Showing posts with label Fiction: Mainstream. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiction: Mainstream. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Angie Gallion Picks Bunche's New Novel for Review

Title : Mercy's First Semester
Author : WM Bunche
Author Website : W.M. Bunche – Author
Genre : General Fiction
ISBN : 978-0692830307
Reviewer : Angie Gallion, Gallion Picks Book Reviews
Review Blog : angiegallion






Reviewed by Angie Gallion originally for Gallion Picks Book Reviews

The Review:

I would like to preface this review by telling you that I read this book twice.  It was good, very good in fact, and it is profoundly relevant to the world in which we live.  It is a book that gave me an expectation, and then completely blew me away by the experience it took me on.   The book opens with the people who love our hero, Mercy, who are reminiscing about their experiences with him.  I expected this to be a story about a troubled man finding his salvation, and in some ways that is exactly what I got, but there was more.  So much more. 

W.M. Bunche tells the story of a young man, home after two tours as a Cavalry Scout in Iraq, Joshua Mercier, "Mercy."  Mercy is intelligent, passionate, complex.  He suffers with PTSD and as part of his therapy he is encouraged to take a writing class at a local college.  Much of the story is told through Mercy's writings for a creative writing class.  Although the timeframe of the book actually lasts for only a period of months, just a little more than a college semester, the story that is told goes far back into Mercy's childhood.   We are with Mercy in Iraq, we know the people he knows and I feel a little PTSD for having walked with him through it.  This book reads as an honest compilation of a life.  I want Mercy to survive, I want him to succeed at finding the answers he needs, even as I understand that his psyche is fragmented, even as I understand that the there are no magic buttons. I desperately wanted to press one for him.  

I don't want to give away how the beginning comes to the end, because it's a journey everyone should take, with an honest and open mind.  I was heartbroken at times, as this novel unfolded, and Mercy felt every bit as real to me as if I had grown up with him down the road.  This is not your typical war story, it's not your typical recovery story, it's not your typical reminiscent story.  There is nothing at typical about this book.  It is a book that should not be overlooked.  

MORE ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Angie Gallion is an author in her own right and reviews books for her own blog at Gallion Pick Book Reviews. She is also an avid tweeter.



MORE ABOUT THIS BLOG

 The New Book Review is blogged by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. Of particular interest to readers of this blog is her most recent How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically (http://bit.ly/GreatBkReviews ). This blog is a free service offered to those who want to encourage the reading of books they love. That includes authors who want to share their favorite reviews, reviewers who'd like to see their reviews get more exposure, and readers who want to shout out praise of books they've read. Please see submission guidelines on the left of this page. Reviews and essays are indexed by genre, reviewer names, and review sites. Writers will find the search engine handy for gleaning the names of small publishers. Find other writer-related blogs at Sharing with Writers and The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Reviewer Calls Novel about Alcoholism Riveting

Title : Intoxic
Author : Angie Gallion
Genre : General Fiction/Coming of Age
ISBN : 978-1536904055


What a powerful story! I rarely say this about a book but this one actually emotionally gutted me; it was so dark, disturbing and almost impossible to read at times due to all the events happening to the young protagonist Ali, yet so incredibly riveting and powerful, and I couldn’t help but admire Ali’s strength.

Told from a first person POV, it tells a story of a young girl whose mother is battling alcoholism. Or, not really battling but living it, completely ignoring the crumbling effects her lifestyle has on her only daughter’s life. Utter neglect and constant emotional torture are what comes to mind while reading about a fifteen-year-old teenager who, by some twisted turn of events, happens to become the only responsible adult in this dysfunctional family. The spectrum of emotions that replace each other in Ali’s mind with yet another disappointment, another loss of job, another forgotten birthday, another new man appearing in her mother’s life who is much worse than the previous one was, is truly heartbreaking. The icing on the cake for me was this little girl thinking - on Christmas Eve - that she would have rather lived with her mother’s very first boyfriend who sexually assaulted her constantly, solely because at least she knew what to expect from him.

