Title:                              A Way Out
Author:                          Michelle Balge
ASIN:                            B0795BXFW6
Publisher:                      Michelle Balge  
Publishing Date:           February 2018
Page No:                       171

A WAY OUT, by Michelle Balge is a rare glimpse into the mind of mental illness.  This author’s memoir gives a raw look into the dark caverns of emotions accompanying mental illness, a necessary revelation for those battling the grip of its agony.  Her book unleashes the day-to-day expressions of depression, anxiety, self-hatred and suicidal urges. While this book is a sad testament to the power of genetics and the roller coaster ride of clinical treatment, it is also expresses hope for those needing healing.

 Often, what feels like a solitary journey into hell by the mentally ill sufferer, is also cloaked in shame and denial by society. This gives the mentally ill person a double load to bear. It appears that Michelle Balge attempts, by writing this book, to “shed light” on the subject, to normalize it, and give hope to those in the relentless grips of mental illness to speak out. 

However, there is the risk inherent in writing a first person memoir of limiting the audience of readers. At times, there is so much pain expressed in A Way Out, that there is a feeling of “clawing at the coffin,” a reader’s desperate gasp for breathing room and fresh air. Be that as it may, this book is an act of courage, a guide post for those in the unmerciful claws of mental illness, and those in society who need to understand how to help and give reprieve for sufferers battling to live. This book is a victory lap of daring honesty and compassion for the mentally ill. It is also a testament to how much can be achieved and contributed to society by those diagnosed with mental illness.



Title:                               The Other Side of Him
Author:                            Alice Rene
ASIN:                               B01ATXYAPI
Publisher:                              California Country Press
Publication Date:            Jan. 2016
Page No.:                        300 pages

THE OTHER SIDE OF HIM by Alice Rene is a compelling historical romance. Claire, the main character, is a young woman determined to leave the low-income projects of Chicago in order to get an education. She successfully avoids the familiar trap of women living in the forties and fifties, a time when women often believed marriage was their ultimate destination.

Claire expresses the unique conflict of living a life true to herself throughout the book, at the same time her roommate, brother, and mother encourage her to stay in a relationship with a well-dressed, handsome, successful doctor, a doctor Claire experiences a growing discomfort with. Claire has intuition, the same trait that will make her a good social worker after college, allowing her to pick up hidden signs about the doctor others cannot see.

The author develops the doctor’s character by using techniques of foreshadowing and revealing his characteristics through subtle actions rather than telling the reader who he is. This causes the mystery and intrigue to heighten, making this book a “must return to read.”

However, the pacing of the book slows at times when the author shifts to Claire’s internship experiences. Although the author reveals the interesting world of social work, she does not use the same literary devices to introduce Claire’s clients, thereby rendering them less intriguing, although she returns to them throughout the story.

Overall, this book is well-written with tight editing, good descriptions, and action culminating into a dramatic climax that is riveting and unexpected. This is a good read and an amazing first novel.



Title:                                    Stronger Within
Author:                                Coral McCalhum
ASIN                                   B00VXDSC1M
Publisher:                            Coral McCahum
Publication Date:                April 2015
Page No.:                            537 pages

STRONGER WITHIN by Coral McCalhum, is a sweet story about two people who meet on the beach and blossom into a friendship/romance. The author has worked hard on this book–the writing is tight and well-laid out and the story line hums along. But for me, a well-written story politely humming along is not enough to keep me turning the pages. By page sixty, I was still looking for the antagonist, whether it was person, place, or thing. I wanted to be jolted, excited, dared, and/or searching for clues that something riveting was about to happen.

What I got instead, as I continued to read, was the memory of a previous car accident eclipsing a professional woman’s life and a hunky rock star with long blonde hair and a rippling body —when she finally got to see it—moving politely and tenderly together throughout the book.  A polite rock star?  He was never a “no show,” never arrogant or unapologetic, and besides a hint of machismo when he called her “lil lady,” he was more perfect marriage material than bad-boy rock star needing a good taming.

