Reviews

The Composer's Legacy
2nd edition advanced copy

by Michael DeStefano

Review for Readers' Favorite by Divine Zape

The Composer's Legacy by Michael DeStefano is a beautiful work of fiction, based on a historical personage, that combines the arts with the great skill of storytelling to offer readers an amazing treat. David Whealy is a renowned California music professor who tumbles on an unexpected inheritance. It all starts with a simple, short letter that reads: “You have been named sole beneficiary to the estate of Mr. James Burton West. Further instructions will be forthcoming in accordance with the wishes of the benefactor.”

David’s life changes suddenly as he finds himself catapulted to the other side of the country, digging into the significance of his inheritance from one of the world’s best music composers. He finds more than unpublished music, and it seems to David that his benefactor didn’t even know the extent of his own wealth, guarded in the family from one generation to another since 1724. Now, he’ll find out about his colonial ancestor and an iron key that opens to a secret that could even change the destiny of the entire nation.

The Composer's Legacy is a great work, brilliantly plotted and intelligently written. The reader will enjoy the appreciation of fine music, the excellent writing, and the gripping plot. Michael DeStefano is a great storyteller and his writing features some of the finest literary styles, including a masterful use of the epistolary, great dialogues, and an engaging narrative style that will have the reader gripped from the beginning to the end. The cast of compelling characters, the well-handled themes, and the strong storyline are elements that set this novel apart as a work of great entertainment.
        

The Dead Dance Faster

by Julie Ann Hacker

Review by Michael DeStefano

Using the conversational first-person narrative of the protagonist, Hacker’s heroine, Jael Mancuso, lays before us an eerie suspense yarn worthy of Rod Serling.

Dysfunctional family relationships, a family history shrouded in secrecy, a cultist-style church with strong ties to town politics, and a pansophical being in the person of the town’s preeminent citizen, Pastor Thomas Jude, provide the appropriate backdrop as an innocuous request from Jael’s mother propels this rolling potboiler forward.

Annalise Mancuso insists her daughter, Jael move from their hometown of Pittsburg to a place hours away called Seven Hills to take a job with Pastor Jude. Events quickly move into the realm of the bizarre when the out-of-wedlock birth of Jael’s stillborn baby (Orchid) combines with strange and unexpected reactions from all who surround her. Even her mother, who comes to Seven Hills for a visit, appears disquietingly accepting of Orchid’s fate. Annalise’s over familiarity with Jude, a person Jael only just met, sparks concern in the young woman who is determined to find out what really happened to her baby.

As expected, Jael’s former boyfriend, Shane reemerges to buttress Jael’s courage during her investigation. The two endeavor to find out what’s really going on within the cultist divide of this unusual church and the unnatural hold it has over its parishioners. The prospect of a rekindling of their relationship may have been predictable, but certainly not the way the reader expected.

Though titled as book one of a planned series, this quick read is an enjoyable stand-alone. Taking the requisite time to establish the pace and to introduce the main characters, Hacker’s disarmingly loquacious prose becomes addictive as the story progresses. The die-hard suspense addict sequestered on their favorite sofa will find this one an excellent read to curl up with.        

No Ordinary Killing

by Jeff Dawson

Review by Michael DeStefano

The outset of the Second Boer War sets the stage for Dawson’s intriguing period play that delves into the never-ending saga of class privilege, the state of human prejudice in the world at the turn of the twentieth century, and the comparative value of human life. Oh, and there’s a “spot of bother” about the murder of a drunk RAMC officer whose body was left only yards from his temporary lodgings in Cape Town.
 
Three seemingly unique story lines converge into one, satisfying whole as the author first raises the curtain on the opening skirmish at Magersfontein, Cape Colony. Nearly everything that transpires is plainly revealed to the alert reader as the clues are subtlety sprinkled throughout, but central to figuring out the mystery of who murdered the RAMC officer and why, is Dawson’s main protagonist, Captain Ingo Finch.
 
A doctor with the Royal Army Medical Corps, Finch is infused with the natural curiosity of a detective, the compassion of a doctor and a dry but quick wit. Even has a run-in with fellow RAMC medico and celebrated Holmes author, “A.C.” Doyle.
 
Phillip Glass-styled sentences with the echo of poetic cadence characterize Dawson’s literary canvas with a functional minimalism. Exceptional use of vocabulary not only adds depth to the storytelling, but also to the enjoyment of the reader thirsty for fresh, expressive language (not just accent-infused dialogue, which Dawson pens with faithful accuracy to the location and the period). Verbal exchanges where one character would initiate a thought, is immediately finished by the second, which effectively conveys humorous intent as well as relaying crucial information. To lay down anything further within this review would give the game away.
 
I so enjoyed the effort in following along with Finch, Miss Jones, and Mbutu, trying to solve the mystery on my own, I won’t spoil your fun here. Suffice to say, the character Albert Rideau, offered the most appropriate comment for the reader’s appraisal of Dawson’s work; They must “absolutely have to give (Dawson) full marks” for such an exciting and detailed period mystery-adventure.
 