Yet, despite all the emotional and physical abuse, Ali’s willpower and resilience are truly worth admiration. The persistence with which she set her mind on getting out of this swamp of a life sends an incredibly powerful message to the readers, and till the very end, I rooted for Ali to get her “happily ever after” that she undoubtedly deserved. Read this book; it’s one of those stories that should be on everyone’s must-read list.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Learn more at the author's website : angiegallion



MORE ABOUT THE REVIEWER


Find Ellie Midwood's website. She writes history, romance and is the bestselling author of The Girl from Berlin.






MORE ABOUT THIS BLOG

 The New Book Review is blogged by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. Of particular interest to readers of this blog is her most recent How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically (http://bit.ly/GreatBkReviews ). This blog is a free service offered to those who want to encourage the reading of books they love. That includes authors who want to share their favorite reviews, reviewers who'd like to see their reviews get more exposure, and readers who want to shout out praise of books they've read. Please see submission guidelines on the left of this page. Reviews and essays are indexed by genre, reviewer names, and review sites. Writers will find the search engine handy for gleaning the names of small publishers. Find other writer-related blogs at Sharing with Writers and The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Advance Peek at Pat Patterson's New Dining and Driving with Cats


Dining and Driving with Cats-Alice Unplugged
Author: Pat Patterson
Publisher: IonPublishers LLC , Charleston, S.C. 29401
Editor: Bryna Kranzler (award winning author The Accidental Anarchist)
Release Date: June 30, 2017
ISBN978-0-9987922-1-7; ISBN 978-0-9987922-2-4
Available from Amazon, Ingram, Baker and Taylor, (Paperback and eBook)
Trim 8.5x5.5 paperback  
Price $12.95  
Page Count: 260  Word Count: 82,000     
                      ARCs Available on request in Kindle, EPUB, PDF, Paperback


           EARLY REVIEWS from ARC READERS at: REVIEWS

Synopsis for Dining and Driving with Cats - Alice Unplugged  by Early Reviews from ARC readers including indie reviewer Karen Purejoy: is a little different from many of the titles you receive and at first blush you may think it will be a little tame for your tastes. However, an acquaintance, Karen Purejoy, (an Indie Reviewer) told me about your site and thought you would identify with the main character's determination and resourcefulness. Her name is Alice and she will not be quickly forgotten.

            The book is pure Southern. The main character's determination and resourceful will not be quickly forgotten. Her name is Alice.  The story is swathed in charm and authored by a South Carolinian  whose voice is mindful of Ondaatje's hypnotic narrative in The English Patient. He has picked up a half dozen 5 STAR reviews  from the first ARC reviewers. You might spot a bit of Irish in the author and his spouse's detailed arguments comparing a dish from one restaurant to the same of another restaurant.

            They, along with the cats, dine frequently along the way. As the miles flip the odometer, we are given insight into how this unusual relationship between the couple came to be, evolved, and gradually, at the end revealed in a secret you didn’t see coming. What, you say? There is a twist in a dining dialogue? Yes! And you’ll just have to read it for yourself–no spoilers here. Dialogue is so natural between the two; you’ll swear he recorded the entire trip. You might also say the book is unusual in that it totally engages the reader from the first page without a hint of violence, bloodshed, graphic sex, drugs or language. His main character (besides the two cats) Alice, does say "you bastards" once.  

Alice is supremely self-confident and comfortable in her own skin as we learn early on when  she promises the author a vehicle of his dreams if he will join her in a multi-state road trip from Mexico across the South and help wrangle two cats into restaurants, diners, cafes and hotels. He expects to find a Suburban or maybe an Escalade in the drive. Alice surprises with a Japanese sub-compact - a Honda Fit. She says it's "flexible." They drive - Scott La. & the Boudin War.  They dine - New Orleans at Gautreau's, Clancy's, and Herbsaint. They laugh - the Carousel Bar.  They cry - tragic death. They remember how it all started with Alice's secret from over thirty-five years ago. When they met he fell hard. He pursued. She said no. She said she had cats. She didn't tell him she also had a secret. 

