Saturday, September 27, 2008
Eyes of a Monster
by Jacqueline S. Homan
(Elf Books / 0-981-56792-4 / 978-0-981-56792-1 / 2007 / 642 pages / $35.95 / Kindle $5.00)
The single best word to describe this true story of a hate crime surrounded by deceit is riveting. Eyes of a Monster is a morality play that has been personalized by the naivete of its author, taking the reader deeply into the psyche of women who love men on death row. It is a treatise on the death penalty, human frailty, and inhuman cruelty, as told from the perspective of someone who was there.
Just before Christmas in 1987, two drunken young men who were clearly up to no good, kidnapped, beat, tortured, and murdered a third young man whom the first two perceived as homosexual. Anthony Milano naively strolled into a bar to have a late-night sandwich, when he was spotted by a giant bear of a man named Richard Laird and his smaller, younger buddy, Frank Chester. Rick, as he was commonly known, immediately proceeded to look for trouble, and his less enthusiastic associate went along for the ride. The two of them employed an eerily not-so-benign encouragement to Tony Milano to take them for a ride into the night. The three of them got into Tony’s car and headed out on their devilish mission into Buck’s County, PA. After a supposed stop at a convenience store for beer, at which time a panicked Tony almost escaped, the boys wound up on the side of the road out in the middle of nowhere. After torching Tony’s car simply to dispose of all the evidence that might have been found attached to it, two of the boys went to a nearby friend’s apartment to wash the blood out of their clothes. Anthony Milano was left lying in the bushes with his head bashed in and his throat cut. Both of these satanic clowns received the death penalty in a trial transcript meticulously displayed by the author.
Long after Laird and Chester had been sent to prison, Jacqueline Homan was working as a member of a maintenance crew of a large hotel when a coworker asked her if she might look into his brother’s criminal case. Ms. Homan was not a lawyer, but she had considerably more educational and research experience than Rick Laird’s brother ever thought about acquiring. Unfortunately, Jacqueline was more than a little innocent and both the Laird brothers were more than a little guilty. The bulk of the book’s text follows the transcript of the trial of Rick Laird and Frank Chester, and then the author describes in great detail her attempt to secure a hearing for Rick Laird to remove him from death row. Eyes of a Monster exemplifies the age-old concept that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and in this case, it becomes a morbid fascination shared by both the author and the reader. Eyes of a Monster is hellaciously good at impersonating a morality play.
Unfortunately, there are a few downsides to this outstanding book. It is too expensive as an undiscounted hardback only. As with Ms. Homan’s first book, Classism for Dimwits, there is a bit too much whining about the author’s personal state of poverty. There are far too many stupid proofreading errors that could easily have been avoided with more diligence. The author could have tightened up the editing a little more by deleting some of the extraneous details, such as some of the many descriptions of similar criminal cases and the inclusion of numerous, complete letters written to Jacqueline by Rick Laird. With a little tightening of the plotline, a smaller font, and narrower margins, this six-hundred-page bicep-builder could be turned into a 350-page paperback that fans of the genre would not be able to resist. The next step would be to develop a script to submit to the Lifetime channel. If women didn’t love this stuff to death, Nancy Grace wouldn’t be a millionaire! In spite of its flaws, three words still creep to the surface of Eyes of a Monster: outstanding, gripping, and riveting.
See Also: The B&N Review
The BNN Review
Divine Right PODBRAM Review
Monday, September 22, 2008
A Civil General
by David Stinebeck & Scannell Gill
(Sunstone Press / 0-865-34663-1 / 978-0-865-34663-5 / September 2008 / 160 pages / $20.95)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM
Called “The Rock of Chickamauga” for holding the center of the Union line in that Civil War battle, and preventing a defeat from dissolving into a disastrous rout, George Henry Thomas was famous in his lifetime, worshipped and respected in equal parts by the officers and men that he commanded. He is still held in particular respect by serious historians of the period. His funeral, five years after the end of the war, was attended by at least 10,000 mourners, including then-President Grant and his cabinet. Yet General Thomas is also nearly unknown today, especially in comparison to his contemporaries – on both sides of the Civil War. He never wrote a memoir of his service, destroyed his private papers and refused to become involved in politics.
He got on badly with Grant on a personal level, for reasons never made entirely clear to historians. Perhaps this slight novel, told through the eyes of a young officer serving with him, is as good an introduction to the personality and contradictions of this able professional 19th century soldier, who was as personally reserved as he was accomplished – and somewhat of an anomaly among his fellow Union generals. He was born in Virginia, to a slave-owning family, taught those slaves owned by his family to read – in defiance of contemporary law and convention, and married a woman from the North. His closest friend from West Point and during his military career thereafter was Robert. E. Lee… but Thomas chose to remain loyal to the Union during the Secession crisis which split the United States. For that he was all but disowned by his remaining family, and initially distrusted by those for whom he fought.
