I’ve always enjoyed Shannon’s writing since I first read Stealing Wishes. When I learned that he had published a new book, I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle and devoured it in short order.
This is an ambitious undertaking, telling the story of one family through the eyes of its members. I enjoyed the fact that everyone was represented, even those family members that were there in memory only. Like every family get together, there is no small amount of drama, jealousy, and feelings of inadequancy. There is also no shortage of love and, ultimately, understanding. It’s a 300 page shapshot of one family dinner that gives the back story so we can pull up a chair and dish up some mashed potatoes.
I enjoyed the writing and the story, but my copy had a variety of formatting and editing issues that sometimes made it difficult to determine who was talking. That’s a minor concern though, and the pleasure of reading the book more than makes up for it. Hats off to Shannon for another crowd pleaser!
Movie Review – Surviving Sewanee
The Swing Shift
Surviving Sewanee is an historical look at the life of Samuel Mitchell, a Union soldier who survived an horrific blast of exploding gunpowder during the Civil War and went on to father a family of his own. His wounds were severe enough that he could have been forgiven had he just curled up and died. With the limited medical techiniques available in the 1860’s, he faced a painful and lengthy rehabilitation and recovery.
This movie was a labor of love by Randall Riley, a distant relative of Samuel Mitchell. Through interviews, re-enactments, and painstaking research he is able to recreate the life of this amazing man. I was very impressed by the professional production of this movie. The locations are historically accurate and the characters are portrayed in such a way that it brings to life this period in history.
After the war, Mitchell struggles to find employment with his disfigured hand and limp. Like many other soldiers from that era, promises of disability payments were not kept and eventually Mitchell and his bride left his home state of Kentucky for the plains of Texas to start anew. Life is not easy as the couple raises children in a home built into the side of a hill. Eventually, Mitchell’s wife dies and he does not remarry. He raises his children alone, and they go on to have families of their own.
What really struck home to me was what links in the chain we all are… if Samuel Mitchell had not survived the explosion, would Randall Riley have been around to document this forgotten hero? It must have been fun for him to bring his genealogy to life for us to enjoy. I learned much about this period in history, including events that happened very close to me here in Kentucky.
For anyone interested in the civil war and how all of the pieces of our lives fit together, sometimes precariously, I recommend Surviving Sewanee. You can find it here.
228 Page paperback
Ellen Davies peered out of the blackout-lined curtains at her bedroom window. The absence of journalists was welcome. They’d called themselves journalists, but Ellen had learnt they were essentially freelancing paparazzi who’d often tailed Carla James. Their absence also reminded her it was the inquest into Carla James’s death today…
So begins Bitter Fame by Emma Lee. The premise of the book is interesting, a woman running from an abusive relationship buys a house owned by an enigmatic couple who have both recently died under suspicious circumstances. He was a rock musician, she was a television star, and far from finding privacy to lick her wounds, Ellen finds herself thrust into the spotlight of celebrity by proxy.
The interesting part of this book is that it is set in a parallel universe where the Revolutionary War didn’t occur. America is still a British colony. Californians use formal English and pay for things in pounds sterling. OK, so it’s not deliberately set in this parallel universe. If I had tried to write a book set in Australia without ever having been there or knowing how they spoke, I’m sure it would have had some of the same out of place phrasing that dots this book. For instance, here’s a description of Ellen discovering a church that houses battered women:
She watched a milk float dawdle along past a line of what were once grand houses but now subdivided into flats and bedsits by landords that didn’t bother doing much more than collect the rent. She smelt but didn’t bother turning to look at a snacks van, the owner busy frying onions to drum up breakfast trade. Opposite her was a church with a sign on the door stating it was now “St. Theresa’s Chamber”. Ellen guessed that meant it had been converted into loft style apartments with the churchyard now a residents’ car park.
Despite the wording (or perhaps because of it), Bitter Fame is a good read. You find yourself sympathizing with Ellen’s plight and as she befriends the daughter the famous couple left behind, you root for her to solve the mystery and confront her own demons. In the end, I ended up enjoying the book. The theme of dysfunctional celebrities, over-eager paparazzi, and even domestic violence turn out to be more universal than the language used to describe them.
218 Page paperback
Levi Montgomery’s Other Loves is the best independently published book I’ve read. It’s actually the second book by Levi that I’ve read, the first was Cursing the Cougar which was the second best independently published book I’ve read. I guess you can say I’ve become a Levi Montgomery fan.
Other Loves is a collection of four novellas, linked by the theme that Levi calls ‘coming of age’ but I would consider to simply be love. How we find it, how it finds us, and how we lose it again. Most of his characters are young, like Duncan in the first novella called The Summer of Being. Duncan meets Nikki while both of their families are on a vacation to the beach. He has never heard of a summer romance, but at the tender age of 17 he finds himself in the middle of one.
