 stars



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: THE GIFT by Jonathan Lynch

There is nothing clearer than the power of the written word.” (5)

As Michael writes in his diary, he recalls his botched suicide attempt. Or was it a dream? But it felt way too real to be a dream. Was he hallucinating? Did he have some kind of sixth sense? What was going on?

The story grabs the reader from the start. You can’t help but relate to these down-on-the-luck characters as they struggle to survive. Michael is this high-school loser that’s never had a girl and has always been bullied; Ann (his mother) is working two jobs and can’t pay her bills; and Maggie is married to a rich bastard who is only getting crankier the older he gets. Still, “it was a relief to see that others were having problems too.” (62) Misery loves company, right?

But why were they seeing a “dark figure?” Where was all this terror coming from? Were they trapped in a strange alternate hell? Or were they just all having a mental breakdown? It was just a mass of wild confusion.

The “dark figure” reminded me of the winged monster from the Jeepers Creepers movie. One minute, you’re standing there; the next, gone.

It seems the greatest battle lies in the darkness. What was that noise? What’s that I feel on my skin? Are the shadows moving? What’s going on here, I can’t see a thing!? I can’t think of anything scarier than being in the dark. But what lurks within the dark? A Gift? What if a gift could eradicate all your pain and suffering and give you all that you ever dreamed of? But, wait, what’s the catch? There’s always a catch.

Well-written but long-winded. A couple of times I found myself wishing the writing would just get to the point already. It wasn’t necessary to relay information we already knew. Still, I was compelled to see how the story would unfold.

Lynch weaves an intriguing tale of dark surrealism, a delightful blend of fantasy and horror, while exploring the crippling desire of temptation and the burdening weights of morality. Our hero must learn that beauty, love, and fortune all come at a dreadful price.

This was a fantastic story full of twists and irony. Loved it!


My rating: 4.5 stars




Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: THE TRUTH ABOUT EMILY by Madi Brown

29-year-old Emily Greene looks the part, but she’s still working on becoming a modern-day woman. Not that she’s one to back down from a challenge, but living as an eternal work-in-progress wasn’t exactly the goal that she had in mind. It’s a harsh but true realization---the idea that that time isn't on her side, and the notion that wanting to have it all, doesn't mean getting it. The verdict is in; with zero prospects for a relationship and a stalled blogging career, Emily has every reason to believe that she’s been living a life too humdrum for her own good.

Making the change won’t be easy. She’ll have to do whatever it takes; start dating like a man, become more selective about which rsvp’s she accepts, and work even harder at getting her dream job.The payoff’s huge;a modern twist on a storybook ending, but gains don’t often come without risks. In the here and now Emily just may be forced to choose….It’s got to be one or the other----the profession that she’s always wanted, or the love that she’s never had.

 
 
 
 

My thoughts: Right off the bat, Emily is one fast-moving, fast-talking broad living the New York life in designer wear—wears that I didn’t know and couldn’t recognize.

“As a teen, she’d always journaled. Reading her coming-of-age entries aloud to her friends somehow became a regular past-time, which resulted in them being completely entertained. They’d laugh, they’d cry, and yep, the reviews were better than a Broadway musical; but writing professionally? That had been nothing more than a dream. Her father had mentally shaken her awake from that one on more instances than she could name. “Becoming a writer isn’t realistic. It’s not going to pay the bills. It’s a hobby,” he’d declare.” (15) Being a fashion writer ain’t too shabby.

But, most importantly, Emily always tries to follow her lists.

What I liked best about Emily was that she was an independent gal trying to follow her dreams, even if that seemed to be making jewelry for haughty celebrities. Still, Emily struck me as a superficial and shallow character, one that contemplates her world with the language of chic and fancy living—in fact, she kind of reminded me of Cher from Clueless.  As if! (Not my favorite movie really.)

I found some of her conversations to be monotonous and superfluous. So you’ve decided to go vegan. Who cares? And must it be necessary to make appearances at all these birthdays, baby showers, engagements, and anniversary parties, which prompt her to buy gifts from Lame R’ Us? No wonder Emily craves the high-society life.

Additionally, her views on dating and relationships were somewhat vapid.

The whole time I wondered: What was the deal with Emily? What was the point of her story? I couldn’t figure it out. Based on the summary, I expected something else from the book—something more aspiring and meaningful. 

Overall, this was a lackluster read. I just couldn’t get into it.
 
 

My rating: 2 stars
 
 
 
 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: THE BELIEVERS by Travis Gulbrandson

Edith Parker has been a widow for ten years, but she tries to keep her husband’s memory alive by carrying a picture of him from room to room. Then, on the anniversary of his death, she is visited by a young man who claims to have a message from him. On the promise of further communications with the deceased, Mrs. Parker invites the mysterious stranger to live with her. While this visitation first seems like the answer to her prayers, she soon finds her actions may have started a chain of events that yield tragic consequences for everyone she cares about.

Dark, at times suspenseful, infused with black humor, The Believers examines a number of issues relating to the nature of faith, but it never tells the reader what to think.





My thoughts: I had a bit of a slow start with this book as it begins with a young man walking aimlessly around town, looking for an old woman. In the interim, he encounters various, eclectic, odd-ball characters—all anonymous with discernible traits.

Mrs. Parker is the widow. Ever since her husband died, people have been treating her like fragile glass, fearing that she might shatter at any moment. She just can’t seem to let go of the life she had, which is why she continues to carry her old traditions (i.e. sleeping on her side of the bed, etc.)

Then Jacob Peterson (the young stranger from the beginning) comes along with a message from her dead husband. Apparently, he listens to that little voice in his head that tells him to do things (like give a message to a weird old lady that you’ve never met.) Supposedly he’s taking orders from God or whatever. He’s like the ghost whisperer. Or perhaps he was possessed by the dead husband?

Nonetheless, the old woman and the young man find a special bond with all this spirit nonsense.

What I liked best was the descriptive nature. The author describes the greasy diner, the old woman’s house, the antiquated church, and so on, all with vivid detail. I didn’t really take too much to all that talk about God, the bible, and the whole “let us pray” ritual because I’m not religious.

My favorite character was Sarah, the waitress. She was the epitome of the drab, working-class stiff. Her motto: “life sucks so why even try?” Of course, she gets her buttons pushed when she meets the ghost whisperer (Jacob). “Why don’t you like anybody,” he asked. NUNYA! If she doesn’t smile, then don’t force her. It’s not like she’s going to be “touched by an angel” anytime soon. I agreed with her regarding the naïve gullibility people have in faith.

Throughout the whole book, Jacob seems to prod into the lives of the town, which was kind of annoying. There were too many characters to keep track of, all of which just go about their mundane, little lives with the church being mentioned quite often. What exactly was the point of this story? The summary indicated that the book was “infused with black humor.” Where was the humor?

Overall, this was well-written, but the story was one full of complexity with a drab theme centered on Christianity, a subject I have virtually no interest in.

My rating: 2 stars