Saturday, March 31, 2012
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of short stories
Publisher: Atticus Books
Quite a few years ago, you would have found me turning my head at short story collections. There was something about the start/stop/start rhythm of the story lines that irked me... but when pressed for a reason why, it's always been hard for me to put a finger on it... a lack of connection maybe, some missing ingredient that seemed to keep me at arms length. No sooner would I get used to the new characters and gain some insight into their current situation than I was ripped out of that story and thrust into another...
Over the past couple of years, however, with my focus shifting more and more towards independent literature, I find myself accepting more and more short story collections for review. I don't intentionally seek them out but they do appear to have become more common in the independent world. Remember all of those authors and publishers who complained that short story collections don't sell? I'd like to sit them down and hear their defense on that one now...
So why do I bring this up? Well, because I have just finished reading Matt Mullin's debut Three Ways of the Saw, which released on Leap Day. It contains an interesting mix of flash fiction and short stories.. some of which are connected by characters and others that are connected by theme. One of the things that finally sucked me into the realm of short story reviewing, back when I still skeptical, was the interconnectedness or intertwining of characters and story lines within a collection. Why should that make a difference? Well, simply because it felt more like a novel. The characters, though fluid and glimpsed at different periods in their lives, remained constant... or the location and settings would remain constant... so the time I was investing into these stories no longer seemed wasted. There was a commonality that I could hold onto.
Black Sheep Missives, the first section of Three Ways of the Saw, revolves around the antics and guilt-ridden self consciousness of an Irish Catholic son. Each story delved a little bit deeper into his psyche. Over the course of its 9 stories and 59 pages, you come to understand Dan and the inner-workings of his family life much in the same way you would watch a character unfold across the 2-- pages of a novel.
Discords and Ghost Limbs, the second and third sections, on the other hand, are more or less a mishmash of strange stories. Unfortunately, these stories more or less blended together for me. As I flipped through the book, preparing to write this review, I had a hard time distinguishing one story from another. Only a few jumped out at me while reading through the collection, rising above the pack: The Dog In Me - in which a man's German Shepard starts taking on human qualities while he begins to take on those of the dog - and The Braid - about the dangers of riding an ATV while wearing your hair in a glorious braid. And the title story, Three Ways of the Saw, which can be read in its entirety here. It's the story of a dying tree told in three perspectives - the tree's owner, the owner of the tree service company, and his teenage assistant. The only thing that could have made this story any better would have been a fourth perspective - that of the dying tree.... and yes, I realize that would have screwed up the whole symbolism thing.... Three Ways of the Saw, three sections of the collection... but it would have totally been worth it.
I think the back cover of the arc says it best ... "...this jagged chain of vignettes is for readers who try to hold their thoughts together with duct tape while never quite grasping the things they just can't seem to name".
Friday, March 30, 2012
It's a great day for some Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. Over the next few weeks, we will be inviting members of the indie publishing houses to share which of their upcoming 2012 releases they are most excited about!
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Debut indie author Ryan George Kittleman dishes on just that. Will his novel The Great Peace rise above the hundreds of others and find its place in the showroom window?
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
I hope we have done the book proud, and sent some of you scurrying over to the Code for Failure blog to purchase a copy. Still a bit hesitant? Seriously?! Ok, do me a favor, read this sample chapter (or have Ryan read it to you)... go ahead.. I'll wait....
Saturday, March 24, 2012
5 Stars - Highly Recommended / The Next Best Book
Audio download (approx 2 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik Audio / Coach House Books
Narrator: Gordon Mackenzie
What would the world look like to a guy with very low self-esteem, who views himself as just your regular-everyday-kind-of-Joe with no redeemable qualities or personality quirks to make him stand out in the crowd? Perhaps it would look something like "All My Friends are Superheroes"!
Tom is normal. There is nothing special about Tom. The only special thing about Tom is his wife, The Perfectionist. And the fact that she cannot see him. Because to her, Tom is invisible. Tom is not actually invisible, though. All of his friends can see him. All of his friends are superheroes, like his wife. They have tried to tell The Perfectionist that Tom is not invisible. But she remains convinced that Tom has left her, she hasn't seen him since the night of their wedding. And today she is flying to Vancouver to put the past 6 months of waiting for Tom to return behind her. If Tom cannot find a way to get her to see him before the plane lands, he will lose her forever.