Over thirty years have passed since Alice revealed her secret. The young man is no longer young but he still pursues her. She calls him hubby. This is their story of a shared love for travel and history, for food and for their sweet and wily cats Munchie and Tuffy. 


MORE ABOUT THIS BLOG

 The New Book Review is blogged by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. It is a free service offered to those who want to encourage the reading of books they love. That includes authors who want to share their favorite Sharing with Writers and The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor and--serious stuff for anyone who writes reviews or needs reviews for their books, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Liberty Zone Reviews "A Novel of the Near Future"


Title: Who
Subtitle: A Novel of the Near Future
ASIN: B01N9ETD3H
ISBNL 978-0-9980604-0-8ISBN: 978-0990564195
Purchase with global link for Amazon's Kindle editions: http://a-fwd.com/asin-com=B01N9ETD3H. Author's Web site: http://www.karenawyle.com
Five stars at Amazon


Reviewed by Nicki Kenyon" originally for her blog The Liberty Zone

I always get nervous when I get a request to review a novel. My usual MO is to read a book, and review it if I like it, so that others can get the same pleasure out of the novel as I did.

When it’s in reverse, and someone asks me to read a specific book and review it, my neuroses kick in. What if I hate it? What if the author is someone I like? What if it’s a friend or a family member, and I have to do a negative review, because the work sucks? What if it’s boring? What if it’s badly written? What if…

When Karen A. Wyle sent me a blurb about her new book “Who,” and asked if I would review it, I was intrigued by the description.
Death is no longer the end. Those who prepare, and can afford it, may have their memories and personalities digitally preserved. The digitally stored population can interact with the world of the living, remaining part of their loved ones’ lives. They can even vote.

But digital information has its vulnerabilities.

After the young and vital Thea dies and is stored, her devoted husband Max starts to wonder about changes in her preoccupations and politics. Are they simply the result of the new company she keeps? Or has she been altered without her knowledge and against her will?
But I was nervous at the same time, for the very reasons I described above. What if I hated it?

I needn’t have worried. I couldn’t put the book down. It was intelligently written, engrossing, and not at all what I expected.
I’m a fan of novels that explore what happens after we die. I’ve written at least one short story on the subject – something way too dark and depressing to share with readers right now.

One of my favorite episodes of the series “Black Mirror” involves a woman who loses her husband, who is subsequently “resurrected” by a service through the use of his extensive social media presence.  He is not real, and he is not meant to be. He’s merely an echo digitally created for her to communicate with – an echo she uses to keep the memory of her husband alive in the virtual world. Eventually, the service provides a body using synthetic flesh that is almost identical to her deceased husband. The robot isn’t real. It cannot be. He’s a digital echo comprised of all the information he stored about himself online.

In “Westworld” – one of my current favorite television series – the idea of androids gaining consciousness of the world around them is explored.

In the movie “AI: Artificial Intelligence” the story of Pinocchio is retold through robots who are capable of experiencing emotions and learning to be human.

The ideas in “Who” are not new, but Karen delves deeper into those ideas and explores what can happen when power-hungry humans get a hold of technology that can store human consciousness in digital form. At the same time she explores the digitized “humans” themselves and probes the idea of the human being – his essence, his conscience, and what makes the human being… well… human.

The bright side: Loved ones can continue to interact and be together in every form but the physical after the corporeal body has died.

The bad news: Like any technology, it can and will be abused for those seeking power and profit.

The “stored” dead people live in a digital world. Their consciousnesses downloaded – recorded and digitally preserved. They can interact with their loved ones and with one another. They can continue to create, work, and enjoy hobbies in their digital existence. They can get politically involved and eventually gain the right to vote.

Just imagine how this technology can be abused by power-hungry entities – both corporate and political!

Information stored is information that can be altered.

