Monday, February 27, 2012

Audioreview: Castle

Listened 2/16/12 - 2/23/12
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who don't mind the spooky stuff turning out to be not-so-spooky
Audio Download (approx 10 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik / Graywolf Press
Narrator: Mark Douglas Nelson

I dig suspense as much as the next guy. Gimme a book with some creepy old farmhouse full of strange noises at night, surrounded by over 600 acres of dense dark woods, and you've got yourself one happy little reader. The only thing that could ruin a book like this would be if it failed to live up to its own hype, right?

Ooh Castle, how you built me up only to bring me down, slowly and angrily, to beat my fists against the muddy humus beneath my knees...

J. Robert Lennon's Castle initially came to me as a review copy, among others, from the lovely ladies at Graywolf Press. Somehow, it fell to the wayside and began to get buried beneath the other, newer review copies that were arriving... and I've always felt horrible about that.

A few months ago, however, I ran across the audiobook on Iambik's website and realized that this was my chance to finally get it read. Much, much sooner than I would ever get to it in print copy, too! And so it became my commuting companion for the entire week.

It all begins with Eric Loesch, an apparently unstable and irritable man, and his purchase of an old abandoned farmhouse upon returning to his hometown. As he peruses the deed to the property, he discovers a small portion of land, deep within his woods, that does not belong to him. Bent on uncovering the identity of the person who has gone to great lengths to hide their ownership of whatever lies hidden back there in the forest, Eric displays unusual suspicion towards the townspeople, many of whom seem to remember him - though he does not appear to remember them. Callous and cold, he seems to harbor a strong dislike for unnecessary human contact and will go to great extremes to protect his privacy when he feels someone may be placing it in jeopardy.

While seeking out whatever information he can about the mysteriously blackened out name on the house papers, Eric begins to renovate the farmhouse. He appears to be suspended in a state of constant unease whenever he is in and around his house, suffering from a strange, unexplained fear of the basement and waking in the night to the sounds of crying or keening, or whistling?

As the home renovations come to an end, Eric rewards himself with a little trek through his woods to the large outcropping of rock that's visible from his bedroom window. Priding himself on his flawless sense of direction, he makes slow and aggravating headway through the thick and gloomy forest, eventually losing track of time and getting himself lost. Just as panic is threatening to grip his heart, suddenly - out of nowhere - a white deer appears and leads him out of the woods safely. (Though he is not sure why, he feels a connection to what he calls his deer.) On his second attempt, he successfully reaches the rock outcropping but manages to lose his backpack which contains all of his supplies and a change of clothes. Yet what bothers him more is what he finds on the other side of that large, slick boulder. It's a miniature castle, just as dilapidated as the farmhouse he brought back to life, and he immediately understands that this impenetrable fortress does not belong to him.

Sounds like a good set up so far, doesn't it? You have to give props to Lennon for not showing his hand too early... the man knows how to draw out the suspense. Throughout the first half of the book, as you get to know Eric, as the little nuances of his personality come to light - how quick to anger he is, how he holds everyone around him in such contempt, how much more intelligent he believes himself to be, his incredible sense of entitlement - you begin to wonder just how much Eric knows... about himself. I mean, is it really possible for this guy to be such a crass, volatile person? What is it about his fellow humans that he finds so disgusting?

Over the course of the second half of the book - without giving too much away - he begins to recall the shitty, abusive childhood he suffered at the hands of his indifferent parents and a wacky, loose-cannon sort of psychologist;  and about his career in the military and the reason he headed back to his hometown, and things start to come into focus for us. Sadly, the more we learn about Eric and his motives, the less spooky or supernatural the whole first half of the book starts to seem. Towards the end, I got the feeling that the author just sort of ran out of steam and settled with a hum-drum ending just to get the whole thing over with. To say the ending was depressing and a let-down would be an understatement.

To be honest, as the end of the book was drawing near and I was still struggling to make heads or tales of what was going on, I thought up at least two other directions the author could have chosen to take that would have kept me happy and maintained the overall creepy/uncertain theme he had going on.

The narrator that Iambik chose for this audiobook threw me off quite a bit. Mark Douglas Nelson's voice sounds like that of a much older man, causing me to assume Eric Loesch was a man in his late 50's or early 60's, when in reality he may have been closer to 30 or 40. Though, as booksexyreview and I discussed the audio in detail, during the week that we were listening to it (she was always a few chapters ahead of me) she pointed out that the things that bothered me about Mark - his long drawn out but's... and his extremely proper pronunciations - were actually quite a good fit for the strange and awkward Eric. At the time, I found it difficult to agree with her because it was all quite distracting to me. But now that I have put some space between me and the book, I think I can see where she was coming from.

So, a mediocre review for a middle of the road sort of book. While nothing to write home about, it might be worth a flip through on a slow, rainy afternoon when you've got some time to kill and no expectations to kill it with.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Patrick James O'Connor

Sometimes you happen upon an author by sheer accident. Such is the story of TNBBC and Patrick James O'Connor. While searching for book reviewers to host portions of a blog tour I was managing, I stumbled across The Literate Man, and dropped them a line. Their's is a book blog for men, and mine was a man's man book, and it seemed like a match made in heaven. 

Patrick was an awesome sport, throwing his blog into the bunch to support an indie author, and now I have the opportunity to return the favor. 

