Sunday, December 15, 2013


Reunification: A Monterey Mary Returns to Berlin  
by T.H.E. Hill
(CreateSpace / 1-490-49026-4 / 978-1-490-49026-7 / July 2013 / 226 pages / $12.95 / $11.66 Amazon)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

“Alas, poor Cold War, I knew it well. It was a war of infinite jest and most excellent fancy, fought more often in the shadows of the mind than to death, yet the lives of millions hung in the balance. It is a war without monuments, but not without casualties…”

Long-retired from the CIA, Mike Troyan returns to Berlin, where he once served as a military linguist – a Monterey Mary – at the Army Field Station in the 1970s. Now comfortably ensconced in academia, he intends to write a book about the Stasi, the East German secret police, and do a great deal of research in the Stasi archives, where the files they kept on almost anyone of interest have been pieced back together. But on his return he is almost immediately walloped by the realization that there was an informant among his comrades at the Army Field Station, an informant code-named MUSIK. He is also walloped in the face with a plate of currywurst by the mother of the head of the Stasi archives… a woman of his age who just happens to be his one-time Berlin girlfriend.

And with that, Mike begins unpacking and reviewing his suitcase of memories of divided Berlin, memories which are poignantly at odds with the present-day rebuilt, revived, and reunified Berlin. Everything he once knew so very well is either gone or changed almost beyond recognition; the Wall itself is gone, Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist attraction with the golden arches of a McDonalds’ in the background and manned by a pair of badly uniformed actors who pose for pictures with tourists, and one of the main recreational centers for American personnel in Berlin is now something called the “Dahlem Urban Village.”  “The sidewalk was full of people speaking German as they went about their business. All of them were unaware that they were walking down a street full of English-speaking ghosts who shimmered before me on their way to a PX that didn’t exist any more.” And when Mike’s daughter, Samantha comes to Berlin, about halfway through the book, the plot just thickens.

He remembers that particularly vivid past, as he tours present-day Berlin, by himself or with Samantha  – and accounts of the antics of his fellows at Army Field Station are interspersed now and again with how ominous the Stasi was to ordinary Berliners.” “The Stasi could make things not happen,” says one of the former East Berliners that he meets in his peregrinations about the city that he once knew so very well. “Your kids would not get into college. That apartment for which you were  three years on a waiting list was no longer available. The new car that you had paid for in full at the start of a six-year waiting list for delivery was suddenly delayed or postponed… and there was nothing you could do. There was no legal recourse because nothing could be done. There was nothing you could prove. There were no documents.”  For my money, that kind of impersonally deliberate bureaucratic malice is at least as chilling as the threat of overt violence, interrogation, and imprisonment with the threat of a capital sentence.

And now, to people the age of Mike’s daughter, what was once a very real menace is completely toothless, a rather shabby joke when not a focus for a weird kind of nostalgia. Only people the age of Mike and some of his old friends remember that it was all in grim earnest, as concrete as The Wall itself. One day, out of the clear blue sky, it all came down, dissolving into little chips of brick and concrete, valueless coins and clumsy relics like East German-made telephones (pre-bugged) and Trabant automobiles.

Reunification is quite readable, and nicely-plotted: part puzzle, part travelogue, part memoir and part history, with some quite nice turns of phrase, some of which I have quoted here. Mike on setting to work at the archives: “I’d worked in the salt mines of bureaucracy long enough to know the coin of the realm, and how to mint it.” For me, the passages which resounded were the melancholy episodes of re-visiting old haunts; just about every base which I served at in the 1970s and 1980s is either closed entirely, re-purposed by the host government or changed beyond all recognition. You cannot go home again, for strangers have taken it over.

Any criticism I have is directed at the basic formatting of the text itself; the margins are narrow, there is unnecessary spacing between lines and paragraphs, and the use of random fonts to indicate a shift from the present to the past, or to indicate a written document, is a little jarring. There are also inexplicable switches between the English and German conventions for quote marks around dialog. This does not reflect on the quality of writing or ability to tell an engaging story, but it does detract from aesthetic appreciation of the printed version’s pages. 

