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Diane D's Reviews

Discussion in 'Member Book Reviews/Journals/Blogs' started by Diane D., Oct 27, 2014.

  1. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    Joe S. Davis's The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security is a novel about terrorism, but it's the twist that Davis offers on the theme that set this apart from others, and from anticipation of another 'terrorist thriller' approach.

    This isn't an outsider's perspective and story so much as an insider's series of revelations, it's set on foreign soil, and it poses the specter of international business involvements in the terrorist process as a way of examining not just personal motivation, but financial and economic connections.

    In fact, the more one reads through The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security, the more one realizes there's something unusual going on here; particularly in contrast with other terrorist fiction approaches their subjects from the perspectives of outsiders combating terrorist activities.

    In fact, the more one reads through The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security, the more one realizes there's something unusual going on here; particularly in contrast with other terrorist fiction approaches their subjects from the perspectives of outsiders combating terrorist activities.

    Relationships between victim and kidnapper, male and female, investigator and perp, racial issues and opportunity: all are well-drown against the milieu of Jamaican society, with the focus remaining upon a bigger picture than a singular plot and its outcome (as the book's foreword predicted).

    And this focus is what sets The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security apart from many other terrorist fiction approaches. It won't delight those looking for simple action, singular events, and linear thinking about terrorism's roots: the meat of ordinary 'thriller fiction' that brushes the surface of meaning in deference to nonstop (often predictable) events. It will prove a superior, action-packed adventure for readers interested in absorbing the bigger picture of not only these proceedings, but the social, cultural, political and economic forces behind them.

    Complex? You bet: the twists and turns are relentless and energetic, and they don't stop with political observation but weave in revelations about the hearts, minds, and motivations of individuals with larger concerns.

    That Joe S. Davis achieves this dance - and does it well - is evidence that The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security will appeal not so much to casual readers of terrorist action thrillers, but to those looking for more complex insights into the entire structure of terrorist activities. Thus, what begins with a simple kidnapping story evolves into something much more and, like a butterfly emerging, takes wing to fly into the complex realm of bigger social and political issues and, ultimately, the values that drive them.

    It's a mark of greatness - and a reason why The Kidnapping of Jamaica's Homeland Security is a special recommendation.
     
  2. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    Donelle Dreese's Deep River Burning isn't a hasty novel read: to enjoy it best, you have to sit down with a cup of tea and read slowly, following an author who truly takes time to build her characters and story - a refreshing change from the hectic pace of so many.

    The first thing to know about Deep River Burning is that it takes time to produce its poetic, majestic descriptions and is not a hasty plot packed with one-dimensional action; so if it's immediate gratification you're seeking in the way of a thriller/romance, look elsewhere. The real strength in a novel lies in its ability to build both emotional connection and a sense of place, and Dreese achieves this in a methodical manner that takes the necessary time to do both, aptly demonstrated in the opening act that is the very first paragraph.

    These poetic descriptions continue throughout and are simply outstanding embellishments to the plot. Again: do they slow down the action by focusing on description? Only a bit. Do they provide ethereal observations of environment and self that enhances the overall story line? Absolutely. Will they prove too thoughtful for those interested in a steamy, action-packed romance? Likely … but then, 'steamy' isn't a word to be applied to Deep River Burning, which takes love and conflict and moves them onto the higher grounds of ecological disaster and philosophical reflection.

    If one single word were to be applied to Deep River Burning's unifying perspective, it wouldn't be 'romance' so much as 'reflection'. Denver reflects on all aspects of life and her conversations with those around her are infused with purpose and a drive to comprehend her own life's meaning and that of the wider world around her.

    It's a rare pleasure to find a novel so infused with such depth and an effective, poetic delivery that translates emotional and philosophical insights into strong protagonist concerns that invite real audience connection.

    For a deeper, reflective story that goes beyond the usual realms of linear thinking and reactive emotional pieces, Deep River Burning is a true standout. It won't prove everyone's cup of tea, of course - Lipton drinkers might seek more steam and passion - but those who look for the (rarer) depth and flavor of a fine Earl Grey will want to partake, and drink deeply, of this satisfying, warm saga.
     
