Review by Raymond Mathiesen of The Neurotic’s Guide To Avoiding Enlightenment

Review of: The Neurotic’s Guide To Avoiding Enlightenment

Reviewer: Raymond Mathiesen

Deep thoughts about the self and self-improvement…

Even a quick look at the self-help shelf at any bookstore will quickly reveal that the industry is booming and that most of us seem to have a secret desire to ‘be a better person’. We search for that magic formula which will give us enlightenment, hopefully the quicker the better. But is enlightenment, as we understand it, really achievable? If we did have a better life what would it be like? Would it be very different from our current life? Even more, what if we found that this ‘self’, which we are so bent on improving, turned out not to really exist, to be a myth, an unreliable creation of our own brain? Can modern neuroscience throw any light on this subject, and if so do you have to be an expert to understand it? If you are confused already get ready to have many of your ideas challenged by Chris Niebauer’s thought provoking book The Neurotics Guide To Avoiding Enlightenment: How The Left-brain Plays Unending Games Of Self-improvement.

Many self-help books are written from a New Age / Eastern Mysticism perspective and in a way Niebauer’s book fits into this category. Niebauer is strongly influenced both by the mid twentieth century author Alan Watts and the contemporary writer Eckhart Tolle. Watts wrote on a variety of Eastern Religions including Zen, Hinduism and Taoism and Tolle is greatly influenced by Buddhism. To describe the book as being purely of this ilk, however, would be greatly misleading. Also, to describe The Neurotics Guide simply as a self-help book, would be equally deceptive. Certainly there are mind-exercises and meditation techniques included which the reader may find helps them achieve a new mind-state, and which gives them a new approach to life, but this is very much a book of theory / philosophy which concentrates on challenging our standard ideas about ourselves and our lives. Niebauer is indeed “a college professor specializing in cognitive neuropsychology” (Preface) and the book has a heavy neuroscience content. In essence Niebauer is attempting to give Eastern Mysticism a neuroscience framework, taking it from the world of pure ideas and giving it a firm background in science.

As the reader may by now be guessing this is not really a beginner’s book. Some understanding of both Eastern Mysticism and psychology would be useful. Niebauer’s ideas are unorthodox and very challenging, and need to be thought about quite a bit. The first chapter, for example, may be a struggle to understand, but Niebauer’s ideas become easier to appreciate if you stay with the book and keep reading. By the end you may not agree with everything Niebauer says, but you will certainly have been forced to think through much of what you believe about yourself and the world.

Despite the emphasis on theory, the book does not use technical terms or give lengthy, in depth scientific discussions. There are illustrative examples from Niebauer’s real life and that of his family. These examples help to make the text more personal and easier for the average reader to relate to.

As the subtitle suggests a great deal of this book has to do with the left-brain. This is the hemisphere which is dominant, that is, which is most prominent in our thinking. It is pattern seeking and sees the world in terms of categories. It divides the world into nouns, that is stable ‘things’. All this is fine except that much of the world is process, which is to say that things change, indeed often are in considerable flux. Thus we tend to think of ourselves as a permanent ‘picture’. We tell stories from our history which illustrate ’who we are’, when in fact we are a changing entity. This idea is very much in agreement with narrative psychology (Dan P. McAdams. The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths And The Making Of The Self:__ New York: The Guilford Press, c1993). Taking another example, we tend to see enlightenment as a ‘thing’ which can be achieved, a permanent state in which our old self ends and a new self comes. That is we see enlightenment as the ceasing of one stable thing and the beginning of another. As Niebauer points out our left-brain will never cease operating, even if we become much more aware of our right-brain, process oriented, expanded awareness, therefore enlightenment is a continuing process of change, of seeing the world in a new way.

Much of the book centers on the discovery that, in the absence of solid data, the left brain confabulates, that is, invents perfectly reasonable sounding, yet untrue, explanations for why the world appears as it does. That is when we have little information we see ‘patterns’ which don’t exist, at least not in the way we believe they do. This discovery comes from split brain patients. These are people who, usually because they suffer from extreme epilepsy, have had their corpus callosum cut. The corpus callosum allows the left and right hemispheres to communicate. It does not take much to remember an occasion in which we have ‘jumped to conclusions’. At the time we are sure of our ideas, but later we come to doubt because we find information otherwise or because we see that we actually have no evidence. The end result of these findings is of course that we should be much less certain of ourselves. This is an idea Alan W. Watts proposes in his book The Wisdom Of Insecurity (New York: Vintage Books, c1951).

Niebauer proposes two main solutions to our problems in life. The first is that we be aware of life, observing ourselves, and the things that happen to us, from a distance. This allows us to truly observe, rather than jump to conclusions. It also allows us to distance ourselves from the emotional drama of our lives. We observe “I am upset’, but by the act of extended observation we are one step from our unsettledness. This of course is what is known in Buddhism as mindfulness. Niebauer’s second solution is to approach life with a playful attitude. We take ourselves less seriously and do not know with the certainty which our left brain wants to assure us that we have. Once again we are distanced from the drama of life.

Of course the three paragraphs above only just touch on the topics discussed in Niebauer’s book which range from as specific and real as what can be done about anxiety, to as broad and esoteric as what part of the self survives after death. While the book is not long there is much in it, and the reader may prefer to only read one chapter a day in order to give the author due consideration.

One point of criticism is that all of Niebauer’s evidence comes from brain damaged patients and optical illusions. These are not circumstances in which the ‘normal’ aspects of life apply. This leads us to wonder how much these circumstances occur in ‘ordinary’ life. It is not that we doubt what Niebauers is saying, but we wonder how often the circumstances occur. How often do we, for example, jump to conclusions? Niebauer would have it that we do this frequently, but is that so. A little more evidence on this point would be useful. But even if we disagree on the frequency Niebauer’s book is still certainly an eye opener.

The Neurotics Guide To Avoiding Enlightenment is certainly a book that will challenge most readers and give them much to think about. We all tend to be reasonably certain that we ‘know ourselves’ and understand the world, but Chris Niebauer definitely makes us wonder just how much we really do. Niebauer doubts that we can ever fully escape ourselves and become ‘enlightened’ as we so desire, but he does hold that we can be more aware. If you are interested in Eastern Philosophy you will certainly find this book different from most on that subject which you own. If you are interested in knowing more about how the brain works you will also be intrigued by this volume. I am happy to rate this book as four stars out of five.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
Many people want self-improvement, and the idea of Eastern ‘enlightenment’ has become quite popular, but is this ‘state’ possible in the way we generally think of it? Even more do we really know our ‘self’?

Reviewer Bio
I have a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in literature (James Cook University of North Queensland). In that degree I obtained minors in psychology, modern history and economics.

I also have a Graduate Diploma of Library Science in which my studies included management and communications (Queensland University of Queensland).

Review by Carol Tilson of The Impossible Coin

Review of: The Impossible Coin

Reviewer: Carol Tilson

Was his act of kindness worth a life of torture?

Winn is gifted, he can see and feel many things that others cannot, and just ask him – that is not always a good thing.
Luckily Winn finds a mentor in Marty, and older fellow who lives in the trailer park he and his mom call home. Mom is always too busy working, drinking or entertaining male guests to worry about what Winn is and is not doing. She knows that he is gifted, but would rather he be more secretive. Winn’s best friend, Brent, knows that he has some kind of “abilities” but is not too sure what that means. Winn’s ability has to do with the supernatural world that is hidden to most of the population. For all those gifted, this supernatural world can be seen easily while in “the river”. “The river” can be described as an alternate plane where the gifted ones are able to see, bee seen and communicate with the supernatural. Where Winn lives, the river has become contaminated, the area is not far from where the atomic bombs were tested – and just like the humans – the supernaturals have been greatly affected by the fall out, and not in a good way.

While searching for hidden treasure, Winn and Brent come upon a cave. Knowing something is not right; Winn drops in the river and is witness to some nasty supernatural activity. When they leave the cave, Winn finds what he thinks is an old nickel in his pocket, but when he holds this nickel a certain way, it makes him feel better than he ever has in his life. But we all know that anything that good comes at a high price. Winn is given a warning of “three days” but does not take it as serious as he should, and in the end – his life is changed horribly forever. The decision he made out of love cost him as if someone had taken a knife to his body and peeled away his skin. Will it ever stop? Can Winn be saved from being haunted by the horrors of that incident day after day? Can he trust, love again?

This is Book 2 of The Downwinders Series, a spinoff of Michal Richan’s first series, The River. Fresh, new and full of imagination, just like the rest of his books. I felt captivated, as if I was experiencing everything first hand. Even though it is part of a series, the author makes sure that it is easily read as a standalone novel. The only problem is, once you read one of his books – you are ready for more. I have read all 9 of his books, and can’t wait for number 10.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
The originality and creativeness of the book, and how even though the book is part of a series, it holds it’s own as a stand alone novel.

Reviewer Bio
I am just a person who loves to read, and will many times write a review – especially if I like it. If I have a choice of reading a book by a famous author, or one just developing callouses from typing their own books, my pick – I go for the underdog. It is amazing how many great authors there are out there who have not made it to the Best Sellers list, but should.

Review by Susan McMichael of American Crow

Review of: American Crow

Reviewer: Susan McMichael

Move over Rebus, here comes Blake…
Detective fiction is a little like drinking wine: there is a lot around and everyone has their favourite. When something new comes on the market, the drinker or the reader, looks longingly to their favourite brand or book and says, “I hope the new one is like the old one…” It’s not an exact science of course: there is a chemistry to it. The reader can like a new detective story, and then the reader can love a new detective story.

I am a fan of detective stories. I began with Agatha Christie back when I was eleven. I read Sherlock Holmes and moved onto the feminist detectives in the early eighties. It’s a little hard to define what I like: sometimes I think that reading anything is really a love story and so is undefinable, but….

I picked up American Crow by Jack Lacey and was hooked. I love American Crow. The character of Sibelius Blake is strongly written and interesting. Blake’s back story comes out through the novel. The plot ending ties beautifully with the beginning: it is very well structured.

When we first meet Blake, he has just quit his job as a tracer after having suffered a tragedy. He is alone. Sibelius Blake comes from a long line of detectives who have issues: Dalziel of Dalziel and Pascoe, and Inspector Morse from Colin Dexter, are recent versions. We like these wounded detectives for their peculiarities (their cryptic crosswords, their drinking, and their morose moods) because they fight for the truth. They are right, despite the odds, and they are good at heart. Blake is cast in this mould: despite telling “everyone he’d quit for good”, Lenny, his boss, can still track him down and know that Blake will find Olivia Deacon, or if he can’t, do his darnedest.

This is search and find detective fiction: we aren’t looking at bodies as in the Cornwell/Scarpetta type of novel. Rather, we are searching for something lost, in this case a person. This search serves as an introduction to a Private Investigator with a great back story. It also gives Lacey scope to show us Blake’s ability as a detective. Lenny tells Blake that he can “mix it with the worst, blend in with the riffraff… You know what I mean? You’re not some stiff Columbo type in a mackintosh…. That’ why you gets results.”

Like a large number of his kind (Millhone and Dalziel) Blake is alone, without family. The reasons for this makes a really interesting plot line which is well structured and kept me reading. It resolved itself well at the end and, along the way we are introduced to an interesting mix of minor characters: the cafe owner, Blake’s boss Lenny, Lenny’s family members, and an odd, and occasionally, scary bikie and truck driver. I felt that, not only were these minor characters well drawn, but also that a number of they had good scope for further stories. I’d be interested to know what happens to them, to see what other meals Blake has at Sheila’s cafe.

Place is important in detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes’s London, Agatha Christie’s drawing rooms. In the modern stories the city is the backdrop: Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels are set in Edinburgh, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone drives the streets of Santa Theresa in California. Blake is an English PI, based in London, but American Crow, as its name suggests, takes Blake to various parts of the US. The novel sends Blake from place to place, searching. This is an excellent metaphor for the personal search that Blake is on. He doesn’t like England; he doesn’t like himself. The various locations in American Crow make interesting backdrops: Essex is wet, with rain hammering down, St James’s Park in London has inquisitive ducks, Cedar Avenue is a dilapidated tower block. These places reflect the journey that Blake is going on to find Olivia Deacon. As the locality changes, so does the mood of the novel.

