Friday, February 29, 2008

The Year of the Monkey


by William W. Lewis
(iUniverse.com / 0-595-47584-1 / January, 2008 / 286 pages / $17.95)


Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for iUBR

Full disclosure: I am a Viet Nam-era veteran (Navy), but beyond seeing Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter, I have been content to put the whole unpleasantness of that time out of my mind. Evidently, the great majority of my fellow Americans feel the same way. That's more than a shame: in view of current events, it's a tragedy. Now more than ever we need to be reminded of how important it is we know where we've been as a nation, where we've gone wrong, and, if we can only gain a few glimmerings of wisdom, where not to go in the future. Some think democracy is the great wave of the future. There's probably a better argument to be made that stupidity is the wave of the future.

That's why
The Year of the Monkey
, by William W. Lewis, is most timely. For me, it brings back memories long forgotten, and in sharp detail. It rings true. The story is set at the time of the Tet Offensive, when Communist forces mounted a surprise counterattack against Hue, a supposedly safe city in South Vietnam. The attack failed in the short run, but the political ramifications it caused are viewed by many historians as the beginning of the end of our ill-advised and bungled adventure in Indochina. To tell his story Lewis interweaves the lives of four characters: a Marine Sergeant, a CIA operative, a journalist, and a seemingly humble Vietnamese barber, who is really a double agent and a devoted patriot. These threads are brought together with great skill and grace in cleanly written, convincingly detailed prose. The resulting tale is one in which the reader cares for the characters, imperfect though they all are. At the end one can only shake one's head at the waste, the stupidity, and the cruelty that make savages of us all, including the ignorant and uncaring back home.

That sounds terribly somber, but the book is not, really. The editing is nearly immaculate. It's a page-turner in the good sense: fun to read despite its serious subject matter. For those with super-delicate sensibilities, I should mention that the language of most of the characters is rough indeed. It is also accurate: I know! See the first sentence, above.

The Year of the Monkey is a terrific example of an independently published book that is outside the norm, not below it! If Mr. Lewis has any more books in him, I want to hear about them.
See Also: Dr. Past's B&N Review
William W. Lewis' Website

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes



I want to welcome Celia Hayes to our team of honest, legitimate reviewers at iUBR. Some of you may recognize Celia's work from other review sites, where she is best known as Sgt. Mom. After earning a BA in English, Celia began a twenty-year career in the USAF. She has written two books, both published by Booklocker, which of course, does give her genuine POD experience. Not only do we welcome Celia to our little team, but we encourage her to cross-post any of her iUBR reviews at any of her other review sites. You can read more details about Ms. Hayes and her ample qualifications as a reviewer at her website. You will see that she is one talented and accomplished lady!

Yesterday PODdy Mouth posted a link to one hell of an article about the accountability of POD companies and, I might add, a detailed account of this accountability, as accounted wholly within the minds of many POD authors. Considering what I have learned about iUniverse, both the company and their authors, I think this story is probably quite true.

I am very pleased to announce that a brave soul has taken on the daunting task of founding a site similar to iUBR for (drum roll, please) Lulu authors and their books! This has been a long time coming and I want to wish Shannon Yarbrough the very best of luck with his new Lulu Book Review at WordPress. You can click the link in the left column of this page at any time to visit Shannon's site. If you are a Lulu author seeking a review, go to the Pick Me page on the site or click the link in The POD Ring Chart at iUBR to go directly to Shannon's review request page after reading the submission guidelines listed in the chart.

Some of you may have noticed that I have dared to put my ugly face and name more prominently on this blog and elsewhere. I am slowly phasing out the Tabitha name. My Nonfiction in a Fictional Style website will remain under the name e-tabitha.com for at least a while longer. I suppose that's what I get for purchasing the name for ten years! I originally wanted to buy a name I could share with my wife for a long time, so we chose the name of one of our cats. Little did I realize in my early days of computer naivete that the name would constantly bring up little witch actresses and porn stars through search engines forever! I have started another blog under my own name to which I can post all the miscellaneous articles and commentary not applicable to iUBR in the future. No, all this fascination with the sound of my own name has not exploded the size of my head. I am just evolving into a more traditional web presence with it all.

