Monday, March 23, 2009

Saints in the City

Saints in the City
by Andie Andrews

(Outskirts Press / 1-432-71104-0 / 978-1-432-71104-7 / December 2008 / 372 pages / $19.95 / Amazon $14.36 / Kindle $5.59)

Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM

Based on the Biblical precept, do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it, Andie Andrews’ Saints in the City is a remarkable story that explores the easily overlooked connections between Heaven and Earth. If you are one to steer clear of the Christian Literature genre, I urge you to put any preconceived notions aside and give Saints in the City a try. The biblical aspects of this book are so easily and naturally woven into the overall story – a story of love and compassion, as well as betrayal and abuse – that you may well be turning pages late into the night.

Helen Baldwin, a transplanted Appalachian, finds herself living in urban New Jersey with her new husband Todd, an overworked Baptist minister. While Todd pursues his dream of becoming a famous televangelist at the expense of his relationship with his wife, Helen finds a sense of belonging and purpose working at the local soup kitchen. There she finds her own ministry of sorts as she spends time with the homeless, the mentally ill, the drug addicts and the war ravaged vets who frequent the center for a warm meal. When she becomes particularly drawn to one visitor, Helen risks the security of her well planned life to discover the connection that both reaches into her past and is destined to become her future.

The author provides just the right amount of descriptive prose to drop you smack in the middle of each scene, along with well-developed characters and surprising plot twists that kept this reader fully engaged right through to the last paragraph where the final, surprise connection was revealed. Suitable for the young adult through mature reader, Saints in the City will challenge you to look more deeply at those damaged by life’s demons and realize that through love and faith – and a few good connections – healing is possible.

Technically, I would recommend using italics or some other visual way of alerting the reader when the point of view changes to that of the narrator – St. Francis of Assisi in the form of Frankie the Addict. It would help those passages to flow a little more smoothly. I quickly caught on, but it was a bit abrupt. Additionally, I think perhaps too much of the story was given in the blurb on the back of the book.

Saints in the City would make a wonderful, thought provoking selection for any Book Club (I’ve already suggested it for my own!) so a list of Discussion Questions in the back of the book would be a great idea to get readers thinking in that direction. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to read and review this book and will seek out other titles by Andie Andrews in the future!

See Also: Andie Andrews' Website
Donna's Orphan Train Review

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dirkle Smat and the Flying Statue

Dirkle Smat and the Flying Statue
By Lynn D. Garthwaite & Craig Howarth
(Castle Keep Press / 1-596-63553-3 / 978-1-596-63553-1 / April 2007 / 60 pages / $9.95)

Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM

Dirkle Smat and his Explorer Club friends are ready for adventure as they set out to determine the source of the midnight sightings in the sky over their small town. Some believe that it may be the Pegasus Statue in the town square that comes to life on a full moon, but how can a marble statue fly?

Author Lynn D. Garthwaite does a fine job of mixing adventure, gadgetry and perilous situations in just the right proportions for the curious minded young boy, keeping him engaged throughout the 41 pages. A sprinkling of well-drawn black and white illustrations throughout adds a visual element to the story that serves to hold the young reader’s attention as well. I especially liked the creativity of adding pages in the back of the book to start your own Explorers Club.

Although the book says that it is for ages 5-10, that is a broad age range and I feel that the nine and ten-year-olds would probably come away with a sense of wanting just a little bit more in the way of plot twists. I would recommend this book ideally for boys in the 6-8 age range who will undoubtedly be looking for other titles in this adventure series.

See Also: Donna's Orphan Train Review
The author's Jacket Flap Page

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Whittaker Family Reunion

The Whittaker Family Reunion
by Shirley A. Roe

(TheEbookSale Publishing / 1-906-80651-9 / 978-1-906-80651-4 / August 2008 / 200 pages / $15.95 / $6.36 Kindle)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

I must confess that initially, I wanted to enjoy this book very much; here I was offered a family saga, centering on a strong and intrepid woman, building a life for herself and her children on the 19th century frontier, after having endured misfortune and tragedy only to have something wicked from out of the past threatening her family, years later. It looked to be just the perfect cup of tea – a bit thinner than the usual sort of family saga, not quite two hundred pages, but I could perhaps anticipate some perfectly lapidary prose, some deft characterization, a tight plot and an authentic sense of time and place.

Alas, no, for any of those qualities, and even the brevity of the book is deceptive, for Reunion is more a continuation of the first book about the Whittaker family, which involved an abusive and brutish paterfamilias dragging three small children and a young second wife off to the far Wyoming frontier. Set twenty years later, Reunion ends on a cliff-hanging note. Doubtless this is intended to lead into a further installment of the saga, for this volume of the Whittaker saga is salted with the beginnings of various plot angles, left unresolved by the final page.

