Friday, June 26, 2009

Six-Hundred Hours of a Life




Six-Hundred Hours of a Life
by Craig Lancaster

(CreateSpace / 1-441-45893-X / 978-1-441-45893-3 / February 2009 / 260 pages / $14.95 / Kindle $9.99)
Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

Most books are like seashells, lovely to look at but there are so many seashells that they are easily forgotten. Only a few are like gold. Six-Hundred Hours of a Life is one of those few.

Edward Stanton, the main character in this novel, is thirty-nine and a virgin. He lives alone in a small house in Billings, Montana. His life is ‘very’ routine, and he likes it that way.

I regret one thing after reading Six-Hundred Hours of a Life. Why did I give so many other books five stars on Amazon.com when this book was the only one that really deserves them? Maybe it was because I found those other books entertaining. Sad! Now I know that five stars should be reserved for books that go beyond entertaining.

In my defense, I can say that over the decades, I have read thousands of books and less than a handful stick around. Like so many things in this packaged, plastic world, most books are disposable even to our memories. However, a few novels achieve a depth of intimacy that are priceless. The last time I read a book like that was in the early 1980s. That was This House of Sky by Ivan Doig. That book was nominated for the National Book Award.

Now, I want to digress to make a point. I am going to complain about a book that did not invite me in. This book was from a Nobel Prize winning author. In fact, that book evicted me. While I was working toward an MFA in the 1980s, I ‘had’ to read and do an oral examination on Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. That book numbed my mind. I had to struggle to stay awake. I had to read passages repeatedly and still couldn’t stay focused. When Faulkner wrote that book, he entered the mind of Benjy, a mentally retarded man with the maturity of a five-year-old. Benjy lived in the past, the present and the future at the same time. His thoughts were an endless run-on sentence.

On the other hand, with Six-Hundred Hours of a Life, I had no problem joining Edward in his disturbed world. In fact, I did not want to leave. I gladly went. At times, I found myself laughing and was occasionally misty eyed. I was captivated.

Edward Stanton is mentally challenged similar to but different from Faulkner’s Benjy. Edward has a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder along with Asperger’s Syndrome. To maintain a semblance of control, Edward takes 80 mg of fluexitine (Prozac) daily. It doesn’t help that his father, Ted Stanton, abuses Edward physically and mentally making Edward’s slight grasp on sanity that much more difficult to hold onto. To cope, Edward has weekly sessions with Dr. Buckley, who helps him develop skills to stay in control of his well-ordered life. However, Edward is going to be challenged. He is about to meet a troubled neighbor with a young son, who needs a friend.

Edward’s world is regulated by repetition where he watches Dragnet daily and loves every episode. ‘It was one of my favorites’ he often says. When he drives to the market, he prefers right turns to left turns because right turns are safer. When he wakes up, the first thing he does is to record the time and temperature and the weather. He loves the Dallas Cowboys. Some of his favorite memories are going to games with his father. He eats the same frozen pizzas and loves spaghetti made a certain way. Edward's life is like a broken record but a fascinating one. Strange, when I finished reading, I thought Edward was the only sane person on this earth, and I identified with him.

If I cannot give Six-Hundred Hours of a Life the six stars it deserves when I post a review on Amazon.com, I shall do it here. I offered to give Six-Hundred Hours of a Life to someone else, so he could also enjoy it. I have decided not to. Instead, I’m going to put it on my bookshelf next to This House of Sky by Ivan Doig. Buy your own copy.


Editor's Note: This book has been re-released as 600 Hours of Edward.

See Also: Craig Lancaster's Website
Craig Lancaster's Blog
Craig Lancaster's Authors Den Page
Re-release title at Amazon: 600 Hours of Edward

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shifted



Shifted by Colin D. Jones
(Foremost Press / 0-978-97048-9 / 978-0-978-97048-2 / April 2008 / 360 pages / $16.97)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

Shifted is not your father’s werewolf story. While drawing on some classic elements of the werewolf legend, Colin D. Jones’s novel breaks new ground in the genre, producing a theory for lycanthropy that incorporates quantum physics and the multi-verse theory and even traces its roots back to the Viking ulfhedinn, or berserkers. The result is a taut, well-developed novel that is more science fiction than horror and completely enjoyable by a wide range of readers.

