This blog isn’t dead, I swear

21 Nov

So over the past couple of months I …

found out I was pregnant

was hit by a hurricane 

and rendered virtually homeless

So I have been a little too busy (stressed?) to read books, blog about books, tweet about books, or write books– Although I might have time to complain about all of the books I have sitting in a drafty storage unit that are probably molding as I write this. 

If said I was going to review your book or you sent me a book/link/info about a book to review– I don’t hate you or your book. And probably, hopefully, eventually I will get back to reading and reviewing and being snarky.

Kasia James’ The Artemis Effect is up first– if I ever find time to read another book ever again. 


It’s a Dirty Job… (Guest Post by Kasia James)

10 Sep

It’s a dirty job…

…but someone’s got to do it. If you’re in Indie author, and the job is promoting your work, then unfortunately that someone is probably you.

In fact, I understand that even if you’re a traditionally published author, then the ball, however distasteful it may be, is still likely to splat into your court, although if the publishers think that it’s likely to be a real money-spinner, then I assume that some help is at hand.

In many ways, asking a writer to leap into the tangled world of spin is as much an anathema to them as it is asking a conservationist to work as a lumberjack. To make a terrible generalisation, writers tend to be introverted people. People who willingly choose to  lock themselves away working alone at a manuscript which may take years to complete, let alone edit, are rarely desperate party animals. Many authors I’ve read chatting about this subject admit that the anonymity of most social media is the only thing which makes it possible for them to put themselves into the public eye.

Personally, I would love it if my work was strong enough to be stumbled upon by a few, and crowed about to the extent that I never need tweet about its merits again. There is a certainly a perception out there that the best work will be discovered in this way, and no doubt it occasionally is. After all, Naomi Campbell was window shopping when she was stumbled upon by an agent and became one of the most famous supermodels ever. However, there are not only a great many beautiful women who could sashay around the mall for all their days with hardly a second glance, but also examples like Shades of Grey. Now I must confess that I’ve never read it, but I’ve read a good many reviews which, rightly or wrongly, completely can this novel as poorly written. No-one can deny though the amazing popularity of the work, which has somehow, and fortunately for the author, been caught in that whimsical publicity whirlwind and flown off into the Wonderful World of Oz, also known as The Public Eye.

Part of the issue of course is that there are so many people who have written books which they are trying to promote, especially in these days when you can (although personally I couldn’t) bang out a novel in a month and have it up on Amazon the next day. My blog is subtitled ‘Shouting into the Darkness’ for a good reason, in that this is often how it feels, especially at first. It seems like there are a mass of faceless people in a room, all bellowing out about the merits of their particular book. Someone of them descend to spamming in a desperate attempt to be heard. Personally, I could no more start spamming than eat my cat, the distaste at inflicting myself on people is so great, but I can see why the temptation is there.

Evidence of this is the recent furore about R.J. Ellroy, who has apparently been giving himself great reviews on Amazon, and casting aspersions on his competitor’s work, all anonymously. It is undeniably difficult for an author to get reviews, and so again, I can see why he was tempted to take this step, morally and ethically damnable though it may be. Ellory is of course a well known author already, so perhaps the temptation for all us unknowns is even greater.

The other factor which I think we come up against is time, that vicious mistress. There are many suggestions out there on how to promote your book. Just taking some of the options available on-line, there are many opportunities,  such as building a Twitter following, blogging, having author profiles and interviews everywhere you can, having a promotional clip up on You-Tube, being a member of Goodreads, Facebook and Google+ and participating in as many on-line discussions and panels as possible. The rub is that most authors really prefer to write than become salespeople, and finding time to do both, as well as trivial matters like holding down a job so that you can eat occasionally, and spending time with your family, can be tricky. I’ve been reading a little bit recently from some brave writers who are confessing to promotion fatigue.

What it all comes down to in the end I think is a belief in your work, and the desire to have some people read it and get pleasure from it. I have no illusions that I’m going to become the next Asimov, but equally I know that most of the people who have read my work have (at least to my face), told me that they really enjoyed it. After all the years of work, it would be a shame if I was lazy enough to let it moulder away at the bottom of the drawer unread. Perhaps it will inspire someone else to write, and they will become the next Asimov.

On a brighter note, although I have only  just started the promotion journey, there have already been some great things to come out of it. I’ve learnt new skills, and discovered new areas of expertise, which I’m now able to apply in my job.