See Also: Voices Under Berlin, a 2009 PODBRAM Award Winner  

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Bright Lady and the Astral Wind

by James Dunning
EXPLICATIO PARANORMALORVM - An Explication of the Paranormal
(Dolmen Tree Press / 1-463-56504-6 / 978-1-463-56504-6 / July 2011 / 270 pages / $14.95 / $14.20 Amazon / $2.99 Kindle)

Let me begin by saying that this book is one of the most professionally produced POD books I have seen. The proofreading errors were few and far between. I received with this book a full-color, two-sided brochure, a postcard, and a personally written letter. The author is a highly educated man from the Atlanta area who is well traveled in the U.S. and Europe, and this is his first book. The Bright Lady is a sort of autobiographical story of one element of the author's life. The action takes place over a seven-year period, beginning when he first sees the aura of a young woman who works for the same corporation, but in the building next door.

Is it live or is it Memorex? The most difficult part of writing an analysis of this book revolves around the space-cadet plotline conjured by a writer who is something of an expert in psychology, parapsychology, and linguistics. He is also a devoted fan and researcher of the legendary Tolkien Trilogy. He has a doctorate in pharmaceutical research and has held some sort of high-level position at a high-tech suburban firm, although not necessarily in the obvious field. The author is quite obtuse in whatever mentions or descriptions of his career are contained within the storyline. Most of the plot content takes place either at this business or on one of the author's several excursions to Europe, where he wallows in the languages of the area. The Bright Lady is described in a first-person account of Dr. Dunning's prophetic meeting with a mysterious young woman at the unnamed large corporation where they both work. He tells the story as if he himself is uncertain if he had experienced a series of deeply imaginative fever dreams, or if a truly paranormal experience has truly cloaked his mind.
I can understand what the author is trying to convey. The only question I have is how many other readers will enjoy it? As a fellow Psychology major, I read Freud's Delusion and Dream and I was indeed fascinated by somewhat similar, intense dream sequences. To this day, I dream profusely, all in 3D color with a full range of thoughts and emotions. However, my interest in foreign languages or fantasy book series is basically zero. There certainly may be many readers who will ascertain many details from these elements and be deeply moved by the author's applications of these concepts. My favorite parts are the author's deep discussions with his old friend concerning his travails and unexpected delights with The Bright Lady. The final interpretation will have to rest with each individual reader.
The author drew or painted the cover images and there is a bibliography of resources describing the author's detailed influences. Dr. Dunning mentions that he dislikes the distraction of footnotes, and with that I could not agree more. The story flows nicely, whether you take it as gospel nonfiction, the memoir of an eccentric, or a delicately told tale of silent desire and delusion.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Submissions Are Open!

Heads up! For a brief period at least, submissions for book reviews are now open at PODBRAM. Why are they open now, after all this time? Because I am bored and I need something new to read. All the previous PODBRAM rules and details apply. If you want to know more, refer to the articles listed in the left column under "Submitting a Book for Review". There are no PODBRAM team members involved in this opening for submissions. I assume they are all still busy with their own projects. It's just little old me, just like in the early days.

Here is a refresher on how to get your book selected for review. (1) Only print books are accepted. (2) All publishers are accepted. (3) No children's books, youth books, fantasy, science fiction, or get rich quick titles will be accepted. (4) Genre romance or Christian will not likely be accepted. (5) Mystery, biography, thriller, horror, and various nonfiction genres will definitely be considered. (6) If you are an unknown, self-published author with few or no reviews at Amazon, your work will be more likely to be accepted for a review simply because you need it. (7) I count errors, and although I accept a higher percentage of these from self-published writers, I am never oblivious to them, no matter how strong the book's content.

