BOOK REVIEW, FICTION: Level Up: Level One: Headshot by Alexa Sommers


Level Up: Level One: Headshot by Alexa Sommers is not just the only triple colon-titled book I’ve ever read, but the first to include a mountain of geek-speak and impromptu sex. The main character is Dillon, an awkward virgin attending an Introduction to Game Theory class. Predictably this is what Dillon calls “a female free zone.” Or so he thought. He meets the thrill-spirited, sucker pop-color-haired Suzie and her nerd-sexy friends. 

Once Dillon constructs his own original role-playing board game, this seems to give him power with women, as if mastering a make-believe world has given him lordship over the real one. It’s double domination. Dillon’s story is every geeks’ dream. 

During a roundtable beta-testing of his game, two of Suzie’s friends individually corner Dillon and sex him down. Here Sommers is graphic but nothing shocking. The smut is actually light and handled tenderly. 

The novel comes to hang on Dillon’s dilemma. He must choose between the two girls he’s just enjoyed sequential sex with. It’s “Big Bang Theory,” except X-rated. It makes for a fun read, though the novel could’ve used a lot more environment. What does Dillon’s room look like? What posters does he have? What color are the carpet and drapes?



BOOK REVIEW, FICTION: A Good Demon is Hard to Find by Kate Moseman


By Lee Anderson

A Good Demon Is Hard to Find by Kate Moseman is a quick, light-hearted read of the funniest sort. Or at least as light-hearted and funny as a novel can be while involving a devastated divorced woman who’s visited by a demonic spirit. The demon offers to help her in any revenge plot she asks for. Naturally, she falls in love with him since the way to any woman’s heart is through satanic-level vengeance, especially where cheating husbands are concerned.

The novel is split into 3 parts. First, we get Erin, a sad, frail woman tormented by her husband’s betrayal. Mark has not only cheated on her but did so with Erin’s best friend. It’s every wife’s nightmare, and always made infinitely more miserable by a micro-managing mother. Erin’s salvation arrives in a throwaway church rhyme:“The Lord forsake you and the Devil take you.” She spits this at her ex-husband and apparently this happens to be the only words needed to summon a demon and have them under your command.     

Erin’s demon is named Andromalius, but you can call him “Andy.” He refers to himself as a “Great Earl of Hell,“ and appears to her as a metrosexual, handsome man in a red suit and bat wings. (Because having him appear as a loathsome monster would be a completely different novel.) Andy is demure and polite and eager-to-please. The only true evil to him is his talent for mischief. He also gives a great massage, though seems likely this would be second nature to any demon. 

Part 2, we follow Andy’s POV as he fights to escape banishment at the hands of Erin’s friend Raya who, of course, is a secret witch and quite a powerful one. The fourth character in the mix is Phoenix, another demon summoned by accident when Erin and Raya attempted to retrieve Andy. Phoenix is a sassier demon and serves as Andy’s conscious, though often he’s the id as well. 

Part 3, Andy and Erin inevitably develop feelings for one another. It’s a love made impossible by her being mortal, but—as we all know—at the root of every deepest love affair lies the forbidden.

It’s a sweet, sitcom-humor story, which manages to make the unholy feel adorable. Andy and Phoenix might be from Hell, but their hearts are from Heaven. There’s even a metaphor made between the women and their dogs, their canine characters matching those of their demons.’ Does this make a statement about our soulmates being pet-like in their ability to comfort us and relieve stress? Not sure if Moseman intended to dive as deep as that, but it does beg the mystery. Hell, her dog is even named “Nancy Drew,” so maybe.


Michael Bruner's New Single "Midst of a Mistake" was Written in the Midst of Personal Crisis





By Michael Bruner

Getting tendinitis was surely a setback, but it also proved to be a positive constraint, an evolution in my approach to music.

Instead of contorting my hand into a tense, fleshy spider, I did what felt best: Forcing my head and body to meet halfway. I kept writing. I finished the song “Midst of a Mistake,” inspired by a thieving taxi driver in China. I wanted to start producing this song, but I knew the audio production and editing would prove too strenuous to pull off single-handedly. 

