“Close Your Eyes: A Fairy Tale” by Chris Tomasini

Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction Close your Eyes
Publisher: December 16, 2021
Pub. Date: Amazon Kindle Direct

In this feel-good, offbeat historical fiction, the reader is transported to the medieval Kingdom of Gora. Here we meet kings, queens, princes, princesses, storytellers, cooks, and jesters. The book’s central theme is love, but it takes a while for this to emerge. Born a dwarf, Samuel serves as the court jester. We are told the story through his eyes as the first-person narrator. The novel reads like a fairy tale for adults, which is appealing if you enjoy magical adventures. I am not a fan of surreal stories. I continued reading, though, because I do enjoy historical fiction. In addition, laughter, wisdom, and melancholy are skillfully woven into the plot.

With a kingdom histrionic outburst, the author’s wit shines from the outset.  In the prologue, we learn that the kingdom’s people woke up in distress one day. “Neighbors question each other about the reason for the hysteria. The most widely believed rumor was that forces of the Holy Roman Empire were preparing to attack our king.” There was no army coming. There was no plan to harm the king. The disturbance had nothing to do with anything political or religious.  It seems that the kingdom had its priorities. What is life without good food and storytelling? The reason for the commotion was that “the King’s cook and the storyteller had fled the castle.”  The novel is often outrageously funny. Another example is when a widow told a group of scholars, “The Greek included passages concerning the sexual proclivities of each animal. You may find a lover capable of replacing your horse.” 

Here is another occurrence that had me laughing out loud. While still in his teens, Samuel worked as a traveling jester. He collaborated with Troyden, a man who stands seven feet tall. The two went by the name “High and Low.” They despised each other. Samuel thought, “Troyden was a genius upon a stage, but in daily life, he was the most asinine dullard I have ever known.” One night they broke character during scenes, “a genuine, and bitter, argument erupted between us.”  Since they believed it was a part of their act, the audience laughed even harder while watching an oddly tall and abnormally short man “quarreling viciously.” The images the reader sees are absurd and hysterical—Slapstick humor at its best.    

The two parted ways, and Samuel goes on to be “the private clown for the children of King Pawel of Gora.” This is where he meets his good friend Tycho, the king’s storyteller. Tycho is a likable scamp blessed with good looks and natural charm. He believes that having a never-ending supply of eager ladies who desire to sleep with him makes up for his lack of affection throughout his formative years. This makes him a fun character to read. The book’s title gets its name from him. “On this night, he said ‘Close Your Eyes,’ and just as I did, I saw that his eyes were bright, were shining.” Samuel is also an engaging character. While Tycho is looking for the meaning of love, intelligent Samuel explores the lessons one can learn from life experiences.

“Fairy Tale” captures the full spectrum of medieval society. Look for a twist with the character, Bishop Tonnelli. Despite not being my cup of tea, the book can be lively and absorbing with its sly humor, flair for characterization, and rich examination of the human condition. This is evident, particularly in the character of Samuel. The novel’s length and added complexity is my most significant criticism. Although the writing is good, it can be disjointed, leaving me sometimes confused. However, the epilogue did explain much of what I initially didn’t get. Tomasini would have written a superior book if he had written this as a collection of short stories or novellas. Still, if you enjoy the genre and can ignore the bulkiness, you will probably eat this one up. Moreover, you might disagree with me that the novel is bulky. Sometimes it is all a matter of taste.

I received this novel at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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“All Adults Here” by Emma Straub

All Adults Here

Genre: Domestic Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Group
Pub. Date: May 4, 2020

“All Adults Here” celebrates families and the communities we live in. With humor and insight, the author creates a dysfunctional family worth cheering on.  Straub reminds us that we should not be so hard on ourselves, because aren’t all families a bit dysfunctional?  “Adults” has similarities to Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge.” In both novels, the protagonist is an older woman living in a small town where nothing and everything happens.  Both authors have a gift for zooming in on ordinary moments of ordinary people, which makes the reader reflect on the highs and lows in their own ordinary life.

