Category Archives: ebook review

“Hidden” by Dublin-based writer Derick Parsons features murder and insanity and characters that are at once normal, neurotic, troubled and heroic


Meet Kate Bennett – she’s a train wreck.

She’s a swirling mass of neurotic self-doubt, self-questioning, self-loathing and inner confusion. She’s has problems with men, problems with her job, problems with her co-workers, problems with her past, problems with her country and society. She’s lonesome – she is a festering boil of dysfunctional angst – she occasionally gives into delicious, lusty sex which makes her hate herself – she seems an excellent candidate for a truck load of Valium and a future straight jacket.

Yet, her job is that of psychologist! That’s right! Kate Bennett, Ph.D, is a counselor charged with healing the maladjustments of her fellow man!

Why not!

You have to admit, it makes for a great fictional premise. The blind leading the blind, as it were. Of course, most of us have always suspected this is the case anyway in real life – that no one is more screwed up than a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Anyway, that’s the best thing about this book, HIDDEN, by Irish writer DERICK PARSONS. All fiction is based on character and I give the author and A+ for creating the beautiful Kate Bennett, a walking contradiction. I did mention she is drop-dead gorgeous and a sizzling sexual lioness, right? Well, she is. She attracts men like flies.

Unfortunately, these men are barely above the evolutionary scale of the common house fly – sleazy politicians, sexual deviants, criminals, and fellow psychologists with brains ruled by their testicular organs.

The trouble for me is that I can’t decide if this book is supposed to be a standard romance novel or a murder-mystery thriller. It’s actually a combination of both, and there’s nothing wrong with this, except that, for my tastes, the author is unable to hold it together in an effective way.

Derick Parsons

The vast majority of the book is intensely internal – it dwells constantly on the tortured mental self-dialogue of Kate Bennett. She is in a perpetual state of self-questioning and misgiving. She’s can’t understand herself, but she squirms and struggles heroically to find clarity and change.

The problem is that this voluminous inner dialogue often becomes tedious. I think most readers will grow frustrated or exasperated as we listen in on Kate Bennett endlessly, yet fruitlessly self analyzes herself, questions her every move, doubts her every thought, second-guess her every motivation.

The author manages to cobble together a fairly reasonably complex and compelling murder mystery plot – the key to which is centered on a deeply-troubled mental patient – a shockingly lovely 18-year old girl who unfortunately can’t help because she is mostly catatonic or too delusional to be of value.

But the entire plot collapses upon itself at the end like a house of cards. It does so because of the way the “big finish” scene is choreographed. To say the least, the denouement is not skillfully handled – and I mean really not skillfully handled at all. That’s a shame because it tarnishes the rest of what is a well-written, well-conceived book with characters that are interesting and vivid.

My impression is that some readers will find this a 4- or 5-star read, while others will drop out well before the final chapters and rate it a 1-star read. To that end, I split the difference and offer three stars – and I will add that I believe Derick Parsons to be a deeply skilled writer with a brilliant future — a brilliant future indeed.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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“Autumn Shadows In August” by Robert W. Norris is okay as novel, but would be powerful as a memoir


It has been a while since I have been as mystified by the technical choices a writer has made in crafting a novel as I was when I read this offering, AUTUMN SHADOWS IN AUGUST by ROBERT W. NORRIS.

Here is a book that has everything going for it:

• A writer of significant skill, heart, and passion for his craft

• A powerful central premise

• Superb real-life material to draw upon

• An often absorbing no-nonsense writing style …

… and yet … well, I just keep asking myself, “Why?

Why, for example, the choice to present this as fiction? There’s nothing inherently wrong with creating a novel based on real-life experiences, but this piece begs to be a memoir, not a novel.

Before I rave on, a brief synopsis: An American ex-patriot, David Thompson, is living in Japan, the final destination of a man who chose self-exile after opting for the roll of conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He was drafted into the Army, but refused to fight, and so was thrown into a military prison. They tried to break him, brainwash him and reprogram him – but he outlasts them. They spit back into society as an “undesirable.”

This prompts Thompson to launch himself on a life of wandering the world, much of the time in a pot and LSD-soaked haze. Since he has been robbed of his fundamental self-identity as a “normal American” his journey is a search for self-meaning and perhaps to find or build a new identity. Along the way he encounters some of the most dangerous and depressingly hopeless enclaves on the globe, such as the horrifying, filthy, disease-ridden poverty in the darkest allies of Calcutta.

But Thompson eventually finds a kind of secular salvation in that he lands a stable job teaching English in Japan, finds a loving, beautiful wife, and achieves middle class mediocrity – albeit not in America– but among a modern culture which accepts him.