Travel to the US allows Lacey to explore another aspect of the detective novel: the reason, the meaning, the social issue. This is an interesting aspect of the modern detective novel: the awareness of social issues: feminism, the environment, class. Unlike modern fiction, modern detective novels often declare their vision. In the U.S., both Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky are feminist detective writers. Their characters are feminist and the stories are seen through an avowedly political prism. American Crow does not tackle gender, but it does discuss the environment, environmental activism and various concerns including the role of the company, political activism, individual and corporate responsibility. This environmental theme isn’t done in any high handed way: it is integral to the plot and the action follows.

Although American Crow’s primary focus is not gender, the female characters in the novel are interestingly drawn and there is a varied range of roles and actions for various women. The women are activists, scientists, researchers, victims, agents, and some play different roles at different times.

Detective fiction requires certain constraints: there’s usually a baddie as well as a goodie. The male characters in American Crow are less inclined to be good, excepting of course, our hero and a couple of his friends. Overall, though, I found the characters compelling and believable.

The setting of this novel is terrific. Who will Blake meet? Where will he go? Will he use his contacts or his wits? I couldn’t wait to turn the pages and to find out what Blake would do in order to find Olivia Deacon. The characters are intriguing, and the social issue of environmentalism adds depth. Like many great detective novels, I finished it really quickly and I can’t wait for Jack Lacey to write the next instalment. American Crow is very highly recommended and I am happy to rate it as 5 out of 5 stars!

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
I picked up American Crow by Jack Lacey and was hooked. I love American Crow. The character of Sibelius Blake is strongly written and interesting. Blake’s back story comes out through the novel.

Reviewer Bio
I received my B.A. (Hons) from the University of New England Armidale, in 1992, majoring in English. I focused on Victorian and American literature. I have also studied Psychology and French.

I have been reading Sylvia Plath since 1983, and studied both Plath and Ted Hughes, at UNE.

Review by Raymond Mathiesen of Finding Devo: A Novel Adventure

Review of: Finding Devo: A Novel Adventure

Reviewer: Raymond Mathiesen

Escape from the system?

Sports journalist Russell Martell is on holiday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico . His wife Rosalita has recently died and Russell feels lost and hurt, drifting through life. Then his journalistic senses begin to come alive as he starts to get the hints of stories: not sports stories, but crime and current events, with a hint of politics. What is the real story behind a body found in strange circumstances near the beach front? Is the rumor of a police raid on a suburban house really connected to drug cartels? Who is the colorful character Devon (Devo) that appears to be making a splash in town, at least according to the bar scuttlebutt? All these questions seem to draw together, but only more questions emerge. Soon Russell and his friend, Johnny Miles, will become caught up in an adventure where mystery and uncertainty abounds. How will ordinary citizens survive, let alone take action in a world of gangs, police and government? Seve Verdad’s Finding Devo: A Novel Adventure is a story of mystery and action which will intrigue and excite the reader as they follow Russell and Johnny in their desperate attempt to escape disaster.

Verdad writes well and he lifts his prose with colorful phrases, giving interesting atmospheric descriptions and character details. Describing Devo, for example, Verdad writes: “But he is smooth. Smooth as a pythons belly. Smooth as a razor blade, a bullet, a warhead” (Ch. 83). Much of the book varies between chapters in first person narrative, giving Russell’s point of view, and chapters in third person narrative, giving the perspective of various other characters. This change in viewpoint works well to keep the story complex and interesting. The text contains quite a liberal scattering of Mexican Spanish. Sometimes an English translation is given and sometimes not. The lack of translation is at first annoying, but the reader soon notices that these phrases are not of critical importance to the plot. The book can certainly be enjoyed without knowledge of Spanish. There is occasional offensive language, both in English and Spanish, but probably less than occurs in most people’s common language. Only the most conservative will be offended. Occasionally there are nice hints of irony. For example Joaquín ‘Garras’ de Jesús, a brutal federal agent, is depicted “imagining his garras [claws] wrapped around the necks of those who might be responsible for such a barbaric massacre” (Ch. 48). Who is the barbarian we wonder? Similarly there is a nice contrast between Garras meditating in order to concentrate his powers of destruction (Ch. 48) and Russell meditating in order to survive pain (Ch. 50). As a point of criticism it should be noted that the first half of the book is, in sections, a bit too wordy. The party which Russell attends gets quite a few chapters allocated to it even though it is just one night. Similarly the revelations from the computer disk, which the police find, go on chapter after chapter, even though we quickly get the basic idea of what they are saying and their relevance. Also the bomb explosion gets several chapters, each one from a different character’s perspective, even though the basic response of all is shock. These sections could have been condensed to make the plot move at a swifter pace. After Chapter 50, however, the book really takes off and never slows until the very finish. This point should not be overemphasized. It would be wrong to say that the first half of the book is boring: it is just a little slow in some sections.

The novel is divided into three parts. Book I Fiesta (Ch. 1 – 28) gives an overview of the circumstances in all its many complications, introducing the reader to the book’s many main characters. This section is characterized by questions and mystery. Book II Rain (Ch. 29 – 83) is a narration of disaster, then capture and escape. It begins slowly but escalates midway into a high action and adventure narration. Book III Camacho (Ch. 84 – 114) is a further story of escape in which questions are answered and resolution is given. It should be noted, however, that even at the end of the book there are still some open questions, and indeed the reader wonders if Verdad plans a sequel. This is not a book where everything is tied up neatly.

The characters are nicely drawn and we immediately relate to them as real people. We like Russell because of his inquisitiveness and initiative. His background in sports makes him appealing to male readers. His grief over Rosalita’s death shows him to be a man of some feeling, beyond his All-American bravado. But as the plot progresses the reader begins to see some of Russell’s failings. He is “egotistical” (Ch. 51) and “rash” (Ch. 7). Also as we read further Russell evolves from an ‘ordinary’ man to one who deals decisively, if perhaps extremely, with extraordinary circumstances. Devo, by contrast, remains throughout almost all the book a man of mystery. He is rumored to be a “pot grower” (Prologue), but we never quite find out how he gets his money. He is variously a “psycho” (Prologue), a “wildcard” (Ch. 52) or just a good guy engaged in “shenanigans” (Prologue). Devo is quite a performer who carries off acts in which he appears to change height, change age, and even flawlessly change his voice. He performs slight-of-hand (Ch. 25 & 72) and indeed Verdad manages to make Devo seem almost mystical and magical. Devo of course has his limits. At one point he comments “I don’ know everthin’” (Ch. 50), but he is certainly no ‘ordinary’ man. By keeping this character an enigma Verdad instills in the readers a sense of intrigue which keeps him reading. The book has quite a host of other characters which Verdad also successfully draws. He even manages to sum up quite minor characters in just a few words. Teachers’ union leader, Teodoro Viareal, for example, is described as having “the voice of an excitable Chihuahua” (Ch. 7).

Ambiguity is one of the novel’s chief themes. As has just been noted Devo is a man of mystery. We do not know exactly how to place him. He could be a hero, but seen from other angles he is quite villainous. Moral and political ambiguities are at a premium in the book. Actions, circumstances and perspectives are described as having both good and bad points. Government officials fight for good, against terrorism, yet they are themselves corrupt and inept. Capitalism, Marxism and Anarchism are all made understandable, being both praised and criticized. Verdad constantly poses the reader questions which are not easy to answer. This is not a novel which teaches a ‘correct’ viewpoint: rather it opens up complexity. Indeed isn’t the world just that: complex. Aren’t different people, with different perspectives, able to interpret the same event in very different ways with very different conclusions?

Corruption is itself so central to this book that it must be considered as a theme in itself. Vice impairs the function of institutions which could work to the good. We all say about our little misdemeanors that ‘it doesn’t matter’. We even say our ‘shadiness’ gives us ‘character’. But when our dishonesty ends in real trouble we are left embarrassed, and even ashamed of our actions. We immediately seek to emphasize what little good we can salvage and hide the bad.

The individual is a third important theme. We are single units, yet we are also in systems. Do our actions count or is the weight of the system too much for us to make a difference? The individual struggles for survival, and yet so much that happens is a result of external circumstances which we cannot control. As single people we have a certain ignorance of the system and even naivety. Yet also as individuals we have our own talents which we can use to direct our future, and even contribute to the bigger picture. Are we better off in a system or purely as individuals, or is a mix better? Is anything other than a mix even possible?

Verdad’s novel is very much set in a male world of macho toughness and competition and so there are a scattering of anti-female descriptions. Russell observes “a pair of bubble head dolls” (Ch. 2). Police Lieutenant Benito Cuevas Romero thinks “Why stand women at all, but for one thing…?” (Ch. 8). Women are reduced to body parts: “… breasts – important assets for a girl” (Ch. 7). Gloria Infante Velázquez, however, stands out as a major female character who is capable, successful and dynamic. Her husband would not be a successful mayor without her help, and he is completely guided by her strong political sense. Indeed Gloria, if she had chosen so, “might have become mayor of Puerto Vallarta herself, or perhaps Guadalajara, her home town…” (Ch. 5). Certainly Gloria has her failings, as any person does. She is driven by power, money and prestige. In the middle of one of her business negotiations we read: “Her eyes had darkened, become bland, almost dead. Shark eyes’ (Ch. 7). But Gloria regrets her part in the major disaster that occurs. She has a strong sense of “guilt” (Ch. 43) and immediately sets about devoting all her energies to set things right. When attacked by corrupt policemen Brenda, Russell’s new love interest, fights like a “wildcat” (Ch. 60) and her sister Araceli joins the fight by hurling a baseball at the attackers. Feminist readers will be glad to find that, in this novel, women are not meekly subordinate adjuncts to men, but rather dynamic persons in their own right.

As has just been noted Finding Devo is, at least on the surface, a world of male machoism in line with 1950’s values. Both Russell and Johnny live for sports, womanizing, drinking, cockfights and have dabbled in law breaking (minor for Russell’s part and major for Johnny’s part). This comfortably male dominant world, however, is very much undercut when both men find themselves in real trouble. Suddenly Russell and Johnny are victims who need to be rescued. Their bravado wears thin as they find themselves in waters way beyond their depth. Certainly it is a male who ‘saves’ them and certainly they are not completely helpless themselves, but the brash American male image takes a beating. Quite a number of other male characters in positions of power are also undercut. Their confident acceptance of corruption in various forms, as a bonus of their ‘tough-guy’ power, leads to their downfall and ineffectiveness. Devo, as has been noted, remains an enigma. He is certainly a ‘tough-guy’ hero, but we never quite know how to take him. Is he to be admired or viewed with some doubt? He ‘pulls the strings’, but to what end? Rather than the traditional 1950’s ‘super-hero’ we have an ambiguous magician who even at the end leaves us with questions. How much should we admire him? Devo has intelligence, skill and charisma, but is hardly a New Age man of feeling. Russell by contrast gains positive re-connection with his emotions and is able to associate with others in a mature way.

The indigenous people of Mexico are represented in the text, though not always in a positive light. Those people in power in the novel do not view the Indians favorably. They are described as “naco” a “pejorative word often used in Mexican Spanish to describe the bad-mannered and poorly educated people of lower social classes” (Wikipedia. Naco (slang):__ As early as Chapter 1 we read: “They have no respect. Better to send them all north. Let the gringos deal with them, fill their jails with them” (Ch. 1). But the Anarchist Carlos Mansalva (Manco) takes up the cause for the Indians. We read “The entire continent belongs to us, those of Indigenous blood” (Ch. 8). Further we read of “Zapatistas” (Ch. 5 and following) the politically left Indigenous Mexican movement. The indigenous are mentioned as demonstrating for their rights (Ch. 7). Indigenous people are represented chiefly by two characters: Javier Menticlaro and Paulo Pepino Revueltas (Chimp). Javier is an influential Zapatista leader, though he could be viewed as a ‘bad’ character. Similarly Chimp holds the respected occupation of police officer, but is certainly not represented positively. It must be remembered that ambiguity is strong in the novel and so both the good and the bad of indigenous people is discussed. Javier is a particularly ambiguous character. We can understand him as an indigenous person, but do not necessarily agree with his actions.