This book is barely a hundred and fifty pages, detailing only the last two years of the Civil War and concluding with an account of General Thomas’ funeral. It is beautifully written, very much in period style. If it can be faulted, it would be on the grounds of being limited by that style and structure; it is an account of a man seen from the outside, and at the very peak of his military career. The narrator is sympathetic but exterior, leaving the reader much to wonder about. What kind of events, what personal experiences and relationships formed the man who is presented in this account? How did he come to make the wrenching choices that he did, who really were his close friends and bitter enemies? All these questions are left unanswered; it might be that an imaginative novelist might someday have a go at writing an account that would explore General Thomas’ life in more depth. Until then, “A Civil General” will do very well as an introduction to this contradictory and almost unknown hero.
See Also: Celia's BNN Review
Friday, September 19, 2008
I sometimes like to get really close to a viewpoint, just to see what I can see, just like when I get up into the face of our most lovable cat, Jerry Seinfeld aka Big Cow, and snuggle in his face as closely as possible. I may be able to see only the eyes and whiskers from this viewpoint, but you certainly cannot say that I don't know what cat eyes and whiskers look like!
This article about an ancient, but controversial subject popped up yesterday. (Be sure to read the comments on the article, too.) Since I have been wallowing in such an intimate viewpoint of the issue for quite a while, I felt I had to comment on the same old conflict once again.
The whole country is suddenly up in arms over the financial fiasco we call Wall Street, as if nobody could see it coming since about 1987. After watching the market for several years, I jerked all my cash out of it in the early '90's. It's that old fool me once line. Some people are blaming Bush's program to offer mortgages to low-income buyers; some people are blaming Greenspan's constant sellouts to his favorite street; and some are blaming the system managers. Of these choices, I go with the Greenspan crowd: he mashed interest rates so low that no one in his right mind wanted to keep savings in an FDIC insured bank! The government's plan was well-intentioned and of course any corporation is going to do anything to make money if you let them. Greenspan let them.
The reason I have to comment on the article is not any action taken by Amazon. They are just the same as the out of control corporations on Wall Street. They are going to try to make as much money as possible in as short a length of time as possible. The big secret, the line I want to hear someone say, is that the few books selected for traditional publication are simply those that the corporation thinks it can sell the most of in the least amount of time. Not only is this a fact, but this fact has been squeezing the industry like an anaconda for decades, just as it has every other industry in America. How has our television programming gotten so bad? This is how. Why are our movie choices peppered with sequels? This is why. Why was most of our best music created decades ago? Do I really have to answer that?
There are plenty of good POD books out there, but if someone who has never walked in my shoes read this Forbes article, he would not learn a grain of the truth. As with the current financial crisis, the spin is one of the leading causes of ignorance. I shudder to think what the traditional book market will look like twenty years from now. Amazon is not the leading enemy of a quality book market, and neither are the POD publishers. Junk like this is.
Photo of Miss April by Al Past
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The i Tetralogy
by Mathias B. Freese
(Hats Off Books / 1-587-36404-2 / 978-1-587-36404-4 / June 2005 / 380 pages / $26.95 / $20.48 Amazon)
“I am rectum.” With these words, you become the nameless “i” being processed at a Nazi death camp in part one of The i Tetralogy.
“I am Gunther.” With these words in part two of the novel, you become the guard who efficiently processes the Jews.
“MIN-E-OLA. An American Indian name, no doubt, for a long Island as bland as an ironing board. But here in my Cape Cod, built after the war by the GIs who destroyed the Reich, I have found a measure of security.” With these words you become the guard as an old man in the 1990s looking back on the wonders of his life in part three of Mathias B. Freese’s masterpiece.
“I HATE HIM. I HATE HIM. I HATE HIM.” With these words, you become Gunther’s son in search of truths about the Jews, the war, his father, and himself that he may or may not find between the lines of the last 78 pages of this book.
The i Tetralogy places the living, breathing and dying moments of people trapped within the Holocaust beneath a microscope powerful enough to bring every visceral urge, fear, motive and drop of blood into an IMAX-theater-sized view.
But make no mistake about it. While reading this novel, you are not viewing the Holocaust as a movie-goer or even as a reader: you are immersed in it and participating in it. Mentally, upon a shadowy sea of words, you are experiencing first hand a world outside boundaries of humanity as we understand it, or even want to understand it.
