Friday, August 29, 2008

Free Book Friday!

Title: Clean
Author: Ken Sweet
Genre: Literature, Contemporary, life, relationships, inspirational
Price: $14.99
ISBN: 978-1411696013
Point of Sale:

I picked this book up from Lulu in 2006 and subsequently reviewed it on Amazon. I thought I would post the review here and also offer my copy as a giveaway. Details appear at the end of this review.

The Blurb: Benjamin Whyte is about to set out on a grand quest. When his world begins to collapse around him, Ben recalls a vision he had as a child - a vision of cool water that can wash away the grime and filth accumulated over the course of a lifetime, a vision of a glowing light that can heal and make whole - a vision of CLEAN. He also remembers the shadowy stranger who barred his path. Leaving his former life behind him, Ben embarks on a journey to find CLEAN. Following the recommendation of a mysterious new friend, he purchases a plane ticket to Britain, where he travels through a land of ancient spirituality in search of his goal. CLEAN is a chronicle of this adventure; an adventure full of peril, romance, enlightenment, and ultimately, a confrontation with the dark man himself.

We have some typical plot devices in this story: childhood illness, visions during said illness, a tried and true status quo life, complete with bad marriage and less than fulfilling job. Yes, most of us can probably relate to all of that. But here is where the story takes a bit of a turn and begins to wax philosophic: Ben sets off to find a better life for himself, a fresh start, and begins with a trip to England in order to clear his head. Shortly after arriving, he suffers in a serious accident and his fresh start turns into an Arthurian Quest of sorts, a crusade for peace and harmony … and the Dark Knight standing in his way is all too real.

I reviewed this for Amazon when it first came out.

In the words of Socrates: "A life unexamined is not worth living." These profound words hold true for Ken Sweet's first novel ‘Clean’

It takes a great amount of courage to put one's life under the microscope, and an even greater amount of strength to accept the fact that what, in essence, is wrong with our lives is based entirely on the choices we do and do not make -- or to quote Mr. Sweet -- the doors we do and do not open. Ben Whyte has had this epiphany and with the help of his friends, has decided to do something about it -- make a change for the better -- open the door he fears most of all and become Clean. We all need to step back -- open that dark door and take a good long look at ourselves, a look stripped clear of life's glittery illusions. Ben shows us that we all have within us the courage and strength to do that. Bravo!

My critical comments are few. The books is engaging, the pace keeps the reader interested in the plotline, the characters are everyday believable in a semi-autobiographical sort of way, the editing is excellent, and the writing is contemporary in language and style, very easy to read and digest. There is a lot of beautifully described scenery, heavy on the mysticism with a smattering of symbolism – just like I like it. It’s also quite inspiring. The formatting could use a bit of polish though, and the cover wasn’t as eye catching as it could be, I thought the story deserved something with more impact considering the theme.


Giveaway details!
I am giving my copy of this book away. Comment on this post by Midnight, Sunday August 31st. A name will be drawn randomly and will be announced after the holiday on Tuesday the 2nd of September. If your name is announced as the winner, please email: podpeep at gmail dot com with your snail mail address. Good Luck!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In The Mail Today

Well, actually last night's mail, but I received Jeff Duntemann's new short story collection Souls In Silicon. It's a group of science fiction stories about artificial intelligences. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Get Free Books!

One of the good things about being a book reviewer is getting free books. One of the bad things about being a book reviewer is what to do with free books.

Well, here at POD People, we've come up with an idea - a book giveaway! Here's how it works - on the last Friday of the month, we'll post an announcement saying what we're giving away. You post a comment. We hold a random drawing, and the lucky commenter wins, then we'll mail it to you.

Cheryl Anne Gardner is sponsoring this month's drawing, and she's offering a copy of Ken Sweet's novel Clean.

So, come on back next Friday for your chance to win!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Coming Attractions

My apologies for not posting, but the day job proved to be more consuming then usual last week. Since I like consuming, especially food, I felt it only wise to attend to it.

I do have two coming attactions to talk about. First, I'm reading the manuscript version of Carol A. Buchanan's historical novel God's Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. It's quite interesting, set in Civil War Era Montana, where the nearest official settlement was hundreds of miles away.