In turn with the macho atmosphere of the book LBTIQ characters are absent. There are indeed a couple of anti-Queer comments made in Chapter 2. Perhaps one positive character could have been included in the party, at the beginning of the book, and we know that police are not exclusively heterosexual. In an novel which so emphasizes ambiguity, and which asks so many questions, it is perhaps a missed opportunity that LGBTIQ characters were passed over.

The Aged, a much ignored group, are also absent. They perhaps would have been inappropriate in the heavy partying, high action world of the novel.

As has been mentioned ambiguity is prevalent in this novel and peaks when it is viewed from the Marxist / Capitalist debate. The Capitalist U.S. is viewed as a very safe place compared to the Socialist Mexico, yet the Capitalist desire for money and prestige is a very major contributing factor in the crisis of the novel. Indeed Gloria’s Capitalist ventures end in defeat, not triumph. But similarly Marxism is represented as being falsely hollow. Media Minister Lazarito Charlado is an appointee of the Socialist Reform Party, but is interested in the “advance … [of his] … fortunes” (Ch. 3), that is, in the personal moneys he can amass and the power and prestige he can gain. Even more the Socialist influenced Zapatista movement is depicted as violent and aggressive. At the heart of both Capitalism and Marxism corruption can lead to a political culture where power, authority and legitimacy are undermined. Anarchism, a political ideology more left than Marxism, is partially represented in the text by the activist Carlos Mansalva (Manco). Manco makes quite good arguments against Capitalism and for the advancement of the indigenous Mexican people, but he has quite violent tendencies. Even more Maco is depicted as being falsely hollow, like Lazarito, being motivated by the large amounts of money he can earn for his dubious dealings with Chimp (Ch. 58). Despite this criticism, though, Anarchism has a prominent place in the novel. The actions of private citizens are seen as being more effective than those of organizations. But can even individuals be trusted to act for the ‘good’? The questions abound.

Finding Devo is very much a postmodern novel in the sense that there are no hard edges or categories anywhere. As Brenda observes: “People are brutal, Russell. The whole lot of us” (Ch. 18). Even the ‘good’ are capable of doing ‘bad’ given the right circumstances, and indeed what is good and what is bad depends on the observer’s perspective. Even the ‘bad’ character Masked Apocalypse, who by his nom de plume is associated with the devil, is given human motivation.

Verdad has written an action adventure, rather than a more poetic book, and so there is not much imagery and symbolism in it. There are, however, a few elements of the symbolic. Devo’s nickname hints at the word devolution, suggesting escape from a system, but once again questions, rather than answers, arise. Which system is being escaped from? Is it good or bad, or perhaps both, to escape a system? Is to devolve to go backwards, or is there still a creative forwards motion in it? Where exactly is Devo taking Russell? Similarly, through much of the novel unusual weather hangs over Puerto Vallarta. Light rain hangs over the city like a “mist” (Ch. 60) obscuring the view, making people feel slightly at odds. This is symbolic of the crisis of the novel where for most of the characters, the action remains a mystery. Confusion abounds and truth is obscured. People think they have the answer, but are deluded.

Looking deeper into symbolism and myth it should be noted that Devo is a magician. He uses metaphoric smoke and mirrors to trick, to obscure, when it suits him. We never quite know where exactly he stands. He uses electronic ‘trickery’ to help him pull off his ‘secret agent’ stunts. This element of the novel draws upon the cultural mythology represented by the Tarot card The Magician. Sally Annett and Rowena Shepherd observe that this card implies both “rules … [and] .. cheating” (The Atavist Tarot:__ London: Quantum, c2003, p. 47), and both Arthur Edward Waite (The Pictorial Key To The Tarot:¬¬__ Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems, c1971, p. 72) and Giordano Berti and Tiberio Gonard (Tarot Of The New Vision:__ Torino, Italy: Lo Scarabeo, c2005, p. 19) note that the card implies both virtue and trickery. Indeed going further Annett and Shepherd note that, when thinking of the card, “we must be aware that man’s ability to manipulate the elements can be used for evil as well as good” (Atavist Tarot, p. 49). Berti and Gonard particularly emphasis that “ambiguity” (New Vision, p. 19) is the key to the card, and as has been noted this is a major theme in the novel. Where exactly does Devo stand in the novel? Is he a force for evil or good? Karen Hamaker-Zondag notes of the card: “He has a vision or ideal to which he is devoted, and on which he expands his energies. [ … ] Hence The Magician possesses both flexibility and courage, and his vitality makes him want to do something worthwhile.” (Tarot As A Way Of Life: A Jungian Approach To The Tarot:__ York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1997, p. 132) Devo is certainly heroic and his mind and actions are definitely set on a particular problem or project. Sallie Nichols writes: “The Magician will include us in his plans. He welcomes us on stage as his accomplice. Some degree of cooperation on our part is necessary for the success of his magic.” (Jung And Tarot: An Archetypal Journey:__ York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weisner, 1980, p. 46) Russell and Johnny certainly become caught up in Devo’s plans and in a sense he needs them to work his magic.

Seve Verdad’s Finding Devo is an exciting adventure / mystery novel with interesting characterization and generally good writing style. The plot revolves around the main themes of ambiguity, corruption and the individual. There is a fairly strong political emphasis, though no one system is favored as being ‘right’. Men and women are depicted realistically, and in terms that would be viewed positively by those interested in modern Gender Studies. Indigenous Mexicans are depicted, partially favorably, partially unfavorably. At 565 pages the novel is probably not a weekend read, though it can certainly be read enjoyably over a longer period of time. I am happy to rate this book as 4 out of 5 stars.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
Russell Martell and his friend, Johnny Miles, will become caught up in an adventure where mystery and uncertainty abounds. How will ordinary citizens survive, let alone take action in a world of gangs, police and government? Seve Verdad’s Finding Devo: A Novel Adventure is a story of mystery and action which will intrigue and excite the reader as they follow Russell and Johnny in their desperate attempt to escape disaster.

Reviewer Bio
I have a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in literature (James Cook University of North Queensland). In that degree I obtained minors in psychology, modern history and economics.

I also have a Graduate Diploma of Library Science in which my studies included management and communications (Queensland University of Queensland).

Review by Tiana of Kissim Savvy by Rita Lowther

Review of: Kissim Savvy by Rita Lowther

Reviewer: Tiana

This book is filled with charismatic people of the most amazing variety. I felt so many emotions reading this book and often found myself laughing hysterically out aloud gaining the attention of those in the cafe around me! You may find yourself becoming very unproductive once you begin reading this, you won’t want to put it down!
If you enjoy reading about the following topics then you can anticipate loving this book:
– Bygone era
– History
– Love
– Family
– Travel/Culture
– Humour
I have never come across a book where I have felt so intriguant whilst being able to relate at the same time. Being one of first people to read this book, the only disappointing fact is that I now have to wait for Rita to write her next one!

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
This Book Kissim Savvy was very well written, Rita Lowther is an amazing story teller.

Review by Raymond Mathiesen of Pest On The Run

Review of: Pest On The Run

Reviewer: Raymond Mathiesen

Big trouble and light hearted investigations…

A beautiful stage show star, come whore house madam, is suddenly foully murdered, despite her apparent gangster protection. A disgruntled Japanese business tycoon hires a hit man to assassinate Australia’s Prime Minister. An unbeatable game show contestant takes a recreational bungee-jump, only to have her rope break in what her friend thinks is dubious circumstances. Enter the low-life world of Paddy Pest, sometimes Private Investigator and sometimes secret agent for Australia’s spy bureau ASIO. Pest is based in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, though is very frequently an international traveler. He is a master of dubious disguises, and often manages to solve the case despite his shortcomings. Here is a world where virtually everybody has a rancorous underbelly, and where murder is a common life event, but where good will eventually win out (even if by fluke). These humorous short stories will beguile you, entertain you and make you chuckle. Gerry Burke’s Pest On The Run: More Humorous Short Stories From The Paddy Pest Chronicles (iUniverse, c2012) is ideal for the lover of crime and murder mystery tales, but will also suit busy people looking for a witty amusement to fill a free hour or two.

Paddy is a frequent visitor of both upper class and lower class hotel bars, and these tales have the ethos of a pub yarn: unlikely events, boisterous pride, and male machoism lubricated to dubious heights. The style is very chatty, with Pest narrating his stories as if he is talking to an interested acquaintance. There are asides to the reader. When pertinent, Paddy occasionally reminisces about his past, including his childhood. With a flair for drama he sometimes skips over the more mundane details to get to the action and juicy bits. These stories certainly deal with the darker side of life, and a few times death is narrated, but the great majority of these plots take place after the brutality is over. This book is about solving crime, not depicting crime and is overwhelmingly light hearted. Paddy is certainly a ladies man and the ticklish subject of sex is often alluded to, though not specifically depicted. In tune with the ‘pub ethos’, Paddy’s descriptions of women can be quite humorously crude, without actually being offensive, except perhaps to the conservative. There are several laugh out loud moments and every story will leave the reader smiling. Most stories have moments of high drama, though here the unlikeliness of the action is taken tongue in cheek. Occasionally Burke includes good phrasing that lifts the text. We read for example the atmospheric and slightly philosophic sentence: “Often, when you visit a country with a different culture, it is difficult to break through the veneer of reserve that camouflages a human spirit that is primed to explode” (Burke, p. 25). More of this care in writing would make the book even better. There is occasional foul language, but this is completely in tune with the macho low-life spirit of the book and will not offend most readers. This is a book by an Australian author and there is quite a sprinkling of colloquialisms and cultural references which may be unfamiliar to international readers. Some are explained in the text, which erases any difficulty, but some are not. These are, however, in no way essential to the text and will at the most cause a moment of wondering before the reader passes on.

In his collective stories Burke presents us with an interesting portrait of “Patrick Pesticide aka Paddy Pest” (Burke, p. v). Paddy is of Irish heritage, though primarily Australian in outlook. Burke thus combines both Irish luck and silliness, with the Australian macho male. He is a gambler and bets on race horses, and has quite an eye for the women. Paddy is of dubious background. He says of himself “I would not say I was straight or bent – somewhere in the middle” (Burke, p. 4). On the down side Paddy can be quite sexist, seeing women in many ways as bodies first. Full of pride Pest sees himself as a “master of disguise” (Burke, p. 37), though others are not nearly as convinced. While Paddy is in training in New Guinea one character comments on his being “dressed in a ridiculous head-hunter’s outfit” (Burke, p. 188). By creating this mix of good and bad Burke has created an endearing, eccentric character that we can like because he gives us a slightly spicy escape from our ‘ordinary’ lives. Paddy reminds us of the rough, tough boy at high school who everybody admired, but who never really did anything seriously wrong. He is a ‘lad’ and the reader is charmed. Paddy of course comes in a great tradition of incompetent Private Investigators / Spies. We think of Austin Powers, Inspector Jacques Clouseau, Agent Maxwell Smart and even Inspector Gadget. Burke, however, has given us his own particular spin on the pattern, and we do not feel that we are reading a complete copy.

A few other characters pop up more than once. There is Stormy Weathers, the totally competent ASIO agent, who has a cover job as barmaid at Sam’s Fly by Night Club. There is Justin O’Keefe, the slacker police Inspector with an attitude. Mostly these secondary characters are at a minimum. Burke does, though, give them personality traits that flesh them out a bit. Stormy, for example, is a jealous lover. Occasionally Burke gives us a potted history of a character, giving us a summary of their eccentricities and adventures. Murder victim Frankie Hogan, for example, is a memorable woman with true spirit. Burke describes her in three pages giving the story depth and poignancy. Burke is quite skilled at this kind of detail and his writing would benefit by including more of it.

As we have noted Pest himself can be quite sexist. At one point for example he outrageously poses the equation that large breasts equals many friends (Burke, p. 200). Much of the humor, however, arises from the fact that many women are in actuality much more competent than him. As Pest himself says: “There had been two attempts on my life and, once more, I had been saved by a woman” (Burke, p. 77). These stories are indeed filled with dynamic, no-nonsense women you would think twice about crossing. There is a dangerous female assassin, successful business women, and several able female secret agents. Frankie Hogan takes no sexual nonsense from men, has “personality” (Burke, p. 3), and is a success in all her career ventures. Not to err too much on one side Burke has included one nasty, negatively-portrayed, female villain (Burke, p. 118). On the whole this book will pass Feminist standards, though some may not take the humor.