As you read through the book, you quickly begin to realize that Tom's friends are not actually superheroes, not in the true sense of the word. They aren't running around like Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman trying to save the world from evil villians. But they do have interesting personality traits and odd habits that separate them from everyone else. Take his very own wife, The Perfectionist, for example. Her "superpower" is her need to organize. She will attempt to organize everything. Your hair, the garbage, even the falling snow. Then there is "The Couch Surfer", who has the uncanny ability to lounge around on his friends couches, roaming from couch to couch in a wonderful jobless stupor; "The Impossible Man" was named for his realization that trying things like building underwater fires and walking on water are simply impossible; and "Wild Mood Swinger" who tends to exhibit extremely high highs and terribly low lows, typically all within one conversation.
Tell me this isn't the coolest friggen thing you've ever heard of?! Imagine if everyone you knew were named for their most obvious trait. If you were to name yourself after your most outstanding quality/quirk, what would your superhero name be? In my case, I suppose I could don the name "Indie Girl" - forever reading and reviewing independent novels, never seen without a copy of a worn and torn indie book in her hand, always breathing quotes and concepts found within their pages...
This little book is full of awesome. The short, brisk sentences are practically painful, they're so perfect. The characters are emotionally intense. It's maudlin and mopey and yet, at the same time, brimming with this incredible sense of hope.
I won the book in a giveaway contest held by Lit Drift many, many months ago and kept meaning to pick it up and read it. And for whatever reason, it just never made it off the pile of unread books into my hand. Then, a few weeks ago, I saw that Iambik had published it as an audiobook and snagged a copy for my commute.
The book clocks in at mere 106 pages. The audio ran just over 2 hours. Never in my life have I ever wished for an audiobook to be longer... yet there I was, nearly howling when narrator Gordon Mackenzie announced that we were at the end of the recording. Of all the Iambik books I've listened to, All My Friends are Superheroes is by far their best. I have yet to find a more perfect match between narrator and novel in their catalog. I adored Gordon's Canadian accent and felt his pacing was spot on. He became Tom.
I'm putting my Next Best Book stamp of approval on this one. Sure, I'm coming to it a little bit late - ok, almost 10 years late - but better late than never! Don't put this one off any longer... get out there and get listening to this. You'll be by to thank me later.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
What was once old will be new again. This blogger is getting on the bus back to the 80's. (Yeah, I knew the 80's quite intimately... what of it, kids?! Don't hate...Appreciate!) Screw your fancy-pants digital e-books and MP3 downloads, this blogger will be kickin' it oldskool style with her brand-spankin' new walkman, purchased specifically for the sexy-ass hot pink book-on-cassette "I Never Liked My Dad" by Sam Pink. You can't be any more hip than this.
This bad boy's got a direction button AND loop switch, AV in/out to allow me to play it on my car stereo, and ok... sure... it also comes with a USB port for all you kiddies out there who just gotta have them MP3's.. it'll convert each track for you, so you can download the darn thing straight to your iPod... quit yer whining already!
You're jealous. Admit it. It's cool, isn't it? You're upset you didn't think of this first, aren't you? Well, it's not too late to join in the fun and skip back down memory lane with me. Raise those Jelly Bracelet arms in the air and stomp those scrunchie-socked feet on the floor... you know you wanna.
Hey Patrick Wensink... I'm looking at you and your "Broken Piano For President" next!
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who don't get their panties in a bunch over a few bawdy puppets
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Holy brothels and puppets, Batman! Under the Poppy is quite unlike any other literary fiction I have ever read and while that's a really good thing for me, if you are terrified of puppets... then that could be a very, very bad thing for you. Now, don't get me wrong. These aren't scary come-to-life-and-get-all-Puppet Master-on-your-ass puppets. But they're, ya' know... puppets!