Just a few weeks after returning from China, I received a message from Rodrigo Cotelo. I’d met him at the first installment of a house show I performed at (shortly after the onset of my tendinitis). He accompanied a handful of talented Jacob’s students who had backed me up on a set of my original songs. I knew Rod and I would click with each other from the moment I found him sitting at a table, pouring a gourd of yerba maté. Rod’s lively spirit, carefree attitude, and contagious grin made him an MVP for any house show. 

Rod felt inspired by the EP I’d put out in 2015, which I myself wince at now, often debating whether or not to shelve it away from sight. Rod offered to produce more of my original music. He aimed to get his feet wet in music production while also establishing his own independent record label. Late that summer, we spent a weekend going through my demos and deciding which would be best suited for us to produce together. One of them was “Don’t Mean Broken,” released last spring! The second song was “Midst of a Mistake.“ Rod and our friend Chris Parker arranged horn parts for this song. I was blown away. Rod also recruited a number of musical friends from Uruguay, his home country. I’m grateful to have such supportive, generous, and talented friends to help me in my creative pursuits, especially in times of “compromise.”

Looking back, it’s amazing to see where my music was and where it currently is. My tastes have changed and so have my abilities when it comes to writing and producing. It’s worth noting that with the music to come, there will be clear differences between the production style and the writing. While the people involved surely have a huge impact on the outcome of any recording, I believe change is inevitable. What you’ll hear in the recording is a snapshot in time, the circumstances through which the song was carved. (Personally, that’s what I love about going through an artist’s discography. I get to hear the changes take place from song-to-song, album-to-album, year to year.) 

If I could draw one theme from the past few years following my injury, it would be movement. 

Movement is life. 

After I was confirmed with wrist tendinitis, my primary care doctor told me to avoid doing what caused it. He gave me a bottle of anti-inflammatory pills. 

The idea was to avoid playing guitar, typing on a keyboard, working out, writing, or anything using my wrists. I managed to actually neglect my guitar for a long time. Every now and then, I’d pick it up to see if playing still hurt. It wasn’t a consistent pain, but I definitely felt my wrist becoming irritated after most small, repetitive movements. Unfortunately, I still had to write papers, complete online assignments, etc. It was Hell. I had to continuously ice my wrists throughout the entire day. I tried everything: resting as much as I could, doing lots of stretches, wearing a splint throughout the day and while asleep...

My hope was that it would eventually clear up after avoiding those injurious activities, but nope. My wrist became even more sensitive, more fragile. Looking back, I see now that I was developing a cautious mentality to everything my hands made contact with. Didn’t matter what it was. Of course, this cautiousness manifested into micro stresses, which exacerbated everything else. 

I finally dropped the “avoid at all costs” approach I’d been prescribed because it wasn’t doing shit. I sought out alternative methods of healing. 

Here are the 5 best I tried:

1. Diet: Started eating animal products again, and taking B12 and magnesium. 

2. Traditional Chinese herbal medicine: A bunch of crazy herbs boiled in water and applied to the area. I had this done during my trip to China. Miranda’s parents’ treat.

3. Occupational Therapy: This is the first thing which yielded results for me. I was amazed. I was also pissed I hadn’t done it sooner. Fun fact: They told me I should play guitar. It was important because my muscle tissues were being broken down and re-built according to what activities followed. 

4. Dry needle therapy: Had this done at the same place I had the OT, IU Sports, and Rehab Clinic. 

5. Acupuncture: Done by Ying Jia in Bloomington, IN. I think this helped, but it was a bit hard to tell since I was also taking other kinds of treatment at the time.

Having emerged from this winding path of recovery, I’m happy to now declare myself “pain free.” This does not mean I’ve gone back to how my life was before. I did make a number of small shifts in various aspects of my life. Changes in my daily routine: What I do and how I do it. My routine before and after playing an instrument, doing computer work, working out – AND what I do during those activities to avoid unnecessary repetitive tension. I have accumulated a large inventory of curated stretches, exercises, tools, and techniques for relieving tension and maintaining good wrist health – not to mention other vulnerable parts of my body! The ones that suffer under sedentary, repetitive work.