Shifting to male roles and Gender Studies it should be noted that these stories are in some ways very much in the ethos of the 1950’s though they are set in contemporary times. This is the world of the tough guy, the gangster, the merry bachelor. Men should not really have soft feelings. Hyman Finkelstein, a low-life criminal, doesn’t even like people looking at him (Burke, p. 151) let alone be able to have a mature relationship. Fear is a sign that a guy must be a “nancy boy” (Burke, p. 230). Paddy, on the other hand, is able to hug an old, male friend (Burke, p. 17). Women are very much a sexual adjunct to the male ego. Paddy does have a kind of steady relationship with Stormy, but even that is very much a breakable, uncommitted relationship. This whole ‘retro’ male image is, however, held up to debunking humor. This male world is on shaky ground. The great male image repeatedly is out shone by women and needs females to save it.

As with the issue of women and Feminism, Paddy Pest, and those he meets, can be quite homophobic. Paddy, for example, refers to gays by a disparaging name (Burke, p. 244), as does Hyman Finkelstein (Burke, p, 151). Finkelstein is particularly negative about gays. The actual representations of LGBTIQ people, however, on the whole are not that negative about that aspect of their lives. LGBTIQ people are primarily represented by two stories. First there is The Candidate which spotlights Lindsay Dove and his life-partner Jay Sniggle. Lindsay is a U.S. presidential candidate and Jay is an IT consultant. Then there is Who Was That Masked Man? highlighting the ‘butch-fem’ caterer Cate Edwards. Cate is a villain, but the story is not negative about her being a lesbian. This second story indeed has Ellen DeGeneres making fun of Paddy’s cloddish ignorance of the LGBTIQ community. Ellen is mentioned (as an LGBTIQ person) in another story (Burke, p. 84), as is k.d. Lang (Burke, p. 154). Gay Mardi Grass are mentioned twice. A number of times women are suspected to be lesbian (not in a negative way) and a ‘drag-queen’ secret agent is depicted canoodling with an unwitting male politican (Burke, p. 138-139). On another occasion Paddy comes upon a not so pretty ‘drag-queen’ (Burke, p. 21), but this is the only negative description, and of course not all transvestites are necessarily beautiful. Once again the issue should not offend interested parties as long as the humor is taken into account.

The often ignored Indigenous and Racial Minorities also feature. Lindsay Dove is “black” (Burke, p. 79) as well as being gay. In A Long Time Gone Australia’s Jewish minority is highlighted in the character of Hyman Finkelstein. Hymie is a gangster villain, but Burke goes out of his way to point out that he is not being anti-Jewish (Burke, p. 158-159). Louey is a successful “Polynesian” bar owner on Norfolk Island (Burke, p. 121). In The Goodbye Wave, though, the head of Fiji is referred to as a “baboon” (Burke, p. 129). This is a rather racist description, even for humorous purposes. Overall this is a very multicultural book, with Chinese, Japanese, Philipino, Hong Kong, Russian, Balkan and Greeks mentioned with stories being set in many different countries. We get a true sense of the world, rather than a monosyllabic, white Anglo-Saxon perspective.

The aged feature in a very minor way in these tales. There is one uncomplimentary portrayal (Burke, p. 176) and one positive description of an older (though not necessarily aged) woman (Burke, p. 195). Burke could lift his game a little here, as the world is not full of only those under 55 years, even though some agencies such as advertising would have us believe this.

From the Capitalism verses Socialism perspective wealth in these stories is certainly suspect. These tales show only a very slim difference between corrupt businessmen and rich gangsters. Politicians and even judges don’t exactly receive compliments. The lower classes are not lauded, but they are not seriously criticized. The Little people’ more often than not help Paddy. The middle class is to a degree absent, but this is not so surprising as they are not likely to have the funds to hire a Private Investigator and are too ‘clean’ to have information on gangsters.

From the broader outlook of society in general, the Catholic Church is foot-noted as being anti-gay (Burke, p. 82 & 154) and rather a kill-joy for the more spirited members of the world (Burke, 149). The Police are depicted as being often incompetent and corrupt. These two institutions of society, perhaps in tune with Socialism, could be improved.

Before departing from these various social issues it should be stressed that these stories rely very much on outrageous statements and circumstances for humor. The book is full of politically incorrect text, but we are meant to take everything tongue in cheek. If we read these tales too critically we will be deeply offended, but Burke wants us, on the one hand to ‘lighten up’, and on the other hand to look a bit deeper. If this is kept in mind the book can very much be enjoyed.

From a Postmodern perspective it can be noted that there are no hard edge binary oppositions in Pest On The Run. There are definite ‘bad’ guys, but good and bad blur. As has been noted, Paddy himself is shady. We like him precisely because he is a ‘wag’. In Murder Before Lunch Pest even works for a crime boss. This blurring of categories makes for a more realistic and interesting read. It adds ‘spice’ and avoids boring oversimplification.

Many stories have a mythological quality, and indeed these elements can be what attract us most to an author’s work. For Paddy Pest we need only to turn to the Joker Card in the modern playing card pack. As court jester, the Joker is dressed in a funny costume, and Pest similarly assumes dubious disguises. The Joker’s cap has pretentious baubles and he holds a wand topped with a manikin of himself. Pest is none to retiring in describing his own talents as a spy and lover. Yet the Joker possesses almost magical powers that no other card has, and in its presence many a losing hand can be transformed into a winning hand. Pest does solve the case, even if by sheer luck. Of course, most of all, the Joker tells silly stories and jokes, and that is the overwhelming ethos of Burke’s book.

Gerry Burke has written a very entertaining book for the not so serious at heart. He manages to take a look at a wide variety of social issues, such as Feminism, while at the same time making us laugh. The dark world of crime is depicted, occasionally with the brutality described, but good always wins out and we are mostly entertained by a light hand. Most stories are around 20 pages long, and are ideal reading if you are short of time. Pest On The Run was a pleasure to read and I am happy to rate it as 4.5 out of 5 stars.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
Here is a world where virtually everybody has a rancorous underbelly, and where murder is a common life event, but where good will eventually win out (even if by fluke). These humorous short stories will beguile you, entertain you and make you chuckle.

Reviewer Bio
I have a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in literature (James Cook University of North Queensland). In that degree I obtained minors in psychology, modern history and economics.

I also have a Graduate Diploma of Library Science in which my studies included management and communications (Queensland University of Queensland).

Review by Isa Jones of The Coolest Way To Kill Yourself

Review of: The Coolest Way To Kill Yourself

Reviewer: Isa Jones

Sometimes in our lives, amazing things happen to us, things that don’t come often, things that stay with us forever, things that change us unexpectedly in an unexplainable way; for me it was reading The Coolest Way to Kill Yourself.

When I came across this book, I was obviously taken aback by its title, I thought, hold on a minute that can’t be right, then I read the description and slowly things made sense, I immediately wanted to know more about this story, I was absolutely captivated so I purchased the book, however, nothing could have prepared me for the incredible journey which I was going to be transported into.

Nicholas Tanek has written this book for “Lynn”, the love of his life who unfortunately passed away in 2012, but, in order to do that, he has to take us through a trip down memory lane from the first time they met, this may I add, is no easy task, Nicholas has to go back to the early 90’s when he was only 16 years old, what starts as friendship soon develops into something else, in a time when drugs were an easy distraction and music was a vital ingredient the leads embark in a passionate love affair which would withstand the test of time, however, most of us readers have been through our teenage years, and we know that at this age every day represents a new adventure, external factors, and things beyond our control have an impact in our relationships, and at this time Nicholas and Lynn part ways.

I would like to think whereas Lynn’s feelings towards Nicholas even as a young teenage girl were pretty much a given, for Nicholas at that time as a romantic, love came and went without consequence or true happiness, he is not afraid to share each and every one of his painful relationships for they each had an impact in the man he came to be, to each he gave his love but in reality not his heart, each lover is a stage, each is a learning curve, each is a piece in a puzzle forming a new identity that would kill his old self and replace him with a genuine personality, through it all he is not afraid to open up and talk about his insecurities, his addictions, his desires and his obsessions; For Lynn unfortunately, the journey wasn’t without difficulty and Nicholas allows us to get a glimpse into her years as she fights a terrible illness, an abusive partner, a battle with addiction and ultimately the loss of her identity.

It’s not common for destiny to offer us second chances, these very seldom come, very few of us have the opportunity to do things right, to correct mistakes and to love again, Nicholas and Lynn were given a precious gift by being able to find each other after many years apart, to love each other the honest and purest way, for Nicholas it was a realization of the greatest love he felt for Lynn and for her it was the satisfaction to finally being with her one true love, for both it was being with a person that knew and accepted the worst parts of each other, their darkest past but still loving each other with a ferocity few ever experience in a lifetime.

“Lynn and I felt thankful to have each other. The comfort was truly magical in the sense that we both felt that we would never be alone again. We felt that we would always feel the love of one another in our hearts. We were looking forward to our time together. We were looking forward to our lives together.”

As I write this review listening to Roxy music playing “Mother of Pearl” in the background still feeling quite emotional, I am so thankful that life has given me the opportunity to have read this book, it has changed me in so many ways, it has taught me to live life to the fullest, and love with intensity, with purpose, I would like to say this story is of love lost and found only to lose it again, of many different types of love and passion, Nicholas wrote this story for a girl who once thought nobody would ever write about her, he does it with so much emotion and conviction, I am in awe of his accomplishment to overcome so many obstacles, to immortalize Lynn through the pages of this book and to do it in the coolest way.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
It was open, it was honest, it was cathartic, it was simply an Amazing story.

Reviewer Bio
I am a 38 year old living in the UK, happily married, with two amazing children, I am a Spanish Interpreter and an avid reader. I Love to get my hands in any book with a HEA story and I enjoy reviewing new material for Authors and give an honest opinion. ARC reviews on my blog, my goal is to help any independent writer in their struggle to get recognized.

Review by Susan McMichael of Armageddon and The 4th Timeline

Review of: Armageddon and the 4th Timeline

Reviewer: Susan McMichael

A thrilling ride from the first page…

Armageddon and the 4th Timeline by Don Mardak is a thrilling ride from the first page. This science fiction novel combines time travel, spiritual themes, a fascinating mix of characters and modern intrigue to create an ‘un-put-down-able’ novel.

We meet the CIA Director, Scott Cunningham, a former Navy SEAL, and his Assistant Lori Colbert, addressing a meeting after a terrible terrorists attacks. We also meet husband and wife Kathy and Eric who are in Lhasa, Tibet, on a spiritual quest. Through Eric’s time travel, both worlds intersect. Mardak’s premise throughout the novel is that there “is a spiritual universe, and mankind has the ability to rise into a higher level of consciousness where all conflicts can be resolved peacefully without resorting to wars, or threatening a nuclear holocaust.”

Mardak’s Armageddon and the 4th Timeline is a science fiction novel, containing elements of time travel. It is set in ‘the Present’ with a clear aim of trying to reconcile what is happening. There is a definite sense of good and bad in the novel. Mardak’s fascinating use of the scriptural characters of Paul and Silas to both examine Christianity, and to change the future, is an amazing read. How Mardak structures the novel is particularly well done, so that the ending is both satisfying, works in a science fiction way, and races to the finish, all at once.

The novel examines the various tenets of a number of the main religions (Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, and Judaism) using them as plot devices: e.g. Paul’s Missionary Journey. This exploration of religion is quite a wild ride, but worth it.

The first third of the novel introduces us to the characters: to the CIA, the issues related to Eric and Kathy, and to the Himalayan mystic Shimahn. This first third also introduces broader geopolitical issues, as well as setting up the ‘four dimensional world of space time’. In the second section of the novel the actual time travel begins. We see its effects from Eric’s point of view. He is an interested participant. In this section Mardak makes good use of structure to make his point, but also to move the plot along. The last third of the novel brings everything together: the time changes and the new ideas and perspectives. There is an ending which is in some ways surreal, and which is beautifully realised.

