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Review of “The Olympus Project” by Ted Taylor

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This book is unique; I have never read another like it. I will have to begin by saying that the book is entertaining, full of action and intriguing, so it passes the “good read” test that guides readers throughout the world. The reason that it is unique is that it combines several elements that normally don’t belong together in the standard book universe.

Taylor begins the book with the disturbing portrayal of a man on the edge of death. The expectation is that that the entire book will be filled with the cliff-hanger violence. The book surprises immediately in a rapid shift into a James Bond style upper crust avenger premise, complete with a secret society that functions under the radar. While it would be logical to think that this is where the plot would rest, we are surprised again; our protagonist, Colin Bailey, does not pit himself against an over the top mega villains who could never exist. Colin Baily is a an avenger in the true sense, part of a secret organization whose business is avenging and ridding the world of pure, real evil in the U.K.

Colin and his compatriots are trained researchers, interrogation experts, hackers, analysts and, as Colin is himself, assassins. The end game for the Olympus project, as the society is called, is the destruction of the highest level abuse and senseless violence. It seems to be more than a coincidence that the majority of Colin’s “direct action” assignments involve the dispatch of irredeemable sexual predators.

This book is the first in a series. I look forward to the next three (and one more is being written as this review is published) mostly because I know that, in addition to being a “good read”, there will a message and substance to the sequels. I will guess that the latter is something that must have occurred the Mr. Taylor when he wrote “The Olympus Project”.

For those of you who want a good read but also a bit more in your precious reading time, “The Olympus Project” is a major find.

 

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Review of “Old Habits” By Elizabeth Horton Newton.

Twisted Tales 15LitLiesEpicYarnsFINALNeil Newton: Blogger and author of the novel “The Railroad” on Amazon.com

This story is part of an international collection of short stories with the appropriate title “Twisted Tails”. I approached this story with some apprehension, not being a fan of horror. I was pleasantly surprised. One of the very strong aspects of the story that makes it hang together as a true short story, rather than the common splatter fare featuring serial killers, is the portrayal of the main character, Gaunt Thibedeaux, as a highly developed human being. Adding to this is another dimension that makes the character authentic: a small, timeless, sleepy town, full of good American values that is the backdrop for Gaunt’s less than American activities.
Gaunt begins life in less than ideal circumstances. Mother is a lonely alcoholic who spreads the bounty of her misery as much as possible. Gaunt, like many children, is a bed wetter. Mother does her best to make Gaunt feel responsible for his problem, calling his a “pissy baby” and throwing his urine soaked sheets in his face. In the afternoon, Gaunt is met by the sight of his superman sheets hanging conspicuously from the clothesline on the front lawn.
The day that Gaunt’s mother is found dead on the kitchen floor, his life improves as he’s sent to live with his relatives. Despite the reprieve from his awful circumstances, Gaunt retains some of the values he inherited from his mother. It is not long before those values manifest themselves as conspicuously as his superman sheets on his mother’s front lawn.
What Gaunt takes from his mother is an intolerance for weakness. It works its way into his psyche until he no longer knows why it’s there. We first see the consequences of his mother’s upbringing when he encounters a girl at school who is consistently and cruelly bullied. One hot, sunny day, Gaunt spies the girls as she goes by, being hounded by bullies. As she runs away, hiding beneath a river bridge, Gaunt follows. When he catches up with her he is uncommonly curious as to why she allowed the bullies to abuse her.
He asks her once. And by the second time he asks her he smashes a bottle of soda against the side of her head.
It will not surprise anyone that Gaunt continues his important Darwinian task of weeding out the weak. That is the nature of a serial killer. Another unique element of this story and one that makes him fascinating is that the story follows him throughout his life, making him more than a one dimensional character as many serial killers are. While disturbing and macabre, Gaunt Thibedeaux is, while not a sympathetic character, one whose fate becomes important to us, beyond the initial base thrill of his awful acts.
This is an excellently written story, underpinned by an epic small town ghost story feeling; you can easily see future inhabitants of his small town telling the story of Gaunt Thibedeaux around the fire, long after his death.
I will point out, for the sake of transparency, that the author of this story is my wife. I have always been a fan of her writing, since I met her. I recommend this story and all her writing to readers who want to read quality fiction. (That just bought me at least several days of peace .)

