Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Addio Love Monster review Christina Marrocco

Addio, Love Monster

Chrstina Marrocco
Ovunque Siamo Press, 282pp
June, 2022
Literary collection of short entwined stories
Audio $5.99
Ebook $7.99
Print $16.99


About the Book
Addio, Love Monster is a novel told in linked stories spanning generations on the “regular” yet remarkable Singer Street of fictional midcentury Mulberry Park, just outside of Chicago. Marrocco transports you fully into this small world where Signora Giuseppa, the “iron fist” of Singer Street, does everything it takes to keep her grown children very near her, no matter what. Where Enrico the widower creeps in the night looking for a new wife in all the wrong places. Where Nicky the golden-gloves boxer wrestles with what he saw in the basement as a child—and Lena, his wife, also wrestles—with how to deal with Nicky’s violence. Each story follows one person, but together they are the story of the neighborhood, a neighborhood that faces life together, whether they like it or not. In these pages you will find humor and sorrow, resentment and adoration, and the churn and change of a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone both too much and too little as time marches on.

My Review
I adore beautifully drawn stories populated by memorable characters; stories that come around to reveal themselves layer by exquisite layer. I wasn’t sure what to make of Marrocco’s title, Addio, Love Monster, but the premise drew me in. The family, immigrants, first and second generation Sicilian Americans of the 1950 and 60s Midwest, are endearing, exasperating, and noble. The love monster of the title, Guiseppa Millefiore, loses her husband while raising seven of her eight children still at home. Determined to keep them close, she subtly weaves a web for her sons and daughters on Singer Street by buying up houses and lots and renting them out to her children.

Each of the twenty-one stories features a child, in-law, grandchild, other denizens of Singer Street, even the neighborhood itself, such as the tale of The Day Nothing Bad Happened. Guiseppa is the fulcrum of the tales, which slowly revolve through nearly a generation timespan, neatly tied with a death on both ends. Marrocco’s command of detail creates 3D pictures without overwhelming the senses. “Timing was everything” isn’t a cliché on Christmas Eve, when a most unusual role reversal occurs and we see tenderness beneath the trigger temper of Guiseppa’s son Nicky, who has little memory of his father. It is “sisters who help their brothers miss what they could not recall,” he thinks. Descriptions such as “Each letter looked like a little tombstone,” and Gramma’s blanket “was an itchy sort of thing, probably picked up on a clearance at Goldbatts’s by someone out shopping for something else entirely,” are amusing and poignant as they work to set the tone.

Guiseppa holds her family tight, a mother who defends her children and grandchildren under any and all circumstances and is held in the utmost esteem to her deathbed. She’s teacher, overseer, confidant, sly; the provider most of them don’t ever fully understand and appreciate. One of my favorite scenes is when Gramma counsels her young grandson John about his confession that he thought about everything and concluded there was no God. The fact that he even reluctantly told Guiseppa while believing he’d shock and mortify her, says so much about the power of her love. Guiseppa works to ensure all of her children stay true to the family, even if it means getting them brides or arranging for adoptions from Sicily. Family feuds, family secrets, family dreams all muddle together in a charming and thoroughly entertaining collection of generational stories wrapped sweet and sour, like pollo in agrodolce.

About the Author
Christina Marrocco works in memoir, short story, long fiction, and poetry. Her work has appeared in Silverbirch Press, The Laurel Review, House Mountain Review, VIA, Ovunque Siamo, and Red Fern Press. She lives outside of Chicago where she teaches Creative Writing and other courses at Elgin Community College. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

Debut sci-fi detective tale from SW Strackbein


The Change Paradox

SW Strackbein
Time travel detective fiction
Sisyphus Triumphant Publishing

October 16, 2023
SW Strackbein
Ebook $3.99
Print $16.99

About the Book
How do you stop someone who could go back and kill you before you’d know who he was?

At age ten, Katheryn Sanders watched her brother die. Gunned down in a filthy alley by an unknown assailant for reasons that have yet to be determined. Nearly forty years later she’s a prominent detective for the Chicago PD. But for all her success, her most significant unsolved case continues to haunt her. She has yet to find her brother’s killer.