The unrelenting power of Freese’s writing calls to mind the gritty horror and hopelessness of Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, and the grim insanity of Dalton Trumbo’s story about a wounded soldier in Johnny Got His Gun. Equally stark and eloquent, The i Tetralogy is written in the first person with a substantial amount of internal monologue. Both precise and beautiful, the prose cuts like a knife, laying bare the question: Where, if anywhere, is the meaning in the deadly embraces between prisoner and guard, guard and lover, guard and wife, guard and son, son and mother?
“We are dead men as it is, Izzy,” i tells a fellow prisoner. “I believe there is no explanation for all of this, for if I were given one, I would dismiss it out of hand. We should stop trying to juggle it into sense or some order, some meaning. It is meaningless— and even that gives it meaning.”
Gunther tells himself, “Here, in Anus Mundi, as one SS doctor calls it, I serve to kill Jews. Not a harsh thing to say or think, it’s a necessary thing to do. Not a harsh thing to feel, for it has nothing to do with feeling— or morality.
Years late, after he learns of his father’s role in World War II, Gunther’s son Conrad, tells himself, “Of the six million Jews, in fantasy I wish I could replace each one— die the individual, idiosyncratic, special, even holy death of each one. I wish to be disfigured, raped, shot in the neck, gassed, torched. But this is fantasy. It speaks of intent or good will, of higher motives and purposes. But to what avail?”
Psychotherapist Victor Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the why for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any how.”
Frankl’s 1946 book makes a strong case for the ultimate meaningfulness of every moment of life, including moments of suffering and depersonalization. Freese‘s novel throws the whole matter open to question, leaving you to decide for yourself whether or not i or Conrad or you concur.
Freese’s author’s note, “Raison d’Être,” is rather like a message in a bottle explaining how and why he wrote the book. “A close reading of The i Tetralogy, a substitution of the author’s name for i, Gunther, Karl, Conrad, Milly and Kurt,” he writes, “will reveal the suffering of the species individually lived.”
If you dare to walk or crawl 365 pages in these characters’ shoes, you will emerge at the merciful end of this novel changed by the agony that, as Freese suggests in his author’s note, made him aware.“ It is all too much, too much to bear— but bear it you must,” he says. “It is a part of human suffering— and human strength.”
If you read closely and bear each revolting moment, you may discover that through The i Tetralogy, you have found both meaning and catharsis.
See Also: Malcolm's B&N Review
Malcolm Campbell's March of Books
More About Mathias at Hats Off Books
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The Sunny Day at the 2008 Mushroom Festival: photo by Dianne Salerni
Festival Preparation Ideas
I happen to reside in a particularly active city for readers. Not only do we have many local outdoor festivals year-round in our pleasant climate, some of the most successful B&N's in the country, and the single largest independent bookstore in Texas, but Austin is home to the annual Texas Book Festival. The TBF is a weekend event held on the capitol grounds every autumn that attracts huge crowds. Launched by Laura Bush back when she was the First Lady of Texas, TBF has grown steadily for more than a decade. Unfortunately, so have its exhibition fees, which border on the outrageous. The main difference between exhibiting at TBF and at most of the other outdoor festivals is that TBF is set up in huge tents that cover whole blocks of a couple of streets. Most other events require you to either bring your own tent or wear sunglasses.
You should begin your preparations for one of these events as early as possible. Be as prepared as a Boy Scout in order to bring the most attention possible to you and your books. When you and your stuff are lined up to catch the eyes of strolling visitors, you are competing for attention with all the other exhibitors at the event, not to mention whatever might be the actual main event. The curse of the new author is that you are a sideshow personality at best. Most such events are actually featuring something or someone else, whether it's mushrooms or the most popular author in your state. You are just there, silently screaming, Look at me! Look at me!
The first thing you should consider is to sign up for the event as early as possible. For the TBF, and I am sure this also applies to the major events in your area, too, that always means months in advance. For TBF, and probably others, too, this also means you get a discount off the exorbitant exhibitor fees most of these event organizers charge. Just as importantly, this sometimes means that you get first choice of the prime exhibit locations, which can make all the difference in the world as to your personal success at the event. Regardless of the price you pay or the rules for booth location, arrive at the event on the day of show as early as possible. If they open the gates at 6 a.m., be there with your first load of exhibitor's stuff ready to set up. TBF allows setup the night before, and all the smart birds are there that night, using the entire allotted time to develop their exhibits. The early birds always eat the worms at these sorts of events. Translation: sometimes the earliest customers are some of the best of the day.