As I said, I wanted to enjoy the book and take no very great pleasure in administering a less than favorable review, but the anachronisms in language and in character’s attitudes eventually became too many and too monumental to let pass. Essentially, this is a late-Twentieth Century soap opera dressed in a few cosmetic shreds of Nineteenth Century raiment. The characters are all but modern; practically none of the high Victorian constraints that would have limited their conduct and attitudes, and formed their habits of speech, are anywhere to be seen. There is no sense of the hurly burly of Nineteenth Century life, nothing of the atmosphere, the very real differences that there are, between our lives and those a hundred and thirty years ago. Would the wife of a man in prosperous and comfortable circumstances really be running a business herself? Working in her husband’s business, perhaps, or perhaps if she were a widow… that struck a false note to me, because of the very modernity of it. And a respectable and well-brought up but willful teenage girl would have not even considered running off to New York City (on the train with some of her slightly older girlfriends), to stay un-chaperoned in a hotel, and to go out drinking and dancing with those friends. This was in the era of Edith Wharton, not Sex in the City. Perhaps a rebellious girl might have gone as far as to go for a walk un-chaperoned for an hour or so with a boy that she fancied to have more or less the same effect on her parents. Among the language anachronisms which struck me was the use of the term “sex slave” – a very modern term, whereas during that period something like the word “concubine” would have rather been used. Finally, the writer fell into the habit of ‘telling’ the readers essential information, rather than ‘showing’ it, through the characters conversations and actions. This could have been a rather interesting and compelling narrative of a family in turmoil, but it was sunk for me on the iceberg of period anachronisms.

See Also: Celia's BNN Review
Of Dreams and Nightmares (the prequel to The Whittaker Family Reunion)
More Info About Shirley A. Roe

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Demon Inside

The Demon Inside:
The Zone War, Book 1
by Terry Cloutier

(iUniverse – Indigo / 0-595-46720-2 / 978-0-595-46720-4 / January 2008 / 402 pages / $22.95 paperback / $20.65 Amazon / $1.56 Kindle)

Reviewed by Ron Baxley for PODBRAM

Fantasy and science fiction authors create works of dual escapism at times, putting characters within virtual snow globes that reside in still more fantastical landscapes. Not only is our speculative genre escapist, but, within that escapism, characters themselves escape into sub-worlds outside the main setting. Cloutier has manufactured an ingenious dual escapism that could only happen if one took The Boy Who Runs from Wolves, a character who only exists in the head of an abused young man and later his older self, from the novel and film Mystic River, a real world of the psychological thriller, and transported him from the world within his head to a fictional Tolkein landscape. Edward, his creative, suffering main character, has escaped into a fantasy world but has brought alter egos and his demons with him.

In fact, child psychologists often dictate that when a child has been through a traumatic experience that he or she will create a fantasy world to escape the trauma. Cloutier’s main character, Edward, did just that as a child, when he was much like The Boy Who Runs from Wolves, an abused young man, but the fantasy world that he created as a child will eventually engulf him as an adult.

The child’s fantasy world becomes a literal yet fantastic world called The Zone in which one can escape, continuing with the themes of realities within realities. What makes Cloutier’s work different, a little more novel than The Neverending Story, for example, is that he makes his main character, Edward, have his own dark half ala Stephen King.

Not only has Cloutier created a Tolkein landscape with blind witches, wizards, and warriors plucked straight out of the Middle Ages or, in this case, Middle Earth, he has incorporated a Thomas Harris-like gritty reality of a serial killer. His serial killer, David Wayne Diamond, may not be the most original incarnation of what has become a stock character, but Cloutier originates an amalgam of The Dark Half, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Gunslinger series. We soon realize that Eddie has his own Dark Half. As many abused people do, he has internalized his abuser, David Wayne Diamond. This horrifying monstrosity of a human being cut Eddie up as a child and left him for dead and now the young man cannot get him out of his head, cannot get him out of the worlds that he creates. The title even alludes to the antagonist’s, Brady’s, position within the narrative. He is The Demon Inside.

How Eddie exorcises his demon is, as many authors do, through fiction, but do authors really get rid of their demons when they write? Authors may state that they are getting rid of their demons, but are they fully? These and other probing philosophical questions abound as the author blurs the line between reality and fantasy and makes one ponder the thin line between creativity and insanity.

He does an incredibly original job of blurring the line between genres as well, doing one of the better cross-genre pieces I have read in a while. Nevertheless, some of his concepts deserve far more original labels. The Empire, the name of the kingdom Diamond’s alter-ego is trying to create, has been overdone by George Lucas, and The Zone is too reminiscent of The Twilight Zone or the cliché of somebody being “in the zone”. Nevertheless, clichés can serve as the compost heaps from which great gardens can grow.

Cloutier’s novel is a great garden indeed, for it is manicured with minimal grammar and spelling errors, a real plus for a self-published work. Also, the garden becomes more evidently a jungle as you explore its confines. One begins to realize that the pursuit of the dark serial killer memory within will take Edward through many books, and I know that this author will sustain this pursuit with suspense, originality, and gusto. This great garden, indeed, grows within a snow globe, a world within a world, only accessible through the comatose mind of the main character, Edward, and through the author’s writing. As I did, marvel at the fantastic world Cloutier has created and be equally as stunned by the sinister vines that twist there.