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The Taint: a child’s experience with Racism

Neil Newton: Blogger and author of the novel “The Railroad” on Amazon.com

Since I was a kid, talking about race relations has been an uncomfortable thing. I don’t claim to be an expert or an advocate for any political cause. But I did live at a pivotal time in a pivotal place. I think I have a story to tell that describes a sad transformation and a unique chapter in our history.

I grew up in New York City but probably not the New York City most of you would think of. Out on the northeastern edge of the city in Queens there is a small “town” called Bayside. It has been mentioned in perhaps three movies, the most recent being “The Wolf of Wall Street”.

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Bayside was once a village on Long Island. Confused? What does Long Island have to do with New York City? For those not familiar with the city, two of its boroughs, Queens and Brooklyn, are actually on Long Island, right across from Manhattan. Before New York City spread its arms out to the east and north, Brooklyn and Queens were simply parts of Long Island. Bayside is no more than seven miles from the Eastern border of the city. Beyond the border is Long Island proper or “The Island” as New Yorkers call it.

Around the time of the march from Selma I was sitting in school in the second grade. In Bayside most of the children were white. But, perhaps not so oddly, there were one or two black children. What is surprising is that there was no conflict between the white and black children. I remember a classmate whose name was Carlos. Sometime during that year Carlos decided that he wanted to be called “Charles”. I remember each of us went up to him and asked him why; we were genuinely curious. He stayed calm and composed, telling all of us that that was what he wanted to be called. No one felt anything more than curiosity; he was just another kid in the class.

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Move forward eight years. My mother, an English and drama teacher, was famous In her school for putting on amazing shows, much better than average for the New York City High School system. That year the play was “Brigadoon”. Up on stage a beautiful young woman acted the lead. She had a beautiful voice and was an excellent actress. All in all it seemed like a triumph for both the young woman and my mother.

At intermission, out in the lobby, I watched as the young woman cried, leaning on someone’s shoulder for comfort. I stared at her and wondered what could be bothering someone who obviously had so much going for her. I finally asked my father. He got an odd look on his face.

“There’s something in this country called ‘Taint’,” he told me. “If someone is a little black then they are all black.”

“She doesn’t look black,” I told him.

“I know. But someone knows that either her mother or father is black and is giving her hard time about it.”

I looked at the girl and was completely mystified. I hadn’t learned yet what it all meant  but I would.

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Move forward again. A few years later found me in seventh grade. I became friendly with a black female student who happened to sit next to me. We used to laugh at our math teacher. It got so bad that eventually we found that we couldn’t stop laughing and the teacher would yell at us. We’d sit there trying to not to laugh, hoping the teacher would miss it if we started again. The girl, Davita, would have tears rolling down her face. Not an easy thing to hide.

Move forward a few months. Davita comes into class crying. After a few minutes where she spoke quietly to the teacher, we were given the news. Davita was friends with a white female student, someone I was also friends with. It seemed that, over the last few weeks, both girls had been taking heat from both groups of white girls and black girls. Prejudice had spread to everyone. By that point I was older and knew what was happening in New York and probably all over the country. But I didn’t expect it in Junior High School.

Ninth grade` A white girl I had gone to elementary school with heard another friend of ours, a black student, speaking to a friend. We had all been friends when we were little, back at the beginning of this story. With no reason, she told our friend to “go back to Africa”.

I stared at her, wondering where that horror came from. She looked back at me and then turned away. I had the odd feeling that she didn’t even know why she had said what she did.

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I am not a crusader. Like most people I have my share of prejudice that I try to squash. I’m in the embarrassing position of quoting “The sound of Music”, a movie I hate with a passion. In the movie is a song called “You’ve Got to be Taught”. It describes how hate is beaten into our heads as children. It is a nauseating song in the context of the movie. But I can’t ignore the prophetic nature of the lyrics; how many people have watched as their relationships crumbled because of conditioning from their parents and their parent’s friends.