I was trying to come up with a good way to explain why exactly I like the writing, but probably the best way is to share an excerpt. In this small snippet, Nikki has just finished telling Duncan about losing her father:
“After a few minutes, she pulls away, snuffling and wiping her face with her hands, and he lets her be. She just breathes for a while, gazing out across the water like she’s seeing something. He doesn’t bother looking for it. Whatever she’s looking at isn’t anything he could see if he looked. He’s got the little stick in his hands now, peeling all the dry bark off of it, splitting it open, scraping out all the pith. She takes a long time, and he’s nibbling little chunks off the stick with his thumbnail when she speaks again.”
It’s someplace I’ve been, fiddling with a stick while someone told me something emotional, just sharing their moment with them. The words aren’t big, but the way they are strung together weaves a compelling story with rich description and universal themes like love and loss and playing chess with a knight that is the wheelbarrow from a monopoly set.
The other novellas are just as good, just as tightly written and fun to read. Morry is 42 but he might as well be 80, his life ended when his wife died from cancer. His rut allows for very little improvisation so having a widow move into the apartment below him, one intent on getting to know him and not letting him ignore her, well that’s just a little too much like living life for comfort. His story is the second one.
I had to write to Levi about the third story, because when I got to it, I felt like the wheels had come off. ‘Here we go’ I thought to myself, ‘some indie author’s lame attempt at being the next Tolkien.’ Man, was I wrong. Yes, The Bumbler’s Apprentice is full of made up words and magic and sorcery, but it’s just an elaborate prop for a nice little love story, smack dab in the middle of it. The odd thing is, after I read it I even found myself enjoying the magic parts. It wasn’t over explained or full of itself, it was just the setting for the tale.
The fourth novella was the only one where I’ll say anything at all negative, it went on past the ending. The extra parts were fine and well written and interesting, but the story ends in Chapter 8 when Kevin is forced to leave town to go live with his dad and Carole curls back up into her shell of silence and shyness. You hate to end it there, but sometimes life is like that, it doesn’t have the satisfying (or unsatisfying) wrap up we get in chapters 8 through 10.
There is one excerpt I did want to share with you though, because to me it’s what sets apart Levi Montgomery’s writing. It’s an almost stream of consciousness gush of ideas and thoughts and words that comes rushing out and you really do need to read them all. Here are Kevin and Carole sitting on the porch, being young people:
“They sat in her living room and watched TV for two hours… two hours and he never even touched her hand, but now on the moonlit glassed-in back porch, gripped again by that courageous terrified desperate need, he takes her hands and pulls her to him. Leaning back against the dryer, he pulls her to him, and puts his arms around her… puts his arms around her and leans down to her face… down to her face as she looks up at him… she looks up at him and he doesn’t know how to do this… he leans down to her upturned face… and he doesn’t know how to truly kiss a girl… and he leans down… and her eyes are closed… and then for a very long moment, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know what to do. They do all right.”
Yep, they do all right, at least until chapter 8. I encourage you to get the book to see if you disagree with me. Maybe the last three chapters really are important. Maybe I’m just a reviewer and maybe you should go buy this book so you’ll know for sure. When you do buy it and find out you really enjoy it, drop by and tell me thanks. I’m that confident that you’ll end up being a Levi Montgomery fan too.
Written by Baron Brady
I didn’t want to like D by Baron Brady. I read the first several chapters and thought with a certain amount of disdain that it was simply a whodunit, the kind of story I’ve written myself. Pull Sam Spade into the present, photoshop a cell phone into his hand, and he becomes Birk Dillinger our dashing protagonist. Birk is a fun character to write, a hard drinking, hard charging private eye. Unfortunately, he’s not a fun character to read. His dialogue is too simple, his character too much of a cliché. Consider this bit of writing as Birk ruminates on Lieutenant Todd , the policeman who doesn’t take him seriously:
He accomplished nothing and had the nerve to belittle my achievements because he had a badge and I didn’t. He reeked of arrogance, as unmistakably pungent as cat piss. I didn’t tell him to go to hell, and I should have.
Worse yet, a few chapters in Baron Brady starts sidetracking into lengthy discussions about what constitutes reality. Why does a simple man like Birk Dillinger need to ponder reality for pages on end while he’s looking for clues to solve his case? Granted, there is a lot of subterfuge here to contend with, there are the requisite femme fatales who don’t give straight answers. There are competing private eyes who are either looking for answers or working in cahoots with the killer. There are red herrings, too many people with the initial “D” to figure out whodunit quickly.