I’ve also been exposed to a great many more opportunities, in the form of competitions, publications and participation in anthologies than I never would have seen while locked up in my room bashing away at my novel, and this has lead to greater productivity on my part. For example, before I started this journey, I hadn’t written a poem since I was about eleven. Now, while I’m no doubt a very amateur poet, I both get great enjoyment from it, and find that it helps my writing in condensing ideas into few words.

Best of all, I’ve met some terrific people while blogging, some of whom I would venture to call friends. Rather a rich haul for a confirmed introvert.

About the Author:

Kasia James just published her first novel The Artemis Effect which is now available on Amazon. The Artemis Effect Kasia James

About the Book:

Three comfortable lives are shattered when a wave of inexplicable events exposes the fragility of human society. With an unprecedented celestial phenomenon, devastating high tides, a breakdown in global communication networks, and the sudden appearance of violent ring-gangs swarming through cities and towns, Kimberley, Scott and Bryn struggle to understand the vast events unfolding around them. Will they survive the Artemis Effect? Will they discover the truth behind the collapse of society before it’s too late?

I haven’t read it yet, but I bet it is awesome.

You can also read more of her writing on her blog.


Writing Fiction is Cheaper than a Therapist (guest post by S Fitts author of Bleeding Gut Blues)

21 Aug

I used to write nonfiction. 

I wrote pretty good nonfiction. Memoir mostly. That shtick can work if you’re eighteen.  Everything’s new, so it’s no great challenge to describe mundane epiphanies with pure, sparkling language.

Shortly after 9/11, I started writing about politics. Those pieces weren’t good. I would classify them as rants. Course, I was young.

I stopped writing for a while. I realized I was only ranting – about my job, the president, the vice-president, war, the upcoming election. Nothing I had to say twinkled. The endeavor had devolved into an exercise, and I was bored.

I didn’t intend to quit. I just stopped.

Four or five years later, I picked it up again. I still don’t know why. I guess I was bored again.

I still wrote nonfiction. I thought I couldn’t write anything else, despite the unknown known that I fantasized compulsively and had imagined, lived, and discarded a thousand stories without giving a single breath of them permanence.

We had a subscription to Playboy back then. I really did read the articles. In fact, I read every issue cover to cover, including the fiction. I was sitting on the john one day, reading a James Ellroy memoir. He described the moment he knew he wanted to write fiction and how he went about it, by making up stories habitually and simply writing them down. I thought, “I can do that.”

A month later, once the project had taken over my life and given it new meaning, I realized just how desperate I’d felt without it.

One quote from that article still echoes through my head. “That first book was the blueprint for the rest of my life, but I didn’t know it then.” It’s been a while, so I’m probably paraphrasing. Sincerest apologies, Mr. Ellroy.

I don’t know if that statement is true for everyone. I don’t know if it’s true for me. I do know this: making shit up is just as cathartic as spilling the honest to Bob truth.

The first draft of Bleeding Gut Blues is novella-length at best. I still have the terrible habit of writing sentences in sequence when I’m excited, most of the book read like this, I used a million commas and forgot about periods or the word “and.”

The book and I endured at least two dozen drafts, and I forced myself to relive the story with every edit, adding new details and life until the final pass. I knew it needed it, and I wanted it to be perfect.

Endless revising yielded perpetual reflection – on the city bus, before sleep, while my hands played old songs they could handle on their own. I began to spot themes relevant to my own life that I never intended to include.

Of all the revelations, only one was helpful in the long-term. I can’t survive without a project, something that’s mine to shape. Bands are fun as hell, but playing music with others is about creating something as a group, a sound that builds organically as a result of three to five sets of inclinations and personal taste. I love participating in that process, but it isn’t enough.

The release found through performance is physical and emotional. The musician screams, jumps, sings, all the while listening, waiting for cues, and surfing the rest of the sound. After it’s over, he’s spent and exhilarated at the same time. Adrenaline rules the remainder of the night.

In almost a decade, I’ve never played a set that caused me to reevaluate jack. Make out with girls, get drunk, fall asleep in the back of a pickup, sure, but examine humanity’s pitfalls? Never.

Both arts relieve tension and provide intangible rewards. If you practice playing music, your fingers will become more dexterous, your ear will evolve, and you will become a better musician. If you practice writing, you’ll forget how to speak, but you’ll become a better writer, and in the process, you will change.