  3. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    I absolutely loved Jeff Folschinsky's first Tales from Little Lump - Alien Season; so it was a delight to see his next,
    Tales from Little Lump: Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys - every bit as hilarious and unexpected as the first. If there were a 6-star review, I'd make it so!

    It must be said that Jeff Folschinsky's opening paragraphs for his writings are nothing but compelling: readers who like more than a light dose of humor injected into their sci-fi/horror won't just feel compelled to continue - they'll be grabbed by the collar and pulled in, as in the second 'Tales from Little Lump' collection, Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys: "I have to admit, Japanese snow monkeys are the most adorable things that I ever did lay my eyes on. It's too bad that I had to start blowing them apart with my late husband's, God rest his soul, 12-gauge Remington pump action shotgun; but what else are you supposed to do once they've turned undead?"

    It's a dilemma, indeed - and one which comes to life in a story of undead, cute but dangerous snow monkeys that plague the small town of Little Lump and create havoc for its residents.

    Readers of the original Tales will know that aliens who came in peace were gunned down by an over-enthusiastic small Texas town's determination to prevent invasion at all costs. But no prior familiarity is required for this continuation of the horror theme as the Texas shoot-em-up approach is applied to a greater horror in the form of undead cuties.

    Gertie and Cousin Tommy are back, ammunition is running low, and tempers are high. Gertie tells the tale and minces no words in the process - which in itself is simply hilarious.

    If you're looking for serious zombie apocalypse tales - look elsewhere. Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys requires that its readers have a funny bone in place - and then it tickles and tweaks it until the result is uproaring laughter: something very few horror books can claim to offer.

    So go ahead - open the door, aim your weapon, and get ready to party with Night of the Undead Snow Monkeys. It promises a night you won't forget, and is very highly recommended as a standout read.
     
  4. Diane D.

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    Michele Lynn Seigfried's COMMUNITY AFFAIRS holds just what I like in a good mystery read: a healthy dose of the unexpected, to keep it from becoming another genre formula production.

    Murder and amateur sleuthing is a mainstay of the mystery genre; but less common is the inclusion of humor, a device that sets Community Affairs apart from the majority of 'look-alike' titles and which provides a satisfying diversion from the usually-too-serious job of sleuthing.

    Bonnie is taking an oath of office, and it's time to celebrate her big promotion: an event almost stymied by new neighbors who are moving in and arguing with each other. As Bonnie comes to believe her new neighbor is unstable, she also makes some connections between Lemon Face (as she's impulsively named the woman) and a missing local - and it's then that push really comes to shove in a battle of neighbors turned deadly.

    As Bonnie discovers more connections between Lemon Face (a.k.a. neighbor Lyla) and Polly, the wars escalate as each woman sees in the other an enemy able to destroy her happiness.

    Now, the humor that permeates the plot isn't your slapstick affair: it surrounds the give-and-take of protagonists and is deftly portrayed in conversations, more often than not.

    The well-rounded blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, observation, and amateur sleuthing involves neighbors, murderers, and hospital personnel alike in a journey that is anything but ordinary.

    Unlike many a murder mystery protagonist, Bonnie doesn't aspire to gumshoe crime-solving: she's already a busy mother with a career, a loving husband, and a lot going on in her world. She simply falls into the role of investigator - but, what a role it is!

    Community Affairs is aptly named because many members of the community engage and interact in the course of ordinary and illicit affairs and their potential impact.

    Nobody knows who the killer is. And Bonnie is about to break the case wide open - if she survives.

    It's detective writing at its best: adding a dash of humor to the mix to create not just comic relief, but the personality and whimsy lacking in most stories of amateur sleuths. And that's what makes Community Affairs not just a standout, but a top recommendation.
     
  5. Diane D.

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    In Betta Ferrendelli's third book documentation of the sleuthing prowess of one Samantha Church, DEAD WRONG, there's a surprise: the local mortuary may be involved in the sinister crime of harvesting dead body parts, dismembering corpses to sell body parts on the black market - in itself a seeming incongruity, because most who know about organ harvesting know that time is of the essence; and by the time a body arrives at a mortuary, it may be too late for profits. Or, is it?

