Saturday, September 06, 2014

Two Worlds Daughter

Two Worlds Daughter
by Dr. Al Past
(CreateSpace / 1-496-13199-1 / 978-1-496-13199-7 / March 2014 / 316 pages / $13.66 paperback / $12.29 Amazon / $2.99 Kindle)

 As a reader and reviewer of all six of Al Past's Distant Cousin books, I rate this one as the second best of the sequels. Of course you can never duplicate that first introduction to the exquisite Ana Darcy in the first book! Like my other two favorites, DC1 and DC3, Two Worlds Daughter is one of the longer books in the series, and I like them that way.

This DC6 stars Ana's seventeen-year-old daughter Clio and her ex-Navy SEAL bodyguard, Fergus. Clio discovered earlier in life, and in an earlier book, that she had special healing powers she could impart to patients through a special lightness of touch, an exquisite massage. She had proven prior to finishing high school that she distinctly had possession of a delicate healing power. In a search for more knowledge of this unusual talent, she joins a small entourage of doctors and nurses who are devoting two weeks of their time in a small town in New Mexico. Forever the protective mom, Ana insists that Clio travel only with a protector of both her person and her secret identity.

The story unfolds pleasantly, slowly and smoothly through the first half of the book. There may not be much excitement happening, but the reader is easily sucked down the rabbit hole of the storyline. The deep experience and professionalism imparted by the author guides the reader to a second half with considerably more action and surprises. The special relationships among the characters, Ana and her friends and extended family, Clio and her patients, and Clio and her recalcitrant traveling companion, will warm your heart much like that first meeting with Ana Darcy did. The book is never long enough as far as all the Distant Cousin Series go. The ending arrives all too quickly.

Two Worlds Daughter is the sixth book in a very entertaining fiction series suitable for all ages. Dr. Al Past has created a wonderful storyline with broad appeal. I highly recommend that any intellectually curious reader begin with the first book in the series. You will not be able to put it down. I also recommend a perusal of the Ana Darcy Blog (link below) to see the complete three-dimensional story that Al has created. Note that the story has been contracted to a movie agent, a fate it most certainly deserves. As All-American entertaining fiction, the Distant Cousin Series is hot stuff! 

See Also: Al's Ana Darcy Blog
The Original Distant Cousin 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ghost Ship of the Desert

by Michael Cole
(Foremost Press / 1-939-87011-9 / 978-1-939-87011-7 / April 2014 / 200 pages / $13.97 Amazon / $4.99 Kindle)

Reviewed for PODBRAM by Dr. Al Past

There are two reasons I looked forward to Michael Cole’s Ghost Ship of the Desert:  (1) I love sea stories set in the time wooden ships, and (2), I was raised in El Paso, in the great Chihuahan Desert. To combine both concepts in one story was an intriguing idea. My initial enthusiasm was dimmed somewhat, however, by the cover, which shows an improbable fully rigged ship (though without sails on the yards, true) lying half buried in sand. Its rigging is completely intact, with all lines and ropes tight—even the ratlines! These lines would need daily attention, even hourly attention, to maintain their tautness on a modern vessel, but on a ghost ship in the desert? That’s not going to be the case.
Still, I should know better than anyone that a book should not be judged by its cover, since I have penned a number of novels with astronomical photos on the covers though the stories are actually only about ten per cent science fiction, being set solidly on our good Earth. Several hard core sci-fi fans have objected in strong terms. They have a point, even if the stories are good ones.

Fortunately, Ghost Ship of the Desert turned out to be a decent story too, despite the further contradiction that the ship of the title turned out, on page three, to be a Spanish galleon. The ship on the cover is a vessel several centuries newer than the tubby, hardy vessels of the days of the Spanish Empire.

In the story, we find an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times is sent to report on a political squabble over the fate of the Salton Sea, a highly saline, highly toxic dumping ground for various California entities. In so doing, he stumbles into a murder mystery involving, among other things, the ghost ship of the title, a semi-deranged ex-SEAL Native American, rare and valuable black pearls, a gorgeous red-headed scientist with a violent boyfriend, and murder. The result is a mystery that fits squarely in its niche: a detective story replete with danger, romance, and a shadowy perpetrator or perpetrators. (As a bonus, we learn that back in sixteenth century and even later, the Salton Sea, now landlocked, was occasionally open to the sea, so that the occasional ship might indeed have sailed upon it. It’s not difficult to find lost ships and possible lost treasure mentioned online.)