Mark Arsenault is a young man with a terrible secret. He knows that some dark monster lurks within him, struggling to get out. Not being a fool and growing up in the era of 70’s horror films and comic books, he knows perfectly well that the term “werewolf” most appropriately applies to his condition. Yet, he does not fit the all the classic descriptions of a werewolf – “It” wants out all the time, not only during a full moon, and the touch of silver does no harm to him. Also, no part of the werewolf legend can account for the Ghost – a shadowy but familiar figure which tries to guide and educate him – or his occasional glimpses of the future.

Raised in a loveless and abusive household by a mother and stepfather who fear and hate him, Mark lives an isolated existence until a caring teacher takes an interest in him. However, a kindly offer of refuge might just develop into something deeper and set off a chain reaction of events, leading to a cataclysmic event. A government agency, which knows exactly what Mark Arsenault is, is seeking to enlist the boy for its own nefarious purposes. The visitations from Ghost, whoever he is, are getting stronger, and Mark’s own exploration of his darker side suggests – in the vein of classic horror films – that the monster inside him, while capable of great violence, is not a monster at all and may in fact represent the noblest part of himself.

Shifted is well-written and carefully edited, as well as craftily plotted to build suspense. Jones reels out the information carefully over time, revealing just enough to keep the reader understanding events but not enough to give away what’s coming next. Characters are well-rounded, and dialogue is highly believable. The scientific basis for Jones’s version of lycanthropy makes sense and is presented without resort to awkward exposition or phony conversation. My only complaint is that the cover image has a comic book feel to it that does not quite match the novel. I rather wish the image was made to look more like a 70’s comic book cover – which Mark Arsenault might well have been reading – or replaced with something more elegant and dignified, to match the cleverly designed scientific theory created by the author. Overall, this was a highly enjoyable novel that should appeal to science fiction readers as well as fans of horror/paranormal books and classic monster films.


See Also: The High Spirts Review
Colin D. Jones' Website
Colin D. Jones' Blog

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Place


Place by Ned White
(CreateSpace / 1-442-14874-8 / 978-1-442-14874-1 / April 2009 / 236 pages / $16.95 / Smashwords $2.95)
Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM

Abigail Sipes is a highly sought after, independent corporate consultant. Hugh Ogden is a brilliant computer software engineer who is eager to sell his cutting-edge company, which harnesses distributed intelligence, before the tech bubble bursts. When their paths cross during acquisition talks, the attraction is immediate and intense.

Divorced for the past six years with a daughter in college on the East coast, Hugh’s marriage was failed from the start and he longs for a sense of place, a connection to planet Earth, a life free from the ordinary and expected. Abby, at thirty-six, has been a widow for four years although she willingly admits that she “didn’t like him much.” An unspeakable, life-altering event from her past has damaged her own sense of place and is preventing her – literally – from moving forward with her life. Together, Hugh and Abby seek to build a new family and repair that damage in an effort to become whole.

Place, set in a post 9/11 America, is a thoughtful exploration of family connections both in the here and now, as well as across the veil of time and space. Very well written with a unique, matter-of-fact prose, this intriguing story may leave the reader rethinking their understanding of what can and cannot possibly happen. The back cover blurb…A wounded life in a fractured land, she keeps disappearing… does not begin to touch on the depth and complexity of this story. Definitely worth the read, I look forward to reviewing Ned White’s earlier work, Calling Out Your Name.


See Also: Ned's Smashwords Page
Ned White's Authors Den Page
Ned White's Photography Site
Review of Ned White's Calling Out Your Name

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Treasure of La Malinche


The Treasure of La Malinche
(Volumes 1 & 2)
by Jeffry S. Hepple

(CreateSpace / Volume 1: 1-440-43341-0 & 978-1-440-44341-2 / 706 pages / Volume 2: 1-440-44345-3 & 978-1-440-44345-0 / 704 pages / November 2008 / $19.95 each / Kindle Volume 1 $2.39 / Kindle Volume 2 $.99)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Setting out the story line of the two volumes of The Treasure of La Malinche is no simple task. From the title, one would expect it to involve La Malinche and her treasure, and it does, but that is only one part of a long, complex, and evolving story line.

La Malinche was a real person, the Indian translator and wife of Hernán Cortez, conqueror of Mexico. Conveniently for purposes of fiction, very little is known about her, and there have been a number of fictional treatments of her life. One such is created here, in alternating chapters, in the guise of her autobiography. As far as this reviewer can tell, that autobiography hews fairly accurately to the known chronology of the conquest.

