Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth

Read 5/13/14 - 5/21/14
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of Gothic 1980's teenage coming-of-age stories where the coming of age is anything but...
320 Pages
Publisher: Perfect Edge Books
Releases: July 2014

Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth is a dark and angsty roller coaster ride set to a wickedly awesome goth rock soundtrack.

In the center of it all is Mina, an anything but typical teenager. Long time sufferer of mental and physical abuse at the hands of her brother, daughter to a dead mother and somewhat clueless father, shy and self-conscious Mina struggles to find her place among the rest of her school mates. Sure, she's part of an inner circle of friends, but she often finds herself on the outer edges of the group, peeking in from beneath her fringe bangs, feeling the most alone when in the presence of others. At home, when she's not being roughed up, she locks herself away in her room composing short stories, rocking out to the darker classic alt bands of the eighties, and hanging with her feathered friend Animeid, a girl she looks to as protector and confidant, a girl who is a complete and utter figment of her imagination.

Mina does a pretty good job of playing normal and seems to be keeping her crazy in check - acting out in all the usual teenage ways: dying her hair, plastering on the goth greasepaint, getting drunk in the clubs, falling for strange older boys, and getting dumped by one group of friends only to find herself caught up in the swish and sway of another.

But the crazy can only be quieted for so long before we find ourselves staring over the edge of the rabbit hole with Mina, slugging back Elysium in the hopes of returning to a relatively normal life and instead, finding ourselves tugged down inside its black, gaping maw, directly into Bergen's capable and waiting hands.

Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth is a book that avoids genre. It's a melting pot of science fiction, murder mystery, and coming of age YA, whipped to a froth and blended beyond recognition. While it's not for everyone...  it's a reading experience that the braver fans of unconventional literature will not want to miss.

Think cult classic film Heathers with a healthy heap of Alice in Wonderland, and you've got the idea.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Where Writers Write: Jennifer Pieroni

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Jennifer Pieroni

She grew up in a small, rural town in central Massachusetts, studied writing at Emerson College in Boston, and now lives on the north shore of the state with her husband and son. Her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including GuernicaWigleaf, andPANK. She served for more than a decade as the founding editor of Quick Fiction and currently works as a grant writer in the nonprofit sector.

Where Jennifer Pieroni Writes

This is the desk I wrote my novella Danceland at. It was situated in the corner of our apartment living room. Behind me would have been the television, and that was the direction from which the afternoon sun entered the apartment. To my left a bay window overlooking the street, which was always being traveled. To my right the front door, which opened to a foyer. Sometimes the neighbor across the way left his door open and the sound of him clearing his throat grated on me. At the time, my son was 15 months and I was his full-time caregiver. I wrote the book while he napped, and here you can see that when he was awake, he scratched out the bad parts. I kept my grandfather's typewriter on the desk, because I like to surround myself with artifacts of my family's past. I also had my notebook and loose papers with various outlines and plans. Unfortunately I never found a chair I liked, and used that cube. Usually I sat cross-legged and slouched forward.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

CCLaP: Love Songs of the Revolution

Yesterday, CCLaP brought another brand spankin' new book into the world!

Come snuggle up against Bronwyn Mauldin's 

This book is unlike any other that CCLaP has published. It's a literary spy thriller with a kick. I know, I know, you're going to shake your head and say, "Nah, not much of a spy thriller kinda person"... and I get it, I do. Because neither am I. But this is not your typical crime novel. I swear it. You have to believe me. Have I steered you wrong yet? 

If you dig books set in politically charged countries, books that center around murder and mayhem, books that don't insult your intelligence, that force you to dig deep and seek out the truth behind the lies... you'll want to get your hands on this one!

And I'll let you in on a little secret... there's additional content post-ending that will have you rethinking everything you thought you knew up to that point. Love Songs of the Revolution is not what it appears to be, not by a long shot. 

So go on, dig in, trust me. You'll be hooked in no time. 


Here's the publisher's blurb:

An official painter for the Lithuanian Communist Party, Martynas Kudirka enjoys a pleasant, unremarkable life with a beautiful wife and all the privileges that come with being a party member. Yet in the summer of 1989, his ordinary world suddenly turns upside down. Political revolt is breaking out across Eastern Europe, and Martynas comes home to find his wife dead on the kitchen floor with a knife in her back. Realizing the police will not investigate, he sets out to find his wife's killer. Instead, he stumbles upon her secret life. Martynas finds himself drawn into the middle of an independence movement, on a quest to find confidential documents that could free a nation. Cold War betrayals echo down through the years as author Bronwyn Mauldin takes the reader along a modern-day path of discovery to find out Martynas' true identity. Fans of historical fiction will travel back in time to 1989, the Baltic Way protest and Lithuania's "singing revolution," experiencing a nation's determination for freedom and how far they would fight to regain it.