 It is obvious that the author of this book is disciplined, imaginative, and dedicated to her writing craft. But in my opinion, although  the author introduced a few unsettling life events into her plot, there needed to be more tension and less politeness in her story.  For instance, when the rock star (Jake) had a horrible experience onstage, I was disappointed that the event came out of nowhere. I would have preferred Jake to have had a foreboding sense that something bad was going to happen weeks before the concert. And afterwards, I wish that he had not been so quick to forgive and make everything right again. I would have preferred to suffer with him in the torment of hatred and self-pity before he came to his senses and realized he had to “let go.”

Because in my opinion, people always move in a forwards and backwards motion. Writing about life's contradictions is what creates the space necessary for readers to soul-search and 'feel' as characters struggle to make it over hurdles.

Nevertheless, this is a charming romantic story, one that builds on friendship and trust and takes its time. For an attractive read with pleasant whimsy and trust in love, this is your book.

REVIEW OF: Oceans Ending


Title: Oceans Ending
Author:Beth McCue
Publication Date:2016
Page No.:213

OCEANS ENDING, by Beth McCue is a book driven by a fast-moving plot. What starts out as a normal novel with a wife looking for her husband after an argument, turns into a macabre series of strange occurrences. The twists and turns in this book keep the reader spinning, like roaring into fast “dead man” curves in a high-speed racing car.

This book moves forwards and backwards at a fast clip, and time zones melt into dream states that warn of terror and impending doom. Fasten your seat belt readers, nothing is as it appears.

The main character is a woman who faces threats head-on, as everything slips away from her and returns in new guises within new dimensions. In the end, she must make the final sacrifice to save the world, as she agonizingly moves into new forms and travels to that dark, overpowering vortex where the terrible awaits her. Her final horror will rearrange her life and the world as she, and shaken readers, once knew it to be. This book is a terrific visual exercise in rich apocalyptic imagination and colorful designs of earth's nature.


Title: Eyes of a Valley Girl
Author: M.W. Lilly
Publication Date: 2016
Page No:189

EYES OF A VALLEY GIRL, by M.W. Lilly is a poignant first-hand account of a young girl growing up in a time of exciting possibilities in a land filled with geographic beauty and cultural enrichment. At the same time, this young girl's growth is eclipsed by a large shadow constantly hovering over her: the unpredictability and at times, horrifying actions and words of a mother addicted to alcohol.

This book reveals an energetic girl growing into awareness; her senses are filled with the beauty of the beach, the salt air, and carnival rides that excite her. She is aware of the artistic and intellectual explosion of new ideas around her, at the same time her home life is becoming more constrictive with the rapid progression of alcoholism.

M.W. Lilly is a passionate and poetic writer. Notice how she describes getting into trouble at home:

"Mom--Mom. We had nothing to do with. . ." I attempted to tell the story.
"Shut up! I don't want to hear anything from you!"
She was now almost at the top of the stairs, in front of us, a formidable, erupting, volcano, a swirling curtain of red fury.

This author's use of metaphor as she juxtaposes the growing excitement of the times she lives in, with the growing horror at home, works to build tension in the book. Yet at times, there is a revelation of a mother who is adored and trusted, if only for a moment between drunken tirades. This is a touching book, one that reveals the underbelly of addiction's impact on a young, formative life.


Title: One-Two
Author: Igor Eliseev
ISBN No::978-1-911414-23-0
Publication Date:
Page No: 240 pgs

ONE-TWO BY Igor Eliseev is a novel written by a young Russian author in the manner of Dostoevsky- dark and riveting. The author uses two POV's in his writing. The first person is used when he describes his traumatic childhood, and the second person is used when he talks to his other half. This is a technique that creates increasing tension, as the author foreshadows something dark throughout the book. The author switches POV's so consistently that he does not take away from the reader's focus, but instead, creates a frightening foreboding.