Let me break this down for you. Set in the late 1800's, in the midst of a war that is just beginning to boil, there sits a wonderfully campy brothel. This brothel, cleverly called Under the Poppy, is owned and operated by childhood companions Decca and Rupert. Decca runs the Poppy in much the same way Miss Hannigan ran the orphanage in Annie - she can't stand her girls, but loves her job. She keeps the brothel running in tip-top shape, pulling the customers in and working the girls morning, noon, and night. She takes shit from no one and dishes out more than her fair share of it. Rupert, on the other hand, is looked upon as a sort of Daddy Warbucks (if you'll allow me to continue the Annie references since I think it fits this book in a strangely appropriate way). He's the brains behind the business, always slipping out for a meeting here or there, dressed to the nines, a true schmoozer. He softens Decca's blows behind her back, allowing the girls of the brothel some down-time now and again.
Decca, for all her tough exterior, has pie-eyes for Rupert, but Rupert much prefers the company of her brother Istvan, who suddenly reappears at the Poppy after years of silence. With him, he carries a troupe of puppets who bring a much needed change to the brothel. Mixing his rather bawdy puppets into the evening performances with the girls, the crowds go wild, and catch the attention of some rather rough and rowdy military men. In the midst of the strange love-triangle that begins to brew inside, situations outside the Poppy are straining as well, with the impending war putting the pressure on them from all sides. Favors are called in, decisions must be made, puppets and people alike struggle to keep their heads on straight, and as the tempers flair and people begin to die, Decca and Rupert find themselves at odds when it comes to what is best for themselves and the Poppy.
Under the Poppy has this incredible old world feel to it - lush, rich writing that wraps you up inside of it and makes you woozy with its words. And author Kathe Koja doesn't skimp on anything. The book is bursting with sex and violence, love and lust, blackmail and revenge, naughty puppets and naive prostitutes. Everyone's got deep dark secrets they wish to protect and skeletons bound and gagged in the back of their closets. And as they each work furiously to keep these things hidden from sight, everyone unwittingly becomes someone else's puppet....
Small Beer Press is a new publisher for me. I discovered them, and this novel, through a link that Consortium Books shared during one of their #indieview twitter chats. The link listed countless book trailers to independently published novels. That's where I saw this, and decided I needed to get a copy post haste:
Funnily enough, this book contains two things I am not a huge fan of: war as a setting, circumstance of, or character within fiction, and puppets. The war thing is just a personal preference. It's a bit like football playoffs for me - I can't keep the teams and their players straight, I don't remember who fought who when, and I can never remember the score. Puppets, on the other hand, are things that instill an irrational fear in me. They are extremely creepy looking - and too life like for me - and I always wonder "what if they become self aware?". I have good old fashioned American horror flicks and tv shows to thank for all of that!
However, in Under the Poppy, they both work and work well together. Just be prepared for the puppets to exhibit some... uhm... un-puppet like behavior. By the way, did you know that Under the Poppy has been adapted to the stage? Check out some of the stuff that has been taking place out in Detroit.
Let me close with this - Under the Poppy is a book that begs for a great soundtrack as you read. I found that my darker alternative tastes fit the bill extremely well. Almost too perfectly, in fact. The music of She Wants Revenge, Peter Murphy, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Portishead and The Cult blended right into the pages of the book like so much spilled wine. There something a little sexy, a little S&M, a little sad in each one of these...
Monday, March 19, 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of wicked sharp short fiction
Audio Download (approx 6 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik / Keyhole Press
Narrator: Mark F Smith
Matt Bell's How They Were Found was one of those books that sat on my to-buy list near forever but never really jumped out at me from the shelves as I was roaming the aisles of bookstores looking for something to buy.
Yet when I recently saw that Iambik had recorded it, I knew this was my chance to finally give it a whirl and procrastinate no more. Thank god for Iambik, man. If they hadn't published this, how much longer might I have gone without reading it? I shudder to think....
The stories contained within this collection deserve more than the typical reviewer-type, cliche buzz terms that run the risk of cheapening them - like "powerful" and "deeply affecting" and "compelling" - but strike me dumb if his stories aren't exactly those things. Stripped down to only the most essential words, Bell cuts to the heart of each story and paints moody, dark, twisted reflections of would-be realities.
