Thursday, December 29, 2011

REVIEW: Escaping Reality Without Really Trying

Title: Escaping from Reality Without Really Trying
Author: Robert Jacoby
Genre: memoirs
Price: $17.95 (paperback) $9.99 (Kindle)
Publisher: Cloud Books
ISBN: 978-0615434896
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

As an ex-Navy man, when Robert Jacoby queried POD People about his book, Escaping Reality Without Really Trying, subtitled “40 Years of High Seas Travels and Lowbrow Tales,” I had to request it for review. The book proved to be an interesting read.

The book is the story of “Ronnie,” a 40-year veteran of the US Merchant Marine. It’s written in an extremely conversational tone, as if Ronnie is sitting across the bar from you (if you know Ronnie, this would have to be at a bar, bordello or at least with a bottle in hand) telling you all his old sea stories.

I have to say, Ronnie either has an encyclopedic memory or some kind of log book, because he remembers every ship and every captain he served under. I also have to tell you that Ronnie considers his true occupation as drinking, screwing hookers as a second job, and working on a ship as a hobby. All of this does not make for a tale to be read at your local Sunday School picnic. But then sailors are rarely seen at Sunday School, so it all works out in the end.

As a work of literature, Escaping Reality is somewhat unique. There is no plot, merely a long string of anecdotes of Ronnie and his various escapades. Most of the anecdotes are interesting, including his two weeks as a stowaway on a British merchant ship, sailing into Cambodia while we were bombing it during the Vietnam War, and more shipboard and pier side shenanigans then one can shake a stick at.

I personally found the exhaustive length of the book, well, a bit exhausting. At 526 pages, this is not a quick read. In my personal case, having been to sea as a working mariner myself, I wasn’t terribly shocked or surprised by Ronnie’s exploits. Had I been writing Escaping Reality, I would have made a tighter work. But that’s me, speaking from having done a few of the things Ronnie’s done. If you haven’t been to sea (and no, riding a Carnival Fun Ship does not count) your mileage will vary. If you are interesting in learning what life in the Merchant Marine is really like, or just want to escape your cubicle, then I can highly recommend Escaping Reality.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Dymock's was called on their self-publishing contract which grabs all right to a work (including subsidiary) for life of copyright.  Their response seems to have been to make the contract harder to understand, but not actually change it.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Title: Morgue for Whores
Author: Roy Edroso
Genre: mystery
Price: $2.99 (Nook or Smashwords)
Publisher: Smashwords
Point of Sale: Barnes & Noble SmashwordsReviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Roy Edroso is a freelance writer in New York, and enjoys a modest amount of fame writing a left-leaning blog. Back in 2008, he got a deal to publish his first novel, the modern hardboiled Morgue for Whores. Alas, the publishing house he signed with went bankrupt, so he eventually decided to e-publish the book. Since I read his blog, I decided to buy the book.

The book is the story of Jim Berends, a Brooklyn-ite with a dead-end IT job, no serious relationships and a bit of a drinking problem. Well, Jim didn’t think he had a drinking problem – he got drunk, passed out and woke up the next day. Then Jim wakes up from a drunk with a pair of dead and naked bodies in his apartment. Jim decides to ditch the bodies instead of calling the police. This proves especially problematic when an additional body shows up.

The rest of the plot of Morgue for Whores is Jim’s quest to figure out where the bodies are coming from. This being a modern hardboiled novel, a fair amount of sex and violence are involved in the process. The book is by no means torture porn, but neither is it for younger or sensitive readers.

For the suitable audience, Morgue is an entertaining read. Edroso wrote the book in first person, which is deceptively difficult, but in this case works well. The narrator is a witty sort, while being an appropriate mixture of self-doubt and competence. The investigation of “who dumped the bodies,” which drives the book, proceeds at an appropriate pace – not to briskly (Berends, the investigator, is an amateur with a day job) but not too slowly. Several characters, including Berends’ apparently hyper-normal neighbors, were well-concealed surprises, which Edroso pulled off without making his narrator look stupid.

Apparently Edroso sprang for a good editor, as I found the technical aspects of the book solid. About the only thing I thought was a bit off was the actual explanation of why the bodies were showing up. That’s a quibble in an otherwise highly enjoyable book. I can wholeheartedly recommend Morgue for Whores as a book well worth reading.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Same Old, New Old

It seems that Writer's Digest has tired of just offering lots of advertising space to predatory and over-priced self-publishing services, and decided to get into that business for themselves.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Out of idle curiosity I decided to look at what is happening with the number grades attached to our graded reviews.  The grade distribution shows a bias towards higher marks. The average grade given to a reviewed book seems to be about 7/10. 

I think that strikes a reasonable balance between being not too fluffy and also not too bitchy? Number grades are all a bit arbitrary anyway... but I think they bring out whether the book was basically enjoyable or not.  That isn't always clear from the text of the review.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Become a POD person!

The POD people blog is seeking 'occasional reviewers'. This not-very-onerous position gives you access to the review request yahoogroup.  If you see a book you would like to review you reply to the author directly and CC the group to let others know the book is taken.  We would then hope to see a review posted (or forwarded to me for posting) within three months. 

Occasional reviewers have no participation requirement and, like the rest of us, receive no compensation other than review copies and a linked byline.  If you would like to join our merry band please send an email to with a sample or link to a review you have written  (or other evidence that would lead me to expect that you are capable of writing a book review).

REVIEW: Aurora in Four Voices

Author: Catherine Asaro
Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy
Price: $30
Publisher: Isfic Press
ISBN: 978-0-9759156-9-1
Point of Sale: publishers site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I am a regular attendee at Windycon, my local science fiction convention. Since I’ve been attending, Isfic Press, which is owned by the same organization as the con, has been putting out a book. This year’s edition was Aurora in Four Voices, a collection of five novellas by the convention Guest of Honor, Catherine Asaro. Isfic Press has a tradition of putting out fine quality books, and this year they kept up the tradition.

Catherine Asaro is a true Renaissance woman – her day job is as a PhD in mathematics, but she dances, sings and writes wonderful stories. All five of the stories in this book were previously published, but are collected here for the first time. They are each a gem, well worth reading. The stories are:

Aurora in Four Voices – drawing on Catherine’s mathematical background, this story involves a convicted murderer, not terribly math-literate, who is trapped in a city that revolves around math. In a pleasant switch from the same-old-same-old, he is rescued by a woman.

Ave de Paso – this story is a straight-ahead fantasy, set in contemporary New Mexico. I found it very haunting, with strong emotions and complex characters.

The Spacetime Pool – this story won Catherine the Nebula Award, and it’s easy to see why. It appears to be a fantasy, involving a woman being magically transported from the Appalachian Trail to a realm of castles and armored men on horseback. But Janelle, the woman so transported, is smart and too active to wait for rescue. Unfortunately, Janelle’s understanding of mathematics allows her to discover that returning to her own world is not possible.

Light and Shadow - this story is based in part on a scene in the great space movie “The Right Stuff.” In that scene, Chuck Yeager is seen walking away from his plane, crashed during a test flight. Here, Catherine puts Kelric, the hero of several of her Skolian Empire series, in the Chuck Yeager role. Mathematics also figures prominently, as Catherine uses imaginary numbers (such as the square root of -1) to build a faster-than-light engine.

