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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Brendan Gisby: "The Bookie's Runner", a mesmerizing story about an ordinary man

What his publisher says about The Bookie’s Runner: it is “thoroughly mesmerising.” 

I agree. It is also a gem, the kind of story that once you pick it up, resists being put down until the last syllable of the last word of the last sentence has been read.

Written from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy thinking through his father’s life and death, this book of 100 pages tells the story of the author’s father, “an ordinary, working-class man; a gentle soul, who loved his family and toiled day and night for them,” “a downtrodden man, one of life’s losers”, a man of many dreams who wanted so much more from life, but ended achieving nothing but the respect and love of those who knew him which, in my experience, is worth more than money can possibly buy.

One might think that such a description is enough to cause people to turn away from this book and its story … yet it is what makes the story so compelling. We all know people like Derry McKay, common, ordinary blokes who may be of little account in the grand scheme of things, but whose lives are the foundation on which our countries and our civilizations stand.

The story of Derry McKay hauntingly lingers, appearing in the memories and associations from the years of my living, as it will in yours. Pick up a copy of this captivating story, sit down, get a cup of coffee or tea, put your feet up and enjoy The Bookie’s Runner. It’s one of my favorites in this New Year.

I give it a five star rating: *****

Published for Night Publishing (UK) by CreateSpace.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Empty Chairs: Much more than a story about child abuse


If you’re the victim of child abuse, know someone who is, or work with victims of child abuse, Stacy Danson’s autobiographical account of the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her mother from age three until she ran away at eleven is the book for you.

Empty Chairs is, as the subtitle says, “much more than a story about child abuse.” It is about the resilience and triumph of a girl whose street name was “Sassy”, who not only survived the horror of sexual abuse and her mother’s sadism, but survived life on the streets of her native Sydney, Australia as a tough-as-nails, don’t-take-no-crap runaway. At age of eleven, she made a mature decision about her life: “No one was ever going to force me to do anything again. Such are the thoughts of a child whose experience of the world started in hell.”

Living on the streets at any age is no walk in the park; living on the streets as a young girl can be fatal. Stacy Danson learned its lessons quickly: Trust no one, stay out of the way of the pimps and other predators that prey on attractive girls, make yourself invisible. In spite of all the precautions, it doesn’t always work, and didn’t for Stacy. Key to her survival was running into a tightly-knit group of fourteen street kids who took her in, provided her a home, and protected her.

Why does she tell her story some forty years after her life on Sidney’s streets ended? Simply put, it was time. “Recent events in my small world have caused me to think deeply about the responsibility I have, that we all have, to make people aware of what can and does happen in a home that may well be right next door to you.”

In her case, the neighborhood was an upper middle class one where  her abusers were respected members of the community. One of her steady abusers was a family physician. Another was a sadistic cop. If she cried, her mother beat her, sometimes viciously. Did anyone hear her screams? If they did, no one said a word. It ended at age eleven when she beat her mother up, stole her money, and left.

The central tragedy of childhood sexual abuse is the damage it does, physically and emotionally, to the victim. Here is what Ms. Danson says about it: “Physically and emotionally, everything that made me who and what I was was destroyed. But,” she continues, “they never got my soul. They didn't break me. Something in me refuses to be broken. I don’t know what the hell you call it, but it’s strong. It burns inside me with a life force of its own.”

“I firmly believe that everything that happened has helped to make me who I am, and I am kind of fond of who I am these days. It has taken half a century to get here, but here I am.” Indeed, here she is: from an abused kid who trusted no one and wouldn’t let anyone touch her, Stacy Danson has grown into a compassionate woman, loving mother and fine writer. I look forward to reading more from her.

Empty Chairs is available from in Kindle and paperback editions. Buy your copy, read it and recommend it.

I give it a five star rating *****

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not your ordinary Superhero comic book

I don't usually review comic books, but when this one landed in my Inbox from a friend in the UK, I couldn't resist it.

"Captain Israel" is a new Superhero comic book for youth produced by Los Angeles-based StandWithUs. According to its mission statement StandWithUs is "an international education organization that ensures that Israel's side of the story is told in communities, campuses, libraries, the media and churches through brochures, speakers, conferences, missions to Israel, and thousands of pages of Internet resources." Produced for youth "Captain Israel" is one of their efforts. I did not find it amusing ... or heroic. I found it appalling.

Though peace in the Middle East is one of its objectives, none of the images or text in "Captain Israel" are peaceful. Quite the contrary. The message is simple: What we say is the truth. People who disagree with us are anti-Semitic liars and Jew-haters who are trying to destroy us. Follow us and you will participate in greatness. The images, text (which is all in CAPS) and tone mirror the propaganda produced by totalitarian regimes around the world: Don't think, follow us, be a hero. The message talks peace and prosperity, but the images are aggressive and violent. The message is scripted, point by point, from the Israeli propaganda (hasbara) playbook.

Anti-Semitism is a major preoccupation of StandWithUs and their Captain Israel comic book (the one reviewed here is the first of a series). I think the book is anti-Semitic. If you're wondering why, the answer is obvious: "Captain Israel" presents Jews as narrow-minded, clannish, bitterly antagonistic towards their neighbors, and dismissive of people who -- like Palestine's Arab population -- get in their way. If I were Jewish, I'd be offended. Jewish or not, I am offended and sickened by this Taliban-like screed.


If you want to check it out for yourself, click here.

"Breakthrough" by Richard Forer now available at

Breakthrough, which I reviewed several weeks ago, is now available at Click here for more information or to purchase your copy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stories to delight your imagination, make you laugh, and beg for more

I first ran across this book in a shop in Seattle, Washington back in 1993 when it was first published. Updated in 2005, it and its companions (which includes "Still Mostly True", published in 1994 and updated in 2005) have long been my favorites. The following story, "Tiger Rain", will tell you why ... it's the kind of story that sends my imagination off on fantastic adventures.

“Her umbrella was filled with rain she had collected in her travels & on hot summer days she would open it up for the neighborhood kids & we would splash in the puddles & then it would smell like Nairobi or Tasmania & later on we would sit on the porch & eat ice cream & watch for tigers in the bushes.” 

"Mostly True" stories are the kinds of stories that I keep returning to, either by reading them over and over or inventing stories of my own, fantastical tales that "never could really happen", but might, just might, and most definitely do when we were children ... and still are in our deepest parts magical things happen that are "mostly true", but in a special way, and not quite.

These books and others are available from and from Brian Andreas' website, Story People. I find Story People to be a fun place to play and browse around in.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

An unforgettable novel that ends too soon.

My wife found a reference to this novel in one of her Japanese language newspapers and suggested that I buy and read it. Am I ever happy that I did! 

Nina Revoyr has written a wonderful, gripping novel about some very tough times in our country, and has done so with understanding, compassion and feeling. Readers who lived through the era following World War Two will recall the ugly racial tensions of the era with all its denial, and the firestorms that erupted in Watts and other places as a result. Those who didn't live through it will get a harsh dose of reality as the protagonist searches for the killer of four black young men during the Watts riots, and the unexpected outcome as she discovers who the killer was.

Nina Revoyr is a good story teller and writer. Though an uncomfortable story and period in our history, I couldn't put this book down. I'm excited to say that her new novel, Wingshooters, will be out on March 1st of this year. I can't wait.