To hear the single "Midst of a Mistake," please click the image below: 





BOOK REVIEW, FICTION, The Fisherman by Debbie Shannon


By Lee Anderson

I grew up the son of a devoted Florida fisherman. I even had my first beer while floating in a small skiff boat in the Suwanee River, given to me by my father. I found the beer to be, by far, the most foul and rancid liquid to have ever passed my lips. (Ever tried Schlitz? Yuck!) Sadly, this was how I felt about the sport of fishing in general. It was foul, rancid, even cruel. Twisting a writhing earthworm around a hook or, worse, the full body lancing of a poor cricket was never an activity I cherished. I felt utter heartbreak at seeing any breed of fish (yes, even a shark) with a hook through its mouth, popping its tail as a way to try and regain freedom, their gills gasping from so much un-dissolved oxygen. My empathy level with animals was simply too high. This disappointed my father like nothing else between us ever, except for maybe that time he told me not to drive the car while he and Mom were away and instead he found the car with an empty gas tank and empty beer cans in the rear hatch. 

Daniel Constatin, the main character in Deborah Shannon’s novel The Fisherman shares this exact issue with his own father, a Basque fisherman from Saint-Pierre. Daniel and his father live with his mother there. St. Pierre meanwhile is a muddy fishing village in the North Atlantic. Shannon depicts the place as a smelly seaside hellhole, a place where even the misery is sloppy and leaves a slime on your hands. However, Daniel’s situation is dire. He detests fishing, except it’s what pays for the food on his family’s forks. He genuinely wants to help and be a source of pride to his father, but most fishing trips end with Daniel green and heaving and not making his father very proud at all. 

A chance encounter with a gang of rum-runners soon changes everything. Captain of the gang is a rough but affectionate Irishman named Seamus. He takes a fatherly shine to Daniel, offering him a job aboard his ship. Believing money might solve his problems, which include his father’s approval and needing a nest egg for a special girl he loves, Daniel dives at the opportunity to leave home. Everyone loves you and complications become simple when you have lots of money, no?

Seamus becomes Daniel’s father-at-sea, providing lots of exposition for Daniel, and the reader too. Daniel’s journey is a saltier, grimier Alice in Wonderland as he’s taken along through Seamus’ world. Daniel learns the hard way the rum-runner life is spiked with violence. If the Coast Guard doesn’t machine-gun their hull for refusing to stop, they must also worry about pirates whose sole vocation is stealing boats filled with contraband, then slaughtering the entire crew because of, you know, economics.

As the North Atlantic wind shoves at the sails of their ship, Daniel is also shoved along from one life-threatening experience to the next. During his first pirate attack, Daniel shoots and kills a man. He seems bothered initially, but the regret doesn’t linger. Life is now reduced to living or dying, and the narrowness of such a concern makes life easier to cope with somehow. Daniel forms a bond with Seamus and his crew, who are a quilt-work of mostly discarded losers. Though they can be difficult to tell apart at times, it might even Shannon’s point. In order for them to survive, they must work as one person. This belongingness attracts Daniel and he becomes an integral part of the crew rather easily.

Throughout, Shannon’s prose is lean enough to keep the story flowing but highlighted with enough poetic moments to prevent the reader from overlooking scenery. She writes: “Like so many dreamers that take to the sea, I stared out at the dimpled field of black and grey and at the swollen sun suspended above the pink horizon and was filled with hope. The air was thick with golden light. A gilded hour.” 

Also: “We rounded the western knuckle of Long Island, sailed into Lower Bay, and turned north. I had never seen such colors. Brilliant bursts of leafy red, orange, and yellow along the shoreline blazed under a deep blue sky.”

Of course, by the end, Daniel comes to realize that every journey returns home, whether he wishes his to or not. After running afoul of a notorious prohibition mobster, Daniel, Seamus, and what’s left of the crew must protect Daniel’s home front, a place where family matters most, but “friends” aren’t always who they seem. 

Daniel’s story is a sea odyssey with unpredictable turns culminating into a lost soul’s self-discovery. The Fisherman is definitely an entertaining historical drama for anyone who doesn’t mind getting dirty and wet while also learning about the shadow market once created by the banishment of alcohol. God, too bad they didn’t banish Schlitz.  

To purchase this book on Amazon, please click below:


INDEPENDENT SONG RELEASE: MemoCrasher, “Burn”


By Lee Anderson

One gander at their social media presence and it’s not hard to see what aesthetic the rock band MemoCrasher is aiming for. They’re an evening at the Satanic circus where mostly nude, Harlequin-style dominatrix chicks grin maniacally while juggling fire. 