In between those chapters flows a modern narrative, beginning with the collection of clues to the treasure and the hunt for the treasure itself. We are introduced to a large cast of characters, and more appear later, though the reader is not as confused as this list might suggest. There is Margarita de Vega, a stunningly beautiful PhD who discovers La Malinche's journal. There is Robert A. Lincoln, the bored head of a security company, who de Vega hires to protect her when bad guys come after the treasure. There is her kinky, manipulative mother, of Spanish nobility, who has married a senior politician in the Mexican government for mysterious reasons of her own. Add in FBI agents, Mexican detectives and police chiefs, American professors, Mexican social and economic chaos, drug cartels running wild, a movement to unite Hispanics in a modern Aztlán, an unstable sex-fiend/murderous Chicano activist, a Colombian drug lord determined to take over the Mexican state of Chihuahua, a family of albino hit persons, luxurious estates which were formerly fortifications, multi-million-dollar bank accounts, and throw in for good measure the troubled souls and mysterious histories of some characters, lost and rediscovered children, machine guns, helicopters, carpet bombing, rescue missions, laser-guided bombs, and you have quite a stew of a story. If that weren't enough, many of the characters are not particularly endearing early on, but change for the better (some for the worse), fall in love, get married, die....

In volume 2, following the resolution of the cliffhanger end of volume 1, La Malinche's journal gradually fades out and the story turns from treasure to Mexican politics, international smuggling and drug dealing, and the relationships between the characters. The pace, if anything, picks up.

Fans of adventure stories, and stories tinged with a little speculative modern history and politics, would likely be delighted. The lover of historical fiction, perhaps intrigued by the title, would be disappointed. This reviewer had the feeling that if this story were to be attempted in visual form, it would not be a movie at all: it would be a TV series, an entire season's worth, perhaps several seasons, of high-voltage excitement. Frankly, it exhausted me, and I like adventure stories.

The author has a nice touch with dialog, fortunately. For the most part, the pages flash right by. At the same time it must be mentioned that the volumes are a textbook example of why a spell-checker is a poor editor. In addition to the understandable assortment of missing quotation marks, commas, and whatnot, mismatched homophones abounded, one every page or two, some new to me (as in people "clamoring" aboard a boat, or climbers having a difficult "assent," but an easy "decent"). Some readers might sail right over these. Those who find them jarring should be warned.

I have mentioned in other reviews that I have a friend who likes his movies lean and tightly edited, but prefers his novels by the pound, the better to wallow in them. If that friend were looking for the type of action/adventure described above, he would be in hog heaven. The paper editions of these books come to something like four and a half pounds. Mercifully, in my case I read the Kindle editions, the ideal way to read two giant page-turners with minimal risk to one's musculoskeletal system. Additionally, the Kindle editions are a great bargain.


See Also: The Author's Website
Jeffry S. Hepple's Authors Den Page

Friday, June 12, 2009

Publish Your Book on the Amazon Kindle


Publish Your Book on the Amazon Kindle: A Practical Guide
By Michael R. Hicks

(CreateSpace / 1-440-45694-1 / 978-1-440-45694-7 / November 2008 / 68 pages / $7.95 / Kindle $4.76)

This review of Michael R. Hicks’ Kindle how-to book has been a long time coming. I had hoped to finish the updated, 2009 version of my second book, Ker-Splash, and utilize the information and instructions in Michael’s book as I created the Kindle version. That plan, however, got too bogged down among my many projects, so I am writing this special instructional review without actually trying out Michael’s advice and hints. The reader of this review should not be substantially misinformed due to my already developed level of knowledge in the field of uploading a book to the Kindle system at Amazon. Although my latest book will not be ready for a while longer, I have already uploaded, modified, and uploaded again all of my four books at least once, so I have more than a little experience with the instructions Michael has presented, although my practical application of the material happened prior to my reading of his book.

You should consider this book review as something out of the ordinary for PODBRAM. It is intended more as an installment of The Kindle Report than a review per se. Mr. Hicks’ book is officially listed as having 68 pages, but that includes the front and back matter, a few blank pages, and many screen-shot-type illustrations. The actual reading material covers only 55 pages and I completed it in one sitting at my computer. Yes, you read that correctly. I read A Practical Guide in PDF form directly on my desktop, making notes in a Word document as I made my way through the document preparation and upload instructions. Unlike all other book reviews here at PODBRAM, this seemed like the most practical way to read the book and impart the helpful information contained therein to the PODBRAM audience.