Author Bronwyn Mauldin recently began a blog in which she will be posting her thoughts and insights on the book, as well as myriad other things. Be sure to check it out.... 


Love Songs of the Revolution is available for purchase in a gorgeous paperback edition (cover designed by Ryan W Bradley, ain't it a hottie?!), and like all of our titles, can be downloaded for free at the publisher's website. 

Happy reading everyone!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Drew Reviews: Countdown City

Countdown City by Ben Winters
4 Stars - Strongly Recomended
316 Pages
Publisher: Quirk Books
Released: 2013

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: Detective - well, formerly Detective - Hank Palace is doing the best he can trying to keep an eye on everyone he can as doomsday marches inexorably closer.  When his old babysitter asks him to find her husband, he dives into the case - and takes us on a journey through an increasingly dangerous landscape as our time ticks away...
The Review: I read the first book on a Sunday and, by the time I woke up and started reading this one, my tone had changed.  I was angry, now - angry at humanity for slipping like this.  Does the end of the world mean that everything needs to go to hell in the meantime?  Could we not be better, try harder to retain our shared humanity?
But, then, that's optimistic at best - and Winters knows it.  And this book, we see the tipping point.  It's somewhat unexpected, honestly: things have been humming along with some loose semblance of order and then in the span of a few pages, almost before you can register it, the wire snaps.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Again, Winters uses the setting of the book to address some major socio-philosophical issues - although they dovetail with the actual case a little more cleanly this time around.  The police department having been effectively nationalized at the end of The Last Policeman and the location of the asteroid's impact determined to've been halfway around the world, America has (at least within the tiny parameters of Palace's purview) settled into a sort of routine.  There were riots - bad ones, it seems - on July 4th but a heavy police presence, the Bucket Listers pretty much having gone a-bucketing, and people just attempting to make the most of the last days of civilization.  It's a strange sort of calm, almost.  An easy false sense of security.
When Hank ends up involved in this case - a late-in-the-day Bucket List guy, it would seem - he does it almost out of instinct.  That last gasp of the policeman inside of him fighting against the inertia of this calm before the absolute fucking shitstorm.  It's something for him to do because to give in to the calm is to accept death.  His crazy sister is, of course, the perfect counterpart - they're so similar and yet so different, one attempting to save the world while the other tries to just make a few lives easier in the time we have left.  But both of them have people's best interests in their hearts.  And when Nico returns 2/3rds of the way through the novel, it raises the faintest specter of hope - a dangerous ghost to stir in the chest of a condemned man, for sure.
But again, I get ahead of myself.  The most interesting sequence in the book comes when Hank heads to the "Free Republic" that has been established on the campus of UNH - on the trail, of course, of the missing husband - and it gives Winters a platform to address more directly the fallout of putting hypotheticals into practice in a terminal society.  After all, who better to spout serious-minded statements about government than students?  My favorite quote, one I wrote down immediately was this:
"Radical social theories when put into practice have a notoriously short half-life. They dissolve into anarchy. Or the people’s power, even when carefully delegated to provisional authorities, is seized by totalitarians and autocrats."

This is a young girl (well, youngish - mid-20s probably) talking to Palace after he's witnessed a strange and chilling tribunal of sorts.  He spoke up, seeking due process for the accused, because that's what he understands to be good and right and true.  But Julia, the girl quoted here, goes on to explain that the accused was actually brought in under these trumped-up charges because she didn't want to bring him in under his real charge: rape.  Because she fears that they'd hang him - and, as she says, "once you start hanging people..." 

It's an absolutely chilling moment and one that forced me to pause in my reading.  Our society is exactly that fragile, according to Winters.  Even in the face of those who would do good, pragmatic good, there is this understanding that we must really just pick the less evil choice - we advocate for order and justice in all things even as we lie to protect that order, that justice.  Or to protect some modestly acceptable form of it.  
Again, the case concluded a little too speedily for me - there were interesting aspects, including the revelation of the first big red herring, but it was just all a little too broad.  There were leaps that felt, even under the circumstances, just a little too strange.  But then, it's also clear that we definitely don't know the bigger picture here.  Nico does - or at least she knows some of it - but Hank is out of the loop and that, too, provides a pulse of fear under the storytelling.  As Hank returns to town and that aforementioned wire snaps... my mouth went dry, my heart was pounding.  Why did the cops get pulled off the streets?  What, truly, will the last weeks of civilization look like?  I know Hank's headed back out there for the final book of the trilogy... and I'm not just scared for impact, I'm scared for what we'll have turned into before it comes.
Rating: 4 out of 5.  Watching Ben Winters pull apart society under the guise of a procedural remains entertaining and engaging - but, again, it's not because of the procedural.  It's because he's got a gift for really zeroing in on the fundamental building blocks of society and just how those might fracture, splinter, collapse, or otherwise change in the face of seismic catastrophe.  He indulges the academic stuff even further here, under the guise of a community at a college - but it allows him to really open up these issues and turn everything that's said into theory that sits underneath the entire rest of the novel.  It's sad, strange, and smart all at once.

 Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Andrez Bergen and the Tobacco- Stained Kickstarter

Andrez Bergen is no stranger to TNBBC. When I saw that he had put together a kickstarter to turn his debut novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat into a graphic novel, I thought it was a pretty cool idea, and knew I wanted to help him get the word out there to make the comic a reality: 

By Andrez Bergen

Four or eight?

Not my favourite numbers in the world — I prefer six and seven — but apparently when you're assembling a graphic novel you need to think in terms of four, as in four pages at a time, when you're increasing or decreasing the size as this makes the easier for the printer. But I live in Japan, and here the number four is considered unlucky since it sounds the same as the word for death. Eight, on the other hand eight in China sounds similar to their word which means "prosper" or "wealth".

So maybe I'll go with eight.

What on earth am I waffling about? Well, I'm currently finishing off a graphic novel called Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, to be funded via a Kickstarter campaign that finishes on May 23rd.

While the initial funding was based around the concept of a bare-bones book 130 pages long and 50% colour, the Kickstarter campaign reaching that threshold thanks to some very cool and wonderful people — granting me the opportunity to move and breathe with the project.

It's now expanded to 144 pages at 75% colour, and I'm seriously contemplating extending the story to 148 or 152 depending on final progress with the Kickstarter over the next few days.

The thing is that extension is not stretching, since this graphic novel is based on my 2011 book Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, a hardboiled/noir detective story based in the dystopia that is near-future Melbourne. So I have plenty of room to move. I've only translated the first eighty-odd pages.

That novel got some great critical plaudits and has an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon, so I must've done something right with the thing. I've also thought long and hard about narrative elements involving the fringe characters that were not in that original book.

This graphic novel has granted me the opportunity to return to that terrain, especially to develop the personalities of the women involved, Laurel and Veronica.

It's also given me the chance to go back to sequential artwork, something I've loved tinkering with since school days, and to here try to push the envelope.

While I wouldn't say I'm inventing brave new worlds of imagery, the art does veer into territory unto itself. Or so I like to believe. JR Love said it reminded him of Raymond Pettibone's artwork for the Sonic Youth album GOO. Probably I've been better brainwashed by my love of comic book artists Will Eisner, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Steranko, Steve Epting, Frank Miller, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and David Aja.

Meanwhile my Melbourne-based partner at IF? Commix, Matt Kyme, is the only one to have read the entire graphic novel as it currently stands — four or eight pages shorter than it might be. “I can recognize when I'm seeing something new and visionary,“ he emailed me back, “something that pushes the boundaries till they topple. I know when I'm staring at Van Gogh's ear.” 

I'm slipping that in here 'cos I'm pretentious and loved the response.

Ears I can live with, even lopped off ones — in the name of art, and that jazz. But the four/eight conundrum is a beastie I won't be able to tackle till after the Kickstarter deadline in a few days' time.

Or maybe I'll just extend to eight anyway. Take that, number four!


Andrez Bergen is an expatriate Australian journalist, musician, DJ, writer, photographer and ad hoc beer & sake connoisseur who's been ensconced in Tokyo, Japan, for the past 13 years. Under the alias of Industrial Form he dabbled with graf and filmmaking in the early '90s, then set up indie electronic record label IF? in 1995 — since which time Bergen's made music under silly aliases like Little Nobody, Funk Gadget and Nana Mouskouri's Spectacles.

He's also written for a fistful of magazines like Mixmag, VICE, Geek Monthy, Impact, Anime Insider, Filmink and Australian Style, as well as newspapers The Age (Australia) and the Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan).

In April 2011 Bergen published his first novel, 'Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat', through Another Sky Press. His second novel titled 'One Hundred Years of Vicissitude', was published in late 2012 via Perfect Edge Books. Bergen's third novel 'Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?' (a noir/comicbook homage) and an anthology of his short stories and articles ('The Condimental Op') were published in 2013.

Last year he also compiled a noir/dystopian anthology related to 'Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat', titled 'The Tobacco-Stained Sky', and started making comic books with artist Matt Kyme. In July, 2014, look out for the graphic novel version of 'Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat' (IF? Commix), along with new novel 'Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth' (Perfect Edge)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Review: Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness

Read 4/10/14 - 4/22/14
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who fancy stories about individuals who are just the right amount of fucked up
--- Pages
Publisher: Queen's Ferry Press
Released: 2014

The fine line between what is considered normal and what is actually fucked up is so fine that sometimes we walk back and forth across the damn thing and don't even realize. We live in a world where dysfunction has become a social norm. The distinction between what is acceptable and what is not, what is "normal" and what is not, is not so clear to us anymore. We become numb. We become expectant. We become acceptant. And in this way, we leave ourselves open to unfortunate and sometimes unavoidably unwelcome situations.

