Friday, December 28, 2012

REVIEW: Rock Killer

Title: Rock Killer
Genre: SF
Price: $4.99 (ebook) / $11.69 (paperback)
Publisher: World Castle Publishing
ISBN: 978-1937593452
Point of Sale: Amazon / Barnes & Noble
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’m not exactly sure how Townsend’s new novel Rock Killer came to my attention.  All I do recall is that the ebook edition was up on Amazon as a free download, so I took a flyer on it.  The book proved an entertaining read, if a bit irritating at times.

Rock Killer is set in the latter half of this century.  Several private companies, including Space Resources Inc. (SRI), are mining the asteroid belt by locating and moving asteroids into Earth orbit.  Charlene Jones is a member of the security group for SRI, and when the book opens, her base on the moon is under attack by terrorists, presumably working with Gaia Alliance, a group opposed to all space mining.  From that point on, the action continues briskly, ending up with a dramatic battle in space.

This novel is a SF thriller, and suffers from some of the problems inherent in the genre.  Character development is secondary to plot, although in fairness to Townsend there is some development, mostly of the protagonists.  The author falls down on characterization for his antagonists, making them either fools or one step away from mustachio-twirling cardboard cutouts.

I also found the author’s politics both grating and gratuitous.  Townsend postulates an America where “radical socialism” has run rampant, and defending oneself from a criminal attack has become a crime.  These are not my politics, and so I found them grating.

I also felt that these political leanings were unnecessary to the plot.  I have reviewed and enjoyed books like Charles Sheehan-Miles’ Insurgent and Republic.  Here the politics were strongly left-leaning, but in Sheehan-Miles’ case, the story simply couldn’t be told without the politics.  Not so with Rock Killer.  The plot point of the “illegal self-defense” was simply to blow somebody’s cover, which could have been done in other ways, and the “radical socialism” was simply not needed. 

Yet, despite these objections, I found myself quickly flipping electronic pages while reading Rock Killer.  Simply put, it’s an exciting read, with protagonists, at least, that are believable and that one can care about. 


Sunday, December 16, 2012

REVIEW: Apocalypse Ocean

Title: Apocalypse Ocean
Genre: SF
Price: $4.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Amazon Digital
Point of Sale: Amazon / Barnes & Noble
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’ve been a fan of the SF writer Tobias Buckell ever since I met him at a convention.  He’s a cool dude, and writes fairly hard-boiled SF novels.  He first came to fame with Crystal Rain, set in a world colonized in part by aliens who wanted to be worshipped as ancient Aztec gods – human sacrifice and all.  This was to be Book One of a five-book series.  Alas, after three books, his publisher suggested they move on, and Tobias did so.  But he still wanted to write Book Four and Book Five, and had fans willing to read it.  So he did a Kickstarter project (full disclosure – I contributed) and the result is Apocalypse Ocean.  This novel is now available to the general public as an ebook.

Buckell has done something I am striving to do in my own writing, namely write loosely-connected sequels, such that a reader can start with any book in the series.  I believe Buckell has succeeded in that goal with this book.  Set on Trumbull, a human-colonized world that has fairly recently become independent of alien domination, the book features Buckell’s recurring dreadlocked agent of general chaos Pepper, one of his “daughters” Nashara and a criminal mastermind named Kay.

Trumbull is a world where trees emit a flammable mist, which rains down and coats buildings and people like napalm.  Oh, and there’s a dead zone, an area in which all unshielded electronics fail to work.  Lastly, an unknown “thing” called a Doaq is running around at night, eating buildings and people.  It is, in short, a nasty place; interesting to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

I’ve admitted my bias – after all, you don’t donate to a Kickstarter project unless you like the work – but Apocalypse Ocean is one hell of a good read!   Buckell starts the action early, and it never lets up.  Not only that, his worlds are not the stereotypical clean rooms of old-school SF; they are real, gritty places inhabited by believable aliens and people.  I highly recommend you read this book.


Just posted today - Tobias Buckell talks about the Kickstarter process.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

REVIEW: Just Remember to Breathe

Title: Just Remember to Breathe
Author: Charles Sheehan-Miles
Genre: romance
Price: $13.62 (paperback) / $3.99 (Kindle)
Publisher: Cincinnatus Press
ISBN: 978-0988273603
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

This blog (or at least this writer at this blog) has been a fan of Charles Sheehan-Miles since I devoured and loved his novels Republic and Insurgent (reviews at link).  Now, much though I like Mr. Sheehan-Miles’ books, he has been known as a slow writer.  The gap between the releases of Republic and Insurgent is six years.  So when I heard he cranked out a book in 14 days (!) I decided I had to buy it and read it.  As is typical with his work, I enjoyed it.