There are several points you need to understand before we proceed with the description of the pertinent information contained in the book. First of all, I am going to give away most of the plot. A list of some of the points of interest I found will be stated for the readership. Secondly, you need to understand that because I had already uploaded books to the Kindle format numerous times before I read these instructions, the many graphics included in the book were of only a passing interest to me. I already knew exactly what to expect from Amazon’s operation in this department, and this sped up my reading of the book considerably. Most importantly, although I am about to tell you in this extensive review much of what is contained in Mr. Hicks’ small book, this should not deter you from purchasing the paperback version of this book and following the instructions as you prepare and upload your manuscript to the Kindle! I think Publish Your Book on the Amazon Kindle is an excellent guide for the Kindle novice. Soon I shall be reading and reviewing Joshua Tallent’s longer, more detailed Kindle how-to book in the usual paperback format for those who may be further along in the learning process. Most any Kindle novice should be able to cough up the measly $7.95 for this book, read through it once, make the manuscript modifications recommended therein, sign on to the DTP (Digital Text Platform) system at Amazon, and upload his or her book while following the illustrated instructions. Without further delay, the following are the most notable points that I feel should be imparted to the many future Kindle uploaders out there in PODBRAM-land.

(1) Mobipocket does not pay royalties until $150 has been accrued! You also have to go through PayPal to be paid by Mobipocket, which is located in France!

(2) Mike likes to use Mobipocket Creator to create the file and then upload it to the Kindle DTP, but when I did this with Daydream, the photos were omitted. He says you have to ZIP all the photos together and upload them as a single file. How exactly you do that is not described in the book. This omission, combined with the emphasis on Mobipocket, is my leading criticism of the book. A Practical Guide was written prior to Mike’s knowledge of Smashwords, and at least so far, I have found the Meatgrinder at Smashwords to be easier to use than Mobipocket Creator.

(3) Kindle particularly likes Word 97 and RTF files. Relatively simple PDF files convert well in Mobipocket Creator if the PDF is the only version of your book that you can access; otherwise the Word version is nearly always easier to convert than the PDF.

(4) Images should be at least 450 pixels wide to fill the screen width of the Kindle because text will not wrap around images on the Kindle. Photos should be no larger than 600 x 800 or 64KB. To upload a cover image directly to Kindle DTP, make the image 450 wide by 550 tall, and convert it to grayscale prior to uploading it to the system. The system will change color to grayscale, but it may not do such a hot job of it. The color image you upload for the book’s Amazon page should be of a higher resolution than the one discussed above to be downloaded in B&W by the customer.

(5) Mike explains in detail how to create a Table of Contents using Mobi Creator that is interactive in the Mobipocket format.

(6) If you send in your book uploaded with Mobi Creator to both Amazon DTP and Mobi, two versions with two ASIN’s will appear at Amazon. That’s why there are two listings for Mike’s books, and he discusses the pros and cons of the author utilizing this trick.

(7) Upload graphics other than photos, such as graphs, charts, and tables, in GIF format instead of JPG.

(8) Mike recommends clearing your browser cache just prior to uploading your book to Kindle, as the information stored in the cache sometimes confuses the DTP system.

(9) You can insert a page break into the HTML by placing certain code between the paragraph close tag and the next paragraph tag in each location where a page break is desired.

(10) The number of Kindle books available changed from 285,000 to 300,000 on 6/9/09. Mike didn’t say that; I did. Wouldn’t you like your book to be number 300,001?


See Also: In Her Name Review
Mike's Kindle Website
Mike's Homepage

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Dark Shadows Red Bayou



Dark Shadows Red Bayou
by John Atkinson

(Fisher King Press / 0-981-03447-0 / 978-0-981-03447-8 / June 2009 / 200 pages / $17.95)
Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM

Somebody is killing prostitutes in the swamp.

To Sheriff Coles Bleu, the “job was everything; never mind the formalities of protocol. By his rules, he always got the bad guys. His office achieved the highest crime-solving rate in Louisiana. Now, that record was being threatened.”

John Atkinson, who brought us the unforgettable Johnnyboy in his powerful debut novel Timekeeper (2007), returns with three, rough-cut, equally memorable characters in the first book to be published under Fisher King’s new il piccolo imprint.

Coles Bleu, Bennett Morgan and Francis Lovain grew up together in a small town in the delta country around Lake Pontchartrain. Coles grew into a 300-pound, brute-force sheriff who rules his county with an iron hand; he’s both loved and feared, and he likes the South because that’s where people know how to work together and get stuff done. Bennett’s family had money, and as a stockbroker, Bennett still has it, along with his Rolex, large house, analyst and a powerful new convertible. The troll-like Francis, who lives in the swamp, sports platinum-capped teeth and a face not even a mother could love. The swamp, and its Put-In-Ditch channel where the bodies are being found, lives and breathes through Atkinson’s haunting word pictures as a wonderfully chilling location for this tightly written thriller. Francis loves the swamp, Bennett fears it, and Coles views it pragmatically as the place he went fishing as a kid and the place the murder investigation is luring him now.