Changes will be coming to iUBR over the coming months, one way or the other. I have not said much about the AuthorHouse buyout. For now, I am taking a wait and see attitude. As you might imagine, the composition of four separate reviews for each book accepted has been slowly eroding my creative timeclock, not to mention the quantity of ordinary time involved. I certainly cannot expect my satellite reviewers to participate in this sort of operation, either. We shall just have to take this issue as it comes. I expect to totally remove any ties from Authors Den by the end of the year. This is not to imply any negative connotation toward AD at all. It's just that once I saw that my name in Google would pull up seven solid pages of me, I decided it was time to cut the cord. As I have stated in the past, a deft use of AD is the best way I have found to get your name out there as an author. I have been spreading myself far too thinly lately, and I have been virtually ignoring my own e-Tabitha website for the past couple of years. It's basically time for me to get my act together. I am still looking to expand the cadre of reviewers here at iUBR. Nothing would make me happier than to be so busy handling the technical, promotional, and organizational sides of iUBR that I had no time left to actually read and review books. So many quality iU books deserve my attention, but I have limited time to give.
I would love to leave that to a cadre of honest, legitimate, satellite reviewers!

Exciting new developments are coming soon to iUBR! Dr. Al Past's glowing (but deservedly so) review of William W. Lewis' The Year of the Monkey, a book about Vietnam, will be the next post. I am working up an interview for Nathan Bransford, the noted San Francisco agent. This will be my first interview not with an author whose book has already been featured at iUBR. Believe me, you guys will love this interview! There are a couple of other subjects I would like to interview, but I am keeping mum as to their identities for now. I am currently reading Dianne K. Salerni's High Spirits and Dr. Past is reading The Turquoise Dagger, by Donald J. Carpenter. Three additional books previously accepted for review on The Waiting List supposedly are on the way to the three of us. Ya'll have already mailed your books haven't you?

Did I leave out something? Oh yeah, the thing ya'll probably want to know most of all: when will submissions be reopened at iUBR? I'm afraid I cannot answer that question yet, at least not precisely. Believe me when I say I would love to open the floodgates right now, but I don't want to get swamped overboard the way I was late last year. If you want to see the submissions open soon, and stay open, volunteer to become a satellite reviewer, or encourage one of your fellow authors to do so. I can guarantee you that you will learn a lot about POD books very quickly. If every POD author was required to review at least a few books before releasing their own, the whole industry would wise up in a hurry! If not a single one of you is willing to spend a little time straining your brain, then I shall say that submissions should be reopened sometime this spring, but no later than 4/30/08. Please volunteer! Let's get these floodgates ready before you Yankees thaw out this winter. All the current iUBR reviewers are probably wearing shorts now, but that's only because we are all smart enough to live in Central and South Texas. Come on! Let's make iUBR an interstate operation!

See Also: Celia's POD Experience

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Second Chance



Second Chance by Joy Collins
(iUniverse.com / 0-595-45602-4 / September 2007 / 252 pages / $16.95)

Joy Collins used imaging software to create the cover of her first novel, and the meticulous attention to detail continues to the end of Second Chance. Although iUniverse labels the book as being in the romance genre, I am not sure I agree with that. The storyline is more akin to the script of one of those rare television movies made for the women's channel that are not predictable from beginning to end. Second Chance is most assuredly a book for women, although I would classify it more as a family psychodrama than a romance. There are a few tearjerker elements present, too, but these are not so overbearing that no man would enjoy the book. I certainly appreciated its tight editing, show-don't-tell writing style, and realistic plotline. All the characters and subplots are well constructed, too.

The premise of the story is that several lead characters are in the midst of turmoil over the inter-family relationships of divorced and remarried couples. Sara Weber tells the story from her viewpoint as her husband's ex-wife has wreaked emotional havoc over Sara's relationship with her husband since they married a decade earlier. The ex-wife's spiteful jealousy had long ago sent Sara and Paul packing for Arizona, leaving their previous and current families back in the Northeast, hopefully some distance in the past. The plotline grows as Sara's mom is nearing the point of no return and must be placed in a nursing care facility by Sara's sister, Angela, who has her own personal problems to present to the reader. Paul's vengeful ex-wife wants their teenaged daughter to move to Arizona and attend college there while living with Paul and Sara. The whole soap opera moves at a sharp clip, with the emotional twists and turns aptly displayed through poignant dialogue.