One of the main themes of this book is religion. It’s a fascinating book because I believe many people see Religions as having “Truths” and this novel certainly plays with some of those. Anyone who believes that the Bible is the written word of God will have a difficult time with this novel. That said, it is far from Mr. Mardak’s aim to make anyone annoyed about this. I feel, quite the contrary.

The novel discuses time travel and how it can save the world. What difference would it make to war? Mardak also asks what kind of world are we creating? How do we cause and prevent nuclear holocaust? Armageddon and the 4th Timeline is also about an attitude of helping and working together to create change.

The relationships that are explored in the novel illustrate personal growth and caring. Kathy and Eric, Colbert and Cunningham, Paul and Silas are all studies in how we see, how we relate, and how we can change. The focus in Armageddon and the 4th Timeline is how this happens.

A minor quibble about the characters is the character of Kathy. I didn’t feel that she had very much to say for herself, and was a little too passive for my liking. Eric, however, is well written and his relationship with Kathy is nicely drawn. The CIA group are depicted as a good bunch. They sounded quite different to Eric and Kathy: they were exciting and gun-ho. They were well drawn.

The scenes in the desert were particularly evocative and the relationships depicted there, though brief, remind the reader that some of the central ideas of the novel are relationship and awareness. The different families in the desert remind the reader that families have many different shapes. In terms of diversity and families there are a range of families: Lori Colbert is a divorced mother, Kathy and Eric have been married seven years and there are the families in the Sinai desert. There is also the relationships between Shimahn and Eric and Kathy, and between Paul and Silas. Mardak also emphasises diversity by depicting various religions and mixing those religions in unique ways.

This novel runs along at a fast, fast pace. At times it fairly gallops. It has fantastic ideas about time and space and makes the reader think.

Armageddon and the 4th Timeline has a thoughtful purpose, but is highly readable and action packed. Mardak’s plot is well structured and he makes good use of characters. From the first “gloomy Thursday in Langley…” (Ch. 1) I wanted to read on, to find out what was happening, what was going on. The science fiction genre makes a twist with a spectacularly good ending. I am happy to rate this novel as 4.5 out of five stars.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
This novel runs along at a fast, fast pace. At times it fairly gallops. It has fantastic ideas about time and space and makes the reader think.

Reviewer Bio
I received my B.A. (Hons) from the University of New England Armidale, in 1992, majoring in English. I focused on Victorian and American literature. I have also studied Psychology and French.

I have been reading Sylvia Plath since 1983, and studied both Plath and Ted Hughes, at UNE.

Featured Book: Unravelled by Anna Scanlon

unraveled book
About Unravelled by Anna Scanlon

“No one heard us. They decided not to, to turn their heads away. It was too much to bear. Too much to know. Too hard to swallow. But now that the world knows, now that the world has heard, it all seems so simple, so easy to defray.

I screamed and no one heard.

Next time, will you be listening?”

Aliz and her twin sister, Hajna, are enjoying their playful, carefree and comfortable life with their parents in Szeged, Hungary just before the Nazis invade. Seemingly overnight, their lives change drastically as they are transported to the ghetto on the outskirts of the city and then to Auschwitz to be used in Mengele’s deadly experiments. After several months of brutal torture, Aliz is liberated to find that she is the only survivor in her family. At not even 11 years old, Aliz must make the journey to San Francisco alone, an entire world away from everything she’s known, in order to live with her only known relatives whom she has never met– a depressed aunt and teenage cousin who is more than ready to escape her mother’s melancholy. Told through the eyes of both Aliz and her cousin Isabelle, Unravelled tells a story of survival, hope, family and the lives war and genocide haunt long after liberation.

The book is also available on Smashwords, Nook, iTunes and Kobo.
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Buy the book on Amazon.

Review by L. K. Evans of People Like Us

People Like UsReview of: People Like Us

Reviewer: L. K. Evans

Well now, that was a rush at the end. First, let me tell you: I’ve already bought the second book. I’m not ‘going’ to buy it, I’m not ‘looking forward’ to it. I bought it. The instant I finished People Like Us, I bought it. Why, you might ask? Sit back and let me explain.

I LOVED the writing and cynical dry humor, the aloof yet deep character of Nicolas, and the oddly alluring Estrade. There was something about the way they were written that just entranced me when reading. Here’s a few excerpts (this is told in first person from Nicolas’ perspective):

“He (Estrade) has, however, an unsettling, heavy-lidded way of smiling at you, as though he is the only one present who has seen the joke…”

“He went over backwards, and about two seconds later Estrade appeared at the door, with a heavy, nasty-looking semi-automatic pistol of his own. I suppose someone with as well developed knack for irritating people as he possesses learns caution quickly.”

“In this risky business, clearly I was going to have to be the responsible, reliable one. It is not a position to which I normally gravitate.”

I have so many other quotes I’d rather use but I fear they might be spoilers for those trying diligently to figure everything out. These little tidbits of amazing description and aloof outlooks towards things most would find appalling was oddly addicting. D.Z.C. is an amazing writer and I am captivated by his skill.

Let me just tell you, there was one part that I was dying! It involves a shotgun and a face. I seriously couldn’t stop laughing. It’s kinda sick, but I couldn’t help it. It was the way the scene was written. Hopefully, if you ever read it, you’ll not think me a horrible person for finding the scene so hilarious.

You’ll notice this book took me quite a while to read, which is out of character for me. Usually when I start a book I stick to only that book until I’m finished. If I would have stopped reading at any point up to 3/4’s completion, I would have rated this book a 4. It was the ending that shot it up to 5.

The reason I was more inclined towards 4 in the beginning was because it had a very slow start, for me, anyways. Furthermore, there were soooo many references to stuff I just didn’t get. I’m a rather sheltered girl who is unworldly, to put it mildly. So a lot of stuff hung me up. However, when I sat down with it yesterday–I was only 35% done–, I decided to forgo trying to understand every reference and just read for the story and characters. Once I did that, it went by much quicker and I sailed through the book.

The ending was a rush of events with a closure that left me grinning. As much as I love and am fascinated by Nicolas, there are things he does that I’m not supportive of, yet I couldn’t help but smile at him. Don’t go into this book expecting a perfect little hero wrapped up in a bow. There are no heroes in this book. There are life-like people doing things tons of people do, while other things are a little more fictional, or at least not as common. Also, do not expect a nail-biter of a book. This is a slower read with a lot of getting involved in the…community the book is set in. If you pay attention, it all kinda connects.

There are some grievances out there that this had loose ends. It sure did, and I didn’t mind one bit. This is told from purely a first person perspective, so what our narrator doesn’t know, we don’t. I’m fine with that. I know there is a second book and maybe we’ll get some answers. Maybe we won’t. But it wasn’t a hang up for me. I enjoyed having these tiny unknowns floating around. It just made the book that much more mysterious and further immersed me.

Overall, it was the writing and these two beautifully imperfect characters that has me picking up the second book.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
The witty, cynical, dry humor of the writing and a wonderfully complicated set of characters with loose morels.

Reviewer Bio
Though I’m an author, I was a reader first. I don’t read as much as I like, but I can usually squeeze in a few books a month.

Review by Raymond Mathiesen of Crimson Footprints

Review of: Crimson Footprints

Reviewer: Raymond Mathiesen

The balancing act of life…
Deena Hammond is a 24 year old architect living and working in her home town of Miami, Florida. In some ways Deena is very successful, but she comes from a poor background, and in many ways she is still inextricably tied up with those origins. Her grandmother, Emma Hammond, who brought Deena up, is constantly demanding and never satisfied. Deena’s adult brother Anthony is a small-time criminal, and her sister Lizzie, though still at school, is incorrigibly wayward and seems headed for a disaster of a life. Deena is half African-American and half white and feels that she was never really accepted by the black side of her family when they took her in as a child. In very harrowing circumstances Deena meets Takumi (Tak for short) Tanaka, the son of her world famous, distant and demanding boss Daichi Tanaka. Immediately the personal chemistry and attraction seems right, but everything else between these two people seems impossible. Deena is a mere underling. Should she even be talking to the son of the owner of the business she works for? What is more Deena’s family very much expects her to date a black man. Can these two people overcome the odds and form a friendship, or even the romance they both desire?

Shewanda Pugh’s Crimson Footprints can certainly be classified as a romance; however, it is much more than that. It is a story of class consciousness and racial division. It is about the struggle to find the right equilibrium between work and family, and it is a story about trying to ‘do the right thing’. Most of all, this novel is about balance in all things. We are all different, but we must overcome our resistances and come to the centre ground if we are truly going to be a success in life.

Pugh has managed to successfully weld sweet romance with biting ‘slice of life’. Romance, especially the first phase, usually seems enjoyable, even with its ups and downs and Pugh captures the pleasant nature of first love well. Mixed in with these chapters, though, are insights into the often seedy, cruel world of the lower class. This juxtaposition works very well, jarring us, and reminding us that while life can seem pleasurable, there is always harshness, perhaps not too distant from us. There is considerable irony in the contrasts between Deena’s romance, and her striving for career success, and Lizzie’s pure-flesh ‘sexploits’ and base efforts to get ahead (for example the Ch. 7 / Ch. Ch. 8 contrast). Pugh’s phrasing, particularly at peak moments, is often excellent, lifting her prose from the mundane. In Chapter 1, for example, which describes the run down suburb of Liberty City, we read of “Torn fences that imprison rather than embellished” the houses which Deena passes. This care with words, and occasionally poetic turn of phrase, helps to mark out the book as more than the average read. There are moments of pure humour, particularly the events surrounding Takumi’s cousin Mike and his fumbling attempts to capture Deena’s attention (CH. 47 & following). There are also moments of true shock and also scenes of high drama that take us far from the average world of romance. Pugh has included occasional swearing, and sex is very openly discussed and depicted. This may offend conservative readers, but is certainly justified by the themes, characters and story line.

The book has a more unusual plot structure. Part One (Ch. 1 – 7) serves as a general introduction to the Hammond and Tanaka families, and to Deena’s work. The plot peaks early, then builds as complications follow. Part Two (Ch. 8 – 42) is a very long section covering Tak and Deena’s extended holiday road-trip across much of the U.S. Romance blooms as Deena learns to loosen up, then a series of couples are met. These couples serve to show how Tak and Deena’s love perhaps could work. The sequence comes to an unexpected close as events suddenly twist in a crisis. This Part could perhaps have been divided into two sections, though the whole sequence is certainly united by the structure of the holiday. Part Three (Ch. 43 – 64) covers the problem of the hidden nature of the romance, centring on complications during a working holiday break. The disastrous climax of the novel is reached followed by a brief sequence wrapping up circumstances with the Tanaka family. Part Four (Ch. 65 – 67) describes the complications with Emma. This section is quite brief and perhaps could have been extended a little considering Deena’s grandmother’s earlier resistance, tenacity and belligerence. The Epilogue, set some years in the future wraps up the plot lines nicely, though one question is pointedly left open.

As already indicated the main theme of Crimson Footprints is balance, or Difference/Harmony. We like people ‘like us’, but we are all individuals. What does it really mean to be ‘like me”? Is this merely a matter of externals, or are internals more important? We need to accept who people are, and where they came from, but not be bound by that. An openness in outlook and balance is needed otherwise we will be bound forever in very limited circumstances. On another level, how do we handle the conflict between work and family / social life? Is one demand more important than another? Can we neglect either? Of course there are no easy answers, though those may be the first to come to us. Life is complicated and this book explores these complications.

The family is a second important theme. Families can be both sources of pain and sources of strength, and both features can occur in the same kinfolk. Families are what make us, but at the same time are what we grow from. They can be conservatively stolid, relying heavily on tradition, or can adapt to new circumstances. We can ignore them, but we can never really escape them. Following from tradition, a family can be a basic mother, father and children, or it can be a less conventional grouping. Families are very basic to human nature and being taken in, or adopted, does not make it of less importance to us. This very contrary institution in fact dominates us. We come from families and then we make new families, or at least extend those which we have.