Just Remember to Breathe is almost a complete 180 from Sheehan-Miles’ previous work.  It is a straight-up romance novel, with minimal violence and no gun-play.  It’s set in the current day, as opposed to a near-future world, and about the only commonality between this and the author’s previous work is that one of the characters, Dylan Paris, is a war veteran. 

The story starts with Alex Thompson being assigned a student work job at Colombia University.  She’s both carrying a torch for and upset at an unnamed prior boyfriend.  This boyfriend proves to be Dylan Paris, fresh back from Afghanistan, wounded, and feeling betrayed by Alex.  What’s worse is that they are both assigned as the sole research assistants to an author-in-residence at Colombia!

From this “re-meet cute” the story follows Alex and Dylan as they attempt to negotiate the trials of their new lives.  Dylan has emotional issues from both his war experience and his poor home life, and Alex, although of a wealthy family, has her own crosses to bear.  Sheehan-Miles skillful weaves these various threads together, resulting in an entertaining and engrossing read.  I’m not normally a fan of romance novels, but this one I enjoyed, and I expect you will too.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Harlequin Digital First

The new Harlequin digital imprint is open to submissions in many genres.  They will accept previously self-published material.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

WordClay will close on December 31

As reported by Publishers Weekly.  WordClay was the basic package a bit like Lulu or Createspace.  No surprise that AuthorHouse wants to focus on the 'pay thousands of dollars' approach instead.

REVIEW: Velveteen Vs. The Junior Super Patriots

Title: Velveteen Vs. The Junior Super Patriots
Genre: science fiction
Price: $25 hardcover / $9.99 electronic
Publisher: ISFIC Press
ASIN: 978-0985798918
Point of Sale: ISFIC Press
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

ISFIC Press, the publishing arm of Chicago science fiction fandom, has a tradition of publishing a book written by the guest of honor at Windycon, their annual convention.  I have a tradition of buying that book.  Since this year’s guest was Seanan Mcguire, I took home a shiny new signed copy of Velveteen Vs. The Junior Super Patriots.

According to McGuire, in 2008 on a whim she decided to write short stories “about a strange superhero universe where cosmic powers not only came with great responsibility, they came with great legislation, merchandising, and focus group oversight. Many young heroes were effectively "adopted" by a corporate entity known as The Super Patriots, Inc., which promised to teach them how to best control their amazing gifts.  Some of those junior heroes wanted out. Very few of them ever got it.”

The star of these stories is Velma “Velveteen” Martinez, a young woman whose superpower is the ability to animate stuffed animals and dolls.  It’s a weird superpower, but it works for her, and got her out of a rotten home life.  Unfortunately, she got into a rotten existence, fighting supervillains while under the thumb of a malevolent corporation.  Then, at age eighteen, she walked away – but Marketing wants her back.
The nine stories wrapped up in this slim volume are entertaining, combining a well-earned cynicism with flashes at humor.  This is “urban realistic” fantasy / SF – McGuire’s characters need to earn a living, want to go on dates and otherwise are more than cartoon cutouts.
My chief exposure to McGuire’s writing is when she is writing zombie novels under her pen name Mira Grant.  Although Velveteen is much lighter fare, I saw a lot of parallels in the two bodies of work.  McGuire has a distrust of institutions, even ones supposedly dedicated to good, and she has a firm grasp of what combat does to a person.
I own just about every book ISFIC Press has issued, and I keep finding myself saying “they do good stuff.”  Velveteen Vs. The Junior Super Patriots is yet another solid offering in their library.  Highly recommended. 


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

REVIEW: Cocaine Zombies

Title: Cocaine Zombies
Genre: crime thriller
Price: $4.95 Kindle
Publisher: Camel Press
ASIN: B009W45276
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my sister said “you have got to read this book!”  I decided to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

Scott Lerner, the author, is an attorney in Champaign, IL.  I attended the University of Illinois there, and it’s the nearest “big city” to where I grew up and where my sister lives.  Mr. Lerner, taking the advice of “write what you know,” decided to set his story there, but you don’t have to have any familiarity with Champaign to appreciate this book.

Cocaine Zombies is a twist on the tried but true old genre of hard-boiled crime fiction.  Samuel Roberts, the book’s narrator, isn’t a detective but rather a lawyer.  Sam doesn’t even own a gun.  However, he still has a one-man office in a not-very nice building, and as the story opens up his first client walks into the door.  His client is accused of selling cocaine, and is escorted and bankrolled by an exotic beauty named Chloe.  Things get interesting from there.

