Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Michael J. Bowler - Spinner - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

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

My Review

Children growing up in economically-challenged areas have it tough.

Michael J. Bowler illustrates that struggle in his young adult paranormal novel, SPINNER. He sets his story in an urban environment that is riddled with crime and little opportunity to get ahead. He allows us to view this world mainly through the eyes of two white boys with learning disabilities, Alex and Roy. Their dingy Special Ed classroom 17-5 is located as far from the main quad as possible. They don't even leave the room to change classes. They stay there all day long with the same teacher. This isolates them from the rest of the student body in a high school that's predominantly Hispanic. They're told that they're stupid and lazy, mocked by their peers for their deficiencies, while believing the adults who tell them they'll never make anything of themselves.


For Roy, his developmental problem is multi-generational. His father, Nathan, also has a hard time reading and understanding big words. He's a construction worker by trade, used to making a living by the sweat of his brow. Roy's older stepbrother, Dane, is ashamed of the flaw in their genetic makeup, choosing to distance himself from them. He was in the same Special Ed class that Roy's in now, and all it got him after graduation was a job on the school's maintenance staff.

Hawthorne is a city where "crime was pretty ordinary," and "you never knew what to expect especially after dark." It's a city of dirty alleyways and police brutality. It's a place where people do what it takes to survive where many choose to look out for themselves instead of putting others first.

Bowler describes the prevailing attitude as, "Evil is like a living organism, a germ that people pass along to each other, sort of like a cold."

There's a definite lack of hope that permeates the environment that's sharply contrasted with the inclusion of the mysterious Mr. Shaw, a Steve Jobs type character who's so wealthy he thinks he's God. The only problem is he has a sick daughter who's dying of leukemia and he knows no amount of money will be able to change that.

That's where Alex comes into the play. He has a rare ability to heal people by drawing their illnesses into his body in order to cure them. He was never sick a day in his life, and his white cells look like those of a newborn baby. He's miraculously able to channel any disease and expel it from his system.

Mr. Shaw could capitalize on Alex's unique gift for all it's worth to cure the most incurable of diseases from cancer to AIDS, but he chooses not to. Instead, he provides a foster kid like Alex with a comfortable room and all the food he can eat. He's immensely thankful for what Alex is able to do for his daughter, Allison, that he refuses to take advantage of him.

Until he finds Alex alone in Allison's room covered in blood.

Did Alex kill her?

That's what everyone wants to know.

Can a foster kid from the wrong side of the tracks really ever be trusted? It's an intriguing question that Bowler raises. He examines a lot of the prejudices that society places on individuals who fall below the poverty line. Why are people who are better off so quick to think the worst of those who aren't? Why are they always assumed to be guilty instead of innocent?

Wealth is such a dividing factor in society, and it always makes for great conflict within a story. How can teens like Alex, without any supernatural powers, ever be expected to pull themselves out of such a no-win situation? Are they all destined to commit crimes and end up in prison? Or is there another way they can advance themselves without coming down on the wrong side of the law?

Perhaps the Mr. Shaws of the world don't have to view guys like Alex as the enemy after all.


Spinner can be pre-purchased at:

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is currently outlining a sequel to Spinner.

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

Links to connect with Michael:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Jerome Charyn - Bitter Bronx - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

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

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

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

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

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

My Review

What gave me an immediate sense of how the Bronx came burning down was Jerome Charyn's reference to a pack of wild dogs that roamed through Crotona Park in the aftermath of the greatest upheaval to ever hit the borough. There's even a rumor that they mauled to death a small child. Later, a prominent gang adopted that vicious canine emblem to grace its bags of heroin. And that in a nutshell sums up the disheartening tone of BITTER BRONX, it's fall into destruction and chaos that no one could stop. All that's left for Charyn to do is lament what once was of this "brick wilderness."

And there's no telling symbol than the most recognizable fixture of the Bronx—Yankee Stadium. Or should I say, the NEW Yankee Stadium, the mecca by which all success is measured. In "Major Leaguer," the leader of the Crotona Dogs invites superintendent Will Johnson to join him for a game in his box seats. The gangbanger remembers his Papi talking about watching Will play center field for the Yankees, and how proud he was of Will's glorious achievement as a native of the Bronx. But Will's not so proud. He only played one game as a Yankee, and he didn't even get a hit. The nostalgia factor rings false for Will. He doesn't believe himself to be worthy of any accolades, and he's not going to kowtow to the Crotona Dogs. He has too much pride for that.

Charyn, a native of the Bronx himself, nails the vibe of the place. You can feel the monotonous movement of the subway in, "I had to ride the local in and out of the Bronx. Each stop was a kind of purgatory. Freeman Street. Simpson Street. Intervale Avenue…" You can feel the rot and ruin in, "The Art Deco palaces along the Grand Concourse have been refurbished, but the blight will never really go away." You can feel the eminent sense of danger in, "Paradise Road had sharpshooters reigning from the roofs. The drug lords had put them there. But after a while the sharpshooters were bored to death and would pick off children and old men."

It's no wonder Charyn compares the broken landscape of the Bronx to bombed-out Belfast, and why he's reluctant to revisit his memories in print, no doubt because they clash so painfully with what he finds there today. It's heartbreaking to see one's home turned into something unrecognizable. It's sad that a fresh wind of change has never come to the Bronx, especially when New York is a city that's ever changing, dashing dreams, while raising others up.

But one thing is certain. Despite its many flaws, the Bronx did one thing right. It gave birth to a literary talent like Jerome Charyn.


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

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

About the Author

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

Links to connect with Jerome:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

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