Saturday, October 25, 2008

So Long, B&N

Reviews from PODBRAM will no longer be posted at the Barnes & Noble website. Here is the whole sordid story. The action that B&N online has taken has angered me considerably more than the controversial action taken by Amazon earlier this year. I harbor no animosity toward the Barnes & Noble store chain, but my interaction as both a customer and reviewer at B&N online has been brought to a screeching halt. Eleven days ago, while researching a detail concerning a book review I had posted at B&N back in 2006 when PODBRAM was still known as iUBR, I discovered that B&N online had removed all the identifying details from all the reviews on the company's website. The texts of the actual reviews have been left intact, but all the other information supplied by the reviewers has vanished into the land of Anonymous. After discovering this fiasco, I informed the PODBRAM team members that I would give B&N at least a week to reinstate all the missing data. B&N, your time is up.

I don't know if this was an intentional action on the part of the B&N tech staff or not. One of the team members at PODBRAM contacted B&N and received only a generic, form-letter, e-mail reply. Obviously B&N was setting up a new, more detailed rating system for their book reviews. In doing so, all the identifying information has been replaced simply by the word Anonymous. The reviewer's name, real or otherwise, and whatever self-descriptive phrase he chose to include, are now gone. All the titles of the reviews and the recommended other titles the reviewers chose to list have also been deleted. All of them are gone, and that means from all the reviews previously posted. Every link from a reviewed title at PODBRAM now leads to a page at B&N upon which a review composed by a PODBRAM reviewer is present, but the reader cannot discern who wrote which review! There are no more plugs for PODBRAM, any of the PODBRAM team of reviewers, their websites, or their books. Each and every carefully titled and crafted review posted to B&N by PODBRAM reviewers is now hidden in a forest of unidentifiable book reviews by amateurs. We are no longer able to key the readers into a known entity that is similar to the book being reviewed. We are no longer able to highlight comparable, but unknown books we at PODBRAM have had the priviledge to discover. We can never again offer a special review tailored to the B&N audience and link to it from the title's PODBRAM review.

Those last few statements are not completely true. Any reviewer can set up a new B&N account and identify himself or herself as a reviewer at B&N from now until the cows come home. The problem is that the information posted will only apply to any reviews written from this day forward. Of course a reviewer could go back and resubmit every review to B&N, displaying all the missing information, but do you know how long that would take? The cows from years ago will never come home. Every bit of work we have all done in posting reviews for years now is virtually up in smoke. Does B&N think we do this just so we can hide in the forest of anonymity? The PODBRAM team members are free to continue to post at B&N as much as they want. I have no intention of stopping anyone from giving away his talent to these corporate butts. My personal feelings and actions are a different matter. I founded PODBRAM in July 2006 to build a respectable body of work as a book critic, and I cannot accomplish this goal by reviewing anonymously. Any reviews I write from now on will be posted at Blogger News Network, Amazon, and PODBRAM. Skrew U, B&N!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pandemonium in 2012

Pandemonium in 2012
by Lee Cross

(Virginia City Publishing / 0-978-75962-1 / 978-0-978-75962-9 / January 2008 / 324 pages / $13.95 / $11.16 Amazon)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

This book is a polemic, a political roman-a-clef with the key not terribly well hidden. Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to blogs, the internet and the alternative media will be able to identify all of the slightly-disguised real political personalities, and recognize every one of the issues and situations referenced in a briskly paced 320 pages – everything from the undue influence of the higher courts, illegal immigration, Islamic-inspired terrorism and it’s connections to the South American narco-trafficking variety, the biases of main-stream journalism and manufactured controversy.

The characters are many, most of them just quick sketches, due to the complications of an intricate plot, a crescendo of events within a relatively short book. Many of those events might strike the reader as not quite believable – a relatively obscure Congressman becoming President, almost by chance, having a passionate affair with his beautiful female VP, the machinations of a malignant cabal of politicians, murderous plots by narco-traffickers, assassinations, an occupation of American cities by the UN… and a conspiracy to crash an air museum WWII bomber into an ALCU convention. Practically every plot element in the political thriller genre is here, and some of it might even be regarded as totally over the top… but. In the last few weeks and months, we have seen more than a few of these fictional elements come uncomfortably real. A formerly obscure, but well-liked and well-respected local politician vaults to national prominence and is promptly swamped in a tsunami of seemingly coordinated media abuse generated in a matter of days. A nation-wide organization, ACORN is under investigations for filing thousands of fraudulent voter registrations in fifteen states and counting. Even a political moderate might be forgiven for wondering if this is calculated preparation for ballot-box stuffing on a grand industrial scale.