    As Sam and her young mortuary worker friend Abby begin their investigation, they discover plenty of opportunities for illegal activities, plenty of motivation, and a deadly method that involves not only the dead, but the living.

    And that's just the beginning of the story, because the real mystery lies not in the presence of the operation, but in revealing who is behind it - and this shrouded perp is a deep, deadly secret.

    As with other Samantha Church mysteries, Dead Wrong is driven by passion and strong characters as well as its murder premise. Moreover, it excels in the unpredictable; and in a genre replete with formula writing where twists and turns are a matter of course, this is really saying something.

    Readers follow Samantha down a winding road of deception and intrigue as it's discovered that the bodies haven't always departed willingly, and as a Care Center's actions defy its name.

    It's hard to skirt the edges of Dead Wrong without giving away its many surprising turns. One such dose is its probe into not just Samantha's persona or Abby's motivation, but the thoughts and concerns of a host of characters who dance around them, with death and its meaning always omnipresent.

    Powerful passages like these that keep Dead Wrong an impressive mystery, with its focus on the funeral industry and its attention to emotional depth and detail that keep even the bad guys human and believable. After all, in an exceptional mystery, it's the living and breathing who are left holding the bag and moving on with their lives - and so Dead Wrong offers satisfying turns where, even in death, there is life and new promises, setting it apart from your usual 'whodunnit' read.
     
  6. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    Deborah Davitt's The Goddess Denied represents Book Two of 'The Saga of Edda-Earth', and is just as multifaceted as its introductory predecessor The Valkyrie; so if it's casual fantasy and quickly-drawn worlds that are sought, move on. Unlike many a fantasy world, the story's time line is long and drawn out - but, in a good way. The action is based upon solid characterization and the focus on various gods at war with one another is injected with living, breathing fire that draws readers in and heats up the action.

    Familiarity with the prior The Valkyrie is highly recommended; not for the usual reason (that a reader walking into the world of The Goddess Denied might be lost) but because characterization is so well drawn in its opening act that it would be a shame to walk into the show mid-performance and miss the highlights of its beginning.

    Readers with this familiarity will find here all the elements of the prior book are expanded outward, like a big bang. That said, be forewarned that there's quite a wide cast of characters in this play; and so Davitt's opening synopsis of prior action includes bolded names (well-done!) and overviews of each character's importance in the plot. Would that all authors creating such intricate worlds provide such a quick reader's key reminding them of protagonists and their interactions!

    This opener alone is quite extensively described, and forewarns of the depth and breadth of activity that follows; so once again: fantasy readers seeking light, fluffy reads should look elsewhere, while those who just can't seem to find enough of the "good stuff" (which translates to well-detailed plots, many characters, and layer upon layer of interaction and action) will find The Goddess Denied just perfect for a rainy day (or a series of them…).

    The most powerful aspect of The Goddess Denied lies just in such depth, which is the driving force of a story replete with twists and turns. Prophecy, allies, enemies, and monsters juxtapose with the missing and the injured. Exotic spells (involving boiling the blood in a person's veins), sorcerers and sisters, stolen lives and fragile forms; all are interwoven into a world that is as well-detailed and absorbing as any Tolkien could have developed.

    Even more notable are the human touches throughout which keep the characters grounded in reality and the action surrounding them a personal whirlwind of observation and emotion.

    Goddesses shorn of their wings. Mad gods and mankind. Curses, and legacies denied. All these elements are wound up in a story that is compelling, involved, and well-done: perfect for the fantasy reader who wants more of a literary work than the typical quick read affords.
     
  7. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    Jack L. Roberts' Unsung Heroes: The Story of the Secret Service is a history of the Secret Service and its members with an important difference that schools will find intriguing: it's published with Common Core English/language arts objectives for reading informational text (grades 3-8) in mind, which means it's perfect for classroom assignment and use. Not too many books on such a subject can claim this added value.

