Fine Review: “Red Queen Check” by Elizabeth Horton-Newton [Short Story]

strategyVirtues of the short story told by an artful author

I’ve become extremely fond of the short story as a medium. Life is too busy, yet I enjoy a good read, so an enticing short story is a most satisfying treat. Being a fan of author, Elizabeth Horton-Newton—her two novels “The View from the Sixth Floor” and “Riddle” having provided hours of pleasure—I confidently chose her ‘Red Queen Check’ from the short story anthology, Crooked Tales. Glad I did.

The sheer glee in the author’s writing radiated from every paragraph. This doesn’t mean this is a cheerful, trivial read; in fact it is at times gritty. However, there is little doubt she wished for the reader to enjoy the delicious comeuppance she had in-store for the miserable sociopath (or, maybe psychopath) at the stories core. But, it is the recipe of the revenge fashioned that is most satisfying.

From the opening line, Horton-Newton teases the reader with sensual heat as she introduces the femme fatale. By the third paragraph we are repulsed by him, a contemptuous and possessive blowhard with deadly desires.  And so, in the best tradition of a fine short story the stage is set for a diabolical plot driven by an avenging heart.

Yet, despite the obvious pleasure in her writing there is little doubt that the author had earnest intent. Elizabeth Horton-Newton’s message is clear:  there is little use in society for those that abuse—no matter their power or position.

I applaud the writer’s craft exhibited by Horton-Newton; her ability to score such rich characters within such a satisfying story arc—and all this, with only 4,000 words used! No wonder I now find short stories so appealing…and hope for more from the artful Elizabeth Horton-Newton.

For more about CROOKED TALES short stories click here.

About Elizabeth Horton-Newton

elisabeth-horton-newtonElizabeth Horton-Newton was born and raised in New York City. She began writing when she was a child, writing stories for friends and family. In the 4th Grade at P.S. 151 in Manhattan, she wrote an essay about her dream job—she wanted to be an author. Elizabeth continued to write short stories over the following years as she raised a family. After attending Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY and East Tennessee State University, she worked in the social work field for thirteen years.

She currently lives in East Tennessee with her husband, author Neil Newton, and a collection of rescued dogs and cats. Her first book View From the Sixth Floor: An Oswald Tale was published in October 2014; a love story that revolves around the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963—and the ensuing conspiracy theories. This was followed in June 2015 with the release of Riddle, a romantic thriller about a Native American convicted of killing his high school girlfriend. Elizabeth’s third novel, a somewhat erotic romance of one woman’s journey through love, loss, and resolution, will be released in the fall of 2016.

This mother of 4, grandmother of 5, and great grandmother of a newly arrived boy, loves serial killers and all things horror. She has been this way since early childhood, much to her mother’s dismay. Fascinated by the inner workings of the criminal mind, an interest strongly influenced by her father, she allowed her imagination to run wild in her tale for this anthology. You are invited to pay Elizabeth a visit at Between the Beats and her author website here or connect via Facebook and Twitter: @redqueenliz

“Mark of the Hyena” by Mark Fine [CROOKED TALES short story]

Review by Elizabeth Horton-Newton the author of ‘View From the Sixth Floor: An Oswald Tale’ and ‘Riddle’

“Mark of the Hyena” by Mark Fine

When civilizations collide N!xau’s click ticks tsk tsk tricks a surprising vultured culture.

Author Mark Fine provides a unique short story with his offering of “Mark of the Hyena”. Presenting the tale with two perspectives; N!xau an African San Bushman native and Werner, a smug European professor who sets out to prove his allegation that the San Bushmen were a “trivial people” because they had no written record of their history or culture.