Fiction can be a foil or a mirror. In either case, it’s an intimate escape for the reader and the writer, and the desired destination is telling.

These days, I don’t have a lot of passion for writing memoir. It feels like setting up a camera at a traffic light versus building a collage. A traffic camera details all and maybe, once in a while, will stumble across an automated “Golden Moment.” Collage, unrelated realities combined to form an alternate, is limitless.

Whether reading or writing, I stare at fiction like a collage. I tear apart the details comprising the whole and examine the mold growing underneath. None of us humans are truly unique, so if the work isn’t atrocious, I’m bound to catch sight of myself in whatever fungus the author is substituting for Elmer’s. Invariably, my mind is altered, and epiphanies pop as easily as when the world was a brand new picture book in tiny hands.

As much as I need and love to escape into fantasy, the beautiful drug that it is, fiction also supplies the distance necessary to evaluate without bias. Even if my addiction wanes, that is the reason I should write it.

About the Author

Born in Houston, transplanted in Rhode Island since 2000, S Fitts is the author of Bleeding Gut Blues and keyboard player for punk bands Almost Blind and Drunk Rob and the Shots.

Check out the website,read the review, buy the book on Amazon, or follow on Twitter @kaffeeistgut .

Previously Indie Book Review: Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

14 Aug

Since the Atria Books paperback version of this novel was released today it seemed timely to review Beautiful Disaster (even though it has been out for a while).

All I can say is Beautiful Disaster left me feeling rather perplexed and baffled as to why good writing often has little (if any) actual correlation to a book’s sales/popularity.

Picture This: indie book review

You are at a secret college fight that is like some sort of UFC douche fest with a bunch of muscle bound dudes spraying blood and sweat all over the place.

And you are there and you get blood on your cashmere sweater, and you are a little afraid and a little disgusted and suddenly you find yourself face to face with the fight’s victor. The hottest. The dreamiest. The muscleiest. The tribal tattooiest. Travis “Mad Dog” Maddox.

You share a charged moment together and inexplicably Travis nicknames you “Pigeon” and melts into the crowd.

Swoon, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be nicknamed after a bird most people consider to be vermin?

And so begins the most absurd, pointless, needlessly dramatic, unromantic romance of all time. It goes something like this:

Abby is a virginal college girl with a MYSTERIOUS PAST who wants to leave all her baggage behind and have a fresh start at college. Travis is the sexy campus manwhore  who seems to do little but fight, drink, smoke cigarettes, and fuck random college girls (on his couch—never on his bed because well, those girls aren’t worthy of his bed). And somehow Travis and Abby end up JUST FRIENDS and due to the outcome of some completely implausible bet Abby is forced to live in Travis’ apartment for a month.


The rest of the novel can be summed up as Abby flirts, speaks to, is insulted by, dances with, dates, or kisses  other boys and then Travis beats the crap out of aforementioned boys (always without intervention or repercussion). Next, Abby gets mad at Travis. They fight.  Abby leaves. Travis flips out and either breaks something or spends an inordinate amount of time banging on her dorm room door.  They make up. They have sex.

And the book goes around like this with little variation. Weird plot twists like a run in with the mob and a deadly fire that inspire them to run off to Vegas and get married (because life is fleeting ya’ll) did little to add depth to the characters or the plot.

These characters are crazy.

Much like 50 Shades, this seems to be a love it or hate it kind of novel and readers are divided on whether Abby and Travis have one of the most Epic. Romances. Ever. or if both characters should be secured on some sort of locked ward.

I vote locked ward.

I think this novel’s mass appeal is due in part to the perennially popular theme of a good girl changing a bad boy by simply loving him. Who doesn’t want to be the girl who makes the hot, bad boy be good? The problem with Beautiful Disaster is that there isn’t any redemption here. Abby doesn’t really change Travis; mostly she enables/tacitly approves his bad behavior.

Title: Beautiful Disaster

Author: Jamie McGuire

Publisher: Atria Books

Price: 7.99 (for the Kindle version)

Source: Publisher provided ARC via Net Galley

Why Indie Books Are Boring*

10 Aug

Often, I find myself reading indie books and hoping all of the characters will die in a violent and painful car crash.


Because I am bored.

How to create conflict in fiction

It took me awhile to pin down what was problematic about these books. Was it weak characterization? Slow pacing? Horrid grammar? Lackluster description?

