Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Distant Cousin: Reincarnation


Distant Cousin: Reincarnation
by Al Past

(iUniverse / 0-595-45311-5 / June 2007 / 340 pages / $19.95 / Kindle $4.00)

This is the third book in the Distant Cousin series of scifi tales starring the Barbie from outer space, Ana Darcy, and her faithful sidekick and native son of Albuquerque, Matt Mendez. As with the first book in this series, I give it ten stars. Yeah, that's right, ten. Reincarnation takes the reader to Nowhere, New Mexico, again, and like Dorothy said, there's no place like home. You'd hide out there, too, if you were an international celebrity who just wanted to live a quiet, peaceful lifestyle. How quiet can things really be when you have a space pod stashed in your barn?

I would never recommend that a reader first meet the Mendez family with this book. You need to start at the beginning of the first book, when Matt was just a bored journalist in Alpine, Texas, about to meet the love of his life in the local library. The Distant Cousin storyline is somewhat quiet and emotional, just like the lives the lead characters seek. The plot of this third book involves the FBI, the CIA, and a retired Navy SEAL, all trying to make the Russians behave themselves instead of blowing up some highly populated chunk of America. Although Reincarnation is a little slower paced than its Repatriation predecessor, the new characters and subplots help Darcy fly that space pod right into your heart!

The most distinguishing trademark of Al Past's Distant Cousin books is their obvious similarity to some of Steven Spielberg's best movies. Ana Darcy is much like E.T. without the Disney cuteness or childhood orientation. She is an E.T.-type character for an adult audience. The sense of wonder we all had the first time we watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind is magically reincarnated. Reading all the Distant Cousin books is like playing a movie in your head. This is the way we want life to be. This is the way we want Americans to respond to aliens if they ever arrive on Earth. Reincarnation rekindles amazement. Life should always be like this.

See Also: Tabitha's B&N Review

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Coming Attractions

iUniverse Book Reviews is presently in a state of flux. The challenge is to keep the accent on quality in the operation, and not succumb to the pressures of quantity. There are changes coming, whether we like it or not. Some of these I cannot control, and others I have been contemplating for a while. I want to be very cautious because I have the review blog right where I have always wanted it. I have previously had an unofficial rule that I let each book review sit at the top of the blog site for 5-7 days before pushing it downward with another posting. I did this to allow maximum exposure of the reviews, as opposed to the articles and interviews. Now that pattern needs to be thrown in the trash because the postings at Amazon and B&N have become less predictable, and I have too many reviews and interviews backed up in line for the blog to allow that much time between postings. I am a little like a plane in a holding pattern right now. They are rebuilding the runway below me and I am not sure exactly when I should drop my landing gear!

The De Facto POD Review Ring seems to have lost quite a bit of its previous adhesion. Three of the members seem to be on (permanent?) hiatus, but the three with POD in their names seem to be hanging in there, albeit with a few submissions limitations. Any author presently seeking a review is as likely as not to find the door closed in his face. He can always go to one of the volume (paid) reviewers for a review that is sure to glow like a nuclear reactor, but the legitimate review sources are tightening.

According to Susan Driscoll, the CEO of iUniverse, the company tracks its publishing numbers by fiscal years beginning July 1 and ending June 30. I don't have the figure for the fiscal year that has just ended, but here are the stated figures for the years of the recent past:

2004 - 4016 2005 - 4289 2006 - 4715

Have we hit 5000 yet? Obviously there are a lot of prospective authors out there, and their numbers are growing! Only twenty books were reviewed on this site in its first fiscal year (July 12, 2006 - July 12, 2007). At a future rate of one per week, I could review only 52 books in this second fiscal year! If many of the books are short, quick reads, or if I find a particularly extensive amount of appropriate reading time, maybe I could review 60 or 70 books in a year. Remember, as I have previously stated on this site, I actually prefer to read and review big, fat, long books that have required more than a little time and effort from their authors. Let's do the math, shall we? At best, in the coming fiscal year, I expect to review considerably less than 2% of the publisher's output for a single year! Ya'll are the few, the proud, the ones who dared to face a strip search by The Proofreading Police!