Patrick is the author of The Last Will and Testament of Lemuel Higgins, a "haunting account of shattered dreams and the quest for impossible redemption" *goodreads that was released by Blackbriar Press back in December. I was interested in finding out a bit more about how and why his debut novel came to be.  Patrick shared the following:

While much of the material for my novel, TheLast Will and Testament of Lemuel Higgins, arises out of the many years that I spent working on a dairy farm in Western New York, the voice of Lem Higgins evolved out of a short story, entitled "Midwinter's Harvest," that I wrote in 2007. In that story, the protagonist describes in purely colloquial language the shock and sadness of revisiting a former employer after the unexpected loss of the employer's child. The strength of Lem's voice was impossible to ignore, and I grew very fond of the rhythm with which the story was told.  I soon realized that, in addition to telling the story of the Danner family, Lem had his own story to tell.

I chose to tell the story from Lem's perspective, in the first-person, because I find it the best way to create a sympathetic connection between reader and character. For much the same reason, I like the epistolary form (Lem's will is really just one long letter to Sarah), because it allows the reader to delve into the protagonist's most intimate thoughts. There's a very strong connection that arises when a reader is allowed to eavesdrop on a conversation between individuals that share an intimacy and a history such as Lem and Sarah.

Though the book is fiction and none of the characters are representative of any particular person, I believe it to be generally indicative of my own adolescence and the experience of my friends and acquaintances, insofar as it describes childhood dreams and some of the obstacles (both self- and other-made) that we encountered as we entered adulthood.  I would like to think that it remains indicative of small-town life in America as, in a certain sense, the basic experience of growing up in a small town is only marginally affected by the changing times.
In the end, it was both the strength of Lem's voice and the familiarity of the circumstances that he was describing that motivated me to put it all on paper, which took me four years or so.  I would like to think that my writing shows the influence of some of my favorite authors, including James Joyce and Ken Kesey, both of whom take significant risks with language, while respecting the essential connection between author and audience.  In the end, more than simply telling an interesting story, I hope that I have produced one that connects with readers on an emotional level.       

About the Author:

Patrick James O’Connor was born and raised in farming country south of Buffalo, New York, where he worked variously as a horse trainer, farmhand, park ranger, waiter, septic tank cleaner, and social worker. In 1993, he worked as a congressional aide in the Washington, DC offices of New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. After studying English Literature at the University of Richmond, he spent a season hiking the Appalachian Trail before pursuing a degree in law. Then, while studying at Georgetown University Law Center, he joined a fact-finding expedition to Guatemala, where he spent several years climbing volcanoes with his dog, Jonah, and working on indigenous rights and environmental issues. He is currently a partner at the Miami law firm, Harper Meyer LLP, where he practices international law and, among other projects, works to procure the return of stolen Mayan artifacts to Guatemala. The Last Will and Testament of Lemuel Higgins is his first novel. For more information, visit

Friday, February 24, 2012

Indie Book Buzz: Graywolf Press

It's a great day for some Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. Over the next few weeks, we will be inviting members of the indie publishing houses to share which of their upcoming 2012 releases they are most excited about!

This week's pick come from Erin Kottke,
Publicity Director at Graywolf Press

CITY OF BOHANE by Kevin Barry 
(March 13, 2012)

“It’s hard for me to heap praise on Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane when the pre-publication reviews that have come in have already done it so well. From Library Journal’s “Books for Dudes” column: “[A] wild-ass ripsnorter . . . a bravura, Nabokovian mind-blower.” And this, from Kirkus: “Roll up Joyce, Dickens, Anthony Burgess and Marty Scorsese, sprinkle with a dash of Terry Gilliam, and smoke up. That’s roughly the literary experience to be had from ingesting this marvelously mashed-up creation.”

So I’ll just call it what it is: a damn near perfect debut novel. Set roughly forty years in the future in a fictional town on the west coast of Ireland, City of Bohane is electric, gritty, and violent, but it’s not without heart. It’s a tale of dynastic upheaval, revenge, nostalgia and regret, and love lost and found. And the language! My God, the language. Kevin Barry has created this futuristic Irish slang that’s so completely engrossing that you’ll wish you could take a course in how to speak Bohanian. For now, this video of Kevin Barry reading from the book will have to suffice.”

Leave it to the lovely Erin to get me pining over another Graywolf Press book! Doesn't this thing sound amazing??!! So what do you think guys? Help TNBBC and Graywolf Press spread the buzz about these books by sharing this post with others!


Erin Kottke is the publicity director at Graywolf Press, where she has had the honor of working with Per Petterson, Ander Monson, Tiphanie Yanique, Tony Hoagland, and others. Some of her favorite non-Graywolf books include No Great Mischief by Alistair McLeod, Straight Man by Richard Russo, Ordinary Victories by Manu Larcenet, Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon.  She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and their three-year old son, Linus, with baby #2 due to arrive in the next month or so. You can find her on Twitter at @eekottke and @graywolfpress.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: The Drought

Read 2/22/12
4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended
Pgs: 36 (eBook)
Publisher: The Lit Pub
Release Date: March 1, 2012

The Drought is an extremely short and compelling chapbook that The Lit Pub will be releasing next week during AWP. And if you're smart, you'll run to their booth and snatch up a copy before they sell out. You can thank me later.

How Miles Harvey manages to stuff a complete novels-worth-of-content into a 36 page story, I'll never know. The sparse language, his attention to what's important, and the incredibly tight pacing all work together to pull you quickly and roughly into this nameless small town that is literally dying of thirst.

Stuck in a strange, stalled high pressure front, the town has not seen rain in over 2 years. Creek beds have dried up, farms and fields are useless, wildfires are still smoldering and flaring up unexpectedly, buildings are half buried beneath shifting dirt and dust... and the townspeople have raised their newly bearded weatherman to prophetic heights. But is he worthy of their reverence?