Personalities stored can be altered – changed to hold political views convenient to those in control – without the knowledge or consent of those to whom these personality traits ostensibly belong.

Can you imagine what an unscrupulous corporation – or politician – can do with that kind of power?

Could they create an army of voters who would form a solid voting block to push legislation through? Would the “stored” – altered to vote in a particular manner – eventually outnumber living voters and usher in a new era of government control and power, as designed by those who seek it?

And what about individual rights? Do the “stored” still have them, even though they’re digital entities “living” inside someone’s servers?

Are they human? What makes them human? What kind of protections do they enjoy under the Constitution?
These are all complex themes.

Karen is an attorney, and she obviously understands the law so well, that she is able to apply it to the characters she created and weave a tense courtroom drama that explores these issues – humanity, civil rights, digital technology, consciousness, conscience, and individuality.

She makes the legal dilemmas entwined in these very real issues readable and interesting without spewing lawyerese or preaching to the reader about right and wrong.

She simply tells a story, and she tells it well.

I’ve read plenty of authors who do nothing more than produce a thinly-veiled vehicle for their political views, with cardboard characters and a crappy plot. They lecture the reader endlessly about political ideals, and produce so much badly written dreck that does little more than allow them to vent in written form.

Karen A. Wyle does none of that. She seamlessly creates a complex world in the near future that is fraught with intricate and elaborate moral dilemmas and uses her knowledge of the law to weave an intelligent, suspenseful, and engrossing story!

It’s the holiday season, so grab and enjoy! This one’s a keeper!

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen A. Wyle




MORE ABOUT THIS BLOG
 
The New Book Review is blogged by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. It is a free service offered to those who want to encourage the reading of books they love. That includes authors who want to share their favorite reviews, reviewers who'd like to see their reviews get more exposure, and readers who want to shout out praise of books they've read. Please see submission guidelines on the left of this page. Reviews and essays are indexed by genre, reviewer names, and review sites. Writers will find the search engine handy for gleaning the names of small publishers. Find other writer-related blogs at Sharing with Writers and The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

An Emerging Literary Star of Magical Realism

Unspeakable Things
By Kathleen Spivack
Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-385-35396-0
Adult/Literary
304 pages
Contact Reviewer: HoJoNews@aol.com


A New Author That Shines and Sighs on the Literary Horizon

Reviewed by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers.


The title of Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Spivack isn’t misleading. Don’t fool yourself into believing this book will be an upper—at least not in terms of your mood. Unless, of course, your mood is positively affected by beautiful language, unusual plotlines, and any tendency toward daring literature.

The language is this book reaches poetic heights that will thrill those who speak English, breaks new ground in the genre of magical realism and it does it all within the boundaries of difficult themes like immigration, survival and pedophilia and spins on the recognition of the destructive underbelly of secrets kept.

I adore Spivack’s literary skills. I hope she takes on something that will appeal to a broader audience in the near future (though I urge readers to stretch a bit and try this one, too!) Having said that, even if you think this book isn’t your cup of tea, track Spivack’s literary progress. She is a not-to-be missed new star that shines and sighs on the literary horizon.

MORE ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the award-winning fiction This is the Place ,and Harkening, a book of creative nonfiction short stories. Her newer efforts, Here’s How I Don’t Cook and This Land Divided, are being shopped by agent Terrie Wolf. Howard-Johnson is also the author of fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry including her most recent Imperfect Echoes (http://bit.ly/ImperfectEchoes), that was recently honored by USA Book News.




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The New Book Review is blogged by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. It is a free service offered to those who want to encourage the reading of books they love. That includes authors who want to share their favorite reviews, reviewers who'd like to see their reviews get more exposure, and readers who want to shout out praise of books they've read. Please see submission guidelines on the left of this page. Reviews and essays are indexed by genre, reviewer names, and review sites. Writers will find the search engine handy for gleaning the names of small publishers. Find other writer-related blogs at Sharing with Writers and The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Army Wife Pens Fiction in Several Genres

Hi! I am Carolyn Howard Johnson, your trusty New Book Review blogger and author of the multi award-winning HowTo Do It Frugally Series of books for writers. This blog has heretofore been exclusive for reviews but I thought I’d do a special series of interviews after I chatted with Jeanie Loiacono, President of Loiacono Literary Agency – Where ‘can’t’ is not in our vocabulary!  I thought sharing the interviews would help the many subscribers and visitors to this New Book Review blog, including authors, reviewers, and, of course, readers who just might find a new favorite author among the featured books and authors.