As Sanders delves into her latest case, she’s drawn back by connections to her own past. A futuristic bullet matching the one that killed her brother and a wealthy industrialist claiming he travels through time.

Add that to a trio of assassins alleged to be the same person and a college professor who can appear in two places at once and Detective Sanders has her work cut out for her. Only when she’s willing to consider the impossible will she uncover the truth behind her brother’s murder and stop a time-traveling sociopath bent on revenge before he destroys all time and space.

My review
The Change Paradox is a gritty futuristic hard-boiled detective adventure with plenty of deep-seated angst about the past and a desperate need to uncover the truth of the present while saving the future. Sanders is a detective with all the right gifts who knows all the right buttons to push to annoy the powers that be in her Chicago-based police district. Fortunately, despite her idiosyncrasies, she’s good at her job. The one unsolved crime that haunts her happened in front of her face during her childhood. It turns her into a determined hot mess and when her current case intersects with the past, and she throws herself into a pitched battle with time itself against a crazed inventor who’s beyond reason.

Told through the lens of multiple characters, some whose stories you believe and others are questionable, this twisty tale cracks new puzzles with each revelation. Sanders walks a big fat line of edgy, self-destruction as she works her cases which will either endear or turn off fans—sometimes at the same time. A great debut from an up-and-coming author, this story will hit a high note for fans of time-travel, and detective adventures.

About the Author
SW Strackbein has been writing fiction since 2006. A US Army veteran, he is currently a psychotherapist. Born and raised in rural Wisconsin, he appreciates the simplicity of the Midwest, Green Bay Packer’s football, and all four seasons. He and his wife Tanya live in a semi-rural town with their dogs Amber and Jax, both young-at-heart rescues. He loves to cook, travel, and dreams about retiring in Hawaii.


Monday, November 13, 2023

Food and Family Memoir with Recipes

Survival Food: North Woods Storiesby a Menominee Cook

Thomas Pecore Weso

About the Book: An intimate and engaging Native food memoir

In these coming-of-age tales set on the Menominee Indian Reservation of the 1980s and 1990s, Thomas Pecore Weso explores the interrelated nature of meals and memories. As he puts it, “I cannot separate foods from the moments in my life when I first tasted them.” Weso’s stories recall the foods that influenced his youth in northern Wisconsin: subsistence meals from hunted, fished, and gathered sources; the culinary traditions of the German, Polish, and Swedish settler descendants in the area; and the commodity foods distributed by the government—like canned pork, dried beans, and powdered eggs—that made up the bulk of his family’s pantry. His mom called this “survival food.”

These stories from the author’s teen and tween years—some serious, some laugh-out-loud funny—will take readers from Catholic schoolyards to Native foot trails to North Woods bowling alleys, while providing Weso’s perspective on the political currents of the era. The book also contains dozens of recipes, from turtle soup and gray squirrel stew to twice-baked cheesy potatoes. This follow-up to Weso’s Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir is a hybrid of modern foodways, Indigenous history, and creative nonfiction from a singular storyteller

Wisconsin Historical Society Press (October 10, 2023), 312pp
Ebook: $11.99
Print: $24.95
Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Barnes and Noble

My Review:

I already experience of pang of wounded conscience reading Weso’s preface listing foods he grew up eating in the generation of change when food preparation sank to the bottom of the list of family activities. Allowing strangers to create shelf-stable quick-prep eat-and-run food marched us another step away from our identities. In twenty-one stories about life growing up Menominee, Weso attempts to redirect us toward our own family memories as well as encouraging us to forge new ones and pass them on to the next generation.

