Book Reviews by C.B Smith
Book Reviews
by C.B Smith
As book reviewer for Mad Hatters' Review, I search trade publications and Internet sources looking for the new and notable independent publishing houses, understanding from experience that the most fascinating, challenging, and distinctive voices emanate from these quarters. It is these voices we wish to assist in bringing to international attention in our own small way.

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The Last Stage by Jim Cherry Walden by Michael T. Dolan A Bit Of A Marriage by Karina Mellinger Institutionalized by Fred Smith & Joe Schmoe The Book of Portraiture by Steve Tomasula

The Last Stage
by Jim Cherry

It was 1967 when rock ‘n’ roll, deep in the throes of growing pains, issued from the swirl of pandemonium The Doors, with dark angel Jim Morrison center-stage. Jim Morrison was like none other; a poet, a showman, a dark visionary, a wild exhibitionist who acknowledged no bounds in his efforts to shame and annihilate the reigning social mores. In his own way he was the first Punk Rock icon, a man well ahead of his time. His antics both behind and in front of the scenes garnered him an enduring legend that endures to the present day, planting him firmly into rock n' roll history with his unchallenged title of Lizard King. What could not have been predicted was a lingering fascination that in the 21st century brought forth a flurry of Doors tribute bands, each competing for the right to fill his shoes. This is where we meet author, Jim Cherry, who offers his take on the Doors tribute band phenomena with the title The Last Stage. Yet this is not an exposé on the tribute band phenomena or a droll scholarly study of any kind; it is a well woven fictional tale of one particular tribute band with an unknown singer, Michael Knight, as its front man.

Let us make the acquaintance of the central character Michael Knight. He wants something. Something grand, something astounding, something that would capture the attention and imagination of the world and catapult him to superstardom. There is only one obstacle: he has no earthly idea what form that something may take. Enter the dawn of motive meets opportunity when he decides to capitalize on his long understood resemblance to Jim Morrison of The Doors. But again an obstacle willingly tosses itself into his path; he neither plays an instrument nor has any singing ability that he is aware of. It would seem the dream stops there, but no. Employing the Klingon philosophy, "If something gets in your way knock it over" he proceeds to do just that as he plows ahead into uncharted territory. As a first order of business he must eject Deidre, his cloying girlfriend as he knows he will surely meet someone more fitting to his idiom on his rise to stardom. Next he undertakes to find himself a preexisting band, talk them into becoming a Doors tribute band with him in the lead, and form fit himself into their numbers.

Oh it seems so easy and possible and only so in the world of fiction where the world created bends to the author's whims. Yet despite this mark against it, The Last Stage comes off rather well. We see the earnest beginnings, the tentative immediate successes, the crashing failures, in all the sum total of expected results. As Michael Knight watches his ego rise into high flung heaven the paradise around him and his band mates begins to unravel tearing them to the roots.

I will not go any further into the particulars of this novel but to say that if you happen to agree with the viewpoint of former Black Flag front man Henry Rollins, “One of the lowest forms of life on earth is the tribute band,” then perhaps this novel is not your cup of tea.

If on the other hand you are not averse to the nostalgic allure of the tribute band, are enamored of the Doors, would like to know more about the behind the scenes and otherwise antics of Jim Morrison, or wonder what a tribute band might endure on their journey, then this is the book for you. And while you’re at it, pop a Doors CD into the player.


About the Author
Jim Cherry lives in the southern suburbs of Chicago and will shortly be working on his next novel. Check up on his forthcoming projects at his website.

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by Michael T. Dolan

For a young boy, growing up surrounded and smothered by his father’s shadow is a Herculean feat that requires resolve to the extreme in order to transcend the mythical bonds imparted. Growing up in a shadow that begins with father and extends back through time to innumerable generations creates an impossibly hopeless situation with extrication from within unlikely. When all factors combine to encompass not only family name cum legacy cum massive community recognition one could say the obstacles surrounding such a boy are most unfortunate indeed. As we meet the protagonist of this tale at the moment of his birth, where he, “first crawled out from in between Motherís legs,” we encounter a child whose grief package was evidently deemed to be not enough. Born into a towering monolith of a family with the surname, Walden, our unwilling hero is bequeathed the name Walden, first name Walden, surname Walden, official name Walden XXIII or minus the birthright tag: Walden Walden. Egads! This boy has not so much inherited a name and heritage as a lifelong stint on the psychiatrist’s couch.

Yet despair not, the journey has only begun. Born the fifth child of a quintuplet birth and being the only male child of that lot brings him face forward into a world where the repeat taunts and pranks of his dear sisters—Maddy, Maureen, Michaela and Molly—make his a miserable and insecure world. All builds from here in building block fashion culminating in a Fourth of July family gathering that becomes for young Walden his defining moment of trauma. Laying out the tale’s events in this brief outline fashion makes this appear a gut wrenching tear rending crusher to equal a world class Soap Opera. But the tale unfolds in such a light tongue in cheek style that it makes the grief minimally invasive and not viscerally painful. So after this rickety beginning what torment can possibly lie in wait for young Walden? As Walden enters Walden College, a stranger to no professor or administrator, his legacy leads and follows him into the soul crushing world of academia. From here things take a decided roller coaster turn allowing Walden some much needed mischief making and mold breaking.

