Love Will Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night by Shelly Lowenkopf

About the book: Love Will Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night brings a number of Shelly Lowenkopf’s previously published short stories together in a single volume. All the stories revolve around life in Santa Barbara, the oceanside city north of Los Angeles, where people go after they’ve burned out in San Francisco and L.A. Yet there’s no safe haven anywhere. Interwoven into Santa Barbara’s picturesque setting, the people in these twelve stories reveal what their hearts and souls encounter in relationships. Their misreadings, mistakes, and misadventures bare what happens to people who love another

My thoughts: Love Will Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night will make you appreciate short stories. I’ve only been reading collections and anthologies for a few years now, but this will definitely make it to my top favourites. Only the other day I read this blog post about Hemingway’s iceberg theory, and it sort of applies to Shelly Lowenkopf’s writing: there’s a lot more meaning to glean from the stories than it would appear. Not all stories had the same deep impact on me, and I have to confess, some left me a bit confused – but overall, this makes good collection, the kind that you’d want to savour over time rather than devouring in a day. My favourite stories:

I’ve Got Those King City Blues – Placing must be important in a collection. This story makes a good first taste, enough to make you want to continue, but not so good as to set your expectations too high! It’s not as much a story as a glimpse into the life of Charlene, a forty one year old, just out of a bad relationship and looking for a chance at a better one. The writing is atmospheric and tense, and the ending leaves you wanting more.

Charlene sat up, withdrew her hand from his, circled her knees with her arms. “Doesn’t anything last, Brian Sullivan?” Even in the growing dimness, she saw the same expression on him as when she’d caught him peering into his coffee cup.
“It hasn’t so far,” he said.

The Ability – Rachel is hired as a ghost writer of condolence letters. This story is brilliant, both in its concept and execution. It is made up of tiny intriguing details of character, things that could only be caught by an experienced and observant eye. It makes you laugh, tear up and wonder how strange life often gets.

Absent Friends – This is easily my favourite story of the bunch and certainly worth buying the whole collection for. Who knew a short story could have so much to say? I’ve already read this thrice and still don’t have words to explain it. Saying it’s about the relationships in the life of Sam Zachary, who is worried he has lost his cat, is not enough. It’s a sad story that makes you put your joys and troubles in perspective, and wish you didn’t have to.

“Not everyone gets to live the span projected  for them. I know it sucks, particularly if life seems to be going so well. Sometimes there are unanticipated events. Sometimes-” she seemed to consider for a moment, “-sometimes you have to make choices.”

Death Watches – This story captures the effect of the death of an acquaintance on a lonely man; and the comical inner struggle that follows, between filling an apparent void in his life and the habitual inability to make amends.

The sadness this time had begun with the news of Richard Martin’s death. Then, the sadness had begun to spread, like a spilled glass of wine on someone’s table cloth, taking up friendships, loves, old relationships, future possibilities, and, of course Langer’s own sense of his own longevity.

Love Will Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night – The title story is another well placed story, right in the middle. It follows the winding relationship between Carter and Cissy in a matter of days. It’s the kind of story that you can read over and over, and end up with a completely different impression every time. It’s also a story with a powerful makes-you-smile ending.
“The freaking universe has a mind of its own. Unfolds the way it wants.”

Messages – This story is about the relationship dynamic between two people seemingly in love, the giving and getting back, the missed signals, the expectations. You see Roger Beck, who takes his relationship a step further by moving in with Dana and her kid Frances, who is pretty okay except when she hears voices. It’s a weird story, packed with restless confusion – there is no real beginning and ending, but that works astonishingly well.
I also liked the stories Mr. Right and Coming to Terms, Witness Relocation Program and Molly, which is this strange, funny piece about a man who plans to steal his friend’s dog. All stories are about weaknesses, misunderstandings and mistakes but even the gray characters have these inevitable, redemptive qualities. The stories are set in the same world, with a few characters and places crossing over, like the Xanadu Coffee Shop and it’s a world that, despite all its issues, you want to be a part of.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves a good short story, and definitely suggest it to every budding writer. At close to two hundred pages, Love Can Make You Drink and Gamble, Stay Out Late at Night by Shelly Lowenkopf is a treat.
Check out the Virtual Author Book Tours page for more reviews, giveaways and interviews. 

