Monday, December 22, 2014

REVIEW: "Once Upon a Time in America" by Michael J. Bowler (Tribute Books)

I beg everyone's pardon that this post is 10ish days late.  Normally I'm not behind my schedule at all - life has been chaos lately and I got behind (moving, changing jobs, my boy being in chemotherapy for leukemia).  No excuses, but reasons.  To all of those waiting on a review from me - I promise that I haven't's just taking me awhile right now.


With Lance leading the way, the Knights of the Round Table have set out to convince the American people that amending the Constitution to protect children is right and just and long overdue. As the team travels from state to state, they are met with acceptance, indifference, and even hostility. But Lance’s popularity and mystique as The Boy Who Came Back, coupled with his innate charm, gradually sway more and more of the populace, not to mention state legislators, to their cause.

The journey becomes a rite of passage that propels the young people into adulthood, and solidifies Lance’s status as an iconic and influential figure.

But he’s uneasy. He knows Arthur is hiding something from him, something that will bring him great sadness. After "The Excalibur Incident" in Las Vegas, Lance becomes more and more certain that the future is one he won’t like, despite his stunning success at winning over some of the most intractable states.

Then comes the attack, sudden and brutal.

Now the Round Table is in disarray, and Lance must confront a cold-blooded killer who’s luring him into an obvious trap. But if he refuses the challenge, more loved ones will die, and everything he’s fought for will die with them. Surrounded by the diverse young knights who have become his family, Lance sets out to battle his enemy with the knowledge deep in his heart that only one of them will survive. Is this the end of the Round Table?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michael J. Bowler
Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of seven novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards),Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, and Once Upon A Time In America.

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed he and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He is currently at work on a horror/suspense novel based on his screenplay, “Healer.”


I've heard several adults within the past year declare that the youth of America are spoiling for a fight, a revolution within their own generation.  We are seeing glimpses of this desire and passion for a revolution in the news as of late (#blacklivesmatter), but what will it take to ignite youth to pursue their cause?  What will it take to get adults to pay attention?

There are few authors whom I'm a fan of that I could list by name.  Michael Bowler has made that list.  Once Upon a Time in America is the perfect conclusion to a riveting, heart-pounding adventure that brought one street kid on the ride of his life.  Lance here has made it - he's overcome momentous obstacles and is bringing the Children's Bill of Rights to the public and government, making it clear that he won't take no for an answer so long as there are children being treated like property by the very government that claims to tend them.  But will the CBOR be his undoing....and the undoing of the Round Table that he and King Arthur have worked so hard to establish?  Bowler has here created a masterpiece of literature that will thrill, humble, and motivate any reader to work for justice for those least of these in our society - the nation's "optional" children.  One cannot help but be grabbed by the superb, approachable style in which Bowler has crafted this work...nor can one help but keep reading long after the lights should have been turned off.  Minus a few issues with repetitiveness that made me shake my head a tad, this book is absolutely wonderful.  

On an ascending scale of 1 to 5, I give this book a 5.

The Good
Every so often a book comes along that grabs my attention and holds it long after the pages have finished turning.  A story is so compelling that I mull over it for a long time, examining implications and applications to life.  Isn't that what literature is about?  Okay, so that question could spark volumes of debate, but this fact remains - Once Upon a Time in America is such a book/story and is the perfect conclusion to the saga following Lance and King Arthur as they work for equality and justice for America's children.

As I've stated in previous reviews of the prequels to this work ("Children of the Knight" series), there is not much more that I could say about this book to paint it in a more positive light.  That is not to say that there is nothing positive to say - it is to say that I think I've said most of it already.  

The writing is phenomenally well done.  It is approachable, flows extremely well, is entirely too engaging (I lost hours of sleep over this book), gripping, and absolutely appropriate to whatever scene is being portrayed.  Bowler includes just the right amount of detail to prevent readers from being confused about what is going on, but not so much detail as to cause readers' heads to swim and be bogged down.  It is funny, serious, melancholy, and jovial in all the right places.  Simply a delight to read. 

Not much character development occurs, but this book kind of assumes that you've read the previous four in the series.  C''s the 5th installment of a five book series - it kind of has the right to assume that you've read the prequels.  That said, characters' actions make sense for who Bowler has already established each person to be (well, except for a couple....but to explain would be a major spoiler and I'm not that mean).  

Settings, plot, timeline progression....everything makes sense and is done incredibly well.  Seriously - Bowler is a fantastic author!!

Anyone who reads these books and is not stirred in some way to stand up for this nation's children (or children anywhere, for that matter) simply does not have a heart.  I'd love to believe that many of the sad stories contained within these pages regarding the exploitation of children in various forms were purely the work of Bowler's imagination, but I know better.  I know better because Bowler's biography above contains ample evidence that he has seen some of these kinds of stories first-hand.  I know better because I've worked with those "optional" children in multiple capacities in my life, and have heard many similar stories show up in the lives of children I know.  I know better because I know how quickly adults forget what it is to be a child.

We need a revolution such as this.  Now, I don't think it would take on the kind of popularity that Lance and his crusade experience, but who knows.  Maybe with enough people backing the process, we could put forward amendments to the Constitution such as those Lance proposes.  Maybe the world could change.  Maybe, I don't know.  What I do know is that far too many people hear the kinds of horror stories that shape the lives of many of our children, shake their heads with a "that's too bad" or "those poor kids", and then go about their daily lives as if they could not change anything.  Bull****.  Apathy allows children to starve (emotionally, physically, etc) and be abused/exploited at a much higher rate than should be possible in our so-called developed nation. 

I better stop.  I share much of Bowler's passion to see justice for our kids, and I wish that we would see the kind of revolution described in these books.  Our kids need one.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
Despite my perfect rating of this book (and of practically the entire series), I do have a couple nitpicks:

  • There is so much contained here that this work itself could have easily been two entire books.  While everything here is part of the same story, there is just so much that it was hard for me to wrap my head around everything that was going on...and I kept waiting for something else major to happen during the last quarter of the book, after most of the stuff had reached a resolution.  It was kind of like when you watch a show and it seems like the story has reached its conclusion, but you know "that just can't be it" because there are ten minutes left and everyone knows that a lot can happen in ten minutes (especially "Walking Dead" fans).
  • Everyone being so lovey-dovey all of the time made even me, a die-hard romantic, cringe.  There are only so many "this person melted into a puddle of goo" moments I can take before reaching goo overload, and I reached it about half-way through here.  I get that the characters have intense feelings for one another, but fact was repeated in similar words far too often for my tastes.
Just go and read this series.  You won't walk away from it unchanged. 

1 comment:

  1. Nora, thanks for being a fan since day one! Your reviews of Michael's books are some of my absolute favorites :)