In the present, she finds herself in a lesbian relationship that she has trouble admitting to herself, never mind to her children and to her friends. The novel is not about a lesbian partnership. Still, when the protagonist acknowledges her sexuality she grows as a person and her relationship with her children improves. Straub is exploring the fact that humans can grow at any age. This is the core of the novel. With a sharp eye for her characters’ shortcomings, she writes “Being an adult was like always growing new layers of skin, trying to fool yourself that the bones underneath were different too.”  

Although Straub takes on numerous issues:  sexuality, gender, politics, abortion, school bullying, the subject matter never seems heavy-handed. The writing is filled with a certain sweetness as well as moments of comic release. “This was the job of a parent: to fuck up, over and over again. This was the job of a child: to grow up anyway.” The only criticism that this reviewer can find is that the feel-good mood, optimistic view set in the tale suggests most things will work out in the end. In reality that is not always true. Still, this multi-generational saga is a very good heartwarming read.

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“Death by Didgeridoo” Barbara Venkataraman

Genre:           Cozy Mystery/Humor Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00038]
Publisher:    CreateSpace Independent
Pub. Date:    November 13, 2013

One has to love the title of “Death by Didgeridoo,” by Barbara Venkataraman.   I will not explain the reasoning behind the words because that would be a spoiler.  I will share that this is a lighthearted ‘whodunit’ and the first book in the “Jamie Quinn Mystery Series.”  The story revolves around the protagonists, Jamie, her aunt, and her cousin, who happens to have Aspergers.  Jamie reluctantly agrees to represent her cousin who is accused of murder.   Since she is a family law attorney, not a criminal attorney, she is in way over her head.   Right about here, we meet my favorite character: Duke.  He is the wildly colorful private investigator who Jamie turns to for crime-solving help.

I was not familiar with this series when the author reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing her work.  I seldom read mysteries of any kind.  But, since the book was previously chosen as “Indie Book of the Day,” I gladly accepted.   I am especially pleased that I did so because my favorite character had me laughing out loud more than once.  Venkataraman is at her best with Duke.  Picture a guy who drinks too much, plays the ladies’ man, and has been married and divorced three times.  A male chauvinist who calls all women ‘Darlin’ and is constantly bragging of his sex life—obnoxious right?    But there is more than meets the eye to this character.  Underneath his masculine bravado, he is a sweetie who will do anything to protect Jamie.  He made me think of a male version of the old cliché, a hooker with a heart of gold.

To keep things interesting, all kinds of obstacles derail Jamie’s quest to clear her cousin.  You will have to read the book to learn about her setbacks.  As for the rest of the series, we learn enough about likable Jamie, her family, and Duke to want read the next novel.  Still, “Death” can be read as a stand-alone book.  If you enjoy a good cozy mystery (meaning no gore), then I can safely guarantee that you will enjoy this novel.  To quote Duke, “Life’s grand!  The only way I’d enjoy it more is if there were two of me.”  I am happy to report there are more than two sequels (three in the first book) in this cozy mystery series.

I received this novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

To purchase “Death by Didgeridoo” on Amazon open link

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“Academic Curveball” by James J. Cudney

Genre:        Murder Mystery Academic curveball
Publisher:  Creativia Publishing House
Pub. Date:  Oct. 15, 2018

I just had the pleasure of reading “Academic Curveball.” True to its title, the setting takes place in the world of academia. The novel is filled with multiple spins provoked by murders that may have been the result of the clashing cultures within colleges: educations vs. sports. The author, James J. Cudney, cleverly puts together an often humorous, cozy murder mystery brimming with family drama, action, a twisting plot, and romance. All are nicely wrapped together and kept this reviewer guessing whodunit.

Since spoilers are not welcome, here is a snapshot of the story. Our protagonist is Kellan Ayrwick. He is a young widow and single dad. He works as a writer for a murder mystery TV series. His father is the President of Braxton College. Kellan and his father have a long history of not getting along. The reader will feel the “ouch” during most of their conversations. The mystery gets moving when our hero returns home to attend his father’s retirement party. Once home, murder and mayhem occur on campus, allowing Kellan to play amateur sleuth. There are a host of characters who may be the killer/s. She is not a suspect, but I would be a poor reviewer if I didn’t mention Kellan’s grandmother, Nana D. She is a pistol. Her sassy remarks (all seems a little too Tanya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan to me) makes her an endearing character as she helps her grandson on his quest to learn the identity of the murderer/s.