Editor’s Note: The first edition of The Demon Inside was published by BookSurge (1-419-64144-1 / 978-1-419-64144-2 / July 2006 / 630 pages / $23.99 paperback).

See Also: Terry Cloutier's Website
Terry Cloutier's Authors Den Page
The Demon Inside, Book 2

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Too Tall Alice

Too Tall Alice
by Barbara Worton

(Great Little Books / 0-979-06611-5 / 978-0-979-06611-5 / Illustrated by Dom Rodi / March 2009 / Ages 9-12 / 32 pages / $15.95 hardcover / $12.44 Amazon)

Reviewed by Susan Higginbotham for PODBRAM

The heroine of this picture book is four inches taller than any of the other eight-year-old girls at her school. One evening, Alice hears her father telling his neighbors at a card party, “She’s going to be tall and thin, a string bean, a bean pole, a twig, a long drink of water, a tooth pick.” Alice cries herself to sleep, only to have a dream that teaches her the importance of accepting herself for what she is.

Worton has a breezy, pleasant style of writing, and the book is jauntily illustrated and laid out, but Too Tall Alice wasn’t a success for me, chiefly because I felt that the story was undeveloped. Alice doesn’t arrive at her epiphany through any effort on her own part—she simply falls asleep and has the book’s message delivered to her via a dream. She doesn’t even get a chance to confront her father about the remark that was so upsetting to her.

I was also put off by the book’s lack of subtlety. Even younger readers in this age group tend to be fairly media-savvy, yet Worton doesn’t trust them to figure out Too Tall Alice’s theme for themselves. Instead, she hammers it home, which is likely to be irritating to older children.

On the plus side, I enjoyed the word imagery here: “a big smiling sun with lots of teeth” was one of my favorites. Despite my reservations about this particular book, I think Ms. Worton has a bright future ahead of her.

Editor’s Note: Although the Amazon listing shows Ages 9-12 for Too Tall Alice, the reviewer’s opinion is that Ages 7-10 would be more appropriate.

See Also: Bedtime Stories, Barbara Worton's first book
Barbara Worton's Authors Den page
Interview with Barbara Worton

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Kindle the Gorilla

The Amazon Kindle:
Son of the 800-Pound Gorilla
by Dr. Al Past

I am of two minds about making comments about the Kindle at this point. I have only had my Kindle 2 less than two weeks (though I have read two novels on it), and I hardly qualify as an expert manipulator of the device. (A year from now that may be different.) Anyone who wishes technical descriptions or tricks on how to make the Kindle sing like a canary will not hear it from me, though such tips can be Googled easily enough.

On the other hand, I have been an avid reader and consumer of books all my life, and that is how I choose to think of the Kindle: as an electronic book. In addition, for about six months, I have participated in various online groups where people have discussed the Kindle and other ebooks, shared their reading experiences, and generally reveled in the new technology. Perhaps more important here, I have made my own three novels, the Distant Cousin series, available as Kindle books, have them on my own Kindle, and have observed how they look on the device. I have seen how they have sold, and how the price may have affected sales (and how it compares to sales of the paper editions). Thus, I may have a slightly specialized perspective to offer prospective authors and readers, or so I hope.

First, the Out-of-the-Box Experience. Nothing could be simpler than to get the Kindle up and running. Mine charged fully in three hours, while I browsed Amazon on my computer and one-clicked five or six books I wanted to begin with. If I lived in a metropolitan area, I could have switched on the Kindle's Whispernet feature and downloaded all of them in a minute or two, but being on the edge of civilization, where cell phone coverage is a sometime thing, I took the device outside, turned it on, and presto: seven books on my machine.

Currently Amazon offers a quarter million books for the Kindle. The owner can download many more from Project Gutenberg or other free sites, send them to their Kindle's email address (every Kindle has an email address), and Amazon will convert them, for free (if delivered by computer) or a trivial charge (if delivered by Whispernet). One such customer tells me his Kindle will display books in German perfectly, with umlauts and the double ss and all the rest.

The Reading Experience. Speaking for myself, there are few greater pleasures in life than stretching out on the window seat in my home office to read for a satisfying length of time. I can now report that this experience, so delightful with a handsome hardbound or paperback book, is equally as pleasurable with the Kindle. The machine itself seems tiny, an inch and a half narrower than a National Geographic magazine, two inches shorter, and about as thick. Reportedly, it can contain as many as 1500 books, though I have no desire to test this. (It can also display many magazines, newspapers, and even websites, but again, I have little desire to use it for this, at least not now.) The actual screen is about the size of a mass-market paperback page, with an off-white background, and the displayed text is a dark gray. The size of the font is easily changed, a nice feature. I found the default font rather too large--I was "turning" pages too frequently--and I switched to the next smaller font (about mass-market size, but better spaced), which I got used to in minutes.