The narrator, Mark F Smith, did a fantastic job with this collection. As the first track got underway, I couldn't help but compare his voice to that of a much more soft spoken version of Alan Heathcock (author of Volt, of whom I had the pleasure of hearing perform a reading, and who has this incredible southern preacher voice thing going for him), mixed with a little of our local radio DJ Jumpin' Jeff Walker (minus the distracting lisp thing). While this might not seem like a compliment, it actually is. His pacing and tone matched Bell's stories to near perfection. His voice became a vehicle for each story...
As with any collection, some of Bell's pieces grabbed me more strongly than others. The Cartographer's Girl, a story about a sleepwalker who disappears and the man who loves her who painfully maps out every moment and every place and every memory he can recall in order to try to find her, was one of them. Dredge, which revolves around an emotionally unstable man who starts his own investigation into the murder of the drowned girl he pulled from the lake and stored inside a freezer box, is another.
How about The Leftover, which tells the story of a woman who discovers that she actually misses and loves the things that she made her ex give up while they were still together (like smoking and leaving clothes all over the house) when those bad habits appear on the couch one day, in the form of a silent mini-version of him?
My absolute favorite story, though, is The Receiving Tower, which details the slow, mental breakdown of the men who have been searching through the static of the government's receiving tower stations for years under the orders of their heartless captain, listening for the decoded messages being sent across the airwaves, cruelly unaware of the fact that the world has ended and there is no rescue for them. It reminded me of something The Twilight Zone might have put out, back in the day...
Of course, there were stories that failed to blow me away - like Wolf Parts, which is a dark and strange take on the whole Red Riding Hood thing, and Her Ennead, which takes us through a soon-to-be-mother's wacky imaginings of what her baby will become - though I am aware that these particular stories are held in high regard by some reviewers.
No matter which of his stories you prefer, Matt consistently teases the reader something terrible by burying threads of hope within the pages of his bleak and otherwise soul crushing tales of loss and love and broken hearts. If his sparse storytelling doesn't hook you, the unique, awkward, inappropriately sentimental situations his characters find themselves in most certainly will.
I highly recommend listening to Iambik Audio's version of the book. (And, just in case that statement didn't floor you, that's actually saying a lot, coming from a previously reluctant audiobook listener, so you know, you should totally take me up on it!)
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Atticus Books, one of my favorite small indie publishing houses. They have a great catalog, with books such as The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer and Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins creating quite the stir.
He also founded the weekly online journal Atticus Review. Dan is no stranger to print and digital publishing. He has 20-plus years experience in the field and has commissioned the work of more than 100 book authors in various genres.
Did you know he was once owner and operator of Chapters Revisited, a quaint brick-and-mortar bookshop in Doylestown, Pa.? And now, he has partnered with TNBBC to share with us his impressions and ideas regarding the question I love asking... What does "Being Indie" mean to you? Take it away, Dan....
Sunday, March 11, 2012
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who prefer books with a protagonist that will make them feel like less of a failure.
Audio Download (approx 6 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik / Coffee House Press
Narrator: Charles Bice
We know it's hard to be honest with yourself. Especially when you're a middle aged man desperately trying to keep your small literary magazine afloat while adamantly ignoring the fact that you are flat ass broke.
And we know how difficult it can be to look around and realize that you are fighting a losing battle, a battle that no one else cares about - or perhaps even knows about - yet feeling completely unable to throw in the towel.
The Cry of the Sloth is the story of Andrew Whittaker, a complete and utter failure at everything he ever attempted to be.. a son, a father, a husband, a writer, an editor, a landlord, even a pervy flirt. It is told entirely from Andy's point of view in letter after letter to his tenants, his ex-wife, his mother's caretakers, the bank and phone companies, old acquaintances, and potential contributors to his one man literary magazine "Soap". Sometimes sarcastic, other times quite pathetic and woe-is-me, it's no surprise that Andy is running extremely low on funds... sitting around the house, incredibly sloth-like, only bothering to leave the house when he needs more groceries or mails his never-ending correspondences.