Weso lived mostly with his grandparents. “Grandma’s meals always followed the basic Menominee food pyramid….sweet, salt, meat and water.” Meal times were family times, stories and making plans, sharing news. The recipes that follow each story are full of pithy comments, such as the one in Venison Soup: “This is a relatively simple dish to make, after preparing the corn, and finding a deer, dispatching it, and dressing it.” Some of the recipes I’m excited to try, such as Winter Tamale Pie, many ingredients of which can be substituted with canned goods. “These also work during pandemic quarantines when trips to the grocery store are limited.” Other recipes…not so much. I do believe and accept that grasshoppers have lots of protein, but I’m not quite so anxious to make grasshopper tacos. Weso ate a grasshopper taco once in his “search for authenticity” as a college student in Madison.

Every story is an opportunity to share a life lesson or comment such as why Grandma encouraged them to drink coffee and tea, not alcohol. The stories are generous memories of tick bites, porcupine rescues, bear hunting, working on a road crew, felling trees, going to college, learning family lore such as the history behind Grandma and Grandpa’s house. All the way to the passing of Weso’s mother, Weso’s memories weave a loving and poignant, sometimes funny, and always thought-provoking tale of the importance of family and memory and how food is often the main ingredient of home.

About the Author: Thomas Pecore Weso (1953–2023) was an author, educator, artist, and enrolled member of the Menominee Indian Nation of Wisconsin. His book Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in 2016, was reviewed widely and won a national Gourmand Award. He also wrote many articles and personal essays, a biography of Langston Hughes with coauthor Denise Low, and the children’s book Native American Stories for Kids (Rockridge Press, 2022), which was named a 2023 Kansas Notable Book. Weso was an alumnus of Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas, where he earned a master’s degree in Indigenous studies. He died in Sonoma County, California, on July 14, 2023.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Epic Fantasy from David Scidmore continues

Aylun, book 2, Ever-Branching Tree series
$6.99 ebook, $30.99 paper, $39 hardcover
Epic, high fantasy romance
David Scidmore
Meerdon Publishing, Oct, 2023, 1,034 pp
buy on Amazon

About the book:
Megan was always good at solving puzzles. For years, she used that aptitude in the physics lab, where she worked as an assistant to her best friend, Jon, until an accident thrust them into a terrifying alternate world. Almost at once, she is abducted by the heartless tyrant Aylun, an ex-agent of the enigmatic home of all oracles, the Augury. Forced to confront an impossible prophecy that threatens her and her oldest friend, she undertakes a harrowing journey to a city lost centuries ago.

While she struggles to find answers, Jon and new friends Dellia, Garris, and Kayleen are drawn into a conflict with a dark and ancient menace that could obliterate everything and everyone they care about. As the puzzle deepens, the threats multiply, and their situation grows more desperate, Megan’s best hope to save them all and return her and Jon to their home world lies with the very tyrant who abducted her.

My review:
I have to admit, I was fascinated with the story line when I was approached for a review, and agreed, but became daunted by the hefty story. I got into the book and kept thinking my ebook version was wonky when it kept telling me how far along I wasn’t getting. Anyway, there’s definitely a mystery afoot at Delas Labs. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know more because our heroes, physicists Jon and Megan, who are experimenting with some kind of negative energy which works? or doesn’t work? by sucking them into an alternative world in which they’re either heroes or villains, depending on who finds them first. There’s a dragon, too: I love a good dragon! But it seems we get more dragon story in the first episode of the Ever-Branching Tree series called Dellia.

The adventure was definitely more intriguing from the time Jon and Megan find themselves on top of a pile of shiny treasure dragon hoard. This book, Aylun, tells Megan’s side after running from the cave and being kidnapped by a former Shou, Aylun, a protector of prophecy, who’s bent on sacrificing himself to the dragon after he’s failed a couple of missions. The story is also as much his as Megan’s.
These two young people eventually come to an understanding…and more, as they try to figure out the truth of the prophecy and what it means for their worlds.

Aylun is not as much sequel as it is companion piece, as this story unfolds during the course of Dellia, the first book, which is told from Jon’s and Dellia’s perspectives. It’s a daunting task to twine parallel stories like this, but Scidmore has created an engaging, entertaining, and lengthy romantic fantasy. Readers of stories that draw from other cultures like that of Bradley Beaulieu, would enjoy The Ever-Branching Tree series.