It sits comfortably in the hand, and was even more comfortable once I added Amazon's handsome leather cover, which can be opened like a book or folded back for convenience. Closed, it offers decent protection for the screen should one want to tote it about town, though for air travel or the like, a sturdy outer bag or case might be a good idea. Reading the pages is not like reading from a monitor. The page is not illuminated. Amazon's trademark e-ink is sharp and clear, but one needs external light for reading, exactly as with any book. (I have a clip-on LED light as well, which works nicely.)

I sailed through two standard length novels perhaps a little faster than I might have with paperbacks. For one thing, there were no pages to turn, only a button to be pressed. In a strange way, the device reminds me of an electronic Etch-a-Sketch, in that pressing the "next page" button causes the screen to go black for a micro-second, and then flash on the the next, as if all the sand were tossed into the air and re-sifted. I soon learned to press the button as I neared the bottom of a page and release it as I reached the last two lines, achieving a nice, steady pace, faster than with a paperback.

One doesn't easily lose one's place. I could check other books, download more, and go back to the page I had been reading at the exact place I had quit. I do have one gripe in this respect, however: several times I "searched" for terms in the book I was reading and lost my place. There are no page numbers, only "index" numbers of some perplexing kind, probably because one's choice of fonts would change the number of pages. Nor is there a "fast forward" or "fast reverse" feature. I shall have to consult someone more technically proficient to see if there is a better way to flip through an ebook. A dotted line at the bottom of the page, accompanied by a per cent symbol, indicate one's progress through the text.

A built-in dictionary will define all but the most obscure words, like "jehu" (a driver of a coach or cab) with the simple manipulation of a four-way switch, and the text-to-speech feature works surprisingly well. I do not commute to work, but those who do would find listening to a book with an earphone no problem at all. Supposedly, one can control the speed of the voice, but I did not test this.

I was at the computer last week when my wife asked me if I had seen her paper copy (Kindlers call this a "dead tree" book) of Carla Kelly's Marrying the Captain. I said I had not, and while she launched a room-by-room search I turned to my computer, dialed it up at Amazon, and one-clicked it. Then I took the Kindle outside, turned on Whispernet, and downloaded it, for $4 and change. Then I carried it to my wife and told her "I found your book." Time expended: two minutes at the most--an impressive convenience, but probably chilling to bookstore owners.

I have read two novels in two weeks on the original battery charge. (I understand that power consumption is reduced when the Whispernet connection is turned off, as it normally is on my Kindle.) The tiny battery indicator seems to be telling me that it is just beginning to be discharged. If that's correct, I estimate I could read another three or four novels before having to recharge it. Except for the considerable purchase price ($360), I find the Kindle an entirely successful and even delightful way to read books.

The Kindle for an Author. Let's talk about the person who has a book to present to the public: an author. There are many different kinds of authors. Some wish to make a living from their writing. Some want to become famous. Some write how-to books or non-fiction. Some trot hopefully down the long but fading path to a traditional publisher. Others publish their own works (POD) and take their fate into their own hands. Frequently, these categories, and others, overlap. Obviously, one's publishing and marketing strategy should depend on what one writes and what one hopes to do with the book. My experience with having my books brought out as Kindle editions may be instructive for many authors.

In my case, I wrote Distant Cousin because it had been haunting me for twenty years before I retired. I thought it was a good story (typical for an author of fiction), and I hoped others would enjoy it too. Money was not my main goal, though it has turned out to be a good way to keep score. In my naiveté, I went with a POD publisher for simplicity's sake and speed, and because I retained control of the result. The product, from the old iUniverse, was a handsome but rather expensive trade paperback, $21. It was listed on Amazon and has accumulated favorable reviews or better ever since. Sales were not stunning, however. People who knew me and their friends took the gamble, a small number of strangers risked their money, and those who reviewed it were encouraging. I did what I could to flog the internet, but I have little business sense and less talent for self-promotion, so sales gradually tapered off to a trickle.

The publications of volumes two and three, Distant Cousin: Repatriation and Distant Cousin: Reincarnation, revived public interest briefly, earning their own positive reviews, but by this point several things had become clear. First, if the books had been traditionally printed, there would have been one printing and no more. They would have been "out of print," and only available on the used book market. Since they were POD books, however, that was not a problem. Anyone who decided to read one could easily obtain it, no matter when, and for the cover price. Score one for POD. Second, however, the price of the books was a major turnoff for readers. All three together retailed for $56, a major investment for most normal people.

So last September, I made them available for the Kindle. Since I owned the copyright, Amazon left it up to me to set the price. Even though Kindle sales would be totally digital, with no printing and shipping necessary, I was tempted to jack up the price and make some real money for a change. After all, New York Times bestsellers are routinely priced at $10 in Kindle editions, still a considerable saving over the hardcover price. But ultimately, I relented. I have little business savvy, but I am a consumer of books, and I know as well as any reader that a bargain is a wonderful thing. Besides, I mainly wanted people to enjoy the story, so I priced it at $5, which Amazon immediately discounted to $4. The rest is history.