The novel plays out when Thompson and his wife take a vacation trip to Europe partly so Thompson can retrace some of the pain of his past, and also reconnect with a kind guru-friend figure – Thomas Knorr – only to find that Knorr has just died.


Also, the author states this book is an homage to two writers of tremendous influence on his life: Hermann Hesse and Malcolm Lowry.

The problem for me: The character David Thompson is a molecular-thin veneer sprayed with an atomizer over the identity of the author himself, Robert W. Norris.

Yes, yes, yes I realize there are mystical elements and events, such as when Thompson-Norris meets none other than a character from Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf in an Amsterdam pot den – the mysterious Pablo. Pablo from Steppenwolf supplies Thompson-Norris with hallucinogenic mushrooms, a bit of advice and a kind of magic chess set.

So some might say: “That’s why this has to be presented as fiction; the real Norris could not have met a fictional character from another author’s book in a work of nonfiction.”


Robert W. Norris could indeed have met Pablo in Amsterdam and that meeting would have been every bit as real and legitimate as if he had met any other living human being. That Pablo comes in the form of imagination (or even a drug-induced reverie) does not make him one iota less authentic.

If you don’t think so, then I invite you to find the nearest engineer and tell him that he is no longer allowed to use imaginary numbers (i) in calculus equations when he is designing some machine that will have real application in the objective, physical world. Making use of that which is “unreal” or “imaginary” has never bothered mathematicians, scientists and engineers – why should it bother an author, or memoirist?

Or maybe the author hoped to shield the real people he encountered in life? However, the skilled memoirist would have no problem finessing these kinds of details – but enough, I’ll drop it. The author chose to make this a work of fiction – I’ll honor that while finding it vexing.

Several other aspects of this work also seemed jarring and incongruous to me. For example:

When Thompson-Norris swallowed the powerful magic mushrooms supplied to him by shamanic figure Pablo, I strapped on my seatbelt and prepared myself for a Terrence McKenna-like or perhaps William S. Burroughs-like journey into the disturbing strange and intense – but instead, I found myself being treated to a breezy scene far more akin to something out of Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine,” or perhaps his short story, “The Sound of Summer Running.”

The hallucinogenic mushroom prompts him to relive with exceptional vividness a joyful time from his childhood when he became immersed in that most profoundly spiritual-American game, baseball. He shares this sun-soaked carefree time with his boyhood best friend, Damian (inspired by Hesse’s “Demian?”).

But why should this completely normal, wonderful, decent and absolutely non-dangerous re-lived memory need be induced by a powerful magic mushroom supplied by a shamanic figure? I confess: I don’t get it.

I will say, however, that I loved the way the blissful baseball vignette transitions into the disturbing accounts of his journeys through India, Turkey and Iran – it makes for a brutal contrast that is literary gold. (So much about this novel is excellent.)

But, but … there are many other “Whys” I might air – such as why include that baffling opening shemp (I borrow a jargon term from cinema out of desperation) – which quietly dissipates as something barely necessary. It is also mistake to call this an homage to Hesse and Lowry. These magnificent novelists influence and inform the book yes, but — now I’m just quibbling — and I’ve gone on too long already. So here’s my bottom line:

This has the making of an excellent memoir – indeed, it is a memoir — a significant and important piece, possibly even a “Great American” memoir. What men like Norris did in adopting the mantel of conscientious objector is an act of tremendous heroism and commands my utmost, undying respect.

The writing is often brilliant and engaging, even absorbing.

However, presenting this document as fiction drops a clog into the whole system of the book, knocking it off kilter in more ways than one. Making us try to believe this is fiction is a crippling distraction. That’s because fiction requires the reader to adopt that “willing suspension of disbelief” — which in this case in untenable.

We never believe in a fictional character named David Thompson, but we do believe in Robert W. Norris. He’s the real deal.


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First-time novelist Tarah L. Wolff breathes new life into fantasy fiction with the boundry-pushing “Embraced by Darkness: Sacrifices”


EMBRACED BY DARKNESS: SACRIFICES is a richly feminine, dangerously dark sword & sorcery fantasy epic that often transcends mere genre to become something more – literature — perhaps even great literature.

Just about every page is redolent with a musky aura of earthy-animalistic yearning and sensual passion.

Also at the heart of this ambitious tale looms the ever-present shadow of the feminine archetype – exploring what it means to be a woman — and the eternal central dilemma of the female sex. It’s the predicament of womankind since the beginning of time – dealing with the dangers of violent male predation and lust, while also aching for the pleasure and passion of an all-absorbing union with the male archetype.