About the author:
Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, David Scidmore has held many jobs over the years, from fast-food worker to musician to electrical engineer. He now lives in Verona, Wisconsin, with his wife, Brenda. In recent times, his lifelong passion for playing keyboards and composing music has turned into a fascination with crafting literary works. His enthusiasm for weaving complex stories that stir the emotions led to his first book, Dellia. With an obsession for expanding his ability as a storyteller, he continues that tale in Aylun, the second book in the Ever-Branching Tree series. Find out more at his website.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

New writing reference guide


Devise Your Story’s Plot

Rob Bignell

A Guidebook in the Storytelling 101 Quick Read Series

Atiswinic Press, September 2023

Kindle ebook $2.99, 64 pp

Buy on Amazon 

About the Book and series:

Storytelling 101 Quick Read Series is a group of seven short books filled with pithy, to-the-point advice useful for both beginning writers and as refreshers for seasoned writers. The others are Writing Effective Dialog, Write Your Story’s First page, and helpful marketing books on platform, reading, formatting, and website-building

When writers come up with a great story idea but don’t know how to to develop it, usually the problem is one of plotting. Understanding story structure – i.e. plot – would be extremely helpful in developing their story.

Plotting Your Story is all about understanding the basic rules for constructing your story. It examines plot’s role in storytelling, the importance of conflict in plotting, and the five traditional elements of a plot. It also looks at some common plot pitfalls. The structural guidelines outlined in the book work for any genre, whether you’re writing a serious literary piece or penning in any of the escapist genres from romance or science fiction to mystery or fantasy. By the end of this book, with a little imagination tossed in, you should be able to construct an impressive plot.

Part of the Storytelling 101 Quick Read series, Plotting Your Story answers all of your plot questions in a brief, easy to understand format. It cuts to the chase and provides practical, useful information that can be followed step-by-step.

My Review:

Rob Bignell has laid out great advice for both new and practiced writers on developing and following a plot to smooth out the storytelling process. Beginning with clarifying plot and offering examples, followed by how plot works, to creating memorable opening hooks and purposeful endings, Rob’s style makes the books in his series great reference tools. He explains not only cliches and pitfalls, but gives examples and explains why and how to keep the reader satisfied and coming back. If you want to write a sequel, there’s a better way than ending your book on a cliffhanger.

Recommended for writers who are just getting started, as well as those who like a sweet refresher now and then. The book is not genre-specific and can be used for any fiction.

 About the Author:

ROB BIGNELL is the author of more than 50 books and an established editor who has helped more than 300 authors achieve their publishing dreams. His works include hiking trail guidebooks, a novel, children's books, and poetry.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Crossing Borders: the Search for Dignity of Palestine


Crossing Borders: The Search For Dignity In Palestine

Christa Bruhn
Little Creek Press, May 20, 2023, 506 pp
$28.95, Paperback, $9.99 Ebook, $42.95 hardcover

About the Book
In her debut memoir Crossing Borders: The Search for Dignity in Palestine, Christa’s journey of curiosity beginning in Jerusalem and Gaza while studying abroad in her father’s homeland of Germany at the tail end of the Cold War. Christa’s experiences open up a world of joy and heartache that transforms into a lifetime pursuit to make a difference in a land two peoples call home. Through Christa’s unique perspective as an American and mother of three Palestinians, we become familiar with both current and historic challenges Palestinians face living in the shadow of the State of Israel. Christa poses thought-provoking questions that are a test to us all as we collectively grapple with how to come together in a place that is increasingly divided in the mind and on the ground.

My review
Bruhn’s lengthy memoir covering some three decades of passionate relationship with the country of Palestine is thought-provoking. A German proverb she quotes about picking your hero and picking your villain aptly applies: rights and wrongs are not respected in the Question of Palestine.

Told first person travel memoir, educational experience, and marriage, Bruhn is suited to share her view of the intimacies of life of modern Palestine. Straddling the fence are her three children born in the States but holding Palestinian credentials. Each lengthy stay in Palestine throughout the years to observe, learn, gather information for her advanced degree, or plant roots is a challenge to make a difference both in the lives of the Palestinians and those who monitor the “situation.”