Second, my friend Jeff Duntemann offered to send me a copy of his science fiction short story collection Souls In Silicon. Most of these works were published professionally in various SF magazines, but Jeff is releasing them as an anthology through his Copperwood Press imprint. So, be patient - more content is coming!

Edited to add: Jeff has just put up a link to Souls In Silicon.

Booksurge Bite Back for Obama--veinglory

Lefty political/sustainable living small press Chelsea Green had a book they needed to get into the hands of readers pronto. After all, a book about what Obama will do as president starts becoming stale as soon as he is president, and moot if it turns out he won't be.

So no doubt it seemed like a great idea to get copies out immediately, even before their traditional print run could hit the shelves. The decided to use Booksurge, meaning these advance POD copies can be bought only through Amazon.

The staff at Chelsea Green were apparently surprised to be bitten on the ass by 1) book stores who are losing those sales and 2) people who are sick of Amazon have yet another exclusive monopolistic deal even when it is only for the early copies.

In an open internet letter Margo Baldwin scolds us:

"I think a little perspective is in order ... Chelsea Green and the author, Robert Kuttner, are taking an enormous risk in publishing this book ... I know it’s de rigueur to consider Amazon enemy #1, but it just ain’t so ... It’s also important for booksellers to realize that the small publisher has just as monumental a task as the small bookstore ... Our intention is to create demand that will result in selling through all copies in the marketplace ... Of course if all of you cancel your orders it will mean that a really good and important book on Obama will be effectively boycotted ... As I have written before, the world is changing fast, but the book business seems wedded to very traditional ways of publishing and selling ... a book that is too timely and important to be left out of the national political conversation this fall."

Allow me to translate: you people are being hysterical ... [soundtrack of mournful violin music] ... your point of view is ignorant ... [more violins] ... we had no idea people would be upset ... you'll be sorry ... you are troglodytes ... [violins].

I think Chelsea Green needs to wake up and smell the democracy. Any publisher keeping up to date with just how the world is changing (including the Amazon POD monopoly game and current associated litigation) shouldn't even be surprised, let alone dismayed, let alone scolding us like naughty and delusional children with the old 'cut off your nose to spite you face' litany.

Did they consider, even for a moment, the problem is not with POD, but with the choice of a POD printer that is essentially 'in house' to Amazon? Did they wonder whether, if POD companies were Presidential candidates, Booksurge would be Obama?

It seems not.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Review of The Shenandoah Spy

Title: The Shenandoah Spy
Author: Francis Hamit
Price: $18.95
Genre: Historical fiction, US Civil War
ISBN: 978-1-50595-902-7
Point of Sale: Amazon / Publishers’ site

I became aware of Francis Hamit via his online discussions about publishing with the science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle. I’ve always had an interest in history, so I decided to take a chance on Hamit’s book The Shenandoah Spy. I’m truly glad I did.

Hamit’s book is a novel about a real person, Maria Isabella “Belle” Boyd. Seventeen when the war started, she was a Confederate sympathizer living in Martinsburg Virginia (now part of West Virginia). The historical record is somewhat hazy, but it’s known for a fact that Belle could ride and shoot, and was quite charming. She used these attributes to become a spy and scout for the Confederacy. Her most famous episode was a dash while under Union rifle fire to deliver a report to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. This report was critical to him winning a battle at the town of Front Royal, and earned her a commendation.

Writing about a Confederate hero risks being seen as a sympathizer to a very bad cause, but Hamit is quite clearly not a sympathizer. His novel highlights a number of the failures and moral flaws of the Confederacy, but avoids being preachy. Shenandoah Spy covers the period in Belle’s life from July 1861 to July 1862. During this period, referred to as the Valley Campaign by historians, Jackson with 17,000 men kept a Union force of some 60,000 occupied, preventing them from capturing the Shenandoah Valley (a prime breadbasket for the South) or attacking Richmond.

Belle in particular and the well-organized Confederate Secret Service in general kept Jackson informed of Union operations, and ran rings around the Union counterintelligence operation. Hamit tells this story in an entertaining fashion from several perspectives, including David Strother, an artist and cousin of Belle’s, who served as a Union army officer.