The next step may be your most important one, but it is somewhat difficult to define, so I shall give you a few examples. You need to spend considerable time developing large display materials that will draw people to your tent. Posters, miscellaneous large displays, t-shirts, and other items fall into this category. My first book is about Americana, and I went to the Texas Book Festival the first time a couple of months after 9/11/01, so I pinned a large American flag behind me as the centerpiece of my display. Yes, I know it's a cliche, but considering the circumstances, do you have a better idea? For my second visit to TBF, I was selling t-shirts and sweatshirts with clever slogans on them promoting my third book, so I hung some of the best examples of these in a colorful array that a visitor could read from across the aisle. One of the more problematic, but useful items I employed was a long, colorful, laminated banner that my wife and I created to hang across the front edge of the E-Z-Up tent or across the table edge at TBF. The reason I call this problematic is because you have to fasten it to different surfaces in different conditions in order to use it repeatedly. We stuck copious lengths of velcro to ours to stick it to our own tent, but it still required additional effort to display correctly at TBF within their larger tent. You probably will need at least one sort of easel stand to hold a poster, and two, one for each side of your display, are even better. When designing your materials, consider two separate viewing distances: the one from the far side of the aisle and the one closer to your booth. You want to grab attention from a customer standing at a booth across the aisle or walking by at a distance, and you also want to secure the eye view of someone walking very close to your booth.
Speaking of walking, you are likely to be doing your fair share of this activity on the day of show. There is absolutely no downside to wearing a t-shirt, sweatshirt, cap, or other article of clothing that displays your book cover or logo or whatever you wish to use to promote yourself or your book. It's true that this can be costly attire if you hire a professional printer. (I recommend this one.) However, there is no financial excuse not to at least personally design and create a few shirts for all the people manning your booth. If nothing else, just scan your book cover and print it on a package of t-shirts from Wal-mart! The cost may be minimal, but the difficult part is getting the bugs out of your design transfers to make them look presentable. This process may require more practice and effort than you expect, but otherwise, what have you got to lose? Every time you or one of your booth workers goes to the restroom, you are advertising to a crowd. Make your design or slogan as catchy as possible, and be sure it is readable without a magnifying glass. It should be obvious that you should carry a few bookmarks or business cards with you on that pit stop, too. When your cap or shirt catches someone's attention, give them something with even more information about your book on it!
You might consider the next issue the equivalent to politicians kissing babies, something you need to do to be really successful at these events, but you don't much care for it. What can you give away to the many lookyloos and few actual customers that will spread the word about your product or bring a constant stream of visitors to your booth? Yes, in one way or another, this will cost you money for which there will be little immediate return, but we all know the more successful, experienced exhibitors do it because it works. Let's discuss the options one at a time, in no particular order.
For booksellers, flyers are the easiest, most cost-effective way to tell prospective readers what your books are about. They can be printed in color or B&W, and they can be elaborate or simplistic in design. They can display your book's cover, the table of contents, or some other applicable content from your book. Since two of my books include extensive quizzes as part of their entertainment value, I have used flyers displaying key samplings of these trivia tests. I have made flyers of the table of contents for several of my books, an element most appropriate for nonfiction. Carefully chosen excerpts are more appropriate for fiction. Be sure to get a few trays or stands to hold various displays of your flyers, keeping in mind the limited space of a display table.
Bookmarks are the authors' new best friend, so I should not even have to mention them here, but I shall. A bookmark should always include: the book's cover, the author's name, the author's website, and where the book can be purchased. Use both sides of the bookmark, including quotes or other self-explanatory material. Many festival attendees like their bookmarks to be signed by the author. Since I laminate all of my bookmark designs, I have even produced one bookmark design in which I signed all the bookmarks individually prior to lamination. Another idea I have employed is to utilize bookmarks created specifically for a particular event. The only downside to this concept, of course, is that your leftover bookmarks will never again be as useful to you. The upside is that customers can get something that both commemorates the event and helps them remember their experiences of meeting you and what your books are all about.
Business cards have only one claim to fame, but it's a very solid claim. They can be put in a back pocket or wallet without bending or protruding. For this simple reason, you should always design and print business cards for yourself and/or your books. What have you got to lose, other than a little time and minimal cost?