Walden is a coming of age tale like none preceding it. Told with a wit, style and panache of a born satirist, Dolan offers a tale neatly rolled and bundled in a gestalt of life’s manifold sorrows and joys. Best of all, the book can be read in one sitting leaving time to indulge in the nightly Soap Opera if one so desires. Visit the world of Walden in this marvelous story served up by Michael Dolan. It is a visit you will not regret.

Conversari House

About the Author
Michael T. Dolan is a freelance writer and author living in West Chester, PA. His work has appeared in publications throughout the country. Walden, his first novel, was published by Conversari House in 2006.

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A Bit Of A Marriage
by Karina Mellinger

When Laura and David were joined in holy matrimony 15 years ago, all seemed as clear as a spring day. But 15 years hence a lot has changed. Laura is confused, extremely confused. Not only is she by her own account the world's greatest undiscovered talent, she is married to a man who keeps her in fine fettle and upper middle-class luxuries. Of course she's miserable as any one can understand. This is the plight of our heroine.

How does one have everything that objectively could be had yet find at its core an unsatisfying drink of despair? Inattentive husband, screwball cleaner (housekeeper) Anouschka, psychotic demeaning mother Lydia, agents who ignore her artistic genius. Seems the entire world conspires to oppress and humiliate her. From this mélange of misery Laura construes an action plan: discover a reason to divorce husband!

It is from this takeoff point that the bullet train to Hades begins. Whether or not Laura succeeds in finding her divorce worthy reason, the reader can be certain of one thing: it will not be for want of trying. With keen wit and sardonic viewpoint sharply in hand Karina Mellinger offers an entertaining and imaginative behind the scenes glimpse of television’s Desperate Housewives in production. Being a blonde, Laura is well aware of the maxim blondes have more fun, yet she believes she was dreadfully unadvised and left at the station, thereby missing the last train to the blonde Promised Land.

Our heroine is undaunted. Operating from the premise “gentlemen prefer blondes,” she has for her displeasure landed herself a husband who's a gentleman with an overabundance of gentle, and a personality that when not downright soporific is torrentially tedious. When one considers the comedic way Laura selects a husband, her step by step strategy hilariously itemized as a land-a-mate shopping list, one is immediately struck by the cunning, single mindedness, and yes genius Laura is possessed of. Yet one must at the same time consider that finding a life mate is not a paint-by-numbers maneuver. Perhaps Laura has merely received the goods she has paid for, no frills attached.

However, despite the number of obstacles in her path to greatness, despite her overreaching solipsism, despite her explosions of anger for the simplest of transgressions, one cannot simply write her off as inconsequential, nor can one entirely despise her. Let's just say she's got that indefinable something.

So, in summation: A great trip down Memory of Misery lane with an odd yet oddly appealing conductor. Drop in to this title for a visit and find the confluence where Desperate Housewives and innovative authorship produce a novel of grand import.

Dedalus Books

About the Author
Karina Mellinger was born in London in 1959. After reading French and Italian at Oxford she worked in marketing in England and Italy. In 1995 she gave up work to bring her two sons up. She is currently doing an M.A. in Integrative Psychotherapy at The Institute for Arts in Therapy and Education.

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by Fred Smith & Joe Schmoe

There's never enough time, unless you're serving it. — Malcolm Forbes

After repeat visits to, it becomes apparent that the lingering message, “We apologize. Blood and Treasure is currently being overhauled,” speaks not to a temporary condition but a perpetual one. Over the course of three months as this reviewer visited the Blood and Treasure site he was greeted with the same inane apology.

One could easily surmise from this that the title Institutionalized, emanating from these quarters, is as well offline, off the hook, out of touch. But this would be a supposition based in no part on objectivity. Instead we discover that the authors, dual authorship the byline, spin this delightful satire of the corporate business empire that spears closer to the truth than most would dare consider. Shady characters, backdoor deals, dishonorable undertakings, nepotism, favoritism, sexism, idiotism, ism extraordinaire, this monolithic corporate pasquinade, Institutionalized, has all the earmarks of a Mafioso enterprise.

Yet there is within its pages human drama as well, moments where the sheer vulnerability and cupidity of humankind is displayed abundantly. Take for instance Corporate Psychotherapist Dr. Greta Veerman, who out of misplaced caring or first-rate business acumen attends to her clientele’s particularities as if they were johns, "Had this been a Tuesday, she would have been wearing slacks, sensible shoes, and a short, curly, salt and pepper wig because that’s how her Tuesday client liked her. Wednesdays, she was an outdoorsy brunette with pigtails and a Peruvian poncho. Thursdays, a sultry 1940s movie star, but this being Friday and her blandest client, she was dressed in a white nurse’s uniform, black stockings and high-heeled pumps, her long blond hair tied up neatly in a bun." We are supposed to ignore the fact that a large chrome steel pole occupies a discrete corner space in her office. Does it matter that she is exquisitely gorgeous and unattainable? Apparently not; titillation lurks in every recess.