However, as I kept reading, cracks kept opening in the narrative. What had started out as a simple private eye story detoured into a Stephen King novel, complete with a dwarf with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth and a psychiatrist we always hear but never meet. As we veered off of the obvious track, I found myself enjoying the story more than I thought I would. In fact, the further we got away from Sam Spade, and closer to Ralph Roberts (from the King novel Insomnia), the more fun the book became.
There are other characters in the novel. They aren’t people, but they play just as large a role. Birk’s watch (with “Remember you will die” written on the face) seems to jump forward and lag behind. He takes it in for repairs only to discover that it isn’t the watch that’s defective, it appears to be reality itself that is listing this way and that. Another character is the diner Lucky’s where prostitutes mysteriously disappear, an anachronism in the middle of the sprawl of Los Angeles. As the writing becomes more complicated and more fun, we get this description:
It was a dead street, a street without humanity, but a street which had been forgotten if it weren’t for Lucky’s on the corner. At least there wouldn’t have been any spectators if it weren’t for Lucky’s; and I was beginning to think that people came to Lucky’s hoping to witness a murder or, at the very least, find the victim of one.
As I read, I had to re-examine what I thought I knew about this book. The internal dialogue that I had passed over as filler in the early chapters starts to become very important. By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late, the book was over, the case was solved, and I had a newfound respect for Baron Brady and his characters.
I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t mention that the book in its current form is a little rough around the edges. A chevy changes from ’92 to ’93 and back again. Small misspellings here and there mar the reading experience. These are cosmetic things though and I’m sure by the time you take a look, they will be corrected. Give the book a chance to prove its true colors and see if you can solve the mystery!
By Jungmin Joo
Copyright © 2008
Reviewed by Dan Marvin
The stressful thing about a recession is this, you and I can’t do much about it. When crying and hand wringing have run their course, there is only one other option – laughter. Jungmin Joo’s second cartoon book on lulu is called ‘Need a Bailout’ and it reflects the world around us in wickedly clever cartoons.
You will find all the themes of the day here, the housing bubble, the bailout, job loss, corporate greed, and the relentless pursuit of the dollar. The cartoons rival those you’ve seen in the newspaper and it’s a given that one or two will end up tacked to the walls of your cubical.
Joo’s work has appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Sun, Women’s World and other prestigious publications. As I read through his book, I wondered what the next page would bring and found myself laughing on a number of occasions and thinking on many others. If you enjoy his book, you can also check out his website at http://joocartoon.weebly.com/index.html and see some more samples. I especially liked the car salesman telling his client that the car was ‘packed chock-full with anti-accidents.’
If you combine “The Office” with the George Orwell book 1984, you will start to get a feel for Word Lotto. You’ll recognize the world there. It’s mostly our world. A cynical version of it perhaps, but recognizable. It’s a world of wives and jobs and Dr. Phil and anger management classes. The version of the world that Tom Brennan inhabits, however, is skewed by an insidious device. The WordMeter slowly ticks away each person’s words at they use them. You’ll discover the reason (well, one possible interpretation anyway) in chapter 8 as Tom sits with his not really friend Rob in a seedy strip joint called The Batman:
“Joe Six-pack couldn’t afford to buy lotto tickets to “Hit-It”! Jackpots started to shrink and people became totally depressed. Something had to be done. Americans turned to their elected officials. The government was only too eager to help. Its proposal was simple. Instead of playing Lotto with money, why not play with words? Talk is cheap and there is plenty to go around.” When every citizen was outfitted with a WordMeter, they could all play the Word Lotto.
Tom is a reluctant hero. He is just trying to get by at his job as a “Citizen Advocate” at the Word Bureau. Much like Winston Smith in Orwell’s novel, our hero Tom is a civil servant pushing around paper for a living. His biggest challenge it to get finished with his last game of computer solitaire by 4:45 so he can beat the traffic home. In this case, home is his mother-in-laws house. He and his wife haven’t quite put together the required down payment to get their own place, but they’re working on it.
Tom’s job and coworkers feature prominently in the story. As Citizen Advocate, it is Tom’s responsibility to represent people who feel their WordMeters are not working correctly. Although he has yet to win a case, he has high hopes for a new client named Mr. Johnson (aka Bubbles, for reasons you will discover). His WordMeter registers not only his own words but those of people around him. It should be cut and dried, but the disastrous conclusion for this case spirals quickly out of Tom’s control. His loss in this high profile, highly publicized case sets the stage for the Word Council giving him another case they desperately want him to lose, that of a legend who advocates the end of the WordMeter system, a man named the Broadword General. In this book, you won’t be surprised to learn that the revolution has corporate sponsorship:
“…And now we welcome back our Broadword General.” Bob said to the camera, “You are witnessing first hand the Word Rebellion proudly sponsored by Pepsi Cola – the official soft drink for the young rebel!”
