Saturday, April 24, 2010

Liberty's Call

Liberty’s Call: A Story of the American Revolution
by Donnell Rubay

(Xlibris / 1-436-39646-8 / 978-1-436-39646-2 / April 2009 / 452 pages / $23.99)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

This is a curiously old-fashioned historical romance, which should provide a satisfactory reading experience for those who do have a fondness for such. The hero and heroine have nothing more than one seriously intense petting session over the course of an eight-year-long love-hate-mutual-attraction romance, until their inevitable marriage in the last chapter. (Sorry, I found that one romantic interlude rather uncomfortable to contemplate: on the floor of the hall? Yeesh and ugh!) Otherwise, the very old-fashionedness of it all should surprise no one who reads any further than the description on Amazon and on the dedication page. This is a careful rewrite/re-imagining of a best-selling historical novel of 1899 entitled Janice Meredith: A Story of the American Revolution by a then-leading popular historian, Paul Leicester Ford. My Grannie Jessie actually possessed a copy of it, along with a shelf-full of other turn-of the-last-century bodice-rippers by authors with three names. I remember reading it, during a long summer vacation, and I have to admit upon comparison with the original that this is a much more popularly readable and serviceable rendition of the story. This is a rather sad thought, as well as a sorry reflection upon the state of current education standards – that the original version would be as impenetrable to the popular book-reading audience as something written in the same idiom of Beowulf or Geoffrey Chaucer would be today.

But to return to the story itself – Janice Meredith (I am pretty sure that the popularity of both names is due in large part to this novel) begins as a sixteen-year-old girl, the charming and willful only child of a well-to-do landowner in the valley of the Raritan River. Her father is a bluff and hearty man, a stubborn Loyalist to British interests; her mother is deeply religious and suffocatingly respectable. They are comfortably well off, and scorn the whispers of rebellion against The Crown which are beginning to roil the quiet tenor of their lives. Their mutual ambition is arranging a marriage between Janice and Philemon Hennion, the son of a neighboring landowner of almost equal wealth. Alas, fate and The American Revolution intervene, as well as the appearance (and then disappearance) of a mysterious bondservant, Charles. It is evident almost at once that Charles is most definitely not an illiterate lower-class farm worker. He has the bearing and manners of a gentleman. Who he really is, as well as his reasons for quitting England – and a famous British regiment – at speed remain a mystery almost to the very end of the novel, even as Charles metamorphoses into a Rebel, and an aide to General Washington.

The story arc places Janice and her parents in encounters with many real-life historical characters, or as witnesses of significant events throughout The Revolution. Janice gradually matures, as events conspire to shatter the comfortable world of the Colonial squire-archy. Her parents remain Loyalists, but even so, are under suspicion from both sides, in a war that occasionally resembled more of a civil war. It was a rough rule of historical thumb, that only a third of the American colonists were outright rebels; another third were loyalists, and the remaining third in the middle maneuvered uneasily, attempting to be on whichever might turn out to be the winning side. Plot-wise, the long arm of coincidence is stretched to gossamer thinness, but this is more the doing of the original author, who in any case was attempting to educate about The American Revolution as well as to entertain with a ripping good yarn about a lively and appealing young heroine and her true love.

See also: Celia's BNN Review

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Cigar Maker

The Cigar Maker
by Mark Carlos McGinty

(Seventh Avenue Productions / 0-615-34340-6 / 978-0-615-34340-2 / June 2010 / 464 pages / $19.95 / Kindle $9.99 / B&N $13.46)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

One of the joys of reading historical novels is that the reader is afforded the opportunity to open a window into another dimension, to venture into places, people and events – and as nearly as possible and given a writer of sufficient skill and imagination – to explore and experience them at first hand. There is even a bonus, when the author like Mark McGinty takes up the story of his ancestors, weaving together the many threads of the vibrant and lively community they lived in: the Cuban community of Ybor City, now part of Tampa, Florida, at the turn of the last century.