Finally, it came to me.

The number one reason I might want all of your characters to die in a fiery ball of flaming and twisted metal?

Lack of conflict.

Definition of conflict

Conflict means to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition.

It also means to fight.

Your characters can fight anything.  Their hoarding addiction.  Rabid dogs. Stick waving villagers. The little old lady at the grocery store. Their mother. The mustachioed villain.

It doesn’t matter, but your characters need to struggle against something, otherwise your novel will turn into a meandering snooze fest that I will be forced to say bad things about.

Lack of conflict is the prevailing flaw in indie books

Without much professional editing it is easy for indie authors to indulge and pamper their characters—lovingly created, these characters are endlessly catered to. Like cherished pets, nothing much bad happens to them, they don’t get out much, and a little mindless yapping gets them what they want.

They really don’t struggle. At all.


No struggle equals lack of conflict and without conflict there is no drama or anticipation or suspense or tension or any of those other things that make a book interesting and good and fun to read.

Your reader has to be unsure of the outcome or else why would they care enough to turn another page?

Ideas for creating conflict*

Good conflict is the direct result of meaningful action taken to resolve a situation. Your character might not always be successful with his actions, but he should  try to resolve the conflict to the best of his ability.

In order for a conflict to be believable, your character needs a worthy opponent, even if his opponent is himself. Without opposition, challenge and obstacles to goals, there is no story and resolution is easy.

Where’s the fun in that?


-Your character has to want something really, really bad. (Desire)

-Someone or something has to get in the way of what they want. (Opponent)

-The opponent shouldn’t be easy to defeat and should create roadblocks to thwart your character at every opportunity. (Obstacles)

-Your character eventually defeats the opponent, achieves their goal, and experiences some sort of personal change as result. Alternately, you character may not defeat their opponent or achieve the goal but still be changed by the outcome. Change is the important factor here.  (Resolution)

And everyone lives happily ever after.

And no one makes snoring noises when they see a copy of your book.

And I won’t be forced to write negative reviews.

See? We all win.

*For the record, I don’t think all indie books are boring. Implying all indie books are boring made for a better title.  Who wants to read a post titled ‘3 out of 5 indie books are boring’? Or ‘A few Indie books I read recently were boring’. So I exaggerated. Probably a lot. A more apt (but less exciting) title for this post would be “Why conflict is important”.

*This passage brought to you by some other website that I forgot to bookmark. Sorry, other writer. Feel free to claim this tip if it belongs to you.

Indie Book Review ( with bonus soundtrack): Bleeding Gut Blues by S Fitts

5 Aug

What would you do if you found out your girlfriend was cheating on you?

If you are Ellis O’Neill, the main character of S Fitts’ Bleeding Gut Blues, you split town to become a drunken hobo, and spend a year roaming from college town to college town robbing university parties for booze, bits of cash, and occasionally drugs.

You are skinny and pale. You have a disfiguring scar that snakes across your face. Your hair is too long. You smell bad.

Your only valuable possessions are a photograph of your parents, a copy of Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut and a tattered journal belonging to your ex-girlfriend. Your life, which wasn’t all that great to begin with, is totally and completely fucked.

Feeling depressed and alone you call your old friend Danny and the two of you decide to take a road trip to find the girl who broke your heart. What follows is a journey across several states so soaked in alcohol, drugs, and expletives that it would make Hunter S Thompson proud.

Moved forward almost exclusively by dialogue, Bleeding Gut Blues occasionally made me feel like I was reading a screenplay (which is not something I take issue with). But readers who want a novel rich in setting, description or details won’t get much of that here. What you will get is snappy, believable conversation between young characters who are struggling to find their place in a world without any good examples to follow.

Bleeding Gut Blues’ strength lies in the voice of its first person narrator. Ellis is convincing and likeable despite his bad choices, depression and drunkenness and his alienation and loneliness are palpable. Ellis is the kind of narrator that makes me consider whether this novel is some sort of partial autobiography disguised as fiction. Whether it is or isn’t is irrelevant — making me wonder is, in my opinion, the hallmark of good fiction.