Word Lotto is at once humorous and thought provoking. It’s a little unnerving that Tom’s world is so recognizable. While a WordMeter is fanciful and unlikely, it is not that big of a stretch that there is a reality show that follows around people nearing their last word to watch the fun as the meter ticks down to 0.
The iSoap format is perfect for this book. You’ll enjoy the stories that set the stage for the conclusion and each character gets his or her own voice. Also a bonus is the whimsical artwork that kicks off each chapter. I found myself trying to anticipate where the story was going from the picture. I dare you to figure out what a flamboyant man dancing on a conference room table covered in Post-it notes has to do with Word Lotto, but he does. After a few chapters, you’ll be hooked not only on Word Lotto, but to listening to your fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the quirky characters, unlikely situations, and wry social commentary and I know that you will too. The Word Council requires it.
Dan Marvin – January 2009
The Chitta Niyama Opportunity
By A.R. Haslam
Copyright © 2008
Reviewed by Dan Marvin
Once in awhile, I like to take a step back from police thrillers and horror novels and read something that challenges me to learn and grow as a person. The Chitta Niyama Opportunity by A.R. Haslam definitely fits that description. The author does a good job of summing it up in the book’s description on the lulu site:
This book will take a special type of willingness to fully appreciate its riches. Readers should be prepared to open their minds to new possibilities
Haslam is an English author who has spent a lifetime pursuing studies in Engineering, Philosophy, and Religion. He is also a student, follower, and teacher of Buddhism. All of these interests are delightfully blended into this book as we follow the paths of 7 primary characters poised to intersect at the end.
In Haslam’s work, the characters are all searching for meaning. Some of them are searching for the meaning of life, others for the meaning of their lives. We discover as we go that the two searches are really not so different. He uses the dialogue between his characters to explore the complex ideas and philosophies with which he is intimately familiar. His writing has the English charm I thoroughly enjoy which is obvious in this description of this second date:
Toby glances over to see if Penny has managed to secure the corner table.
She’s tidying up the remnants of crisp packets, dirty glasses and empty bottles that
have been left scattered around the table by its last occupants. He catches himself
eyeing her up as if he’s seeing her for the first time. She is quite a find – good looking,
beautiful hair, great figure. Smart too, though not threateningly so.
Richard Easton is a central thread. A recently out gay artist, Richard has forsaken religion and grapples with his own search for meaning through his sensuous art. Now in his 40’s, we meet Richard as he is wheeled into the hospital with the possibility of cancer looming over his life. Of significant impact to the story is Richard’s ex-wife Sophie, the Buddhist bus driver who opens up the Buddhist faith to us as she goes through the rituals and then brings them with her when she visits the hospital. It is through Sophie that Richard is given his Chitta Niyama Opportunity.
It is the intermingling of the ‘normal’ and the ‘cerebral’ that make Haslam’s book such a delightful read. You can tell that he is truly a master of the information his characters discuss and reflect. Through their eyes, we are given a working understanding of many current religious, philosophical, artistic and scientific explanations for why we are here and what it all means. I personally enjoyed Haslam’s ability to make these sometimes contradictory answers peacefully coexist.
The Chitta Niyama Opportunity is a highly polished and finished book. The writing is literate, intelligent, and A.R. Haslam is a good story teller in addition to being well educated. You’ll quickly get absorbed in the characters and find that the information he is including adds to your enjoyment of them instead of detracting. I recommend it the next time you’re looking to challenge yourself to grow and learn.
Read the full review at http://lulubookreview.com
Let’s face it, the way we communicate has changed considerably. 30 years ago, there were no personal computers. 20 years ago, there was no internet. 10 years ago, there were no blogs. All of these things have forever changed how we communicate with one another. Books no longer have to be published by monolithic companies, they can be published by individuals with a computer and an idea. Words no longer have to lay flat, they can expand, shimmer, and dance. It’s more likely that you’re reading this on an iphone while waiting for a bus than on a printed page. This is the New Media.
The problem with the New Media is that reviews haven’t kept up. It’s difficult to get an objective opinion of your new way of communicating. I ran into this with my book “Briefs for the Reading Room” which is a flash fiction collection. No one quite knows what to do with it, they just know they like it. So, to give back to the New Media pioneers that have helped me over the years, and mentor those just emerging, I have started the New Media Review. Check back often for reviews of POD books, Audio books, Blogs, and whatever else catches my eye. Feel free to add your New Media creation to our ‘Over here!’ page.