The book is structured as a mystery, and so I can’t explain the plot without giving things away.  But I can say that even though the book is set in modern-day Champaign, it includes zombies, Nazis, sex and drugs.  About all that’s missing is rock and roll!

Lerner’s prose is workmanlike at best, and the ending is a bit over the top, but these are minor quibbles.  This book is intended to be cotton candy for the brain, and should be read in one sitting.  Since it’s only 210 pages long, that one sitting should be fairly short and enjoyable.

Cocaine Zombies is not great literature, but it is great fun.


Friday, November 30, 2012

REVIEW: A Wind Out of Canaan

Title: A Wind Out of Canaan
Author: Sally Gwylan
Genre: alternate history, science fiction
Price: $2.99 Kindle
Publisher: Birds Nest Press
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

POD People receives a number of unsolicited review requests.  In fact, we average around 20 such requests a week.  Deciding which request you’ll accept is difficult, so when I saw Sally Gwylan’s note that parts of the story had been published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, I decided that was a signal that this would be a good story.  I was mostly right.

A Wind Out Of Canaan is set in the Great Depression, and starts by having Phillipa, a young girl who has become a hobo, struggling to get into a “jungle” or hobo camp.  This particular jungle is in an abandoned icehouse in Minnesota, and Phillipa is being held up by a blizzard – an unusually early one at that.  As the story progresses, Phillipa discovers that the foreigners – “Wobs” (short for “Wobblies” or members of the International Workers of the World, a radical trade union) running the camp aren’t from Europe.  Wherever they are from, they access home via a powerful energy portal.

This portal malfunctions, killing several hobos and burning down the icehouse.  The story is then one of survival as the remaining hobos have to find a new home.  Also, one of the surviving Wobs wants to go to Saint Paul, where he can link up with the rest of his group. 

I really wanted to like the story, and it is written well enough.  Sally Gwylan is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop, so she has some professional cred.  However, I’m not a fan of the story.

My first problem was that the “Wobs from space” (or wherever they are from – it’s not explained in the book) felt unnecessary.  The whole story felt to me as if Gwylan had taken a perfectly-good story about a girl in the Great Depression and bolted on some vague science fiction in order to make it fit a market.  This bolt-on made the story feel padded, because I kept waiting to find out more about the science fiction.

My second problem was with the ending.  I don’t want to give away too much of the ending, but there was no real conclusion to the story.  The book just ended, leaving pretty much everything unresolved.  In short, I can’t really recommend this story.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Simon & Schuster Start Selp-Pub Imprint: Archway

What is a gatekeeper when it isn't a gatekeeper.  The answer is apparently Archway.

The base novel package is $1,999.  To which I say: Pull the other one, it's got bells on.

I would be astounded if they are offering a better deal that other companies off for free or less than $500.

See also:

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I just saw a television advertisement for an Authorhouse book, on a major channel in the middle of Thanksgiving day.

Advertising a children's book about making Easter eggs. That is all of 24 pages long.  Easter eggs.  On Thanksgiving.

Why on earth would any author do that? Someone must have money to burn.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

What a POD Peep Reads: Silent Dances (StarBridge Book 2)

Title: Silent Dances (StarBridge #2)
Genre: science fiction
Price: $4.95 Kindle
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

A while back, I did a “What A POD Peep Reads” segment on StarBridge, A. C. Crispin’s debut SF novel.  While on vacation last week, I found myself tired of touring and facing a nice hotel pool and a warm, sunny day.  So, I fired up my tablet device, purchased and downloaded Silent Dances, book two in the series, and settled in for poolside for a good read.

Crispin’s first novel, StarBridge, ended with the creation of the StarBridge Academy, a site dedicated to training young humans and aliens to interact peacefully and work to discover other alien species.  Silent Dances starts a number of years later, with one of the academy’s recent graduates, Tesa, a Native American woman born deaf, getting two offers.  One involves returning to Earth and getting her hearing restored.  The other involves going to Trinity, a planet occupied by an intelligent but primitive bird-like species called the Grus.  They are contradictory tasks, as the bird’s alarm cries are loud enough to (literally) deafen and even kill humans.

Tesa takes the offer to go to Trinity, where she has to work with a small human crew to prove that the Grus are intelligent enough to be brought into the Cooperative League of Systems.  At the same time, somebody is killing Grus for their skins, and factions of a rival alien species would love to embarrass and discredit humans.  In short, it’s a sticky situation, especially for a nineteen-year-old on her first mission.