This book is brilliantly written, although at times, it begs for relief from the agony of those marginalized in society. Eliseev raises Dostoevsky's lingering question in a unique manner: What is the value of life for those who cannot live within society? Eliseev goes one step further and asks what the suffering of humans brings out in other human beings and why? He answers the question in his book's resolution - the last desperate act for a human misfit to achieve a life so many take for granted.

No reader will be untouched by this book. It dares readers to search their own humanity in the world of dark shadows and hidden pain.

REVIEW OF: Ship The Kids On Ahead


Title: Ship The Kids on Ahead
Author: Bill Stokes
Original ISBN No: 10:0692743510
Publication Date: 1968. 2016
Page No: 246

SHIP THE KIDS ON AHEAD, By Bill Stokes is a humorous book with timeless vignettes of family life. Although there are old- fashioned record players and typewriters in it, the stories are affectionately funny and draw on family episodes that are intergenerational.

Stokes demonstrates his unique originality when he writes about the seasons. For instance, he describes the Month of March as: “It is the month when the car license expires, seven insurance payments come due all at once, and you get an orthodontic estimate on a kid with crooked teeth.”

His satire runs throughout his storytelling. As he describes today’s modern era, he so aptly points out: "What I need, obviously, if I am to fit in with the rest of you, is more tension. Somehow, I have got to get my spring wound up so that I am more like a short-fused bomb and less like a mound of wet goulash."

Unfortunately, there are several typos that appear in the book. For instance, the “fight” is still on in the kitchen instead of the “light” and the word “die” is used instead of “the” throughout. These are small distractions in an otherwise well-written book.

Bill Stokes has a unique ability to laugh at himself. He includes sketches by his son in the book depicting Bill and his wife Betty in funny ways - ears sticking out and hair-a-fright. The drawings add to the humor of an already hysterical book.

Overall, this is a funny, yet affectionate read, about daily life in an intact family that is brim full of children, animals, and parents sometimes wanting to run away. 

REVIEW OF: Proud American, The Migrant, Soldier, Agent


Title: Proud American
Author: Sergio A. Tinoco
Publication Date: 2016
Page Numbers: 320

A Proud American
is a first-person account of a man’s life from his beginnings as a child of Mexican immigrants to his status as an honored veteran and a brave agent. Sergio Tinoco is a natural story teller. He writes with raw honesty as he describes the hard migrant labor in the agricultural fields as a child and the inevitable bullying he experiences at school from privileged children.

Tinoco reveals the agonizing break he has to make from his family - being born on American soil - he has a steely determination to seize opportunities available to U.S. citizens. To do so, he begins a journey into hell where brutality and horror become the norm for him. His descriptions of what he experiences are candid and gut-wrenching. What he achieves, in order to rise above life’s cruel circumstances, is inspirational.

While Tinoco has the courage to explore his inner challenges in his writing, he shies away from sharing the conflicts in his romantic life. Yes, he mentions them, but the reader is left to guess what happened and why. This is incongruent. Tinoco otherwise, has the writing guts to express deep emotions as he soul-searches the loss of his mother in Mexico and the pain of shattering family expectations, as he moves forward and overcomes harrowing hurdles.

Tinoco takes the reader through his life’s journey, giving uncensored accounts that put the reader “in his shoes.” Tinoco, ever the hero, goes on adventures and brings back gripping stories. This is a book that must be read.

REVIEW OF: The Clerk


Title: The Clerk
Author: Matt Cowper
Publication Date: 2016
Page No: 285

THE CLERK, a debut novel by Mark Cowper, opens on the main character’s fortieth birthday. Thomas walks on the beach contemplating his life and the “midlife crisis he is not having.” The author conveys a mood of mellow contentment when he describes Thomas’s birthday surroundings: “Golden late-afternoon light shone on the dunes and beach houses. Willets scurried about, pecking at the white sand. To the west, the beach houses, the pier, and the tall Scotch Bonnet Hotel were smoky silhouettes.”

