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Capital Offenses: The Artwork of Stephen Barnwell

Stephen Barnwell. Antarctica Arts, $75 (140p) ISBN 978-0-9913216-0-5

Through a series of reimagined banknotes, coupons, and stamps, Barnwell, in the manner of much activist art, appropriates the aesthetic of the establishment in order to comment on and critique it. His is an art of juxtapositions and provocation: "Indebted States of America," reads a $1 trillion "Oriental Reserve Note" bearing the signature of erstwhile U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and featuring a presidential portrait of "Chairman Dow"—who looks very much like Mao Zedong. More controversial perhaps is the "United States of Islam" series: U.S. currency depicting scenes of historical Islamic military victories, such as the fall of Jerusalem in 638 C.E. But Barnwell's criticism is not limited to foreign policy and finance. With "American Excess," a coupon similar to an antiquated bearer bond that depicts Uncle Sam tied to an oil rig, he ably criticizes the extent to which energy and other corporate interests influence American government and imperil the nation's future. Barnwell's work exposes the contradictions and hypocrisy of various power structures and even underscores the intricate elegance of currency as an aesthetic experience.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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In the Shadow of Lies

M.A. Adler. She Writes Press, $16.95 paper (359p) ISBN 978-1-938314-82-7

After failing to apprehend the racist arsonists who started a deadly fire or solve several mysterious disappearances of American Italians, Richmond, Calif., homicide detective Oliver Wright reenlists in Marines during World War II. Returning home near the close of the war, Wright finds himself investigating a conspiracy horribly reminiscent of his past failures. Adler delivers a complex and engrossing mystery that portrays the sprawling cities and small towns of America and some of the desperate people who inhabit them. While his novel is sometimes hampered by distracting flashbacks and time jumps, Adler effectively captures the plight of minorities during World War II.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Great Liars

Jerry Jay Carroll. Jerry Jay Carroll, $14 trade paper (362p) ISBN 978-0-9898269-0-7

This meticulously constructed thriller from Carroll delivers healthy doses of political conspiracy, paranoia, and pulse-pounding suspense. Oral historian Harriet Gallatin gets more than she bargained for when she begins recording the recollections of former Navy Lt. Lowell Brady, who now resides in an old-age home, but who, during WWII, uncovered a terrible secret about Pearl Harbor. And when Gallatin is ordered to report what Brady shares, what began as a routine assignment becomes a race against time and a battle for survival. Military absurdity and governmental betrayal are depicted with wit and humor in this provocative portrait of outsiders whose honor transforms them from respectable citizens to demonized agitators. Cantankerous, lewd, vulgar, and skillfully rendered by the author, Brady is as warm as he is infuriating. Carroll has crafted a crowd-pleasing page-turner, replete with cultural criticism and refreshing honesty.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Deep Down Things

Tamara Linse. Willow Words, $14.95 paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-9913867-3-4

In Linse's novel of family struggle, Maggie Jordan; her sister, CJ; and her brother, Tibs, were orphaned when their parents died in a tragic accident, leaving the siblings to care for each other. Years later, Maggie falls for a writer and former bull rider named Jackdaw. As Jackdaw works to finish a novel, Maggie becomes pregnant and the couple gets married. But when their baby has a serious birth defect and Jackdaw finds himself in the grips of writer's block and haunted by his past, Maggie must once again rely on her siblings for support. Linse has created an intimate portrayal of a small family coming to terms with tragedy and strife. While the various relationships are confusing at times, readers will recognize and empathize with the characters. Linse juggles the hurts of the different characters well, with each suffering from a need to belong and struggling to balance their family and personal lives.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blessed Are the Wholly Broken

Melinda Clayton. Thomas-Jacob Publishing, $12.99 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-0-9895729-3-4

Clayton (Appalachian Justice) has written an emotionally charged, engrossing book that tackles life's large and often overwhelming questions. Phillip and Anna Lewinsky are struggling with heartache and grief after the death of their first child when Anna discovers that she is pregnant at age 43. Shuttling between the past and the present, Clayton probes the couple's troubled world, as Phillip looks back at their early relationship. He recalls that when Anna shortened his name in conversation that, "as silly as it may sound, particularly given all we'd suffered at that point, it saddened me, as if I'd slipped a notch in her esteem, no longer worthy of those extra letters." With another child on the way, the couple wrestles with their demons: "We didn't want to get our families' hopes up again only to have them dashed....We also didn't want to have to make that terrible phone call again, the one signifying the end of everything." Clayton writes with a raw immediacy, and the multiple narratives satisfyingly converge to create an intense and compelling atmosphere.

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Derelict

LJ Cohen. Interrobang, $11.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-9847870-8-1

Cohen (Future Tense) takes readers through an admirable but uneven futuristic adventure with plenty of YA-crossover appeal. Rosalen “Ro” Maldonado wants nothing more than to escape her emotionally abusive father’s grasp, get off Daedalus Station, and go to university. In the meantime she takes a job as an engineering intern and starts investigating a derelict ship docked at the space station. The ship proves full of mysteries, including drugs grown on board and illegal weapons hidden in the cargo hold. When Ro awakens the ship’s ancient, damaged AI, she and three companions stow away aboard a vessel plunging into deep space. They must work together to survive, even as hostile forces pursue them and the ship recognizes them only as threats. The intriguing premise never really gels, and an overly long setup leads to a meandering plot and hasty resolution. However, Cohen has real talent with character development and interaction, and prickly, defensive Ro is a sympathetic and interesting heroine. Younger readers will forgive the flaws, and older ones will hope for stronger future volumes that build on the promise of this one. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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One

Ron Glick. CreateSpace, $14.99 trade paper (412p) ISBN 978-1-4961-0025-2

With all the subtlety and grace of a raging bull in a china shop, the first installment of the Godslayer Cycle harkens back to long nights spent with fantasy role-playing games in a friend’s basement. Nathaniel Goodsmith’s fate is to be an instrument of the Pantheon of old gods—long thought dead by the people of the realm—in the coming war with the unimaginatively named New Order of younger gods. Tasked with this mystical imperative, he must go forth to find the first of the nine swords forged by the old gods before agents of the New Order can thwart him. Nuggets of creativity, like the old gods’ intriguing approach to gender, are briefly explored but overshadowed by the crowd of characters and their clumsy, overly verbose dialog (“We would infect this New Order and cripple it afore it can deliver unto us a death blow”). Details are lovingly expounded, ad nauseam, grinding the narrative to a screeching halt. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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