 

‘CROOKED TALES’ gathers the talent of 15 of the hottest authors around to thrill you with their visions of mayhem, in places exotic, bucolic, other-worldly, or simply sinister.
CROOKED TALES: Deception & Revenge in 15 Short Stories (Short Story Tales Book 2)

From Fine’s artful descriptions of the native language of clicks and clacks to Werner’s attitude of superiority, the author creates vibrant characters. In spite of the turmoil the tribe is experiencing N!xau and the Bushmen rescue Werner and transport him to their village in order to save him from certain death. The professor is ill prepared to survive in the unfamiliar wilderness he had foolishly attempted to explore. On the other hand N!xau, his wife K/ora, and his son !Xi are likewise unprepared for the true savagery of the egocentric European.

This is a compelling story that highlights the conflict between two diverse cultures, with the best of one meeting the worst of the other. Incredibly insightful it provides a harsh look at the attitudes of the pseudo intellectual professor when offered the kindness of the natives. Fine’s ability to see through the eyes of different cultures shines through in this well written story. The unexpected climax is rewarding and beautifully handled. Mark Fine remains one of my favourite authors.

CROOKED TALES IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

Ulla Hakanson I just loved Elizabeth Noreen Newton’s review of Mark Fine’s fascinating story “Mark of the Hyena,” one of my favourites in the short story collection “Crooked Tales. Another favourite of mine is Anita Kovacevic’s “Beneath,” a truly unique story of the battle of wills! This whole book is filled with well-written suspenseful gems. Love it!

Thanks to Between the Beats for this article, for more great literary themed stories and reviews click here.

Author: Mark Fine

Author Mark Fine was a record label chief for PolyGram. Variety magazine named him “Music Executive with 20/20 Vision”—good thing too as Fine is tone-deaf. His failed efforts to compose a song resulted in the critically acclaimed novel, “The Zebra Affaire.” As research for his writings (and opinions) Fine immigrated to America from South Africa, in an effort to better appreciate being a stranger in a strange land. Due to his African roots, he is a strong advocate for wildlife conservation and is an ardent #RhinoProtector. Readers may follow him at http://www.markfinebooks.com and http://www.facebook.com/ZebraAffaire.

FiNE REVIEW: “Unsevered” by Traci Sanders. An emotional, yet hopeful Love Story.

This book’s loving message is meaningful: that in the most unexpected way second chances are always possible.

An unconventional tile: “Unsevered”

51lfwjT9lNL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Let me first address the book title, “Unsevered”. An unconventional word that’s both awkward to say and discordant to hear. Why not, for example “Unbroken” or “Unbowed”? Curious, I had to read the book, and in doing so, I’m impressed how with a single word author Traci Sanders was able to capture the complexity of the human condition.

The antonym to “severed” suggests amputation.

Forgive me for being personal here, but I lost my wife to breast cancer, and the emotional tear of feelings was akin to “amputation”–not only the permanent loss of a loved one, but also the knowledge that the future life we had hoped to live together was forever destroyed.

This is what Jewel experienced when she lost her dear husband Harley to the unkindness of war. But Sanders use of “UNsevered” is a clear indication that there is always hope, and that loss need not mean “severed”.

A glimpse into the full life of a woman.

To this reader (taken from my distinctly male perspective) it was a forthright glimpse into a wife, lover, widow, friend, daughter, mother and bride.

In doing so I sensed the quiet of an anti-war song, the pang of a love letter, the grief of a widow, the camaraderie of a friend, the undying gratitude of a daughter, the selfless love of a new mother, and the wisdom and courage to fall in love, again.

Is there an enriching life after grief?

Though it is a universal experience it’s amazing how ill-equipped we are when it comes to grieving; and then moving forward beyond those bleak days. There is no formula. However, many of us are crippled by the notion that we are destined to have only one single “great love” in our lives. This prevents us from moving forward with optimism, and hope. And that, for me, is the significance of this love story; it is author Traci Sanders’ valiant message of hope.

It tells us to keep our hearts open for the unexpected (Yes, that’s another possible title for this book “Unexpected”) because in the cycle of life we do get do-overs.