The biggest problem with the book is I can’t figure out why Ellis loves Angie in the first place. Ellis tells us a lot about her—she has blond hair, a peacock tattoo, she can’t sing, she has a memory problem, and a twin sister. She’s an artist’s model. She is his first and only girlfriend. They grew up together. I learned a lot of facts about her but I couldn’t get a true sense of her character, of what makes her worth all his misery or driving across the country for. It seems to come down to the fact that Ellis loves Angie because he always has and because he really has no one else.  And that might be good enough for him- but it isn’t good enough for me. I wanted to see Ellis grow out of Angie and  let her go.

Not for the faint of heart or for those who like breathy, uplifting stories—Bleeding Gut Blues is like a punk rock song, angsty and loud, with a not so subtle disdain for authority, and a veneer of toughness that does little to disguise the vulnerability underneath.

Since I liked this book so much, and it’s a road trip book, it practically demanded a soundtrack– so I made it one.

Buy the book, buy the songs, and enjoy the ride. Oh, and you can find out more about the book and the author here.

Review Queue #2- Books I Plan to Review that You Probably Don’t Care About but Should

3 Aug

Bleeding Gut Blues, S. Fitts

I’ve read most of this book already so I can’t in good conscience speculate on what it’s about. It really is about a gutter punk hobo type with a mysterious scar, an ex-con, and a stripper all on a road trip to win back a lost love. There is a lot of drinking, swearing, weed smoking, and references to kicking baby animals. For some reason I want to listen to Sub-Mission by the Sex Pistols every time I start reading this book.

fishbowled, Vakis Boutsalis

ANTI-TEEN FICTION: Absolutely no vampires

Teenagers can be assholes sometimes. It’s not always their fault, there’s some serious hormonal things happening at that age. This may not be the greatest insight, but it’s worth mentioning only because of the starring role teenagers play in present day pop culture. Behind all the vampires, zombies, Justin Biebers, Taylor Swifts, blockbusters and iEverythings is an unchecked fetishism of teendom by adults who should know better. It’s no coincidence that teen fiction is the highest selling genre of the moment.
Enter stage right, fishbowled—a reality-based take on teenagers, drugs, technology, the importance of family and the sobering failures that pepper one’s twenties.


From what little of this book I have read, I think it will be the Appalachian version of Winter’s Bone (you know, that movie with the girl from the Hunger Games that’s about meth set in the Ozarks) so basically a whole bunch of broken down people choking on wood smoke because they can’t afford to heat their houses, running around in plaid and wearing fingerless gloves, all angry and bitter, keeping secrets and missing teeth. Although, it’s supposed to be a romantic thriller so perhaps all of the characters have their teeth?

Having Fun- Simon Kemp

Purported to be some sort of dark comedy/ gripping thriller involving a theme park, a sketchy corporation and the theft of a giant pig costume,I can’t help be compelled to read this book. I am imagining something like John Grisham’s the Firm if set in a theme park and written by Carl Hiaasen or Tom Robbins—a little bit of mystery and a whole lot of quirk.

*As always, these book descriptions are my own bit of creative fiction and probably do not even come close to accurately describing the actual novels (which would be hard to do since I haven’t read them yet). This week’s exception is fishbowled. I took that blurb  directly from the author’s website.

Lost Things- Part 2

1 Aug

(If you care to read the first part of this story you should  go here)

Alice is glad to see the “Welcome to Murphysboro” sign has not changed in the six years since she has been home.  The creepy apple which serves as the town’s mascot leers off the sign at her and offers a hand in greeting as she drives up the hill, past the Hardees’s and into the sad strip of dusty thrift stores, hippie coffee shops, and beauty parlors that serve as the “downtown” and main street.  It looks exactly as she remembers it except for the emergence of what looks like a bar and grill in the old Parker drugstore building.

She drives away from the downtown and past her old high school, the library and the post office. Her family home is near here, a sharp left and then a right on Twin Lake Drive. She never could understand the name, since there wasn’t a drop of water in sight, only an endless subdivision of seventies era split level houses. Alice bypasses the turn, and instead heads down the road to the Kroger.

She isn’t ready yet.

Inside the grocery store Alice roams the aisles without purpose or plan. Her main goal of the trip—to fortify her return home with as many alcoholic beverages as possible has already been fulfilled. She has spent the last ten minutes wheeling a cart around the store filled with vodka, limes, a six pack of New Castle, several bottles of tonic, the assorted ingredients for a pitcher of spicy Bloody Mary’s, and a box of Benadryl.  She plans to spend several days getting drunk and sleeping. What else is there to do?