I accidentally found, while Googling around, that Kindle readers had discovered the Distant Cousin series, and I began following their postings. To my surprise, I discovered that this is where the readers are today. They were serious. They read everything, from classics in German, to short stories and essays, to pulp fiction about vampires and cops and romances, to current popular fiction: everything. They especially love bargains, and they loved Distant Cousin, also a bargain. Now, five or six months later, hundreds of copies have Whispernetted through the air to happy readers. My royalties, while small, warm my heart. My optimism about publishing has been reborn.

So what does my experience have to say to Author X?

First, it depends on what you have written. Distant Cousin is meant to be popular fiction. That is, it's beach reading, a page turner, but at the same time a page turner that doesn't insult the reader or follow a conventional genre formula. There's something in it for those who like a little adventure, a little romance, and/or a little science fiction. Assuming a reader can be convinced to try it, there's a good chance they will enjoy it. This was a strike against me when dealing with the literary-industrial complex, which is risk-averse (and may be paying for it these days), but it seems to have been an advantage with avid Kindlers.

Authors should know that Amazon makes it possible to order a free sample of any Kindle edition, consisting (as far as I know) of a generous number of pages starting from the beginning of the book. In the case of Distant Cousin it amounts to roughly 30 pages. Obviously, therefore, anyone contemplating a Kindle edition should think carefully about how one's book looks at the beginning

The author of a how-to book will have to make his or her own decision about marketing and readership. The author of a work that comments on the American scene must do the same, as must the author of a children's book full of color pictures (the Kindle doesn't do color). Indeed, all authors should consider the market for their work. Think of window-shopping at a mall bookstore, but for the digital version. Does it have an intriguing title? You should probably make sure a version of your cover, in black and white, is one of the first pages: is it an interesting page? Some books I have sampled at Kindle merely begin on page one. Others feature reviews or other prefatory matter. What is to your advantage? These are among the decisions that can encourage readers...or not.

Most important, what about the price? As far as I know, Amazon automatically discounts every book 20% from the price the publisher or copyright owner sets. If you are a professional writer with fans and a reputation, like Carla Kelly, you may be able to charge more. If you are a new writer, that might not be the best strategy. I say again: Kindle readers are bargain hunters. It is possible to browse the Kindle store based on price alone, and many Kindle owners do this, often choosing books on price alone. A few books, even from major publishers, are free, though like the matter of pricing airline seats, this is a strategy that is beyond the likes of a simple soul such as myself. Word of bargains spreads. Sales result. My recommendation: do not overprice your book. You will most likely lose in overall income what you gain in royalty per book. Remember how Wal-mart became the biggest retailer in the world: low prices.

I am not the one to punditize on the future of the Kindle, even though lack of knowledge seldom stops a pundit. It's true the Kindle is proprietary to Amazon and that there are several competitors in the bushes, sharpening their fangs and their business plans. Some of these may eventually become serious competition, and all we authors need to scan the horizon for approaching clouds. In the meantime, for my part I'm going with the 800 pound gorilla. I'm rather fond of that gorilla.

See Also: Distant Cousin in Kindle Format

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Marrying the Captain

Marrying the Captain
by Carla Kelly

(Harlequin Historical Series #928 / Kindle edition / ASIN B001OERNHO / 0-373-29528-6 / 978-0-373- 29528-9 / January 2009 / 288 pages / Kindle $4.32 / Mass Market Paperback $5.99)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Marrying the Captain hardly needs a review from me. There are already abundant reviews of it at, and the author, a veteran writer of something like forty titles, is a popular and proven producer of Harlequin and Signet Regency Romances, as well as others. I decided to undertake it because it was a known quantity: I have read quite a number of Ms. Kelly's novels, and I know them to be well written, well plotted, and reasonably entertaining. I had an ulterior motive: this would be the second novel I had read on my new Kindle 2, the Amazon ebook reader, and, as a reader and POD author myself, I shall offer a separate commentary on some possible ramifications of the Kindle phenomenon to readers and authors, if not to technophiles.

Marrying the Captain, as I expected, was entertaining and competently plotted and written. The main plot line was evident from the opening chapters: a spunky but illegitimate young woman, cast off by her noble father and now with few prospects and working in a nondescript inn in Portsmouth, England, during the Napoleonic wars, comes in contact with the captain of a frigate, a seemingly dour young man, old beyond his years, who is determined never to marry. Anyone with a quarter ounce of sense knows these two will somehow end up marrying each other. The question in this sort of book is always how it will happen. Usually it happens at the end, but to my surprise, in this case it happens near the middle. Other conflicts develop, and these lend interest to what otherwise would be a conventional romance.