In basing a story on actual recorded historical incidents and real people, the reader is blessed with a narrative more incredible and fantastic than anything a writer could create of whole cloth – such as the incident that opens the story. Did it really happen, the losing bird in a cockfight in Ybor City, eleven decades ago, having its head bitten off by its humiliated owner? The writer’s grandfather insisted that it did, and thereby opens the tale of Salvador Ortiz, one-time rebel and bandit, and his fiercely proud and independent wife Olympia. Salvador is now a cigar maker, a man with a particular and valuable skill, but Cuba is torn by war and ravaged by epidemics. For the sake of their children, they move to Florida; not quite an out of the pot and into the cook=fire move, but not without perils and dangers. At first Ybor City is a safe refuge for the Ortiz family, an escape from violence and famine and disease. Alas, they have exchanged one set of challenges and risks for another set, only slightly less challenging. In the next few years, Ybor City and the cigar-making industry will be racked by strikes and violent confrontations between the cigar workers, the factory owners and the Anglo establishment. Salvador Ortiz, a modest man of flinty integrity, soft-spoken and yet capable of decisive action when the necessity calls for it, will almost by accident become a leader among his coworkers. He struck me as a reader, as being the most fully-developed character, the moral center of a world filled with either well-intentioned characters without the courage to act on their good intentions, or amoral barbarians all too eager to act on their bad ones. Salvador is an immensely appealing character, not least to his wife Olympia; the daughter of an aristocrat who nonetheless say something worthy in a man several degrees lower than she on the social scale.

The working-class Cuban émigré world of Ybor City, in the first years of the Twentieth Century, is lovingly detailed in the vigorous personalities, customs, conversations, foods, festivals, and the workday world of the cigar factories. The recreational cockfights and bolita games were only a small part of the entertainments brought by the Cuban cigar workers. I had never realized that there was a substantial Cuban community in Florida that early on; I had assumed that Castro’s Revolution was largely responsible for the current Cuban Diaspora. For a window into an unexpected and fascinating world, The Cigar Maker is recommended.

See also: Mark McGinty's Blog
The Cigar Maker Website
Celia's BNN Review

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Al & Dianne

Al Past and Dianne Salerni are two of the notorious ringleaders of IAG and PODBRAM. Al was the first author to join the review team at PODBRAM and it was Dianne's idea to form IAG. These two have belatedly become the two most gregarious and well known members of the gang.

Dianne's new traditionally published version of High Spirits, retitled We Hear the Dead, hit Amazon running just yesterday. Dianne has been spending the last few months preparing this new publication and working on the screenplay for the same story. You can keep track of Dianne and her projects at her High Spirits blog.

Al is the only PODBRAM team member who has personally met any other team member, and he knows three of us! This photo was taken a few days ago when Al met Dianne for a few hours in her home state of Pennsylvania. Celia Hayes, the mistress of the IAG website, and her daughter, have visited Al at his ranch in South Texas, and Al has been to my house in the Texas Hill Country. Al's latest release is Distant Cousin: Regeneration. You can track the adventures of Al and his alter ego, Ana Darcy, at Ana's blog.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Call Me Ted

Call Me Ted
by Ted Turner with Bill Burke

(Grand Central Publishing / 0-446-58189-5 / 978-0-446-58189-9 / November 2008 / 448 pages / $30 hardcover / $11.70 Amazon / $11.55 paperback)

Call Me Ted is the best autobiography I have ever read. Of course there are many reasons for this opinion that have little to do with the quality of the composition, but I shall get to those in a minute. As a fan of Ted the businessman since he launched WTBS in the mid-‘70’s as the first satellite-powered cable station, I was eagerly looking forward to the release of this book, and I was not disappointed with any element of it. From the traditional layout of the birth, childhood, rise, and aftermath storyline to the passages written by Ted’s associates and inserted into the appropriate points within the autobiographical text, Call Me Ted is a five-star success. Harrold Robbins could not have made up a better or more topical fictional story!

