Category Archives: ebooks

Review: The Weirdness by Jeremy Bushnell

4th March 2014

pg1*I received this ebook from the publisher Melville House in exchange for an honest review.

Billy Ridgeway is a do-nothing. He works at a Greek deli when he can make it on time. He thinks his girlfriend may have dumped him, but he’s not sure. And the short stories he’s written are pure crap – he’s got a writeup in an NYC lit magazine to prove it. When the Devil shows up in his apartment with good, no, great coffee and offers to publish Billy’s novel if he’ll just do him a tiny favor, Billy isn’t even tempted. Ok, maybe a little. All he has to do is steal the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium, a cat statue, from a powerful warlock.

At first, Billy can’t be bothered. If he can’t even get his girlfriend to return his calls, how could he possibly face a warlock? But soon, whether or not Billy wants to help the Devil isn’t an option as he’s in up to his neck and discovers he’s a hell wolf and that his entire life up to this point has been a lie. As he races across the city, Billy learns a lot about what he’s capable of, and if he lives through this weirdness, maybe he’ll be able to do something after all.

The Weirdness is absolutely, positively one of the most original takes on the nearing middle age, suffering male writer bit. Because frankly, had this been another story about a guy who is too lazy to get off his ass and do something, I’d have hated it. Hell, I may not have even finished it. But Jeremy Bushnell manages to turn this story on its head in what should be the most ridiculous novel you’ve ever read.

Instead, Billy and his really lovely counterparts, specifically his best friend Anil, are people you feel for. They’re doing what they have to in order to make it. Maybe Billy hasn’t been doing his part, but he’s obviously unhappy. He has a job that is fine but isn’t a career. His writing isn’t transcendent. His love life…yeah, it’s not great. In a lot of ways, Billy has just shut down, and he can’t figure out how to restart until the Devil shows up. And ain’t that the way of things? Ok, maybe the Devil doesn’t really show up in order for you or me to get out of our funks, but it takes something pretty out of character or, in this case, out of this world.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner

4th February 2014

pg1*I received this ebook from the publisher Touchstone in exchange for an honest review.

“I, to this day, hold to only one truth: if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot. My father agreed to carry twelve.”

Thomas Walker is 12 when his father decides to venture out West to sell Samuel Colt’s Improved Revolving Gun. But a mere three days into the journey, Walker’s father is shot dead, and Thomas is left to find his way home with nothing but a gelding, a wagon, and a wooden model gun for protection. He encounters Henry Stands, a former ranger who reluctantly takes on responsibility for Thomas as they make their way back East. Told from the adult Thomas’s recollections, Road to Reckoning is part dime store novel and part coming-of-age tale.

Road to Reckoning was my first “wow” novel of 2014. Lautner’s choice to have an older Thomas narrate his tale allows for poignant moments of recollection, such as when he talks about journeying out with his father and the anticipation he felt:

Every word he spoke would be to me.

It is a fault of nature that fathers do not realize that when the son is young the father is like Jesus to him, and like with Our Lord, the time of his ministry when they crave his words is short and fleeting.

These observations aren’t often enough to become laborious, but they fit well in the telling. At the same time, Thomas also recognizes that his father doesn’t belong in the West, and his brief time there is evidence of that. Thomas can’t help but grudgingly look up to Henry Stands. Henry Stands, with his foreign gun the Native Americans think is magic, swaggers into this story and into Thomas’s life with a charisma that becomes the stuff of legends. Though he’d just as soon be without the burden of a young boy, he also recognizes his duty, leading to one of the best scenes in the book, when Stands faces down a group of men with nothing but a wooden pistol:

What you may make of a man approaching abomination with a wooden pistol in his hands is your faith’s decision. If you are young I hope it does not inspire too much. If you are older you may think Henry Stands foolish, or worse, bitten by madness, or you may yet feel something rising in your chest at the thought of yourself about to stand down four armed men with nothing but your valor and self as your only true weapon. I have given you only a wooden toy.

Though most of the comparisons call True Grit and The Sisters Brothers companion reads, much of Road to Reckoning reminded me of Huck and Jim’s journey in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Just as Huck and Jim are an unlikely pair who do fine with one another as long as they’re on the Mississippi, Thomas and Henry’s tenuous alliance seems sure until others interfere.

A product of the West*, Road to Reckoning fits its setting well while also tempting readers with its story of danger and derring do and the after effects on the young man at the heart of it all.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

*Lautner does a masterful job with his depiction of the West, particularly as the author lives in Wales (!).

Review: The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart

1st October 2013

bat*I received this galley from the publisher Open Road Media* through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Master criminals. Dead bats as calling cards. A young couple in distress. The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart has it all and then some.