Unbeknownst to them, as he attempts to fan the flames of hope and discover how to bring about the end of the drought, he secretly strikes up an affair with the barber's wife. And we all know that in small towns like this one, where you can't go anywhere without bumping into an ex or a neighbor or coworker, keeping secrets is a difficult thing to do.

The Drought is a thing of beauty and was my first Lit Pub experience. I can't wait to get my hands on more of their stuff!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Temporary Yes

Read 2/21/12
3 Stars - Recommended to poetry fans
Pgs: 70
Publisher: Artistically Declined Press

Happy publication day to Kat Dixon and her newest collection of poetry, Temporary Yes, which sports what is quite possibly THE loveliest book cover I have ever laid eyes on

In it, Kat masterfully manipulates the English language, creating confusing and beautiful verses that surge through innumerable emotional boundaries.

Her words acted like a visual trigger, invoking an image. When you read this line - "fingers surgically laced through someone else's fingers"... - it's nearly impossible not to visualize it, right? What do you see? (I picture two people, so desperate for one another that they have their clasped hands stitched together, finger to finger, grinning madly through the pain as the needle and thread join them to one another, permanently and irrevocably...)

Other times, I found her words produced a more visceral reaction. I felt this line -  "when morning comes, I'll be there sewn into the neck of your undershirt. Breathing"... - like a punch in the kidneys. It made me draw a breath. It made me feel something. Sure, you could visualize that line as well, but I definitely felt it first.

There's a comfortable repetition that weaves its way in and out of her poetry - themes or words that she returns to, like the two verses I've just discussed both mentioning "stitching" - and it's interesting to note how such similar things can cause such diverse reactions.

Yet, more times than not, I'm afraid that I wasn't clear on the message or the meaning behind the poems. This meant that the visceral and visual responses were less immediate or sometimes not there at all. Certainly, her poetry revolves around love and the crazy feelings it can stir within us and I found quite a few verses that simply drew my breath away and left me stunned... but I fear that a lot of what Kat was trying to say was lost on me.

Sometimes the strange word combinations threw me off and brought to mind those poetry refrigerator magnets that contained a variety of odd words that wouldn't normally be found together in a sentence. For example - "Who would whisper anything but inaccuracies in the yellow of an undoing?" and "Without pulling up the kitchen tiles to stow away the excess organs, something is bound to lose its polka dots." A lover of poetry, I am. Skilled in the art of deciphering, I am not.

But don't let my review get in the way of you getting to know Kat and her poetry. View this as a challenge. Go out and read it, experience it for yourself. Then come back so we can compare lines like this one... "and each goodbye is another way of falling asleep" and this one... "every shape of my mouth is something stolen"... because they contain so much within them that must be brought out.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jason Fisk's "Salt Creek" Blog Tour

Welcome to the first stop on the Jason Fisk "Salt Creek" Blog Tour!

As an obsessive fan of independent literature, I can't help jumping at the chance to introduce readers to cool and ground-breaking new authors and publishers. So when CCLaP asked me to lend a hand in giving Jason Fisk's new story collection a little love, I couldn't say no, could I?

It's not just any old story collection, either! Salt Creek Anthology is CCLaP's first hyperfiction project - a book containing loads of micro-stories which share underlying themes and minor references that are connected through a series of hyperlinks. Think new-age "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. Each story is connected to another story within the collection by a word or phrase or idea. Clicking on the hyperlinks will immediately pop you into another story that is in some way connected to the one you just left.

However, unlike those uber-popular books of the late 80's, this hyperfiction collection - should you so choose to eschew the hyperlinks - can be read in a perfectly linear fashion. It's your choice! 

I'm sure you are thinking, though, that this Salt Creek must only be available as an eBook since its uniqueness is in its hyperlinks, right? But you would be wrong! Publisher Jason Pettus has come up with an ingenious way to give you a similarly interactive reading experience in paper form. The book, in addition to being printed as EPUB and MOBI files, is also available in print and PDF versions. The print version comes in a handmade box and is actually spineless - it employs colored text to tell you what page to flip to (in place of a hyperlink) or you could simply shuffle the book's pages and read the entire thing completely at random. 

So now that I've wooed you into checking out his book, I've asked Jason Fisk to woo us with what being Indie means to him:

My dream of being a writer had barely lived before it was put to death. I had always been a reader, and I suppose, if you were to probe the deep recesses of my young mind, you would have found seedlings of my longing to be a writer just waiting to take root in my soul; however, they didn’t, not then.

The first person to sort of kick my dream of writing toward the dark corner of my mind was a high school English teacher named Jack. He wasn’t my high school teacher, but a friend of the family who I worked landscaping with for a summer. When Jack asked what I wanted to do when I got older, I told him that I wanted to write. He sarcastically said, “Yeah, good luck with that,” and then rattled off some crazy speech about not being able to make a living as a writer, and he suggested I alter my aspirations.

What my 15-year-old mind heard was Jack doubting my potential. That conversation honestly made me reconsider ever wanting to write. Part of me was pissed; how dare he squash my dreams. Part of me realized that he was probably right, I wouldn’t be able to make a living writing. Why should I even bother?

I later realized that Jack was actually voicing his own frustrations with the publishing industry. I learned, later in life, that he was a poet who struggled to find a home for his nature poetry. I was happy to hear that his poetry book about gardening eventually found a home with a small local press.