Another important theme in the novel is what could broadly be termed as success. We are encouraged to ‘do our best’, to ‘do good’, to ‘shine’. What is success and what are the traits that allow us to see it? Is it hard work resulting in material objects? Is it love, honesty, caring and ethics resulting in respect and attachment? Is there room for both? Millennia ago the ancient Greeks asked, “What is the good citizen?” In response they formulated the idea of “Virtue” (Ben Dupre. 50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need To Know: Quercus, 2007, p. 96 – 99), that is, the character traits that make us wisely successful in both working life and family life, and indeed everything that we do. This idea of ‘virtue’ is central to Pugh’s novel. Deena struggles to be a ‘good person’ ethically, socially and workwise. For her these are not separate issues, and not merely because she is in love with the boss’s son: all are tied up with who she is as a person. Of course there is success in terms of one social class’s ideals or another’s, but what is truly wise success. In the end isn’t success really related to what makes us “happy” (Ch. 20), as complex an issue as that may be?

Following from this there is also a minor theme of ‘religion verses ethics’. The Christian religion claims to be the guide for good, but surely considering the evil things that befall us for no reason we should conclude that God in some ways unfairly hates us (Ch. 2)? Indeed doesn’t hell hang over us like some permanent, inescapable damnation (Ch. 2)? Even if these things aren’t entirely correct theologically, aren’t accusation and condemnation how Christians really act? Is this really what good is all about? Equally, for so many, isn’t Buddhism in reality simply a constraining tradition full of rules about obligation (Ch. 10), rather than a source of right behaviour leading to internal peace? Once again this may not be correct according to the true tenets of Buddhism, but isn’t this how it often works out in practice? If religion in practice isn’t such a good guide for ‘goodness’, what do we take as our guide? Surely we must fall back into the painful position of finding our own way, and indeed Deena must struggle to find her own position.

Deena Hammond is an interesting character who we immediately like and care about. What strikes us is her positivity in very negative circumstance and her determination to get somewhere better. Deena is a ‘Star’, without being too perfect. Despite her determination, in certain circumstances, particularly with her Grandmother, she collapses. What unites these converse character elements is the fact that she is a self-accuser. Her accusation drives her on to career success, but also holds her up in her battle with her domineering Grandmother. While she accuses herself, Deena is somewhat driven to help others, particularly her siblings. This kind of complexity does much to make Deena seem more real to the reader. She is no cardboard cut-out. Deena must learn to limit her career “expectations” (Ch. 12) and not rely so much on “reason” (Ch. 16) alone to solve problems. These are human challenges the reader can recognise and understand, even if they do not personally suffer from them.

Takumi Tanaka is in some ways the ‘perfect man’ every woman dreams about. He is “athletic” (Ch. 1), a success at both art and business (Ch. 5) and caring. His limitation is that, while he can understand Grandmother Emma all too well, he only has a limited understanding of his own father and family. Despite this the reader wonders if Tak could have had just one or two more faults to make him more human.

Grandmother Emma Hammond is an appropriate nemesis. She is a narrow minded bigot, uneducated, an immense hypocrite and appropriately venomous, though occasionally she can give way. The words “consistently hostile” (Ch. 1) certainly sum her up. Her Christianity is certainly a biting irony.

Daichi Tanaka is describe by a magazine is “Architectural God” (Ch. 3) and his behaviour exhibits the kind of flaws that such adulation would certainly bring. He can be arrogant, bad tempered, rude and cold, but he is also willing to give others a chance to prove themselves, and even work to bring out the best in people. Daichi is like Deena in his determined, even driven nature, and in his concern for others, but quite different in his self-adulation. Pugh has these two character form an interesting and rich relationship, and has managed to make Daichi equally complex.

Examined from the perspective of Feminism it can easily be seen that Deena is a successful young career woman and entirely self-made. Deena’s challenge is to live up to the goals set by Betty Friedan (Cathia Jenainati. Introducing Feminism: Icon Books, 2010, p. 90 – 94) of being successful both in her job and family life, without falling into the same traps that men do (primarily favouring career over relationships). Hatsumi, Tak’s mother, however, is by marked contrast a 1950’s woman: unloved, unhappy, trapped at home, but beautifully dressed. Even Hatsumi, however, has a certain dignity and demonstrates a mind of her own, showing how women can rise above these circumstances. Emma, for all her failings, is certainly headstrong. Lizzie has a mind of her own, but serves as representative of the ‘sex object’ so propagated by traditional media and male driven dominance. Pugh makes it more than clear that according to her this option is not to be desired. Rhonda, Deena’s aunty, is also a career woman (Ch. 4), but demonstrates the bigotry which the ‘new woman’ faces as she must “constantly field unfounded accusations that she is a lesbian” (Ch. 4) simply because she does not fit a very narrow picture of what a woman should be like.

Daichi is very representative of the 1950’s male role model, being a stranger to both his feelings and his family, and believing that his duty as a male is solely to provide income. He sees himself as the family figure head. As the story progresses, however, this position comes under increasing, condemning scrutiny. Tak, by contrast, is the twenty first century man: not New Age / Spiritual, but none the less in touch with his own feelings, and caring of others. As an artist he expresses freedom and creativity, rather than being trapped in a rigid role. Anthony Hammond, Deena’s brother, represents that large group of men who have not progressed to the standard proposed by twenty first century male Gender Studies. He is everything a man should not be, trapped in a 1950’s ‘tough rebel’ role, renamed “gasgsta” (Ch. 56) as if it were something new.

This is by far a predominantly heterosexual novel, though, LGBTIQ people are very briefly represented by Bridget, “a lesbian” (Ch. 20), who is positively depicted as a successful career woman. Two quite large families are depicted in the novel, plus other minor characters, and we wonder if more of a representation of LGBTIQ people could have been made, particularly in a book where ‘difference’ is an important theme.

The aged, who are often ignored in society, are chiefly represented by Emma Hammond, though this is clearly not a sympathetic depiction. Of course being old does not automatically make you nice or wise. The absent character of Eddie Hammond, Emma’s husband, is equally uncomplimentary, though that is not surprising as the two belong together, having chosen each other as partners. Yukiko, Tak’s grandmother, by contrast proves to have learned wisdom over the years and in an important scene gives Daichi very useful words of advice.

This is a novel very much about minorities and highlights the difficulties those who would reach beyond their group face, as well as the difficulties those of mixed racial background face. African-Americans are highlighted, as are the U.S. minority of Japanese-Americans. This is, however, not really a book about political agenda or advancement in the standard way Post-Colonial Studies thinks. We do not, for example, really hear of civil rights. The social history behind African-American food is certainly mentioned early on (Ch. 4), and we hear that this is the food of slaves who must do with left overs. Also we hear that architecture should reflect the culture of the ethnic group (e.g. Mayan farmers) and empower these local groups (Ch. 3). As has been seen, both Deena and Rhonda are successful, black career women, and Daichi is certainly successful way beyond the normal expectations. The bigotry faced by both Japanese and Negroes in the U.S. is also briefly touched on as is the difficulties of mixed race couples (Ch. 57). The difficulties of people of mixed racial origin are also mentioned (Ch. 22). In all of this, however, the emphasis is on personal coping rather than political agenda. As has been said, this is a book about ‘Virtue’, and Pugh’s aim is to demonstrate the personal attitude in the face of these circumstances is what is important. Personal action to overcome poverty, for example, is the solution, rather than simply social programs. This is illustrated by the marked contrasts between the Tanaka and Hammond families. The Tanakas, despite their problems and failings, are educational achievers, work achievers and socially successful. The Hammonds, on the other hand ignore education, choose criminal careers, and glory in social bigotry and abrasiveness. They lead lives full of failure and ineptitude and seem to glory in it. Deena and Rhonda are of course the exception. As can be seen Pugh is not pulling her punches. This is a tough message and will be unpopular with at least some, though her message is overwhelmingly one of hope.

Similar to the position on minorities, Pugh takes an unusual stand in the Capitalist / Socialist debate. The evils of poverty are openly depicted. One example is the Liberty City high school where it is virtually impossible to take driver education courses because of under-resourcing (Ch. 7). There is no doubt that people should be able to live better. But once again the primary solution is personal virtue and not government programs. Opulent wealth is not openly condemned, far from it, but it is not placed above interpersonal caring and personality characteristics of value. Monetary wealth is of value, but not if that is all you have. This is certainly in keeping with the theories of Marx (Gill Hands. Understanding Marx: Hodder Education, 2011, Ch. 6), but is hardly standard Socialism. Pure Capitalism at the expense of virtue is certainly to be denied. Anthony has his “Air Jordans” (Ch. 6) and Lizzie has her tawdry, growing personal income, but at what expense to them personally? None the less this novel is in part a celebration of the American rags to riches ideal: the self-made man/woman.

Pugh is of course aiming to write about ‘real’ people and ‘real’ life, and so the field of psychology comes into play. Psychology aims to discover truths about human nature and behaviour, and so is a useful tool and aid to fiction. Deena is primarily motivated by guilt instilled in her by her overly-critical, religious grandparents who “bullied” her relentlessly (Ch. 12), and as a result is very critical of herself (Ch. 7), though she has achieved much in her life. She is controlled by the voice of others rather than her own “decision making and self-regulation” (Michael J. Formica. Guilt is a Wasted Emotion: Psychology Today: July 25, 2008, She is a rigid planner (Ch. 9) locked in schemes to ensure success, so that the critical voices (now in her head) will be appeased. Of course Deena must break free of this circumstance, and that is a major plot line in the book. Also it can be noted that Deena is a “rescuer” (Andrea Matthews. The Rescuer Identity: Psychology Today: April 21, 2011,, who feels that she must ‘save’ her sister and brother, but is never successful in doing so. She carries out her ‘mission’ at great expense to her own development. She tries to ‘save’ others, but has never really established her own self-worth. Once again, it is clear that Deena must overcome this issue and Pugh explores this plot line in some detail.

A name can often help to shape us into the people we are, and studying names can sometimes help the reader to understand fiction. According to David L. Gold (A Dictionary Of Surnames: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 237) the family name Hammond means “home”, with the special implications of “high [ … ] protection” and “ancestor [… ] protection”. This is certainly very ironic as Deena’s home is indeed anything other than a place of strong refuge, and her grandparents are hardly shields against the ill-will of the world.

Pugh’s novel is not heavily symbolic: however, the image of architecture hangs over the whole book. Architecture is “order in a world of chaos, sense in a world of madness” (Ch. 9). It can be something false and contrived that we impose on nature, or it can blend with the environment, as Deena wants to do with her Postmodern theories (Ch. 5). It can construct artificiality or it can deconstruct our fake ideas of life (Ch. 3). As has been noted Deena is trapped in the construction of her family and their “expectations” (Ch. 12), as well as her own, and needs to break free into her own natural being.

Shewanda Pugh’s Crimson Footprints has many aspects to it. It has the themes of difference / harmony, family and success, which are explored in some detail. Its characters tend to be complex and life-like, and are in tune with the ideas of modern psychology. The issues of racial and class division are explored in depth. The limitations of 1950’s values for both men and women are depicted, and the alternatives, as proposed by Feminism and Gender Studies, are examined. The role of money verses personal worth, as seen in the Capitalist / Socialist debate, is investigated in some detail, though Pugh chooses an individual solution, and is not bound by the constrains of either of those theories. Pugh writes well and she has created a successful novel which I am happy to rate as 5 stars out of 5.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
Shewanda Pugh’s Crimson Footprints can certainly be classified as a romance; however, it is much more than that. It is a story of class consciousness and racial division. It is about the struggle to find the right equilibrium between work and family, and it is a story about trying to ‘do the right thing’. Most of all, this novel is about balance in all things. We are all different, but we must overcome our resistances and come to the centre ground if we are truly going to be a success in life.

Reviewer Bio
I have a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in literature. In that degree I obtained minors in psychology, modern history and economics. I also have a Graduate Diploma of Library Science in which my studies included management and communications.

I live in Australia. I have lived in Townsville and Brisbane (in the state of Queensland), and Armidale (in the state of New South Wales) in Australia. I have never travelled overseas, but would like to visit the United Kingdom.