The City of Cries – this long novella was written on commission for Mike Resnick, who included it in his anthology Down These Dark Spaceways. The novella is a hard-boiled crime / space opera set in Catherine’s Skolian Empire. There’s not much math involved in this story, but Catherine has a lot of fun inverting the tradition of cloistered women.

The book is rounded out by a non-fiction essay in which Catherine attempts to explain some of the mathematical concepts introduced in the other stories. She proves to be a good teacher as well as writer. Overall, I found Aurora in Four Voices highly entertaining. You should order a copy today.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Short story review: Le Cirque de Magie

Title: Le Cirque de Magie
Author: Marsha A. Moore
Genre: Fantasy
Price: Free

Point of Sale: Smashwords
Reviewed by: Emily Veinglory

At around 7000 words, Le Cirque de Magie is certainly a short story. Moore throws us into an intriguing and vivid word where divine beings scrape by as performers in a depression-era-style circus.  The plot is minimal: defeat the villain, get the girl. But the fantasy world is wonderful and I can only hope there might be longer stories to come, in this same setting? The only real disappointment here is the cover art, which completely fails to capture the rich, ornate, gritty notes of Moore's creation.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

REVIEW: Finding Fiona

Title: Finding Fiona
Author: Emily Ann Ward
Genre: YA/science fiction
Price: $2.99
ASIN: B005P44Z5W
Point of Sale: Amazon, Smashwords
Reviewed by: Emily Veinglory

Finding Fiona is an accomplished, fast-moving novel.  It involves a amnesiac teenager who uncovers her past as the child and assistant of researchers who were developing a radical technique for creating human replicas. The first third of the book zooms along with a sequence of revelations about what led to the fire in which Fiona's family died, and the real motivations of the people around her.

The pacing seems to slip a little with a sluggish middle section and, in my opinion, the wrap up at the end seemed a little rushed. Also there is not so much as a hand-wave explanation for the underlying science of creating human "replicas". But perhaps this is wise given the difficulties inherent in making such a process even remotely plausible.

Finding Fiona might be of interest to readers who enjoyed one of my favorite books: Chion by Darrel Sloan. Finding Fiona is also a fast-moving story with an intriguing scientific premise, and suitable for a young adult audience. The plot and writing are clean, well structured, and enjoyable--and Emily Ann Ward is clearly a writer to watch.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Some Final Thoughts from a Pod Peep

It is with great joy and sadness that I announce my departure from the Podpeople blog and the Indie Book Bloggers Review arena.

Over the past year, my writerly focus has shifted a bit. I put my own current WIP on hold and decided on a whim to dedicate my attention exclusively to the short fiction community, specifically, the flash fiction community, a genre generally misunderstood and sorely in need of advocacy and publication venues. Self-publishing has gone mainstream since I began advocating for the industry back in 2005, and I have reviewed many a good book and have seen many of those authors move on to traditional publishing contracts. I have also read and reviewed a good many excellent books whose Indie authors have chosen to stay the course, myself included, and I wish much success to everyone and anyone who has the guts to take their words and put them out there.

I have finished reviews for authors in my queue who paid for and sent me a hardcopy of their book. All eBook queries in my queue will remain, though I cannot specify timeframes on when they will be read or even if they will be read and/or reviewed. I do hope to get to all of them eventually, time permitting, and if I do, the reviews will be independently posted by me to Amazon and Goodreads, but not necessarily to the Podpeople blog.

Change is good, and often we need to reevaluate not only our work but also the direction we have chosen to take on our artistic journey. This year, I have had over sixty-five of my own short stories published and/or accepted for publication at various online and print journals and have already published dozens of excellent authors.

It is just time for me to move on. I want to focus on publishing other authors now instead of just reviewing them. To me, publication has more impact than a review. I have my own publication imprint, and I thought that now might be a good time to take advantage of it in creative ways other than simply publishing my own work.

I do hope you will visit me at my new flash fiction eZine: Apocrypha and Abstractions.

If you write micro flash, feel free to submit. We are listed at Duotrope's Digest, and if you love reading it, we are currently working on our eighth issue with possible print editions in the future. You can also find me over at Fictionaut, the premier short fiction networking community.

Thank you for being a Podpeople supporter. As always, Emily is looking for book reviewers, so if you are interested in taking my place, give her a shout.

Good luck to all the Independent writers out there. Rock on! Keep doing what your doing, unless of course, it’s bad editing.

Happy Holidays from a peep.

Review: Just a Few Seconds

Title: Just a Few Seconds
Author: Nemo James a.k.a. Derek Newark
Genre: Autobiography/Memoir
Price: $9.95
Pages: 266
ISBN: 978-0956798602
Publisher: Derek Newark Publishing
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Description: A Story From The Hidden World of Music and Beyond Derek dreamt of becoming a professional musician from the first time he picked up a guitar following a talent contest disaster. Thought of by his friends as being the person most likely to make the big time he turned professional but was continually side tracked by the need to earn a living from music. His journey takes him all over the world from private gigs for the rich and famous to the roughest pubs. Starting in the late sixties when heavy rock was born, through to the 1980's and 90's when discos and electronics decimated live music in dance halls. An amusing and heartrending story of perseverance showing how the road to success can lead us down the strangest of paths.

I don't normally like reading memoirs of any sort simply because most of them are of the "I went here and did that and met these people and they were like this, then I went here, did that and it didn't work out, so I went here and did that ... over and over again and over again." Most memoirs tend to lack the flare and fiction writer’s finesse that I normally like in my reading material, and this is really no exception. If you like memoirs like Running with Scissors then you will find this autobiography interesting but not all that entertaining. It's frank, sometimes funny, but for the most part, the futility makes it kind of a depressing read. You want Derek to succeed, but even in the end, he never really attains the level of musicianship and fame the reader hopes for him.

Just A Few Seconds is the story of Derek Newark, and it charts his rather muddled path as he tries to make it in the music business. If you are looking for sex, drugs, and rock and roll, you will not find it here. This isn't the memoir of a rock star, it's the story of an average guy who has a passion for music, but for the most part, he just can't seem to make it work as a self-sustaining lifestyle/profession. Many musicians, and I know quite a few, will be able to relate to the struggle, as will the indie author.

Newark is a self-taught guitar player who struggled with reading music, so you do have to admire his stamina. He perseveres when most people would have called it a day and just given up. From dance halls to failed garage bands, from rough London pubs to ski resorts, and from private parties to nursing homes, Derek survived it all, making little to nothing for his efforts over many years. Failed business, failed relationships, and mounting credit card debt would have been enough disappointment for most people, but through it all, Derek always seems to find his way back to music, which is inspiring, if not a little crazy. It's the life and times of a working musician: the session guys, the backing bands, the wedding entertainers, the cruise ship musicians, and the guys who play the local pubs. Not glamorous. The pay is shit, and the music business as he describes it has a lot of similarities to the book publishing industry: rejection, rejection, rejection.

“There are two types of musicians: those who are famous and those who are not. But while there is a mountain of material written about the famous, there is almost nothing written about the unknown ones. Whilst no musician ever sets out to become unknown, most have it thrust upon them,” said James. “It is an absurd notion that only famous musicians have stories to tell.”

Despite the constant failure -- and not just as a composer -- Derek Newark struggles on through failed racquetball clubs, failed restaurants, and failed relationships of all sorts. For most, the defeat would have been too much to bear, especially having to move home and live with your parents as a grown man, but Newark always remained optimistic. In this story, everything really did happen for the best, and there was always another opportunity around the corner. The crap opportunities counted as much as the good ones in Newark's book.