All in the story is not smooth sailing, however. The text reads well enough provided you are not the sort who trips up at comma splices and similar copy editing oversights (as I am). There are some plot holes, not unknown in complex mystery stories. Most are minor, but I have to mention one which this former desert rat had to shake his head at: the notion that a three or four hour sandstorm could completely cover a Spanish galleon (or completely uncover it), and that after centuries under the sand and with some missing planks in the deck, the area below decks will remain open enough for a person to walk around and hunt for treasure chests. My family found the spring sandstorms sent drifts of sand into even a tightly sealed-up house. Left to accumulate for 400 years, I’m certain all our furniture would have been buried. And probably the refrigerator too.
Finally, I found the characters rather flat. The relentless investigative reporter and the traffic-stopping red haired scientist who inevitably falls for him fulfilled their functions in the story but were not quite unique enough to lodge in my long-term memory.

The bottom line is that Ghost Ship of the Desert is a worthwhile read but also a good example of the difficulty of putting out a polished, professional product independently or with a small staff. That requires meticulous attention to detail—to hundreds of details—a daunting task indeed, and that’s the good news. The rest of the story involves marketing, and we won’t even go into that here, except to mention that this blog offers quality advice and a good selection of the most helpful links in the column to the left. 

See Also: Other Books by Michael Cole

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Dog Did It

The Dog Did It: A Whodunit
by Jim Toombs
(CreateSpace / 1-478-26078-5 / 978-1-478-26078-3 / August 2012 / 274 pages / $10.99 paperback / $9.89 Amazon / $2.99 Kindle)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

I began The Dog Did It -- A Whodunit (Gabe and Tigger Mystery) wondering if it was another in the vein of Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery, by Spencer Quinn, a mystery told from the point of view of the detective's dog, and rather imaginatively so. I found reading that book something of a high-wire project, with the suspension of disbelief teetering throughout. The Dog Did It is more traditionally narrated, however, and reads well. The protagonist, Gabe Chance is not exactly a licensed detective, and the story isn't a mystery since we meet the bad guys early on and know what they're up to. If one needs a genre for it, adventure would do, or maybe suspense.

Brought back to Texas when his mother's will is probated, Mr. Chance finds that to inherit her money he must live in her house, drive her car, and care for her dog. He does so very reluctantly, and while reconnecting with people he knew in childhood, finds himself ensnared in a murder which eventually leads to further dangers for himself and others...and the dog. The story, flavored by its setting in the famously lovely Texas hill country, costars a Jack Russell terrier, which should appeal to dog lovers and especially to lovers of that breed. The lively critter is based, it seems, on the author's own dog of yore, who apparently inspired the book.

I found the story satisfyingly entertaining, though I could have done with more details regarding the character and history of the main character. For that matter I suspect those not familiar with the Texas hill country could also use a bit more description of that, too. Oddly enough, the most memorable characters were the bad guys, one of whom was a vicious professor and another a frighteningly dangerous (if entertaining in a shivery sort of way) sociopath.

Those who enjoy this book will be happy to know there is a second featuring the same dog and master. Both are attractively priced for Kindle.

See Also: Jim Toombs website

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Poison Ring

The Poison Ring by Freddie Remza
(Outskirts Press / 1-478-70541-8 / 978-1-478-70541-3 / May 2013 / 286 pages / $14.95 paperback / Amazon $13.46 / Kindle $6.99)

Let me begin by saying that, as with all my reviews, I have given a considerable amount of thought to my approach before proceeding. There will be technical criticisms in this review that will not appear in the Amazon review because PODBRAM is a place for authors to learn and Amazon is a place to sell books. Rest assured that I am not going to shred The Poison Ring here because it is a very competent effort deserving of the four stars I shall give it at Amazon. However, this book demonstrates several key lessons that I think are pertinent to the PODBRAM audience of fellow authors.

The Poison Ring is obviously a book for Young Adult readers, not for typical adults of all ages, but this fact is not noted on the book's Amazon page. If the prospective buyer checks out the Look Inside, the large print is a hint. I call the storyline Nancy Drew Goes to Nepal. The reading level is simple with lots of short declarative sentences composed in a typical third-person, past-tense style. There is an adequate level of show-don't-tell in the extensive dialog among the characters and the pace of the story is kept brisk to the end. The author is a retired teacher and there are discussion questions at the end. There is another bonus of ten B&W photos from Nepal in the back matter; however, the effect could have been improved by either moving the photos to their respective positions within the text or enlarging them to full-page size, or both. Ms. Remza is attempting to teach her student readers about Nepal and its culture, and she does an adequate job of this with the book. One detail the author missed is that the application of the past perfect tense would have been correct in several instances in the text. The story is told in a straightforward manner and the reader's interest will be held to the end.

This is Freddie Remza's fourth book with Outskirts Press, which brings up several points relevant to the PODBRAM readership. Although my own first four books were published with iUniverse, that is an approximate maximum number for an author to pay many hundreds of dollars to sell a small number of books. It's probably time for Freddie Remza to "graduate" up to CreateSpace. Whether or not the author paid for extra services at Outskirts, The Poison Ring is certainly one of the best proofread POD books I have encountered. Other than a minimum number of typos and the aforementioned tense issue, Freddie's fourth effort is a slick, professional product. If the author can reproduce this quality of work on her own at CS, she could be on her way to making more in royalties than she pays in fees.