Looking for a thrill-ride of non-stop, pulse-pounding proportions? Then you really must take up Dawson’s impelling tale, No Ordinary Killing or you’d “(throw) a damned good lunch…”
 
A jolly good yarn, what.

The Yugoslavian
The search for Mara Jovanović

by The Black Rose

Review by Michael DeStefano

The breakup of Yugoslavia provides the backdrop for this tale born of war, but driven toward redemption, mainly for the two principal characters; the roguishly handsome rebel leader named Ivan Đurić and the head of an American-based Children’s Writing Foundation, celebrated novelist, Tess Fordel.

In the process of reviewing submissions for a writing contest, Tess comes across a lengthy, but poignant story penned by a 7-year-old Croatian girl caught in the middle of the conflict. Since the little girl, Mara Jovanović writes no English, the story is translated and submitted—along with a cover letter—by the girl’s protector, a man called Iđy. Touched by Mara’s story, Tess decides Mara is not only the winner, but that she must present the prize to Mara in person. Against the advice of her publisher, she ventures to Belgrade to find Mara before the deadline. That’s her bit.

Ivan Đurić, on the other hand, is introduced as the non-Nationalist resistance fighter with a demonstrated ability to dispatch his enemies, if needs must, without a second thought. Ivan hates war and hates killing, but his leadership and God-fearing conscience guides his compassion as he prosecutes the war against the Nationalists and, by proxy, the outside influences of other nations. (On only one occasion, he executes a prostrated prisoner, but for a very specific reason.)

Before Tess’ arrival to Belgrade, Ivan is informed that a very beautiful American woman—a spy—is coming to try to locate and identify The Black Rebel (a.k.a. Ivan, a.k.a. Iđy). Ivan decides to intercept this woman, and if necessary, do what is required to ensure the safety of himself, his men and his Cause. This woman says she’s only here to inform Mara she won the writing competition and to present the little girl with her prize. In offering to help Tess find Mara, Ivan does his best to prevent that meeting from happening until he can determine if Tess is either the spy he was warned about or she is what she says she is. He never thought meeting Tess would awaken feelings he thought long dormant within his heart. That’s his bit.

From their initial meeting, Tess and Ivan gravitate towards each other, not fully knowing each other’s motives. The author’s use of omniscient third person helps the reader understand each character’s motivation, yet at times, the actions of the two main characters are in direct conflict with their respective trains of thought. This especially occurs each time Ivan and Tess commence an argument As Ivan and Tess’ relationship grows, the overuse of this technique tends to get a bit maudlin and unnatural. Of course, it would be, if their budding relationship didn’t occur smack dab in the middle of a shooting war. When each character’s respective back story comes into focus, we can better appreciate their reticence to fully commit to feelings they can no longer deny.

There were times, when each got angry with the other for what appeared to be no logical reason, I wanted to climb into the pages and box their ears, myself. Upon reflection, it’s a true testament to the author’s ability to engender strong feelings within the reader for—or against—a character.  

Journalistic Fraud
How the New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted

by Bob Kohn

Review by Michael DeStefano

Reviewer’s Note: As I was researching colonial newspapers for my latest novel, I discovered something remarkable: Integrity and the liberty of a responsible press corps meant something to the publishers of the day.
 
“Fondness of News may be carried to an extreme…great Care will be taken that no Facts of Importance shall be published but such as are well attested, and these shall be as particular as may be necessary.”
– From the inaugural issue of the New Hampshire Gazette by Daniel Fowle, October 7, 1756.

“The SALEM MERCURY: Political, Commercial, and Moral.”
– In the title frame of the SALEM MERCURY, October 14, 1786.
 
“OPEN to ALL PARTIES, but INFLUENCED by NONE.”       
– In the title frame of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, June 28, 1788.
 
“Beneath the Eagle’s Wings, Columbia Rise: Say, Wisdom’s Goddess, where the balance lies.” 
– In the title frame of the Impartial Herald, January 31, 1798.
 
“A Free PRESS maintains the MAJESTY of the PEOPLE.” 
– In the title frame of the BOSTON GAZETTE , September 17, 1798.
 
Then, I ran across this:
 
I deplore with you the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, & mendacious spirit of those who write for them.”
 
Based on the daily, non-stop betrayal of our alleged “main”stream media, this could easily have been said or written today. In fact, it would appear to sum up the feelings of the majority of those polled by Gallup in 2014 regarding the public’s opinion of today’s news media. Surprisingly, it was penned two centuries earlier, in 1814 by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a Walter Jones.[1]
 
If we are to be honest brokers, we must firmly reject the labels the purveyors of social engineering find irresistible to arbitrarily place upon us. If we can’t shed these labels (right, left, liberal, conservative, etc…), how can we truthfully address the mountain of issues our country currently faces? Likewise, if you don’t think journalistic integrity is important or you can’t check your political identity at the door, then the following review will be meaningless to you.
 