The novel is told in straight chronological order, which leads to a bit of a deliberate start, but the interesting bits come on soon enough. Hamit’s prose is clear and serviceable, rendering the various regional dialects in a clear and readable manner. In The Shenandoah Spy Hamit focuses quite a bit on the motivations of the characters, which he handles convincingly.

He also works these motivations into a discussion of why the South lost, and why they should have lost. For example, early on, Belle serves as a volunteer nurse in a hospital. Despite the clear and desperate need to keep wounded Confederate soldiers alive, this work is considered scandalous by Belle’s peers, who shun her while refusing to assist. The work is simply considered beneath a white woman’s dignity.

I found The Shenandoah Spy a delightful and fascinating book, and recommend it highly.


Chris Gerrib is a resident of Villa Park, IL and Director of Technology for a Chicago-area bank. Chris is the author of the science fiction novel The Mars Run. He holds degrees from the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University and is past president of the Rotary Club of Darien, IL.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Self Publishing vs. Commercial Publishing

I've been reading Francis Hamit's book The Shenandoah Spy, and I'm about half way through it. I found out about this book via Hamit's postings at other blogs, where he mentioned that it had been shopped to commercial publishers with little success. I don't claim to be an expert in the publishing industry, but I think I know why the book didn't get picked up.

The first chapter is slow. Now, please don't get me wrong - the book is both interesting and well-written, and I'm glad I bought it. But, Hamit started his story at the beginning of the war, and, well, not much happens the first chapter or so.

The book I read previous to Shenandoah Spy was Tanya Huff's military SF novel Heart of Valor. In this book, the central issue, a mystery, opened up in chapter 1, and things get off to a ripping fast start.

This is a new-ish phenomenon for commercial fiction. I've read books written as late as the 1970s, books billed as "action-packed," and they started more deliberately. Obviously, exceptions abound in either direction, but my point is this. Commercial publishers are looking for stuff they think will sell. One of the key factors they use to make that decision is how quickly one is pulled into the story.

Part of what got me thinking about this is that, as I was reading Shenandoah Spy, a scene came up where my inner editor said "this would be a great first chapter." But to use the scene as a first chapter would require telling part of the story as a flashback. Hamit apparently decided he didn't want to do that.

Like I said, Shenandoah Spy has so far been an enjoyable read. But as a writer, the book points out one of the advantages of self-publishing: the ability to ignore conventions of commercial fiction. This can lead to interesting things.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Review: Entrekin

Title: Entrekin
Author: Will Entrekin
Price: $12.79 or Free Download PDF
Genre: Literature: contemporary, eclectic, philosophical, short stories, and poetry
Point of Sale: Lulu

This book has been around for a while, has run the gamut, if you will, or maybe that should be gauntlet in this case. Opinions vary greatly, not just about the book but about the author as well. I do think Mr. Entrekin’s ideals were in the right place when he embarked upon this writing endeavour, but I believe that some of the promotional choices he made along the way ended up doing him a great disservice. So, in order not to have my opinion influenced too much by the static, I deliberately waited a while before reading the material. My assessment will remain related to the book’s literary value from this point forward. All work should have literary value even if it’s genre. That, of course, is my opinion as a reader, not a writer.

First things first -- the cover and title desperately need work. I have always been of the belief that a cover should be an artistic representation of the work. In this case, the cover is neither artistic nor representative of anything. The impression it leaves on the palette is a distasteful one, as it seems a bit suggestive of narcissism, even more so since the matter page contains the statement: “I am an attention whore.” Point taken. But the fact remains: book covers sell books, and a lacklustre cover does nothing to impress me into reading what’s between them.

Moving on to more literary matters, in the first story, awkward sentence structure and grammatical and mechanical issues slam into you with the first paragraph. However, there is a spark of promise. As you muddle through this collection of flaw riddled stories, that promise does glitter across the page here and there, that is, if you are patient enough to wait for it. This line really sums up the entire book:

“The words were out of my mouth before I considered them, before I’d thought them; all I had the chance to do was feel them, but I did that as hard as I could.”