The highest compliment I can pay to Ms. Remza is to state that in the genre of YA fiction, this book approaches the quality of that of ex-iUniverse author Dianne Salerni. She's not quite there yet. I think even YA readers could deal with a little more complexity in the plot and sentence structure. Her heart is in the touching zone and the technical quality of the product is commendable.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Reunification: A Monterey Mary Returns to Berlin  
by T.H.E. Hill
(CreateSpace / 1-490-49026-4 / 978-1-490-49026-7 / July 2013 / 226 pages / $12.95 / $11.66 Amazon)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

“Alas, poor Cold War, I knew it well. It was a war of infinite jest and most excellent fancy, fought more often in the shadows of the mind than to death, yet the lives of millions hung in the balance. It is a war without monuments, but not without casualties…”

Long-retired from the CIA, Mike Troyan returns to Berlin, where he once served as a military linguist – a Monterey Mary – at the Army Field Station in the 1970s. Now comfortably ensconced in academia, he intends to write a book about the Stasi, the East German secret police, and do a great deal of research in the Stasi archives, where the files they kept on almost anyone of interest have been pieced back together. But on his return he is almost immediately walloped by the realization that there was an informant among his comrades at the Army Field Station, an informant code-named MUSIK. He is also walloped in the face with a plate of currywurst by the mother of the head of the Stasi archives… a woman of his age who just happens to be his one-time Berlin girlfriend.

And with that, Mike begins unpacking and reviewing his suitcase of memories of divided Berlin, memories which are poignantly at odds with the present-day rebuilt, revived, and reunified Berlin. Everything he once knew so very well is either gone or changed almost beyond recognition; the Wall itself is gone, Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist attraction with the golden arches of a McDonalds’ in the background and manned by a pair of badly uniformed actors who pose for pictures with tourists, and one of the main recreational centers for American personnel in Berlin is now something called the “Dahlem Urban Village.”  “The sidewalk was full of people speaking German as they went about their business. All of them were unaware that they were walking down a street full of English-speaking ghosts who shimmered before me on their way to a PX that didn’t exist any more.” And when Mike’s daughter, Samantha comes to Berlin, about halfway through the book, the plot just thickens.

He remembers that particularly vivid past, as he tours present-day Berlin, by himself or with Samantha  – and accounts of the antics of his fellows at Army Field Station are interspersed now and again with how ominous the Stasi was to ordinary Berliners.” “The Stasi could make things not happen,” says one of the former East Berliners that he meets in his peregrinations about the city that he once knew so very well. “Your kids would not get into college. That apartment for which you were  three years on a waiting list was no longer available. The new car that you had paid for in full at the start of a six-year waiting list for delivery was suddenly delayed or postponed… and there was nothing you could do. There was no legal recourse because nothing could be done. There was nothing you could prove. There were no documents.”  For my money, that kind of impersonally deliberate bureaucratic malice is at least as chilling as the threat of overt violence, interrogation, and imprisonment with the threat of a capital sentence.

And now, to people the age of Mike’s daughter, what was once a very real menace is completely toothless, a rather shabby joke when not a focus for a weird kind of nostalgia. Only people the age of Mike and some of his old friends remember that it was all in grim earnest, as concrete as The Wall itself. One day, out of the clear blue sky, it all came down, dissolving into little chips of brick and concrete, valueless coins and clumsy relics like East German-made telephones (pre-bugged) and Trabant automobiles.

Reunification is quite readable, and nicely-plotted: part puzzle, part travelogue, part memoir and part history, with some quite nice turns of phrase, some of which I have quoted here. Mike on setting to work at the archives: “I’d worked in the salt mines of bureaucracy long enough to know the coin of the realm, and how to mint it.” For me, the passages which resounded were the melancholy episodes of re-visiting old haunts; just about every base which I served at in the 1970s and 1980s is either closed entirely, re-purposed by the host government or changed beyond all recognition. You cannot go home again, for strangers have taken it over.

Any criticism I have is directed at the basic formatting of the text itself; the margins are narrow, there is unnecessary spacing between lines and paragraphs, and the use of random fonts to indicate a shift from the present to the past, or to indicate a written document, is a little jarring. There are also inexplicable switches between the English and German conventions for quote marks around dialog. This does not reflect on the quality of writing or ability to tell an engaging story, but it does detract from aesthetic appreciation of the printed version’s pages. 