A latent theme of rape or threat of rape never strays far from the narrative. At the same time, the female characters often willingly enter into intense sexual unions of mind-boggling, soul-shattering pleasure with men … and, yes, even man-like things!

Certainly, a Freudian psychologist would have a field day analyzing the sexual allegory suggested between that of women and horses in these pages. Yes, yes … I realize that a centaur is half-human, half-horse, but the women here seem equally enamored with regular horses and the feel of them “between their legs.” (I put that latter phrase in quotes because it appears more than once in connection with a woman riding a horse). (Also: Just how does a woman have sex with a centaur? Hmmm. Ponder that for a moment!)

But wait a minute – let me step away from pedantic nerd mode to tell the reader that I think anyone can enjoy this this novel on any level one wants to. If you’re looking for an entertaining, sweeping sword and sorcery epic filled with all the props of that genre, you’ll find it: Hunky sword wielding men, gorgeous gutsy women, elves, mythical creatures, dragons, demonic ghouls, a dark lord – it’s all here.

The central plot is strong enough, if somewhat derivative of the genre formula. The characters are sharp, vivid and real; they come alive on the page – even if you find them spiteful, obnoxious or too good to be true – you’ll still care about what happens to them. The background fantasy world is richly imagined. It does what a great fantasy novel needs to do – it takes you away, allows you to escape, to an magical universe that is alive with shimmering wonder.

The pacing is decent, although I’ll stop short of calling this a page turner; it’s actually something better. Some may be challenged by the 400+ page length, but I think most will be eager to keep reading.

Yes, good wins out over evil in the end. (I’m not giving anything away; all fantasy novels end that way). However, what’s terrific about this novel is that those who are “good” and those who are “evil” are not always sharply defined as so – so even in their victory, the reader may wonder if the heroes really deserved to triumph at all.

That’s especially true of Jezaline – one of three primary female characters who anchor the narrative. And the tough-as-nails tomboy Osondrous is an incredible, unstoppable ass-kicker of epic proportions. Oh my, what a woman! Only the saintly Karalay represents what we would recognize as the personification of a traditional heroine — pretty as an angel, selfless, giving and pure of heart. (I should also give Constance and honorable mention, a kitten-sexy soft beauty who is a visionary with a poetic soul. I suspect Constance will play a large role in the sequel, due out later this year).

Finally, I must mention the writing itself. My friends, this young author, TARAH L. WOLFF, can flat out turn a phrase. She crafts and weaves sentences that are beautiful. The reader will be treated to graceful paragraphs that flow out and glide across the page. True – it’s not consistently thus throughout – but who cares! Often enough, the author seems to “go unconscious,” something “clicks in” and she spins out page after page of marvelous flare and elegance.

If you have a pulse, this writer’s prose will give you goose bumps.

The author’s tells us her goal in creating EMBRACED BY DARKNESS was to push the envelope of the fantasy genre further, taking it to greater heights and perhaps a deeper level significance. Mission accomplished.


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Gutenberg the Greek: An short, short Kindle Single probably worth 99 cents


He died more than 500 years ago, but I can’t tell you how much I have been thinking about JOHANN GUTENBERG in recent years. That’s because I started my career as a newspaper reporter, meaning I was a print journalist, emphasis on print – and then the Internet happened – and KER-BLAM! – my universe changed.

After leaving newspapers I became a freelancer and I have been writing books, mostly as a ghostwriter, for the past 25 years – that means paper-and-ink books for lots of clients, and – KER-BLAM AGAIN! – the Internet shifted the earth beneath my feet.

That’s why this short (very short) Kindle Single by JEFF JARVIS is such a timely read, especially for guys like me. Although Jarvis is by far not the first to compare Gutenberg’s press to the Internet revolution of today, it cuts to the bone for those who are struggling to make the adjustment from the “Old World” of paper-and-ink to the “New World’ of electronic publishing.

Think about all those scribes centuries ago who were creating books one at a time by hand, painstakingly lettering in every word. Suddenly the mechanical printing press comes along and it’s, “See ya later, man. You no longer have a job!” Just like that.

Tens of thousands of newspaper folks have heard the same line in just the past few years thanks to that new kind of “press” – the Internet. Just as Gutenberg’s innovation wiped out publishing as it had been known for centuries, the internet is convulsing the industry today. (Not to mention what has happened to the United States Post Office).