Courtleigh Fleming has recently passed away, shortly before his bank closes its doors after money and a cashier go missing. Mr. Fleming’s nephew rents out his uncle’s country house to Cornelia Van Gorder. But The Bat, a master criminal who continually defies the best detectives, is said to be in the area. After Miss Van Gorder receives several threatening, anonymous notes, she is sure the Bat is closing in. But Cornelia Van Gorder isn’t one to back down, and with her maid Lizzie, her niece Dale, the Japanese butler Billy and the various other guests in the house, she is determined to uncover the Bat’s true identity and the connection to the Fleming estate.

A novel based on a play (The Bat) based on a novel (The Circular Staircase), The Bat is a perfectly fun romp. As Ryan says in his great review over at Wordsmithsonia, there is definitely a bit of Noises Off or Arsenic and Old Lace hilarity in this mystery, as mysteriously locked and unlocked doors as well as inconvenient power outages assist the constant confusion among characters. Though I did figure out the villain prior to the last pages, I thought the denouement ingeniously done and thoroughly enjoyed this period novel – complete with gems from Cornelia Van Gorder:

“Sally doesn’t remember when she was a younger generation herself…But I do – and if we didn’t have automobiles, we had buggies – and youth doesn’t change its ways just because it has cut its hair.”

********

“Miss Van Gorder, I confess-I’m very anxious for you,” he continued. “This letter is ominous. Have you any enemies?”

“Don’t insult me! Of course I have. Enemies are an indication of character.”

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

P.S. They’re not paying me to say this, but Open Road consistently puts out some of the best covers for reprints I’ve seen. I want every one of the Mary Roberts Rinehart collection and would love if they would posterfy (I know it’s not a word) their cover art.

Review: Highland Fling by Amanda Scott

3rd April 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher Open Road Media , in exchange for an honest review.

In 1750 Scotland, the MacDrumin clan fights in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion to remain together, profitable, and safe. The Highlanders are fighting for a way of life. When Maggie MacDrumin travels to London to deliver illicit messages to others who believe in her cause, a literal wrong turn down a London street lands her in court, accused of theft. Knowing only one name, the name of the English earl who has absconded the clan’s lands, she speaks his name – the Earl of Rothwell, Edward Carsley.

Though she saves her own neck, invoking the name of Rothwell brings about circumstances Maggie doesn’t foresee. Determined to bring Jacobites to justice, Edward demands she remain in his house until he can return her to Scotland, but Edward hasn’t encountered a Scotswoman before. Bold and determined to better the lives of her people, Maggie MacDrumin is a force to be reckoned with. As each learns the other isn’t simply a cause or a stereotype, their attraction to one another turns to love.

I think I’ve found the style of romance for me: strong female lead whose existence isn’t wrapped up in love and marriage; good female friendships; love that grows and encounters realistic, valid problems. At her core, Maggie isn’t going to change. She has seen the injustice of the English. Even after she realizes Rothwell isn’t a typical Englishman, she still distrusts his nature. Edward, on the other hand, expects obedience from Maggie, thinking he knows what is best and right regardless of circumstance. It isn’t until each sees the folly in his or her own way that the two are able to truly love one another, attraction or no.

Highland Fling by Amanda Scott is book one in this trilogy, and it’s full of good Scottish brogue, fierce Highland females, and plenty of intrigue. I’ll be hunting down the other books in this series the next time I’d like a little romance.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf. And make sure to check out the other stops on the Amanda Scott Virtual Book Tour.

pg2

A Reader’s Responsibility

27th March 2013

This morning, while my eyes were still trying to adjust to the “open” position, I was perusing Twitter. One tweet in particular brought me into the land of the living a bit more quickly than normal.

tweetI was, as you can imagine, irritated by this, but I was also puzzled. First off, does Sara J. Henry believe only libraries are buying her books? I see photos of author signings in her Twitter history, so obviously not. The tone of her tweet is quite sarcastic, and I phrased my response thus: “Dear author, out of all books, I chose yours, library or no. & if I told you I enjoyed it, might I not tell others?”

I wanted this author to understand that the library is typically not going to make or break an author, but an attitude of disdain toward a reader may. Now, I say all this, but I in no means want to deride Sara J. Henry. I’ve followed her on Twitter for quite some time. However, after last month’s hullabaloo with Terry Deary discussing libraries costing him money, I thought it might be time to speak up, particularly after Henry tweeted a link to this blog post about readers helping writers.

Of course, this is quite a large topic, and Terry Deary’s article bothers me particularly because he writes children’s books – books that are expensive to make but are also expensive to buy and finished quite quickly. Not only that, but low-income families are very often the ones to use the library. I was part of one of those when I was young.