The fact is that, as a small child I briefly lived in a world where no one carried the burden of having to hate other people and go out of their way to unnecessarily express that hate. And in a period of ten years it all went to hell. I’m not sure who to blame for this. I guess we all have a hand in it. How sad.

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Review of “The Threshold” by Anita Kovacevic

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This is little gem of a book. A novella, written by Anita Kovacevic who also writes children’s books, is her first published adult work. It is a combination of incisive somewhat cynical satire of popular culture (reality shows specifically) and portrayal of human morality from strange but compelling point of view. This book is highly reflective makes you think about your place in the world.

Josephus Thibedeaux is an angry, self-absorbed man, obsessed with appearances and creating an empire that allows him to acquire the ultimate power and status. Once he amasses a fortune, he decides to build a monument to himself, a house in the center of the city that would be the envy of everyone who sees it. After years of planning and building, sweating tiny details in the construction of each room, Josephus decides to live in the house.

Once he crosses the threshold of his precious house, he is never seen again.

Almost a century goes by and Thibedeaux, seeing his death coming, throws a note out of his window that is his last will and testament. The note tells of his century long imprisonment and asks that his body be buried at his death. But he offers a warning: anyone entering the house may become imprisoned as he had. Because of his age, there is no one for him to bequeath the house to. He makes the odd decision to leave the house to anyone who manages to pass over the Threshold of his mansion and come out alive.

Mike Simmons is a young man who is the essence of being grounded and genuine. He lacks any consuming ambitions and lives a simple life. One of his few weaknesses is Urban Legends. When he finds that there is a new reality show that is actually named “Urban Legends” he can’t help but satisfy his curiosity. Not fond of reality shows, Mike is apprehensive. The show, as it turns out, is produced by a wealthy real estate developer who wants to take advantage of the spectacle provided by Thidbedeaux’s morbid last will and testament. The idea is to choose five “contestants” to enter the house and attempt to leave it. Of course the winner would inherit the house but also win a million dollars from the wealthy developer.

The contest is a spectacle and Kovacevic very accurately portrays the selfish broken personalities that inhabit the world of this the small band of reality television soldiers. What is notable is that each person involved in this project has past baggage and something to prove. It’s the need to be conspicuously successful and powerful, and its consequences, that are the theme underlying this story. It is a cautionary tale that is chilling.

Though she is describing crass and selfish people, the author manages an impressive level of poetic prose; there is a charming old fashioned feel to her language, despite the fact that the story takes place in present day. This book is incisive and well written. The end is jarring and moves firmly into the horror genre, yet it is surprisingly thoughtful considering the roller coaster ride you take as you read the rest of the book.

I would recommend this book to anyone; it is unique and through-provoking.

 

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Suck it up!

Living the lie that people can always just “soldier on” is unrealistic and leaves people with serious issues in a nightmare with no help. Until you can understand PTSD and being abused or neglected as a child, there is no evaluating the plight of others.

Where the buck stops

“Suck it up”

This oft used phrase is meant to cover a lot guilt and fear. Usually it’s used when someone is afraid of someone else’s fear and suffering. I recently heard a well-known radio host referring to Robin Williams’s suicide. His beef with Robin was that he often felt depressed. His way of dealing with things was to push past the depression and get on with life. As I listened to him I wondered if he understood the nature of clinical depression, something that in severe cases, does not respond well to treatment. For victims of severe depression, life is a rollercoaster with the disease receding and peaking in unpredictable waves.

What convinces me that this particular radio host was expressing his fear is that he had studied medicine years ago. It’s unlikely that he happened to miss discussions of depression and it’s trajectory over time. The implication was…

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Is organized bigotry toxic and embarrassing for America?

