Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Truckee's Trail


To Truckee’s Trail: The Greatest Adventure…Never Told by Celia Hayes
(Booklocker / 1-601-45252-7 / 978-1-601-45252-8 / July 2007 / 276 pages / $15.95 / Kindle $7.19)
Reviewed by Juliet Waldron for PODBRAM

We’ve all seen plenty of wagon train stories on TV and at the movies. To Truckee’s Trail will carry you back “to those thrilling days of yesteryear,” but not in Hollywood fashion. This is an historical novel in the truest sense of the word, because it is based upon surviving documents from a real journey made by emigrants to California. As this is the late 1840’s, the “trail” was not well known, and the most challenging part of the journey was crossing the mountains before the snows came. The documents are here, artfully interspersed with the author’s characterizations of these intrepid travelers.

They set off in the spring, fording rivers, and encountering Indians and buffalo as they made their way over a pristinely beautiful prairie landscape. At first, their difficulties are mostly with each other. When they reach the desert, however, their primary antagonist becomes Nature, and this continues as they race to cross the trackless mountains before winter traps them. As this journey actually took place a few years before the Donner Party, the reader knows quite well (better, perhaps, than did those long ago emigrants) what the risks were.

The expedition’s doctor carries the story. He’s uniquely positioned to interact with all the members of the party, at their best and at their worst. The author's feel for period dialogue and sensibility never fails her. I found her portraits of the oxen and mules as genuine and moving as those of the human characters.

Although the book starts slowly, as so many characters must be introduced, the excitement begins as soon as they hit the trail. A society in miniature must be established, and not everyone wants to follow the rules. There are quarrels and illnesses, as well as Indians and deserts, floods and storms, and at the end, those death-trap mountain snows to endure. If you're a fan of adventure, or if you're a lover of Westerns, you'll certainly enjoy To Truckee's Trail as much as I did.


See Also: Dianne Salerni's High Spirits Review
Reviews of Adelsverein by Celia Hayes - The Gathering - The Harvesting - The Sowing

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Signature


Signature by Ron Sanders
(Ron Sanders / 0-615-15653-3 / 978-0-615-15653-8 / September 2007 / 168 pages / $10.95)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

In the future, in 1347, a trio of scientists rendezvous during a New Years celebration while making their way to the observatory of another famous scientist, Titus Mack. They have been invited by Mack so that they can share in an astonishing discovery he has made regarding racial memories and altered history. Mack has invented a program, which he names Solomon, capable of reading waveprints and magnetic profiles encoded in Earth’s gravitational field and thus recreating historic events in vivid imagery. Mack’s investigations have revealed that everything he and his fellow citizens have been taught about the world is wrong – that a massive governmental cover-up has erased and replaced human history.

Mack’s presentation to his three scientist friends is interrupted when his observatory is overrun by the lawless, insane inhabitants of a nearby “plague colony.” While Mack and his friends, thanks to Solomon, now know the real nature of the “plague” which infects these people, the savage colony has no interest in hearing their explanation.

Signature has received accolades from various review sources, naming it a worthy reading experience and an intellectual thrill ride. I didn’t find it as appealing. I was most interested in the technology which made viewing the past possible and the historic events and cover-up which were discovered by this invention. Unfortunately, these elements were not revealed through the actions of the characters and events in the book – they were presented in a lengthy lecture over the course of four chapters. The actual events of the book revolved around periodic chases, captures, and escapes as the scientists unwillingly explore the underground lair of their savage neighbors. I found these scenes repetitive and designed mainly to present an ever-worsening parade of bizarre characters.

The writing was technically competent, although I found the dialogue to be frequently confusing. The cover images are vivid and striking, but the title and author’s name could have been more professionally displayed. While not my cup of tea, this book would appeal to readers interested in religion, history, and dystopic futures.


See Also: The POD People Review
For Readers Only, a collection of Ron's best short stories

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ever Your Servant


Ever Your Servant: (Or How Retail Really Sucks) by K. A. Corlett
(Corlata Press / 0-973-28440-4 / 978-0-973-28440-9 / 2004 / $17.99)
Reviewed by Juliet Waldron for PODBRAM

If I may rephrase the cover blurb: "Imagine Anne Rice being trampled by the cast of The Office." If tired formula vampire stories send you to sleep, here comes a genuine page-turner!

Joelle works for a department store in a Canadian city. She runs one of the ossified firms' attempts at a trendy health-food section. The bosses are what you'd imagine, obsessed with inane protocol and office politics. Joelle's best friends are the slacker geeks who run Electronics, although she has a work ethic that they lack. Ms. Corlett has a gift for smart dialogue, and an ear finely tuned toward 9-5, and you will be splitting your sides when a tall dark stranger arrives to cast a pall over the scene. Max owns a franchise, the newly installed cyber café, and with independence from the powers that be, he begins to wreak havoc, not only upon the one remaining good nerve of the pompous managerial staff, but upon Joelle, who has never before met a man she couldn't manage.