If your book is accepted for review, here is what you can expect. (1) The review will be posted at PODBRAM and Amazon within a decent timeframe. (2) These two reviews may or may not be identical, depending upon my opinion of the book and other details. I generally tend to mention the errors and technical flaws more in the PODBRAM review since this site is mainly for self-published authors to learn from each other. (3) I shall read every word of the book, as well as take note of the details of its presentation. (4) My reviews are always direct, honest, and well thought out prior to publication. You are getting the opinion of a writer who has published seven substantial, detailed, nonfiction books since POD was in its infancy, so I know exactly what it takes to properly write and self-publish a book. (5) I view paid book reviewers with disdain. The only cost at PODBRAM is the mailing of a printed copy. Some authors send books directly from Amazon as an easy alternative. (6) Accepted submissions are read and reviewed in the order in which they arrive in my mailbox.

Requests should be sent to ice9 at nctv dot com. A detailed description of the book in the e-mail is unnecessary. A simple link to your book at Amazon is sufficient. Your message will be answered promptly. If accepted, the address to send the book will be included in the reply. Thank you for your support of PODBRAM.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Without Apology

by Jacqueline S. Homan
(Elf Books / 0-981-56795-9 / 978-0-981-56795-2 / March 2013 / 356 pages / $19.95 paperback / Amazon $18.84 / Kindle $5.99)

This will be a difficult review for me to write, since I am a fan and supporter of Jacqueline Homan's work. I have read and reviewed Ms. Homan's previous four books and this one does not veer far from the course of the others. However, I have a very difficult time swallowing the author's premise that all men are bad and all women are good. Of course I cheer on her rants when she goes after the severe disparity in economic justice that has become the relentless status quo in modern America, but the author's premise for this book is overly simplified, to say the least. Ms. Homan states repeatedly throughout this book that men are the problem, as they have been for 6000 years, and women have consistently lacked autonomy and bodily integrity for this reason alone. It would have been much more prudent to include such a statement a couple of times in the book, rather than repeatedly, over and over in much the same language.

Jacqueline's life story and accomplishments deserve the whole hour of an Oprah episode. The mostly female audience would love it! There is great honor in the extreme level of self-improvement that Jacqueline has accomplished. Whenever she goes into research mode in her writing, this book, and all the previous ones, too, show off a level of creativity that is quite commendable. Without Apology is full of such detailed research, and that part of the story is very well told, but, please, enough with the repetitive rants. We get it, you have been abused by men most of your life, but that does not mean that all women have or that all men are the world's villains.

There are a few technical details that scream self-publishing and they should be excised from Ms. Homan's future work. Most of these involve simple proofreading and a little extra time to prepare the book for publication. The back cover blurb is only one short paragraph, leaving mostly white space, and one key word is misspelled. The inside margin is a little tight. The paragraphs are both indented and line spaced. The front matter could be more complete, adding a professional look.

This book is as exciting to read as Jacqueline's previous work. You never know whether she will be in rant mode or research mode from one paragraph to the next, and the surprises are fun to a certain extent. She goes from street language to academia and back with her usual aplomb. I think it is time for Jacqueline to take the next step in the maturation process as an author. The real causes of our nation's severe income inequality issues are somewhat complex. Our history has gone from The Great Depression to the New Deal to the explosive Sixties to the oppressive decades since. The Southern Strategy has been a much more accurate villain for Ms. Homan's rants than have all men. I suggest she consider this fact. Women are the leading church goers; in most cases, they drag their male family members along. In other words, the Southern Strategy is the real cause of Jacqueline's and everybody's misery, and women have been involved in that madness as much as men. This author's writing style and subject matter are commendable, but I honestly thought she might have gotten past all the relentless ranting with her first book. Do not misunderstand. I think Without Apology is quite a good read and a relevant story for our modern culture. I also feel it is time for Jacqueline to look past her ancient rage and mature a little as an author. The core premise of Without Apology is just too simplistic. Unless you are already a raving feminist of the female persuasion, this book will not offer much appeal. I want to see the accomplished author Jacqueline Homan on Oprah!