I have known since I began this project that this day would arrive. You guys who have been reading my posts since the beginning know that I said the early birds would be the ones chowing down on worms. We are now headed for a time of slim pickings in the worm bed. One day very soon one of you is going to be declined a review, not because you are a cheater, but simply because time has run out. I shall never review Poots from the Grave: The Real Anna Nicole (The Whore from Mexia) Smith Story, but you knew that already. One of these days I shall have to tell an author who is obviously dedicated to her craft to take her story elsewhere. I don't like that. I don't like it at all, but I do know that there is not a thing I can do about it. I must keep quality and personal service as my ultimate goals.

The thought has more than crossed my mind to offer some sort of proofreading service for authors, If I choose to do that, it will not be a free service, but the price will be half what the many other online services charge. You can look up these services at iU and elsewhere. You will see that they each have a particular description for what they do, with services ranging from simple comma placement to heavy content editing. If I get involved in any of this, I can tell you right now that I am neither qualified to, nor interested in, telling you how to better tell your story. My expertise is much more in line with getting the proofreading done more perfectly and completely before you submit your Word document to iU. The price I have in mind is about $500 for a 100,000-word, 400-page book. That's an iU page count: the Word page count for 100,000 words would be significantly less. The minimum price offered by iUniverse and others for a similar word count is currently $900, and I would probably be more likely to enter a few of those more extensive editing areas without assessing additional cost. If this concept interests you, send an email to ice9 at e-tabitha dot com and we shall see if it goes anywhere.

Finally, after sitting through the commercials, we get to the previews! The following books are lined up for review. This tentative order could be altered by the date of arrival of those that have yet to arrvive. Also, Amy Lane's Bound may be delayed until after the review of books yet to enter the queue. This sole exception to the first-in-first-reviewed rule is due to the fact that Bound has been sent along simultaneously with its predecessor. An interview with Anthony Livingston Hall should appear next week, and an interview with Amy Lane is in the works for some later date. The first four of these books have been received, so the order of their reviews is set in stone. The latter four have yet to be received, so their ducks are still unhatched.

Distant Cousin: Reincarnation by Al Past
Portrait of Her by Ellen P. Bloomenstein
The Thief Maker by David H. Schleicher
Survival OP: The Fear in the Wilderness by Scott Allen
Flashback: A Low Country Novel by D. A. Welch
Beyond the Cayenne Wall by Shaila Abdullah
Wounded by Amy Lane
Bound by Amy Lane

The whole concept of closed submissions gives me the cooties. I suppose I have too much empathy for other iUniverse authors for my own good. Rodney Dangerfield should be the mascot for all iU authors, but I suppose he's too busy doing his familiar schtick in heaven. Will I officially close submissions? I certainly hope not, but if you are an iU author who has been contemplating a review request, my advice to you would be to get off your thumbs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vulnerable



Vulnerable by Amy Lane

(iUniverse / 0-595-33746-5 / February 2005 / 278 pages / $17.95)

Amy Lane's Vulnerable is the first of three fantasy novels (so far) in what the author calls The Little Goddess Series. The other two books are Wounded (2006 / $20.95) and Bound (2007 / $25.95). You can tell from the prices that the latter two are longer works than Vulnerable. The most surprising thing about the book is its blatant usage of the f-bomb and its many brothers and sisters in the field of sexual innuendo, as well as some sex that is just in-and-out. The language and plotline will raise your eyebrows a little more when you learn that this story blossoms from the alter ego of a high school English teacher. What's even more shocking is the lack of adequate proofreading from an English teacher! These two elements define the essence of Vulnerable, and, I suspect, will also strongly color your personal opinion of the book as a reader.