So, today welcome Jodie Cain Smith.

As a teen in Mobile, Alabama, Jodie Cain Smith listened as her grandmother told her the gripping story of an adolescence spent in 1930’s rural Alabama, the rumors surrounding her parents, and the murder trial that would alter her life.  The tale took root in Jodie’s memory until at last it became The Woods at Barlow Bend (Published by Deer Hawk Publications).
            
While attending the University of South Alabama, where Jodie earned a BFA in Theatre Arts, she met her husband Jay.  They began their life on the Army road in 2001 and have not stopped moving since.  As an Army Wife, she has lived in six different states spanning from the extreme heat of Texas to the blizzards of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she earned a MAE in School Counseling at Northern Michigan University, to most recently landing in South Carolina.
Jodie Cain Smith’s feature articles and columns have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Military Spouse’s Soul, The Petigru Review, The Savannah Morning News, and the Fort Hood Sentinel.
     
What is your genre? Is it fiction or nonfiction? My novel, The Woods at Barlow Bend, is fiction and classified under mystery, coming of age, and historical fiction. It is closely based on a true story set in the Great Depression. My second novel, Jubilee Bells, to be released by January 2017, is commercial fiction.

What made you want to be a writer? My life as a storyteller began in 8th Grade. I loved the free form of storytelling as an oral art. I began seeking out storytelling and speech competitions and then studied acting in high school and college. As an adult, I found writing to be the creative outlet I needed as an Army Wife, facing new challenges, loneliness, and fear. Writing my own stories became my best coping skill. Finally in 2011, after a decade of starting over in each new town we moved to, and starting and stopping too many careers to count, I decided to give fiction writing my full attention. Being a writer allows me more control over this transient, military life, and returning to my storyteller roots feels like the most comfortable, old, ratty sweatshirt I own. It’s not pretty, but it’s mine.

Of all the authors out there, who inspired you most? Joshilyn Jackson inspires me constantly. She thanked her writing group in Atlanta in the acknowledgements of A Grown-up Kind of Pretty, which told me even an A-list author needs a trusted inner circle to hone her craft.

What is your writing style? Do you outline? Linearly? By scene? Why? I always start with writing an opening, that first moment in which I hear the narrator’s or protagonist’s voice. Then I stop and create a loose outline. I map out scenes and consider Uta Hagen’s Nine Questions (created for actors) for my protagonist and supporting characters in order to get to know them so I can allow their goals to drive the story. Then, I typically travel down rabbit holes and along long tangents before finally figuring out what I want the story to be. Then, I start over. It is a long, maddening process.

Do you write every day? How much? How long? This one I stole from Steven King. I try to write at least three new pages a day Monday through Friday. I rarely write on weekends, unless I am on deadline. Lately, my nine-month-old dictates how much writing I do, so I try to be flexible in order not to drive us both crazy.

Do you think reading is as important to writing for an author? Why? Yes. I wish I had time to read more because the more I learn about the craft of writing, the more investigative reader I become. I love discovering other writers’ tactics, devices, and styles. And I don’t think I will ever fully understand this craft, so I have to keep learning.

What are some of the things you would like to share with budding authors? Seek out industry experts. Don’t let your ego kill your story. If you think a passage is the wittiest words ever strung together in a sentence, it probably needs to be cut. And after all that, trust your instincts. Your story is your story.