“Unsevered” is well worth the read. Get it HERE from Amazon 🙂

FINE REVIEW: “Bride Without a Groom” by Amy Lynch ~ Great Fun & Highly Amusing

Bride Without a GroomBride Without a Groom by Amy Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Man, I loved this book! I chortled and giggled my way through all 300 odd pages. How could I not after floating in the head of one self-absorbed, dilettante named Rebecca on a mission to land herself a husband. As for the target of her ambitions, Barry the lawyer, well, he was simply outgunned. The poor man had to beat a hasty retreat to Bangkok, (or was it Hong Kong, or Taiwan?) in order to muster his defense against Rebecca’s ‘you have to marry me’ onslaught. In Barry’s absence there’s hope that Rebecca would see the light, which she attempts through a veil of self-indulgence, fried-foods and gin & tonics. But Rebecca isn’t alone in her quest as she has the unwavering support of her BFF, the wealthy Emer.

Every dastardly challenge is rewarded with a mani-pedi, spa retreat, body wax, spray-on tan, and another gin & tonic; in other words Rebecca’s world is deliciously superficial. And that’s the brilliance of author Lynch’s writing, because as a reader you still wish for Rebecca to get her man despite her obvious failings.

As for writing style, it’s so successful rendered in the first person, from Rebecca’s perspective, that I could not help but become fully engaged in her trials and tribulations. The dialog was sassy, snappy and spot on in a British/Irish kind of way (which I found thoroughly refreshing). I especially enjoyed it when Amy Lynch lifted the lid on the inner workings of Rebecca’s mind; I so enjoyed the ruminations and rationales made by this hopeful bride in her effort pursue her life’s single purpose–to get herself a husband. Poor Barry never had a chance! There is no doubt I’d be delighted to read Amy Lynch’s next book because of her ability to both charm and amuse me. A fun, fun read.

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FINE REVIEW: The China Pandemic by A.R. Shaw ~ A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller with a Humanist Heart

The China Pandemic (Graham's Resolution #1)The China Pandemic by A.R. Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I totally enjoyed it, surprisingly so, as I’m typically leery of post-apocalyptic material. It is the gratuitous nihilism of the genre that tends to numb me. However, with A.R. Shaw’s “The China Pandemic” the caricature of dystopian mayhem is displaced, instead the reader is treated to a well-developed humanist portrayal of individual and community survival despite awful odds. The sense of responsibility borne on the shoulders of the main protagonist Graham, is palpable. His cautious generosity, taking care of a motley crew of survivors at great personal risk–some being children, is admirable to witness. Seeing the personal growth of all the characters as the narrative unfolds is satisfying; they are at times pitiful, vulnerable and cruel, yet, at other times they are resourceful, compassionate and selfless. This all seems plausible to me considering the extraordinary pressures everyone was living under.

Adding to the tension of this well-written novel is the unseen presence of a well-organized compound of Preppers. The addition of this group leads to further intriguing plot lines; and raises questions about the amazing lengths ordinary men and women are prepared to go in order to survive. Appropriately, the reader is consciously aware that all the resources of civil society have been eviscerated by the pandemic, and that the threat of anarchy, lawlessness and death remains a constant in every chapter. For instance, any chance meeting with a stranger may well have dire consequences, whether it be contagion, assault, abduction or even execution. Then there is the change in the social order; a segregation between the Carriers (those immune, but carrying the virus) and the Preppers who are understandably struggling to remain disease free. I found this to be immensely provocative…and emotionally powerful.

I’m looking forward to reading A.R. Shaw’s next book in the Graham’s Resolution series now that my misgivings of the genre have been so effectively allayed.

Review by Mark Fine of THE ZEBRA AFFAIRE: An Apartheid Love Story

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FINE REVIEW: “Chasing Pharaohs” by C.M.T. Stibbe ~ Ancient Egypt meets Game of Thrones blissfully written

Chasing PharaohsChasing Pharaohs by C.M.T. Stibbe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Ancient Dynastic Egypt meets Game of Thrones was my delighted sense of Chasing Pharaohs as I ventured into a vivid world of scandal, incest, corruption, mayhem, power and sensual intrigue.