In the tradition of Agatha Christie, the story is never dull. However, sometimes I felt as if the information is being spoon-fed to the reader. There is a lot of rehashing. Still, “Curveball” is a delight to read. I am happy to report that I did not guess the killer/s identity. That is a feather in the cap to any author of a murder mystery. Full disclosure: I am friends with the author. I know that in real life his dog’s name is Baxter, so very close to the name of the novel’s college—such a sweet ode to his four-legged buddy. How can you not like someone who names a college after his dog? This novel is the first book in the “Braxton Campus Mysteries.” The last sentence in “Curveball” is a cliffhanger. Personally, I cannot wait to read “Braxton Campus Mysteries II.”

Open the link to buy  “Academic Curveball” on Amazon.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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October 10, 2018 – Started Reading
October 10, 2018 – Shelved

b. Date:    Oct. 15, 2018


“Mr. Campion’s War” by Mike Ripley

Genre:         Historical MysteryMr. Campion
Publisher:    Severn House
Pub. Date:   December 1, 2018

“Pop has never talked about what he did in the war.”  But at his 70th birthday party, the Englishman Albert Campion (Pop) entertains his guests with his account of his wartime experiences in Vichy France during WWII.  The story is also very much a mystery since, besides family members, the guest list includes a scar-faced German (spoiler: who during the war attempted to kill his host at least twice), and other unknown guests.  The English author, Mike Ripley, is known for writing comedy thrillers and can indeed write in a playful manner.  But let me start off by admitting that I was grateful to be reading this tale on a Kindle where I only needed to tap on a word to learn its meaning.  For example, in one paragraph you will read about the German military intelligence units such as Abwehr, Sicherheitsdients/SD, and Himmler’s SS.  On the English side, there are the military agencies M15 & M16.  Okay, I am obviously familiar with the last two.  We all have heard of the notoriously evil SS, and who hasn’t seen a Bond movie to not know what “M” stands for.

Let me also say, that in researching this novel, I learned that the author Margery Allingham (1904-1966) wrote a mystery series (24 novels) revolving around Mr. Albert Campion.  Nor is this the first time Ripley has picked up where Allingham left off.   So for me, the protagonist is read with fresh eyes.  However, it might explain why there is so much alphabet soup (military acronyms) without any previous explanations on their existence in the story.  In alternating chapters, the story goes back and forth in time.  In the present day (at the party) it is told in the third person.  During the war, the tale is told in the first person with Albert Campion’s voice— a clever way to write the story as both a mystery and a historical fiction.  All chapters have a propensity for humor.  As a spy in the war, our protagonist is assaulted by two men in an alley.  He is just about to lose consciousness when he is rescued by a policeman.  But do policemen usually have silencers on their weapons?   He thanks his savior and says, he was just about to teach them a lesson, “Once I got my breath back.”  In the present, the whole party is like a game of “Clue.”   I found the humor to be especially funny in those chapters.  Campion’s wife is every bit as witty as her husband.   “It’s amazing we wartime mothers survived at all, what with absentee husbands, the air raids and rationing, not to mention the ingratitude of one’s offspring.”  This fun novel is stuffed with historical facts.  The story could drag for those of us who were never much of a “Clue fan.”   And, if I didn’t really find all the characters believable, that did not interfere with the tale.  “Campion” is written as a tongue and cheek read.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Profane Fire At The Altar Of The Lord” by Dennis W. Maley

Genre:          Historical FictionProfane Fires
Publisher:    Jublio
Pub. Date:    January 25, 2018