The music video for their single “Burn” (below) starts with a top-hated, sinister ringleader informing us that we’re being presented with “a world of sex and violence where war rages as humanity peers over the precipice of doom where all blood is shed and no flowers bloom…” Love it already. While there’s always a place in the music world for the Justin Beibers and Taylor Swifts, we absolutely need bands like this to keep the evil in rock. (Part of being a well-adjusted person is accepting your dark side, no?)

Less than a minute into the video, the shock value is intense. Sitting at each five points of a burning pentagram are five evil figures from history. There’s Hitler with a burned face because, you know, he was burned after he shot himself. There’s a howling Vlad the Impaler with Caligula and two other guys, one with animal makeup and the powdered wig guy, but I’m not sure who they’re supposed to be. All them sit in high-backed chairs while enjoying a psychotic burlesque show in Hell. 

Providing the soundtrack is MemoCrasher’s hard thrusting metal, highlighted by Dave Andrew’s vocals, which are powerful but mixed in a way that thankfully doesn’t overshadow. Somewhere near the festivities, the band rocks out while the pentagram of fire burns beneath them. The band genuinely seems to perform with fire right there under their feet. 

The video is NSFW, though if your boss caught you watching this and didn’t mind and stood there while the video finished, you would know that’s one cool boss. If your boss were female, however, probably not as much. The video includes a lot of quick cuts to women bending over, providing nearly full display of their butts. We’re in Hell, so only makes sense the inhabitants would behave this way, but MOST definitely steer clear of this video if you're easily offended. 

The tune itself is classic metal. The Scorpions and Judas Priest, but with a much, much darker heart. Dave Andrew supplies the lightning-tap guitar solo over Hubert Malicki's accompanying guitar with Jarno’s driving bass and Maciej Lenartowicz’s exuberantly rapid drumming. 

The music video concludes with “The Damnstels” scorching each evil man with a flamethrower until they’re reduced to a flaming skeleton. Welcome to metal rock 2.0. The single "Burn" will be released on March 3rd. 

Check out the music video below:



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BOOK REVIEW, FICTION, Autumn Leaves by Stefan Vučak

by Lee Anderson

My favorite feature of Autumn Leaves is that it’s more or less three novels in one. The set up, confrontation, and resolution experienced by our main character, psychologist Dr. Duval Sinclair, feel like their own stories. Author Stefan Vučak makes this work because it keeps the novel unpredictable. Right when you think you know where events are taking you, you’re wrong. 

Dr. Sinclair has the perfect family, the perfect job, perfect everything. However, when life goes to Hell for him it does so thoroughly. His button-cute daughter is hit by a car and dies. This is just after he gets electrocuted on the golf course by lightning, the aftereffects leaving him with an eidetic memory, which is the ability to recall precise details of an object after seeing it only once and briefly. (Apparently 2%-15% of children can do this, but never adults, except in miraculous cases. It’s similar to photographic memory, only doesn’t last as long.) 

Sinclair also finds himself with the ability to see “auras,” emanations of light surrounding living things, the colors of which get determined by a mood or emotion. As a psychologist, this superpower (of sorts) serves as an incredibly efficient tool. Having a visual indication of how his advice effects his patients provides path marks for how to proceed with treatment. It also does wonders for his empathy.

As a husband though, this power does him no good whatsoever, except to show him how bad he’s failing. Following the death of their daughter, Dr. Sinclair and his wife Lenora’s marriage disintegrates, shredded from the sudden, suffocating absence of their child. Lenora accuses Sinclair of not being distraught enough, of the being a cold, detached man of behavioral science rather an actual father. She also blames him for being there when their daughter was killed and not doing more to stop it. Sadly, Sinclair is never quite sure if he disagrees with her. 

The book’s second act finds Sinclair falling in love again, this time with a saucy, female lawyer named Aviana. They meet on a flight, same as he did with Lenora, the forcibly shared space of an airplane making for a life-changing chance encounter for him once again. This particular encounter is especially serendipitous as he and Aviana happen to be flying to the same place for the same reason: to work against each other on a court case. They strike up a conversation and sparks fly. Evidently, being able to see auras also makes for a great pick-up device. 