It’s painful, but change is inevitable. When Gutenberg’s financier, Johann Fust, took his first load of printed Bible’s to sell in Paris, he was run out of town by local booksellers and the scribe guilds because they said no man could possibly have that many books without the “help of the devil himself.” But the scribes probably also realized that their profession was doomed thanks to Gutenberg’s and Fust’s fancy new invention.

By the same token, newspaper professionals today are decrying the “unfair competition” from online news providers, many of them who are giving away news for free – and not only that – they are largely swiping it from the traditional media in the first place. Consider Huffington Post, for example. It is what is called an aggregate news disseminator, meaning it is scanning all media everywhere, pulling a quote and providing a link back to the originator of the news. This is great for HuffPo because they don’t have to pay any reporters or writers to do all the hard work. It gets its web site stuffed with everyone else’s news for free, yet they profit by selling advertising, keeping the cash for a product that basically somebody else created for them. HuffPo claims they are doing those whom they “borrow” from a favor because they are driving traffic back to their sites.

Sites like HuffPo also have armies of slave labor – what they call “citizen journalists” who are eager to work for free in exchange for “exposure” – even if that exposure probably will never translate into any cash for the writer, now or ever.

But, you know what? That’s change. In change there is both opportunity and danger, pain and growth. There will also be winners and losers – and probably a lot more losers at first, and for some time to come.

Just like the printing revolution of the mid-1400s, there is no going back. The invention of the printing press is among the most significant events in all of human history, perhaps second only to the invention of writing itself, and the invention of agriculture. Yes, it was that significant. And today, the emergence of the Internet is on par with that! Believe it. The switch from a print dominated media to an Internet (and broadcast) media is equally as paradigm shattering as was the printing press.

Jarvis has also compared Johann Gutenberg to guys like Steve Jobs of Apple, Elon Musk of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, and others. The comparison is apt and striking, both in broad scope and in the details of how Gutenberg conducted his business. He wasn’t just an inventor — he was an entrepreneur — and more so of the latter than the former.

I could go on — but, well, I’ve already digressed enough for what is supposed to be a simple review. This short (about 6,000 words and 20-minute read) is probably worth the 99 cents. It serves as a jumping off point for discussion of an issue that is endlessly complex and but frightfully meaningful for all of us today.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

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Free ebook: Ingo Swann’s “Penetration” is a delightful, tantalizing read that conspiracy buffs and fans of remote viewing will find fascinating


I can’t remember a recent time when I was as delighted as I was when reading Chapter 2 of INGO SWANN’S often intelligent but mostly loony and squirrelly self-published book, PENETRATION. (GET THE FREE EBOOK HERE)

Swann is probably world famous for being “the father of remote viewing,” a method once adopted by the CIA as part of its deep black project to create a team of psychic spies during the Cold War.

Swann’s journey into the world of the bizarre began when he volunteered in 1971 to be a human guinea pig for an ESP research project at the Stanford Research Institute. He expected to be “used and tossed aside” after just a few weeks of being tested for telepathic ability. But apparently Swann displayed some genuine PSI moxy, and so was launched into a life-long journey that drew him into the frightening, clandestine world of CIA operatives, UFO research, conspiracy theories, and more.

Let me just say that the vast majority of this book is absolute baloney, specifically the many pages Swann uses to discuss his theory about a hidden agenda to keep the general public ignorant of alien activity on the moon, and his belief that the moon actually is a world with free-standing water, vegetation and a significant atmosphere. This is such unsupportable nonsense I am going to pass over it completely in this review.

Chapter 2 is what I want to talk about because it is not only amazing fun, but also strangely tantalizing and intriguing. Here Swann tells the tale of a time we was contacted by a “highly-placed functionary in Washington D.C.” who told him to expect a phone call from a mysterious individual. Swann was to “do whatever he asked, and to ask no questions.” Although he was nervous and fearful, Swann agreed to take the man’s call.

But the call didn’t come until four weeks later – and it came at three in the morning, jolting Swann out of his sleep. Then a series of events followed that could be taken straight from a Hollywood spy movie: Swann was ordered to go to the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. He was met there by two contacts who whisked him away in a car, put a hood over his head, flew him by helicopter to an unknown location, where he entered a building with an elevator that took him deep underground (or so it seemed to him).

In a small room in this underground base, Swann is then asked to use his remote viewing skills to probe certain coordinates on Earth’s moon. Swann is stunned when his psionic mind perceptions reveal to him a robust alien operation of some sort on the moon, complete with large building structures and humanoid aliens who appear to be engaged in a mining operation.

What’s odd is that the spies seem to already know about the alien moon base. The spooks pay Swann $1,000 a day, and after two or three days, send him home with dire warning to say absolutely nothing of the whole adventure for 10 years.