Max is (ostensibly) from Quebec, a fluent French speaker. He's handsome, bright and aristocratic, and Joelle's seriously off-balance around him. He's also very pale, and has some unique habits, like hanging upside down from the ceiling in his darkened office. Fellow workers begin to drop dead, and even though Joelle guesses who is to blame, she can't kick a growing passion for the urbane, mysterious Max. Ever Your Servant is by turns funny, witty, terrifying and sexy. What's more, there's a formidable wealth of occult knowledge folded into the humor and gothic romance. If you're looking for a vampire tale with a genuine, not mass-produced, bite, pick this one up. Om Krim Kaliyai Nama!


Editor's Note: This self-published paperback is no longer available from Amazon except through a secondary seller. It is not available at B&N online, either. You can order a copy directly from the author in Canada for the $17.99 posted price plus $8 shipping. You can place your order from the author's website. At least one copy is currently available at a lower price through other sellers. Check the Addall link below for details. If you want to read an excerpt from the book, there is one at the author's site. Thank you.

See Also: K. A. Corlett's website
The Ever Your Servant page at Addall

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Janeology


Janeology by Karen Harrington
(Kunati, Inc. / 1-601-64020-X / 978-1-601-64020-8 / April 2008 / 256 pages / $24.95 hardcover / $18.21 Amazon)
Reviewed by Malcolm Campbell for PODBRAM

Jane Nelson "snaps" and tries to drown her two children in the kitchen sink. Her son Simon dies, her daughter Sarah survives, and Jane is placed in a mental institution after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. However, since society, as we saw in the Andrea Yates case and others, can neither understand nor tolerate flawed motherhood, it will go to great lengths to find extenuating circumstances to explain a mother's crime.

The stunned and grieving husband and father, Tom Nelson, becomes a convenient scapegoat. As high-profile cases in recent years have demonstrated, husbands are expected to know whether or not a wife under stress is a clear and present danger to her children. So Tom is charged with failing to protect his family from his wife, a wife he didn’t know as well as he thought he did.

In Janeology, as in life, Tom and his lawyer Dave take as a given that the evidence used in Jane's trial to demonstrate that she was insane will be brought into Tom's trial and used against him. The prosecution will argue that if Jane was crazy enough to kill her children, Tom should have noticed this fact and done something to keep Simon and Sarah out of harm's way. How could he not have known?

Tom asks himself this question many times even before he is charged. He also wonders what happened to Jane, the loving wife and mother, to bring her to such a point. In her exceptionally well-written, carefully plotted and inventive novel, Karen Harrington considers where blame begins and ends and what, if anything, will bring us closure.

Dave tells Tom that they can mount a stronger defense by going farther into the past than the psychologists who testified about Jane's mental instability at her trial. He introduces Tom to a psychic who will learn through "retrocognition" what Jane's parents and grandparents were like and whether, through bad genes, psychological imbalance, or criminal activity, they played a part in creating Jane's instability and propensity for murder. As the psychic explores Jane's family tree in a series of compelling vignettes, the initially skeptical Tom begins to see a multigenerational pattern of behavior that might help him, as well as society, answer the question "why did Jane do it?"

While these vignettes are well handled, astute readers might wonder why Tom didn't ask his lawyer two questions about the information the psychic was finding: (1) How can you present evidence in court that's been gathered solely through paranormal means? (2) Is there any legal precedent for using the "sins of the fathers," especially sins nobody knew about at the time of the crime, as viable extenuating circumstances in the same manner as one's own psychological past is traditionally used when presented by experts?

Lacking a stronger clarification from Dave about how the information will be used in court, the psychic's revelations appear, while they're unfolding in the storyline, more as compelling nice-to-know histories than viable facts for a court of law. Dave could have said, without the plot being spoiled, how he intended to get these revelations before the jury. Tom should have asked, and the reader needs to know to keep from thinking that the past, no matter how compelling it is, is unrealistic in a legal drama.

In their consideration of Jane and how she came to kill her children, Tom and Dave want to answer the question "why" with something more satisfying than "she just went nuts." Do these answers they find create reasonable doubt when weighed against the state's charge of "failure to protect"? Maybe yes, maybe no, but even if the answers clear Tom's name, will they also bring the true closure family, friends and society desire? Harrington puts these questions before the reader in a very engaging novel.


See Also: The March of Books Review
Karen Harrington's website

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Bomb That Followed Me Home


The Bomb That Followed Me Home
by Cevin Soling

(CreateSpace / 0-976-77712-6 / 978-0-976-77712-0 / Rumpleville Chronicles Series / Illustrated by Steve Kille / Monk Media / November 2007 / 40 pages / $14.95 hardback)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

A little boy is walking home from school, primarily focused on avoiding the property of Mrs. Greenspan who yells in gibberish at all trespassers, when he realizes he is being followed home by the cutest little bomb he’s ever seen. Of course, he wants to keep it, but his mother is worried it belongs to someone else (perhaps a crazed anarchist who misses it desperately) and thinks it will be too much work. But the boy and the bomb are already attached – whatever shall they do?