Fans of historical romances, Signet Regency Romances, and the like (and there are many), will find this book not dissimilar to others of the type. In my case, as a longtime reader of C. S. Forester's Hornblower series, Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin series, and hundreds of other "days of fighting sail" volumes, as well as being a Navy veteran myself, I have to quibble with some of the historical details. But these are minor, not likely to derail enthusiasts of the genre, and ultimately not worth elaborating.

I do think the book is priced rather too high, but that is a matter for the discussion of the Kindle, and ebook, philosophy, which I shall deal with separately.

See Also: A Carla Kelly Fan Site
Carla Kelly's Bibliography
Carla Kelly's Wikipedia Page

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Sunset by JJ Ritonya
(CreateSpace / 1-440-43171-X / 978-1-440-43171-5 / November 2008 / 342 pages / $14.95 / Kindle $7.16)

Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

On October 2, 1991, the world ended. It wasn’t a nuclear blast, and it wasn’t a comet hurtling out of space. At about 5:15 in the afternoon, everybody just dropped dead. Or – almost everybody. For the scant survivors who watched every person around them fall to the ground in instant death, the tragedy is inexplicable. Was it some kind of government project gone wrong? Was it divine intervention? And why did some people simply seem immune?

As bad as it was, it got worse. Forty-eight hours after the event, the dead began to walk. And for the few survivors, the zombified corpses out to tear them limb from limb are not nearly as dangerous as the other survivors.

Sunset is the first zombie novel I have ever read, so I cannot compare it to others in this genre. I found the story interesting, and I never had trouble continuing to read in order to find out what would happen next. The author has chosen to narrate events through several intriguing survivors in various regions of the U.S. – a twenty-something failure-to-launch who worked at a video store in Kansas, a computer programmer enjoying a vacation in Las Vegas, a retired cop in New York City, and a terrorist who was just about to blow up a building, along with himself and thousands of other people, when this disaster pre-empted his act. (I thought it was rather daring to include this character in his line up.) I’m not sure I liked the author’s choice to write some of the narrations in third person while others were in first person, but it does not disrupt the story except where he makes mistakes in the point of view.

I was not bothered by the violence done by and against the zombies – that was to be expected in this genre. But I was puzzled by the fact that most of the human survivors were intent on taking up arms and annihilating the other living people – senselessly. There were good survivors and bad survivors – I understood that. But throughout the book there are scenes that seem to ignore the human instinct for species survival. With only 1% of the population left, would you really want to shoot everybody else on sight? Were these people unhinged by the disaster? Or does the author believe that given an event that destroys the fabric of civilized society, the violent and immoral individuals would immediately rise up and destroy those people still clinging to an illusion of law and order? This would have made a good theme for the book, if the author had gone into it in more depth, delving into character motivation and providing a logical or emotional rationale for the violence.

I think J.J. Ritonya is an author with great potential. He can tell a good story, and I hope to see him develop his talents with future horror books that combine the action of this one with a little more depth in theme. In terms of professional appearance, the book would benefit from a proper title page and paragraphs that are indented instead of spaced apart. Sunset should be of interest to readers of horror and post-apocalyptic novels.

See Also: The Author's Website
Dianne's High Spirits Review

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Peeper by Paul Chandler
(iUniverse / 0-595-32932-2 / 978-0-595-32932-8 / August 2004 / 252 pages / $16.95)

Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM

Andrew Ash and Ray Duncan are corporate merger and acquisitions specialists. They're very good at what they do and they make plenty of money because they have a secret. Andrew's a mind reader. He knows what the man sitting across the negotiating table is going to say before he says it.

In a field where precise and timely information is essential, Andrew's skills go far beyond occult psychics who speak in symbols and riddles and police-show psychics whose quasi-random impressions provide facts that, while interesting, always seem to fall short of the one or two details the criminal investigators most need to discover. Andrew knows everything. He can peep inside your head and read you like a book.

Every reader who has wondered what it would be like to read minds will get a lot of vicarious pleasure peeping on Andrew as he wields his information like a sword to back down greedy corporate executives, aggressive lawyers, and the hired guns who are attracted to large quantities of easy money. Paul Chandler is very good at what he does and his exciting novel shows what it's like.

Andrew's secret creates challenges. First, if the secret gets out, Andrew and Ray are out of business. Yet, in the regulated world of mergers and acquisitions, they're providing information that appears to have been illegally obtained. How does Andrew viably explain how he knows what he knows?

Men like Paul Trask, the powerful CEO of Micro-Delta Corporation, don't care where the information comes from as long as they get what they want and don't get caught. After a lucrative Micro-Delta business deal, Trask wants more, and he has a Rolodex full of unsavory characters who will ensure Andrew and Ray keep doing their magic.

But Andrew has other things on his mind. The popular talk-show host David Martin has been accused of murdering his wife and daughters. The prosecution has a good case, but in the media frenzy surrounding the trial, one thing is clear. The jury likes David Martin and will probably vote for acquittal.