But Dr. Greta Veerman is only a role player as it were; the players are another matter entirely. An inventory of Dramatis Personae reveals a chromatic crew of lumpkins if ever there was one: Bill Ogé, Harry Mucs, Tim Tar, Dick Koorc, Lance Kirevam. With just a cursory glance one can see that the surnames in reverse are thinly disguised personality trait indicators.

The authors are quick to trot out at the book’s onset the standard disclaimer for works of fiction, “All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” This we take at face value if we take it at all. Yet the characters within the covers of Institutionalized may indeed appear to resemble people one knows all too well, allegorical characters one might say, epitomical prototypes. A very accurate rendition is undeniably proffered. Here we find the ruthless mercenary, the egomaniacal executive, the avaricious rung climber, the office tramp.

If you work within the corporate empire, you live this tale; if you work without the corporate empire, bravo; if you stand apart in awe of its mysteries, you need this book. There is nothing more certain to demystify the imposing monster than pulling back the curtains to discover the feeble old man at the controls. To that end I dub this title The Emperor’s New Clothes of the 21st century. Get Institutionalized!

Blood & Treasure, Ltd.

About the Author
As scant information exists concerning the whereabouts and wherefores of the authors, we can only surmise they are out there somewhere planning their next literary assault on the slack jawed world.

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The Book of Portraiture
by Steve Tomasula

A desert nomad begins by creating Hieroglyphics and ideograms to express his thoughts and record history as he sees it unfolding. By this he hopes by posterity to instruct future generations. Yet, after meeting others who have been on the same path predating his own by some years, he realizes that his concept and agencies are after all not as original as they had at first seemed. We then race forward into Renaissance era Spain as artist Diego de Velasquez, attempting to overcome his lowly origins, gains favor with the king, thereby becoming the court artist and painter of nobility. In time though, he finds himself scrutinized by the Grand Inquisitor as his motives and pictorial choices are put to the dangerously narrow interpretative readings of the Inquisitional court.

The journey continues forward as we leave Diego de Velasquez, safely dismissed by the Inquisitors while we jump to circa 1917 America to meet an early twentieth-century psychoanalyst and his patient of note, Miss P., a name coined to protect her identity and that of her quite influential parentage. As the details of Ms. P's psychological yearnings and preoccupations unfold, it immediately becomes clear why such subterfuge is necessary.

But the presiding question already hinted at now becomes manifest: what is the point?

We have in the course of three lengthy chapters, a trifle past the halfway point of this title, advanced from life’s nomadic origins to royal painters, inquisitors and now psychosexually overwrought polite society females. Evidently the point seems to be not a matter of who but of what we see in ourselves that causes us to strive toward indelibly imprinting ourselves into whatever epoch we find ourselves so that posterity takes note when we are encountered in the ledgers of noteworthy history. Whether one is a scribe, a painter, a psychotherapist, or an epochally significant onanistic patient, once one makes one's mark, it remains to be viewed by all who so desire. Perhaps then the point is; be careful what you commit to lasting media.

Tomasula has indeed given the reader much to think about as he plays out five interlocking chapters across continents, centuries and aesthetic sensibilities, with the only constant being the incessant desire of individuals to matter, to leave their indelible mark.

Considering the fact that we live in an advanced age of media driven merit, the desire to make one's mark is especially poignant. Today, not much is necessary to achieve one’s fifteen minutes of fame as it were. Television alone offers numerous possibilities. Whether as a reality show contestant, a prime time sexual deviant, or a talk show confessionalist, opportunities are at an all time high for making one’s mark. Not to forget of course the endless opportunities for becoming the next sensationalist buffoon of the moment on the network news.

As for Steve Tomasula, he chooses to make his mark quietly watching others make theirs by more traditional means, while at the same time presenting us with a microcosm of our world, an amazingly unchanging entity despite the centuries of perpetual change that have been witnessed.

In short, The Book of Portraiture is a book of portraits of ourselves in various incarnations, confirming that what one sees in oneself one sees in the world…in perpetuity.

Fiction Collective 2

About the Author
Steve Tomasula is the author of VAS: An Opera in Flatland, published by the University of Chicago in 2003, and In and Oz, published by Ministry of Whimsy Press in 2004.

His short fiction and essays have appeared in Fiction International, McSweeney’s and The Iowa Review, which awarded him the Iowa Prize for the most distinguished work in any genre.

Tomasula earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1998, Sedlack is an assistant professor of art, art history and design. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame and his master of fine arts degree from Indiana University. His primary area of research interest is design for social betterment, and he has designed various print and multimedia projects, both locally and nationally.

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