This fractured fairy tale is one in a series of politically charged picture books written by Cevin Soling and illustrated in brilliant, psychedelic colors by Steve Kille. While the story at first seems simple, if a bit bizarre, it’s the kind of thing that haunts you afterwards. What did that story really mean? Once I started asking myself questions, it was hard to stop. Why were the parents annoyed by the presence of the bomb, but not really alarmed? Why were they more worried about their own inconvenience than the potentially dire consequences? What significance was there in the fact that the unpleasant neighbor spoke gibberish, instead of English?

Although this is a picture book, it could easily have a significant place as a discussion starter in a high school or college political science class, especially used in conjunction with the other books in the Soling series: The Disciples of Trotsky, Kierkegaard’s Dilemma, and more. I even tried it out on my advanced fifth grade reading group, and with a little guidance, they had a rousing discussion about its theme. They were able to grasp that the story addressed an important idea beneath the surface and reflected at length on the use of bombs to quell your troublesome neighbors, whether they spoke English or not. As one girl put it: “I think the author is saying that people are too used to bombs. They don’t think about them the way they should. They should be afraid, but mostly they’re annoyed because they don’t want to think about it.” Children are certainly not naïve, and they recognize irony when they see it, even if they don’t know the name for it!

Colorful, engaging, and thought-provoking enough to annoy you, The Bomb That Followed Me Home is a good choice for literature discussion among the younger set or political debate among teens.


See Also: The High Spirits Review
Kevin Soling's website

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cloud


Cloud by Charles Henry
(Timestone – CreateSpace / 0-615-23388-0 / 978-0-615-23388-8 / December 2008 / 336 pages / $12.99)
Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM

The Souza Family is vacationing in Colorado when a day trip to the top of Pikes Peak touches off a most unusual and dangerous adventure. As a storm gathers and visitors are encouraged to start heading down the mountain before fog sets in, a small cloud floats in through the open hatch on the family van and is trapped when the doors are shut.

The family comes to realize that the cloud is a sentient being with a personality and emotion. Since the cloudling, which they name Zephyr, needs water and electricity for its survival, the family devises unique ways to recharge their new being, all the while trying to figure out how to return it to its family – the thunderstorm from Pikes Peak.

To complicate matters, the accidental trapping of the cloudling is witnessed by Rick Snyderman of Millennium Weapon Systems. Snyderman also observes the cloudling’s ability to shape shift and evaporate water. MWS is in the business of weapons development and Snyderman’s evil mind begins to conjure up ways to weaponize the cloudling if he can only get his hands on it. The chase is on as the Souzas track the thunderstorm’s eastward movement with the Millennium agents hot on their trail.
Cloud is a fast paced, imaginative adventure story of a family trying to do the right thing in the face of great danger. There are many near misses as the family is pursued, and just when you think this is it, they’re caught, the family’s ingenuity kicks in and they escape yet again.

There are several Biblical references throughout the story that the author tries to debunk by attributing them to the actions of clouds, thus testing the faith of one of the main characters. In the end, there are no judgments made, just questions asked. It seems that the author wants the reader to question his or her own beliefs with regard to the Bible, however unconvincingly.

The cover design of
Cloud is beautifully done. The use of color and light is wonderful – the passing storm appears nearly photographic. The use of language and spelling are very good, but the text, unfortunately, is in need of a serious edit with regard to all types of punctuation. There are missing periods, dialog errors, and misuse of capital letters, colons and semi-colons. All, of course, are very distracting to the reader. The target audience for Cloud would probably be the pre-teen or teen reader with plenty to hold the interest of boys and girls alike.


See Also: Charles Henry's Authors Den page
Donna's Orphan Train Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2009

Valley of the Shadow


Valley of the Shadow
by Steven A. Knutson

(Knutson’s / 1-607-25994-X / 978-1-607- 25994-7 / December 2008 / 148 pages / $10.95)
Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

Knutson's memoir is about the Vietnam War. I fought in that war, too. That is why this review was not easy to write. There was so much I wanted to say but didn't, because this book wasn't about me and yet it was. So, I'm going to struggle to write this review and not hop on my soapbox and echo Knutson's opinions in Valley of the Shadow. If I slip sometimes, forgive me. Although my story is different, I felt as if we shared the same experiences right down to when he bought that new Ford near the end. My celebration to-still-be-alive car was a Buick with bucket seats and a five-speed stick shift.

I cannot imagine this book and the story of raw truth it vividly shows being published by any traditional publisher. I cannot imagine Hollywood making this book into a movie since it would go against the engineered Political Correctness that seems to rule American thought these days. The only reason Valley of the Shadow was published is because POD, Print on Demand, self-publishing and the Internet have provided another avenue to express truth and reality that isn't politically correct.