Over the years, there were numerous others who had their turns at kicking my dream of writing to the back corner of my mind. Practicality slowly choked, starved, and shriveled that dream into nothing. It wasn’t until I was sitting in an elective course, The History of Poetry, that the dream was pulled from its dark corner and dusted off. A poet, Debra Bruce, taught the class. She believed that, like a mechanic learning his or her trade, one could not simply learn everything from a book, but instead had to get their hands dirty and actually feel the parts/words as they went together. She had us writing all different types of poetry. It was magnificent.

Because of that class, I fell deeply in love with writing. I became obsessed, writing poetry all the time. I immersed myself in online zines, and would follow one link to another, discovering new and wonderful places. Some of them were twisted, some were beautiful, some were subversive, all were something new, and something wonderful. I found kindred spirits that I never would have found on commercial bookshelves. I found indie literature, and eventually my writing found its way into that world too.

I could care less about the discussions surrounding indie literature’s viability, or its representation of something idealistic and pure. Being indie, to me, is something much more than that; it is something crude, something raw, and something beautiful. It is the grease on my hands after a hard day’s work. It is my outlet, and is one of the main reasons I write.


Jason Fisk is a husband of one, a teacher to many, and a father of two. He is the author of Salt Creek Anthology, a collection of micro-fiction published by Chicago Center for Literature and Photography; the fierce crackle of fragile wings, a collection of poetry published by Six Gallery Press; as well as two poetry chapbooks, The Sagging: Spirits and Skin, and Decay, both published by Propaganda Press. For more information, feel free to check out:

Tomorrow, be sure to follow the tour by visiting Stop #2 here

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review: Code For Failure

Read 2/12/12
4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended to readers who don't mind getting a little grease under their nails
Pgs: 255 (eBook format)
Publisher: Black Coffee Press
Release date: March 27th, 2012

"Don't ever get comfortable here," ... "This place will steal your soul."

I'm about to admit something that you may end up holding against me. Although I bet you are guilty of the same exact thing, so just go ahead and hold that mirror up against yourself before you get too judgy... ok?

I've always kinda felt sorry for the people who work at gas stations. There. I've said it. But I've also spent a college semester working at one for some extra cash, so I do have some personal experience here too...

I feel like they must've been handed an awfully raw deal to end up pumping gas and handing over cigarettes at some mini-mart. Surely they didn't set their sights on this sort of occupation when they were younglings, right?

An imagined conversation - (Stranger): So, Mack, what do you want to be when you grow up? (Mack): I want to be a gas station attendant, sir!

Or, if this was their choice and not some cruel hand the world had dealt them, they certainly had set very low expectations for themselves and didn't count "initiative" among their top priorities in life.

Another imagined conversation - (Stranger): So, how'd you end up here? (Mack): Well, I wanted a job where I could just roll outta bed, throw on a uniform, and not have to think for 8 hours. Plus, I secretly kinda dig the smell of gasoline!

While reading Ryan Bradley's upcoming release and debut novel Code for Failure, though, I started to see things a little bit differently. I mean, sure, the pay is pathetic and the hours suck. You gotta deal with know-it-all assholes and people who don't even acknowledge you. But if the guys pumping my gas are seeing half as much action as Ryan claims they do, they might not have it so bad after all.

Let me break this down for you. Ryan's narrator is a college drop out who takes up a position at the local gas station. He's almost perfected the multi-pump (his station's pumps can't be set to stop at a certain dollar amount for those who require anything less than a "fillerup"), works for a boss who seems like a half decent dude, and doesn't seem phased by the high turnover rate of his co-workers. He keeps his head down and his nose clean and without really trying, he secures himself the Assistant Manager's position in no time - along with its measly 5 cent raise and a shit ton more responsibility.

There are women who come into the picture, and out of the picture, and sometimes back into the picture (and when that happens, it's never a good thing, trust me)... So many women overall that I just want to run up to this guy and pat him on the back for a second, with a knowing smile, before giving him the number to an STD specialist. For someone who's not exactly thrilled with his station in life, he's certainly found a way to make the most of it!

The story is told in a series of short chapters - ranging anywhere from a few pages to a mere paragraph or two - and reads like lightening. After downloading the book to my smartphone I sat down on the couch and, without meaning to, managed to read the entire thing in a matter of hours. The chapters practically encourage you to keep reading... taking you from moment to moment in our narrator's career as a gas station attendant cum grease monkey cum ladies man... and before you know it, you've read the entire thing in one sitting and you're running to the bathroom to pee for the first time in hours (and possibly to take a shower too).

On the surface, it's certainly a fun, insanely honest read that will leave you feeling slightly dirty. If you're anything like me, you'll be dying to know just how much of this stuff was pulled from Ryan's own experiences during his gas station days. Then you'll realize that it's probably better that you don't know.

But even deeper than that, it's an ugly-duckling-turned-swan sort of story that exposes the darker human struggle - sex and drugs and all of the temptations in between - and our deeply ingrained need for companionship.

You're guaranteed to never look at a gas station attendant in the same way ever again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Indie Book Buzz: Graywolf Press

It's a great day for some Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. Over the next few weeks, we will be inviting members of the indie publishing houses to share which of their upcoming 2012 releases they are most excited about!