Crispin and her co-author O’Malley put a lot of work into thinking about how an avian society would work, in part based on O’Malley’s work with whooping cranes.  They also put a lot of effort into understanding the culture of people born deaf (“Deaf”) who don’t see themselves as disabled and have no interest in becoming Hearing.  Lastly, Tesa was raised on a living museum on Earth, and knows the ways of primitive life, something that will come in quite handy.

Silent Dances is, simply put, a romp.  There’s action and adventure on nearly every page, tied to well-written characters that the reader cares about.  The alien society feels real, and the humans (good and bad) are believable.  One of Tesa’s jobs is unraveling a mystery, which makes this book both SF and mystery.  Lastly, although this is Book Two of a series, everything you need to know about Book One (which is not much) is contained in Book Two.  Silent Dances stands alone, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

REVIEW: There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes

Title: There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes  
Author: Robert Jacoby
Genre: fiction
Price: $12.95 paperback / $6.99 Kindle
Publisher: Cloud Books       
ISBN: 978-0983969709
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

A while back, I reviewed Robert Jacoby’s first book-length nonfiction effort, Escaping Reality Without Really Trying.  Based on that review, Mr. Jacoby asked me to review his first novel, There are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes, and I agreed to do so.  I found the book an interesting read.

Noah is the story of Richard Issych, a nineteen-year-old boy who tries to kill himself with an overdose of Quaaludes.  It doesn’t work, and he wakes up in a mental ward.  The story then becomes how Richard deals with his fellow inmates, his doctor and his parents.  This being the 1980s, his parents are still somewhat ashamed of mental illness, and their reactions to their son’s suicide attempt reflect that.

This book is a classic example of “literary fiction” – the story is a slice of life, focusing on one rather ordinary character’s reactions to a not-terribly-unusual set of circumstances.  This is not my typical cup of tea, and I am not at all happy with the way Jacoby chooses to end the book.  However, I found the story engaging, well-written and generally interesting.

Richard, the protagonist and narrator, is in many ways a typical struggling teenager.  He does have more problems than most in that he is suffering from clinical depression, something that was not diagnosed until his suicide attempt.  I found his reactions to being stuck in the asylum with the “crazies” (his term) both believable and sympathetic.  I also found his fellow inmates to be interesting and internally consistent. 

Jacoby, the author, does a good job of portraying a man who doesn’t see himself as crazy becoming sane while dealing with other crazy people.  This made the book well worth the read.  I ended up caring about not just Richard but his parents and the other inmates, which is a neat trick to pull on an action / SF reader like me.  Like I said, I didn’t like the ending at all, but it was fair and consistent with what had happened up to that point.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

REVIEW: Insurgent: Book 2 of America's Future

Title: Insurgent: Book 2 of America’s Future
Genre: alternate history, thriller
Price: $17.95 (paperback) / $4.99 (Kindle
Publisher: Cincinnatus Press
ISBN: 978-0979411496
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

This blog (or at least this writer at this blog) has been a fan of Charles Sheehan-Miles since I devoured and loved his novel Republic (see my review).  So, when I heard that he’d (finally!) released a sequel to that book, called Insurgent, I jumped at the chance to buy and read it. 

I think the best way to summarize the book is to quote the description from the Amazon page:

Three months after the end of the West Virginia civil war, Valerie Murphy faces her worst fears as the violence escalates. Former Congressman Al Clark, now Governor of the bankrupt state, must quell an insurgency even as he struggles to put the state back together. 

In a small town south of Charleston, West Virginia, Corporal Jim Turville faces combat, love and fear in a conflict which grows increasingly dangerous with every day. 

As implied by the summary above, the book does start immediately after the events of Republic, but I think that enough of what happened in the previous book is explained in Insurgent to allow people to catch up.  Sheehan-Miles’ view of a future America is not a pretty one, and can be charitably described as corporations and security theater run amuck. 

Sheehan-Miles draws heavily on the events of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and paints an unstinting picture of insurgency.  It’s a book where in one chapter rooting for troops under fire and in the next one mourning the death of an innocent civilian killed by those same troops because her house was in the line of fire. 

Republic started with a terrorist attack in Washington, DC.  In Insurgent, we start to see who (apparently) caused or at least enabled that attack, and let’s just say it’s not who you’d expect.  Sheehan-Miles has little sympathy for extremists of any stripe, and he’s identified a group of extremists to play the “big bad” in this story that may surprise some people.

Insurgent is a gripping, exciting and well-written book, and highly recommended. 