    And in the course of creating classroom discussion questions at each chapter's conclusion which encourage critical thinking and analysis, many an adult will find Unsung Heroes: The Story of the Secret Service an intriguing discussion of a branch of service that too rarely receives its own recognition, providing an approach that non-government employees and non-political readers can easily absorb.

    The history opens with pre-Civil War events, then is arranged by assassinations of Presidents, from Lincoln and Garfield to Kennedy and the Secret Service agent who took a bullet for the president, Agent Tim McCarthy, who believed he was "just doing his job" by standing in the line of fire for his executive officer.

    In the course of painting a history of the concept, enactment, and evolution of the Service, Roberts pays close attention to the individuals who built the agency, their interactions with various Presidents, and changing Service policies. It's these added attractions of personal insight that keep the text lively and intriguing throughout.

    A timeline, source notes, vintage photos throughout, and glossary of terms also adds to the value of Unsung Heroes, which stands out as a U.S. history that many an adult reader will find clear, intriguing, and worthy of attention, even though the text and its accompanying chapter exercises are clearly written with classroom assignments in mind.
     
  8. Diane D.

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    Fans of time travel stories and mysteries are in for a treat with Ann Goldfarb's The Time Stealer; but it's not a new treat for seasoned author Ann I. Goldfarb: The Time Stealer is actually the fifth book in her blossoming series.

    That said, no prior familiarity with the others is required to enjoy this fine stand-alone story, which revolves around a college senior called upon to direct a children's play as her final project before graduation. Even the addition of the department head's troublesome teen cousin, Wendell, to the cast isn't necessarily a barrier to her success; but Aeden didn't count on his hacking abilities and his penchant for ferreting out deep, dark secrets. And the formula for her time travel abilities is about as deep and dark as it gets.

    It's unusual to find science fiction, young adult protagonists, and history blending together so seamlessly; but the atmosphere, politics, culture, and concerns of ancient Greece come to life under Goldfarb's practiced hand and not only link into the other series titles, but create a fine mystery driven by two memorable, well-developed teen characters.

    The Time Stealer's ability to juxtapose multiple worlds (the 21st-century world of present-day Boston and a college student with an unusual background and a unique purpose, and one of Minoan civilization renowned for its brutality) is one hallmark of excellence that succeeds in immersing readers of all ages in its vivid story line.

    Now, relatively little is known of Minoan culture and so what is historical fact today comes largely from artifacts. Goldfarb's representation of the times does a fine job of blending these facts with fiction to create a well-rounded, believable atmosphere.

    Called upon (and challenged) to become resourceful beyond their years, and then to work with one another for successful resolution, The Time Stealer 's protagonists are vivid and compelling characters that succeed in not only their immediate goals, but who ultimately affect the course of history and one ancient girl's life.

    Will Wendell achieve his dream of seeing Atlantis, or will his life be forever changed? For further details, read the story: it won't disappoint!
     
  9. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    Susan Pashman's Upper West Side Story began over Thanksgiving dinner when a relative expressed glee over the prospect of some black 'disadvantaged' children being admitted to his children's school, providing them with an opportunity to better know 'the other side of the tracks'. The author wondered what would happen if the roles were reversed - if his white kids were to enter an all-black school - and thus the nucleus of Upper West Side Story was born.

    The title is simply brilliant: it sets the stage through precedent, referring to and building upon a classic story but providing a different twist. The author wondered if society could truly adopt a colorblind vision; and thus was born the novel she presents here, grown solidly on the roots of American social and racial reality.

    The premise is simple: a liberal, Upper West Side white family is changed when their son Max's black best friend Cyrus dies in a school field trip accident, affecting not only two families and their close relationship, but sparking a fire in two very different communities.

    It's hard to find a novel so candid in its portrayals; so hard-hitting in its examples, and so realistic. The dialogues parents and children share over poverty, loss, racial prejudice and observation, are shining examples of what transpires in many an American home to explain the incongruities of not only racial interactions, but the effects of poverty.

    Crime and punishment, truth and lies, divided communities and divided lives: it's all here, bound together by friendship, loss, and a boy's experiences which lead him to form a bigger goal in life. Upper West Side Story is the kind of novel that reaches out and grabs you with familiarity - and once you begin its journey, you can't quit. It's that compelling.
     