“As adults, Coles, Ben, and Francis knew the catch basin held no prejudices when it came to nature’s rules. A wrong move could cost a life. Gambling with death was fun when they were boys with boundless courage. But as Ben grew older he was less inclined to do reckless things.”

Bennett thinks Francis knows something about the murders because Francis knows everything about the bayou. While Coles is inclined to give their strange childhood friend a little more slack, he concedes that Francis’ friendship with the Goocha, the shaman of the swamp, is disturbing. Plus, there aren’t a lot of leads and the last thing Coles needs is either New Orleans reporters or the Feds sniffing around his domain asking questions and causing trouble.

The killer believes he is doing the Lord’s work, showing wayward women the error of their profession. Like the other predators in the bayou, he kills with cold efficiency because the injunction is built into his psyche. Then, too, there’s the voice inside his head urging him to move ahead with the Holy task, but without his disparaging, profane language:

“Speak kindly, boy, you hear?”
“I hear. Ready or not, I’ll teach her a thing or two.”
“My child, that’s much better. Now mind your mouth.”

When, or if, this killer is stopped, depends greatly on the strengths and weaknesses of three characters whose lives are more obstinately tangled together than the vines in Red Bayou. These men, the novel’s rich location and non-stop action, and the liberal doses of offbeat humor make this dark mystery a satisfying experience.


See Also: John Atkinson's Blog
The March of Books Review

Friday, June 05, 2009

Roastbeef's Promise


Roastbeef’s Promise:
When Your Dad’s Dying Wish is to Have His Ashes Sprinkled in Each State, What’s a Son to Do?
by David Jerome

(Smack Books / 0-981-54591-2 / 978-0-981-54591-2 / March 2009 / 336 pages / $23.95 hardcover / $17.96 Amazon)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

To hear him tell it, in this rollicking account of the most disaster-prone road trip ever, if it weren’t for bad luck, poor young Jim “Roastbeef” Hume would have had no luck at all. He has embarked on a marathon journey through all 48 continental US states, in obedience to his adoptive father’s deathbed wish to scatter his ashes in every one of them. With not very much in his pocket, or a particular itinerary in mind, he drops out of college and sets out bravely, with three-fifths of his father’s ashes in a silver urn that looks like a teapot without the spout. (This is a compromise, as two of his sibs agreed with his plan, and the other two wanted a more conventional solution.) He starts out in his own car, which barely lasts through the first couple of states, thereafter advancing in fits and starts. He continues via other cars, hitchhiking, biking, moped, and intercity bus, and one hysterically comic interlude of hopping railcars under the guidance of an old man with emphysema, who recalls the most fun he ever had in his life, riding the rails as a hobo. He wishes to recapture some of that, if Jim will only carry along the oxygen bottle to which he is tethered. The scene where Jim must throw the oxygen bottle into a moving railcar and beans a pig with it is laugh out loud, tears down your face funny. In the meantime, he encounters a wonderfully assorted collection of characters: small town law enforcement, frat boys and sorority girls, Canadian dentists on a road trip disguised as bad-ass bikers, a lesbian who hires him to pretend to be her boyfriend for the duration of a family reunion, a young Marine and his very pregnant bride to be who are going to Las Vegas to be married by a Boy George look-alike, a conniving young man who gets his fun crashing wedding receptions, and a philosopher/launderette attendant … and many, many more. Jim winds up being arrested mistakenly in a drug bust, working in a family souvenir shop at Mount Rushmore, is dragged off to Tijuana by his father’s army buddy, AKA Uncle Spud, and finds Elvis’ toenail-clipping in the deep shag rug in a room at Graceland.

The overall tone is wry, deadpan and very, very dry – a Candide with more self-awareness. The narrator is an engaging character; as noted, he has consistently awful luck, but bounces back with verve and creativity, never losing sight of his mission and ready to try anything once, or for as long as it will take to get him back on the road. Some of the situations are comic set-pieces, which have turned up before, but they are well-told here … and anyone who has been on a long road trip across the United States – by any means – will recognize not only the places, but the assortment of people inhabiting them. In several ways, this book reminded me of Bill Bryson’s Lost Continent – much the same dry, comic tone, but with a much sweeter understanding of and liking for people.


See Also: Celia's BNN Review