Monday, October 29, 2012

REVIEW: Entities: The Selected Novels of Eric Frank Russell

Title: Entities: The Selected Novels of Eric Frank Russell
Author: Eric Frank Russell
Genre: science fiction
Price: $29 (hardcover only)
Publisher: NESFA Press
ISBN: 978-1886778337
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

A while back at a science fiction convention one of my fellow panelists mentioned that the novel Wasp was “the best military SF novel he’d ever read.”  Google being my friend, I discovered that Wasp had been written in the 1950s by Eric Frank Russell, and re-issued with other novels in 2001 by the New England Science Fiction Association.  Based on this recommendation, I purchased the book, which at 691 pages is a bit of a doorstopper.  Trust me – it’s well worth the purchase.

The lead novel in the collection is what’s considered Russell’s very best work, the novel Wasp.  In this book, set in an undefined future, one intrepid Earth-man, James Mowry, is surgically altered to look like an alien race and dropped behind enemy lines.  Mowry’s orders are to act like a wasp, and keep stinging the enemy, causing panic and draining resources while a conventional war is being waged.

Mowry is, in short, to be a terrorist.  Aided by a conveniently repressive government and a stack of cash with which to purchase cooperation from the local criminal gangs, Mowry busily and rather gleefully creates terror.  Assassinations, bombs, propaganda stickers and barrels with curved pipes sticking out the top all play their rolls.  The famous SF writer Neil Gaiman optioned the book as a movie, but after 9/11 decided the market for merry terrorist movies had dried up.

Wasp in particular and the rest of the novels in the collection suffer somewhat from being written when they were.  As Jo Walton said, they were apparently written before women were invented, and so have few if any female characters.  They also feel a bit dated technologically – people rely on phone booths, printed newspapers and physically-mailed letters.  Still, Wasp holds up as a truly engaging novel.  It probably should – Russell, a Brit, spent his war working with one Ian Fleming, and so at least some of the dirty tricks applied in Wasp were tested elsewhere.

The rest of the collection is secondary only in comparison to the masterpiece.  Russell frequently explored the theme of hidden powers, and two of the works, Sinister Barrier (in Russell’s preferred and later version) as well as Sentinels from Space feature aliens either controlling or protecting humans.  Both are gripping reads. Call Him Dead takes the hidden aliens theme a step further, involving a (hidden) human telepath who is the only person that can detect the aliens.  Lastly, returning to the One Versus the World theme, we have Next of Kin, in which one military misfit helps win the war for the human race.

Three short stories round out the collection, of which the one that stuck with me was Legwork.  In this short story, an alien is scouting out Earth circa 1950s as a potential invasion target.  The alien has some cool tech, but his biggest ability is use hypnosis to convince any member of any intelligent species anything.  One would think that the invader would be invincible, but cracking that knot is what Russell does in the short story.

Entities is highly recommended for any SF fan.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

REVIEW: Living Canvas by Karla Brandenburg

Title: Living Canvas
Author: Karla Brandenburg
Genre: Romance
Price: $9.99 paperback
Publisher: Createspace
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Veinglory

 Audrey is facing losing her job as a sinister man takes over the company she works for. Greg, a widower with two young sons, is looking to start a new life running a scenic bed and breakfast. The reader is teased with the possibility of a holiday fling turning into a real relationship against a melange of mystery and mystical hints and clues.

Did Audrey' new boss commit murder twenty years ago? Who sent her the painting that makes a mystical connection with her? Who is the man in the silver car that follows her wherever she goes? Why is Audrey and Greg's relationship so hot-and-cold for no really good reason?

The parts of this story are strangely balanced with most of the focus on a sweet contemporary romance. But with the magical and crime elements peeking through so it is hard to work out how many of the numerous coincidences that drive the plot are meant to be accidental, magical or sinister.

Perhaps my issue with the balance is that these elements don't seem to connect. For example, Audrey has uncanny intuition and paranormal experiences but seem to have no spiritual beliefs, traditions, explanations or even curiosity about either. The police have a cavalier attitude to possible evidence for a murder, just borrowing it for a few days and then returning it.

 I found this to be an entertaining but bemusing novel, with a decent romantic core but strewn with details that never seem to quite slot together into a completely coherent story.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A word about blog tours

If you wish to invite me to join a blog tour:

1) Offer me a copy of the book to review
2) Offer to provide content for established features of the blog (e.g. 'free book friday' or 'my story')
3) Do specify the date for posting that is a realistic time away if I need to do a review (i.e. a month)
4) Do specify what the post should include to fit in with the tour
5) Do explain why I would find this book interesting and this blog tour worth participating in

DO NOT (all these have occurred, recently)
1) Lead in by saying that I don't have to review the book.  If it is not interesting enough to review, it is probably not interesting enough to promote
2)  Offer me duplicate content that will appear on a dozen other blogs
3) Offer me a generic pre-written post saying your book is the best thing since bound pages
4) Suggest I fake a review without reading the book based on your promotional materials
5) Send follow up emails demanding to know why I haven't responded to your request.  No response was my response

Friday, September 21, 2012


Please visit our new Facebook page and say hi!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

REVIEW: Vertical Play by Laura Downing Root

Title: Vertical Play  
Author: Laura Downing Root
Genre: Sci Fi
Price: $15 paperback
Publisher: Dorrance      
Point of Sale: Dorrance
Reviewed by: Veinglory

Earth has set up trade with a peaceful alien race, the Himbians. This adds a lot of interest to Kim's job as an veterinary technician as alien animals become part of veterinary practice.