  10. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    Michael Guillebeau's A Study in Detail represents an unusual genre blend of romance, murder mystery and comedy - and it's the latter piece that sets this apart from most other genre crossover titles and lends it a special atmosphere, recommended for romance and mystery readers seeking something different.

    Quiet outdoorsman Paul is fielding his troublesome wife quite well, until Marta goes missing and circumstantial evidence points to him as the murderer. Now, Paul is anything but an investigator - and this is anything but an ordinary case; especially since a hidden message in his artistic wife's last painting indicates that she faked her death so that her works will become famous.

    And so the drama and comedy begin as Paul finds himself on the lecture circuit discussing his not-dead-wife's life and facing down a series of increasingly-impossible events, from a $5M life insurance policy she took out before her 'death' to a casino that claims she owes them big time.

    On the face of it, A Study in Detail is a mystery, but the tongue-in-cheek humor creeps into even the most staid of encounters.

    The dialogue throughout is fresh, original, and witty and the twists of plot will keep even the most seasoned mystery reader thinking. Protagonist interactions take the form of a series of stumbles, falls, and encounters that just keep on getting crazier.

    The result is especially recommended for enthusiasts of the romance and mystery genres who seek stories that are a cut above your average whodunit approach: something with meat to it, and a game that only end with the last left standing.
     
  11. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    Convergence: A Voyage Through French Polynesia by Sally-Christine Rodgers (from Paradise Cay Publishing) is a fine adventure and cultural exploration whether you're an armchair reader or a cruiser planning a voyage: a a multi-faceted book that has the rare ability to reach well beyond a sailing audience. It's refreshing to note the balance between text and color photos in this large-format armchair narrative. Packed with full-page color photos that capture the life and culture of French Polynesia, Convergence isn't just a beautiful coffee table book, it’s a highly readable, personal account of one woman's travels, as she observes and experiences life at sea, the Polynesian peoples, the ecology of the islands and more.

    Exploring the history of these fabled islands, the author reminisces about her father's travels in 1930s Polynesia, reflecting on what has changed and what remains the same. Ever passionate about the oceans and their conservation, she offers readers a colorfully close encounter with the beauty of and threats to the ocean environment. Convergence will attract and educate cruisers, armchair travelers, and readers of ecological issues alike.
     
  12. Diane D.

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    Stephen Thomas Graf's Swiss Army Knife for the Soul begins with a mysterious Call, which informs the answerer/protagonist that he is, indeed, a wanted man - and things evolve from there, as a rollicking adventure transpires based on the spiritual journeys of one Thomas Stephens (aka Tommy Boy), a member of a secret society known as the Masterful Order of Things.

    But, wait - this isn't a fictional form of spiritual enlightenment, or a how-to guide to becoming self-actualized: it's a parody of both worlds as it considers a dubious path to enlightenment, and it presents a fun protagonist who falls into nearly every rabbit hole of complexity along the way: so if you're expecting a self-help journey with spiritual overtones that's actually serious - look elsewhere.

    It's important to note that this isn't a smooth fiction read: there are actually footnotes throughout - something unexpected and, to some, a device that may prove somewhat of an interruption to the smooth flow of the text. But even this is acceptable when you consider the irreverent observations of a protagonist who is actually quite good at making lemonade from the lemons life hands him.

    Thomas Stephens just keeps putting his foot in his mouth, whether it is in pursuit of employment or romance. As a cross-section of comic blunders and social faux pas, it's a hilarious journey that will keep readers involved and laughing.

    Revolving around the food industry as it does, Swiss Army Knife for the Soul is more than food for thought: it's food for comic relief and is a celebration of life, love, and circumstance alike: a breath of fresh air in a genre replete with the overly serious.
     
  13. Diane D.

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    Shirley A. Weis's Playing to Win in Business presents something different in the world of both business books and women's self-help titles.