Add to this seductive mixture ancient lore, otherworldly creatures–and brilliant research; and my senses were further tantalized by both the rich tale read and knowledge of ancient Egypt gained.

Claire StibbeAuthor C.M.T. Stibbe writes blissfully which gave further credence to both the story and the times she unveils in her lavish story. Similar to an elegant foreign film it took several pages for this reader to get used to “the period accents” but once in the groove it became immensely readable; and in the end the book’s distinctive “voice” contributed mightily to my complete immersion within it.

In reflection I wish history would be taught in college and schools with historical fiction works such as “Chasing Pharaohs” as an adjunct to traditional fare. I have no doubt through books such as Ms.Stibbe’s 18th Dynasty Egypt would come better alive—as it did in mine, in the students’ imagination. As an historical fiction novel this book made an indelible impression on me, and I look forward to reading the sequel.

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FINE REVIEW: In Search of the Next POTUS (President of the United States): One Woman’s Quest to Fix Washington, a True Story

In Search of the Next POTUS (President of the United States): One Woman's Quest to Fix Washington, a True StoryIn Search of the Next POTUS (President of the United States): One Woman’s Quest to Fix Washington, a True Story by Judy Frankel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alas, in the United States we now have an electorate easily distracted by glittering celebrity. Drawn easily to the trivial and seduced by nonsense, typical voters are more engaged in Bieber’s latest shenanigans (in reality these have no impact on their lives) than focus on the important stuff that in reality do profoundly impact the quality of our daily lives; specifically the rampant gerrymandering and corruption in the halls of government. But there’s nothing typical about author and master gardener Judy Frankel. As an activist (especially related to food issues) as she has selflessly manned the barricades (as so acutely documented and captured in this book’s subtitle, ‘One Woman’s Quest to Fix Washington”). Indeed she has championed our collective interests, while the rest of us have ignored her warning, complacent in the belief that the truth is best found on Entertainment Tonight and The View.

Witnessing Ms. Frankel’s political journey in the pages of POTUS, and the unremitting struggle and disappointments she faced along the way, concerns me. Clearly as a collective we are not prepared to extend ourselves personally, to make the effort to dig through the clutter in pursuit of forthright answers; and then do something about it.

By the way, Ms. Frankel does her best to avoid the customary tropes of attributing all ideological wisdom and political purity to solely one side of the debate, and is happy to point her earth-stained fingers (remember she is a master gardener) at all those that have dirtied their hands. The cast of villains is considerable: big business, unions, lobbyists, special interest groups, and both parties, the merry men and women inhabiting the house, and even the White House that persists in shoveling fetid fertilizer into our naïve faces. Just that we’ve all been so distracted that we haven’t noticed nor really cared. But that’s the thing, Ms. Frankel does care and should be revered for her Quixotic crusade, which would become considerably less speculative if more folks read this fascinating book—and chose to become engaged in the process to preserve our nation at the ballot box, on the basis of being truly well-informed.

I’m not claiming Ms. Frankel has all the correct solutions (though I take her view on food-related issues very seriously) but I’m thrilled to say in this book I’ve found evidence of “intelligent life,” someone not distracted by glitter, and with a demonstrative track record of being engaged up to her elbows on the earnest matters that affect ourselves and the future of our children.

I cannot deny this is a complex process, the vision Ms. Frankel has outlined, but I found it to be a compelling read. The author’s ability to take so many moving parts–all of them complicated–and reduce them down in a cogent fashion is mighty impressive. The fact she shares her personal story so frankly, makes this book so much more of an entertaining, human story. With 2016 just around the corner, I recommend “In Search of the Next POTUS” as both a timely and important read.