Joy Collins is the sort of author we seek out here at iUBR. Although Second Chance is her first novel, the maturity of plot development and compositional style is exemplary, and you'll need your special Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass to spot the few, minimal typos and technical glitches. As a nurse born a Yankee and now living in Arizona, Ms. Collins has written what and where she knows, and the appropriate details add color and legitimacy to the story. For example, she incorporates the notion of quickly emerging flash floods indigenous to the desert cities into her plot, and yes, I know it's true because I have been there and seen it for myself. It never occurs to outsiders to consider the dangerous situation that can result, and Joy includes this into her storyline. Good show, Ms. Collins! Keep up the good work!

See Also: Tabitha's B&N Review
Tabitha's Authors Den Review
The Author's Website

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Big Picture

I am not sure that I have been communicating to my readers as accurately as I would like what iUBR is all about. I have always been a big picture kind of guy. I see books as things we all read, and POD books as those things we may wish to read that maybe only a small number of other people wish to read, too. I would always hope that this small cadre of readers for a particular POD book is the only reason the major publishers are not interested in it. I am not one to seek out my entertainment within narrowly defined genres. If you ask me what kind of music I like, I might answer that the more difficult it is to classify, the better I like it. I am always looking for the new niche. I don't want to discover how much a book so closely fits within a popular genre. I'm looking for square pegs that are good because the author has created a quality package, and not because the book slips silently into a well-worn groove.

This is not a genre review site. I don't even select books for review based on genre or my personal taste in subject matter. I want everyone to know right now that I have never agreed with the concept of a reviewer of any sort of work reviewing a piece and panning it simply because he does not care for that particular genre of book, album, or movie, etc. I find that sort of review entirely despicable. Even if a highly paid, name-recognized critic has been ordered by his editor to review something he doesn't like, if he cannot duck the assignment, it is his responsibility to give it his best shot and describe the work in a manner that will be useful to his readers who do enjoy that genre. The books selected for review at iUBR are chosen because, from the result of my research of the book and the author in question, it appears that the book may deserve my attention and the attention of readers. My personal choices of non-POD reading material have very little influence on my choices of books to read and review at iUBR. I know this may seem a little wacko, but remember, I am fascinated by the big picture. In this case, the big picture is the world of POD and its new role in the larger world of publishing.

We all know that Print On Demand is an all-new animal in the jungle. This technology has allowed many thousands of writers who want the center-stage limelight shone on them to step into the light at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, we have all met at least a few vampires who should never have been brought out into the light! There are many slap-fighters out there who love to scream at the top of their lungs that all the POD authors are vampires! According to them, if the writers cannot stand the sun, they should just go back where they came from and let only real writers stand in the spotlight. I love to speak in analogies, and here is one for you. I read certain housing bubble blogs daily, and they have a refrain they have run in the ground since the issue came to light. Most of the people who post and comment on these blogs want housing prices to crash and teach all the people who are crashing with these prices a lesson they won't forget! Do you see a similarity there to the POD slap-fighters? Neither group is actually wrong. Many of their positions on the issues are correct. The problem is simply that they are so busy insisting their correctness that they never see the many shades of grey inherent in both issues. Some foreclosures are sad stories of collateral damage, although the bulk of the problem was begun by selfish, greedy, arrogant investors. Many quality POD books have been created for a market ignored by the mega-publishers, although the technology has clearly opened the gate to the barnyard.

There are many ways in which a POD book and a traditionally published book are not synonymous. One of the most significant issues is editing and another one is proofreading. POD authors have to create or approve a cover design and write a cover blurb. Even if they do not do all this personally, they must participate considerably in the process. There are no teams of editors, proofreaders, cover designers, or marketers available to do these tasks for the authors. There is no one to say, I don't think I would do that, if I were you. There is only the author and his computer. Of course some writers have friends available for help or advice, and some writers pay certain professionals for their manuscript or cover design expertise, but the final product is mostly the result of the writer's brain and his symbiotic relationship with his computer.