As I have stated in my Amazon and B&N reviews, Vulnerable is like a good punk-rock band: yes, it may be obscene noise, but it sure is good, spunky fun! Ms. Lane's lead character is a nineteen-year-old college student who works the late-night shift at a Chevron gas station and convenience store. She has been holding her private little leather-and-piercing persona together in her quiet world in the middle of nowhere while she studies to prove herself to the world. In walks a giant, six-foot elf with a silver, plaited ponytail to light up her world. His best pal, and bisexual lover, is a vampire the elf rescued from sexual slavery when he was still a young human. Before you know it, Cory the punkette is in love with both of them. Off she rides prior to the sunrise to begin her new life with a very large passel of elves, vampires, and shapeshifters. In case you want to know, Cory remains human throughout the story, but boy, does she have spunk!

Amy Lane has gathered her own personal cadre of obsessors who buy and read her Little Goddess books. You will find plenty of their raving, five-star reviews at Amazon and B&N. You might suppose that the current Harry Potter and Tolkien trilogy madness has something to do with Amy's success, and I think you would be correct in that assumption. As the chief of the proofreading police, I could never donate five stars to Vulnerable, but four is a cinch, mostly because of that rampant spunk. Unlike Lou Grant, I like spunk! I admire it, in fact. Amy Lane's use of the language deserves kudos for its reckless abandon. Vulnerable is just plain fun to read! It's like if Anne Rice was not so dead serious, or meticulous. I strongly suspect that Ms. Lane gets in far too big a hurry composing with that rabid imagination of hers that she loses sight of the structural details. She claims that the later books are better edited, but you know me, the turtle, I don't count my ducks until I hear them quacking. If the errors really have been lessened in the later books, good for her, but if they have not, fool me once or shame on you, Amy Lane.

Don't go buying Vulnerable for your twelve-year-old just because she goes ga-ga over Harry Potter and the rest of that fantasy treasure for young adults. The Little Goddess most assuredly has adult, sexual issues more in common with Anne Rice than J. K. Rowling or Tolkien. Of course, as a Rice fan, and not a regular fantasy genre reader, I loved Vulnerable. I like the characters and the manner in which they speak, as if they really do live in the modern American underground. Although Ms. Lane now holds the dubious honor of being the typo boo-boo record holder at iUniverse Book Reviews, when I read Vulnerable I felt inclined to give the proofreading squad the night off and Amy Lane a suspended sentence. Yes, the compositional quality is that good.

See Also: Tabitha's B&N Review (still awaiting posting by B&N as of 7/26/07)

Reviews of Amy Lane's Wounded and Bound

Interview with Amy Lane

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The iPINIONS Journal



The iPINIONS Journal
Commentaries on Current Events Volume II
by Anthony Livingston Hall
(iUniverse / 0-595-43203-5 / May 2007 / 366 pages / $23.95)

This particular book selected for review represents a very special milestone in the development of iUniverse Book Reviews. In many ways, Anthony Livingston Hall's two books, of which this is obviously the second, are more like my own than any other books I have reviewed so far. The iPINIONS Journal is the sort of iUniverse book I always knew had to be out there in the ozone. This is topical nonfiction that has been published by iU simply because the author lacks celebrity talking-head credentials. It is a serious book, comprised of previously released news commentaries in the author's daily columns of 2006. The language is articulate and the author's use of vocabulary is commendable. This is not a book for the moronic multitudes. It is a book for the thoughtful, informed reader who wishes to become even better informed of the crucial issues of our world. The first volume, not reviewed here, contained the stories of 2005. Unlike most every other book selected for review, this sequel is more appropriate for review now than its predecessor simply because the subject matter is derived from some of the more significant international news stories of 2006, instead of those from the prior year. Otherwise, I would never review an author's second book in a series before I had read the first one.