 Cowper is a master of description, employing the readers’ senses to set the tone. Throughout his writing, he uses highly original metaphors and similes to bolster his descriptions. However, when he describes women, he often describes them in terms of their bodies. For instance, Thomas’s sister is described as “long and lean, with an ass that announced its succulent presence no matter how baggy her jeans were…” and one of his fellow co-workers is described as: “…having a tendency “to lean over her checkout counter whenever there was a slow moment, jutting out her firm, enticing behind.”

For someone who has gathered this many candles, Thomas has no regrets, but he does have something he yearns for throughout the book, something that drives this story. If he is not thinking about it, he is acting on it. . . trying to fulfill his libido. The libido of other male characters are alive and well too. Rock, Reggie, Noah, Vernon, and Grant are gangbusters when it comes to their male hormones.

Thomas’s main conflict lies in the unwelcome configuration of his family, all spokes in the great drama-wielding wheel of his sister’s mental problems. The author does a good job of peeling away the layers of falsity, stagnant roles, and boredom lying beneath a role-constricted family led by a dominating, perfectionist father.

Mark Cowper is a promising writer. He never sinks to the writing laziness of cliches and his grammar is tight. His originality is stunningly clever and his dialogue flows comfortably throughout his book. 

This book is a good read for someone who enjoys the old versions of Hustler and Playboy. Maybe there’s a salty dog or a salty tigress who would enjoy lapping up the adventures of hormones on the prowl.

One thing is certain. This author has a lot of writing strengths and he is not going away soon. It would not be surprising to see him on the New York Times bestseller list someday.

REVIEW OF: Memoirs of a Pakhtun Immigrant


Title: Memoirs of a Pakhtun Immigrant
Author: Teresa Schapansky
ISBN No: 13-978-1-988024-07-3
Publication Date: 2016
Page No: 85

by Teresa Schapansky is a compelling story about the sacrifices of immigration and the enduring love of a family that is separated by mountains, oceans and years. This author is a natural storyteller, bonding her readers with characters she describes through their hardships, traumas, and triumphs.

The author weaves this story of a family living through the violent political upheaval of Pakistan’s independence from India, while the head of the family, the father, submerges himself into another country, working ten-hour days at forty-two cents an hour as an illegal immigrant. He is determined to make a better life for his family at a great cost to himself.

Years later, the middle son tells the story of that father who accomplished such an amazing feat for his family. This author takes the son’s memories and brings them to life. The one thing missing is getting to know the sons as they were growing up and finding out later, how they lived their lives in new surroundings. However, the author reveals powerful incidences in their lives that shaped them; although at times, which son was which, became confusing.

The author ties in the history of the world, as she writes her story and shows its effects on the economy, immigration, and geographic opportunities around the globe. She is bold in her writing, and the historic influence on her story keeps it interesting. Her photos and archives at the end of the book are captivating.

This author took on a complex task─ telling a story from a third party’s perspective and getting it across to readers with human interest, suspense, and sound writing skills. Readers will be touched and inspired by this book for generations to come because true heroes continue to touch others long after they are gone.

REVIEW OF: Undoing the Loop



Title: Undoing the Loop
Author: Nesha Tandon, Ph.D.
ISBN No: 1539488984
Publication Date: 2017
Page No: 160

Undoing the Loop: Transforming Your Emotions Into Personal Freedom,
by Dr. Nesha Tandon, is a well-thought out book, backed by quotes and references. The premise of this book is based on the author's theory that most people are trapped by old thought patterns and emotions from past experiences. For this reason, most people suffer from not being "in the moment," free of judgments and stale perceptions.

Dr. Tandon discusses what true power is, what emotions are, and how to transcend them. She writes about the one thing that breaks the "loop" of old thought patterns, and she gives short exercises for readers to practice new awareness.