See Also: Voices Under Berlin, a 2009 PODBRAM Award Winner  

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Bright Lady and the Astral Wind

by James Dunning
EXPLICATIO PARANORMALORVM - An Explication of the Paranormal
(Dolmen Tree Press / 1-463-56504-6 / 978-1-463-56504-6 / July 2011 / 270 pages / $14.95 / $14.20 Amazon / $2.99 Kindle)

Let me begin by saying that this book is one of the most professionally produced POD books I have seen. The proofreading errors were few and far between. I received with this book a full-color, two-sided brochure, a postcard, and a personally written letter. The author is a highly educated man from the Atlanta area who is well traveled in the U.S. and Europe, and this is his first book. The Bright Lady is a sort of autobiographical story of one element of the author's life. The action takes place over a seven-year period, beginning when he first sees the aura of a young woman who works for the same corporation, but in the building next door.

Is it live or is it Memorex? The most difficult part of writing an analysis of this book revolves around the space-cadet plotline conjured by a writer who is something of an expert in psychology, parapsychology, and linguistics. He is also a devoted fan and researcher of the legendary Tolkien Trilogy. He has a doctorate in pharmaceutical research and has held some sort of high-level position at a high-tech suburban firm, although not necessarily in the obvious field. The author is quite obtuse in whatever mentions or descriptions of his career are contained within the storyline. Most of the plot content takes place either at this business or on one of the author's several excursions to Europe, where he wallows in the languages of the area. The Bright Lady is described in a first-person account of Dr. Dunning's prophetic meeting with a mysterious young woman at the unnamed large corporation where they both work. He tells the story as if he himself is uncertain if he had experienced a series of deeply imaginative fever dreams, or if a truly paranormal experience has truly cloaked his mind.
I can understand what the author is trying to convey. The only question I have is how many other readers will enjoy it? As a fellow Psychology major, I read Freud's Delusion and Dream and I was indeed fascinated by somewhat similar, intense dream sequences. To this day, I dream profusely, all in 3D color with a full range of thoughts and emotions. However, my interest in foreign languages or fantasy book series is basically zero. There certainly may be many readers who will ascertain many details from these elements and be deeply moved by the author's applications of these concepts. My favorite parts are the author's deep discussions with his old friend concerning his travails and unexpected delights with The Bright Lady. The final interpretation will have to rest with each individual reader.
The author drew or painted the cover images and there is a bibliography of resources describing the author's detailed influences. Dr. Dunning mentions that he dislikes the distraction of footnotes, and with that I could not agree more. The story flows nicely, whether you take it as gospel nonfiction, the memoir of an eccentric, or a delicately told tale of silent desire and delusion.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Vein to the Heart

The Vein to the Heart
by C. P. Holsinger
(Foremost Press / 1-939-87002-X / 978-1-939-87002-5 / October 2013 / 222 pages / $13.97 paperback / $12.57 Amazon / $4.99 Kindle & Nook)

The Vein to the Heart is this fresh new author's second tale of mystery and imagination starring police detective Nick Greer. Events and details from the plot of the first novel, All the Bishop's Men, are referenced here and there, but any reader with no knowledge of the first one will fully enjoy this second Nick Greer case with absolutely minimal effort. I received the book for review less than twenty-four hours ago, so you know the plot held my attention to the end. I particularly like the way the story was wrapped up at the end. I am usually miffed by authors who suddenly halt an involved plot on the last page with little explanation, just to be clever, I suppose, but this intricate mystery is properly explained. Don't skip to the last few pages. You will regret it!

If you are a fan of the Law & Order, SVU, and CSI television series, you will feel like you are on the case with Nick Greer and his partner Sonny Madison. The characters talk and act exactly like those on the TV dramas. They treat federal investigators with disdain, fight with their superiors, work ridiculous hours while obsessed with cases, run down false leads and rely heavily on computer and lab technology. The reader will recognize numerous similarities with elements of all three of these popular shows. If I really wanted to nitpick, and I don't, I could say that the plot and style is just a bit too derivative. It is as if the author has been watching all the same shows I have for the past twenty years!

While I am picking nits, I could say the cover is a little on the blah side, although the front image and back blurb are both appropriate to the story line. I found the white background on the back to be a little glaring after viewing the dark front cover. One of the very few proofreading errors in the whole production is on the back cover, not a good thing! Oops, I just ran out of negative comments!

C. P. Holsinger's plotting and writing style remind me of the books of Don Meyer, another favorite of mine in this genre. Both writers know how to show, don't tell. The book is a quick read because it is full of character dialog rather than prolific, pompous prose. The reader clearly visualizes the characters, hence the TV references. No lengthy descriptions of characters or scenery are necessary. Oh yeah, I love plot twists, and this one's got 'em!

See also: All the Bishop's Men
Don Meyer's Winter Ghost
C. P. Holsinger's website