So, the value of Pandemonium in 2012 may not lie so much with the writing, which is spare and workmanlike with occasional disconcerting leaps from third to first person – – but as an brief outline of those matters and issues which have been bubbling up underneath the surface of things over the last few years. Most usually those concerns and issues are grandly dismissed as the province of those banished to the political hinterland, unworthy of notice or concern by the higher minds who presume to control the debate of the great social and political issues in this country. Increasingly, however, such concerns cannot and ought not to be dismissed so lightly. Things start on the fringe, become the obsession of a few, and eventually percolate into the mainstream, when a tipping point has been reached. After all, only a handful of people knew or cared about the words and works of Osama bin Laden before the horrors of September 2001. Pandemonium in 2012 might be a good starting point for seriously considering some of the other horrors which might – in the minds of a good many – imperil the grand American experiment in democracy.

See Also: Celia's BNN Review
Lee Cross's Pandemonium Website

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Zombie Field

Zombie Field: The Rise and Fall by Razorback (Bryan Shields)
(BookSurge / 1-419-68865-0 / 978-1-419-68865-2 / August 2008 / 406 pages / $20.99)

Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

In the year 2010, a United Nations resolution to dissolve all military establishments across the world in favor of one central UN force has been forcibly pressed upon the United States. Millions of out-of-work servicemen flood the American economy, causing a massive downward spiral toward the Greatest Depression ever. Out of this turmoil, an army calling itself VENOME (Vast Empowered Network of Military Elite) arises to oppose the UN force. Under the leadership of Major General Riley, VENOME invades several nations in Europe, and seventeen former US states name themselves part of the VENOME Territory. In an attempt to fight back, the UN raises a Resistance Force. Against the might of VENOME, Resistance fighters face almost certain death on battle grounds called Zombie Fields.

In 2015, Commander Brandi Schofield, a VENOME combat flier, hatches a daring plan to oust Riley from his position as Chief Executive Officer. According to Brandi, Riley has abused his position of power over the previous five years, turning his army into a terrorist organization that lines Riley’s personal pockets. Brandi’s coup is designed to eliminate Riley and replace him with a woman from her own past – a former high school friend and rival, Air Force officer Debbi Smith, the most famous and brilliant female officer in US history.

Unfortunately, Zombie Field suffers from plot problems right out of the gate. The most interesting premise of the book – the rise of VENOME – is encapsulated in a brief prologue. The book begins instead with Brandi’s coup, which is executed without a hiccup in the first one-fourth of the book. The supposedly brilliant character of Debbi Smith fades almost immediately into the background, as the next hundred pages recount Brandi’s exploitation of her new and apparently unlimited powers. Brandi Schofield, the anti-heroine of this novel, is crude, violent, vengeful, and manipulative. She is every bit as corrupt as the man she overthrew, and she uses her new power to continue Riley’s habit of demanding “protection” pay from states and countries. (At one point, she “motivates” an underling to accomplish a task in under thirty hours by strapping a bomb to his neck.)

And what of the Resistance? The war takes an astonishing backseat in Zombie Field, a novel billed as “a thinking person’s military science fiction.” The first time Resistance characters appear in the book, it’s on page 215, when five off-duty privates wander into the neutral territory of Las Vegas looking for female company and are captured by Brandi’s agents. The improbable events that followed left me wondering when, if ever, the central conflict between the military powers would materialize. Of course, it is possible that the author meant to focus the central conflict on the rivalry between Brandi and her foil, the brilliant Debbi – except that this character frequently vanishes into thin air for a hundred pages at a time.

As a final blow, the grammatical errors in Zombie Field distract and befuddle the reader all the way through the novel. There are verb tense errors on almost every page, along with homophone mistakes and incorrect prepositions. There are also a few snafus in the layout of the book, such as chapters beginning on the left-hand page instead of their traditional place on the right. Still, these technical problems are ultimately overshadowed by the lack of plot development over 400+ pages. At the end of the novel, I still didn’t understand the goals of the VENOME organization (except for terrorizing the world), and the threat of the Resistance was sadly lacking. I knew no more about the world context of this novel than the sparse information given in the prologue, and although the author describes his work as “a dark and cynical satire,” I was unable to identify exactly what literature, history, or philosophy was being satirized.