After all, since Vietnam, it's been a challenge to find the truth from the antiwar American mass-media machine. When you read or watch the news, do so with a grain of salt and consider that Hitler once said, “if you say a lie enough, it becomes the truth”. When I say that, I'm talking about all ends of the American political spectrum. When Knutson writes about the media in his book, I agree with him one hundred percent, and I earned a BA in journalism on the GI Bill after I left the Marine Corps in 1968.

If you want to learn about the Vietnam War, here's my list of the best: We Were Soldiers with Mel Gibson (a movie showing what combat is like instead of the Tom Cruise variety of couch jumping combat that is Hollywood); Chickenhawk, a memoir by Robert Mason that shows how 'necessary' carnage can damage one soldier's mind and body, and of course, Valley of the Shadow. There are other books and movies that do a good job, but this is where I recommend you start.

When Knutson writes about the use of drugs in Vietnam, I agree with him. When he writes about getting those GG shots, which I had to get, too, but out in the open with everyone in a line on top of a hill in the middle of Indian Country, that's true, too. I could go on. Each short chapter is another gritty, sometimes funny (I laughed often), nugget of reality and truth.

Knutson's memoir is about the unsung heroes that supported the guys like me that went into the field on ambushes, recons, patrols and field operations. Without soldiers in uniform like Knutson, also risking their lives since they were in Vietnam, too, how could guys like me have survived and succeeded? I want to thank those soldiers for what they did. Oh, by the way, I was on a field operation with South Korean soldiers. Knutson was right about them. If I had to pick a warrior to fight beside, to watch my back, I'd want him to be a South Korean.

There are ten to twelve men in uniform in support positions for each grunt in the field to make sure we get our job done, to fight and win. War is hell. It’s always been hell and it's always going to be in one form or another, where people of all ages die and suffering is a harsh reality. If you are one of those that lives in denial dreaming of a fantasy world where we all hug and kiss and love each other as in a fairy tale produced by Hollywood with a happy ending, look around at the American street gangs and the war on drugs taking place here. Fix that first.

In forty years, Valley of the Shadow is the second book I've read that depicts the real side of war through the details Knutson writes. I was there in the thick of it. I know. I wrote a book about Vietnam in the 1980s and although an agent represented that book and editors said they liked my writing, no one published it. I'd locked so much inside my head behind concrete walls built of anger, writing that story was like taking a razor blade and slicing open an artery in my neck. It wasn't easy. I don't think it was easy for Knutson, either.

If you love what America is supposed to stand for according to what our Founding Fathers created (not what modern day government—I'm talking about the tug-of-war between the left and right—is making our country into along with biased, Yellow Journalism and a Hollywood controlled by those that decide what is Politically Correct as they socially engineer America into something—whatever that is—they want it to be) I highly recommend reading Valley of the Shadow.

Valley of the Shadow comes in a small package. It's well priced and easy to read. On the other hand, there could have been a detailed glossary for the military equipment mentioned. I found myself getting lost occasionally in the machines Knutson used, and there were a 'few' grammatical and mechanical errors. However, do not let that stop you from reading this memoir. This story is not about the military machines and equipment. It's a personal account of war and the price men and women in uniform pay to fight for their country. It's another rare, and sometimes humorous voice of truth after forty years of you know what I'd like to say.

If you buy Valley of the Shadow and read it, spread the word—please. Encourage others to buy and read it, too, even if you do not agree with Knutson's opinions. If you haven't noticed, the world is a violent place. Read books about history to learn. Memoirs like Knutson's and historical fiction are a good place to start.


See Also: Steve's Authors Den page
Review of It Takes One to Catch One
Confessions from the Last Frontier

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Thorough Researcher


Juliet Waldron has had a fascination with the past since earliest childhood, perhaps from growing up in a haunted 1790's house in upstate New York, or maybe from sharing a birthday with George Washington. She had a professorial Grandpa who used to read her The Canterbury Tales in Olde English when she was a baby. She was educated in the U. S., Cornwall, England, and in the British West Indies. She has a B. A. in English, and has worked in both the private placement and brokerage industries. Now retired, she’s a proponent of detailed research before you begin to tell your story, a path democratically open, thanks to our public libraries and the ever-expanding Internet. She lives with her husband of forty years and four cats.

A lifelong passion for history led to research and the writing of many novels. Mozart’s Wife was a pioneering electronic 2000 Frankfurt nominee, and it won the First Independent e-Book Award for best e-published fiction at the 2001 Virginia Festival of the Book. Mozart’s Wife has had several publishers, but is now in print from Hard Shell Books. Genesee, set during the Revolutionary War in upstate NY and based upon family history, won the 2003 EPIC Award for best historical novel, as well as succeeding as a romance, receiving five stars from Affaire de Coeur. Independent Heart, a sister story to Genesee, set in the Hudson Valley, is currently on-line and in print. Hand-Me-Down Bride, a post Civil War romance, set in Pennsylvania farm country, is coming soon from Second Wind Publishing.