Angered that such a monster might go free, Andrew steps into the court room and learns the truth. But once again, how he knows what he knows creates challenges. Can he help put a murderer behind bars without giving away his secret? More importantly, if he accurately describes the graphic details of a murder nobody could have seen, won't he be accused of committing the crime?

Paul Chandler's well-written Peeper delivers savvy good guys and savvy bad guys fighting for survival in a high-stakes battle with no brakes on it. Even Andrew doesn't know in advance how it's going to end up. So, chances are you won't have a clue, either. If you like action and suspense, it's better that way.

See Also: The Powell's Review

Friday, March 06, 2009

Mother's Journals

Mother’s Journals:
Parts 1, 2 and 3

by Zada Connaway

(PublishAmerica / 1-424-16969-0 / 978-1-424-16969-6 / March 2007 / 341 pages / $29.95)

Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM

Mother’s Journals is the generational story of the Jakers family of Charabourgh, a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When Margery, the matriarch of the family, dies after a lifetime of sacrifice and toil, her grown daughter, Mary, discovers her mother’s writings among her personal effects and becomes captivated by the revelations they hold. A survivor of abuse who believes that she murdered her abuser, Margery struggled to raise her children and retain her dignity during the very difficult years of The Great Depression.

Margery’s granddaughter, Ellen, is a successful businesswoman in the hotel industry who comes under the romantic spell of her new boss and quickly accepts his proposal of marriage. When a move to Southern California and a new baby create changes in their relationship, Ellen’s husband Robert becomes disillusioned and controlling, displaying a temper and aggression that Ellen was unaware he possessed. Ellen is forced to flee to the safety of her family where she tries to regain her sense of self worth and start over. Relatives long lost return to their small town and old wounds are healed as this family reflects on opportunities missed and mistakes made.

Mother’s Journals is a story with much potential. Reading the content of Margery’s journals was most intriguing and very well done. Some scenes are graphic and difficult to read, but are necessary in order to convey the horror of the abuse that Margery suffered.

Many young women will see themselves in Ellen’s story of self discovery as she follows her immediate instinct to abandon her career in favor of staying at home to raise her child, only to find herself regretting that choice when her marriage deteriorates because of what she sees as her loss of ambition and hard edge.

Unfortunately, there are several abrupt character changes that leave the reader wondering, “What happened?” Relationships instantly exist and characters make decisions that make little sense given the circumstances at hand. With more plot development, these twists could have worked but instead, this reader was left scratching her head and filling in the blanks. Additionally, there were long periods of telling what happened when showing, through dialog and action, would have been much more engaging.

Detailed scenes of intimacy place this book at the adult reading level.

See Also: B&N Reviews of Mother's Journals
Zada Connaway's website
Donna's Orphan Train Reviews

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Angry Smile

The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive-Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces
by Jody E. Long, Nicholas J. Long & Signe Whitson

(Pro-Ed / 1-416-40423-6 / 978-1-416-40423-1 / Second Edition / December 2008 / 171 pages / $23.85)

Reviewed by Juliet Waldron for PODBRAM

This book is the result of four decades of research and hands-on-practice with troubled adolescents, children and adults written by three experienced professionals in the psychoanalytic field. Laid out in a step-by-step format, easy to read and access, it takes the reader through the all-too common world of passive-aggressive behavior.

Part One defines psychological terms and their proper use in the work, and then briefly discusses the coining of the term by Colonel William Menninger, an army psychiatrist during the Second World War. Developmental pathways to a Passive-Aggressive Personality and the reasons why people often resort to employing these completes the first section. Part Two gives, in careful (and maddening!) detail, examples of this behavior as it creates a vicious cycle of arguments and relationship-damaging wars of words between parents and children, children and teachers, spouses, friends, and in our workplaces. Part Three deals with the challenges of confronting this behavior, and how to resist the temptation to counter-aggression. The last two chapters deal with altering our responses to passive-aggression, and a six-step method of benign confrontation, which can lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.

As a lay person, I found the book not only informative, but lucid and easy to follow. About the only way this guide to defusing passive-aggression could have been improved might have been for the authors to provide a workbook section to provide further practice with the coping strategies provided. The Angry Smile is a succinct and satisfying treatise that will be useful for anyone, from the professional to the ordinary individual who is confronting a ceaseless cycle of tension and frustration in a personal relationship.

See Also: Another review of The Angry Smile

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Not Remembered Never Forgotten

Not Remembered Never Forgotten:
An Adoptee's Search for His Birth Family: A True Story

by Robert Hafetz

(BookSurge / 1-419-69258-5 / 978-1-419-69258-1 / April 2008 / 134 pages / $14.99)

Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM

A beautiful, heartwarming – as well as heart wrenching - true story of loss, longing, and acceptance, Not Remembered Never Forgotten is a book that I will not soon forget. Robert Hafetz is a “sibling of circumstance” with all those who have been a part of the adoption experience. Although there are many books on adoption journeys, Mr. Hafetz’s approach not only covers his search to find his birth mother, her family, and his possible half siblings, he also addresses the almost always overlooked connection between infant and birth mother.