Running With the Enemy by Lloyd Lofthouse

A red flare shot into the sky telling the Marines to return to the landing zone for departure.
Ethan trembled and shook himself as if he were a wet dog, then rolled over beside her instead of on top of her. She smelled the coppery scent of his blood. “Hell!” he said, and pushed her into a narrow space between clumps of bamboo. “After I cover you, stay here until we are gone. Why are you here? This is not where you live. You should be washing clothes at Luu’s where you will be safer.”

No one is ever safe anywhere, she thought, and then said, “Ethan?” The tears in her eyes blurred her vision. She reached for him, wanting him to take her away from this war, but he slipped out of her reach.
Summary: In this suspense thriller set during the Vietnam War, Victor Ortega is a rogue CIA agent, and he needs someone to blame for his crimes. Recon Marine Ethan Card is the perfect patsy. As a teen, Ethan ran with a Chicago street gang, and he has a criminal record. He also has a secret lover, Tuyen, who is half Vietnamese and half French.

Tuyen is a stunning, beautiful Viet Cong resistance fighter. 
Since she was a young child, Tuyen has lived under the control of her brutal, older, sexually abusive half-brother, Giap, a ruthless and powerful Viet Cong leader, who has forced her to kill Americans in battle or die if she refuses.
When Ethan discovers he is going to be court marshaled for weapons he did not sell to the Viet Cong and Tuyen will be arrested and end up in an infamous South Vietnamese prison, where she will be tortured and raped, he hijacks a U.S. Army helicopter and flees with Tuyen across Southeast Asia while struggling to prove his innocence.
Victor Ortega and Giap—working together with the support of an unwitting American general—will stop at nothing to catch the two, and the hunt is on.
The star-crossed lovers travel across Laos to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat; to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Burma’s Golden Triangle where Ethan and Tuyen face a ruthless drug lord and his gang.
In the rainforests of Burma, Ethan also discovers Ortega and Giap have set in motion a massive assault on his Marine unit’s remote base in South Vietnam with the goal of killing the man he admires most, Colonel Edward Price, who is the only one who believes Ethan is innocent.
Ethan must risk everything to save Price and his fellow Marines. Will he succeed?
My thoughts: A fair warning: this book is not for the squeamish. There’s a lot of sex, violence and lot of swearing. All the gory details are bound to make anyone queasy, they are haunting and described vividly.

I liked Ethan Card, for the way he was neither all bad nor all good. At times, I was completely annoyed by him. The characters, Ethan included, were realistic. Sure, the villians were inexplicably mean and cruel but the protagonists weren’t all angels either. The relationship between Ethan and Tuyen seemed abrupt in the first fifty something pages, when so many things happened so quickly. But the relationship is dwelt on later, and it sort of grows into something believable: a desperate grasp at some sort of meaning or purpose in such a terrifying world. Two people falling in love, having an affair, running off together is just cheesy enough to ring true. The author relies majorly, according to me, on dialogue to take the story forward and is one of the few authors I have read who can write good dialogue. For Ortega, I found the characteristic way he talked to be a bit limited, and therefore, unrealistic; in contrast, Tuyen’s speech is written wonderfully.
The chapters and scenes are very short and the story is constantly spiralling off into something new. There are a lot of details, many minor characters to focus on, so I needed to pay attention closely while reading. It’s not a breezy read and wouldn’t be enjoyed when distracted. I liked the descriptions of the different locations, how there were little information dumps. But I notice far too many similes, to describe just about everything. I do know that a good metaphor is a sign of a good author, but after a while they seemed kind of silly, nothing was straightforward bad or big or loud.
The book was very fast and I could read it within a few days. It had me engaged completely from the very first chapter and I was certainly curious to see how things would turn out. The violence did turn me off a bit and I wish there was less of that. But, hey, you can’t exactly change the war. So which it was a little too much, I appreciated that it seemed realistic. The book wasn’t biased on any side of the war and the author has sort of left us to wonder about all the things he’s written, not really presenting us with one opinion but a swarm of them to choose from. It seems like he’s written what he really does know, and that is why, it is easy to ignore any flaws that come to mind: because, the book is honest. It isn’t just another action-packed, adventure, thriller but has something more to offer. And you rarely get to say that with a review copy, so I’m certainly glad I got the chance to read this. You can buy a copy of Running With the Enemy here.
I got an email a few days ago, and another, saying Running with the Enemy was awarded Runner Up in General Fiction at the 2013 Beach Book Festival and honorable mention general fiction at the 2013 New York Book Festival recently and I’ve to say I’m not surprised. Books about wars all seem to be almost the same and this one offers a new perspective of sorts. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s nice and I am sure many will love it.