I had once hoped that I would discover more active participation in this honorable, but time consuming, project called iUBR. I can personally read and review so few of the massive number of iUniverse books continually being published. I had hoped for a more organized effort from other POD review bloggers and other websites with intentions similar to mine. There are so many deserving POD authors out there who will never have a chance to connect with their readers. Hold onto your knees because here comes the part that is so difficult for many of you to swallow. Those books that do not meet iUBR standards drag us all down into the muck. We must face this fact. We cannot hide from it and hope it goes away. Believe me, it won't. I have been reading the posts of the past twenty-four hours at the IAG Yahoo Group, and yes, the subject being discussed has spurred me onward with this article. This matter is at the very heart of my first post introducing IAG to the world. There is no easy answer. I said that then and I am still saying it. I support IAG, as well as all the other websites and blogs trying to do the right thing for the good guys among the multitude of POD authors. I realize we are a herd of rabid egos on acid. I realize we are the cats when you hear how difficult it is to herd cats. The problem is that the dogs will always win if we do not organize ourselves better and defend our hard-won territory. We shall never succeed in that endeavor while participating in a never ending succession of catfights.

My assessment is that there is absolutely no correlation in the world of POD books between quality of composition and book sales. There is no correlation between awards and quality or awards and sales. There is no correlation between cover design or cover blurbs and sales. There is no correlation between editing or proofreading quality and sales. There is very little correlation between promotional effort in the form of time or money and sales. There is very little correlation between five-star reviews at Amazon and editing, proofreading, or sales.

There is a moderate correlation between book quality and the age and maturity of authors. There is a moderate correlation between the percentage of quality versus non-quality books according to the publisher; i.e., Lulu prints more trash than iU. There is a moderate correlation between the professional attitude of the authors and the age of the authors. There is a moderate correlation between the success of the authors and the authors' bad attitudes, particularly if the perceived success of the author is due to the wrong reasons; i.e., when the author's success is greater than deserved, either because of the book's length or quality or the ease with which the author has exploited a niche. There is a moderate correlation between the success of a book and its online searchability.

There is a high correlation between a book's subject matter and the quantity of obsessors for that subject matter. There is a high correlation between a book's sales and its obsessors when the title or subtitle is highly searchable. There is a high correlation between the name of any famous person, either alive or dead, and the success of a POD book about that person. Finally, there is a high correlation with the success of any POD book that has been effectively tied into a connection with some other entity. I have seen successful POD books connected with video games, movies, places, comedy acts, musical acts, journalistic columns, and probably a few things I cannot recall right now.


Here is an example of just one little clarification of the IAG dilemma. Someone at IAG has suggested reading only the first chapter or selectively reading individual pages scattered throughout the text to get a synopsis of the quality of a POD book. The problem with this is that many POD books get increasingly worse in their error count as the story progresses. I assume this is because the author is getting increasingly bored and impatient with what is surely the most tedious element of publishing. Awards and reviews have also been mentioned within the context of vetting a POD book, but this field has already been heavily compromised by many unscrupulous paid review sites and paid award scams. As you know, I can tell you a thing or two about the legitimacy of these things, too! We need to rise above these issues. We must take the high road if we truly wish to succeed in the big picture, but there are members of IAG who clearly wish to support these scams. The end does not justify the means when the barnyard starts mooing and braying, making each of us look like just another chicken looking for a worm. Welcome to the catfight.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chewy Moon



Chewy Moon by Paige Shelton
(iUniverse.com / 0-595-44431-8 / August 2007 / 90 pages / $9.95)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for iUBR

Josie Abernathy is eleven and lives with her grandmother in a small house in Averine, Georgia. Josie is a tomboy, a devoted baseball player, and afraid to leave the house unless her grandmother goes with her, perhaps because she has lost her parents in an accident years earlier. One night after her grandmother has gone to sleep, she is beckoned outside by a strange, but appealing, girl her own age, oddly named Sanana. The girl is friendly, has some highly unusual powers, and gradually convinces Josie to accompany her on a series of increasingly challenging missions. As the night wears on, Josie confronts her fears, makes new friends, and comes to learn some important lessons about the adult world and her own character.