Anthony Livingston Hall has led a charmed life. Born in The Caribbean and educated on the mainland, he is a lawyer who works on K Street. He is also a syndicated columnist, fellow blogger, and a certified fitness trainer. Some of the news stories covered in The iPINIONS Journal deal specifically with issues indigenous to his Caribbean homeland, especially those that are closely entangled with U.S. policy. A good example of one such article deals with how the U.S. federal government shut down online gambling operations that operated offshore, but the massive numbers of customers were U.S. citizens. On this issue and the multitude of others on which Mr. Hall expresses his opinion, there is no yelling like Bill O'Reilly or smug self-righteousness like that of Sean Hannity. Unfortunately, there is very little buoyant humor to remind the reader of Michael Moore or Bill Maher, either, and therein lies one of my two complaints. The other negative is that I had to call the proofreading police on Mr. Hall. Although the errors are of the least serious type of infractions, the typos denigrate such a highly researched, detailed volume of political comment. You don't have to be leftwing to be entertaining; nor do you have to be a clown to have a sense of humor. The author's left/right balance is nearly perfect. I am simply suggesting that the number-one difference between his books and mine is that I place the fun to read concept at the top.

Anthony Livingston Hall has brought back all those memories of the names of foreign leaders we have heard numerous times on television and generally, subconsciously, tuned them out. We have done this because (a) We could not pronounce the name; (b) We could not spell the name; and (c) The news story referred to something happening over there somewhere that was way too far from Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton for us to care. The thing Mr. Hall does so well is to refresh our memories of these vitally important, international news events, explain them concisely and succinctly, and help to us to care after all. Anthony Livingston Hall is a very serious author, indeed. With the drudge and drivel we currently have impersonating television news, we need unbiased, thoughtful commentators like Anthony Livingston Hall. Wasn't he the nerd in Sixteen Candles?

See Also: Tabitha's B&N Review
Interview with Anthony Livingston Hall

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Interview with the Author

Linda Gould

The author of Secretarial Wars resides in Silver Spring, MD. She is currently planning the release of her second novel, The Rock Star’s Homecoming, due for release in the near future. Ms. Gould’s attitude toward POD publishing and the thoughtful advice she offers to neophyte authors are impeccable. Without any derogatory or negative intent toward the other author interviewees whatsoever, I feel compelled to state that, as an iUniverse author, if you read only one of the interviews on this site, read this one!

Tabitha: What inspired you to write Secretarial Wars?

Linda Gould: When I graduated from college in 1974 with a degree in English, and returned home to the Washington area to get a job, I didn’t exactly bowl over the bureaucracy with my job skills. I had to settle for a secretarial position, a pretty good one for that time, but still somewhat disappointing. The quasi-government grants program that I worked for was hiring college graduates for its secretarial positions, but not giving them clear avenues for advancement. It was puzzling and frustrating, especially after five years had gone by.

But Secretarial Wars did not arise entirely from frustration. In those days I was also immersing myself in friendships and a vibrant nightlife in D. C. My marriage broke up, but the ex and I remained friends. The “Kramerkeller” nightclub in the book was inspired by one of my hangouts. I hope I managed to convey some of the joyfulness of those times.

Tabitha: Are there particular, actual persons who inspired your lead characters?

Linda Gould: Yes, Cass and Jocelyn were based on real people, although exaggerated, of course. The “Jocelyn” character in particular was a close friend. Actually, her exploits were not exaggerated all that much! “Mrs. B” was based on a formidable boss lady who pretty much told me what the Deputy Director in my story told Miriam, that I had no future in the organization.

Tabitha: I understand that the subplots involving the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys were inspired by events from The Sixties. Would you explain this particular inspiration to your readers?

Linda Gould: Actually, I was describing the Redskins of the 1970s, when I was just beginning to get interested in football. My true passion in sports was and is baseball, but the Senators departed in 1971, and baseball did not return to D. C. until 2005.

Back in the 1970s I began paying attention not only to football games, but to the gamesmanship that seemed to go on behind the scenes. Every team goes through a periodic changing of the guard, when old heroes are forced out by newer talent. But I think this process was unusually prolonged and explosive in Washington, because Coach George Allen tried to have it both ways. He hired the new talent, but refused to give up his old favorites. The quarterback controversy I describe was inspired by Allen’s favorite, Billy Kilmer, and Joe Theismann, the brash youngster who was always getting into trouble with his mouth. I really admired Kilmer the most. He had suffered a serious automobile accident early in his career, which took away almost all of his mobility. He did not have a strong arm either. He used to say, “I do it with my mind.”