This week's picks come from Marisa Atkinson,
Marketing and Publicity Associate at Graywolf Press

BOLETO by Alyson Hagy
(May 2012) 

Get ready to fall in love with your new favorite book: BOLETO by Alyson Hagy. This is one of the most sincere, authentic, and moving novels I’ve read in a very long time, and it tops my list of Graywolf favorites. Hagy (Ghosts of Wyoming and Snow, Ashes) is a remarkable writer; I continually marvel at how she’s able to pack so much punch into such economical phrasing. Sure, BOLETO is the story of a young man (the swoon-worthy, heartbreaking Will Testerman, played by Ryan Gosling in my mind from the start) and his filly, but this is no mere “horse novel.” It’s a coming-of-age novel, a family drama, a Western, a survival tale, and an exposé of the equine circuit. It is a breathtaking masterpiece somehow contained within a mere 250 pages. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

INFERNO by Dante Alighieri 
a new translation by Mary Jo Bang, 
illustrated by Henrik Drescher
(June 2012)

If you’re rolling your eyes at yet another edition of Dante’s Inferno, I don’t blame you, but trust me: Bang’s interpretation is truly is unlike any Dante you’ve read before. Though she faithfully translated INFERNO from the medieval Italian of the original, Bang’s translation is an imaginative and lively modernization, complete with pop culture references and twenty-first century touchstones. This collection is sure to cause at least a little controversy, as not everyone likes their Dante with a side of Bob Dylan, South Park, and Michael Jackson. But personally, I’m on the side of readership that loves the idea of updating canonical tomes for the modern age, and I know I’m not alone (hello, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!). The collection is also illustrated with the haunting work of Henrik Drescher, so once you’re done reading it will make a stunning objet d’art unfurled on your coffee table. Graywolf will be promoting INFERNO at BEA in June, so be sure to stop by and check it out.

Graywolf's line-ups always impress me. I wish I could devote time to reading everything they put out there, but alas, I cannot. However, dear collective readers, if you were to get your hands on one of these when they release, please be sure to come back and tell me how they were. I want to live vicariously through you!

About Marissa

Marisa Atkinson is the Marketing and Publicity Associate at Graywolf Press, where she has worked with Belle Boggs, Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Jim Moore, Melanie Rae Thon, and others. She will read any coming-of-age or campus novel you put in front of her. She has never read The Great Gatsby, but promises it’s on her summer reading list. You can follow her on Twitter at @totesmarisa and check outGraywolf on Facebook.

So what do you think guys? See anything that catches your eye? Which of these books are you most excited to see release? Help TNBBC and Graywolf Press spread the buzz about these books by sharing this post with others!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: The Avian Gospels

Read 1/31/12 - 2/11/12
4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended to fans of dystopian fiction who don't require a nice neat bow on the how's and why's.
Combined pg count: 442
Publisher: Short Flight/Long Drive

So, the lapsed Catholic in me is chuckling as I find myself, for the second time in as many months, reviewing a book that outwardly appears to be religious in nature. The first was Beatitude by Larry Closs which, as you can see from the title, would require some explanation. Rest assured, dear reader, the book had nothing to do with the eight blessings found within the bible. I promise you.

The second book, of course, would be this one. Look at these babies, wouldja?! The Avian Gospels is a full length novel marketed as a two volume set of mini bible lookalikes, complete with luscious red textured covers, gold lined pages, and red ribbon marker. The pages even have lines marked in multiple of 5's, like the actual bible marks the lines and verse for easy reference. They are really quite lovely, and may very possibly be the most perfectly packaged books I have ever read.

But enough about the book as an object. You probably just want to know what it's about, right?

Here's the quick and dirty. The Avian Gospels is a story about a nameless war ravaged city that is suddenly, unexpectedly, buried beneath a plague of birds. For no known reason, millions of them flock to the city at once, blotting out the sun and covering the ground in a blanket of feathers and beaks.

This city, which, besides being nameless, also appears to be locationless - sandwiched somewhere between Hungary and Oklahoma (now I admit to being geographically challenged, I am pretty sure that in this version of the world, Hungary and Oklahoma appear to be butted up against one another) - this city is run by a power hungry man who calls himself The Judge. His soldiers, the RedBlacks, enforce his rules with their fists and heels - motivating the city's inhabitants and maintaining the upper hand by any and all means necessary (brute force and torture being among their favorites).

There are three castes, or groups, of people co-existing within the city walls: The RedBlacks and their kin - natives of the city who rule the businesses and the streets; the Gypsies - who fled their native home of Norway during the war and who now hide from the RedBlacks underground, calling the twisted system of tunnels and trapdoors their homes; and then there are the two Swedes who can control the birds - Zvominir and his son Morgan.

Once the Judge discovers that Zvominir and Morgan can control the birds, he quickly employs them to clear the city of the flying creatures. Zvominir, desperate to give his son an easy life, sucks up to the Judge and performs daily walks through the city sending the birds away. His influence over them can only last for so long however, and within a few days the birds migrate back...

Morgan, on the other hand, uses his power to woo the crowds, creating intricate and captivating masterpieces in the sky - using every color and species of bird there is. He is not as spineless as his father though, and rather than pool their powers together, they end up turning them onto each other... Zvominir believes in continuing to work for the Judge, purging out the birds day in and day out, while Morgan - sick of the way he and the Gypsies are being treated - takes up with Jane and the two begin to devise a plan to take the city back from the RedBlacks.

All of this is told to us by a strange and elusive collective that refer to themselves simply as "we" and "us". They appear to be telling the story after the fact, disclosing events that took place in the past and - if we are to believe them - that took place before they were even alive. This collective seems to have had no first hand experience with Zvominir, Morgan, or any of the situations they have been revealing. They also appeared to be independent of sides which led me to believe, by the books end, that in their time - however far into the future that might be - there are no longer any divisive lines between the natives and the Gypsies.

I struggled immensely throughout the novel with the reliability of our narrators. I mean, how well preserved can these stories have been? How many times had they been handed down before they were shared with us? How much time had passed between the actual events and committing the events to pen and paper?