Juliet Waldron has also been featured in the Motivation section of the "Writer's Digest Publishing Success". You can browse through many articles written by Ms. Waldron at Authors Den. Let's all welcome Juliet Waldron to the PODBRAM review team!


Juliet Waldron's website
Juliet's Mozart's Wife site
Juliet's Authors Den page

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Saga of Beowulf



The Saga of Beowulf
by R. Scot Johns

(Fantasy Castle Books / 0-982-15380-5 / 978-0-982-15380-2 / October 2008 / 640 pages / $14.95 / $13.45 Amazon)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM


It would be hard to find anyone in the English speaking world who has never heard of Beowulf. Most could tell you he was the hero of "some old poem" who killed "that monster, Grendel." Some younger people might have seen the comic book-like movie flaunting its digitalized special effects, but most of the population will have had to have read parts of it in school, in translation.

Not many will remember why they had to read it in school, but there's a good reason: it's the first identifiable work of literature written in English. The problem is it must be read in translation (unless one is a graduate student in English, perhaps) because it was the language spoken when part of the Germanic languages split off and became modern English. We call that founding language Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. Supposedly, the verses in which the Beowulf story is told constitute very powerful poetry, but very few are able to appreciate it today. It takes work to pick out a single understandable word in two or three lines of verse, and a semester or two of college-level study to get comfortable with it.

The story itself, of the hero Beowulf saving a neighboring tribe of Danes from the horrible Grendel, and later from his equally horrible mother, ultimately becoming king of his own tribe, the Geats, and dying while saving them from a ferocious fire dragon, is a dramatic one. But in addition to the language problem, the tale is made even harder to appreciate by virtue of apparently being written down by two different people hundreds of years after Beowulf lived, by the fragments of the manuscript which have disappeared, and by its being compressed possibly for purposes of recitation.

All this is by way of saying that there is a terrific story here, but how to make it accessible to today's typical readers? Author R. Scot Johns has the answer: spend ten years researching the poem and the historical documents of the era, and weave it all into a novel, a novel of 630 pages. The result of this impressive scholarship is a labor of love: an astoundingly readable, satisfyingly meaty historical tale of fierce battles, of intricate clan ties and loyalty, of Norse folklore, and of characters who develop over time to stand as distinct personalities that were only dimly glimpsed in the ancient version.

As to how Mr. Johns managed all this, he has a website (fantasycastlebooks.com) with extensive and interesting author's notes laying out the documents and the manner of stitching them into one continuous narrative. The book itself has glossaries of names and places, and a map of ancient Scandinavia, but these are helpful only when needed and do not intrude on the continuity of the story. There are no footnotes, for example.

One might reasonably ask, "What possible prose style would suit ancient poetry rendered into a modern novel?" Mr. John's solution seems to be rather a hybrid: in places he uses what feels like Old Norse hyperbole, and in others a more sensitively observed, human-scaled style. Since the original story featured heroic deeds of strong, brave men with large swords, chain mail, and horns on their helmets fighting monsters with mythic abilities, exaggeration is only fitting, and faithful to the original. In other places, when warranted, the style eases into a more comfortable, conventional narrative, with few flights of bellicose elaboration. It retains the feel of an ancient story, yet can be enjoyed comfortably and without rescanning the lines.

As a reviewer of books, I'm inclined to want to march right through a text. At the same time, I found myself enjoying the story and wishing to slow down and immerse myself in it. Torn between these two desires, I noted that Grendel and his mother had been dealt with by the halfway point. What, I asked myself, could possibly fill the rest of the pages?

To my surprise, I found I enjoyed the second half even more than the first, with accounts of battles with normal humans (well, ancient Swedes, anyway), an ill-advised raid into Frankish territory, sea voyages, Frankish politics and military maneuvers, the puzzle of Roman ruins, struggles over kingly succession and tribal politics, courtship, and more small doses of mythology: stone-eating trolls, fearsome dwarfs, and, overseeing all, the three Fates of Norse mythology, spinning out the threads of lives, measuring and cutting them when the time comes. It's all cleanly written and edited, a few errant apostrophes notwithstanding.

Mr. Johns' version of Beowulf is a terrific bargain at its current selling price. It should appeal to, and delight, those who like the original poem, those who enjoy the sword and sorcerer/dungeons and dragons type of yarn, lovers of historical fiction, and the many readers who are tired of the same old formulas and wish for something completely different. It would be an excellent choice to read the summer before signing up for an Old English course. If only I had had it back then!


See Also: The Author's Website

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stories for Children


Delaware resident Donna Nordmark Aviles is the granddaughter of Oliver Nordmark, the protagonist of her books for children, ages eight and up. She has worked in many fields including foreign exchange, social services and business. After raising three children, Aviles returned to her early love of writing and is currently working on her next book. She enjoys speaking to school students and organizations about the Orphan Train Movement and The Great Depression.