Yup, that line is one of many brilliant and insightful lines that litter this book, and that line pretty much sums up the entire endeavour as well. The author obviously felt the words, deeply, but the issue with this book lies with articulation and aesthetics -- flow and impact -- which were not fully considered and therefore not fully realized. The stories are there and they are worthwhile stories -- sweet, deeply moving -- even though they don’t push any boundaries. The depth of emotion is certainly there, and there are moments of truly elegant and poetic writing. Too bad those moments get overshadowed by all the other muddled mess of words. Contemporary or “Rock Star” diction really isn’t my cup of tea either, but, it fits with the innocence and emotional intensity of the stories, and that is not the issue. This book could really be something special. It’s very heartfelt and revealing, a tad swooning, and almost wounding. What it needs is polish, another of many full rewrites, and a good serious grammatical and structural editing. And Mr. Entrekin has all the time in the world to do that, if he chooses to. That’s the beauty of a self-publishing endeavour. Critical commentary can be taken into account and the work can be improved without any dire consequences. I know this all too well…there is always reason to re-evaluate the work. And as we mature as writers, re-evaluation is a necessary evil.

For me, this book could have easily been at least an 8. If the author had pushed a few boundaries, I would say a 9 out of 10. Conceptually and in tone and texture the book warrants a higher score; however, the mechanics are seriously flawed, the sentences, for the most part, lack the true literary finesse such subject matter deserves, and in many cases they are not grammatically sound, making the read a bit frustrating. The good thing is, mechanics are easy enough to fix as long as the author hasn’t lost his connection to words – I think Mr. Entrekin might have rushed to print too quickly. Most self-published authors have spite themselves in this way at least once, myself included. I have a motto now, wait a year, reject all opinion of the work -- good or bad — and then re-write the whole damn thing from your gut, and then do it again.

Focusing purely on content for a moment, the collection of stories – confessions and philosophical meanderings really, not stories – are all relatable, for it’s pretty much standard fare and nothing groundbreaking: dating, broken hearts, pining, unrequited love, literary agents, rejections, the world ending, sperm donation. (Well, I can’t relate to that one in theory, but anyone can relate to the human struggle behind the story. How would it feel to look at your flaws right down to the genetic level? Not to mention then receiving a standard rejection form letter. Ah, the irony.) Addicted to Praise, Imperfect Thirst, and Raven Noir are the only prose pieces that present storylines one is more apt to expect from mainstream fiction.

As far as the writing style, the tactic is informal conversational story telling, and the innocence and the gentle melancholy is heart-warming. Our protagonists are love-struck, uncomfortable at times, arrogant at times, and at times so inward and reflective that it makes you want to weep. Even the bit of erotica isn’t too terribly shabby. Engaging and arousing, it is truly evocative -- evocative of tenderness not pornography! I did like the poetry as well, but I am not really versed in poetry, the mechanical aspects of it that is. I read a great deal of poetry actually, from Artaud to Rimbaud and beyond, so I just know what I like and most of it I did like. “ This Ain’t Wonderland” was truly wonderful, especially for those readers who understand the profundity of that, not so much for children, children’s story.

If I had to pick a favourite story, which wouldn’t be any trouble at all with all the wit and wisdom, it would be “Wandering”. I do so love a metaphor, and even though I am a literary snob and a hard-ass, I am a hopelessly lost soul of the romantic variety. For those who share my predilection for deep emotionally devastating love, many of the stories in this book hit those tender notes full on. But seriously now, “Addicted to Praise” and “Raven Noir” are actually my real favourites, being a tried and true Poe fan myself, and it was a little reprieve from the autobiographical themes of the other stories, not to mention the diction was more to my taste.

All I can say is that I sincerely hope this author doesn’t drop his pen before the work becomes what it should be, what it could be. I can see a bright and breezy glimmer of talent here. This author has passion, make no mistake about that. So I have to rate this book as a very promising effort, for a still very rough draft. And it’s way too early to make comment on the debut novel preview at the end, so I won't.