And then this got me thinking again about the whole religious angle. I mean, besides me mentioning at the start of all this the fact that the darn things looked like mini bibles, you know? Cause, well, isn't this what kind of happened with the stories of the bible? Weren't those events supposed to be a part of our past? Weren't they all witnessed by different people, who then passed their versions back and forth verbally, until finally someone, somehow, committed these versions of the events to paper later on? Just how reliable are those events... the events we are supposed to believe in so unflinchingly, the events that are preached to us when we sit in church during the Sunday masses? Events that are told to us from a collective group of people who were not there to witness them for themselves. Should I even be making this kind of connection? Was any of this Adam Novy's intent?

Could Adam, the author behind The Avian Gospels, have set up this entirely bizarre, beautiful story with the hopes that we would make this connection on our own? Did he have advanced knowledge that his publisher would market the books as mini bibles, and that his collective narrators would spawn this type of thinking in his readers? Or is this me just throwing my own fucked up, twisted, agnostic views out there to see if something sticks?

Reading through most of the reviews posted to Goodreads, it would appear that I am as I feared. I'm the only one making this sort of connection between the two. And I wouldn't be surprised to find out that I am completely, embarrassingly, and entirely off-base. I mean, check out this incredibly well thought out review by Bullet Review - the guy sees such a lack of tie-in to the Catholic religion that he even asks at the end of the dang thing why it's called a gospel! Yet he sees so much more than I did at first glance.

But that's cool with me, cause no matter what the author's intent was, no matter what I ended up taking away or completely overlooking, I thoroughly loved this book. It stirred my brain, it made me think, and it captivated me. It's a war story without being a war story. It's a survival story without being a survival story. It's what you make of it while you're reading it. One of the things I really enjoyed about it, which usually annoys me to no end, is the fact that some things were just never explained. Like, why did the birds suddenly migrate to the city? And what chain of events placed the Judge in the seat of power over the city? And just who are our narrators?

Not to mention that it's a pretty freaking amazing concept, isn't it? I mean, hello... two guys who have the power to influence birds?!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rose Metal Press on "Being Indie"

On "Being Indie" is a monthly feature hosted here on TNBBC. We will meet a wide variety of independent authors, publishers, and booksellers as they discuss what being indie means to them. 

Abigail Beckel, co-founder and publisher of Rose Metal Press, has worked professionally in the publishing industry for more than 11 years. She is also a published poet. 

Kathleen Rooneyco-founder and editor of Rose Metal Press, is the author, most recently, of the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010). Her second solo poetry collection, Robinson Alone, will be published in Fall 2012 by Gold Wake Press.  

I discovered these two ladies and their amazing small press a few months ago through The Lit Pub, a cool website that promotes specialty indies of all genres. By now, you know that I love to hear the story of how these rockin' presses came to be and how they define indie, since the term is applied in so many interesting and (sometimes) contradicting ways. I encourage you to get to know these guys... they've got a great catalog building up and take chances on some amazing literature.

On Being Indie

In his memoir The Business of Books, Andre Schiffrin writes that, “We have seen the development of a new ideology, one that has replaced that of Western democracies against the Soviet bloc. Belief in the market, faith in its ability to conquer everything, a willingness to surrender all other values to it and even the belief that it represents a sort of consumer democracy—these things have become the hallmark of publishing.” Elsewhere in the book, he discusses how the corporate mindset of non-stop growth at all costs has done serious damage to the commercial publishing industry, and to the range of opportunities available to writers and readers.

Being indie, to us, then, means not surrendering all other values to the market and unsustainable growth for the sake of growth. It means that a book that may encourage the growth and expansion of literature and the boundaries of the writing community might not make a lot of money or publish more than a thousand copies. We are mission-driven, but the mission is not money, it’s getting more great and challenging writing out into the world and into readers’ hands.

Being independent, to Rose Metal Press, means, among other things understanding that even if an endeavor is guaranteed to be a relatively small one, that does not make it inferior to one that aims to be enormous. And though we have grown, and hope to continue to grow, over the years, Rose Metal Press chooses to stay small in terms of how many books we publish a year (3) and sees this size as a source of strength. It allows us time to work closely with each author and then really promote each book thoroughly via review outlets, reading tours, and events, and other ways to create buzz for our authors.

Compared to trade publishers, we have more creative freedom because we are independent and a nonprofit and can publish and encourage the kind of writing that we see as ground-breaking and innovative rather than focusing heavily on the marketability and projected sales numbers of any given project. We obviously want our books to sell, but the quality of the work takes precedence in our process of choosing what we’ll publish.

Being independent also means, to us, that we have the opportunity to help bring attention to not just the authors we publish, but to the inventive and unusual cover artists we choose, to our up-and-coming book designers, and to other small publishers also publishing our authors or similar works. Being independent means participating in an endeavor that often feels refreshingly like more of a community and less of an economy. It's more collaborative, with lots of opportunities to seek out and promote imaginative work of all kinds rather than just competing in that space with other innovators.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

To Woo or Not Too Woo... Love in Literature

... So, I wanted to have some fun with you this Valentine's Day.

You should know that I hold no stock in the whole lovey-dovey, super-sappy, roses-are-red (and also $85 a dozen) Hallmark holiday. I don't sit around the house all day giddily anticipating my hubby to come home armed with a box of fine dark chocolates, or a bottle of wine and a sparkly, rose scented card professing his undying and ever evolving love for me. I've been with my baby-daddy long enough to know that you don't need  a holiday to tell you when you should shower your honey with love. In fact, if he's still waiting on Valentine's Day as a cue to spoil you with chocolate covered strawberries and a nice night out at a sexy restaurant, at this point I'd say the love is gone and he's simply going through the motions. Am I right, Ladies?