The stories in Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness, Heather Fowler's fourth collection, hold a scalpel to the brain of each of its protagonists, in an attempt to differentiate true mental illness from what is natural and normal. When does a simple crush become an obsessive desire? At what point do we decide that these paranoid thoughts in our head are no longer innocent, no longer healthy?

In the opening story "Hand Licker", we meet a heartbroken mental case who sees his ex girlfriend's face everywhere he looks - in a burger and fries someone is eating, in other people's faces. His irresistible urge to lick their palms leads him to the redhead Claire, where he finds acceptance in a form he never knew before. In "Losing Married Women", our narrator unabashedly states "I am an unrepentant harvester of other people’s marriages", clearly not to blame for her insatiable appetite and eventual, habitual loss of interest.

There's a story about a women who becomes so fascinated with a co-worker's strange methods of hitting on her that even her own therapist tells her to shit or get off the pot; a relationship gone sour with a guy who's a confessed obsessive and the mental havoc it reeks on his paramour ; a doctor who can't keep his penis in his pants around one of his patients and why she allows it; a man who is abnormally attached to an old raggedy doll and his housekeeper; a good ole country girl with a club fist who gets a visit from a flirty little boy peddling bibles, only when he tries to take her on, she decides she won't go down without a fight.

And on and on.

The thing I love about Fowler and her characters is how they could be anybody. People you know, people you've accepted into your home, people who shoot the shit with you at work. Sure, they're a little weird, a little creepy at times, you all talk about them when their backs are turned, but they're nothing you haven't seen before, nothing to go to running to HR about. Her stories make you wonder, make you think, maybe even scare you a bit, give you those big ole goosebumps when you realize, shit, could have been me. How close am I standing to a situation like this right now? Could I ever be the object of someone's obsession and not even notice until it's too late?

After you read her stories, your guard will be up. Your eyes will turn their suspicious gaze left and right, left and right, all day long. You'll automatically diagnose everyone around you, and begin to keep your distance. But I promise it won't last long. Because the unease will wear off. The routine will suck you back in. The familiarity with these people, the trust, it will all return. And in a few week's time, it'll be as if you never looked at them any differently. And that's ok. Because it's the norm. And because sometimes, we find mental illness a little thrilling, a little sexy.

Heads up to those of you who'd like to learn a little bit more about Heather Fowler and this collection. Melanie, founder of Grab the Lapels (and TNBBC review contributor), has organized a blog tour and it'll be running around the internet all next week!

Here's the tour roster so you can follow along.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Drew Reviews: The Last Policeman

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
316 Pages
Publisher: Quirk Books
Released: 2012

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: After the discovery of Maia (formerly known as asteroid 2011GV1) and it's impending impact with our fair planet, a lot of people have pretty much given up on normality - jobs, socio-cultural stuff, even sometimes their lives.  But not Detective Hank Palace.  And when a suspicious suicide crosses his desk, he's on the case - but what could be worth killing for when we're all doomed anyway?
The Review: I read pretty much this whole book over the course of a lovely, sunny Sunday afternoon in the middle of Washington Square Park.  There were people everywhere - children, students, old folks, yuppies, artists, tourists... if you wanted to check out a pretty decent slice of the folks who make up Manhattan on any given day, you only had to look at Washington Square.  And as I read this book, I was wondering about just how fragile our social constructs actually are.
The novel is, for the most part, just a traditional noir-styled mystery: there is a crime that nobody believes to be a crime except for one dogged cop, there's a dame, there's an injury to the dogged cop, there's naysayers on the force and The Man mucking things up, etc etc.  All of the traditional trappings.  What makes this novel an exceptional twist on those themes is that it isn't really so much about the mystery at all or even about any of those noirish trappings: it's about humanity and what we might well do in the face of certain destruction.  And honestly I think it's the genre stuff that allows Winters to really get into the nitty-gritty (pun slightly intended) of human nature.
Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles and Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers both deal with apocalyptic scenarios and with humanity's reactions to them - but neither of those books deal with the absolute end of everything.  Which, let's face it, a massive asteroid strike would probably be.  I mean, there'd be some who'd survive and be plunged into a massive, ash-induced winter.  So honestly, I'm not sure which would be better - dying right away or dying later - but that's not the point.  What would you do, would you actually do, if you and everyone you knew had ten months to live.  Six months to live.  Three months to live.  And Winters' depiction of it looks... well, pretty much like I might expect it to look.  Plenty of people doing their "Bucket List", plenty of people finding God, plenty of people killing themselves.
And yet, would law and order remain?  Would we still have an economy, a traditionally run society?  For a time, probably - but these things would fall apart and Winters drops us right in the midst of that falling-apart period.  Cell service is spotty at best, ditto internet.  The economy, in a larger sense, is kaput as are a large majority of things like fine dining.  Movies still play and Panera is still around... but it's all starting to get pretty bleak.  And so you have to ask yourself what you'd do in that situation.  For Hank, it's obvious - and he's so... not even squeaky-clean, it's just that he's a good guy.  He wants to do right, not for some higher power but for himself and for anybody who might've been affected by something bad.  It's a form of goodness that's almost too simplistic to understand - and he is, by most, misunderstood.  People just... don't get it.
But we do.  The reader does.  We are grateful that Hank is there, a beacon not of 'goodness' so much as of 'normalcy'.  Of the way things were.  Because this is a deeply scary, unsettling book and it's nice to know that there's a good guy there when the lights go out.  Here I am joking about reading this book in the midst of a crowded New York park on a blissful Sunday afternoon - but seriously, there was something about looking up and taking in the crowd and just... wondering.  Winters does a nice job of setting the stage for the rest of his trilogy - the book ends with six months to go until the big day and there are rumblings of strange government conspiracies that I'll be curious to see play out over the next books - but really he did something more impressive by taking a pretty typical genre story and dropping it in the middle of a setting that we, as human beings, don't particularly want to think about.  We'll take our dystopias, our post-apocalypses, thank you - but to imagine the waiting period before the terror... it takes a true existential mind to stare into that unstoppable, immovable abyss and keep on going.  But, then, I really loved Melancholia too.