Review by Raymond Mathiesen of Hypocrites In His Midst: A Story About Flawed Human Beings

Review of: Hypocrites In His Midst: A Story About Flawed Human Beings

Reviewer: Raymond Mathiesen

The long road from street gangs to success…

Wilton Latso is seventy two years old and a grandfather. In the middle of a heated argument with his adult daughter Abbie, Wilton realizes that she has no idea of who he is, where he came from, and why he did the things he did when he was bringing her up. Spontaneously Wilton starts remembering and soon he decides to write down the story of his life. Wilton came from a poor family living in a poor suburb of St. Louis, Missouri in the late 1940’s / early 1950s. In this era of street gangs Wilton is soon introduced to a world of violence, ego and selfishness. Wilton’s parents are staunch Pentecostal Christians, but Wilton doubts that faith from the start. The trouble is that he can see all too clearly his parent’s hypocrisy, particularly his mother’s. Throughout his life Wilton will continue to observe people, noting many to be hollow, offering friendship, espousing beliefs but proving to be fakes.

Donnell Wilson’s Hypocrites In His Midst: A Story About Flawed Human Beings is a fictional autobiography spanning seven decades. It is a story of “redemption” (Ch. 8) in a secular sense. This is a book about trying to “do the right thing” (Ch. 3), though the “right thing” (Ch. 2) is not always obvious or easy to achieve. Wilson’s novel, especially in the first three Parts, is broadly comparable to Nicky Cruz’s real life autobiography Run Baby Run (Logos, 1972), though that book is firmly Christian, while this book is firmly agnostic (Ch. 31). Most of all, this book is about how a person can growing to maturity (or avoid it).

The novel is a first person narrative and as a result we hear much of the main characters thoughts and opinions and much less of the perspective of other people. This is very much a central character novel, partly because of the narrator’s self-confessed ignorance of and difficulty with “relationships” (Ch. 1). Other people are a mystery. For example Evelyn, Willy’s teenage bride (Ch. 2), remains in many ways a mystery throughout the whole book though she is ‘present’ for twenty one chapters. Also, throughout much of his life Willy has unstable job circumstances and as a result the story has many minor characters that come and go without Wil or the reader really getting to know them. It is indeed Willy’s frequent complaint that this happens (Ch. 1 and following). As it can be seen the book could have benefited from more dramatized conversations and events that illustrated the perspective of other characters, especially the main characters, and perhaps some of the minor characters could have been left out. The novel works very well, however, as an exploration of one man’s character and by the end of the story we feel as though we really know and understand Willy and have learned what life can be like for someone quite different to ourselves. Wil is very much from a lower class background, a regular frequenter of bars, and the narrative has the chatty ethos of a reminiscing story told by a friend, perhaps at a party or a pub. There is frequent foul language, sex is openly described and discussed and violence is openly depicted. This is certainly justified and in keeping with the ‘underworld’ ethos of the book, but conservative people may be offended. There are occasional “Oh my gosh!” moments and scenes of high tension which are well written. The marijuana trip and LSD trip in Chapter 13 very much capture the ‘Hey man! Cool!’ atmosphere of the sixties giving the reader an off-beat, fun, but dangerous, slightly “paranoid” (Ch. 13) feeling. In passages like this Wilson reveals his true skill as an author. Early in the story Wil’s friends take up calling him “Willy Lost Soul” and indeed the name Latso can be seen as a play on the words ‘lost soul’. Wil is a lost soul in the criminal underworld, but also a soul seeking personal ‘redemption’, albeit in an unconventional secular sense.

The plot is divided into five parts. Part I (Ch. 1 – 6) covers Wil’s childhood, gang membership and street life, teenage marriage and first jobs. Wilson then describes Willy’s first major attempt to exit his ‘underworld’ style of living by attending trade school and then working as a car body man and painter. The section ends in a major climax that moves Wil to new territory in an unexpected way. In Part II: A New Beginning (Ch. 7 – 10) Wil’s family moves to a new suburb and a partially better life. This section concentrates on Darwin, Wil’s younger brother who is perhaps in some ways even more lost than him. Wil attempts to help Darwin. He also gains his GED school qualification and begins a writing course in order to see if he can fulfil his childhood dream of being a writer. Once again events come to a crisis, though this time not so unforseen. Part III: Farewell Party (Ch. 11 – 21) sees Wil’s family Move to Boulder, Colorado where Wil meets and befriends Merlin an ‘out-there’ character who is deep into drug culture. This part depicts the late 1960’s / early1970’s Counterculture very well. The reader feels both an amusement and frustration with Wil as he seems to repeat his teenage mistakes all be it in a new way. Wil is never quite a ‘drop-out’ and he develops a bond with Merlin in a way he has never had with anyone else. Part III comes to a peak of a different kind, then there are two final chapters and the plot peaks again. Part IV: Learning the Three R’s – Rita, Reba, and Rachel (Ch. 22 – 33) covers love relationships with the title women. Rita receives six chapters, but Reba and Rachel are only allotted three each. Once again the reader is interested by these more unusual women but frustrated by Wil as he seems never to overcome his problem with human relationships. Once more there is a final unexpected crisis which propels Wil into a new life. Part V: Pain, Love, Redemption, and Success (Ch. 34 – 41) introduces us to Katie a nurse who becomes Wil’s final love interest. In this section Wil finally gains more maturity forming a more happy relationship, more enjoyable career and financial success. Wil observes, however, that in some ways people are the same wherever you are. As can be seen the book involves a certain amount of reputation on a theme, though each part is quite different from the last. As the book progresses Wil earns and so it is important to point out that the novel is not quite as repetitive as this very bare outline may make it seem.

Wilton Latso is a very flawed, but likable character. “Moxie” (Ch. 1 and following) is a characteristic he likes in his friends and is perhaps his own central trait. Wil is very determined and always fights back. He wants to do what is right, but right by his standard. He repeatedly says that he basically wants to be “left alone” (Ch. 1 and following), but finds that this is just what interfering people will not allow. On the down side Wil’s independence leads him into trouble and his individuality has a selfish side. He is ignorant of people and this compounds his selfishness. His early life has made him violent (psychologically and physically) and he repeatedly uses aggression rather than his creative intelligence to solve problems. Wil is in many ways like the ‘tough guy hood’ we all secretly admired in high school, who gave teachers grief, won fights and took flak from nobody. But while we later grew away from these things, though we never forgot them, Wil does not do this until much later (and in some ways not at all). We both like and dislike this very individual man, and his dynamo character certainly carries us through the book keeping us interested, if not always in an admiring way. We care enough about will to want things to go right for him.

Merlin is an important main character and the reader feels, as they do with Wil, both attraction and disapproval. Merlin is very easy-going and affable, also in a boyish way. He laughs a lot and is trustworthy as a friend. He is adventurous, but this is also his failing quality, as is his boyishness, as it leads him into an extreme life far from tried and tested ‘normality’. Like Willy we care for him and are carried along by him, caught up in his adventures and misadventures.

Rita, Reba and Rachel are all in their individual ways escapees from ‘normality’, each intriguing, but each having pronounced failings. Rita is very much an ‘out-there, zany lady,’ a product of the Counterculture. Not so long ago she was very much in into the drug scene, particularly LSD, and she still suffers from “flashbacks and hallucinations” (Ch. 25). She is sexually free and adventurous, and generally a free spirit who in many ways we like, particularly at first. Like many in the 1960s, however, Rita is adrift, lacking a centre, and even more than Wil she wants things and is willing to grab them in whatever way she can. If Rita is sexually adventurous, Reba is the ‘sex queen’. She and her partner Chuck have an ‘open relationship’ and are very ‘happening’ people. Reba also wants things, but seems unsure of the details. She doesn’t really know her mind. Rachel wants most of all to be loved and to be with a man that shows that love, but she holds herself aloof or even worse is aggressive. These failings partly prevent her from entering into the very love relationship she desires, and in depression, and perhaps desperation, she turns to drink. Rachel, too, is sexually adventurous, but in her dissatisfaction in life this makes her shifting rather than solid. All of these women, in their individual ways, promise love, but all are characterized by emptiness at their core. They are intriguing without being necessarily ‘good’ characters.

Katie, Wil’s final love, is “naïve, affectionate, very intelligent, warm, and pretty” (Ch. 35). She is a nurse and this reflects her helping nature. She is centred in others, rather than herself. While naïve she has the ability to learn to ‘get tough’ and that is exactly what she does. We like Katie because she is nice, but has her own style of “moxie” (Ch. 35). Katie also has a solid base that the other major women characters in the book do not have.

All these characters interest us and move us forward in the plot, though we do not completely ‘like’ most of them. What captures us about most is that they are quite different from the ‘normal’. These are people from the ‘wild’ side of life.

As the title suggests Wilson’s novel has hypocrisy as a major theme. People very much like to put up a front of ‘respectability’, but then say and do things that are far from this public persona. Even more, under the guise of ‘uprightness’ people like to interfere in the affairs of others, telling them what to do, but they themselves prove to be distant from ‘goodness’. Organisations, such as the church, government and business, can be particularly guilty of this, and those who participate in them tend to follow suit. But then even ‘drop-outs’ can prove to be less than ‘happening’. Self-hypocrisy is perhaps something that we are all victims of. We say to ourselves that we are one thing, want one thing, believe one thing, but really we are fooling ourselves.

The other side of hypocrisy is true values and ethics, what could be called secular spirituality. Wil believes that relationships should be based on “respect” (Ch. 1), but not the fake kind implied by class or money. We should “do unto others” (Ch. 2) as we ourselves would like to be treated. We should not break our word (Ch. 4). Wil sees the idea of eternal punishment “for sinning seventy years” as anything but “fair” (Ch. 2): balanced justice is important to him. He sees that we should be basically free to live our own lives, as long as we do no real harm, and be free of “accusation” (Ch. 3), and of course we should not accuse others. Beyond this, going deeper into spirituality, Willy has his own non-conventional kind of spirituality. He is mildly interested in astrology. He espouses views similar to the Unitarian faith (Ch. 6 & 31), particularly the idea that we are all on a journey up a mountain, though we are climbing it from different sides (i.e. different faiths). A car accident makes him very aware of the reality of death (Ch. 10) and later he experiences a ‘vision’ of someone he knew who is dead (Ch. 21) while friends of his experience strange occurrences at the exact time of the death of another (Ch. 37).

The theme of success is very strong in the novel. We often say that riches are hollow, but living without money, and perhaps worse, without a sense of achieving something is very difficult. Perhaps only those who come from poor backgrounds truly understand this. But does owning property, such as a house, assure us of success, and isn’t true success more than money?

Closely allied to the theme of success is the idea of maturation / search for the self. Wilson’s novel is very much about personal change: going from unhappiness to happiness, healing hurts. We are all hurt, but some of us are hurt more than others. Is it possible to lift ourselves out of the circumstances we are born into? What must we sacrifice along the way? Is change sometimes thrust upon us?

The first part of the novel very much depicts the 1950’s biased view of women. A classic example of this is the notion that men have affairs, while women, being ‘good little women’ do not (Ch. 3). In the character of Evelyn women’s dissatisfaction under the restrictions of this era is very much depicted. Feminist criticisms of society and solutions, however, are only hinted at. Evelyn wants to ‘find herself’, but never seems to really achieve this, though she does take charge of her life and gain a new kind of positive confidence. The 1960’s version of Feminism is hinted at in the character of Rachel (Ch. 31), but this character is certainly not depicted sympathetically. The freedom of the 60s, including freedom for women, seems to ring false in the three characters of Rita, Reba and Rachel. It is 1980’s that we come upon a more mature version of womanhood in the character of Katie. In this character we have a depiction of a woman closer to Betty Friedan’s ideas (Cathia Jenainati. Introducing Feminism: Icon Books, 2010, p. 90-94), that is both successful in her career and her family life, without betraying her femininity or becoming false.