It's such a "newbie" holiday, isn't it? In the first flush of love boy chases girl, boy asks girl out, girl accepts, boy sweats over what to get girl for Valentine's Day - a bracelet with red rubies? A heart shaped necklace? What if I go overboard? What if I don't go far enough? Is a vase full of flowers going to demonstrate just how desperately I want to get in her pants? What if she gets me a stupid stuffed tiger that purrs when you squeeze it? Or worse yet, one of those monkeys with a motion sensor that plays Wild Thing whenever you walk in front of it....!

Blogger, please!

Today, I thought I would honor Valentine's Day by demonstrating just how fucked up an individual I am. I want to celebrate all the wacky, stalky, inappropriate ways we've come to know love in literature. Because if you are anything like me, you know that "Happily Ever After" only exists in fairy tales and the minds of people who are deluding themselves. Real love, the kind that sticks around forever, has been torn apart and sewed back together, its seams are showing and there are bald patches where the fur's rubbed through. It's black and blued, and perhaps even tattooed, yet it's never worse for the wear and looks abso-fucking-lutely lovely after all of these years...

True Love Is A Tough Pill To Swallow

This is the kind of love I've always longed for. The kind that tears you up inside, the kind that leaves you on your knees, breathlessly screaming because your guts have been torn out and turned around and stuffed back inside. It's the kind that kills you softly, stinging like a razor across a vein, so beautiful that you can't even look at it for fear that the sight of it alone will stop your heart.

You can find this kind of love in...

Just about any collection of poetry by Rod McKuen. I'm serious. This guy can take a lonely diner on a terrace, a million miles from his lover, and turn it into this gut wrenching poem about how he keeps tracing her face into the tablecloth so he doesn't forget what she looks like. Or how he describes his lover's body as a roadmap that he'd like to traverse, from freckle to freckle, memorizing every hill and every valley.

Nate Slawson's Panic Attack, USA is a different sort of poetry all together. Where Rod takes simple things and makes them heartbreakingly beautiful, Nate's poetry touches you in places your mommy and daddy warned you about. How incredible is this - ""I want a nuclear tongue so I can lick dirty words into the bottom of your feet"?  and  "... every morning I rasp for you..."

Not For Lack Of Trying  

This is the unrequited kind of love. The kind of love that no matter what you say, what you do, or how you do it, the object of your affection just ain't interested. So much so, in fact, that the more you attempt to do to get them to like you, the more you seem to push them away. It's the love you've always wanted, only it doesn't want you, at least not in that way.

You can find this kind of love in...

Larry Closs's Beatitude is a book that dissects love at all angles. Falling for your best friend only to realize that they are perfectly content to keep the relationship the way it's been is a tough situation to be in. How do you look them in the eye, how do you go on spending time together? This is an exceptionally well written debut novel that dissects love in all it's varied forms.

It's Better To Have Loved and Lost

This is the kind of love that leaves us, most reluctantly. The kind that you had and held, until the world thought it would be funny to rip it from your hands. The kind that breaks your heart once it's gone. The kind you may never, ever, recover from.

You can find this kind of love in...

Michael Kimball's US cuts straight into the emotional core of each moment. It tells the story of a man who's wife is slowly slipping away from him, forcing him to come to terms with the fact that one day he will awaken to her no longer being there. Its sparse sentences add to the breathless panic our narrator must be feeling over losing the one he loves the most.

Whiskey Heart demonstrates just how deep the drink can cut us. It's full of tormented characters, people who - though they want to - can't seem to figure out how to love one another properly. Sparing us the flowery detail, it allows itself to wallow in misery, it breathes out an air of inevitability and acceptance. It, too, deals with loss and the inability to recover from it, but in a much more frustrating way.

A Relationship Gone Good Gone Bad Gone Good Again

This is the kind of love that's all fucked up. You love them, you hate them, you turn into an asshole and hurt them, then you love them again. And they sit there and take it, all of it, or dish it back in their own fucked up way. It's the kind of love that you're surprised to have walked away from alive, if you end up walking away at all.

You can find this kind of love in...

Ahhh.. Termite Parade. Joshua Mohr stole my heart with this one. Have you ever gotten to the point where, knowing the relationship isn't working, knowing the effort you are putting in will never equal the effort coming back out, knowing that you will never leave them, you have finally had enough, decide to do something you ordinarily wouldn't ever do, something you know you shouldn't but you just can't help yourself, you tell yourself they deserve what they have coming, and then you just do it, without thinking about it? This is that book!

Ethan Hawke's debut novel blew me away when I first read it. Its one of those cute, heartbreaking, poor guy sort of quick reads.... I wanted to be the girl that broke this kids heart. I wanted to be the girl he pined for. I wanted to be the girl that picked up the pieces and put him all back together again.The girl that he treated like shit so i could treat him like shit back. Its everything a relationship-gone-bad-gone-good-gone-bad should be. 

Oh So Inappropriate Love

There are certain norms we follow when it comes to love, yes? And then there are deviations from those norms... strange, twisted, almost illegal deviations....

You can find this kind of love in...

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. Oh this book is wrong on so many levels. But it never once stopped me from wanting to turn the page. It's a very well written, thought-inspiring take on what it is to be human, what it was to be an ape, and what happens when one attempts to become the other. And yes, there are some sexy-times scenes that I still cannot bleach from my brain. 