Rating: 4 out of 5.  I was actually weighing giving this a higher grade but, upon reflection, the case itself actually wraps up a little too messy for me.  The resolution, that is, was just a bit... unclear.  I think that might be my failure as a reader (and/or sunstroke) but I was watching the whole thing wrap up and wondering "Wait, really? That's it?" because it just seemed so... Well, I just didn't follow Hank's final jump in logic.  But the conclusion itself made sense once we got there - and it was a stark reminder of just how the world might look if/when this all goes down.  And that psychological impact far outweighs any issues I might've had with the story, because I will not sleep well tonight for having read this book... and that's kind of great.
Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Tim Chapman

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from Tim Chapman. 

Tim is a former forensic scientist for the Chicago police department who currently teaches English composition and Chinese martial arts. He holds a Master's degree in Creative Writing from Northwestern University. His fiction has been published in The Southeast Review, the Chicago Reader, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and the anthology, "The Rich and the Dead." His first novel, "Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold," was recently released by Allium Press. In his spare time he paints pretty pictures and makes an annoying noise with his saxophone that he claims is music. He lives in Chicago with his lovely and patient wife, Ellen and Mia, the squirrel-chasingest dog in town.

I have a tattoo of a dragon wrapped around a yin/yang symbol on my shoulder. Why I have any tattoo, and this tattoo in particular, is a bit convoluted. Back in the late 1970s a woman I loved was killed in a car accident. This kind of pulled the rug out from under me, both emotionally and intellectually. I sort of drifted around the country for a while, and I was angry—really angry. I was like a clenched fist looking for someone to hit. Whenever I walked anywhere I punched street signs and parking meters. Other pedestrians crossed the street to avoid me. Once a cop yelled at me for punching a no parking sign.

One hot day I drifted into a movie theatre in downtown Los Angeles. I think I went in just because it was air conditioned. There was a Bruce Lee movie showing. As soon as I saw his balletic, stylized violence, I was hooked. I started a lifelong practice of martial arts in order to rid myself of my anger. The martial arts led me to a study of Buddhism. Buddhism is what helped me understand and eventually extinguish my rage. Life isn't fair? Loss is painful? I get it.

The other thing I got from my martial arts training was kung fu. Kung fu translates as effort or hard work. I had been a terrible student in high school, but eighteen years later I earned a degree in forensic science and went to work for a crime lab. Ten years after that I decided I wanted to write, so I went back for an MA in writing and have since produced a novel, Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold, and an upcoming short story collection. I currently teach writing and tai chi chuan at a Chicago city college. My wife and I have been together for over twenty years, and we couldn't be happier.

I designed the tattoo as a reminder of my personal philosophy. The dragon reminds me that, though I am not naturally talented, I can accomplish goals that are important to me through hard work and perseverance. The yin/yang symbol reminds me that nature and circumstance will often play a part in changing those goals and, rather than whine about the changes, I will be happier if I embrace them.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lavinia Reviews: My Name Is Hate

My Name is Hate by Dave K
100 pages
Self-published: Banners of Death
Released: April 2014

Guest Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow

Dave K’s My Name is Hate is a steampunk-y and compelling depiction of a pregnant woman’s dismal hunt for her deadbeat husband, Jesse. A social commentary of sorts, Dave sheds light on how selfish and cowardly humanity can be when under duress to step up to the plate:

When the doctor told us I was pregnant, [Jesse] said that he couldn’t believe it, that he never thought I’d be able to have a baby. I told him I wouldn’t have, if I’d had his attitude. We live in America, after all. Anything is possible here. Jesse laughed until the doctor told him he’d have to quit smoking on account of our baby. Maybe that’s why he ran off.