The next giveaway item is so obvious that it is edible. Candy, cookies, cake, or other snacks will always draw a crowd. The problem is will they stay and buy something, or will they just eat your free grits and leave you to clean up the mess? Each author should ponder this question for himself or herself and give it a try if you think it is appropriate for your personal situation. If you are selling a children's book, this should be one of your staple tactics. If you think you have quite enough to deal with already on your plate, then maybe the additional mess and complication of food is not for you. If you are a food fanatic at heart, or cooking is your expertise, or you simply don't mind spending the money for something that might disappear quite quickly from your display table, leaving very little positive result, then go for it. Just keep in mind that books, Butterfingers, and Picante sauce don't always go well together.
The last giveaway item is the most expensive one, but it also brings the least number of negative side effects. Personalized ball-point pens are available in a multitude of designs from National Pen, an old, established company that offers pens, pencils, and many items that you would never expect, most of which are inappropriate for book promotion. If you choose to place an order with National Pen, be sure to hold out for one of their numerous specials. As is common with magazine subscriptions, cruises, and even iUniverse, the best deal is never in the official catalog. Contact National Pen to get on their mailing list and they will send you at least one special offer you can't refuse. Order from them and you will continue to receive even more special offers. Yes, you may spend a couple hundred dollars up front, but consider the lasting results. The festival attendees may drop your flyers in the next trash can, but not a pen! They may stash your bookmark or business card in somebody else's book or other promotional material and never look at it again, but they will use a pen. Practically all the visitors to your booth will choose a pen over a bookmark, flyer, or business card. The pen is mightier than everything but the free food! Aside from the cost, there is only one downside to the pen: will anyone ever read it? Unlike the food, it has your name on it, and unlike the other items, it easily avoids the dreaded trash can.
There are many more extraneous items you may want to consider adding to your arsenal. Like the kitchen stool, these are things that may not directly promote your book, but they can certainly make your exhibitor experience more pleasant, and possibly even more productive. Here is a quick checklist, in no particular order: scissors, Scotch tape, clear mailing tape, string, velcro, paper towels, paper clips, tacks, paperweights, display racks for books and other items, an ice chest holding food and drinks for you and your booth associates, at least one folding chair, and a lift-truck of some sort to carry heavy loads of books to your display area. My wife has been laughing at what I call my Linus towels for years. There is an old bath towel near me wherever I go, and all-day events like these can make a Linus towel (or two or three) a handy item, indeed! You never know when a few tools such as a hammer, screwdriver, and pliers might come in handy, too. It may be distasteful to mention, but a spare roll of toilet paper just for those manning your booth might save somebody's butt back at the porta-potty. Pack a sweatshirt and/or jacket, but wear short-sleeved, comfortable clothes because you will work up a sweat with all the setup and excitement of the event. After all, that's why you're doing this: it's fun!
Monday, September 15, 2008
The Perspective from the Mushroom Festival
by Dianne Salerni
Based on the sales from Sunday, I can predict that the booth would have been fairly profitable for all attending authors – if Hurricane Hanna had not swept up the coast on Saturday, washing out one entire day of the festival. In the eleven years of the Mushroom Festival’s existence, this was the first year they suffered even a drop of rain. I know this because at least ten people stopped by our soggy booth on Saturday to tell us this fact, while rivers of water surged down the street beneath our feet. Luckily, the second day was sunny and warm, bringing back the crowds, but two of the authors were unable to be there on that day. Still, the three authors in attendance passed out flyers promoting all the books, as well as newsletters featuring the various IAG members who have contributed articles over the past several months.
I have to admit, we still had fun getting together – some of us meeting in person for the first time. We also spent a lot of time reflecting on what went right and what went wrong (other than the weather), and perhaps these reflections might be of use to other authors considering attending such an event.
Tap into the spirit of the festival. This was the Mushroom Festival, after all. Most people came to eat, and we saw far more people carrying Italian ice cream and funnel cake than anything else. Nevertheless, a booth selling Nicaraguan pottery across the street managed to sell 44 pots averaging $80 apiece in one day. People expected to see crafts at this festival; an author booth was new, and we needed to work harder to change the mindset of the crowds. We realized belatedly that 6-foot banners shouting “LOCAL AUTHOR BOOK SIGNING” would have been useful to catch eyes from a distance. Every event has its own special focus, and we needed to be more creative to connect our product to this festival.
If possible, find a way to take credit cards. People wanted to reserve their cash for mushroom delicacies! Our ability to accept credit cards made several sales for us – and once the card was out of the wallet, the buyer sometimes picked up a couple extra books! Of course, acquiring a merchant account is an expensive proposition, but if you can team up with somebody who already has one, it is worth it. For instance, we were able to accept credit cards because my husband has an account for the purpose of collecting rent on a vacation house we own. He offered to use this account for all the authors’ sales, and we settled up with everyone afterwards.