Did it really happen? Famous skeptic and debunkers, such as James Randi and others, have called Swann “the cleverest of the clever” when it comes to faking paranormal abilities. But the skeptics also tend to be close-minded to a fault. For me, reading Swann’s account of his encounters with the “spookiest spooks” has a tantalizing ring of truth – and yet – it is extremely difficult for me to ignore what clearly seems to be a homoerotic fantasy.


* The title of this book is “Penetration.” Any Freudian worth his salt would have a field day with the sexually charged and suggestive nature of this word.

* The “handlers” who meet Swann at the Washington museum are two men who appear to be twins and who are extremely handsome. Swann describes them as looking like “fashion models” and also as “tallish,” and “hunky.” He said they had “burning green eyes.”

* Later when at the underground base, Swann is allowed some R&R time between his remote viewing work — and lo! — he gets to spend this time in a gym and pool with his two hunky body guards.

* During his work out with the gorgeous twins, Swann notes that when they take their shirts off they are, in his words, “built like brick shit houses.” He also says he “could not help but notice” the bulges in their shorts which reveal that one of the twins was more well-endowed than the other, making him muse that perhaps they were not twins after all.

* Then, back at his remote viewing work, Swann is able to receive psionic visions of humanoid aliens working on the moon. And guess what? Well, by golly, they just happen to be not only “all males” but all males that are naked! Or as Ingo described them – “they were butt naked.”

* I should also mention that when Swann was waiting to be picked up at the museum in Washington, he was keen to view some large specimens of minerals and crystals on display there, one of which was “three feet long” and “egg-sized precious gems” the like of which he says had “turned him on for years.”

Now the question for those of you who may know anything about Ingo Swann is this: Is he gay? Yes, it seems that Mr. Swann is gay – at the very least, that’s how many others have described him after meeting him or when discussing his adventures.

So here we have a perfectly nice, obviously highly intelligent guy, who happens to have tested well in ESP ability by top scientists at Stanford, who happens to be gay, who has an amazing story to tell about interaction with agents of the supreme deep cover variety – yet, the scenario is replete with homoerotic elements.

What does it all mean? Hmmmmmm. Who knows.

The tone of the other chapters changes abruptly when Swann discusses his moon theories, and when he offers his examination of how the human race seems easily prone to be manipulated en masse because of a persistent “mob mentality” and what he calls the “phase-locking” of the public consciousness into preconceived notions about reality. This latter discussion has great merit and it proves to me that Swann is, if not an advanced thinker, a person who thinks outside the box and in creative ways that few others can.

Penetration was rejected by every publisher Swann submitted it to – which he blames on a conspiracy of some elite hierarchy to suppress the kinds of things he is talking about. Okay – whatever – but despite the conspiratorial paranoia which underlies everything he writes, this book is more than worth a read – it’s a pure bat-nutty delight.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH


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The Old Soul by Joseph Wutrenbaugh Is a Challenging Kindle Single Short Story With a Unique Take On Reincarnation


This is a skillful piece of short fiction written in an effortless style, even though the author envisions the complex and agonizing journey of a certain biochemical molecule through a process of death to rebirth.

Imagine a short story in which the viewpoint character is a biochemical molecule!

Well, that’s what this author did, and the result for most readers will be a compelling page-turner they’ll gobble up in less than an hour of leisurely reading.

One of the things I like about THE OLD SOUL is that it defies genre. I can’t decide: Is this science fiction, New Age spirituality or perhaps the ancient Vedic concept of reincarnation re-framed with the viewpoint of a modern-day molecular biologist? But that’s a side issue. It doesn’t really matter because this is a work that stands on its own, and for what it is.

While I found this an entertaining, insightful and provocative read, I dare say it will not be everyone’s cup of tea, or I should say, not everyone’s bowl of biochemical soup. Our heroic biological molecule will do battle with myxoviruses, rhinoviruses and icornaviruses -make a thrilling escape down the microbiological food chain – only to face absorption by a marauding entamoeba hystolica – which it cleverly outsmarts by blending unobtrusively into the amoeba’s cytoplasm! And it’s just getting started!

How about that!

A minor mystery for me is the identity of the author, which is listed as Joseph Wurtenbaugh. The copyright is under the name of Frank Dudley Berry, Jr. – and at the end, the author encourages us to check out his (her?) book, “Thursday’s Child” which is published as Josephine Wurtenbaugh.

Again, this is a side issue of little consequence. Whether it’s by Frank, Joseph or Josephine, this is a fine piece of literature.