See Also: The Author's Website

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Selecting a POD Publisher

Since Dianne Salerni, one of our illustrious reviewers here at PODBRAM, suggested this site to the IAG Group for information about the current state of POD publishers, I thought I would add a little update. I have posted more detailed discussions of this issue previously, but I want to revisit a few high points. Please note that I don't have time at the moment to research the latest statistics of the recommended publishers, but you can do that for yourself by clicking the links included here. As an aside, I have included the cover of my fourth book. One of the reasons I have always liked iUniverse is not only the quality of their covers, but the agreeable manner in which they will cooperate with any author wishing to control much of the cover design. I have designed all of my covers with very specific colors, fonts, and photos submitted.

Before I list the publishers I like best, I must let you know the parameters that govern my choices. Of course you may have an altogether different set of issues that are important to you, but this way you can fully understand my approach.

First of all, I am an extremely dedicated hobbyist in the field of companies, products, services, and marketing. This brings the size of my list down considerably. iU is the most established, largest, most connected, and most experienced of the POD publishers. Certain other brands claim to have done it first, and certain ones may even claim higher volumes of product or higher sales of product, but none can rival iU when all three factors are included. Who is the least likely to go out of business from under you? Who is the most likely to be first in line to have books printed at Lightning? Who is the first in line to have books shipped out by Ingram? Who is the most likely to be the first available at Amazon and B&N? Who is the most likely to offer special price deals from sheer volume?

Until the AuthorHouse merger, there was never any question in my mind about iU: they were the publisher for me. No one is more aware of corporate BS than me, either. When companies buyout or merge, it is almost never good for the consumer of the company's products or services. Since I have not published another book since the buyout, I cannot comment on the quality or lack thereof of the company's current services. I do still receive all their monthly special deals, however, and I still think this is a plus for choosing them. Even if you pay $599 for their service, when you get twenty books included, that's a good deal that is difficult to ignore.

I like Infinity Publishing. I have always liked this company, even though I have not had any direct dealings with them. Everything about them seems to be smooth, honorable, and professional. Right now they charge about $750 when you include the distribution package, and I would never choose any publisher without it. How good are their covers? I cannot say. I have never had an Infinity author request a review from PODBRAM, so I have not even seen one except online. Do they offer special sales like iU? I don't know. You will have to track their website and get on their mailing list to find out.

Next on the list is Outskirts Press. Everything I learn about this publisher leads me to think that they would make my short list; however, I doubt that I would actually choose them. Why? Mostly because one of the others would beat them to the draw. They don't have the inside job status of BookSurge or CreateSpace, and they lack the monster status of iU/AH or the longevity status of Xlibris or Booklocker. Check them out and see what you think.

BookSurge falls in that beat-em-join-em category, if nothing else. The two main considerations about BookSurge are the possible lack of quality, particularly with respect to the covers, and the lack of Ingram distribution. The former may be only a miniscule issue and the latter may be offered, but I just don't have time to track it down right now. Pardon my haste.

BookSurge leads me to CreateSpace, which leads me to Lulu. I really don't think I would ever choose any of these three, but they certainly deserve a little consideration. Fact #1: practically all POD book sales are due to the particular appeal of the subject matter to a particular audience at a particular point in time. Fact #2: probably 90% of all POD online book sales are through Amazon. Fact #3: you can sell all you want of your book in face-to-face and/or retail outlets, but you must factor in how you will pruchase these books and at what price. Fact #4: you may view Amazon about the same as you would the cop who pulls you over for a speeding violation, but what are you going to do about it? Paying CreateSpace or BookSurge is like contributing to the policeman's ball. You're buying protection, but at the price of limited distribution choices.