Tabitha: When I read Secretarial Wars, I could not help but be reminded of the antics of our current, illustrious Bush Administration? Was the character of your fictional President Bailey inspired by George?

Linda Gould: I began the book so long ago (around 1991) that I can’t say “W” was the original inspiration for my President Bailey. Then again, it took so long to finish the book that I can’t swear “W” didn’t get into it. I think Bailey is a composite of recent Republican presidents. For example, Nixon was a huge Redskins fan and a close friend of Coach George Allen. He used to visit the practice facility and would even suggest plays for the offense to run. One such brilliant suggestion was used in a game, and resulted in a 13-yard loss. That was the end of Coach Richard Nixon!

When it comes to presidential scandals, my favorite is Iran-Contra. I’m not sure why: it’s rather obscure and convoluted compared to other favorites like Watergate and Monica. But I used to spend hours back then listening to the Congressional hearings and reading the transcripts.

Tabitha: The plot of Secretarial Wars reminded me of the movie 9 to 5 without Dolly Parton’s big boobs, of course. Was that movie in any way an inspiration for your book’s storyline?

Linda Gould: Much as I love that movie, I can’t say it inspired Secretarial Wars. 9 to 5 is essentially a farce, although a very satisfying one. What secretary hasn’t fantasized about poisoning her boss and then kidnapping him to keep him quiet? Great stuff, but not exactly what I was attempting.

Tabitha: In my opinion, the cover of Secretarial Wars is appropriate for the tone and subject matter of the book, but no cover credits have been notated. Who designed the cover? Did iUniverse create it strictly from your ideas, or did you supply the artwork or other elements? Are you satisfied with the cover?

Linda Gould: iUnverse designed the cover, based on some vague ideas of mine. I believe I suggested the images of the computer and the filing cabinet. Not being an artist myself, I didn’t have strong opinions about the design. I approved the first design that iUniverse submitted, and yes, I’m satisfied with it.

Tabitha: The single most impressive element of Secretarial Wars that I noticed as a POD reviewer is the high level of vocabulary, editing, and proofreading employed. Did you attend writer’s classes or workshops before releasing the book? Did you hire a professional editor or proofreader?

Linda Gould: I took a course on “beginning a novel” at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. That convinced me to throw out what I had done up to that point and start over. A small contingent of the students continued to meet after the class was over. That critique group is still going strong after more than ten years, while adding and subtracting some members during that time. The variety of opinions and viewpoints that the group offers has been especially valuable. One thing I’ve learned is that if the entire group declares that something doesn’t work, and this has happened quite a few times, it has to go.

I purchased the iUniverse proofreading service when I submitted Secretarial Wars. They were thorough, but their software put in some coding errors. Even when a manuscript reaches the final stages, it’s a good idea to review it carefully to make sure there are no glitches.

Tabitha: Did you consider other publishers before you selected iUniverse?

Linda Gould: I didn’t consider any other POD publisher. I had read an article in The Washington Post about iUniverse that was sympathetic to its mission. I also checked out a website called “Predators and Editors,” known for uncovering scams that victimize authors. Pred-Ed gives iUniverse good marks for not promising authors more than it delivers. That is not the case with all POD publishers. Some misrepresent themselves as traditional publishers, or claim to be more discriminating than they are.


Tabitha: How satisfying has your experience with iUniverse been?


Linda Gould: I think iUniverse deserves the good reputation it has. Of course, it would have been nice to sell a few more books than I have. But marketing is mostly up to the author, a fact that iUniverse makes plain from the beginning.

Tabitha: What is the most significant thing you have learned as a POD author? Do you have any advice to offer to new or prospective POD authors?

Linda Gould: Revise and proofread endlessly. The quality of the book is up to you. POD publishing is a great thing, because it allows you to realize your own vision. But that makes it all the more imperative not to release your work until it’s the very best you can do. Get as much impartial criticism as you can. If you don’t have confidence in your own proofreading skills, get someone else to do it, preferably a professional.