"Yes, it's been quite a journey. I failed in nearly everything I did and yet always loved life and ended up enjoying the kind of success that the rich and famous only dream about. All that effort and hard work and yet it was nothing more than blind luck that brought about my success. No amount of talent or hard work can replace luck."

As for the read, there were enough serious grammatical issues that it became somewhat of a frustrating endeavor. Newark seems to have a comma aversion complex, which made the rereading of sentences necessary a lot of the time. That said, the chapter titles were very funny, even if the linear timeline felt bogged down by repetitive details. "Cheeserat & Gorilla" was probably my favorite chapter because it had the absurdist flare I tend to go for.

All in all, If you're looking for a celebrity autobiography, you won't find it here. If you're looking for a fiction writers poetic flare and sense of the absurd, you also won't find that here, but if you are looking for an honest look at the life of a struggling want-ad musician, then you will get that in spades. It's a working Joe story, a light hearted reflection of a work-a-day guy. If you like that sort of thing, then you won't be disappointed. Success is what you think it is, and Derek Newark seems to have found his.

Derek Newark a.k.a. Nemo james now lives in Croatia with his wife and family. If you want to read more about his life, his book titled Croatian Diaries will be released in December 2011.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

What Does A PODPeep Read - Well Of Sorrows

Title: Well of Sorrows
Author: Benjamin Tate
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $16 (trade paperback) / $7.99 (Kindle)
Publisher: DAW
ISBN: 978-0756406028
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

POD People, or any people for that matter, should broaden their reading horizons. Based on that idea, I decided to take a flyer on a fantasy novel recommended by somebody in my LiveJournal friendslist. They suggested Benjamin Tate’s first novel, Well of Sorrows.

Well of Sorrows is the story of Colin Harten. When we first see him, he’s twelve, and living in some unnamed fantasy world with a vaguely feudal European feel and technology-level. Colin and his family are refugees, fleeing to the New World to avoid a war in the old one. However, Colin (in particular) and the fugitives (in general) aren’t fitting in, and Colin’s fights with the younger son of the local lord dominate the first third of the book.

Due to circumstances beyond everybody’s control, Colin and Walter, the lord’s son, are sent out as part of a small party to settle the wilderness just inland from their coastal city. Here the story takes a radical turn, as the party is attacked first by gazelle-riding dwarren and then the unstoppable Wraiths. Colin survives by drinking of the titular well, and the last two-thirds of the story is set a half century later as Colin attempts to broker a peace between various warring factions.

Well of Sorrows is very much an epic tale of high fantasy, told in epic length. I did find the book well-written, with solid characterization and full of action. I also liked the way Tate riffed off of the European settlement of America. I found the first third of the book, which involved Colin and company working as mere humans, quite engrossing.

Alas, I am not the target market for epic fantasy, and starting from the point where we learn that Colin has drunk of the titular well, I started caring about him much less. Since this is Colin’s story, that proved problematic. Again, I am not the target reader for epic fantasy, so take this with a grain of salt, but the last two thirds of the book felt to me to be twice as long as needed. It wasn’t that nothing happened (a lot of stuff did) but I wanted to cut to the chase.

Epic fantasy is hard to pull off. Well of Sorrows does have a lot going for it, but in the end it’s just not my cup of tea.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Story – Spin the Plate, by Donna Anastasi

Why did you choose to self-publish, why did you select your specific publishing company, and what were your expectations?  
Black Rose Writing is a small independent publisher. Truthfully, I picked up the “Writer’s Market” and by the time I had hit the “B’s,” I’d received a request for the full manuscript and shortly after an acceptance letter. That said, I do think it’s been a good place for the book in its first year or two of publication. My non-fiction animal care books are with a large, traditional publisher. With an indie publisher, for good or bad, you have almost complete control. As far as my expectations versus reality, as someone who has published (non fiction) with a large traditional publisher, I did not realize how much of the work of preparing the book, cover, and promotions I’d be doing. I also didn’t realize how much freedom I’d have and encouragement to “go for it” when it comes to ideas on the book content or marketing.

How is it going so far? Are you achieving your goals? 
It has been a huge effort that has taken up much of my outside of work time. The book is widely available and has been receiving recognition from several indie book awards. It has been extensively reviewed and featured on many blogs. I think it is going well. It’s on the right path and is positioned to succeed, though of course I’d love to see the sales sky rocket.

Tell us a bit about your latest release and what have you been doing to promote it? 
 I’m doing a three-leg virtual book tour with Jennifer Walker for my novel Spin the Plate. To help promote the tour, I did a Goodreads giveaway of two paperback copies. Over 400 people requested the book and of those about 40 marked the book as “to read.” I offered a coupon for a free ebook off smashwords for these 40 Goodreaders and asked them to follow me on the tour. I’ve gotten extremely positive responses to the ebook giveaway, and several offers from bloggers to include their reviews of the novel on their blogs. My wackiest marketing idea was to promote the free short story version of the novel on my inexplicitly popular YouTube video which features a real-life rat who is the basis of one of the animal characters in the book. You can see “Muzzy” here:

What advice would you give a person who has completed their manuscript and is considering self-publishing?  
Today there is a whole continuum of publishing options – self publish, transitional publisher, and all sorts of indie publishing options in-between. And, there are a tremendous number of options for ways to self-publish. Smashwords is one example of a place to self-publish; if they like your work Smashwords will automatically distribute it for you on iTunes, kobo, Sony, B&N, Amazon, etc. You may want to provide a free Smashword version (for me, this was Spin the Plate Short Story), in addition to the full-length novel you sell. I’d recommend researching the pros and cons of differing publishing routes and asking questions on writers, forums.  Email other authors for any avenues you are seriously considering. I’ve found authors to be very generous about taking the time to respond, especially once your manuscript has been accepted by their indie publisher.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

REVIEW: The Price of the Stars

Title: The Price of the Stars, Book One of the Mageworlds
Author: Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald
Genre: science fiction
Price: $6.99
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’ve heard of James MacDonald, half of the dynamic writing duo Doyle and MacDonald, through the blog Making Light, where he’s one of the co-bloggers. But I had never read any of his fiction, so when he announced that he was e-publishing his backlist, I decided to give his stuff a shot. I’m glad I did.

The Price of the Stars is your basic space opera. Humans are zipping across the galaxy on faster-than-light ships, cracking wise with alien beings, and shooting blasters at each other whenever the mood strikes them.

And damn if it isn’t a cracking good read! I mean, who wouldn’t want to crack wise with an alien, or zip from star to star with the same ease as flying to Pittsburgh for a shoe salesman’s convention? (If you wouldn’t want to do the above, you can stop reading now.)

In this space opera, some thirty years ago, humans had fought a knock-down-drag-out war with the Mage Lords, a separate group of humans. This was a nasty war, with planets melted down to bare rock and biological weapons deployed. The good guys, the humans of the Republic, won, and a somewhat uneasy peace has settled onto the galaxy. Beka Rosselin-Metadi, co-pilot of a starship, is happy with that peace.

Then she discovers that somebody has assassinated her mother, the Domina of Entibor, in a very public way. Besides making her the new Domina, a political post that she despises, it also proves to have put a massive target on her back. She also has decided to go off on a private vendetta to figure out who pulled the trigger on her mother and why. This being space opera, the answers are neither simple nor immediately forthcoming.