Donna signed a contract for the screen rights to her books with Los Angeles screenwriter William Rotko, who is best known for his work on Breach and Beast. Rotko had this to say about Ms. Aviles and her work: "She's able to write the story in these books wonderfully. She's a young writer, new to the craft, and she's able to accomplish that. It's very difficult. The ideal movie will bring it to a larger audience. I want to make it a family movie about that period of America and make it relatable for everyone."

Donna's first two books, Fly Little Bird, Fly! and Beyond the Orphan Train are the true life adventures of her grandfather, Oliver Nordmark. Orphaned at age six and sent west on the Orphan Train at eight, Oliver struck out on his own at age fifteen. The third book in the series, Peanut Butter for Cupcakes, is the story of Oliver's journey through parenthood as he struggles to raise six small children during The Great Depression after the unexpected and tragic death of his young wife.

Donna Nordmark Aviles' website
Her publisher, Wasteland Press

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Medieval Mistress


The newest member of our PODBRAM review team is Susan Higginbotham. Susan and her first book, The Traitor's Wife, hold a special place of honor here at PODBRAM. Way back in September 2006, The Traitor's Wife was only the second book selected for review on this site, and what a book it was! Susan had already garnered pounds of high praise for her historical fiction novel by the time it arrived in my mailbox. She built the storyline up from the viewpoint of some of the lesser known characters involved in King Edward II's scandalous affair with Piers Gaveston.

There have been three separate editions of The Traitor's Wife published with three very different covers. The one shown with the PODBRAM review is, of course, the first one. The book graduated the second tier of success offered at iUniverse, whereas an updated version was released. As far as I know at this time, both of these versions are totally unavailable because Sourcebooks Landmark has scheduled the release of the third edition for April 1st of 2009. Each of the three editions of the five-hundred-page book has been offered at a lower price than the previous one. The new edition has already reached a better sales ranking at Amazon than most POD books ever achieve in their long lifetimes, and this at more than two months prior to its release!

Susan Higginbotham has also released two shorter books entitled Hugh and Bess: A Love Story and Edward II: His Friends, His Enemies, and His Death. She has written many articles and short stories, all of subject matter within a similar genre, historical fiction from Merry Olde England. Susan's website is quite substantial, offering many avenues of research and historical significance. Her site states that Hugh and Bess will be re-released later this year. I published my in-depth interview at PODBRAM with Susan Higginbotham in December 2007. Surprisingly, Ms. Higginbotham practiced law after receiving her degree, and she has worked for a legal publisher for many years. You can visit the site of her new publisher at Sourcebook, Inc.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Attention: New URL

The URL of PODBRAM has been updated to match our name. Please change your bookmarks and other links to this PODBRAM home page or any other page on this site. The new URL is: http://podbram.blogspot.com. Any link you may have that begins with http://iuniversebookreviews.blogspot.com will no longer work. If you open the HTML page containing the link and simply change the iuniversebookreviews part of the link to podbram, the link will work.

I founded this book review site July 2006 with the intent of offering legitimate, free, professional book reviews to deserving iUniverse authors. Until the beginning of 2008, all the reviews and articles were written and posted by just little old me. At the time I founded this blog, I expected to be soon inundated with review requests, but as these things tend to happen, it took me a little longer than I originally expected to build up a sizable following of readers and authors. It wasn't until mid-2007 that I began to get overwhelmed by the number of submissions. That meant either turning away more books that might have been deserving of my attention, or adding more reviewers to the site. I chose the latter and what was then known as iUBR began to grow.

As many of you already know, there were five PODBRAM reviewers in 2008 and we are now doubling that number. At certain points in '08, we first opened up the submissions to include all POD publishers except Lulu, and then any and all publishers, from Pipsqueak Press to Random House. We still encourage Lulu authors to patronize The Lulu Book Review, but otherwise we are open for business to anyone else. We began accepting submssions from publicity firms at the beginning of this year, too.

You can accept any references to iUniverse Book Reviews or iUBR that you come across on this site or elsewhere as still pertinent to POD Book Reviews & More. Contrary to what many people may have believed, this site has never had any business relationship whatsoever with iUniverse, Inc. In fact, I have always strongly suspected that the company has intentionally remained quiet about the existence of iUBR simply because they are trying to sell their authors overpriced reviews through Kirkus Discoveries. I founded this site upon the iUniverse basis because (a) my four books were published by iU and I am quite familiar with most aspects of the company's operation; (b) I think iU has probably offered a somewhat higher level of quality than most of the competing POD firms; (c) although editing and proofreading will always be the monsters of POD, at least with iU, the formatting is professionally produced; and (d) I was able to cap the submission numbers at a manageable level by accepting only iUniverse books.