Dr. Tandon shares anecdotes and true stories about people who lifted their lives into unhindered possibilities. She dispels myths that keep people living fear-based lives by revealing what is illusion versus what sets people free. This book offers practical steps to letting go of life's burdens and instead, living a life based on limitless perceptions and expansive joy.

REVIEW OF: Blind Side


Title: Blind Side
Author: Jennie Ensor
ASIN No: B01IX1953A
Page No: 330

, by Jennie Ensor, is a well-crafted novel with psychological thrills galore. This is a fast-paced book that keeps the reader hanging on with bulging eyeballs.

 The author gives a brilliant sense of time and place, with sensory descriptions that make rain taste delicious and flowers smell intoxicating. Her love scenes are sensual and passionate, but not vulgar or raunchy in tone.

This story is about a modern woman living independently, with a career, friends, and a good social background. Someone comes into her life who is the opposite, a misplaced immigrant who slowly reveals terrible truths about himself that spin her into a chaotic and dangerous tempest.

She is faced with the unexpected fury and jealousy of other people in her life, as she spirals into "the moth to a flame" relationship, a wild and uninhibited ride into heaven and hell.

When she finds out about dangerous plots and planned murders, she is tested to the core of herself. Her love for this man strips the truth of herself to the bone. Her discoveries lead her to uncover dangerous falsehoods in those she thought were upright friends and citizens, and she does something terrible before she looks at herself and her life in a new way.



Title: Beautiful
Author: Ruth Hamilton
Publication Date: 2nd Edition/2017
Page Numbers: 50

Beautiful: Simple, Everyday Advice for Improving Your Self-Esteem and Living the Life you Deserve,
by Ruth S. Hamilton is a fifty-page book that offers tips for self-improvement. While it is Psychology 101, it is also positive and uplifting. Her book covers such topics as what self-esteem is, the difference between healthy and unhealthy self-esteem, how to recognize and stop negative self-talk, how to deal with a bad body-image, and how to stop trying to be perfect.

The most interesting part of this book is Hamilton's dialogue about people who were once considered failures and eventually rose to become inventors and genius creators. Her "get up and try again" philosophy is inspiring and good for those struggling to recreate themselves.

While this book is short and does not offer exercises to reinforce the author's suggestions for a healthier self-esteem, it is a well-written manual about caring for yourself, instead of neglecting the most important person in your life — yourself.



Title: A Cat Came Back
Author: Simone Martel
ISBN No: 978-1-941861-18-9
Publication Date:2016
Page Numbers: 164

, by Simone Martel is a book written in a journaling manner by a human trapped in an animal body. This human consciousness stuck in an animal, limited in the company of others by its lack of words, but also set free by the absence of conventions, experiences a relationship with her partner in a new way. No longer his girlfriend, she becomes a voyeur within a cat's body. She discovers who he really is, a person who is wounded, who knows the art of love,  and one who experiences his grief in a unique way.

The cat's voyeurism is at times shocking. Imagine the cat being a bathroom mirror, imagine the cat being a mirror on a bedroom ceiling. Simone Martel pulls it off, with language that at times teeters on the verge of nasty, but she quickly rights course, just in time to be in the presence of children and college professors.

The strength of Martel's writing is in her descriptions of time and place. Her language soars artfully when she describes nature: the fog lifting, the winter sun setting, the bay leading out to Japan, and the delicate plants that glow at night. Her powerful descriptive language puts halos around the moon and brings to imaginary life, withered easter flowers and neglected roses after death. Martel has a powerful connection to nature that beautifies her writing.

Martel's description of older people, however, seems cliched: the skinny old man, the old man who may be lonely, the old people feebly shuffling by in her novel. Cliched writing runs the risk of deadening language. However, Martel 's writing remains poignant and infused with awareness. Her writing is daring, spunky, and unique. She has written an engaging, well-crafted book that readers will enjoy.