Now, space opera tends to get a bad rap because of cardboard characters who seemingly never get hurt. In Price of the Stars, there is no cardboard, and people are not bulletproof. Everybody has a past, and that is reflected in what they do now. Price of the Stars is a fast paced romp through an interesting world.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, October 30, 2011

REVIEW: Snow Comes to Hawk's Folly

Title: Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly
Author: J. Kathleen Cheney
Genre: Fantasy novella
Price: FREE at Smashwords
Publisher: Smashwords
Point of Sale: Smashwords
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’m very fond of the works of J. Kathleen Cheney. She’s a newer writer, working in fantasy, and at the moment she’s writing that hardest of works to sell, novellas. She wrote two novellas set among the horseracing set of Saratoga Springs, NY around the turn of the last century. One of them was published in Alembical 2, reviewed on this site. The other novella, Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly, came out in Panverse Two. Well, in an effort to get more readership, Cheney released both novellas in ebook form. Since I hadn’t read Snow, I decided to download and read it. It was a very pleasant experience.

Imogen Hawkes inherited a horse farm when her first husband, Henry died. During the events of Iron Shoes, she met and married a puca, one of Ireland’s Lesser Folk, a man who could take and hold the form of a horse. This union resulted in a child, Patrick, who has more than a little puca blood and abilities in him, alas somewhat problematic in a two-year-old child.

Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly starts with the arrival of mysterious visitor from Ireland, a man named Finnegan. Imogen can tell that he’s got magical powers of his own, and is concerned to learn that he’s bought the house next door. Very quickly thereafter, a freak September snowstorm blows in, and little Patrick goes missing. This sets up the events of the rest of the story, in which a number of people aren’t who they seem to be.

Ms. Cheney has a gift of writing magical systems that are believable, as well as a gift for characterization. Both those gifts are on full display in this short work. Imogen’s concern for her son, and even the motivations of his kidnapper are logical and well-thought out. The story has just the right pacing, not feeling rushed or cramped in any way. In short, Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly is a wonderful read.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

REVIEW: Pandora's Grave

Title: Pandora’s Grave
Author: Stephen England
Genre: thriller
Price: $19.99 (paperback) / $3.99 (Kindle / Smashwords)
Publisher: N/A
Point of Sale: Author’s website
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

As promised, here’s a review of one of the four books that recently came my way, the thriller Pandora’s Grave by Stephen England. The premise is simple – a group of American and Israeli archeologists working in Iran discover in the ruins of an ancient city an especially virulent form of bubonic plague. This attracts the attention of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who kidnap the researchers with a goal of exploiting the plague as a weapon.

The CIA, not aware of the plague but knowing Americans have gone missing, sends in Harry Nichols and his team to get the Americans out. But apparently there’s a mole in the CIA, as the Iranians are waiting for Harry. Let’s just say things get complicated from there.

One of the ways to dismiss a book, especially a thriller, is to call it “formulaic.” This is unfair to thrillers, or for that matter any work of fiction. All fiction has certain formulas, also called conventions, which need to be followed in order to meet the readers’ expectations. It’s the difference between a well-executed recipe and throwing random stuff into a pot then calling it dinner.

So, yes, Pandora’s Grave does follow the thriller formula, but, with one minor exception, the formula is well-executed. The paperback clocks in at 422 pages, but the book is a real page-turner, and delivers a lot of high-voltage thrills. England has a couple of opportunities to engage in cheap sentimentality which he avoids while keeping his characters believable. My one nit was the identity of the mole – England spent too much time painting one of two suspects as the mole, leading me to automatically suspect the other person.

One of the highest forms of praise in the self-published world is to say that the book was just as good as the best commercially-published works in its genre. Well, Pandora’s Grave is just as good as any Ludlum or Carre novel. If you like thrillers, or just entertaining reading, you should read Pandora’s Grave.

Rating 9/10

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coming Attractions

We've all heard the saying "feast or famine." Well, it seems like we at POD People have been in the famine mode when it came to books to review.

I have good news - the cycle has swung, and now we have a feast of books. Here's what's coming down the pike, listed in no particular order:

1) From Stephen England, a contemporary thriller ebook Pandora's Grave.

2) From political blogger Roy Edroso, a novel Morgue For Whores. Apparently it starts when the protagonist wakes up to find two naked and dead people in his bedroom. Roy had a conventional publishing contract for this book in 2008, but his publisher went bankrupt.

3) From Joshua Palmatier writing as Benjamin Tate, two fantasy novels that will be under the "What a Pod Peep Reads," Well of Sorrows and the sequel, Leaves of Flame.

4) From the team of Debra Doyle and Jim Macdonald, the self-published ebook re-release of their space opera The Price of the Stars.

Darn, I got tired just typing all of that! Looks like a busy fall review schedule.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Publishing Is A Business

while Writing Is An Art. Found from Tobias Buckell, very sage business advice on the sustainability of an Indie Author. The writer asks (and answers) the question "will self-publishing survive?"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

REVIEW: Quartershare

Title: Quartershare
Author: Nathan Lowell
Genre: science fiction
Price: $10.87 (paperback) / $4.95 (Kindle)
Publisher: Ridan Publishing
ISBN: 978-0982514542
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Amazon has a “recommended for you” list that I occasionally visit. Now that I buy ebooks, I’ve noticed some new authors showing up on the recommended list. One of those authors was Nathan Lowell, a very prolific SF author publishing through Ridan Publishing. Ridan is a small commercial publishing firm that uses POD for their paper books and does a lot of marketing on their ebook line. Their marketing was sufficient to convince me to spring for the $4.95 and buy the Kindle version of Quartershare, the lead book in Lowell’s “Golden Age of the Solar Clipper” series.

Lowell’s book starts, ironically, in a very similar fashion to my first novel The Mars Run, in that a young 18-year-old is forced by circumstances to sign on as a crewman on a merchant space ship. In Lowell’s case, the 18-year-old is Ishmael Horatio Wang, and the circumstances that force him to ship out are the death of his mother. They are living on the planet Neris, a “company planet” where you’re either an employee of the company or need to pack up and leave. Thus Ishmael gets a berth as a mess steward on the Lois McKendrick. As a mess steward, he is eligible for a quarter share of the ship’s profit, thus the title of the book.

I suppose the nice way to describe how the rest of the book unfolds would be to say “gentle.” A less nice way would be to say “nothing happens,” because, well, not much happens. There are no aliens, pirates or other serious bad guys in Quartershare, and the one serious event, a mugging, is off-screen. Quartershare is the story of Ishmael figuring out how the society of the ship works while handling the everyday drills and work of the crew. There is absolutely no formal training or orientation offered to Ishmael, which I found very unusual.

Having called the book “gentle,” I should say that I found it both enjoyable and interesting. In writing, a work falls on a continuum from “plot-driven” to “character-driven.” Quartershare is definitely a character-driven book, and it works because, thanks to the author, we care about all of the characters. They are realistic, interesting and likeable, so the fact that they’re not running around saving the Universe is okay. The author spent a few years in the US Coast Guard, and his experiences there show through in subtle details about what lubricates shipboard life.

Quartershare is a short book, clocking in at 282 pages, but one I found quite enjoyable to read.

Rating 8/10

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Publish America Shows its Spots

This is an actual letter sent to an author requesting return of rights from Publish America:

"Oh, stop the whining already. We're sick and tired of hearing your ilk bark up the wrong tree, so either shape up or shut up you dumb idiot.