The plan is to have POD Book Reviews & More operating on cruise control within a few weeks from now. As some of you may know, several months ago I began planning to overhaul my website operations. Without boring you with the details, I can say that my other three blogs have pretty much reached the cruise control mode already, and PODBRAM is headed that way. I plan to post an update in a couple of weeks to let all the authors and readers know the new rules. There are still a few bugs to exorcise from the plan. The leading one is deciding exactly how much time I want to devote to this site and in what direction do I want to take it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

PODBRAM is Expanding


Meet Lloyd Lofthouse, the newest member of the PODBRAM Review Team! Lloyd is only the first of several new reviewers joining us at PODBRAM. We are opening up new avenues for review submissions. The good news is that our selection of reviewers will greatly expand our expertise throughout more genres. The bad news is that it may become a little more competitive to secure a review at our site. We have more reviewers, but we also are receiving a a lot more submissions, and no matter how many of us there are, we can each still read only one book at a time. There is one more bit of what may be good news for some of you. The comma-hunting, curmudgeon editor and IT drip under pressure is running out of time to write reviews, so most of your books can keep their clothes on while being read and reviewed!

Let's all welcome Lloyd to the premiere, free, legitimate book review team on the net! Here is a little background information, in his own words, about Lloyd, our newest reviewer:

Lloyd Lofthouse earned a BA in journalism after fighting in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine and later earned an MFA in writing. He was an English and journalism teacher at a high school in Southern California. During the thirty years he was a teacher, many of his students won regional, state, national and international recognition/awards for poems, short stories and journalism pieces written in his class. For several years, while teaching days, he also worked nights as a maitre d' in a multimillion-dollar nightclub called the Red Onion. He now lives near San Francisco with his wife, with a second home in Shanghai, China. Lloyd's short story "A Night at the Well of Purity" was a finalist for the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His novel, My Splendid Concubine, won an honorable mention in fiction from the 2008 London Book Festival.

The Website of Lloyd Lofthouse

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Go East, Young Man


Go East, Young Man
by Harrison Lebowitz

(Sleeping Dog Press - CreateSpace / 1-440-47361-7 / 978-1-440-47361-6 / December 2008 / 320 pages / $19.95)

Fans of The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Third Rock from the Sun will love Go East, Young Man. This is Harrison Lebowitz’ first novel, but he has been publishing a successful newsletter and other short works for years, and the depth of his compositional experience shines through his first humorous book. This is the sort of story about morons that could not possibly have been written by a moron. Are you aware that Howard Morris appeared on The Andy Griffith Show as a nerdy little college professor before he became Ernest T. Bass? I bet you didn’t know that Ernest T. was behind the camera directing many of those classic Andy Griffith episodes, either! If you can get your rock-throwing arm around this concept, you will easily recognize the brilliance of Go East, Young Man.

The basic plot of the novel is that a small, very un-corporate, family rancher in southeast Texas, specifically thirty miles north of the Houston metro area, in 1987, is threatened by foreclosure. He makes a decision to take his family and ranch hands and leave the Old Miss Ranch forever. These are supposedly people who have never left their small-town birthplace, and herein lies the first load of manure that you have to swallow to begin this journey. You mean they are close enough to Houston Intercontinental to have the jets scare their cattle and they have never even been to Houston? The second big cow patty coming at you is that these lovable cowboy clowns are going to drive their herd to New York City to get top dollar for their beef on the hoof because they have always heard that NYC is just a big meat market! Remember that you had to swallow that oil gusher from Jed Clampett’s farm and that aliens from outer space live undetected in a small college town, too. You get the drift: if you can swallow the pretext and have a well-developed sense of humor, you’ll be happy to saddle up and move ‘em out with this wild bunch.

Go East, Young Man is quite clever from cover to cover. The cover design is made to imitate a movie. This is difficult to communicate to you in a review, but the back cover is sort of like one of those familiar coming to a theatre near you! advertisements. The story is told by the youngest son, and you will be immediately reminded of Kevin Arnold telling you about his butthead big brother. Harrison says that you could read the book because it’s a hoot to make fun of Texas, but as a Texan myself, I can assure you that there is nothing to be seriously offended by in this book, even though it was written by a Vermont Yankee. I was even surprised at how consistently accurate the geography is described. The boys are supposedly following a AAA map on their cattle drive, but I wonder if Mr. Lebowitz hasn’t actually spent a little time in southeast Texas! This is a very intelligent book, with tons of little inside jokes, references to pop culture, and deliberate misspellings.