This slight novel, the author's first, reads smoothly and cleanly. My only quibble is with the cover, which, while quite appropriate to the story, is too subtle to grab the eye of the casual browser.

The back cover bears the words "Juvenile Fiction," (Ages 9-12, according to Amazon) and I agree. I would think the book would most appeal to young people perhaps ten to fifteen. That said, it was an intriguing enough a story as to keep this reader, many times that age, interested all the way to the end.

See Also: Paige Shelton's Website
Dr. Al Past's B&N Review

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bound



Bound by Amy Lane
The Third Book in the Little Goddess Series
(iUniverse.com / 0-595-42423-6 / February 2007 / 494 pages / $25.95)

Amy Lane has attained a level of success with her Little Goddess Series that few POD authors reach. She states on her website that 1100 copies of Vulnerable, her first book, have been sold. Bound is probably the best of the bunch. As with the first two Little Goddess books, the reader is required to ignore literally hundreds of typos and punctuation errors throughout the book. These have obviously not stopped Amy's horde of obsessive readers from buying her books, but a demerit is certainly in order for any author who so blatantly refuses to correctly proofread her books prior to publication. This particular issue certainly lessens the image of all POD books in the eyes of the reading public, bringing harm to all those who diligently do their editing and proofreading duties. Speaking in her favor, Amy has assured me that a professional proofreader has worked over her latest book (see link below). That said, on with the show.

Cory Kirkpatrick continues her adventures as the Queen of the Vampires who sleeps with her three boyfriends simultaneously, cusses like a sailor, and prays to The Goddess. She is just a mortal girl of twenty who was a goth-chick-loser in high school. She was just another one of those misfits lost in the ozone until the night she discovered the fact that most of the night people she met at the all-night convenience store where she worked were actually vampires, elves, and something Amy has named werekitties. Cory's life entered this brave new world in the first chapter of the first Little Goddess book, and the adventure began. Most of the magic of Bound derives from the interaction of such a lovable, wild bunch of characters. As a critic, I have always said that if an author can make me care about flawed or otherwise unappealing characters, I am usually impressed with the work. In this case, The Little Goddess series falls neatly between two of my favorite sets of characters of all time: the heterosexual, but not monogamous, young adults created by Robert Rimmer in his social science novels of The Sixties that began with The Harrad Experiment, and the more contemporary Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice.

Like the works of Rice and Rimmer, Amy Lane's books create a lovely fantasy world that is both real and unreal. The characters and storylines are made believable by the careful crafting done by the authors. In other words, the authors are really good at what they do. The supernatural, fantasy characters interact somewhat realistically with modern, human culture. Yes, Cory is married to three men, but the storyline develops in a manner in which that situation seems rational. The fictional area Ms. Lane created, which she calls Green's Hill, is unknown to the local residents, yet the setting is as real as the Sacramento and Bay Areas she describes. In Cory and Amy's world, the characters made from myth and fantasy interact with humans, yet the humans never know who or what they are dealing with from Green's Hill.

Bound and the other Little Goddess books are stuffed to the gunwales with allegory and allusion. Ms. Lane is obviously no more a fan of our country's current national, evangelical madness than I am. The reader can easily see the parallels between gay bashing, reproductive issues, and other battles with those of an authoritarian bent in Ms. Lane's entertaining plots. The creatures on Green's Hill live in a manner not unlike that of the communal hippies of The Sixties, and they have to defend their rights and abilities to do so, or face dire consequences for any lack of vigilance.

If I wanted to be brash in my analysis of Bound (and Vulnerable and Wounded) I would call The Little Goddess Series an unpopular high school girl's fantasy. There have been several other successful books and movies mining similar territory, but this series has been fully baked in its completeness of the theme. In one of my earlier reviews, I referred to Amy as a Punk Anne Rice, or something to that effect. Amy lane is a helluva writer. I'm sticking with that story.

See Also: Interview with Amy Lane
Bitter Moon I (Amy's fourth & newest book)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Texas Monthly

This informative article about the current state of reading and publishing has just appeared at Texas Monthly online. Here is the link to the comment to the article. (You could easily miss it on the page.)