Listen Eistein, this no rocket science. We publish 50,000 books. Each one is produced, manufactured, published, and made available to bookstores worldwide the exact same way. Everything is the same. We don't do preferential treatments for no one, especially dicks like you. Instead we do the whole thing for absolutely free.

Did you get that numbskull? Free....want me to edit that for you by the word. Regular people don't argue with free. Misguided people like you do. You are seriously misguided, stupid.

Some books sell very well, in the millions. Some books sell very few copies, even none. Everything else is the same.

The difference despite the exact same treatment? Different content, different author.
Those who sell well never give us this kind of crap, ever. Those who don't occasionally barf just like you. Because they can't handle the thought that maybe it's them, or their story.

It gets old. Go away now. You're wasting our time. Your book remains under contract.

Thank you,"

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review -- Airmail

Title: Airmail
Author: Naomi Bulger
Genre: Novella/General fiction
Price: $9.31 (paperback) / $7.69 (Kindle)
Publisher: I Universe
ISBN: 978-1450235495
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: Reclusive old Mr. G.L. Solomon's favorite things are single malt whiskey, Steve McQueen movies, and gingersnap cookies. He hates processed cheese, washing detergent commercials, and the way the teacup rattles in the saucer when he picks it up. Solomon has become accustomed to his lonely routine in Sydney, Australia-until the day he begins sporadically receiving letters in his mailbox from a complete stranger. On the other side of the world, Anouk is a mentally delicate young woman living in New York who insists she is being stalked by a fat woman in a pink tracksuit. When Anouk declares to Solomon that she is writing "from the Other Side," the old man breaks away from his daily grind of watching soap operas and reading Fishing World and travels to New York to find her. As he is drawn into Anouk's surreal world of stalkers and storytelling, marbles and cats, purgatory and Plato, Solomon has but one goal-to unravel the mystery before it is too late.

Part epistolary confession, part Alice and Wonderland, part journey into madness, this quirky little book winds up being quite the philosophical handful. When I first began reading it, it reminded me of a clay animation film titled Mary and Max about an eight-year old Australian girl who randomly begins to write to an obese middle-aged man from New York with Asperger's syndrome. In Air Mail, the main character is a young woman, an ex-patriot from Australia living in New York City, randomly writing to a retired gentleman in Australia whom she chose from the phone book. Yes, seems very similar, and it is to a degree. Anouk relives all the depressing details of her life through her letters to Mr. G.L. Solomon, but when she thinks she is being stalked by a fat woman in a pink tracksuit, things take a more fantastic turn, Anouk's looking glass being the marbles that hold the stories of her life, stories that are being manipulated in a much larger universal game in which pink tracksuit is only one of many storytellers who may or may not be what they seem reminiscent of the angels in A Life Less Ordinary.

Anouk is a psychologically fragile young woman, and she finds solace in her unsolicited scribbling to Solomon. Her writing style is much the same as we often see in psychiatric patients. Solomon is intrigued, but generally unmoved by the letters and gifts until he receives the marbles. Routine is all Solomon knows, and he is comfortable with the way the twilight of his life is playing itself out, until one day Anouk writes him from the "other side," proclaiming that she is dead. This is the trigger, and promptly Solomon buys a plane ticket to NY and leaves his entire life behind. He believes Anouk is in trouble, and he believes he can help her. He can, but not in any traditional sense of the word help.

The story is very well written, full of the fantastical, the surreal, and the philosophical themes I love so much in this sort of story, yet it still stays grounded in the realities of mental illness without being overbearing about the subject matter. Anouk could be suffering from schizophrenia or any number of psychological issues, and Solomon clearly has a severe case of OCD. Or do they? Maybe their souls are simply on a journey. We can ask, do marbles hold the stories of our lives to be played and manipulated by a bunch of intellectual hippy-angel storytellers? Who knows. This sort of story is left to reader interpretation, as it should be. The characters were well developed, and the letters, sometimes frightening, were never overly sentimental. The "yes" letter being the most disturbing and the most telling in the entire book.

The book has been called charming, funny, quirky, profound, and yes, it is all those things. It is also very dark and insightful and compelling. I have to say, this is one of the better books I have read all year. Easily done in one sitting, but a much better read if taken slowly. As for presentation, the cover is lovely and the interior formatting is pleasing to the eye. Very well done. You know that old philosophical saying: A life unexamined; well, here is a perfect example of the miraculous things that can happen when a life is.

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness. -- Allen Ginsberg

Depart too far from the norm of human experience and you bore the reader, who will no longer care what happens to your characters once they have stepped through a dozen dimensions of time and are consorting with twelve-sided green monsters somewhere in interstellar space. The true artist, who knows how to deal with elusive material, is more likely to work his tricks right in your living room, where the reality of familiar things lends strangeness to whatever he may conjure up.
-- Philip Van Doren

I love the Literary Fantastic in fiction. Yes, even to the extent of Tolkien’s hobbits, Adam's lunacy of space travel, Kafka’s human insect, and Carroll’s Wonderland, but much of the Fantastic that I am particularly attracted to is of the sort where human psychology goes very wrong, where the familiar becomes strange, where the world we live in somehow animates itself and turns upon us.

I have always been attracted to the Gothic and the Dark Romantic literary subgenres. Many of my mentors wrote with a Dark Romantic’s heavy hand: Poe, Lovecraft, Bataille, Kafka, Marquez, Ungar, even Shakespeare's tragedies ... the list could go on an on. Much of what strikes me about this style is the macabre and supernatural feel the stories have to them without necessarily being bona fide “horror” stories, which include supernatural creatures. In many of their works, the macabre and supernatural aspects of the story are firmly “grounded” in the human psyche. Man is the monster, and the natural world is the essence of supernatural. Write fiction with that logic and you cannot go wrong.

These authors have taken the vile aberrations of humanity and transformed them, some into allegory, some simply into a deeper look at the human psyche. Nevertheless, what all of these writers have in common is their ability to make the elusive not only tangible but relatable. These authors have been able to combine perfectly the ordinary and the extraordinary in such a way that we don’t question it. This goes back to my earlier discussion on subjective details. Fiction readers don’t necessarily want a state of the union, a “this is how things are” bricks and mortar view of the world. They want to feel the world through the characters. They want character perception, perception that is uniquely different than their own, and for that to happen, an author needs to provide detail which is fluid yet fully grounded in reality, is passionately associative and wildly dissociative, is sketchy yet vivid, and all the while, is plausible without a doubt. Tall order.

Yes, it is possible for an author to take great leaps of faith with credibility "if" they stay rooted in humanity. Kafka’s main character in The Metamorphosis awoke one morning and found he was a bug. Literally implausible but psychologically frightening because emotionally, it can happen. Another example is that the mirror is said to have two faces. How often do we struggle with our own reflection, and so Alice’s looking glass portal becomes very very real, and the philosophical conundrums she is presented with transcend the fantasy world. This type of transcendence is potent. So much so that we can sympathize with Dr. Jekyll’s struggle with his alter ego, Mr. Hyde.

There are many modern authors who have succeeded in this endeavour quite splendidly: Ellis' American Psycho, where the "status quo" has become surreal to the point of absurdity in that it not only creates the monster but allows the monster to "be" unrecognized and unnoticed; or Palahniuk's Fight Club, where the emasculated narrator feels alienated from prevailing social versimilitudes, ; or Johnson's Jesus' Son, where the nickname "fuckhead" defined the narrator's entire existence, and, more so than the heroin upon reflection, coloured his view of the world.