This is where the novel turns from quasi-urban fantasy into a crime story. A revenge-seeking maniac shoots Aviana as well as one of Dr. Sinclair’s work partners, though managing to only wound either of them somehow. Sinclair receives a few threatening emails and there’s suspense made over who this person could be. The good doctor has handled his share of police cases, which often result in prosecution. For this reason, a psychologist working with the police can find themselves with a number of enemies. So who is it? 

The last act sees the hammer of fate dropping heavily on Dr. Sinclair once more. Here the story becomes a tragic romance. His enhanced brain function has not come without its price. After being with someone who has already suffered a series of bad luck accidents, plus—y’know—getting shot, Aviana understandably struggles to maintain her affection for him. Once Sinclair overcomes this hurdle and wins her back, there awaits one more hurdle, except this one he can’t jump over. The ending is not a happy one. Or I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

Vučak’s writing is as eidetic as that of his protagonist. Like Sinclair, the author knows how to provide the right detail at the right time, or enough to fill scenes out with a third dimension. The reader spends their time with Dr. Sinclair and no one else. This can, in places, begin to feel tedious, especially when given the details of, say, the doctor’s current golf game. However, by the last act, these details—even when we glimpse Sinclair’s multi-layered political beliefs—provide a level of intimacy with him which makes the reader feel as though we are discovering his final bad news right there with him. In the same damn room. It’s riveting stuff.

While the last act feels rushed, this was likely a necessity. Any extended description of his tragic marriage to Aviana would have felt too saccharine and weepy. Still, the situation is so unique as to beg for at least a little more elaboration. Also, seismic events keep happening to Dr. Sinclair but not because of him. He can seem like an unwitting participant in his own life at times. His daughter dies, he’s struck by lightning, he gets his arm broken by a careless Uber biker…It all feels so random. How could one person have this much bad luck?

In fairness, this could be Vučak’s intention: to offer an artful presentation of the chaos of being alive. One day life is perfect, the next it’s destroyed. It can be rainbows and butterflies, just as easily as it can be dead children and mental illness. The difference between having either isn’t necessarily up to us. And there’s not a superpower on Earth to change that.        


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Stefan Vučak is an award-winning author of contemporary political drama and science fiction novels. He’s written eight Shadow Gods saga sci-fi novels, and seven contemporary political thrillers. Vučak started writing science fiction in college. In 2010, he decided to branch out into contemporary political thrillers. His novel Cry of Eagles won the coveted 2011 Readers’ Favorite silver medal, and All the Evils was the 2013 prestigious Eric Hoffer contest finalist and Readers’ Favorite silver medal winner. The thriller Strike for Honor won the gold medal.   

He applies an IT discipline to create realistic storylines for his books. He also spends time as an editor and book reviewer. Stefan Vučak lives in Melbourne, Australia. 

THE BEST 7 CONCERTS EVER...


by Lee Anderson

This article is in response to a Facebook Post, which asked anyone to comment with a list of their 5 favorite concerts. I listed 7 because I couldn’t help myself. While considering my response, an avalanche of memories just came over me, each show being so tightly connected to a certain “era” of my life. 

This is why music is the highest art. The cinema of the soul. Our lives feel more meaningful with a soundtrack attached, right? And enjoying that same music played live in the same space as thousands (or even dozens) of other people can be a rapturously cathartic experience. You’re joined, body and soul, into a mass agreement over your shared enjoyment of a particular band. So, yes, concerts can even be religious. 

(NOTE: I lived in Miami during the majority of my “rock concert age,” so you’ll notice that a lot of these shows were in South Florida. This is a good thing because, being at the bottom of the country, many performers must go a considerable distance out of their way to put on a show for South Florida. Couldn’t help but feel like we were always getting their best effort. That’s what we told ourselves anyway.)

1. Rolling Stones at the Miami Orange Bowl. Any band that could keep an audience that large on its feet for almost 3 hours deserves to be #1 on any listicle like this. Also, their set list wasn’t boilerplate like the No Filter set I saw at MetLife in Jersey. Who expected the psychedelic deep cut “2,000 Light Years from Home,” the stage buried in a fog, lit like an iridescent membrane? It surrounded Jagger’s lithe form as he moved in that slow dance, hand jive way that only he could make graceful. 