Idly, Alice roams the cookie and cracker aisle.  She maneuvers her cart around an elderly couple squabbling over the price of Triscuits, the wife waving a fistful of coupons in the air as proof of the cracker’s affordability. She pushes her cart with one hand and trails her other hand over packages of Oreos, Fudge Stripes, and some generic sandwich cookie. She can’t remember the last time she has been in a grocery store; they make her feel kind of panicky and strange, like something has gone very, very wrong. Alice has never had the kind of life that require grocery lists, shopping carts full of food, or coupons.  The lists, coupons, and carts seemed to imply a life of deliberateness, and a fullness of the sort that Alice can’t quite seem to master.

Alice hears someone call her name, but doesn’t look up. She is sure she is about to be duped into one of those awkward moments when she thinks someone is speaking to her but really they are talking to the person behind her. Her tentative “Hello” squished under the booming greeting of the true recipient.  Surely a six year absence was long enough to have changed, to look different? She had always been mostly invisible in this town—who could know her now?

The voice screeches again, louder and more aggressive. “Alice Higgins? Alice? Stop pretending like you don’t know me, it’s Caroline Morris, well—Jacoby, now.” Alice finally looks up and notices on the name Jacoby that the woman waves a monstrous (and ugly, in Alice’s estimation) platinum wedding ring in her direction. Alice glances down at her own bare and bony ring finger and wonders when women will get tired of brandishing their rings like they are some kind of irrefutable proof of their worth.

Alice had her own engagement ring once. Lucas Smith bought it for her three years ago. This was before they started fighting about the tiny things which were really passive aggressive placeholders for the big things they wanted to fight about: her commitment issues, his addiction to porn, her need for space, his hurry to get married. The ring was bulky and heavy. It kept getting caught on her pants pockets, in her hair, and it snagged several pairs of tights. She set it on the edge of the bathroom sink one day and never saw it again. Four months later, Lucas moved in with some girl he met on Craigslist.

Alice missed Lucas and the ring like she missed everything else; she poked and prodded the emptiness like a tongue searching for a recently pulled molar.  She missed Lucas, but she was sure she wouldn’t miss deleting porn off of her computer. And yet, several weeks after Lucas left, she found herself looking at porn on the internet, wondering if she was missing something. Maybe she could learn to be the kind of girl a man would leave his fiancée for. Was it something she needed to do with her tongue? Was it really all about the anal sex?

Engagement Ring: Lost Thing # 313.

Lucas Smith: Lost Thing#314.

Innocence (after looking at all that porn): Lost Thing #315.

The Road Less Traveled: The Best Overlooked Road Trip Books

27 Jul

This is not a list of iconic road trip books. Who needs another list with On the Road or Travels with Charley on it? Yawn.

Instead, I chose books that are about movement, about place, about what it takes to get somewhere, and what happens when you do. These are books about following your peculiar passions or your heroes across long distances (or fleeing from your enemies).These books are a little strange, occasionally disturbing , and sometimes violent, but each book will transport you someplace unexpected–just like the best road trip.

*All book descriptions are from Amazon (because I am just too damn lazy to write my own)  where you can also find all of these fine books for purchase

American Gods- Neil Gaiman

The storm was coming….Shadow spent three years in prison, keeping his head down, doing his time.

All he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife and to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But days before his scheduled release, he learns that his wife has been killed in an accident, and his world becomes a colder place.

On the plane ride home to the funeral, Shadow meets a grizzled man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A self-styled grifter and rogue, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. And Shadow, a man with nothing to lose accepts.

But working for the enigmatic Wednesday is not without its price, and Shadow soon learns that his role in Wednesday’s schemes will be far more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Entangled in a world of secrets, he embarks on a wild road trip and encounters, among others, the murderous Czernobog, the impish Mr. Nancy, and the beautiful Easter — all of whom seem to know more about Shadow than he himself does.

Shadow will learn that the past does not die, that everyone, including his late wife, had secrets, and that the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined.

All around them a storm of epic proportions threatens to break. Soon Shadow and Wednesday will be swept up into a conflict as old as humanity itself. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought — and the prize is the very soul of America.

Assassination Vacation- Sarah Vowell

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue — it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and — the author’s favorite — historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

Cruddy- Lynda Barry

On a September night in 1971, a few days after getting busted for dropping acid, a sixteen-year-old curls up in the corner of her ratty bedroom and begins to write.