So, even straight literary fiction can benefit from the principles of the Literary Fantastic. When we struggle with humanity’s deep psychological, moral, and philosophical issues, we often find ourselves at odds with what is real or what we have naively perceived as being real. Nevertheless, we are innately capable of analysing our own "dream" logic. On a daily basis, when the world itself becomes dark and foreboding, when our fears manifest themselves, our personal perceptions of the world are often challenged, even negated. This is the realm of the fiction author. The realm where, with a little bit of prowess and a lot of finesse, the objective details can be manipulated and the truth can be exposed. This is the realm of the author who knows, as Clive Barker so eloquently put it, how to “tap the vein” no matter what genre you choose to write in.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Flashes From The Other World

Title: Flashes from the Other World
Author: Julie Ann Weinstein
Genre: Flash Fiction Collection
Price: $15.99 (paperback) / $5.99 (Kindle)
Publisher: All Things That Matter Press
ISBN: 978-0984621644
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: Magic without the hocus pocus, these stories explore the ethereal blur between reality and not, between dream and sleep, between love and 'other than' love. They present relationships with a tender wackiness. Tossed into the mix are mischievous ghosts, who give the talking plants and even the seductive and vocal grains of sand a run for their money. Quirky and offbeat, these stories will touch your heart, although they may tug at your funny bone first.

As many of you know, I put my own WIP aside this year in order to devote the entire year or more to writing and working strictly within the flash fiction community. I have had dozens of stories accepted for publication, and I am currently a contributing editor at Apocrypha and Abstractions, a flash fiction e-zine specializing in micro flash, so when I received the query to review Ms. Weinstein's collection, I was thrilled. I was no less thrilled reading it.

Ms. Weinstein is a very insightful writer, and her flash fiction has that ambiguous surreal quality I look for when I am going through submissions for the e-zine. I would accept her work in a heartbeat, especially for the way she approaches the darker themes.

This collection is quite an assortment. You never know what you are going to get from one story to another. We have absurdities, paranormal encounters -- real and imagined -- and we have all manner of relationships, deliberate and coincidental, happy and sad and disturbing. Weinstein has the ability to take the mundane and make it wild and extraordinary. There are some hauntingly sentimental paranormal stories, and stories that were so hilariously bizarre, you will never look at your produce the same again. In contrast, many of the stories delve into darker territory, addressing many common and perplexing psychological issues, and those were probably the ones I loved the most. Each story is unique in a cirque du strange sort of way. The thematic treatments and artistic license used here demand a reader's undivided attention, and Ms. Weinstein’s voice shines through. Writing flash fiction is a difficult task to take on. It requires a certain sharpness of vision, a command of the language, and a discipline the longer forms can ignore to a great degree. In Flashes, Ms. Weinstein is fearless in her experimentation, and that, to me, was worth experiencing. My only concern is that the cover needs a whole lot of work and does not match the quality of the words contained within.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

REVIEW: Below The Line

Title: Below The Line
Author: Brian Tobin
Genre: novel
Price: $14.99 (paperback) / $3.99 (Kindle)
Publisher: Createspace
ISBN: 978-1463684976
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

There’s a type of crime novel that is best described as “a simple plan.” It’s where a group of people come up with a simple criminal plan to make a bunch of money and nobody will get hurt. The plot then revolves around watching this simple plan go seriously wrong, usually due to the greed, incompetence and general bad luck of the main characters. Brian Tobin’s new novel Below The Line is an enjoyable entry into that genre.

The novel is set in 1993 Los Angeles, and stars a cast of characters not exactly out of Central Casting. The closest character to a hero is Peter “Squeak” Bartholomew, a ne’er do-well from a small town in Upstate New York. He’s got family problems and money problems, the solution to which comes to him from his buddy Martin Oals. Martin, Squeak’s childhood buddy, moved out to LA and became an actor. Alas for Martin, not a very famous or wealthy actor, one who’s career peaked with “also appearing” roles in movies and TV series, and those had largely dried up. So, Martin had taken to dealing drugs, selling same to his collection of Hollywood contacts, including one Joel Opatkin, a studio VP with delusions of grandeur and a cash problem. A decision to migrate from sales to production, funded by Opatkin on borrowed money, is the simple plan that leads everybody to disaster.

Brian Tobin, the author, lives in Los Angeles, and for this his 4th novel (including two from St. Martin’s Press) he vividly incorporates the movie business into this novel. The novel’s title refers to an imaginary line in movie-making. Everybody “below the line” handles the details of actually making the movie, while those “above the line” have creative control. In this book, everybody is below the line, in that they really have very little creative control over their lives.

Having said that the characters have no control, they are both believable and (by their lights) reasonable. This is of course the beauty of the “simple plan” – it really shouldn’t be that hard to do what they are trying to do. But Murphy (or in this case author Tobin) is alive and well, making things difficult. I have to say that I found Below The Line an enjoyable romp through the mid-1990s.

Rating 8/10

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

REVIEW: Kitemaster and Other Stories

Title: Kitemaster and Other Stories
Author: Jim C. Hines
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $3.99 (Kindle)
Point of Sale: Barnes & Noble Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’ve been a fan of Jim C. Hines for several years, so when he announced that he needed reviewers for his ebook short story collection Kitemaster and Other Stories I jumped at the opportunity. I’m glad I did.

Kitemaster is a collection of six previously-published short stories and a preview chapter of Jim’s upcoming novel Libriomancer. The common theme of this collection is that these are the stories that don’t involve goblins, which Jim is famous for writing about.

The lead story, “Kitemaster,” is unusual in that instead of the bog-standard European fantasy realm, it’s set in a feudal Chinese environment. It’s also unusual in that the lead character, Nial, has as a companion a magical, talking (at least to her) kite! In the author’s notes, Jim says he got the idea from a throwaway line about fighting kites in a Robert Zelazny book. I found the story quite enjoyable and refreshing.

The next story in the collection, "Untrained Melody," was written for an anthology edited by the author Julie Czerneda, and features the coolest weapon I’ve ever heard of, the “dwarven battle flute.” Also in the anthology are two stories starring the man-and-woman pair of thieves, Alycia and James. The first story, “Blade of the Bunny” is an interesting tale of a magical knife, while, later in the anthology, “Spell of the Sparrow,” features our criminal duo, their daughter and a somewhat bird-brained sorcerer. Sandwiched between these two delightful tales is “Over the Hill,” a story about a trio of not-quite-too-old women who do daring deeds daringly.

The final story in the collection, “The Creature in Your Neighborhood,” is written as a screenplay. Jim has small children, and one day, a little too much children’s television caused him to snap in an unusual (and very funny) way. Let’s just say werewolves and stuffed animals don’t mix! Jim wraps up the collection with the first chapter of his upcoming book Libriomancer. In this universe, people can (deliberately or by accident) pull magic through the pages of a book.

This is a short collection, only available in ebook, but highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Indiereader started out as a site for readers of self-published material to mingle and discover new books. What they discovered, and most people already knew, is that dedicated self-published books readers are a demographic that barely exists outside of the authors themselves (and sometimes not even them).

Readers want books. Actively and indiscriminately seeking out self-published work would be a strangely masochistic thing to do.  Even those, like me, who have a particular intest in off-mainstream material buy it based on authors we know and trust or off-mainstream genres that we are willing to take a risk on.