If I had to give this a rating, which I suppose I do (this is a blog tour), it’d be somewhere between three and four stars.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. For more reviews, view the Tour Schedule at the Virtual Authors Book Tours website.

Guest Post by author Tim Rowland (Creatures Features) on Writing About Animals

About the author: Tim Rowland is an award-winning columnist at Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Maryland. He has written for numerous history and outdoor magazines and news syndicates nationwide. He has also authored several books, most recently Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War.
This fabulous little post on writing about animals gives a glimpse of what the book has to offer. Make sure you read this, along with the book review and buy yourself a copy right now!
Writing and writing about animals are two different things.
I say this because in traditional writing it is the author who must initiate
the creative process and drive the text. When writing about animals, the author
is free to disengage and allow the critter to dictate the terms.
For example, as I write this, or try to, there is a
diminutive, six pound Siamese who has developed a fascination with the
electronic letters and darting cursor that appear on the computer screen. And
she has come to the conclusion that they need to be killed.
Strangely, this does not contribute to my near-term writing
efficiency, although it does solve the long-term problem of what to write
about. Writers make deals with the devil all the time, and if no devil is handy
a cat will make a plausible facsimile.
The only equal to a cat in terms of seeking publicity is a
goat. To a goat, acting out is sport, a way to grab attention and pass the
time. That’s another love-hate situation for a writer, who wags his finger
sternly at the bad behavior before going inside and putting it into print. So
when a goat, for example, walks up to a section of fence I am repairing,
reaches up and knocks a hammer off of a fence post just for spite with that
“what are you going to do about it” look, it is simultaneously maddening and
Most other animals are entertaining not by choice, but by
circumstance. A cow, for example, may blunder her way into an entertaining
situation, although she clearly does not realize she has done anything funny. A
couple of years ago, I brought a young bull to our hobby farm to service the
ladies, but he made a poor effort of it. The youngster kept trying to mount the
wrong end of the cow and it wasn’t long before the cows decided they wanted no
children out of a male that stupid. I told the bull not to feel bad, I’d been
in that situation myself.
I am convinced, however, that most animals have senses of
humor. Every equestrian has been the butt of a horse joke at one time or
another. To illustrate, horses will stand at the far end of the pasture and
refuse to come when called. Se we will walk all the way across the pasture to
get them, at which point they will gallop past us and stand at the gate. They
think this hilarious.
I don’t. But then again, as a writer I do have certain
outlets that others do not. For on our homestead, no animal atrocity ever goes
to waste.
Read more reviews and try your luck to win a copy on the Creatures Features Tour Page