Of course I’m talking about Donald Trump and, just recently, Ted Cruz. Their anti-Muslimism sentiment and plans to start persecuting and controlling Muslims has historical precedent. In 1942, at the height of WWII, the concentration of Japanese Americans on the west coast dovetailed with war fever and the perception developed that these people, two thirds of which were born in the U.S and had never been to Japan, were a security threat.

Much like the situation with Muslim terrorists, the Japanese were hated due to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the empire’s attempt to bring the United States into the war. There was no reason to suspect Japanese Americans of anything. There were businessmen and farmers. Despite this, President Roosevelt was convinced to sign an executive order calling for the “relocation” of all Japanese Americans to what amounted to concentration camps. As a result these victims of irrational and stupid prejudice and anger lost everything they’d worked years to acquire. Families were ruined and impoverished.

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It is my contention that we are a primitive race. The “other” is always demonized and we generalize our fears to anyone that fits that profile. What proves this is the fact that, at the time of the Japanese Internment, there was a much larger population of German-Americans in the United States. No attempt was made to even monitor those Americans. The “other” is always more foreign if they look different than we do.

How President Roosevelt was convinced to do this is a mystery. What happened is that almost 127,000 loyal Americans had their lives ruined at the hands of their own government. No enhanced “security” was achieved. In 1988, Congress attempted to apologize for the action by awarding each surviving intern $20,000. To say that this does not meet the standards of the constitution, the basis of our government, is an understatement. In the end nothing positive was achieved and the United States Government was forced to apologize. There is no “just in case” scenario that is valid here. It was a travesty.

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In our country there are Muslims have been here for decades and they are Patriotic Americans, with few exceptions. I just heard that there are 2,000 Muslim policemen on the New York City police department which is given a critical role in counter terrorism. More than 5000 Muslims are reported as serving in the U.S. Army according to the Pentagon. Considering that Muslims make up only 1% of the United States population this is a considerable amount of Muslim soldiers.

What is worst of all, even from the point of view of cave-dwellers like Trump, is that if we cast a wide net of hate, concentrating or Muslim Americans or Muslim’s worldwide, we are wasting time and opening ourselves up to a sucker punch from the relatively small number of Terrorists. If you don’t know who your enemies are and are willing to concentrate on them, you are in trouble.

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The Japanese internment, McCarthyism and a number of other disgusting and embarrassing episodes in our country, all have ended with the American people with egg on their faces. Not giving in to your hate and coming to unrealistic conclusions is not a matter of political correctness but a matter of survival. McCarthy, for all his unassailable power, ended up on the dung heap of history, dying shortly after his downfall. While these disturbingly consistent meltdowns make you wonder about the fitness of our country to function as a democracy, it is heartening to know that these obvious severe speedbumps in the democratic process have always led to a retroactive disgust with the purveyors of the inadequate personality and stupefying fear.

In my lighter moments I imagine that someday Donald Trump will be sitting back getting old and bitching about his failed presidential attempt, blaming everyone else but himself for his failure. Just another speedbump in our democracy. Maybe this won’t be the first time when our desire for democracy finally runs out. I can only hope.

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Twisted Tales : Meet the Authors – an interview with Elizabeth Horton-Newton

An amazing collection of stories! This story by Elizabeth Newton is compelling and unique.

Joseph Mark Brewer

Some say beware the Ides of March – but what you should really do is get a free copy of Twisted Tales, a Readers’ Choice selection of short fiction from Readers’ Circle of Avenue Park. Literary lies, epic yarns – it’s an eclectic collection of stories by authors from around the globe.
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In today’s Meet the Authors series I’m delighted to welcome to the blog Elizabeth Horton-Newton. She has had a life-long interest in serial killers and all things horror. Fascinated by the inner workings of the criminal mind, she allowed her imagination to run will in her tale for this anthology.

Your story ‘Old Habits’ appears in the Readers Circle of Avenue Park’s recent anthology Twisted Tales. What made you decide on that story?

I’ve been fascinated by serial killers and their deviant behaviors for a long time. The criminal mind is like a web that forms based on both…

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