Play up the local angle. Donna Nordmark Aviles brought laminated posters featuring local newspaper clippings about her books. These colorful posters stopped many passers-by, who paused to read the articles and then wandered into our booth. I, too, have newspaper clippings about my book, identifying me as a local schoolteacher and highlighting a literary award won by High Spirits, but I didn’t think about making them up into a poster! That’s a mistake I won’t make twice!
People like photographs. In addition, passers-by were attracted to vintage photographs displayed by Donna. Her books are historical fiction based on the true life stories of her grandfather’s family, and the photographs were unmistakable eye-catchers. Juliet Waldron and I made particular note of this. Our books also feature real, historical people, and you can be sure that we will have their images on display at our next event!
Spread the word. My daughters stood in the street all day and distributed over 400 flyers describing our books. Some of the vendors told us this was a mistake, because it encouraged people to keep walking. But books are different than crafts. A person isn’t likely to read about a Nicaraguan pot and come back later to get it – but several people did just that at our booth, waving a flyer given to them earlier and asking for a specific book. And unlike Nicaraguan pots, our books could be purchased after the event at a bookstore or online.
Contacts can be as important as sales. People who came into our booth may have left without purchasing a book, but they rarely left empty-handed. We gave out flyers, IAG newsletters, bookmarks, and business cards. One of our authors made a contact from a private school which might result in a speaking engagement. A woman from a book club that enjoys supporting local authors picked up information about all our books to bring back to her group. We even acquired a new member for the IAG, an artist whose talents will no doubt contribute a lot to our group.
Anything that helps the group, helps us all. One gentleman who approached the booth had no interest in any of our books, but his eye was caught by the picture accompanying Mary Simonsen’s article in the May IAG newsletter. Turns out, he was once stationed at the base pictured in the article. We chatted with him extensively about Mary’s book and sent him on his way with a copy of the article, totally unconcerned that he didn’t want our books. That, I believe, is supposed to be the spirit of the Independent Authors Guild.
See Also: Dianne Salerni's website
Juliet Waldron's website
Donna Nordmark Aviles' Authors Den site
Celia Hayes' review of Michael Katz' Shalom on the Range
Jack Dixon's website - (Jack was unable to attend the festival due to an unexpected emergency.)
The website of the Independent Authors Guild
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The Neurology of Angels
by Krista Tibbs
(Friction Publishing / 0-981-88030-4 / 978-0-981-88030-3 / August 2008 / 284 pages / $14.00)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM
Does this country need a national health care program? How much should it cost a person to buy the medicine that keeps them alive? Are FDA regulations stringent enough to protect us from drugs that are more deadly than the disease they are meant to cure? Is a rate of 3 deaths out of 10,000 patients an acceptable risk for a new drug? How are these decisions made—and who is making them?
The Neurology of Angels is a powerful novel exploring these issues through the intertwined lives of several people for whom drug availability is a daily personal dilemma. Galen Douglas is a scientist-turned-entrepreneur who develops a miracle cure for a rare juvenile illness, but discovers that keeping his business afloat so that he can manufacture the drug is trickier than he ever realized. Elizabeth Rose, the mother of a child with an incurable and fatal genetic disorder, is a corporate lawyer fighting against private lawsuits that bankrupt drug companies and disrupt research which – she hopes – might someday save her daughter. Eddy Parker, never a risk-taker, nevertheless decides to enter politics after he finds himself forced to choose between paying the mortgage and buying his daughter’s medicine. Patricia Chen works for the FDA and believes that pharmaceutical companies don’t emphasize safety enough, especially after a patient death follows closely on the heels of her first drug approval.
I found Krista Tibbs’ novel a fascinating portrait of earnest people with good intentions working at cross-purposes in a muddled and failing health care system. She takes her fair share of stabs at the media, which often deliver slanted and incomplete information to a public more influenced by sound bytes than logical thinking. The book includes some medical data and details of bureaucratic red tape – well-explained for the lay person – but this is truly a story about people living difficult lives and facing monumental problems. I found her characters believable, with relationships that rang true. Eddy and Galen – college roommates and one-time friends – fall out when geeky Galen’s financial success surpasses that of glamour-boy Eddy, something Eddy had never expected and deeply resents. Dynamic and vibrant Sera Rose, condemned to an early death by her genetics, lives for the gift of each day, and her friendship with Galen’s estranged daughter Lexi is both heart-warming and realistic. Meanwhile, Eddy’s daughter Abigail falls into a lonely, anguished depression when her own deadly condition manifests and nearly bankrupts her family, and her father’s determination to acquire her medicine drives his entire political career.