Creatures Features by Tim Rowland

About the author: Tim Rowland is an
award-winning columnist at Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Maryland. He has
written for numerous history and outdoor magazines and news syndicates
nationwide. He has also authored several books, most recently Strange and
Obscure Stories of the Civil War.
About the book: When Tim Rowland’s
earlier book of his animal essays, ALL PETS ARE OFF, was published, readers
immediately clamored for more. Their preference for animal stories over the
political columns Tim’s also known for is understandable: animals are way more
fun to read about than politicians. Especially now. So here’s a new volume of
over 75 columns, from the introduction to the farm of bovines Cleopatra and
Heifertiti, the Belted Galloway beauties, to the further antics of Hannah the
English Bulldog and Juliet the tiny Siames – and of course, more of the joyful
bouvier des Flandres named Opie – that’s sure to provide loads of smiles and
even outright guffaws.
My thoughts: Chaotic, confusing,
hilarious. Being an animal lover, I was looking forward to reading this book.
But at the same time, I’ve read many non-fiction / fiction accounts of animals,
which were too personified and didn’t seem real; so I wasn’t sure what to
expect from the book. My first thought as I read the book was: wow, he really gets animals.
Every creature has a quirky, characteristic personality, very different from a
human’s but very striking. Considering I was only ever acquainted with the
various personalities of cats and dogs, I found these essays about all sorts of
farm animals full of surprises. 
The thing I appreciated the most is that the book can be
started at any random point in the middle, and the tales don’t have to be read
in order. It’s the perfect book to take along on a holiday, quick, breezy and
funny. Of course, all the fun aside, it’s also informative, touching and insightful. The only thing that freaked me out is
the idea that all the anonymous animals, whose curious eccentricities we never
get to know, are sent off to the slaughterhouse – it has a strange morbidity to
it, that you just need to be ready to overlook.
I liked the conversational tone of the book. The adventures
on the farm are endlessly entertaining. I found myself constantly chuckling and
copying down things that I wanted to share with my fellow animal lovers.
Halfway into the book I realized I had literally copied down almost everything
I’d read, so I scrapped the idea and decided to tell everyone and anyone who
has ever known an animal: You would love the book! I could guarantee a pet-owner
a lot of fun and the pet a huge “I love you soo much.” and a bowlful
of treats, which mine received once I was done reading this.
Read more reviews and try your luck to win a copy on the Creatures Features Tour Page

Dangerous Past by A. F. Ebbers Virtual Tour – Review and Giveaway

I have received this book in exchange for an honest review.

To visit the rest of the virtual book tour stops, visit the Partners in Crime Tours page. 

Genre: Suspense, Thriller, Mystery
Published by: Silverhawk Books
Publication on: September 8th, 2011
Pages: 240

To win an e-copy of this fabulous book, scroll down.

About the author: A. F. Ebbers, a journalism graduate of Ohio University was a reporter/writer for major newspapers, ad agencies, and in public relations for Cessna Aircraft Company. He also graduated from Army Flight School and flew for the Ohio and Kansas Army National Guards. Later he was called to active duty and served two flying tours in Vietnam. After retirement from the military, he flew for corporations and for regional airlines. A dual rated ATP pilot, he has written for numerous national magazines, Sunday supplements and trade and travel magazines and has written screenplays and short stories. Today he lives with his wife in the Austin, Texas area and, when not writing, enjoys tennis, golf, flying and piano. Dangerous Past is his debut novel.

Summary: Airline Captain Frank Braden and his wife Nicole are suddenly stalked by professional assassins who have a deadline to make their deaths look like an accident or a suicide. And the couple doesn’t know why they are being targeted. They don’t realize that they stand in the way of a deadly conspiracy. Little by little they are pulled into a dangerous web of intrigue by a murderous criminal network that deceptively offers the pilot his wife’s life if he will concede to their demands. This is a thriller that rocks the highest levels of Washington.
Dangerous Past is a story of a man who must choose between doing what ought to be done or keeping his family alive by allowing a murderous and powerful VIP to escape his past.

My thoughts: I think it was Spider Robinson, who said (in Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon) that people should write about things that they know, irrespective of what those things are. I have paraphrased it, of course, what he said was definitely much funnier. I realized how true that was as I read this book. The author’s confidence with his own material is striking throughout the book and that makes it unlike most debut novels. The book is a page turner and can be read in one, exciting sitting.

The suspense is well maintained and quite frustrating (in a good way.) I could never figure out what was going to happen next and the author kept me well on the edge of my seat throughout the book. I loved the climax and the shocking revelations it brought. The theme of the book is also haunting and the title perfectly suits the story. The idea that someone can be so thoroughly framed is scary. The setting is very visual, and I liked the descriptions of Vietnam. The characters are convincing and not overly stereotypical. I liked the dialogue, I think very few authors can write good, realistic conversations.

My only problem with the book might have been the jumps in time and point of view and the confusion caused by them. Another thing was that the plot and action was at times a bit cliched and it felt too much like watching a movie. But in a combo of mystery, suspense, thriller, that is to be expected of most books.

Dangerous Past by A. F. Ebbers is a riveting read and I recommend fans of the genre as well as anyone looking for a fast read to try it out. You can buy it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Rating: 3/5 – I liked it!

Giveaway: Answer a simple question right HERE.
One randomly chosen winner gets a free copy of the book. Provide your e-mail address within the answer and I will send one lucky entrant an eBook (format of your choice)!