The world building in Vertical Play is mostly great, the main character and her work are entirely believable.  However this is a novel in search of a story.  It consists of largely a series of short anecdotes about patients in the clinic.  There is a lot of "telling" about the home life of every veterinarian and some slightly preachy opinions about subjects such as when you should euthanize an alien pet and ownership of exotics.

There are some inserts that deal with some people who don't like the aliens and are sabotaging the equipment they are using. But this side-story never really goes anywhere and Kim is mainly an on-looker to it. Vertical Play had many excellent qualities, but the lack of a central narrative prevented it from being a fun read. 


 I received a complimentary copy of (Book Title) as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team.  Visit    to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

Monday, September 10, 2012

REVIEW: Sins of the South

Title: Sins of the South         
Genre: non-fiction, true crime
Price: $16 paperback
Publisher: CreateSpace         
ISBN: 978-1469907796
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I grew up in a small town, and now live in a suburb of a big city.  When I tell people in my current community where I grew up, they immediately think of “Mayberry RFD” and seem to think that my local police officer carried a gun with one bullet and the height of his day consisted of dealing with grade-school candy thefts.  I smile, and remind myself that, of the 78 kids who graduated in my class in high school, three of them (that I know of) have spent time as inmates in prison.  In short, small-town life is not anything like Mayberry.

So, it was with great interest that I purchased Maureen Hughes’ book Sins of The South, billed as exposing the “shocking mafia influence in small towns in Illinois.”  The book primarily tells the story of Lester “Shot” Winchester, a nightclub owner in far Southern Illinois who died of a gunshot wound in April, 1956.  I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to note that Hughes at least thinks Winchester was murdered.

“Shot” Winchester was no saint, having at age 15 killed a boy for cheating him at a floating craps game.  After Winchester got out, Prohibition was in full roar, and so he got a variety of jobs running moonshine, managing speakeasies / whorehouses, and related illegal activities.  Perhaps ironically, Winchester was killed over a crime he probably had nothing to do with.

Sins of the South is an interesting book, but alas not a particularly well-written one.  Hughes’ story wanders in and out from Prohibition to the post-WWII era of legalized gambling in Illinois.  Much of the book is a laundry list of the various local mobsters in Alexander and Pulaski counties (both at the bottom of the “V” formed by the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers).  These mobsters and the corrupt local sheriffs, judges and other political figures were sub-fiefs of the big crime operations in Chicago, St. Louis and for a time Detroit (important due to its easy access to Canadian booze).  Still, whether the triggerman is a local ne’er-do-well or an out-of-town hitman, the victim is every bit as dead.

Much of Sins of the South is stories told to Hughes by anonymous and elderly survivors of the period, which leads to some of the conversational quality of the prose.  And again, Hughes storytelling is a bit convoluted, apparently in an attempt to create a bit of drama where there isn’t much.  Still, I found Sins of the South an interesting book, and a useful antidote to the Mayberry RFD story of rural Illinois.  It’s a book more for history buffs than casual readers, but at 198 pages it’s accessible to all.


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

My Story -- Pretty Much True by Kristen Tsetsi

I’ve known Kristen Tsetsi for quite some time, and I admire her as a storyteller, as a self-publisher, and as an artist. I’ve read her non-fiction and reviewed her short fiction here on this blog when she first released Carol’s Aquarium, so when she asked me if she could celebrate the re-release of her self-published novel Homefront here on The Pod People site, I said sure, we can treat it as a My Story and explore the journey of Homefront from self-published tour de force to the now titled and traditionally published Pretty Much True. So without further ado, I leave the page the Kristen:

Pretty Much True…, at its most surface level, is about a woman waiting for her lover to get back from war. Why this story?

For two reasons, really. First, I’m very attracted to, and captivated by, human drama and the truth that lies silently beneath the surface of almost every relationship conflict. Those very private, complex factors that build and steam.