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FINE REVIEW: “THE LAST LION: Defender of the Realm” by William Manchester & Paul Reid. Hazard of Writing in the Footsteps of A Master

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (The Last Lion, #3)The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William R. Manchester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The great biographer William Manchester had the ability to transport the reader back to a period of history with the lust and vigor of great fiction. Unfortunately, due to Manchester’s untimely death–and despite his already in-depth research on Churchill, in the hands of journalist Paul Reid this third volume of “The Last Lion” is merely dry and factual. I’ve never been overwhelmed by the size of large tomes, but this book has been difficult to navigate due to the fact that it seems to be “just about the facts” and fails to bring these larger than life characters that dominated the WWII stage back to life.

I still give it four stars because these same facts are meticulously documented, and for the sake of history this facet of a most momentous task—documenting Winston Churchill’s war years was well accomplished. Alas, the presentation is sterile and uninspired–unlike the two previous volumes in the trilogy.

To be fair there was but one William Manchester. And it is only fair to acknowledge that Paul Reid had an unenviable task trying to write in the footsteps of a great master; this he failed to do with the élan and grace of Manchester, but in the end I would rather have read this less-than-stellar book than had no Volume 3 at all. Finally, to have had Churchill’s war years neglected due to the mortality of a great author would have been a sad loss; my gratitude to Paul Reid for leaping into the breach and endeavoring to do his best to set the record straight.

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FINE REVIEW: “THE OLYMPUS PROJECT” by Ted Tayler ~ A Thrilling Read of Espionage and Vigilantism.

The Olympus Project (The Phoenix, #1)The Olympus Project by Ted Tayler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Ted Tayler is generous to his readers with dynamic characters and intricate plots. Redemption alone is a powerful force to shape a compelling story. But author Ted Tayler is generous to his reader, and adds a substantial dose of vigilantism, a lead character drowning in past vices, and a privately-funded secretive spy / counter terrorism group to the already charged mix. Cleverly he avoids a cast of mere caricatures, but devotes a chapter each, to fleshing out the motivations and scars of the principal characters driving the Olympus Project (we get to know their real names, but Colin Bailey will only know them by their pseudonyms….a nice touch).

Bailey comes to the task well skilled in eliminating people, but under the direction of his new masters his nihilistic instincts are more productively applied; disposing in creative ways those in positions of power that prey on the weak. And then the sub rosa efforts to provide crucial intelligence and counter terrorism support to Great Britain’s official security apparatus (without them knowing about it!). Needless to say creative solutions are required, and this makes “The Olympus Project” immensely more intriguing than conventional spy/vigilante faire.

But these well laid plans may be in jeopardy due to the temptations of a sensual but troubled female, which brings a new level of spice to an already boiling pot. So I look forward to reading next “Gold, Silver, and Bombs”– author Ted Tayler’s sequel in his Colin Bailey “The Phoenix Series.”

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FINE REVIEW: “A Fine Balance” by Robyn Cain ~ It’s a fine read :)

A Fine BalanceA Fine Balance by Robyn Cain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bald-headed psychopath returns to his neighborhood and the body count rises. He’s the nebulous face, the deadliest kind, of corporate espionage. An equal opportunity killer, incapable of remorse, uncaring whether his victims are family or foe. The opening sequence is startlingly dramatic as we witness the callous actions of this despicable individual. The scene is now set to unravel the full extent of this multi-layered plot.

Enter Jenny; clearly a beautiful and intelligent woman. She is also a revered employee at the company. Yet, rather than live a complete independent life, she merely exists; living a less than privileged life. Jenny’s circumstances add to the growing mystery. We then meet Matt who is travelling incognito, being the millionaire investigating those responsible for harming his company. Matt is a sudden and unwelcome guest in Jenny’s modest residence in order to best maintain his cover. With him impinging on her space, well, needless to say the sparks fly; first the feisty repartee, then the questioning passion.

However, at its heart this is a novel about family and the blood bond that binds–the best that family represents: love, selflessness, sacrifice, loyalty, tradition–and the worst: hatred, corruption, manipulation, betrayal and greed. A fine read. I’m certainly looking forward to reading more of Robyn Cain’s writings.

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