Now the truth can finally be revealed about the mysterious day long ago when the authorities found a child, calmly walking in the boiling desert, covered with blood.

The girl is Roberta Rohbeson, and her rant against a world bounded by “the cruddy top bedroom of a cruddy rental house on a very cruddy mud road” soon becomes a detailed account of another story, one that she has kept silent since she was eleven.

Darkly funny and resonant with humanity, Cruddy, masterfully intertwines Roberta’s stories — part Easy Rider and part bipolar Wizard of Oz. These stories, the backbone of Roberta’s short life, include a one-way trip across America fueled by revenge and greed and a vivid cast of characters, starring Roberta’s dangerous father, the owners of the Knocking Hammer Bar-cum-slaughterhouse, and runaway adolescents. With a teenager’s eye for freakish detail and a nervous ability to make the most horrible scenes seem hilarious, Cruddy is a stunning achievement.

Angels- Denis Johnson

The most critically acclaimed, and first, of Denis Johnson’s novels, Angels puts Jamie Mays — a runaway wife toting along two kids — and Bill Houston — ex-Navy man, ex-husband, ex-con — on a Greyhound Bus for a dark, wild ride cross country. Driven by restless souls, bad booze, and desperate needs, Jamie and Bill bounce from bus stations to cheap hotels as they ply the strange, fascinating, and dangerous fringe of American life. Their tickets may say Phoenix, but their inescapable destination is a last stop marked by stunning violence and mind-shattering surprise.

Denis Johnson, known for his portraits of America’s dispossessed, sets off literary pyrotechnics on this highway odyssey, lighting the trek with wit and a personal metaphysics that defiantly takes on the world.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace- David Lipsky

 In early 1996, journalist and author Lipsky (Absolutely American) joined then-34-year-old David Foster Wallace on the last leg of his tour for Infinite Jest (Wallace’s breakout novel) for a Rolling Stone interview that would never be published. Here, he presents the transcript of that interview, a rollicking dialogue that Lipsky sets up with a few brief but revealing essays, one of which touches upon Wallace’s 2008 suicide and the reaction of those close to him (including his sister and his good friend Jonathan Franzen). Over the course of their five day road trip, Wallace discusses everything from teaching to his stay in a mental hospital to television to modern poetry to love and, of course, writing. Ironically, given Wallace’s repeated concern that Lipsky would end up with an incomplete or misleading portrait, the format produces the kind of tangible, immediate, honest sense of its subject that a formal biography might labor for. Even as they capture a very earthbound encounter, full of common road-trip detours, Wallace’s voice and insight have an eerie impact not entirely related to his tragic death; as Lipsky notes, Wallace “was such a natural writer he could talk in prose.” Among the repetitions, ellipses, and fumbling that make Wallace’s patter so compellingly real are observations as elegant and insightful as his essays. Prescient, funny, earnest, and honest, this lost conversation is far from an opportunistic piece of literary ephemera, but a candid and fascinating glimpse into a uniquely brilliant and very troubled writer.

The Stand- Stephen King

When a man escapes from a biological testing facility, he sets in motion a deadly domino effect, spreading a mutated strain of the flu that will wipe out 99 percent of humanity within a few weeks. The survivors who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge–Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence.

(This is the worst book description I have ever read for a book that is a million pages and written by one of America’s most popular authors. I guess when you are Stephen King or his publisher you don’t have to try?)

Lost at Sea- Bryan Lee O’Malley

Raleigh doesn’t have a soul. A cat stole it – or at least that’s what she tells people – or at least that’s what she would tell people if she told people anything. But that would mean talking to people, and the mere thought of social interaction is terrifying. How did such a shy teenage girl end up in a car with three of her hooligan classmates on a cross-country road trip? Being forced to interact with kids her own age is a new and alarming proposition for Raleigh, but maybe it’s just what she needs – or maybe it can help her find what she needs – or maybe it can help her to realize that what she needs has been with her all along.

Caramelo- Sandra Cisneros

Every year, Ceyala “Lala” Reyes’ family–aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, and Lala’s six older brothers–packs up three cars and, in a wild ride, drive from Chicago to the Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother’s house in Mexico City for the summer. Struggling to find a voice above the boom of her brothers and to understand her place on this side of the border and that, Lala is a shrewd observer of family life. But when she starts telling the Awful Grandmother’s life story, seeking clues to how she got to be so awful, grandmother accuses Lala of exaggerating. Soon, a multigenerational family narrative turns into a whirlwind exploration of storytelling, lies, and life. Like the cherished rebozo, or shawl, that has been passed down through generations of Reyes women, Caramelo is alive with the vibrations of history, family, and love.