Ted Turner was not born chewing on a silver spoon, nor was he in any manner coddled or spoiled throughout his childhood or young adulthood. His father instilled a powerful work ethic, sent Ted to military school, and drove young Ted toward a disciplined diligence. There were many stressful family issues involved in young Ted’s life, too, but the real action began when his dad committed suicide and thrust Ted into the family billboard business just before he was to obtain his college degree. There was a mass of mitigating circumstances surrounding even this change in Ted’s life, which I shall not reveal in this review. He developed passions for ocean sailing and business that would tend to cloud his attention to his love and family life. There is no doubt you are interested in his relationship with Jane Fonda, and this issue is covered in the story, although maybe not as completely as many readers would like. Ted’s central accomplishments of winning the America’s Cup, the building of his television empire, the development of The Turner Foundation, and his acquisition of more land mass in the USA than any other American are all covered in exhilarating detail. Is there an arrogant Mr. Turner that you might occasionally feel like bitch-slapping? Absolutely. Is there an unpretentious billionaire who has nearly always remained ethically scrupulous and relentlessly passionate? Yes. Does he operate from a pragmatic viewpoint while religiously retaining compassion for all human and environmental consequences? Yes, probably more than any other living business magnate.

This brings us to the #1 reason for my obsession with this particular businessman. As the creator of CNN and its associated Headline News cable channel, Ted always kept scruples on the conference table. Those scruples have been splattered like billiard balls on the opening break by the scumbags who forced Ted out of control of his media empire, beginning January 3, 2000. That was the date on which Jerry Levin of Time Warner decided to close a deal with Steve Case of AOL. Although it would be years before Ted actually, totally resigned from AOL Time Warner, the explanation offered in Call Me Ted by not only Ted himself, but other contributors, clearly shows how those two CEO skunks were up to no good from the beginning of that legendary mega-merger flop. Their intent was to force Ted completely out of control of the television empire he had created, even if they had to pay him a huge salary to do practically nothing. As a person who has watched CNN ever so slowly dive down into the greedy, unscrupulous, right-wing sewer pit that it has become, I was looking forward to reading the details directly from The Mouth of the South, and Call Me Ted delivers.

See also: Ted Turner at Wikipedia
Media Man: Ted Turner's Improbable Empire

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Going Rouge

Going Rouge:
An American Nightmare

Edited by Richard Kim & Betsy Reed

(Health Communications / 0-757-31524-0 / 978-0-757-31524-4 / December 2009 / 336 pages/ 6 x 9 15-oz. format / $15.95 / Amazon $10.85)

(Turnaround Publisher Services Ltd, London / 1-873-26251-5 / 978-1-873-26251-1 / October 2009 / 5.1 x 7.6 x 1.1 – 11.4-oz. format / Turnaround has about thirty releases at Amazon UK and a dozen at Amazon US dating from 2004-09, all in the same small format.)

(First released by O/R Books / 978-0-984-29500-5 / October 2009 / 336 pages / $16 direct / $10 e-book)

Going Rouge is a collection of recently published articles by well-known left-leaning political journalists. The list of contributors includes Jim Hightower, Naomi Klein, Jane Hamsher, Thomas Frank, Robert Reich, Gloria Steinem, Max Blumenthal, Matt Taibbi, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and many other familiar favorites. The book includes fifty articles, including an introduction by the editors. Although I had previously read practically every article in the book in the originally published online version of each article, considering my personal involvement in this release, as well as my intense study of the subject matter since August 2008, I could not resist reading the whole thing again. Part of my purpose from the beginning was to write this special review for PODBRAM. Unlike practically all other books, there will not be a version of this review released anywhere else.