Do you have any marketing and promotional advice, referrals, tips you would like to share? Unless you’re a Kardashian, solo signing events are not worth your time. I have found that as a new author, my best sales come from group events such as New Author Night at chain bookstores or library local author events. I know. Telling someone that you will have higher sales at a chain store rather than an indie is blasphemy, but as a new author I have learned that I need to seek out venues with a guaranteed stream of traffic. Once I get them at the table, my pitch usually does the job, but I struggle getting traffic through the door.

      Do you think conferences are beneficial? If so, what have you learned? Which ones do you frequent? Yes, I do. I have gained valuable information and have met many writers whom I now include in my inner circle of writing buddies. At the Columbia Book Festival in 2012, I met an editor from Kirkus. He offered specific advice on getting published, not the generalities so prevalent in the blogosphere. I followed his advice to the letter and eight months later, I had a contract in my hands! At the 2013 South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Conference, I soaked up every tasty morsel of the “Editor’s Pet Peeves” session, and, in 2014, I came home with the tools to revamp my website. Conferences, in my opinion are always worth the time and money, if for no other reason than to be around like-minded individuals in a professional and entertaining environment. Two days to leave my solitary writing cave and nerd-out with 200 other writers over the craft of writing? Sign me up, please!
     
      Where can we find you, your books and when is your next event? My books are available online at: Amazon BAM  B&N BookWorld  COPIA  FishPond  Powell's Books  Shelfari  The Book Depository  Wheeler's Books  Goodreads                               Angus & Robertson  iDreamBooks LitLovers 
To learn more about Jodie Cain Smith and her thoughts on ruling, renovating, and escaping her corner of the world visit her blog The Queendom at http://thequeendom.org  After what I hope will be our last long-distance move in January, I will update you with future event details.
Represented by Loiacono Literary Agency, Jeanie Loiacono http://www.loiaconoliteraryagency.com/authors/jodie-cain-smith/

MORE ABOUT THE SPONSORING AGENT

Jeanie Loiacono, President, Loiacono Literary Agency
A facilitator of dreams, Jeanie Loiacono represents over eighty authors. Her forte is mystery, romance, thrillers, historical/military/southern fiction, and all quality fiction/nonfiction. Her passion is to see her authors succeed.
“There is nothing more rewarding than to hold one of my author’s books and know I helped bring it to fruition. I am so blessed and privileged to be able to work with some of the most talented writers in the world.” Jeanie.L@llallc.net  www.loiaconoliteraryagency.com


IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE INTERVIEWS--TO FIND GREAT READING OR TO NETWORK WITH AUTHORS--PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG. YOU ARE A WELCOME ADDITION TO THIS FAMILY WHO LOVES BOOKS! YOU'LL FIND A WINDOW TO DO THIS AT THE TOP OF THIS BLOG PAGE.



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The New Book Review is blogged by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. It is a free service offered to those who want to encourage the reading of books they love. That includes authors who want to share their favorite reviews, reviewers who'd like to see their reviews get more exposure, and readers who want to shout out praise of books they've read. Please see submission guidelines on the left of this page. Reviews and essays are indexed by genre, reviewer names, and review sites. Writers will find the search engine handy for gleaning the names of small publishers. Find other writer-related blogs at Sharing with Writers and The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

University Press Published Fiction Hits a Chord for Top Reviewer

 

Review by Bookreporter.com  
Title: Don't Forget Me, BrBy John Michael Cummings
Publisher: Stephen F. Austin State University Press
Reprinted with permission from Pauline Finch, Bookreporter.com
 