Packed with sinister imagery, the beautiful and moving yet morbid and dark narrative voice evokes chills:

Last time I cut open a horse, its guts rushed out like that, just happy to meet the day.

Simultaneously, Dave’s simplistic choice of words and rhythmic delivery inspires a deep sympathy and concern for the conflicted and emotional protagonist: an abandoned pregnant woman straining to trek across a barren landscape of horse chips and flies in search of her baby daddy.

I don’t want to think about Jesse, either. I don’t want to remember him. I want him here.

Though a quick read, Dave more than just sets the scene, maintains the conflict, and conveys an immense amount of detail in his short micro-fiction sprints. He does a phenomenal job of portraying a fragile woman’s state of mind, and the agony and humiliation of walking into town searching the bars for her husband. Passages such as this still brought me to my proverbial knees:

The heart is a pair of saloon doors, swinging open and shut as people enter and leave.

My only qualm would be over the title. I’m not sure it did justice to such a heartbreaking story, and may lead book cover-judgers astray. That aside, Dave K’s released one of the most dynamite flash novellas of 2014. 5 stars means get your hands on it now.

Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press ReviewsThe Nervous BreakdownAmerican Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog

Monday, May 5, 2014

We, Monsters Blog Tour

Welcome to day one of the We, Monsters blog tour. This tour was organized by Melanie over at Grab The Lapels ( you should totally check them out. They focus on reviewing books written by female authors.), and we're thrilled to kick it all off!

In the novel We, Monsters (2014, Numina Press) by Zarina Zabrisky, clinical psychologist Dr. Michael H. Strong receives a manuscript from a woman he’s never met. She calls herself Mistress Rose, and she wants him to publish the notes of her life and experiences as a dominatrix. Dr. Strong feels certain that Mistress Rose is no longer alive, but he is intrigued by her story and analyzes its contents. Dive into a world of sex, psychology, reality undone, and a past so mysterious you may not believe it...

An Excerpt from We, Monsters:

For our traditional Sunday dinner I made Luke’s favorites, Ukrainian vareniki (small dim-sum-like pockets stuffed with potatoes or cheese), his mom’s secret seven-ingredient lasagna, and an apple pie with vanilla-custard ice cream.

“Feels like Christmas, Honey,” said Luke after dinner.

He was comfortably slumped in his favorite place: the sunken green armchair in the living room, an open bottle of beer in one hand, the remote in the other, the Economist on his lap, and a football game on. I sat on the carpet by his knee. Our cat Potemkin, a miniature female tabby with delusions of grandeur and a short stub for a tail, settled by his other knee and pretended to doze off.

“Good game,” I said. “Honey?”
“Honey, I’m working on a new book.”

“You want to hear what the book is about?”
“It’s—it’s about sex workers.”
“Did you hear me?”
“Sure. Your book… I’m listening…”

I stood up and screamed into his ear, “Sex!”

That got his attention. Both Potemkin and Luke stared at me. Luke’s round, water-grey eyes and fluffy, pinkish eyelashes hadn’t changed throughout our fifteen years together, and although he’d lost most of his dull orange curls, he, as always, reminded me of a little boy—over six feet tall—about to go on a roller-coaster ride, curious and frightened at the same time.

“What?” he said.
“Honey, I am writing a book about sex workers.”
“God! Prostitutes. About prostitutes…” I said. “A book.”
“Okay. Weird. And?”

I wanted to tell Luke that I had spent the whole winter in a freezing library trying to capture that last chapter, that I’d developed carpal-tunnel pain browsing the Web, that the facts I had learned about escorts were the most useless facts ever—for instance, I had discovered that clients often threw cheesecakes at working girls—that I had to write this novel, that I’d been having nightmares every night, and so much more. Instead, I said: “Ehh… It’s kind of hard to explain, but basically I need to do some research. I mean… hands-on research.”

“What, you want to be a hooker?”
“No, Honey. Just a temporary job, a dominatrix. At a dungeon. Bondage, spanking, that kind of stuff. No actual sex…”

My husband drank some beer and then looked at the bottle as if the answer was spelled out on its green label. Then he looked up at me. Potemkin was looking at me, too. Together they made a tough jury.

“Why, again, are you doing it?”
I should have told him: “Because of my past.”