Second, I believe love pain has to be the most intoxicating, distracting, passionate, discombobulating emotion we’re capable of experiencing, and it’s something I’ve always been compelled to write about. When I was in a marriage I no longer wanted to be in, that desire to escape appeared in my short fiction. Another time, when I recognized the difference between married love and real love, one of which I had and one of which I wanted, that became short fiction.

When the man I’d loved for a decade finally became mine only to deploy to Iraq three weeks later, I was thrust into the most torturous experience of my life, both emotionally and psychologically. The nature of the uncertainty has only been matched by the month my father spent in ICU with less than a 5% chance of living. Combine that kind of uncertainty with the romantic love of two people who have been, by all accounts, star-crossed for a decade. (Can there be a more complicated, messy love than one interrupted by war? Likely not.)

Once my husband—who was “just” my boyfriend, at the time—had been home for a year and I was able to release the after-effects and look at the experience from an artistic perspective, I knew it had to be a story. Not only because it had all of the elements that make the kind of story that would have me riveted if I were to read it, but because there was so much truth to explore, so much about a war story people had never been exposed to before in all of the soldier stories they’ve read or seen in theaters. It’s part of the larger war narrative that’s been largely absent and that is every bit as valid.

Pretty Much True… isn’t a Dear John love and war story. It’s not about missing someone, pining away, or sticking yellow ribbon magnets on a bumper. It’s about a state of not knowing, of losing control, of the friendships and love that form or fall away in a world that, to those who are closest to war’s effects, has become a funhouse mirror reflection of the world they knew before.

If Pretty Much True… were a movie, what cable channel would it play on?

The creator of, Tera Marie, recently said of Pretty Much True…, “If books were people, Pretty Much True… would be the love child of The Bell Jar and The Things They Carried.” So, I’d have to say HBO. There’s a lot of intensity in the story, and HBO handles intensity amazingly well.

A cross between The Bell Jar and The Things They Carried. So, it’s character-driven.

Very much. There’s no “In a world when…” plot to speak of, but there are several character arcs launched from the springboard of the war, and each character has his or her own personal conflicts that are exacerbated by the war. They also have their unique ways of dealing with those conflicts, whether that means, for example, making a decision about a romantic relationship or coming to terms with nagging demons.

Some nasty politics surrounded the Iraq War. How political is Pretty Much True…?

Politics appear without making the book a political statement. It would have been impossible to ignore that aspect. When the person you love most is, as you see it at home, in constant danger of dying, and politicians and TV commentators are yammering on about the war like it’s a game of RISK, that has an impact. It’s just as much a part of the war story as bullets flying in a war zone.

Who is most likely, and least likely, to enjoy this book?

Early copies were read by readers whose interest has long been genre fiction, and they wrote to tell me that the story had captured them. Men have read advance copies and have expressed things to me in emails that led me to believe they enjoyed it as much as, if not more than, women. So, the two demographics I might have expected would be cool toward it have surprised me by becoming the most likely to enjoy it.

Those who may not enjoy it as much are certain military spouses who mistakenly think this is commentary on all military spouses or significant others. The protagonist's behavior, a vehicle used to communicate a larger feeling, would probably not speak well of a group of people, were the character intended to represent them. But she isn’t. Just as Full Metal Jacket is one story about specific characters and their war experience, just as Casualties of War is another story about specific characters and their war experience--and not commentary on all soldiers of all wars--,Pretty Much True… is a war story about very specific characters, and a certain set of war experiences. There are many, many war stories. This is just one of them.

How much of Pretty Much True… is true?

All of it is true, and none of it is true. (I'm not trying to be clever. It's just true.)

Is there anything you'd like to add?

I couldn't be more excited, and more honored, to be published by Missouri Breaks Press. Pretty Much True... has had a few years of publishing struggles, with more than a couple "almosts," and to finally land with Craig Lancaster's indie press, to have someone of his judgment and experience want to publish this book I've believed in and continue to believe in, means more to me than I can say. I will be forever grateful.

Find Pretty Much True... at and other online bookstores, or order it from your local bookstore.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Falstaff's Big Gamble

Title: Falstaff’s Big Gamble
Author: Hank Quense
Genre: fantasy, humor
Price: $2.99 (ebook) / $12.99 (paperback
Publisher: Strange Worlds Online
ISBN: 978-1478116196
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Some time ago, Hank Quense asked me to review his science fiction / fantasy novel Zaftan Entrepreneurs.  I did, and found it unique and humorous.  So, when the PR for his new title Falstaff’s Big Gamble crossed my desk, I agreed to review it.  I’m darned glad I did.