Tabitha: What sort of educational experience do you have, and is it relevant to your writing or the subject matter you have chosen?

Linda Gould: I got my undergraduate degree in English from Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College, a small campus about sixty miles north of D. C. It resembles the school that I try to portray in my next novel, The Rock Star’s Homecoming. To try to advance my government career, I got a Masters Degree in Political Science from American University in D. C.

Tabitha: What about your work career? Has your choice of profession influenced your writing? Are you a bureaucrat or a secretary?

Linda Gould: I am a bureaucrat now, rather than a secretary. After my secretarial experiences in the grants program, I went on to a satisfying career in government, where I’ve been able to utilize my writing skills on budgets and reports.

Tabitha: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What genres do you like to read?

Linda Gould: I like “chicklit” as a broad genre, but to me that doesn’t necessarily require a happy ending or a totally resolved plot. I’m not a fan of traditional romances: the required happy endings are not close enough to real life. I have enjoyed Candace Bushnell’s Lipstick Jungle, Trading Up, and the original Sex and the City (the book is quite a bit more jumbled and confused than the TV series, just like real life). I love Gail Godwin’s all-encompassing novels about Southern families. I prefer lush writing to spare writing. For that reason, I love Pat Conroy, especially The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, and his wonderful memoir about his college sports career, My Losing Season.

Tabitha: What have you been reading lately?

Linda Gould: I’m reading Al Gore’s alarming An Inconvenient Truth. I have a feeling that if we don’t start to get a handle on these problems, all other bets are off. I love American and British history, and am always reading something along those lines. I’m also renewing my acquaintance with Kurt Vonnegut, who passed away recently. And I recently finished The Nanny Diaries, which if I’m not mistaken, was originally self-published.

Tabitha: Exactly when is The Rock Star’s Homecoming expected to be available?

Linda Gould: I just received the editorial evaluation. It was generally favorable, but there are some editing issues, so I don’t have a publication date yet. I hope that the book’s slightly experimental style doesn’t put off readers or critics. The story revolves around one third-person narrator (a female college student), interspersed with brief first-person narratives that are intended to bring other characters into sharper relief. Since a girl unavoidably encounters many characters on a college campus and even in her own dormitory, I’m hoping this method helps to keep them straight.

Tabitha: Do you have any further books in the pipeline?

Linda Gould: I’m currently working on a baseball novel, tentatively entitled Play Ball.

Tabitha: Do you have any final remarks to address to our audience?

Linda Gould: POD publishing is a revolution of sorts. We all want to make it a revolution that actually proves to be beneficial to literature. It’s up to us as self-published authors to avoid self-indulgence, seek and accept constructive criticism, and make our products as good as they can be.

Note: No photos of Linda Gould were available at the time of this interview, and Ms. Gould does not currently have a personal website. Anyone seeking more information on this very literary author can follow the links to her pages at Amazon, B&N, and Authors Den. Thank you.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

First Anniversary

Today is the birthday of iUniverse Book Reviews. After several months of carefully planning exactly what I wanted to accomplish with a review site, I launched the first post July 12, 2006. A number of forces inspired me to begin the project. I began writing the first draft in about 1967 of what I thought at the time would become my first book. You can see that I have never been a prolific writer when you realize that that manuscript was not completed until about 1972, and it wasn't published until 2002! Like so many other writer wannabes, I wrote reviews for an underground paper in college, and I knew that one day I would publish a book or two. The material from that first manuscript was so important to me, and still is, that, when I discovered iUniverse online in early 1999, I wanted to practice first by releasing a compilation of stories that had already found a captive audience. The plan was for me to learn from whatever mistakes I might make with Plastic Ozone Daydream prior to publishing my modern theory of personality, The Last Horizon. iUniverse gave me everything I wanted except recognition.