Therefore Indiereader has taken the predictable path, into the vanity model.  You may not be able to make lots of money of the readers of self-published books, but you can always tap the new waves of authors looking for a short cut to fame and fortune. Sell them advertisements or amorphous promotional packages. Better yet, offer an "award" the ultimate in ostensibly valuable intangibles.

Enter the Indiereader Awards, where you pay a $150 at the slim chance of getting a ghettoised "Kirkus Indie" review (they don't make it clear it is not a standard Kirkus review) and a pretty sticker. There is also a soft promise that terribly important people will see your book.And something to do with "Book Ends Entertainment" which, if you Google them, seems to be most famously involved with Indiereader rather than... whatever unspecified wonderful things they are meant to do for the winner.

The awards have 49 categories but a winner is declared only at Indiereader's discretion--perhaps based on whether the number of entries would allow this to be done without threatening the profit margin. A good deal? I think not. In my opinion holding such a high-fee prize, like buying reviews, is quite possibly more of a handicap than an advantage.

Any site that genuinely connects with readers, or runs an award program secondary to their main activity and without the primary motive of making money, might be able to bestrow an award that would impress me as a reader and reviewer.  Indiereader does not tick these boxes.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

REVIEW: Deadly Straits

Title: Deadly Straits
Author: R. E. McDermott
Genre: Thriller
Price: $2.99 (Kindle or Nook)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon author's site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

A word of warning – when you sit down to read R. E. McDermott’s first novel, Deadly Straits, make sure you have time to read it in one sitting. You will not want to put this book down!

The book is the story of Alex Kairouz and Tom Dugan and how they get involved in a multi-national plot to disrupt world oil shipping. Alex owns Phoenix Shipping, a London-based firm which has been forcibly subverted by a mysterious “Captain Braun.” Tom is an American who runs a ship operations consultancy. He’s friends with Alex, and Alex is his biggest client, so when Tom is approached by the CIA to investigate a suspicious hijacking he agrees with reluctance.

Since all this happens in the first few “pages” of this e-book, I’m not giving away much. But that’s about all I can say about the plot, as a key component of this story is figuring out who’s doing what to whom where and when. The author, McDermott, is a graduate of the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy and runs a ship operations consultancy in the US and Singapore. This detailed knowledge of ships, the sea and modern merchant operations colors Deadly Straits, to good effect.

As you can suspect from my warning at the top of this post, Deadly Straits is a thriller, with a lot of straightforward action. Having said that, McDermott avoids the of “too much information” trap that’s typical of thrillers. We never once hear of the type of engine on McDermott’s ships, for example, because we don’t need to know that. If we do need to know, well, he tells us in an interesting and readable fashion.

Another problem of thrillers is the cardboard character. Now, don’t get me wrong – Deadly Straits is nobody’s idea of a character-driven cozy – but the characters are generally believable and not typically drawn from Central Casting. There are two exceptions to this rule – one of the CIA characters is your typical political hack boss, and Alex at the end does something I didn’t find quite believable. These are minor flaws which in no way hampered my enjoyment of this wonderful book. I highly recommend Deadly Straits to anybody looking for a fast-paced and enjoyable read.

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

Art is not a mirror to reflect the world but a hammer with which to shape it.
-- Vladimir Mayakovsky

It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.
-- Anais Nin

I think these two quotes go hand in hand. Our world is our perception of it. In order to change the world, we must first hammer away at perception. Quite a daunting task if you ask me, since everyone’s perception of the world is slightly different. So, how can an artist approach an obstacle of this magnitude? Well, we can use the familiar to our advantage. We can decisively attack those perceptions which have become so familiar and so widely accepted that they have become dogma. True that there is no new story, but simply by changing the perception of it, we create it anew. Our modus operandi might be a hammer and chisel, or a paintbrush, or a whisper, but however we choose to manipulate the truth through fiction, it’s our perception of the truth that hopefully will affect change. Then again, art requires a bit of an intuitive approach, so, not everyone will see the truth even if we bludgeon them with a hammer.

The surrealist art is L’appel de la nuit by Paul Delvaux, 1938

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on The Craft -- cannegardner

"The most serious problem Goya solved while mixing the paints for his tapestries was hitting upon the right dose of sugar; a dab more and they would have been good only for the tops of boxes of chocolates." -- Oliverio Girondo from "The Scarecrow and other Anomalies"


Again, this goes back to my earlier post on self-censorship versus letting the art speak for itself, sans the sugar coating. Goya, a court painter to the Spanish crown, was a master at sugar coating his sharp, satirical wit. His commissioned work was known for its disinclination to flatter, but he composed these pieces in such a way that any insult was not obvious. The Merry Festival tapestries Girondo speaks of were the portrayals of idyllic aristocratic daily life. He knew who he was painting for as he did much later during his "Black" painting period, where sugar was not the order of the day, and his subversive macabre view of the world was unabashedly laid bare, as seen in the painting: Saturn devouring his Son. Girondo, by comparison, was as equally gifted, and this is from the anti-preface by Karl August Kvitko, publisher of Xenos Books: "Girondo has a wicked penchant for cramming a phrase with multiple meanings: symbolic, satiric, ironic, lyrical,rhapsodic, paradoxical, and the absurd."

Isn't that what art is all about? Sure, we could write a story where every sentence could be taken literally, where the plot might be nothing but manifest destiny, a mere linear historical account. But why would we want to do that? Why, when we can take that very black and white snapshot of humanity and reveal its infinite mysteries, subtle as they might be ... so subtle, that if it weren't for art, they would and could very deliberately escape notice. Did Stoker write just a vampire story? Did deSade write just pornography? Did Kafka just write about a delusion man who thought he was a bug? I think not, and therein lies the measure of a good story: not only does it devour our innocence, but in the process, it restores our faith in it. This, I think, can be said of all art.

On a side note: Girondo self-published "The Scarecrow" in 1932 and sold it while parading through the streets of Buenos Aires in a mortuary coach, shouting his marketing madness through a megaphone. 5000 copies sold out in 15 days. My review of this title is on Amazon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Tides from the New Worlds

Title: Tides from the New Worlds
Author: Tobias S. Buckell
Genre: Science Fiction
Price: $4.99 (Kindle or Nook)
Publisher: Tobias S. Buckell
Point of Sale: Amazon / author’s site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I recently acquired an ebook-reader (a Motorola Xoom, to be precise) and so found myself in need of something to load it with. Being a fan of Tobias Buckell, his short story collection Tides from the New Worlds came immediately to mind. Let me recommend it highly.

Tides is a collection of 20 previously-published short stories, spanning Buckell’s entire career. Several stories, such as “Fish Merchant” and “Necahual” are set in the worlds we see in Buckell’s novels, a world in which humans are under the thumb of various alien races. Several other stories, including “Toy Planes” and “Death’s Dreadlocks,” reflect Buckell’s Caribbean birth and heritage, and are set in those islands.

Although Buckell is noted as a science fiction writer, several of these short stories are fantasies, including “Smooth Talking” (a real estate salesmen persuades trees to move), and “Something in the Rock” starring a dwarflike “digger.” Also included are a couple of Buckell’s real gems. The first one, and one of my favorites, is “Io, Robot,” in which Buckell takes Issac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics on an interesting spin. The other gem is “All Her Children Fought,” a short and heart-tugging story about childhood and war. Lastly, the short story “Aerophilia” has perhaps one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read. Fortunately, the story just keeps getting better from there.