A therapist in the Pennsylvania Mental Health system, Mr. Hafetz explains, from a professional viewpoint yet with clarity for the layperson, the feelings that cannot be put into words when experienced before the infant has the ability to speak or the maturity of mind to comprehend fully. The notion that a newborn will “not remember” is an assumption that has been proven to be false time and again.

Although I am not a member of the adoption triad (birth mother/child/adoptive family), I found myself wondering if this connection that cannot be remembered but likewise is never forgotten, could also hold true with those who have lost their mothers at a very young age through death, divorce, or other permanent separation. I found Mr. Hafetz’s explanations of this pre-cognitive period of human development to be quite fascinating.

Along the way of his compelling search, Mr. Hafetz remarks frequently on the surprise assistance from strangers who have nothing to gain from aiding him in his quest. As one who stands outside the triad, I did not find that surprising at all. Those of us who know our birth mothers have a visceral comprehension of just what Mr. Hafetz is searching for and therefore would almost always be willing to help.

As the adoption process has evolved over the decades, it seems that there is some growing recognition of this early bond as we watch states move away from the secrecy of adoption to a more open and communicative approach. While that change is slow in coming, the access of the adult adoptee to his or her birth records would seem to be a basic right as a citizen that all states should be enforcing.

On a more technical note, the book itself is very well done. The front cover design is amazing both in its symbolism and quality. The back is similarly professional. There are very few interior errors – all of which are easily overlooked by the reader due to the fast paced, “I’m right there with you” storyline. The only thing I might add would be an index since there were several times I tried to go back and find things to read again.
Having only been in publication in paperback since 2008, I would not be at all surprised to find Not Remembered Never Forgotten eventually picked up by a larger publisher for wider distribution.

Editor's Note: This review is of the second edition of Robert Hafetz' self-published book. The first edition was released in 2005 in hardcover only by Gateway Press.

See Also: Donna's Orphan Train Reviews

Monday, March 02, 2009

Boxcar Down

Boxcar Down: The Albanian Incident by Charles L. Lunsford
(BookSurge / 1-419-61713-3 / 978-1-419-61713-3 / November 2005 / 630 pages / $21.99)

Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

Set in 1958 during the height of the Cold War, Boxcar Down: The Albanian Incident is the story of Airman Second Class Jim Wilson, the radio operator on a C-119 “Flying Boxcar” which is shot down during a secret courier mission when it inadvertently strays into Albanian airspace. Wilson, the only survivor of the crash, is forced to take charge of the dead courier’s pouch and dredge up his skimpy “evasion” training to avoid capture while trying to make it back into friendly territory. Aided by Albanian partisans secretly fighting the communist regime, and hunted by both the Albanian police and the Russian army, Wilson manages to contact friendly radio operators by Morse code with a vintage WWII spy suitcase radio, and the American Air Force scrambles to safely extract him without causing an international incident.

The author, Charles L. Lunsford, is a former Airborne Radio Operator and one of the very last to be trained in Morse code operation. His experience serving “very close to the Iron Curtain when the Cold War was not so cold” provides the inspiration for this fictional tale and his in-depth knowledge of this field and this time period are what make Boxcar Down a treasure of historical information. Lunsford participated in secret night courier missions and reports that the Albanians often took “pot shots” at his aircraft. In this book he provides fascinating details about the talents of those unsung heroes, the radio operators, and the use of Morse code as communication, all without interrupting his storyline. In fact, the Morse code exchanges between Mr. Marseilles in France, Witherspoon in Germany, Robinson aboard the rescue aircraft, and Wilson in Albania become a form of dialogue themselves. That’s not to disparage the author’s craft with more conventional dialogue, which I found realistic and a pleasure to read.

I am certain that Mr. Lunsford’s experience also plays a part in the relationship between officers and enlisted men that is explored throughout the book. The haughty attitude of some officers toward the non-coms and their tendency to stick together, right or wrong, plays a direct role in the navigational mistake which results in Boxcar 7844 going down. By contrast, the camaraderie between officers and the enlisted men aboard the Boxcar 8145 is presented as a foil to the other crew, making it plain to the reader that mutual respect breeds success.

I enjoyed the style and adventurous plot of Boxcar Down, as well as the multitude of vivid characters – and there are dozens of them in this 600+ page novel. There are some editing errors – misspellings and missing punctuation mostly – but (unusually for me) they didn’t disturb my enjoyment of the story. Occasionally, I felt that I needed to suspend my disbelief in Jim Wilson’s incredible luck, but the same could be said of any novel featuring Dirk Pitt or Jack Ryan. In fact, I enjoyed this novel much more than the last Clive Cussler and Dan Brown adventures I read. Jim Wilson is an engaging character and his adventures are highly plausible. This is a recommended read for radio enthusiasts and fans of historical or military adventure or espionage thrillers.

See Also: The High Spirits Review
The Authors Den Review
Charles Lunsford's Authors Den page