I am a consumer populist by nature. I want to see good products succeed, and I loathe the many undeserving ones that so often succeed instead. I could not be any more aware of the destructive nature of our modern, out-of-control, corporate culture. Books sell because there are celebrity names on them. They sell because either the subject or the author has been on television. They sell because an enormous herd of obsessors feel they must buy everything with that name on it. They sell because some faction or other is incredibly insane or stupid. Do they sell because the author offers a genuine talent with words? Do they sell because the subject matter is something everyone needs to know? Do they sell because a new approach to an old problem is offered? Do they sell because the author's storytelling ability is unparalleled? You and I both know I do not need to answer these rhetorical questions. We already know the answers. Modern, consumer America has become a dung-heap of celebrity, do-nothing, bad girls and left/right, red/blue slap-fighters. We used to be in it all together; now everything has degenerated into my special interests versus your special interests.

I created iUniverse Book Reviews to be a beacon shining up from the muck. I knew without question when I began reviewing iU books that I would find many other works like my own. These books would have absolutely nothing wrong with them that a little better proofreading couldn't cure. They would be works that could never have a chance in the marketplace simply because the author had never been on TV. Many of these books would have arisen from years of composition and editing by their loving parents. Many would cover subject matter only these particular, unknown authors could adequately present to an audience. I knew there were many high-quality POD books out there in the muck-filled jungle, and I found them.

iUniverse Book Reviews is the only cat in the jungle that roars for its small cadre of authors with individually composed, custom-designed reviews on this site, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Authors Den. The five-star rating system is utilized only at Amazon and B&N, and yes, the ratings provided by Tabitha on these two sites may be a bit optimistic in some cases. If they were not, my reviews on these overblown, meaningless review sites would appear to be far too pessimistic. My ratings on those sites are intended to help unknown authors sell books. You can consider me a sort of iU cheerleader when you read my reviews at those ubiquitous sales sites. The reviews on this site are usually a bit more critical, and there will never be a star rating system at iUniverse Book Reviews. There are quite enough stars already at all the other review locations. Even with the slightly more critical viewpoint of Tabitha's reviews on this blog, let's let the cat out of the bag. Only one book has not honestly earned at least three stars in my reviews. That is also the only book without reviews from Tabitha at Amazon, B&N, or Authors Den. Of the twenty books with reviews posted so far, one should have had no more than two stars, two should have had three stars, thirteen easily earned four stars, and four made it to the brass ring. Why didn't I just say this in the reviews in the first place? The reasons are numerous. How can a 100-page book be fairly compared to a 400-page one, when the editing and proofreading are such a vital part of the author's job? How do I compare heavily researched nonfiction with a short, fictional story for young adults? As the self-proclaimed proofreading police, how can I adequately rank a book by its error count? Some errors are obviously so much more egregious than others. I even considered using an error quotient, in which I divide the page count by the error count. Although I might use that as an unpublished tool with which to evaluate a book, there is still the problem that not all errors are created equal. Some authors even repeat the same mistakes multiple times in the same book. Should each instance be considered a demerit? Before composing each book's reviews, I have to make certain decisions based on the merit of that particular book. I want every iU book I review to ideally hide within the massive forest of traditionally published books. I also want every book I review to inspire and satisfy the reader with its compositional merit. Tabitha walks with the agility of a cat on a tightrope suspended between these two criteria.

The first year of iUniverse Book Reviews has been successful in all aspects. Every goal has been met. There are many iU books out there who belong on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Unfortunately, only one of these that has both made the shelf cut and been reviewed on this site actually belongs on that shelf! As I have suspected all along, there is no correlation between the quality of an iUniverse book and any of the overpriced bullcrap options the company sells. There is also no direct correlation between writing quality and the sales record of an iU book, either. Let me tell you about two books I have reviewed. One is the best-selling iU book I have reviewed and the second is one of the best-selling iU books I have reviewed. The former contains 477 properly composed and edited pages. The latter has 196 pages containing an incredible number of short, incomplete sentences and page after page of italics! The latter book has sold almost as well as the former. Both authors paid for iU's bull-puckey options and both authors have received a lot of attention. Due to its subject matter being the first cousin to what I refer to as cheaters, the first book has been exceedingly successful for an iUniverse book. I don't know why the second one has been so successful. I accepted it for review at least partially to find that answer, and I am still baffled! The point of this story is that I don't think very many people, as authors or readers, are aware of the actual truths surrounding the success or failure of any particular POD book. It's my job to try to enlighten their vision.