A lot of specific technical and promotional knowledge concerning publishing issues can be revealed by the publishing history of this book. John Oakes and Colin Robinson are a pair of traditional publishers who founded O/R Books in 2009 to release POD books. Going Rouge is their first release under this new imprint. They have since released two more books under the O/R imprint. Through my constant research of political blogs and POD sites, I came across the news of this upcoming release last October. The publisher claimed at the time that Going Rouge would never be released for sale anywhere outside the direct O/R Books website. Due to my knowledge of the lack of success of similar projects, particularly Two Babies, a book published by an author who will not even use his real name, even when the books are marketed directly from his website, I immediately jumped into the fray. I not only contacted John Oakes directly, but I let several bloggers whom I knew to be interested in this vital subject matter know about the situation, also too! I described this marketing boo-boo in detail in an article at one of my other blogs on 10/24/09. The publisher changed his mind and released the book to Amazon in December and I posted an update to NIAFS 12/7/09.

There are actually three versions of Going Rouge. The O/R version is still available only directly from the publisher, and it is the only version that has been released in any electronic format. There are no Kindle or Smashwords versions. At about the same time last December when the book was finally made available at Amazon, an English edition was released by Turnaround Publisher Services Ltd. of London. The third edition is, of course, the Health Communications, Inc., version I have read for this review. The Turnaround edition can be ordered directly from Amazon UK and the HCI version can be ordered directly from Amazon US. Each of these can be ordered from other sellers at the opposite Amazon. All three versions are listed as having 336 pages, and there is no question that my copy has this number. The Turnaround edition is listed as a smaller, thicker format with the same number of pages. There is no question that smaller format is accurate because all the Turnaround books at Amazon are exactly this size. Is the paper thicker in the Turnaround version? Possibly. Is the page count incorrectly stated? Possibly. Although it is not stated on the O/R website, the O/R edition is most certainly the same format size as the Turnaround edition. How do I know this? My book includes the subtitle on the spine and an additional blurb by Geoffrey Dunn on the back. These were obviously added when they increased the format size. I strongly suspect that the Turnaround version is also POD, like the O/R version, although there is no mention of this on the Turnaround website. My best guess is that the owners of O/R Books managed to sell the rights to HCI, the publishers of the ubiquitous Chicken Soup books, at the last minute before making the Amazon deal. The contentious issue from the beginning was Amazon’s fat cut of the book’s list price. It is certainly not a stretch to sell a book such as this one to a traditional publisher.

What about the content of this collection of articles by famous writers for The Nation? For a reader who has been following the story since the beginning, there were, of course, few surprises. Matt Taibbi deserves special mention, not only because he is the spring chicken of this bunch, and one of the best new political writers of modern times, but his article is one of the best in the book. I use the term chicken on purpose because I am thoroughly convinced that descriptive applies to anyone in the MSM writing or speaking about The Palin Clan. I am apparently one of the few who is certain that Babygate is bigger than Watergate simply because so much of the mainline media and political establishment are obviously complicit in the cover-up. I have less than zero respect for any journalist who is a part of this wretched story, and that is that. The list of other Palingates is surely long enough to satisfy any journalistic hound in need of a fix, but for the pragmatic intellectuals among us, Babygate is the main issue that matters.

Do I recommend Going Rouge: An American Nightmare? Absolutely. I am not going to bother trying to get noticed on Amazon by adding another review to a long list, but if I were to post a review, I would easily rate it at four stars. No Babygate, no fifth star. Just call me hardheaded. Should these writers be considered mainline establishment? That’s a good question. Most of them seem to be caught in the purgatory between the MSM and the liberal bloggers. Libs love ‘em, but most of cable news hates them. The bottom line is that everyone should be fully cognizant of the issues covered in Going Rouge, but unfortunately only half the participants in The Second Civil War will be inclined to read this material.