I had only one small complaint: I think it would have been a more powerful ending if the author had stopped on page 265 and dropped the last two chapters, which read like an unnecessary epilogue. Nevertheless, I highly recommend The Neurology of Angels as a novel brave enough to challenge our misconceptions – to speak on behalf of pharmaceutical companies – to expose how little legislators understand about the consequences of the laws they pass – and to express a whole-hearted belief in the balance of a market economy, if only it were allowed to operate without interference.
See Also: Dianne's B&N Review
Dianne's High Spirits Review
Monday, September 08, 2008
Cardigan Bay by John Kerr
(Corona Publishing / 0-972-06304-8 / 978-0-972-06304-3 / July 2008 / 342 pages / hardcover / $25.00 / $18.38 Amazon)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM
Cardigan Bay is at once a romance and an espionage thriller, set during World War Two. The story is woven from several threads, some of them fairly well known – such as the elaborate and ongoing planning for the Normandy invasion by the Allies, the work of the top-secret code-breakers at Bletchley Park and the plot by anti-Nazi German military officers to assassinate Hitler. The central character, a British Army officer named Charles Davenport, is a thoughtful and erudite man – unhappily married and even more unhappily divorced. Upon recovering from wounds sustained in the fighting in North Africa, he moves into a staff job, working out a means of landing masses of soldiers on the Normandy beaches. He has a brief meeting with a lonely Irish-American woman, Mary Kennedy, who has returned to her grandparents’ seaside house in County Wexford. Mary, widowed and grieving for a child and a husband, had been corresponding with a soldier in Davenport’s company. Mary and Charles strike up a friendship – a love affair even – through letters over the next few years. The final thread, which binds the rest together, is the neutrality of Ireland during that war, and the proclivity of the Germans to work with certain elements of the violently anti-British IRA. The premise that any enemy of my enemy is my friend in practice led to some interesting and today embarrassing episodes, such as an official message sent by the Irish government to the German ambassador in Dublin conveying condolences upon the death of Hitler in 1945. German agents operated fairly freely in neutral countries, including Ireland. The writer has used this circumstance to create the surprisingly sympathetic character of the Abwehr agent who goes by the nom du guerre of Eamon O’ Farrell. That he is not who he says he is at first is obvious; that he is revealed as a German spy is something the alert reader can see coming from several chapters away, so I am not giving up any plot development. But the final character revelation is an interesting twist and one that in the narrative is left hanging.
Although carefully researched, and in places almost lyrically descriptive, there are a handful of flaws. Charles’s dialogue does not quite sound entirely British, in places – he says “Sure,” to indicate agreement and assent, where an Englishman of that time and place would have said “Certainly” or “Of course.” And as a career military person and somewhat of a historian, I thought the conversation where Charles and a fellow officer exchange talk about their respective wartime top-secret jobs was definitely a false note. That was the sort of thing that was and still is not talked about outside the ‘shop’, even among close friends. There is no way that someone at the highest level of planning the invasion plans would have talked about it to an outsider, nor would a Bletchley insider have voiced the slightest whisper about the Enigma device. It was necessary for the plot for those two characters to know what the other was involved in – but I think it would have been more realistic and more historically accurate for the two characters to merely have dropped some allusive hints about their work, and let the other character have figured it out, rather than just laid it all out openly.
See Also: Celia's BNN Review
Celia's B&N Review
Saturday, September 06, 2008
by Shannon Yarbrough
(ToSow Publishing / 0-615-21361-8 / 978-0-615-21361-3 / June 2008 / 232 pages / $14.00 / $12.60 Amazon)
The storyline is told in the first person by a thirty-two-year-old gay man who has been employed for a number of years at a locally owned, Starbuckian coffee emporium. As with many of us, his life has come to revolve around his job and the people who work at the Latte Da. The owner is a single woman named Sally who has developed over time into Blaine’s best friend. The only other regular employee is a young, punkish, art school student with spiked hair and fairy tale characters tattooed over much of his body. Blaine has developed a neurotic tendency called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He is obsessed with the number 32, and all multiples and derivatives of that number. According to his own observation, this neurotic behavior appeared after he had decided to cease his exercising of an earlier habit, endless one night stands with young gay men he met in the gay disco scene. The plot surrounds Blaine’s maturing realizations concerning his behavior patterns and where he would like to take his lifestyle patterns in the future.