Similar to women and Feminism, the novel very much shows men in their 1950’s guise, before the liberation of Gender Studies. Wil must be the ‘tough guy’ full of bluster and fight. He is indeed afraid to be afraid (Ch. 1). Wil is afraid of emotions and sees them, if anything as weakness. Crying is certainly something men don’t do (Ch. 4). For Wil relationships are difficult, if not a complete mystery (Ch. 1 & 2). In a marriage “the man is supposed to be in charge, not the woman” (Ch. 4). A man’s job in a relationship is seen as not much more than working to provide an income. But the whole novel depicts an evolution away from this situation as the story progresses. Indeed, right from the start Wil sees the caring nature of his father and grandfather as something to be admired (Ch. 1 & Ch. 36). Along the way, however, Wil must first give up his view of ‘the strong working father’ and then learn to express his love. This is for him a very long drawn out process, and even at the end of the book we wonder if he, despite all his intentions, has completely broken free of his 1950’s masculine conditioning.

While this is a mainly heterosexual novel, LGBTIQ relations are occasionally touched on. Wil has a dream which makes him aware of a grain of homosexuality in himself (Ch. 19). He is not afraid of this, or does not feel bad as a result. When Wil’s work colleague Mel discovers that his son is gay Wil gives very positive advice about accepting and loving this young man (Ch. 34). The kind of bigotry that LGBTIQ people face is depicted in a disapproving way (Ch. 39). The picture is not all naively positive though. As a boy Wil was pressured by a gay paedophile (Ch. 25) and as an adult he receives too familiar a treatment from a male boss (Ch. 9), although it is not fully clear that this man is gay. Lesbians receive a brief sympathetic mention, though they are not depicted (Ch. 40).

The often ignored group of the aged are also depicted to a small extent. Wil’s grandfather, though an absent character, is spoken of positively. Late in the story Wil’s mother and father are depicted as old people. In the case of his father we see a positive representation, but in the case of his mother the circumstances are very negative. Of course people do not become miraculously wise and kind simply because they have aged.

Minorities, another classification of ignored groups, are frequently mentioned and depicted in small ways. Wil often expresses positive views of people of various races, declaring that colour does not matter to him. Racial bigotry is also often depicted in a disapproving way. Junior, a work colleague of Wil’s, receives fullest representation (Ch. 5 & Ch. 7). He is depicted as an affable man who receives bigotry with very good grace. Wil himself is of partial American Indian descent and characters of this descent pop up as minor characters. Some of these incidents dramatize the bigotry they face (Ch. 38). People of Mexican descent similarly regularly pop up in cameo appearances (Ch. 12 & following), and the bigotry they face is also portrayed and condemned (Ch. 18). Finally there is one rabid Jew hater depicted, who is certainly disapproved of (Ch. 13).

Wilson’s novel takes an interesting position in the Capitalism / Socialism debate as it takes the middle-ground, third way of Liberalism. As has been noted, Wil is no friend of interfering government. Maximum freedom of the individual is really his central point. Willy is a “liberal, progressive Democrat” (Ch. 32). None the less he certainly disapproves of rich “fat cats” (Ch. 9), noting for example their “rudeness” (Ch. 9), however, he is continually aware of his family’s “need [… for …] more money” and pursuit of finance is his central occupation. Partially this is a ‘poor man makes rich’ story and as such is firmly in the ‘great American Capitalist ideal’. Wil finally owns “a half-million dollar house on a waterway” (Ch. 1). None the less Willy describes himself as having “leanings of socialism from seeing inequities in society” (Ch. 9), and to be fair equality is very much an important issue to him. Class struggle and the unethical way the rich gain their wealth are also important issues to him (Ch. 26). These are certainly Socialist ideas and not surprising from a man of poor background.

Covering a life of seventy two years the novel is partially a social history. As has been noted, the first two Parts document the narrow views of the 1950’s social system, but from Chapter 11 onwards the plot enters the society of the Counterculture (late 1960s / early 1970s). “Hippies” (Ch. 11 & following), the anti-war movement (Ch. 12), the psychedelic movement (Ch. 13 & following) and “swingers” (Ch. 21) are all mentioned, and indeed drugs are an important part of the novel. This ear of freedom, though, does not go completely without critical analysis. The swingers seem to be simply looking for an excuse to abandon their partner, rather than being really open minded. Drugs, for all their excitement, propel the user into a narrow world where responsibility is easily lost. Don, a minor character, for example takes drugs all day while his pregnant girlfriend works (Ch. 19).

Most fiction is about ‘real’ people and so psychology, which aims to find the truth about individuals, is an important tool for an author. While Wilson’s book is not specifically ‘psychological’, it does touch on many issues related to that field of study. Wil himself may suffer from “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” (Ch. 1), his brother Darwin is diagnosed as bipolar (Ch. 1 & Ch. 36) and after a bad accident at works Wil suffers from “panic attacks” (Ch. 3). Wil and his wife Evelyn attend marriage “divorce counselling” (Ch. 22), and Willy attends long after the divorce because he finds it so personally helpful. “Emptiness” (Ch. 19) as a motivation for drug taking is noted, as is the inevitable “downer” (Ch. 19) that they bring. These points could have been ‘fleshed-out’ more with a little study of the psychological literature. The novel is most ‘psychological’ in its observations of the influence of parents and peer groups on long term behaviour. Both Evelyn and Wil lack parents who can teach them how to communicate with a partner (Ch. 2 & following) and Willy even imitates his mother in her blaming attitude, though this is a quality he hates in her (Ch. 6). Wil listens to his peer delinquent group because he “wanted to be liked” (Ch. 2). The effect of both parents and peer group haunt him for the rest of his life and the book documents his attempts to escape this influence.

Wilson’s novel does not really use imagery; however, there is one scene where a pet “boa constrictor” (Ch. 17) eats two mice, who the men at Wil’s work have become very attached to. This story is aptly ghastly and serves as a good symbol for the whole book. The natural world is cruel and we are trapped in it, dancing around the aggressor, or looking dubiously at him, a little like mice. We can use our imagination to make the world better, but we will never really escape the snake.

Many stories, being what they are, have some mythic qualities and this includes Hypocrites In His Midst. In the first half of the novel Wil is almost possessed by his desire to earn for his family, and around the middle of the book this peaks in the task of building a family home. This is his proverbial ‘castle’ or ‘ivory tower’ in which his family will live safely and all will be well. Drawing on the cultural mythology of the Tarot we can see that the card of The Tower Of Destruction very much represents his predicament at this point. Describing this card Sallie Nichols says that two people “are being thrown from a position of lofty security into one of exposure and confusion” and that a “tongue of lightning has knocked off the golden crown that serves as [… the tower’s …] roof” (Jung And Tarot: An Archetypal Journey: Samuel Weiser, 1980, p. 283). Wil’s house is not literally destroyed, but a destructive crisis does occur and Wil is thrown into a state of personal confusion, which he must work through in Part IV. Later speaking of his mental attitude Wil says “I was already building an emotional brick wall to hide behind and protect myself” (Ch. 29). His desires for financial security, and later his attitudes, are a mental construct, a tower he has built for protection, and yet a tower that constricts him and causes as much harm as good. Nichols, noting that the title of the card in French “carries the meaning of hospice”, writes, “the two sick souls [ … ] are being liberated from an enforced incarceration rather than cast forth from their true home” (Nichols, p. 285). The tower depicted in the card has no door. Both Wil and Evelyn are indeed trapped in a marriage which was meant to solve a bad situation (a pregnancy), but which has brought mostly pain. Crowley notes of the card that it also carries the meaning of “the destruction of the old-established Aeon by lightning, flames, engines of war” (Aleister Crowley. The Book Of Thoth: Samuel Weiser, 1974, p. 107). The events surrounding the building of Wil’s house come in the context of the end of 1950’s values and the beginning of the era initiated by the Counterculture, and the personal meaning of this is certainly acrimony and conflict between Wil and Evelyn.

Throughout the novel Wil notices “my own foolishness” (Ch. 3 and following) and we see many examples of his jokey, uproarious behaviour at parties. Following from this it can be seen that the Tarot card of The Fool applies to the whole book. Nichols describes this character as a “wanderer, energetic [… and …] ubiquitous” (p. 23) and indeed this is Wil ‘to a tee’. He moves from place to place and job to job, is always rushing to some new project and is in many ways an ‘everyman’. Nichols notes that “the word ‘fool’ is derived from the Latin follis, meaning, ‘a pair of bellows, a windbag’” (Nichols, p. 28). Wil frequently notes that he cannot “keep [… his …] mouth shut” (Ch. 2 & following). Again Nichols notes that the fool’s approach to life includes “the innocence of childhood” (Nichols, p. 26), and as has been said Willy in many ways remains the schoolboy ‘tough’. Nichols notes that the Fool, possessing secret wisdom, was often advisor to the king, being free to “criticise him and offer challenging suggestions” (Nichols, p. 29). As has been noted Wil often hands out advice to the governments of his day. Writing further Nichols notes that the fool’s cap was “originally conceived as a satire on the monk’s cowl, [… but …] nevertheless betrays a serious connection with the spirit” (Nichols, p. 27), and, once again as we have seen, Wil is both critical of the Christian church but personally concerned with ethics and ‘spiritual’ concerns. In a summing up passage Nichols writes:

“… the Fool’s spontaneous approach to life combines wisdom, madness, and folly. When he mixes these ingredients in the right proportions the results are miraculous, but when the mixture curdles, everything ends in a sticky mess” (Nichols, p. 24).

This could be written about Wil. Much more could be said about the relevance of The Fool to Hypocrites In His Midst, but space does not permit.

Wil becomes interested in astrology and this is another source of cultural mythology that has relevance to the novel. Wil is “Aries” (Ch. 23) and examining this sign reveals much about the book. Aries begins at the equinox when “light and dark are perfectly balanced” (Nicholas Campion. Zodiac: Enhance Your Life Through Astrology: Alhambra House, c2000, p. 21) and it is interesting to see that Wil is an unusual mix of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Many would call him a simple criminal, yet he has an ethic of his own. He is interested in very earthy, practical solutions to problems, like building a house, yet he has ‘spiritual’ interests. Aries is characterized by “unlimited power and individuality” (Campion, p. 21) and Wil, as has been noted is very dynamic and quite a character. Aries is ruled by Mars (Campion, p. 22), the god of war, and Wil is never afraid to fight and indeed finds himself regularly in a battle. Aries has “drive and ambition” (Campion, p. 23), and Wil, more than most things, wants to get ahead. Aries can fall into “extremes” (Campion, p. 23), and during his psychedelic phase Wil does just that. Aries needs to learn the lesson that “other people have feelings and that they may be hurt by our words or actions” (Campion, p. 22) and this is indeed one of the main elements in Wilson’s novel. Once again, much more could be said about the relevance of this mythological sign, but space does not permit.

At 630 pages Hypocrites In His Midst is not really a quick weekend read. It really needs several weekends to take in the full extent of Wil’s seventy two years of living. This book needs to be thought about at least a bit. The characters are likable, but not exactly “good” people. The themes of hypocrisy, ethics, success and personal maturation reflect the more individual natures of the characters, certainly giving us something to think about. The changing role of women is looked at, though some Feminists may raise their eyebrows. The changing gender role of men is described in detail, though we wonder if Wil has completely freed himself of the 1950s perspective. LGBTIQ, the aged and racial minorities receive representation and sympathetic treatment. There is an interesting blend of Capitalism and Socialism, though as a Liberal work the main emphasis is Capitalist. Mythology can reveal much about the novel, though it does not specifically use imagery. Wilson’s novel could be read and enjoyed simply as the story of a ‘tough’, but it is really quite a bit more than that. The exploration of Wil’s seventy two years takes us at least briefly to many different ideas and aspects of life. I am happy to rate this book as 4.5 stars out of 5.

What one thing about this book stood out the most for you?
This book is a fictional autobiography spanning seven decades. It is a story of “redemption” (Ch. 8) in a secular sense. This is a book about trying to “do the right thing” (Ch. 3), though the “right thing” (Ch. 2) is not always obvious or easy to achieve.

Reviewer Bio
I have a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in literature. In that degree I obtained minors in psychology, modern history and economics. I also have a Graduate Diploma of Library Science in which my studies included management and communications.

I live in Australia. I have lived in Townsville and Brisbane (in the state of Queensland), and Armidale (in the state of New South Wales) in Australia. I have never travelled overseas, but would like to visit the United Kingdom.