See also: The Palin Digest
Assholiness Validation
Why She's Dangerous

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Let's Play Ball

Let’s Play Ball by Linda Gould
(iUniverse / 1-450-20760-X / 978-1-450-20760-7 / February 2010 / 248 pages / $16.95 / $13.22 Amazon / $26.95 hardcover / $17.79 Amazon)

Reviewed by Malcolm Campbell for PODBRAM

If author Linda Gould isn’t an avid baseball fan, she covers it well, for her descriptions of plays, players, locker rooms, owner’s suites and game-time tension in Let’s Play Ball will easily take readers out to the ball game. But the games between the Washington Filibusters and the Florida Keys feature more than pitchers’ duels and homeruns. A conspiracy is brewing during the game that will decide the National League championship. Fraternal twins Miranda and Jessica are at the stadium, Miranda as a guest in one of the owner’s suites and Jessica to cover the came for her sports magazine. Jessica’s fiancé, Manual Chavez is at the game, too. He’s the Filibusters right fielder.

The highly competitive sisters snipe at each other during the game. Perhaps Jessica is envious of Miranda’s marriage and her high-paying career as a budget analyst for a government agency. Perhaps Miranda is jealous of Jessica’s high-profile job and her engagement to a handsome baseball star with an exciting past in Cuba. After the game, while the teams are in their locker rooms, Manual is the victim of a crime. As the true scope of this crime looms larger and larger in the days that follow, logic might suggest that the sisters should work together, to support each other and help the police find out who’s behind the outrage.

Instead, Gould ramps up the tension with twins who become openly hostile. Miranda’s marriage to Tommy, an attorney with political ambitions, is less than perfect, so she has her own distractions. Yet, she thinks Jessica’s shock over what happened to Manuel is impairing her reporter’s instincts about the case. After all, how realistic is it to suggest that the owners of the Washington Filibusters and the Florida Keys, the President of the United States, the Cuban dictator and an assortment of baseball players and shooting range friends who are actively racist and/or promoting an invasion of Cuba were all in bed together plotting against Manual Chavez?
Jessica is convinced the police and the FBI aren’t handling the investigation properly and that everything will be swept under the rug if she doesn’t get personally involved. When Miranda urges caution, Jessica suggests that Miranda and Tommy, who both have agendas as well as skeletons in their closets, may even be involved in the conspiracy and the cover-up.

Gould’s inventive plot features feuding sisters who become tangled up with baseball strategies, high-profile officials and international politics. Jessica thinks criminals lurk in every shadow. She follows real and imagined leads with a vengeance. Ultimately, when she goes on bed rest because of her pregnancy, she must ask Miranda to help uncover the secrets behind the crime. This forces Miranda to risk her well-paying job and step outside her comfort zone.

However, the novel’s potentially taut pacing bogs down, in part by the insertion of back story information during the police investigation to cover the twins past history and partly because the conspiracy’s probable ringleaders are outside the sisters’ amateur investigative reach. Without the authority or resources for confronting government officials or engaging in private undercover operations, Miranda and Jessica spend a great deal of time speculating about the involvement of major suspects while trying to maneuver the more minor suspects into making inadvertent confessions.

The action leads toward a dangerous confrontation that fittingly unfolds during another tense ballgame. Most of the suspects are near at hand with a lot more than a game to lose, and Miranda is in a position to either act with courage or to pretend the FBI will eventually figure everything out. Gould handles the resulting showdown well. But it’s not closure. Most readers will expect the novel’s next chapter to show how the feisty twins will resolve the rest of the story.

Instead, the author appends a 23-page epilogue. Since the twins are interesting characters, some readers will come away from this epilogue feeling that Miranda and Jessica have successfully navigated a major crisis as well as many crucial personal issues and can now get on with their lives. No longer in the forefront of the action required to bring the conspirators to justice in the epilogue, Miranda and Jessica are suddenly—figuratively speaking—sitting on the bench as Let’s Play Ball wraps up the fortunes of the good guys and bad guys at some distance in summary fashion well after the fact. Action-oriented readers may feel cheated when Let’s Play Ball lifts its primary characters from the game before the final inning.