Cheryl Anne Gardner is a retired writer of dark, often disturbing, literary novellas with romantic/erotic undertones. She is an avid reader and an independent reviewer with Podpeople blogspot and Amazon where she blogs regularly on AmazonConnect. She is an advocate for independent film, music, and books, and when at all possible, prefers to read and review out of the mainstream Indie published works, foreign translations, and a bit of philosophy. She lives with her husband and two ferrets on the East Coast, USA

Monday, August 04, 2008

REVIEW: Burning In The Heat

Title: Burning In The Heat
Author: Michael Martin
Price: $ 12.95
Genre: Literature, Short Story, Contemporary, Psychological
ISBN: 978-1-4357-3096-0
Point of Sale: Lulu

Yup, I really have a thing for deviant and damaged, especially when it is so well written and so well actualized. In these superbly crafted stories, we get to see the horror of human nature, its psychosis, the cause and its effects, but more importantly we get to see it from the eyes of the affected not the afflicted. The dialog is believable, the anguish tangible, and the tragic comedy is toasted to a poignant shade of black. These stories are honest in their pain, beautiful and honest.

In Beyond the Hills we have self-esteem issues and suicidal tendencies. In Marco we have a story that depicts how easy loneliness can lay us into the hands of evil. In Little T we are confronted with the burgeoning criminal mind and vigilante justice, but justice nonetheless --this story, by far, has the best ending. We also have terrorists and big brother government political statement stories, which are not to my taste, but well done nonetheless. All in all, there is a smattering of themes, a variety of voices, some close and deeply personal and some rather detached … yes, there is something for everyone, except sci-fi. Sorry, no vampires or aliens here, unless you are speaking metaphorically of course.

There are fifteen stories in this book, and not surprisingly, they are consistent and fluid…some might say formulaic, as most of the stories end in the same manner, ambiguous and abrupt, but this may have been intentional on the author’s part. However, we do have real emotion here, innocent emotion, not just within the dialog but within the thoughts and abrupt realizations of the narrators. We have innocence lost, secrets revealed, hidden shame and guilt, and we have triumphant virtue and justice, and it is all penned by a reserved and restrained will. There is no boundary pushing here, which is one of my only complaints, and that is purely a personal preference issue.

“…the world can be a perilous place for those who are shielded only by their innocence.”

That line sums up this book so eloquently. Most of the characters in these stories have lost their innocence in some tragic fashion or another, issues and insecurities are deep-seated, and the author has portrayed each to a well-constructed perfection. Some of these stories are quite forceful and the subject matter rather volatile but the writing is elegant and full of sarcasm, wit, and intrigue, so we don’t feel as devastated by the stories as we could. I found myself nodding my head with a salty smile of satisfaction most of the time. In these stories we have all manner of demons and monsters, and all manner of frightening scenarios from suicide, to rape, to murder, to the angst of the singles scene, to terrorism and big brother. Despite the unsettling themes, each tale is told through virtue’s eyes, innocent eyes, and so we can bear the weight of their impact. We can not only see humanity’s darkness here, we can feel its strengths and weaknesses as well, and we can share in it just enough for it not to be painful.

There are a lot of stories in this book, all are in contemporary settings, but most importantly, the settings and the characters are believable and relatable. The language and style is also of the contemporary literature variety and is easy to read even if the themes are uncomfortable. The editing is spot-on. I have few critical comments really: some of the stories lacked the subconscious emotional depth I generally prefer – a bit of all tell no show -- the endings seemed a bit formulaic after a while, and I thought the cover really didn’t do the book the justice it so deserved. Minor flaws aside, this one is a good read for those who like short very relatable stories of the mainstream humanity-angst type. I rarely give high marks to contemporary literature as I am an old-school literary snob when it comes to my personal preferences for language, style and depth of emotion, but thematically this one is pretty darn close. I hope to read more from this author. I would really like to see what would happen if he loosened the grip on his pen for a moment.

If I had to pick a favourite story, it would be the very first one “Beyond the Hills” as in this one we get a tiny taste of what might happen if the author bared his shadow a bit more. On a side note … I think all writers will be able to relate and appreciate the stories “Obscurity” and “Fame.” I know I did, so, well done.


Cheryl Anne Gardner is a retired writer of dark, often disturbing, literary novellas with romantic/erotic undertones. She is an avid reader and an independent reviewer with Podpeople blogspot and Amazon where she blogs regularly on AmazonConnect. She is an advocate for independent film, music, and books, and when at all possible, prefers to read and review out of the mainstream Indie published works, foreign translations, and a bit of philosophy. She lives with her husband and two ferrets on the East Coast, USA.