Sara Henry, on the other hand, writes adult fiction. Last year I read 150 mostly adult, fiction books. No, I did not buy them all, but for about 16 years, I have sustained my reading habit and been responsible for my reading material. At even an average of $10 a book (so I’m knocking out hardcovers, which I own plenty of), and assuming I don’t buy more than I read (ha!) that’s over $1,000 a year. For many, including myself, that number is shocking. When my bank first allowed me to divvy up my expenses, and I saw my book purchases a few years back, I was appalled. I began to use the library more frequently.

As a blogger, even though I receive copies of books from publishers, I still buy entirely too many books (30 last month alone…I know, it’s an illness).

So I was curious. For a mid-level author (meaning, not Stephen King), about how many times will the book be checked out? I called my local branch to figure this out. Unless it’s a hugely popular author, they only order one copy per branch, and there are five branches total in my city. We looked up Lawrence Block. Four of the branches each had one copy of his 2011 novel A Drop of the Hard Stuff. The total number of checkouts for this book was 26. The most popular branch checked out the book 19 times. The other branches had a significantly lower number. We looked up several other mid-list authors and discovered the same thing. We determined that, on average, each mid-list book is checked out approximately seven times. So perhaps that is money out of the author’s pocket, but wait – many readers check out books they’d never buy (and end up buying others by the author), and libraries also buy a large percentage of books.

This post by Kristin Laughtin, “Are Libraries Good for Authors?” looks into this in greater detail:

How much?

Publishers count on a significant portion of their revenue from libraries. In 2009, public libraries and educational institutions (which include school and college libraries) bought $14.6 billion of the $40 billion in books sold. Over a tenth of net book sales are to libraries. The absence of libraries would be noticed! (Link.)

A tenth of book sales. That’s quite a lot, considering again that many library patrons will check out a book he or she would never otherwise buy. Laughtin also points out that a library isn’t 100% free. Taxes go toward the maintenance of libraries, and those outside of city limits pay fees to enjoy the library. The cost may be minimal, but it is indeed there.

Plus, in this community of readers, though it may be anecdotal, many of you have indicated if you enjoy a book at the library, you will likely buy it for your shelves. When I was an adjunct instructor on a meager salary, the library became my only source for reading material. Did I like that? Well, I loved that it was available, even if I didn’t love not owning the books I wanted.

But beyond that, referring back to author Jody Hedlund’s post about readers helping to promote writers – I want to talk about responsibility. It’s a word that comes up quite often these days in reference to books, authors, and bookstores. Jeff O’Neal at Book Riot is one of the most recent to discuss the guilt inherent in many articles supporting indie bookstores, but I’ve noticed it more and more often in terms of the author/reader relationship. From the opening of Hedlund’s post, it rankled:

Dear readers, did you know authors need YOUR help in promoting their books? Yes, they really do!

Many readers already do a superb job promoting the books and authors they love.

Now let me stop right here and say: I do not consider bloggers average readers. By virtue of the blogger/publisher, blogger/author relationship (one I avoid), responsibility is or should be considered. However, an average reader? It’s those words “superb job” that stick in my throat, as it is indeed a job to complete the “twenty easy but effective” things a reader can do to help an author.

So just what is the responsibility of an average reader? I can think of only one: to read. (oh, and not to pirate.)

There are some connected thoughts here such as reader engagement, but ultimately, they boil down to this: Readers should read. They should read if they can’t afford it (by visiting the library), or if they can afford it (by buying). I am not personally responsible if an author doesn’t get the kind of coverage he/she desires or deserves. Similarly, I take no part in the negotiations that happen between authors/agents, authors/publishers, authors/editors. All of those relationships directly affect an author’s pocketbook. My desire to check out one book from the library most likely does not, particularly when we keep in mind the average number of checkouts on a mid-list book.

If I read said book, I do not have an obligation to write about it, tweet about it, tell my book club about it, or talk about it, in general.

I do do those things. But it isn’t my responsibility.

Are there authors I really like and choose to support? Most definitely. I will buy anything Rainbow Rowell or Ian Rankin writes. And I will attempt to buy that book on its publication date (if I can afford to, after bills and food) – because I want to help an author. Because I chose to put my money where my mouth is. Because ultimately, I want to read that book, and I want these authors to write more books. Might they still choose not to write more? Most certainly, but if that’s the case, it won’t be because Jennifer Ravey in Texas did or did not buy the most recent book they’ve written. Because the writing of that book, the process of getting that book published, and the marketing of that book are not my responsibility. Period.

Ultimately, Jody Hedlund is correct. If a reader really wants to help an author whom he or she likes or admires out of the goodness of his or her heart, by all means, promote the heck out of that book. But understand, authors and readers, it is not your job or your responsibility, and don’t you dare feel guilty for that.