This leads me to my only criticism of Harrison’s first novel. The conceit is so delicately difficult to maintain throughout more than three-hundred pages that sometimes the style is a little flat in its constant past-tense rhetoric. There are also a few too many proofreading errors that easily confuse the reader due to the delicate nature just mentioned. I know this problem intimately because I composed parts of my own first book, Plastic Ozone Daydream, in a very similar style. When you attempt such a heroic compositional style, you have to be extremely careful with your editing because you have deliberately stated many words and phrases in an incorrect manner for their inside jokes and humorous effect. There are a number of instances in the storyline where I am not sure if the storyteller momentarily fell out of character or if the author just made a little boo-boo. For example, every little ant-dot-sized town mentioned in the book is real and located in the right place, yet every time the word posse is mentioned, it is spelled possee. This is what I mean by the concept falling flat occasionally. The characters speak eloquently one moment and like hillbillies from Hicksville the next, and that’s where the humor and intelligence of the storyline kicks butt. As a writer with a similar style, as well as a book critic, I’m just saying that for this style of writing to flow as smoothly as possible, the reader has got to know with the turn of every screwy phrase that the author meant exactly what he wrote.

Don’t misunderstand my negative viewpoint. I assure you that this is just a tiny detail like a fly on a horse’s tail. I am a critic so it is my job to tell the readers the whole truth as I see it. Even with its small flaw, Go East, Young Man is an extremely clever, intelligent, funny, nostalgic, original book. You’ll be reminded that Clint Eastwood used to be Rowdy Yates. You will identify with the voice of Even Tinier Bert and his relationship with his older brother much as you sympathized with Kevin Arnold. Mr. Yankee Lebowitz has created a gang of likable, memorable, Southern characters, and Mr. Harrison the Vermont vineyard owner knows how to drive a herd to New Yawk City!


See Also: The BNN Review
The Author's Website
More About the Book

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The 2008 PODBRAM Awards


The PODBRAM review team read and reviewed fifty-three books in 2008. To select the award nominees, each of the five reviewers selected his or her two best choices for the year and I added another two as Editor's Choices. These last two included selections for the best cover and the best traditionally published book by a big-name author. If twelve choices out of fifty-three doesn't seem like much of an honor, consider this. The books selected for review at PODBRAM in the first place had to survive our prescreening research process to ascertain if they met our high quality standards. Then each one took a dip in the dunk tank and submitted to our famous strip search. The twelve we have selected are the cream of the nominees, at least within the categories selected for them. Yes, you read it right. Here at PODBRAM, we do things the old-fashioned, backward way. With the sole exception of the selection of the best cover design, we choose the best and most deserving books first, and then make up the award categories to suit them.

Cover Design: God Outside the Box by Patricia Panahi

Proofreading: The Mozart Forgeries by Daniel N. Leeson

Nostalgia: The Rock Star's Homecoming by Linda Gould

2008 Relevancy Award: American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips

The Obama Award: The Court-Martial of Charlie Newell by Gerard Shirar

Historical Characterization: To the Ends of the Earth by Frances Hunter

Plotting: Solemnly Swear by Joe Porrazzo

Science Fiction: Cyberdrome by Joseph & David Rhea

Western: God's Thunderbolt by Carol Buchanan

Memoir: The Protected Will Never Know by Don Meyer

Fiction: The i Tetralogy by Mathias B. Freese

Nonfiction: Reflections of a Khmer Soul by Navy Phim

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Life's a Bitch. So am I.


Life’s a Bitch. So am I. Rachel Cord, P. I.:
A Confidential Investigations Mystery
By R. E. Conary

(Outskirts Press / 1-432-73143-2 / 978-1-432-73143-4 / October 2008 / 236 pages / $14.95)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

In an unnamed city in the middle of the American Heartland, Rachel Cord, ex-Army MP, plies her trade as a private investigator. Female private investigators sometimes have a tough time being taken seriously, especially when they are as busty as Rachel, which is perhaps why her business cards are emblazoned with the slogan “Life’s a bitch. So am I.” In spite of the fact that Rachel likes to present herself as a hard-boiled detective, readers will find that she’s a lot more vulnerable than she wants to admit and the events in this, her first book, will shake her to the foundations and possibly break her.

In Life’s a Bitch. So am I Rachel has been hired to track down a missing teenager and investigate a series of assaults in the vicinity of a gay nightclub. She also works periodically on a personal case – the disappearance of her lover Karen, who up and left without explaining why several months previously. This third mystery keeps to the background and promises to play out in future novels, while the first two cases quickly dovetail into a tangled web of pornography, underage sex trade, and shady real estate deals. Readers should be prepared for graphic sexual violence and a shocking attack on the main character.

I have to say, the author, R.E. Conary took a big risk with this novel. I was blown away by the surprising turn of events, and my first thought was: “Nothing like this ever happens to Kinsey Millhone!” However, the utter predictability and formulaic nature of Sue Grafton’s novels are why I gave up on them before she got halfway through the alphabet. After reading Life’s a Bitch. So am I. I can say with certainty that R.E. Conary plans on being anything but formulaic. I could not have predicted in advance where she would take this book, and I have no idea where she will take Rachel Cord in the future. In my mind, that makes R.E. Conary an author to watch!


See Also: Dianne's B&N Review
The Author's Website
Review of Still a Bitch, the second book in this series