    It's rare to see a business book from a woman who moved into corporate circles from the lower rungs of the ladder and built a successful career; much less in an organization that became one of the most famous in the world: the Mayo Clinic. But Shirley A. Weis did just that, moving from a nursing job to the boardroom and then to a respected senior leader role in one of the most politically-changed atmospheres in the country. Her principles for winning business games to move up the ladder thus come not from ideals, but from tested principles developed 'in the field', and offer concrete experiences that teach women how to thrive in the cutthroat business world.

    There are many unwritten rules in this environment: actions and interplays that typically lock women out of higher echelons and reserve big-stakes rewards for men. While some books would maintain that higher levels are unobtainable, Weis is proof that this can be done - and done well, while managing a family.

    Speaking of 'management', the book also tells how to interact with males on the same playing ground as a manager, and how to gain respect during the process even while being part of a dual-career couple.

    This is not to say that Playing to Win is filled with professional detachment: far from it. Weis adds an element of personal experience and autobiography throughout, teaching how to reassess skills to improve one's game, how to confront common challenges in a manner that lends to positive change and results, and how to understand not just the rules of the business game, but the nature of how it's played.

    The goal is increased success, to be sure - but it's also respect. Thus, Playing to Win in Business represents Book One of the 'Just Respect for Women' series, and serves up powerful tools for change. No aspiring female business leader should be without this!
     
  14. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    Gilligan's Notes: Simple Communication for Complicated People offers a tool of connection for those who find safe haven in blaming others for an incomprehensible life. David W. Earle identifies the real culprit as the source of miscommunication and alienation, and Gilligan's Notes is designed to help alleviate this situation - but don't consider this a singular approach. It should be viewed as just one more device in one's toolbox of coping - one dependent on a do-it-yourself attitude that embraces change, at that.

    Now, everyone knows how to communicate; we do it all the time. But to communicate well … now, that's a different matter; and to do so, one must hone listening and comprehension skills - it's all part of the process.

    Chapters outline a program of 'active listening' to encourage communicators to become better listeners. A series of 'listening lessons' outlines sample scenarios, their underlying messages, and how to better handle them.

    Self-observation is encouraged in exercises paired with admonitions, so readers who expect an outside force (i.e. author David W. Earle) to provide all the revelations will be doing themselves a disservice: Gilligan's Notes is really a cooperative effort between author and reader, and without self-reflection and change, there will be no real lessons learned.

    From increasing one's effectiveness and methods of giving negative feedback to applying communications lessons in a variety of scenarios, from business to parenting, this survey doesn't limit its communication revisions to one particular purpose, but offers up a program that can apply to all communication scenarios in one's life.

    Alternatives to responding in ways that just increase the problem offer not only more effective communication opportunities, but the hopes of dissuading misunderstandings and aggravating alienation and loneliness.

    Take the course, then apply its lessons. It's that's simple.
     
  15. Diane D.

    Diane D. Member

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    I read a number of David Earle's books back to back - and found them all different and inspiring. Is Iron Mask a self-help book? A collection of poetry? An autobiography? Or is it an instructional on facing down the aging process, interacting with family, and taking wing?

    Some books are neither one thing nor another. Some straddle the finer lines between prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction, autobiography and literary work. And some - like Iron Mask - simply defy categorization; which makes them a challenge to promote in a world where marketing relies on niches, boxes, and defining audiences.

    In the ideal world, there would be room for such as Iron Mask - and an ability to say that its disparate elements hold attraction and insights for all kinds of readers. Fortunately, it's possible to change the nature of this reality through personal attention to not just writing such a piece, but bringing it to a wider range of readers than is usual for a specific genre read.

    The poems are divided into chapters by theme, making it easy to understand their place in the scheme of things. From 'Children' and 'Change' to 'Love', this is a psychological journey through not only the author's life and encounters, but through the human experiences that bind us all.

    The poems were written over a period of some twenty years, which sets this collection apart from many singular creations. It thus reflects not just emotions but a journey through life, following the lessons and evolution of experience and encounters with the world.

    Iron Mask would not be what it is, were it not for the inclusion of explanatory insights for each series of poems. It is the icing on the cake of understanding and connection, and it's what makes Iron Mask an intimate, revealing glimpse into not only author David W. Earle's world, but that of his family and heritage, as well.
     

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