This tongue in cheek historical fictional takes place in Europe during the 1600s, and is a fun- and fact-filled piece of work. The protagonist is a Jewish dwarf named David Reuveni, a real historical person, who cons European Jews into believing that he’s the Messiah.  He hires an actor, Diogo Pires, another real person (who is always on the run from one country to another, usually for sleeping with the wrong woman), to aid him with his deception.  They both become rich in this scam. When the two first meet on a ship, Diogo comes close to stabbing David because he calls Diogo a Marrano.  Digio demands an apology because that is what they call Christian Jews in Portugal. Pig.”  David thinks “this is a man with a hidden past.  Perhaps he can be of value to me.”  The novel wears a coat of black humor.  It speaks of greed, manipulation, and religion.  I see these characters as a shrewd, not so nice, version of an “Abbott and Costello” act, especially when the protagonists are in the company of sultry ladies whom they are trying to impress.

There are many real historical characters thrown into the plot.  The author, Dennis W. Maley, had me google to see if Cristoforo Colombo aka Christopher Columbus was really a Marrano, meaning a Jew who is forced to convert and secretly practices Judaism.  I learned that this might be true.  Several chapters or pieces of vignettes on other real historical names are tossed around freely in this book:

  • Sir Thomas Malloy: The radical English writer who wrote and died in prison
  • French King Francis I: He was also King Consort of Scotland as a result of his willing marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots
  • King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn: Their marriage caused the first break between the Church of England and Rome
  • Martin Luther: The German Protestant reformer
  • William Tyadle: The leading figure in Protestant reform

The reader will learn that Canon law forbids Christians to charge interest on a loan, so they would hire Jews to do so for them.  It has been suggested that this was the beginning of the banking industry.  And let’s not forget the infamous “Fountain of Youth” that all seemed to be trying to locate.   It is amazing how Maley juggled all these figures together so the reader gets the full picture of the happenings that change the religious world.  He manages to personalize the facts so they aren’t dull.  Plus, he works hard to keep his story a fun read.  But still, I often felt like I was in the middle of a history book.  Because there truly is so much more historical information packed into the novel that I haven’t even mentioned.   There are too many names and affairs and marriages and deaths to keep up with.  For instance, in the “War of the Roses,” which was a series of wars for control of the throne of England, I didn’t care that the war ended when “Henry number seven bedded Elizabeth of York.”  I wish he cut some of the facts out because I felt eager to get back to the perils of the quirky narrators, David and Diogo, the two scheming delightfully unlikable protagonists.

Even though the history lesson is a little too long for my taste, this is a very funny book.  Be prepared to laugh a lot.  Maley writes, “Destruction awaits the Muslim Turks if Christendom joins with his powerful desert tribe. But why hurry? The food and beds are warm, the ladies plump and willing.”   When he requested that I review his novel, “Profane Fire at the Altar of the Lord,” the author shared with me that it “is what would be on reality TV if they had TV in the 16th century.”  This is a great comparison.  I can see our swindlers, attention seekers that they are, puffing out their chests for the cameras. There is enough fame-seeking in those two characters to fit right in with Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

I found myself smiling a lot in this book.  David is surprised to discover that the leaders of the world may also be liars (no surprise to 2017 readers).  He is tired of all the nonsense and becoming fearful of exposure.  This prompts him to attempt to change his ways, though he does not succeed.  He cannot help himself.   David even lies to animals. “What am I doing now, he asked himself, lying to a horse?”  To further complicate truth-telling, Diogo comes to feels it is his turn to be the Messiah.  Again, making me think of the many Reality TV shows that are currently bombarding our brains, begging the viewer to wonder who is the show’s true star.  So, the scam continues. (The next sentence is a potential spoiler.)  I did not care for the ending of this novel, but that may be because I became very fond of the swindlers.

In Acknowledgements, the author states, “This book’s purpose is to entertain.  I am not a historian.”  Still, his work seems well-researchedThe references he cites are impressive.    Just do not take anything, especially the religious references, too seriously.  If you are a historian, you will devour all the facts found in this book.  If you are not, but enjoy historical fiction that is expertly written in black humor you will also enjoy the tale. Just wait until you read about David’s female encounter towards the end of the book.   I am still laughing.  Maley seemed to be having as much fun writing the book as I did reading it.

Purchase here: http://maleybooks.com/#

The author reached out to me to review this book.

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