2. U2 at Miami Arena. Only the 2nd show ever on the ZooTV Tour. I’d never been to a concert where the audience was this loud. Every note made people shriek, even when U2 opened the show by playing Achtungh Baby! more or less in its entirety. The stage design featured random reception TV’s hanging from every rafter like some dystopian digital junkyard. So freakin’ wild. And, sorry, but Bono in his bug-glasses was the shit.

3. Porno for Pyros at Chili Peppers in Fort Lauderdale. I was never a big fan of this band and hadn’t even heard their new album, but this show felt ultra-intimate, as if we were just hanging in Perry Ferrell’s living room. And Perry seemed to have a much smoother relationship with the crowd. Unlike the time I saw Jane’s Addiction in Orlando where he insulted us and seemed bothered that we were all staring at him. 

Seems impossible for singers to hide a bad mood. Maybe this is why they sing?

4. The Goods at Squeeze in Fort Lauderdale. They performed Five Steps to Getting Signed front to back and encored with the fan favorites. These guys are good friends of mine and they really killed it that night. They killed it every night actually, but this show sticks out in my mind. They were just ON and I loved every second. They were The Beatles and The Who having a baby while also sounding like no one else. Mid-show, a wayfaring tourist even turned to me and said, “Wow, they’re really amazing, huh?”

5. Marilyn Manson at Chili Peppers. I know he’s become a celebrity parody of himself, but I remember when I first saw his flyers taped up around Miami’s used record stores. This was back when his band was called “The Spooky Kids.” Was hard to look at the guy and not think, “WTF?” I got dragged into going to this show, so wasn’t exactly sure what I was about to experience. Despite already notorious stage shows which routinely made the local music zines, I was still shocked. I’d never heard someone scream-sing like that. The bass player wore a dress and his face resembled something drawn by a demon-possessed 4-year old. Manson repeatedly encouraged us to spit at him. None of the band members had eyebrows. I barely missed having my skull caved in by some crowd surfer’s boot. The show genuinely scared the living hell out of me as rock-n-roll should sometimes and rarely does anymore.

6. The Cure at Miami Arena. They played long and loose and managed to hit just about every song I would’ve hoped for. A friend had somehow gotten us 3rd row seats. This would be my favorite concert, except I got accidentally kicked in the groin by someone fleeing security. He’d swung both feet over the row of chairs in front of us. Instead of landing on his feet though, his feet landed in my lap. It hurt. A lot. 

The only awesome part: when I was able to stand again, I made eye contact with Simon Gallup, The Cure’s bass player. I actually saw him wincing, having seen the whole incident and feeling it too. There was that glowing, frozen instant where the 4th wall was broken, and it was like – oh yeah, that’s right. They can see us too.   

7. Johnny Cash/Genesis – No, these acts were not on the same bill, though that would’ve been so epically awkward as to be legendary.

Johnny Cash performed in Lake City, Florida and was my first concert ever. Apparently, the Man in Black always made a point to play shows in smaller towns and venues. He was a Civil War buff, and our town was the site of a largely inconsequential Confederate victory. An annual reenactment was held in which grown men dressed up as Rebels and Yankees and pretended to shoot each other. Some of them pretended to be wounded or killed. The reenactment was very popular. 

Cash played in our community college’s gymnasium. He played “Ring of Fire” while a short movie projected onto a screen behind him. The film included the man himself playing pool against two shady, mustachioed outlaws and, after much suspense, Johnny Cash won the game by sinking the 8 ball. The packed gym applauded, overjoyed. Later, June Carter came out for a few songs. She’d been in the movie too as a worried bystander.  

I went to see Genesis with my Dad in Jacksonville. It was my first true ROCK concert and I’ve been hooked ever since. Dad was nice enough to take me since I had no one else to do so. He could be cool like that. 

Phil Collins showed himself to be a charming and genuinely hilarious showman. The light show resembled scenes from Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, crisp cones of colored light stabbing through fat banks of dry ice. I stood spellbound the entire show, then left and missed the entire encore because I wasn’t aware they existed. The band had left the stage and I thought that was that. I figured the arena audience was just slow to leave. Walking to the car, Dad said he enjoyed the concert but would’ve enjoyed it so much more if it weren’t so damn loud.



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