 
Journalistic Fraud
by Bob Kohn
 
That more and more people are distrustful of the august members of the Fourth Estate is not a well-kept secret. Yet, they insist on openly infusing straight news with their bias in support to their own political or personal agendas. Despite the media’s assurances of objectivity, the preponderance of evidence printed in their own newspapers or aired on their own broadcasts would tend to convict them of perjury.
 
And how can we easily decipher this bias within a given news story? Author Bob Kohn has selected the “gray lady” herself and examined specific articles from the New York Times (mostly of their crusade against President George W. Bush) and demonstrated for us exactly how publishers Howell Raines and Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. used various methods of social engineering to steer public opinion toward their own views. 
 
Taking on the New York Times (and by extension, other like-minded news outlets) Kohn defines the problem in the first two chapters (calling the Times out for their bias and what a newspaper is supposed to stand for). In the successive chapters, he examines the mechanics of fraud perpetrated by the Times, in particular, the various methods consciously designed to misrepresent hard news; distorting the lead, the headlines and the facts to fit their narrative. Other techniques, proficiently demonstrated by Kohn as used by the Times, involve distorting with loaded language, polling data and placement of salient facts within the story. 
 
As author Bob Kohn asserts, “The Agenda is Everything.”[2] If it doesn’t pass the litmus test of Sultzberger’s agenda, then it’s buried, scrapped or otherwise discounted. What’s truly outrageous is not that a litmus test exists, but that it’s based solely on ideology, not a bonafide examination of the story itself. An honest reader substituting Obama’s name for Bush within these stories would be outraged at the treatment of the 44th president, yet no such outrage exists for Bush 43. Don’t believe it? Examine the headlines for yourself of both presidencies during similar circumstances. Exchange each president’s name and see if you don’t find wholesale bias within each story; one glowing with praise, the other with derision. Now ask yourself if ideological advocacy is what a “news”paper is supposed to stand for?
 
Having taken in all the journalistic slight-of-hand employed by the so-called “paper of record”, the idea that the Times even has an opinion editor is superfluous really, when you consider the methods they used to color hard front-page news with their opinion.
 
“'Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.' -Attributed to William I Greener, Jr.”                                                           
– The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 1978.[3]
 
And I’m betting those barrels are filled with yellow ink.



Sources:
[1] http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0052
[2] Bob Kohn, Journalistic Fraud, (Nashville: WND Books, 2003), p. 13.
[3] http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/never_argue_with_a_man_who_buys_ink_by_the_barrel


Rising Tide: Dark Innocence

by Claudette Melanson

Review by Michael DeStefano

I read this book knowing absolutely nothing about it other than being drawn to its ghastly apocalyptic portrait of an otherwise attractive teen. Her glassy, onyx-colored eyes and ghostly visage is reminiscent of Sandra Locke’s self portrait in the Dirty Harry outing, Sudden Impact (this description is from Melanson's original bookcover). Thinking of Locke’s portrayal of a deranged killer and having purposefully ignored the synopsis and any posted reviews, I wasn’t thinking vampires when I began the book.

Though I felt a bit out of my depth in this genre, I still managed to find Melanson’s dialogue convincing with a credible storyline that held my interest the entire weekend.

The author adroitly navigates this evenly-spaced “coming of age” tale. A seemingly normal teenager, Maura DeLuca, must deal with her feelings of isolation, both at home from an overprotective single mom and at school from the usual politics of being an outcast high school teen.

Melanson immediately sets the tone for this gamer-nerd whose low self-esteem, aversion to sunlight, unusually cold skin and pallid complexion make her an easy target for Katie Parker, the bully next door and the “beautiful people” clique.

But as Maura begins to experience the onset of puberty, so too, does she begin to notice more than just teenage hormones running amok. She also notices characteristics developing within her that are definitely not normal or healthy. Even more disturbing is her mom, Caelyn’s behavior (the unstated reason for the move to Vancouver, purchasing more raw meat than two people can eat, manipulating dental appointments, etc…). Taken in totum, her machinations become clear by the time we get to the plot twist cliff hanger at the end.

The first of three parts, Melanson has provided us with many tantalizing threads of storyline just waiting to be explored further in her subsequent volumes (and with any luck, Katie Parker and company will face a colorful bit of retribution, courtesy of a fully indoctrinated teen vampire).

Melanson’s sympathetic treatment of Maura’s character is done so superbly that most teens would be able to identify with her (well, everything except for gnashing the daylights out of raw meat right in front of a potential boyfriend with mom looking on or the odd hollow canine trick at the dentist office). Maura’s occasional use of her mom’s name, Caelyn, when talking about her with others, was a bit confusing, until you factor in the teen rebel element. In a move the reader doesn’t see coming, the author treats us to the identity of the person who reveals to Maura exactly who and what she is.

This time, the fangs are on the other gender! And fans of the genre will find Melanson’s female teen-turning-vampire approach a refreshing one.