Bring that soapbox over here, would you, Maybelle? As far as I am concerned, the biggest booger in the whole world of POD is that an author must produce and market his own book in a very personal manner. There is no team of specialists at your beck and call because yore name ain't Jessica Fletcher! You must edit and proofread your own book. As Janet Elaine Smith has mentioned, she currently recommends Star Publish, who will, at least to some extent, vet and edit your book. If you are accepted by Star, and you can fork over the moolah, fine, I sure won't try to stop you, but if you must choose another publisher, please keep my warning in mind. I do not recommend that you pay any major POD publisher for their outrageously overpriced editing and proofreading services. Remember that I said each author must market his own book, and the prices these scoundrels charge for less than stellar services will blow your marketing budget right out of the water! This does not even address the fact that the more you spend, the less likely you are to recoup your expenses. Janet and I both agree that what you should do is to read your manuscript aloud with a partner to properly proofread it. This is not brain salad surgery, folks. It's just boring, monotonous dirty work like lawn maintenance. As I have said before, make me an offer and I may do it for you if the price is right, or do it yourself. I shudder to think how many POD authors have the arrogant, pie-in-the-sky gall to think they can dispense with this crucial step just by utilizing a grammar and spell-check computer program! Here's a hint: you use the computer program first; then you do the lawn maintenance; then you use the program again; and then you cut the grass again. In many cases, you may still need to get out the weed whacker for another round, even after all these read-throughs. Just take my advice and do it!

Thank you, Maybelle. You can have your soapbox back now. I would think long and hard before selecting CreateSpace or Lulu simply for the reasons stated above. I don't have anything negative to say about either company. I do have plenty of negativity for you neophyte authors, though. Don't you have enough to do already in this book authoring process without having to learn to deal with Acrobat Reader, Ingram, Amazon, B&N, fonts, margins, cover design, and many other things that do not promptly come to mind right now? Like I said, I'm busy. I hope this helps at least a few of you make an intelligent decision. Good luck with your next book!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Life Without Music

Life Without Music
by Jeanette Clinkunbroomer

(CreateSpace / 1-438-20699-2 / 978-1-438-20699-8 / May 2008 / 314 pages / $15.00)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

The title is a quote from Nietzsche, to the effect that life without it is flat, stale, hardly worth living. Life without music is a life without joy, interest— or love; which is actually the life Chicago P.I. Marti McClellan has. She is in her late thirties, a former cop and divorcee, still a little bitter about her self-centered ex-husband— an embryo lawyer by day and an aspiring musician by night— and somewhat haunted by the some of the cases that she worked as a police officer. These days, she lives with her eccentric ex-hippie mother, Alice, and does background investigations, checking up on the welfare of children in disputed custody cases. She works for lawyers; nothing liable to be violent, heartbreaking and life-shattering. She’s had enough of that kind of scene… but what she gets when one of her lawyer clients asks for her discreet help for one of his clients turns out to be exactly that.

The client is one Johnny Magick; semi-retired rock legend, Hall-of-Famer, ex-addict to all sorts of substances. He has two ex-wives and a dissolute former life, well documented in the tabloids, but a lot of gold records on his wall. He also is still handsome, charismatic, and hoping to redeem his failures with his two daughters: the troubled junkie problem child and the sweet sheltered college student whom he never knew about until she appeared on his doorstep. He and Marti hit it off, two damaged people whose attraction to each other gradually overcomes a certain degree of wariness.

Life Without Music is an interesting and readable combination of a PI procedural and the tentative romance blossoming between two unlikely people– and in the case of Marti, initially rather unwilling to repeat the disastrous experience of romancing a musician. But she is drawn in by Johnny’s charm, and a growing realization that he needs her, and that he genuinely cares for his daughters, and wants to redeem himself in their eyes.

In some ways, the romance seems a little pat, with all the secondary characters (save for one) encouraging of and approving of Johnny and Marti as a pair. The narrative voice sometimes seems a little flat— a decided contract to the dialogue, which is snappy and informative. During the duller stretches, when Marti is going about her usual investigative and personal routine, the story is slowed down with way too much excruciating and ultimately pointless detail. Of course, the relevant clues need to be strewn around, in plain sight but with sufficient ‘clutter’ to disguise them, but it also slows down the story. The final twist is very will hidden, but I wish that the eventual villain had been a bit more of a presence, instead of always seeming to be a half-seen cardboard shadow. The final denouement between Marti and the presence stalking her all through the book might have had a little more impact. Still and all, a worthwhile read, especially for fans of V.I. Warshawsky and Kinsey Milhone.

See Also: Celia's BNN Review