Lethem had a lot of fun writing this one, I can tell. As She Climbed Across the Table is the story of Philip, Alice, and Lack. Its sort of a love triangle, of sorts. Philip and Alice were a couple. Alice meets Lack, a void with a personality, and falls in love with him. Philip wont let Alice go, Alice cant let Lack go, yet Lack doesnt want Alice. Get ready for science to blow you... away.

So now that I've shared mine, what books do you think of when you think about love?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Audioreview: The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

Listened 1/29/12 - 2/9/12
4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended to readers who don't let a little switcheroo at the end ruin the whole kit and kaboodle
10 cd's (approx 11 hrs)
Publisher: AudioGo

Who says a book about a severely depressed main character can't be funny? Jonathan Coe's The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim will make you laugh out loud at the most inappropriate moments! Of course, I cant speak for the print version, since I listened to this on cd in my car during my commutes to and from work, but AudioGo's narrator Colin Buchanan  had me in stitches more than a few times with his impeccable timing, cheeky sarcasm, and undisguised naivety.

The story, if you look at it strictly from a plot standpoint, is really quite sad: Maxwell Sim had an incredibly difficult time coping with the fact that his wife and daughter up and left him. Taking leave from his job at the department store, he fell into a horribly deep depression. 6 months later, he gets an email notification that his ex-wife bought him a plane ticket to visit his estranged father out in Australia. So he goes.

On the final day of his visit, while eating alone at a local diner, Maxwell notices a Chinese lady and her daughter playing cards at a table across the terrace and is suddenly painfully envious of their relationship. As he boards the plane home, acutely aware of the feelings that this woman and her daughter ignited within him, he desperately needs to talk to someone. It's been so long since he's had an actual conversation ... and he's itching to unburden himself of the past 6 months of loneliness. And when a man takes the seat beside him, as the plane begins to taxi, that is exactly what Maxwell does. He talks non-stop for a good portion of the flight to Charlie, his seat-mate, unburdening himself of all of his fears and fantasies and of the horrible divorce and the depression he's suffered. It all comes pouring out of him, and he feels such a sense of relief... until the stewardess interrupts his soliloquy to inform him that Charlie, the man to which he has been spilling his guts to, appears to have taken a heart attack and died beside him.

And this, my friends, begins the incredibly amazing, sometimes hilarious, slightly unreal story of Maxwell Sim. A man who, suddenly manic with a panic to talk, falls head over heels in love with every woman he comes into contact with - the young junior adultery facilitator (whose name escapes me) he strikes up conversation with in the airport cafe during a layover on his trip home; Lindsay, the creative half behind the toothbrush company he decides he travel to the Shetland Islands for in order to help his buddy's business take off; and most pathetically, "Emma", his trusty, non judgmental GPS system. Oh yes, you heard me. He falls in love with his GPS system's voice. A tragic, hopeless romantic who hasn't quite discovered how to completely pull himself out of his depressive cycle of self-loathing, Maxwell proves to be one of the most sympathetic characters I can recall ever reading. Your heart will bleed for this poor ole sap who can't seem to get his relationships right.

The book contains some additional side-stories which are introduced to us in the form of letters and short stories written to or by some of the other characters that Maxwell happens across throughout his travels. They were initially distracting, pulling us away from Maxwell and thrusting us into the trials and tribulations of solo-sailor and suicidal Donald Crowhurst, or the fucked-up relationship between a young Harold Sim (Max's dad) and his friend Rodger, or the story of The Nettle Pit which was written by his ex-wife, outlining a painful moment buried in Maxwell's past. But over time, the author begins to weave elements of each throughout Maxwell's journey, and we suddenly begin to appreciate the fact that we didn't skim over (or completely skip) those portions of the book. They do come to hold incredible meaning for Max, and for us, too, as the reader.

The book delicately navigates the slippery slope of uncomfortable and unattractive human emotions - loneliness, suicidal depression, jealousy, self hatred - in a tender and ticklish way. Yes, the situations Maxwell find himself in are sometimes quite cartoonish, but the author has his reasons for that. Which brings me to the book's somewhat aggravating ending.

See, there was a point in the book where Max finds himself stranded in his car, in the middle of a snowstorm with very little gas left and only his GPS for company. He was sliding back into a deep depression, on the verge of a very humiliating breakdown.. and it was quite an impressive scene. It had this sense of finality to it... you know? Like we were all sitting on the cusp of something huge, like we were holding our collective breath for a long, long moment, terrified of breaking the beauty of the moment... and then I noticed that there was still a disc and a half to go. What the wha? How could there still be a disc and half to go when it felt like the ending should be right here, right now?

What followed after that was something quite different than I had anticipated. There were some awkward twists and turns, and things were unnecessarily tied a wee bit too tightly into neat and pretty bows. I had wanted my heart to break, and what I ended up with was an ending that came completely out of left field - it was unexpected and unwanted. I wanted to ask the author for my time back. I felt cheated. I felt like Coe had run out of ideas. Like he thought... Oh Shit, I've let this thing go on too far, I've gotta wrap it up now.

Now that I have put some time between me and the story, and discussed the ending - albeit briefly - with an author friend who had read the book, I feel a little better about it. I'm not saying I accept it. I still believe the author missed his opportunity back there with Maxwell freezing to death in the car, pleading with "Emma" the GPS navigator not to leave him as the car battery died... he was so close to making this a #nextbestbook. Oh well...

Do yourself a favor though. When you do pick this up, and you really should pick this up, make sure to listen to it on Audio. Trust me! You won't regret it.