Hank took a simple concept – lift some characters from Shakespeare, put them in a box and shake vigorously – and added his own unique touches.  For example, Hamlet, who is actually the first character we meet, is a dwarf, and prince of the town of Denmarko.  He does in fact meet a ghost, but it’s not his father – the recently-deceased is too busy in the afterlife to show up, so he sends another ghost.  Oh, and Hamlet?  He wants to be a beekeeper, so his famous soliloquy is “to bee or not to bee!” (No, I did not misspell ‘bee’!)

In similar fashion, Othello is a dark elf, married to the troll Desdemona, whose grandmother is the “Godmother” of the local crime syndicate!  Othello has been padding his military resume, a problem now that he’s Minister of Homeland Security.  Sir John Falstaff, a human, needs no padding, but he does need money.  At first all three of these characters wander the stage separately, but when they do meet, it’s perhaps not exactly the way Shakespeare would have done it.

I am a tough audience when it comes to humor, but Falstaff’s Big Gamble was right up my alley.  It’s not a laugh-out-loud book, but it is amusing and light-hearted.  Quense gets the essence of each character correct, and runs that essence to its logical if farcical conclusion.  Everybody gets what they deserve, if not what they want, and you the reader will have a lot of fun watching it happen.

I highly recommend Falstaff’s Big Gamble.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Review: Gods of Kiranis (Kiranis Book 1)

Title: Gods of Kiranis (Kiranis Book 1)
Author: Ronald A. Geobey
Genre: science fiction
Price: $2.99
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: Amazon
Free on Smashwords!
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Ronald Geobey emailed me to request a review of his book, and mentioned that he read and enjoyed my book The Mars Run.  I replied back that “flattery may not get you everywhere, but apparently it will get you somewhere” and I agreed to review his book.  This review may plumb the limits of where flattery will get you.

Gods of Kiranis, Geobey’s first novel, is a genuine space opera.  The opening chapter involves Earth being encased in some kind of space-based cage, which greatly disrupts life in the myriad orbiting space stations.  Things get worse from there.

Now, you would think, correctly, that this is right up my alley.  Yet I found myself completely unable to get into the story.  Geobey writes well enough, so it’s not an issue of mechanics, and there is a solid story there, but I didn’t like it. 

I think I had a couple of problems.  The first is that I had no sense of place or time.  Yes, it was Earth, and since people were living on space stations it was the future, but the stations weren’t described, nor was the level of spaceflight defined.  I mean, first the cage showed up, then on page 30 or so alien warships show up.  The arrival of (apparently hostile) aliens is the first mention of their existence, and we the reader learn nothing about them.  When clearly hostile events happen (like, for example, 9/11) people immediately speculate, and that’s an excellent way for us the reader to get filled in on all the bad guys in the universe.

My second problem was that the tech in the book looked shockingly like used furniture rented from the back of a Star Trek the Next Generation (ST:TNG) set.  In Kiranis, we have warships big enough that people have private cabins with their own bathrooms, the Captain of one such warship has his girlfriend living onboard, and his interior security is bad enough that she can be kidnapped and hidden on his ship with (apparently) nobody seeing this.  Oh, and all of this is happening while they are desperately investigating the alien cage that appeared above Earth.

So, I guess you could say I didn’t like Gods of Kiranis.  Having said that, I suspect that much of what I didn’t like is personal to me, not a sign that the book is bad.  So, if your problem with the later editions of ST:TNG is that the plots weren’t dark enough, you may like Gods of Kiranis.

Update - Gods of Kiranis is free on Smashwords!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

REVIEW Legal Problems

Title: Legal Problems
Author: TT Harris
Genre: Romance?
Price: $12.99/4.99
Publisher: TT Harris
ISBN: 978-0615640631
Point of Sale: Amazon
Read by: Emily Veinglory

For me, reading Legal Problems was a fairly unpleasant experience.  Basically we meet a young married couple. One spouse cheats and the marriage is destroyed. Let's be clear about one thing, this is not genre romance even thought it is listed in that category.

Possible spoilers, mouse over to read: Both main characters are also very unpleasant.  The affair that occurs is between a lawyer a client who was recently raped so brutally as to cause permanent internal damage.  So, terribly unethical lawyer as well as a terrible spouse.

Both characters seem poorly realized with one flipping from not even being able to comprehend same-sex sexual attraction, to have secretly always being on the down low. Both use very distasteful homophobic slurs and not just in the heat of the moment or early in the story. Nor is there any evidence of themes or explorations of the human conditions that would elevate this dreary tale to some position of literary merit.

 I certainly won't be reading the sequel. I am giving this book 2/10 because there are coherent sentences that do tell a story, just not one that I enjoyed reading.