With plenty of angst and blame and constant “what if” sprinkled in with the obvious love and joy and recipes and culture in general, the story is not a casual read. I often wondered how the author would view life if she had gotten caught up in a different aspect the national heritage of the geographical region. Muslim, Jewish, Christian has become a national political identity, not a profession of belief, especially to this generation. One thing for sure is that there has been a lot of undignified actions performed on behalf of religion. Hopefully Bruhn’s story and plea for understanding and respect can help bring dignity back to the table.

Recommended for those who want to learn more about Palestine from an inside view.

About the Author
Christa Bruhn is an American author, photographer, and culinary artist with a lifelong passion for peace and justice. She is the daughter of a German immigrant raised under Nazi Germany and the mother of three Palestinian Americans. She holds degrees in International Studies (BA), Middle Eastern & North African Studies (MA), and Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis (PhD). She has published academic work on Palestine, peace education, and diversity and led and participated in roundtables on the future of Palestine and Israel. She splits her time between her home in Madison, Wisconsin and Jalameh, Palestine.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tiny Tin House


Tiny Tin House

L Maristatter
July, 2022, Niffy Cat Press, 355 pp.
Dystopian Christian Fiction
$7.99 ebook
$17.99 Paperback
$34.99 Hardcover

Buy on Amazon 

About the Book
In the Christian States of America, where religion rules, one woman discovers the only rules are about survival.

Although she’s legally an adult, eighteen-year-old Meryn Flint must live at home until her stepfather, Ray, finds her a husband. That’s the law.

But when Ray kills her mother and Meryn must flee for her own safety, she quickly discovers there’s no safe place in the CSA for a woman on the run. Unless she’s willing to marry her former boyfriend—a man who’s already demonstrated his capacity for violence—she’ll be forced to live on the street. And that’s a dangerous option for a woman alone.

As time runs out, Meryn is offered a third path: build herself a tiny house, a safe place to call home. Even though it’s a violation of her Family Duty as well as every moral law on the books, Meryn seizes the chance.

But even a tiny tin house might not be enough to save her . . .

 My Review
Tiny Tin House is an elegantly told story of an unfortunately possible future if power hungry delusional charismatic faith leaders descend into the “Christian” version of Sharia law. I shiver...

The future L Maristatter portrays took only a few generations to develop. After the world is devastated, the US breaks up into little governances. The one our heroine, Meryn, dwells in uses a terribly disturbing anti-Biblical approach to legalized misogyny. One murder witnessed by a child should be more than enough, but when Meryn sees the continued hypocrisy of the state in which she lives, the murder of her mother, and the offhand response by the cops, or Guardian Angels, “Don’t worry, you can marry again,” to her stepfather, she finally realizes she must flee for her life. To top if off, dear old stepdad sells her to a man obsessed with her, willing to go to any lengths to get her.
The Christian States are broken beyond repair; even gardening and greenhouses are outlawed. Caste rules what people are allowed to do with their lives, much like slavery; and Biblical-based law and culture is horribly misinterpreted and enforced.

Friends living on the edge are Meryn’s safety net. But how can she drag them into the quagmire of her life and certain death if they’re exposed?

Real faith in the Christ who loves us all and the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us is the foundation of this engaging and horrifying alternate life. I kept turning pages to find out what would happen next.
I agreed to provide an unbiased review for the author, and highly recommend this to anyone who like inspirational, edgy fiction, and dystopian lit.

 About the Author
L Maristatter holds a BA in journalism and an MA in communication. Her short story, “Crying in the Sun,” was published in The Saturday Evening Post online, and the Songbirds Southwest web journal published her poem, “Child.
Maristatter is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, The Author’s Guild, and Realm Makers. She lives in the snowy Midwest, where she tries to stay warm, reads terrific fiction, and eats way too much chocolate. She’s on Facebook and Twitter regularly, and TikTok and Instagram when she’s feeling brave.