At least one more Interview with the Author is in the works, and I hope there will be many more to come. I would like to offer interviews to those authors whose previously reviewed books presented at least some sort of exceptional or professional merit. If you have read certain recent, previous posts, you know now that you can contact me at ice9 at e-tabitha dot com or place an appropriate comment on any post to request a review or interview. Twenty books have already survived the proofreading police wringer, one suspect is in the interrogation room now, one is waiting in the outer office, one is in the hands of the United States Postal Service, and one has just been re-released by iUniverse after being re-edited by its diligent author. In other words, this blog isn't dead yet: at least four other authors are waiting with chewed fingernails for their trip through the wringer!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Secretarial Wars


Secretarial Wars
by Linda Gould
(iUniverse / 0-595-27592-3 / June 2003 / 288 pages / $17.95)

Let's begin this review by stating that this book could easily hide in a forest of traditionally published books. The composition, editing, and proofreading have all been accomplished at a high level. In my opinion, and I always speak of this issue strictly as an opinion, even the cover is appropriate for the material within. Most of all, the literacy and vocabulary expressed within these pages is far beyond that of most POD books. Linda Gould's little swatch of comedic, dramatic, romantic, and mysterious chicklit is a highly commendable first effort for a new author. Eat your hearts out, POD author wannabes!

There is a bit of bad news, however it is only a bit. Before I go any further, I must remind the readers of this blog that, despite a few name games displayed on my websites, I am a man. Therefore, fans of the chickadee persuasion may want to view my criticism of this book as a testosterone problem. Secretarial Wars misses the five-star brass ring simply due to its lack of excitement. The story could use a little more sex, drugs, and rock and roll, a little more flash-bam-pow. The climax is outstanding, easily deserving of the long, slow buildup toward the inevitable release. The weakness of the story is that I could not get truly enthralled by the characters or their subplots. It was all just a little too ho-hum and so-what. Please place the accent on little.

Secretarial Wars is the story of three Washington, D.C., secretaries and the romantic fantasies they act out while trying to hold onto reality with one hand and their dreams with the other. The plot is set with a backdrop of a very Bush-like, fictional administration and the covert actions in which that administration may or may not be involved. Therein lies the mystery. Each of Ms. Gould's three secretaries pines for a local celebrity she cannot seem to reel into her dragnet. One is a local Redskins quarterback facing a controversial replacement by a younger rival. The second is an ex-place kicker for the Redskins who publishes the local muckraking rag. The third is a local rock star who has recently become quite famous in a band that sounds suspiciously like Emerson, Lake & Palmer plays Bad Company. This covers the romantic fantasy element. The drama filters into the plot through the machinations of competing secretaries at the Washington Peace Council, and some of the things these ladies do certainly qualifies as comedy. Although Secretarial Wars is not nearly as silly and frivolous as the movie 9 to 5, most readers will certainly flashback to its obvious similarities of plot and feminist genre.

Whether or not genuine fans of chicklit will love Secretarial Wars to death, I cannot say. I can declare this one hell of a quality work at a level to which all POD authors should aspire. Of course there are a few proofreading errors present, but, due to the actual, subtle nature of these errors, I doubt the average reader will even spot them. Linda Gould's second book is on the way, and I strongly encourage you, as a discriminating reader, to look for it. You will recognize it by a title and theme that will make you flashback to Bye Bye Birdie. Let's hope The Rock Star's Homecoming is as clever as the 1963 movie and as literary as Secretarial Wars.

See also: Tabitha's B&N Review
Tabitha's Authors Den Review
Interview with Linda Gould
Review of Linda Gould's The Rock Star's Homecoming
Review of Let's Play Ball