Reviewing Tides from the New Worlds is actually rather difficult. There’s so much to the book that there’s literally something for everybody. Twenty short stories for under five buck is hard to beat, especially when they’re written by one of the best new writers in science fiction. I highly recommend this book!

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: Are You Sitting Down

Title: Are You Sitting Down
Author: Shannon Yarbrough
Genre: Fiction/Literary
Publisher: Shanlian Wordlit Press
Price: $ 10.95 Kindle Edition $1.99
Pages: 270
ISBN: 978-0984238330
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: A rape victim raising a biracial baby. A drug addict haunted by a dead girlfriend. A homosexual mourning a dead lover. A teacher having an affair with his student. And a businesswoman sexually harassed by her boss. What do they all have in common? They all sit at Lorraine White's holiday dinner table; they are also her children. But Lorraine's children are not the only ones in the family dealing with ghosts of the past. This is the first Christmas the Whites have spent together since the death of their father. And it very well could be their last, as arguments ensue, secrets are revealed, and perhaps a murderer walks among them. In his latest novel, Yarbrough explores the damaged soul of one small town family and breaks through the boundaries of love, convincing his readers that no matter how hard life gets, sometimes the support of family is the only true foundation we have left to depend upon - whether we want to or not.


Let me just preface this review with a full disclosure. I know Shannon Yarbrough. We travel the same Indie review circles, and I reviewed an earlier book of his titled Stealing Wishes, which I enjoyed a great deal. As a matter of fact, the author thanks me in the back of this book for simply "getting" his writing. When he queried the Podpeople for this book, I happily snapped it up. I wasn't mistaken in doing so, because true to form, Mr. Yarbrough always gives the reader compelling characters and thought provoking storylines, albeit in this story, some of those storylines are quite disturbing. I reviewed this from an uncorrected proof copy, so there were quite a few formatting and grammatical issues to wade through, but I am sure these were rectified in the final edit.

As in all Mr. Yarbrough's work, the family members in this story are revealed to us with an honest objectivity some might find troubling. This book really begins at the end, if you will. All secrets are revealed with stark acceptance. All the characters have had time to dwell on their sins, and all have reconciled their various justifications. There are no labored confessions here to tug on our heartstrings. Everyone at this point has lived through their struggles and has accepted who they are, what they've done, and that the scars are permanent. The author makes no judgments here. Every crime is weighed equally, and by crime, I mean the crime each character has tried, convicted, and punished themselves for.

The story is told in alternating first-person points of view, each chapter devoted to one character, and aside from everyone being bludgeoned to death by Southern small town life, each character is connected to everyone else in the story not simply by familiar family bonds, but by the secrets they keep. Bigotry, infidelity, rape, murder, terminal illness, addiction, sexual orientation, sexual obsession, love, hatred, loss, and death, these are the ties that bind in this story.

As for the structure, it is much like any ordinary family holiday dinner: chaotic, which I felt served the story well. Each character is present "in the moment" and yet not because the past weighs heavily on each and every one of them. It felt to me almost like an American haunting of a sort, as if each character were a ghost cursed to reflect on what they had become instead of what they could be. Always drawn back into the past to dwell on the misery leveled upon them over the course of their lives. For some, that misery came with a poorly made choice, and for others, like Travis, the misery is downright unjust.

They say in a small town everyone knows everything about everyone else, and this story serves to debunk that myth. Here everyone knows what they think they know, and in reality, they only know what's relevant to their own personal struggle, and their attitudes towards the secrets that they think they know are really just reflections of their own inner turmoil. No one really knows anything deeper about the other characters aside from the surface wounds, which is sadly true to life. We talk to the people in our lives, but we rarely really listen. We claim to "share" our most intimate feelings with a certain few, but we rarely tell anyone the unadulterated truth about anything. That realism and truth about the collective consciousness is driven home quite powerfully in this story.

In this book, Christmas is a time for giving and healing, and what the reader gets to unwrap are the intimate confessions of a family who has never chosen to be honest with itself. The reader must decide where sympathy should be given and judgment passed. All the various perceptions in the story lack any real peripheral vision, allowing the reader to supply that on their own, which I loved. The reader is offered the rare opportunity here to be the psychoanalyst, and that, for me, made it a very engaging read. Nothing is ever really resolved by the end of the story, but the reader is left with the possibility of redemption to ponder well after the last page is turned. Very well done.


Thoughts on The Craft -- cannegardner

Eroticism opens the way to Death. Death opens the way to denial of our individual lives. Without doing violence to our inner selves, are we able to bear the negation that carries us to the farthest bounds of possibility. – Georges Bataille

That quote is from the book “Eroticism, Death and Sensuality” by Georges Bataille, a writer whose philosophical essays on Death and Sensuality in art and literature provide for a clarity never before achieved by any other writer, in my opinion, with regard to the duality of violence and tenderness ever-present in the human spirit.

Bataille also wrote: “The taboo is there in order to be violated. This proposition is not the wager it looks like at first but an accurate statement of an inevitable connection between conflicting emotions. When a negative emotion has the upper hand, we must obey the taboo. When a positive emotion is in the ascendant, we violate it. Such a violation will not deny or suppress the contrary emotion, but justify it and arouse it. […] Concern over a rule is sometimes at its most acute when that rule is being broken, for it is harder to limit a disturbance already begun.”

Those of us who write sex are familiar with this theory. Those of us who write sex as a metaphor thoroughly understand the implications, and those of us who write taboo have grasped hold of its subtle subconscious nuances and cast ourselves straight into the abyss.

The art this week is the cover from my own novella “The Thin Wall”, and while not graphic in its imagery, the sexual proclivities of the characters and the implications of said proclivities might be a bit disturbing for readers of a certain disposition. Nevertheless, as I have said in many posts regarding the issue of censorship, the implications were necessary. The metaphor was necessary. After all, the story is an exploration in self-abuse as it relates to the issue of co-dependence. However, I am a tried and true romantic, so for those who don’t mind taking a walk in the dark, you will be rewarded with an HEA. I just can’t write a romantic story without it, and yes, the thematic treatment of the subject matter might be a bit dark for most, but, self-awareness doesn’t generally come without a twilight struggle. An author should never be afraid to obliterate the boundaries in order to express the oftentimes ugly epiphanies that come with such a struggle.

That said, of late, I have been experimenting with flash fiction, and I have found that the form allows for much more experimentation when it comes to fringe subject matter. I mean, some of this stuff is best taken in small doses, for instance my abortion eating cannibal story "Doll Heads", or the body-image fixated "Margaritas and Razor Blades – After Five Porno for Skeptics", or even the sexual motivation for homicide in my most recent piece "The Shadow Factory". I want to exploit the experience as much as I can in a story; I want to deliver the dark and the disturbing, but I want to do it without bludgeoning the reader. Less is better, I've found. And by less, I mean less words, not less intense, so that the experience is still bludgeoning but brief. I've even started writing hard-core erotica -- under a pseudonym, obviously -- which has been published and well received. No, I am not going to link to it because that would defeat the purpose of the pseudonym, right? Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that we can step into the dark very purposefully as did Artaud, Bataille, and deSade, and many others for that matter. Sure, anything we write has the potential to offend someone, but that doesn't mean we, as artists, shouldn't endeavor to "go there."

For further reading of Bataille, I might recommend some of his novellas: The Story of the Eye, L’abbe C, or My Mother, Madame Edwarda, and the Dead Man.

Cheryl Anne Gardner