He's got these grandiose plans for saving his magazine, a festival-like fundraiser of sorts, complete with awards, music and food, and would you believe it....even an elephant or two! As he attempts to make this fever dream a reality by pitching it to other professionals and begging some money off of them, he ignores his tentant's complaints about the poor living conditions. Andy has the gall, at one point, to blame the leaking ceiling one man writes about on his own fat wife, claiming that she must be filling the tub too high with water and then plopping her heavy body into it, causing it to spill over the edge and drain down into the ceiling tile!
He is also terribly aware of the fact that no one takes him seriously. The papers shove each other out of the way to bash him when he makes an ass out of himself at various literary functions. A teenage would-be-writer teases him ruthlessly over a period of months, back and forth in response to his letters, sending photographs of herself dressed provocatively, then writing about her boyfriend (the photographer). And he knows his stories, which are horrendous and the worst part of the book, will never see the light of day.
The stress and aggravation of it all, of not being able to pay his bills - the nerve of the phone company shutting off his phone, to hell with the bank for not allowing him to fall behind in payments - of living alone, of simply being him, seems to finally be affecting his health. In letters to various colleagues, he begins to confide that he fears he is losing his mind... forgetting where he has placed things, turning the house upside down, only to find the very thing he was searching for three days later, sitting right out in the open, as though it had always been there. He's got a noise in his chest and by god, if he isn't hearing static in his head now....
How do I always end up choosing books with incredibly fucked up protagonists. I must have a thing for damaged guys. i'm serious. I am beginning to wonder if it's some sort of sick comfort thing for me.
Ok, so since I "read" this as an audio, let's talk about the narration. Iambik's narrator, Charles Bice, did a pretty decent job of conveying our Mr. Whittaker's frustration across my car speakers. The veiled sarcasm - something Andy really prides himself on - the mini freak-outs... Charles definitely seemed to have gotten inside the character's head. There were times he had me shaking my head in embarrassment for Andy, while other times I wanted to reach out and throttle him for being such a complete ass. The book itself is one of the shorter ones I've listened to, and Bice's voice, though it's hard for me to recall in my head at this very moment, blended very well with the narrative voice I imagine Sam Savage might have had in mind as he wrote it.
Now, having said all of that, when the audiobook finally came to an end, I was left with no strong feelings either way for Andy, the narrator, or the book as whole. Maybe it has something to do with the way it just seemed to end... without actually ending. There really was no sense of closure, no great climax, no moment of revelation or resignation. Yet, I wasn't upset about that, as I typically would be. I didn't feel cheated. I didn't feel angry. I didn't really feel much of anything.
I am not sure what to make of that.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
A few months ago, Marissa DeCuir of JKSCommuincations began talking to me about one of her authors, A.J. Scudiere, and the AudioMovies she was releasing. Intrigued, and wanting to hear more about them, I decided this was the perfect opportunity for a little spotlighting. Here's Marissa herself, with an intro....
A.J. Scudiere is all about pushing boundaries and finding new stories to tell - and just as fun for us readers - new ways to tell those stories.
Before you check out her guest post below (thank you Lori for having us today!), there's something you should know about the award-winning suspense author. Yes, her novels are awesome. Yes, you can buy them in print and ebook format. But what is so cool and unique about A.J. is that she's on the cutting edge of the AudioMovie industry.
Now I love regular audiobooks, but A.J.'s AudioMovies are so much more than a story being read aloud. I'm talking full on movies with sound effects, actors, a score - and they remain unabridged!
You can buy her AudioMovies at iTunes, Audible.com and her website www.AJsAudioMovies.com, where you can not only find them on CD and digital download, but also USB. Check out the special edition USB swords (Vengeance) and bracelets (Resonance) - and the adorable Utukku creature (God's Eye).
Enough from me, let's hear from the talented author herself, A.J. Scudiere!
Thursday, March 8, 2012
You've got a second lease on life.....
In addition to ghost writing for an immortal man, Gene Doucette has been published as a humorist with Beating Up Daddy: A Year in the Life of an Amateur Father and The Other Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: A Parody. He is also a screenwriter and a playwright. Gene lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife and two children.