The Death of Bunny Munroe- Nick Cave

Set adrift by his wife’s suicide and struggling to keep a grip on reality, Bunny Munro does the only thing he can think of: with his young son in tow, he hits the road. To his son, waiting patiently in the car while his father peddles beauty wares and quickies to lonely housewives in the south of England, Bunny is a hero, larger than life. But Bunny himself, haunted by what might be his wife’s ghost, seems only dimly aware of his son’s existence.

When his bizarre trip shades into a final reckoning, when he can no longer be sure what is real and what is not, Bunny finally begins to recognize the love he feels for his son. And he sees that the revenants of his world—decrepit fathers, vengeful ghosts, jealous husbands, and horned psycho-killers—are lurking in the shadows, waiting to exact their toll.

At turns dark and humane, The Death of Bunny Munro is a tender portrait of the relationship between a boy and his father, with all the wit and enigma that fans will recognize as Nick Cave’s singular vision.

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie- Wendy McClure

Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder-a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places she’s never been to, yet somehow knows by heart. She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family- looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House, and explores the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura’s hometowns. Whether she’s churning butter in her apartment or sitting in a replica log cabin, McClure is always in pursuit of “the Laura experience.” Along the way she comes to understand how Wilder’s life and work have shaped our ideas about girlhood and the American West.

The Wilder Life is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women. It is also an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones-and find that our old love has only deepened.

What would you add to the list?

Indie Book Review: Justice Deck of Lies #1 by Jade Varden

25 Jul

There is a certain type of book I like to read in the summer—frothy and light, and not too serious.  I want books that are like summer blockbuster movies— full of action, and adventure, and shit blowing up. If I can’t have that then I want a little  mystery and a dash of romance. Essentially, I want a complete escape from reality. These are the kind of books I drag to the beach, read in furious spurts during lunch, and generally indulge myself in when it is so hot that my brain feels like it might melt.

Jade Varden’s Justice is just that kind of book.

That’s my Kindle. At the beach. Reading Justice. See? Perfect summer read.

The first in the Deck of Lies series of YA novels, Justice is about Rain Ramey, a poor scholarship kid at an elite private school whose run in with the school’s Queen Bee on her first day ends with her arrest for shoplifting and the unwitting tip-off to the police about her real identity.

Apparently, she isn’t Rain Ramey.

She is Chloe von Shelton, a rich girl with a huge bedroom(s), a BMW Roadster, and her private school enemy as a sister. Kidnapped by the people she thought were her parents, Rain/Chloe is determined to unravel the secrets of her past (and kiss a lot of hot boys along the way).

Cue Suspense music.

Justice might sound convoluted and soap opera ish and highly improbable—and it is; the willingness to suspend disbelief, and the refusal to think too hard will aid in the happy reading of this book.

As expected, (or at least I expect it from most YA) the supporting characters are a smidge one-dimensional and cliché–  Justice is full of mean girls, generically nice hot boys, and the requisite mysterious and sulking hot boy. As the main protagonist, Rain/Chloe could stand to be less of a goody-goody and passive. She gets talked into shoplifting bracelets, dates guys she seems ambivalent about, and takes most of what people tell her at face value. I kept waiting for her to figure out how to harness her inner Katniss Everdeen but she never does. Perhaps she gets a little more badass in book two?


Justice is well written. The writing is crisp and clear and the novel keeps a brisk pace that serves the mystery plot well and makes for a fast read.


Frequently, clues, revelations, or important conversations are followed up by comments like, “If only I knew then what I know now,” or “Later I would find out that [insert character name] wasn’t telling me the whole truth.” It was like reading neon flashing letters that read “CLUE ALERT” or “MISINFORMATION”. I think a little more credit needs to be given to the reader to parse various clues and conversations. Trying to unravel a mystery before the main character is half the fun of reading a mystery. Justice takes away that suspense and tension unnecessarily.


Justice: Deck of Lies #1 by Jade Varden

Genre: YA Mystery/Romance

Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords

Price: .99

Publication Date: December 25, 2011 (other books in the series are now available)

Author’s Website:

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