Like a maniac with a razor, the past kept chasing me. It raged in my nightmares and in my daydreams. I would get up, have my oatmeal, and move on. But ignoring the past is ignoring a bomb—no, a nuclear reactor. Ignore it and it might explode.

I could never have told Luke any of that; I didn’t know it myself.

Instead, I said, “I told you…material for my book. Why, are you prejudiced?”

Beyond anything, Luke, the former captain of the Tufts football team, valued freedom, justice, and independence. We had assigned shifts for changing diapers and taking garbage out. I was free to go out on Saturday with the neighbors for a girls’ night out—if I gave him a week’s notice.

Luke stared at his bottle again. I picked a sliver of a cheese cracker from the bluish carpet; the house needed vacuuming. Potemkin scratched behind her ear with her hind paw for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, Luke cleared his throat.

“How about you write about parenting? Lisa just got her book published, you know. Or children’s stories, you know, like the stories you tell Nick—about a little crocodile—”

“Sure. Those are good. I mean, why hookers?”
“Don’t call them that.”

I stood up and walked to the window. The street looked empty at first, but then I saw Vanessa, our neighbor, in her eggplant kimono, dragging an oversized green recycling bin out into the street. I forgot it was garbage night. I sighed.

“I don’t know what’s in your mind,” Luke said. “I know you, though. You’ve already decided everything. You’ll do what you want no matter what I say. Go ahead, it’s your life.”

“Yeah, but it’s your life, too. I want you to be okay with it!”
“Like, can I be? Really? But—What am I going to do, divorce you?” He sighed, too. “You’re a grownup, a free person in a free country. Can I watch my game now? And would you mind bringing me another beer?” (1)

             I got him a beer from the fridge and started to take empty beer bottles and Diet Coke cans out from the kitchen. It was my garbage shift.

(1) From clinical psychologist Dr. Michael H. Strong: Luke’s reaction demonstrates the unvoiced conflicts in this marriage. He is in denial or rationalizing; it is possible he has been unfaithful and his guilt is now absolved in the unconscious by his understanding attitude towards his wife’s research. He also “buys” himself more freedom in the future—Rose’s transgression will justify his own inappropriate or questionable actions and behaviors. Couples often enter into unspoken agreements of this sort; for example, “I will close my eyes to your infidelities, and you will forgive my shopping addiction.”

To buy We, Monsters click here 

Zarina Zabrisky is the author of short story collections IRON (2012, Epic Rites Press), A CUTE TOMBSTONE (2013, Epic Rites Press), a novel We, Monsters (2014, Numina Press), and a book of poetry co-authored with Simon Rogghe (forthcoming in 2014 from Numina Press). Zabrisky started to write at six. She earned her MFA from St. Petersburg University, Russia, and wrote while traveling around the world as a street artist, translator, and a kickboxing instructor. Her work appeared in over thirty literary magazines and anthologies in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Nepal. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a recipient of 2013 Acker Award for Achievement in The Avant Garde, Zabrisky is also known for her experimental Word and Music Fusion performances.

Tomorrow, hit up The Book Cove to follow the tour and read about Zarina's concerns regarding women and publishing, what defines "erotica," and why it's so important to her that she transcend being known as a "woman writer"

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review: You Lost Me There

Read 3/19/14 - 3/26/14
3 Stars - Recommended for readers who don't mind a slow story that turns and churns over loss and regret and misunderstanding
Pages: 304
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Released: 2010

I bought this book as a hardcover yeaaaaars ago at a book sale for a couple of bucks, drawn to it by the title and cover, less so by the jacket copy. The blurb refers to the book as " at turns funny, charming, and tragic". We'll get back to this in a moment.

I left it shelved with the countless other unread book-sale-binge-buys I've amassed over the years (god knows how many I have... enough to overstuff two entire bookshelves and then some), and didn't have an urge to pull it down and crack it open until my husband's work related three-week-long absence from home last month.

I was mopey and not thrilled that he was going to be gone from home for so long, and I needed to lose myself in a book that matched my current mood. And You Lost Me There sounded as though it would fit the bill nicely. The main character is a neuroscientist who's having a hard time getting over the loss of his wife. Rather than properly grieve her when she first passed away, he's been sort of casually dating his very-much-younger co-worker and sort of strangely lending himself out as a non-sexual boy-toy to his wife's very-much-older aunt. Until he discovers a bunch of index cards written out in his wife's handwriting, outlining her thoughts on their marriage... as part of a homework assignment given to them during a brief stint of couples counseling.

So here it comes, the big ah-ha moment. Our neuroscientist, who prides himself on his keen memory, since, well, you know, he STUDIES it for a living, is suddenly thrown into shock at the fact that his wife remembered their life together very differently than he did. Where he was wedded in ignorant bliss and struggles to separate one moment from another, his beloved Sara writes about specific, defining moments in their lives. Moments that had a major impact on her. Moments that he remembers quite differently, or worse, simply cannot recall at all.