See also: The Rock Star's Homecoming
The PODBRAM Review of Secretarial Wars
The PODBRAM Interview with Linda Gould

Sunday, April 04, 2010

From AA to AD, A Wistful Travelogue

From AA to AD, A Wistful Travelogue
by Mike Donohue

(CreateSpace / 1-449-58367-9 / 978-1-449-58367-5 / December 2009 / 142 pages / $9.00 / Kindle $6.00)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Books by alcoholics who beat the odds and save themselves from that deadly disease are not rare. Often, Alcoholics Anonymous plays a central role. However, I would think that books by someone with Alzheimer's Disease who similarly rises above his affliction (also with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous) must be almost non-existent. But in fact, From AA to AD, A Wistful Travelogue, by Mike Donohue, is such a book, and I found it fascinating and inspiring.

The young Mr. Donohue was expected by his lawyer father to follow in his footsteps, and he did, for ten unsatisfying years. He entered an unhappy marriage that ultimately fell apart. Those situations and others, including a bad chain-smoking habit, left him with a terrible drinking problem that nearly destroyed his life. He bottomed out, as so many alcoholics do, and turned to AA out of desperation. Their twelve-step program finally enabled him to stop drinking and turn his life around. One can only imagine his exhilaration at being able to begin a glorious new life, a second, happy marriage, and to set new goals and repair his shattered relations with friends and family.

That all crashed in an instant when several odd symptoms sent him to a doctor and he was found to have Alzheimer's Disease, an implacably debilitating and ultimately terminal condition. It is impossible to imagine the shock of going from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. The questions one would have are easier to predict: why me? After such a great personal triumph, why this horrible fate?

Mr. Donohue did ask himself those questions. Incredibly, perhaps conditioned by his habits of introspection and personal analysis learned from Alcoholics Anonymous, he set himself to come to grips with his new reality. This book was partly the result. In clear, straightforward style, he relates his personal search for meaning in his life in a systematic, even lawyerly, manner.

The Catholic faith of his upbringing, with its rigid rules, offered neither answers nor comfort. He studied Judaism and Jewish historians, and made a trip to Israel. He moved on to the Jewish existential philosophers, Herschel and Buber, and found their ideas fit nicely with the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. Both stressed the transcendence of the mundane: turning oneself over to the Thou, or higher power. From those he extracted three helpful tenets: do good for others, pray, and study.

Feeling at that point that he understood his own history, he went on to try to identify the spiritual significance of his life. He turned to Buddhism. Its meditations taught him ultimately to turn his disease over to his higher power as he had done with his alcoholism, to accept his suffering, and understand that having compassion and doing good for others was his final purpose in life. Thus he achieved serenity.

This review, condensed as it must be, cannot do justice to Mr. Donohue's description of the process of his journey, which, as I said at the outset, I found fascinating and inspiring. Each person's journey is his or hers to cope with, of course, and Mr. Donohue does not intend his book to be in any way a how-to volume. It is an account of his own personal journey only. For my part, I took it as a startling example of the power of the human mind to heal itself and to arrive at its place in the greater scheme of things. Surely, whatever our own individual situations might be, we can all take comfort in that possibility.

Note: I discovered Mr. Donohue's book by virtue of the fact that he mentioned one of my own books on his blog, specifically here (near the bottom, just above the red graphic). He wrote this in an email: "I am aged 73, on the down hill slide. Do not be sorry about my affliction. Even though it has me sliding it has forced such opportunity on me to get everything in my wavering brain expressed in writing or in digital art. 43 years I was a successful trial lawyer traveling throughout the country handling cases. That is small potatoes to where AD has now placed me. Now I am totally involved with who I am, have always been but could not see it until all the glitter was removed. This parting segment of life is just not all that bad.... I work feverishly at getting it all done before my mind beats me to it. This provides me a pretty satisfying life in race with the demons."

See also: Mike Donohue's Blog
Distant Cousin Touches Another Soul