Reviewed by Pauline Finch originally for Bookreporter.com
 
Families: they love us, they hate us, they confuse us, they support us, they believe in us, they hurt us, they forgive us, they never forget our mistakes. . .
It’s no good picking and choosing which of the above (in what could be an interminably long list) best applies to your particular family, or mine, because today’s assumption will become tomorrow’s irrelevance.  
As author John Michael Cummings shows with such poignant and searing skill in DON’T FORGET ME, BRO families contain all of it. There’s simply no tidy, predictable emotional or dynamic boundary to draw around these most primal of human units. Even those who don’t know their biological families have collective relationships that daily test their autonomy, individuality, self-worth and dreams. 
Cummings, who’s spent more than three decades writing about human beings, mainly of the everyday American persuasion, excels in uncovering those beneath-the-skin familial stories that realistically probe uncomfortable, often invisible, areas of life. And even in our current decade of sociological transparency, perhaps nothing is more resistant to illumination in this context than mental illness.   
As a broad collection of chemical, biological and/or psychiatric disorders of the brain, it eludes clear-cut treatments and solutions as successfully as families elude pat definitions of who and what they are. When families and their perceptions of mental illness collide, as happens with such gritty persistence in Don't Forget Me, Bro all the discomfort of relationships, normal and otherwise, comes to the fore.
Returning home to West Virginia to deal with the premature death of his older brother Steve, long diagnosed as schizophrenic, Mark Barr carries plenty of his own emotional and psychological baggage, including a deep-seated distaste for a father he remembers as abusive, a mother who seems a passive bystander to life, and a middle brother who comes across as just plain weird. With a number of failed relationships on record – including the one that’s falling apart even as he sets out from New York – he’s not so sure about his own mental health either.
“Going back home” stories are often based on narrow cliché-filled themes that focus on a single character or experience. Like series TV shows, they are easier to control and wrap up in a satisfying sentimental or tragic package at the end.
Fortunately, Don't Forget Me, Bro isn’t one of them. It’s a gripping emotional and literary journey that hits just about every pothole one can expect to find on life’s road; that part is engaging and sometimes oddly familiar. And when Cummings throws in a few unexpected left turns, thanks to his character’s unpredictable relatives and colleagues, there are moments of surprise and difference to ponder as well. That skilfully managed dichotomy in itself sets this author apart, drawing the reader into places that challenge assumption and attitude.
At the outset, Mark does think this back-home story is all about him, but he’s not driven by ego or self-absorption as much as by fear, worry and chronic indecision.  His own identity, perhaps even his future, are on the line.
But as he blunders into memories, people, and artifacts from the chaotic mosaic of his dead brother’s life he rediscovers who Steve really was. In spite of himself he grows into a kind of belated and bewildered stewardship over his brother’s cremated remains, which become a catalyst for revealing ever-deeper layers of family stories he never really knew.
Haunted by the last words he heard Steve utter – “Don’t forget me, bro” – Mark realizes that at the heart of every human existence is the fear of being forgotten, of simply disappearing into cosmic anonymity. After all, even families that can’t stand each other tenaciously remember their own.
With the unexpected complicity of his equally dysfunctional remaining brother, Mark hangs around his hometown, stumbling upon ways to build better memories than the ones he’d fled more than a decade earlier when he went to New York seeking success.
The Barr family changes a little, just enough for its surviving members to actually remain civilly in the same room together. That’s about it. Cummings doesn’t make their story television-comfortable, nor does he eliminate the heavy reality of an uncertain future.
Set against the larger contexts of contemporary economic depression, social despair, fear of the known and unknown, as well as multiple shades of guilt, remorse and anger, in the end Don't Forget Me, Bro can only exhale in a long sigh of acceptance.
Cummings adeptly leaves the reader suspended in that fragile moment before the next breath must be taken, yet strangely satisfied that compassion and justice have been attained. Don't Forget Me, Bro is a rare thing, a brilliant addition to a theme in which so many other novels under-achieve.
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
 
John Michael Cummings is an award-winning novelist and short story writer from Harpers Ferry, WV.  His fiction has appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including The Iowa Review, North American Review, and The Kenyon Review, and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize.
His debut novel The Night I Freed John Brown (Penguin Group, 2008) won the Paterson Prize, and his short story collection Ugly To Start With (West Virginia University Press, 2011) was an IndieFab Award Finalist.
 
His latest novel, Don’t Forget Me, Bro (Stephen F. Austin State University Press) has been excerpted in The Chicago Tribune.
 
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