Stealing Wishes is a quick read through a pair of relationships that begin with Sally meeting a new boyfriend and then the two of them setting up Blaine with a blind date with a professor at a local university. There are many little psychodramas that spice up the seemingly droll plot, leading to a number of surprising conclusions. There are a few passages that a hetero male may want to read through as quickly as possible, before any clear mental images have time to gel, but Stealing Wishes offers an overall tone closer to Disney than Cinemax. If not for the clearly homosexual context, I could easily visualize Stealing Wishes as a Lifetime movie, full of discussion about the complexity of relationships. Shannon Yarbrough is to be commended for his smooth, believable dialog and the delicate psychological approach to characters who seem, at least on the surface, to be fatally flawed. Mr. Yarbrough is a very promising young author who understands the psychology of people and their convoluted relationships very well.
With a little more attention to the technical details of publishing, Shannon Yarbrough could have a real future as a writer. I have never seen a book that began the page numbering with the cover, but as a POD book critic, I have encountered enough careless, unnecessary, grammatical boo-boos in the books I have reviewed to drive a librarian deeply into madness. Stealing Wishes has its share of this nonsense, but fortunately, this is the only negative thing I have to say about Mr. Yarbrough’s second book.
The author has genuinely captured the essence of many of those living in the gay community of a large city. Young adults of all sexual persuasions live through much of the same angst as Shannon’s gay and straight characters. He has presented them all blended together, just as in real life. Stealing Wishes may not strike with the powerful punch of the sort of nonfiction tome that a reader might say changed his or her life, but the flow of the characters’ conversations displays the depth of thought that went into this relatively short book of fiction. The heartfelt poignancy drips from its pages of light comedy.
See Also: The B&N Review
The Blogger News Net Review
The Other Side of What (Shannon's first book)
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
This is a subject that just will not go away! I toss a Frisbee way across the yard, and it just comes back. I bury the bone out in the back yard, far away from the house, and when I least expect to see it again, it's back here dirtying up the nice clean floor of my blog! Go on. Try to bury your nose into your book as if the teacher cannot see you hiding. Yes, I am calling on you. Stand up straight and name the subject of today's post. What bone do I have to pick until I think it's as clean as a silent dog whistle? If you answered proofreading, give that author a prize!
I'm not asking any of you to pay a professional to proofread your book. I'm not even asking any of you to pay me half the going rate to do it for you, as I have offered elsewhere at PODBRAM. What I am asking you to do costs very little except for some of your time. If you own only one computer, and you wish to purchase a second one with which to simplify the process, go ahead. You could easily waste $500 in many less practical ways. I am asking only that you either utilize a second computer or print out your manuscript from a Word document. What you absolutely must do is to read through the manuscript aloud with a partner who is reading along with you silently from a second copy that is exactly the same as the version on your computer. The second person can do all the enunciating or ya'll can take turns. I do not care, and your readers certainly do not care, but I am certain that they are as tired of stumbling over your aggravating typos as I am.
Spelling and Grammar Checks cannot identify the types of errors I am referring to here, simply because most of the words that are blundering their way into your books are genuine, real words. Grammar Check will underline every passive sentence you write, but it doesn't know the difference between there and their or its and it's. It can't stand the word blog, even though we know that in our current virtual culture, you can't swing a big bone without hitting one.
Janet Elaine Smith has tried to tell you people this same thing numerous times. Ya'll like her, don't you? If you don't listen to me because I dunk your books in the tank or open them widely to see the fun parts, then at least listen to Janet. She has told you the same thing I have: read your manuscript aloud! Read it to another person reading it silently from a second copy. Make every little necessary change as you go in the computer copy, and then shred the printed copy full of mistakes if you want. When you read aloud, you are more likely to pronounce every word without unconsciously skipping over common words. The second copy allows the second reader to capture every boo-boo you make, even if you have missed it. There are only two things you have to remember. Read it aloud and read it with a partner reading a second copy.
I have just completed the reading of a very well composed book in which the dialog and storyline flow like a river, but guess what? I have begun reading another book that is stunning in the accuracy of its capture of a real-life tragedy. Guess what again? Although I have only read the first few chapters of the second book, it seems to be positively rushing toward five stars, if only I could quit stumbling over the typos!
This is so easy, people! It's not brain salad surgery! It's not even expensive. If you want to be a real writer, then write like one. Do you think this is The Fifties, when a polite guy in a uniform pranced out to your car to fill the gas tank? Do you think publishers are going to pay someone to do the grunt work for you because you are a celebrity? Those days are long gone, kids. Go ahead. Dig a hole for yourself and get in it. While you're closely guarding your bone, real readers will be out looking for real books to read.
Photo courtesy Al Past