So the question that chews at him, and so, in turn, should be chewing at us, is how two people can live their lives together and experience their time together so differently. Well, I don't need to read a three hundred page novel to be able to tell you that hey, guess what, people experience shit differently dude, suck it up and move on, be happy you found those cards because of the better-late-than-never insight it gives you into who you are when viewed from other people's perspectives, and just move on. Geesh.

And yeah, so I get it, he's a study-er of brains and memory and is totally weirded out by the unpredictable ways in which people experience, remember, and mentally file away moments. This part of it, I admit, fed right into a thing I've always found myself obsessing over - more so since I've had kids, but I've been doing it since I was in high school - which is (and you might think I'm a little bit crazy when I tell you this, but really, what do I care?) how we've got to come to terms with the fact that we will never, ever, really, truly know what it is like to be anyone other than ourselves. We won't ever really understand how other people see us, hear us, perceive us... we'll never feel how much they might hate us or love us, never know how much they think of us, or WHAT they think when they do think of us. And that's part of life. I might not like that my kids and husband have thoughts and feelings that are independent of me, but if I sit there and dwell on it I'm likely to drive myself bat-shit crazy.

But enough about me and my weird-ass mental games, right? Let's get back to Rosencrans and his failure to write a book that made me grip the pages with a fierce and sisterly sense of sameness. This book was soooo not the companion-to-my-misery I had hoped it would be. It went down a road I wasn't really interested in going down but followed reluctantly because, hell, I was already so many pages into it and I needed to finish it so it'd count against my goodreads challenge. (well, no not really.) I actually kept reading to see if it would get any better. I was still holding out hope for the whole "at turns funny, charming, and tragic" stuff. But no deal.

I didn't find it funny - it was actually kind of boring and sad in a "dude, please, just let it go" sort of way. I didn't find it charming - I actually had a great dislike for our protag and his self-centeredness and I was annoyed by his girl-friday and really had a hard time buying into the horny old broad. And tragic? Well, ok, I'll give Rosencrans that. It was a tragic in this sense - our poor neuroscientist was happy remembering his wife and their perfect marriage while bopping a chick that could have been his granddaughter. Those cards should have been left the hell alone. Watching him literally disintegrate right before our eyes was tragic. Tiresome, yes. But also tragic.

Ah, me. A mild disappointment, yet one that, as I sit here one month later, composing this review, I can still feel... I can remember how I felt as I read it, and that must mean something, yes?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Giveaway: There Is No End To This Slope

Since July 2010, TNBBC has been bringing authors and readers together every month to get behind the book! This unique experience wouldn't be possible without the generous donations of the authors and publishers involved.

It's the first of the month and you know what that means.
It's time to bring you June's Author/Reader Discussion book!

We will be reading and discussing There is No End to This Slope
with author Richard Fulco.

Richard and his publisher Wampus Multimedia are giving us 10 copies to give away:
A mix of print (for US residents) and digital formats (open internationally)!

Here is the goodreads description to whet your appetite:

He writes letters to a dead girl—John Lenza, an aspiring writer from Brooklyn, New York, hasn’t written a novel, a play, or any other potentially publishable project. His obsession with his part in the death of his best friend Stephanie in high school, is a metaphorical brick wall—blocking him from a fulfilling life. Lenza’s struggles to reconcile his guilt from the past and to enjoy the present sets the tone for Brooklyn native and playwright Richard Fulco’s emotionally charged debut THERE IS NO END TO THIS SLOPE.
1st century Willy Loman, Lenza drifts, letting things happen to him rather than figuring out what he really wants from his work-life and his relationships. At Cobble Hill High School he meets his future wife Emma Rue, an impulsive alcoholic. At a “writerly” coffee shop near his new digs in Park Slope he meets Teeny, an overweight gay man, who mines Lenza’s life for his own material. Richard, a homeless man becomes a voice of reason and a roommate, while Pete the landlord worries mostly about whether Lenza is truly taking special care of those beautiful wood floors in the apartment and, when Lenza loses his job, if the rent will be paid.
At one point in THERE IS NO END TO THIS SLOPE John Lenza describes himself as intelligent, perhaps too intelligent to do anything. For him and many of the characters in Fulco’s novel it is hard to find a way to navigate the day-to-day while nurturing a sensitive and creative spirit. Does John Lenza deserve to be tortured by something that happened so many years ago? Or is the event really a safety net that he allows to prevent him from finding out what his true creative potential might be?
Through deeply wrought characters and scenes that mirror the angst everyone faces as life happens and years pass, Fulco touches on a fundamental issue that drives great artists to self-destruct. Ironically when Lenza has wrung all he can out of his pained self, it may be the mundane day-to-day that ultimately saves him. 

This giveaway will run through May 8th. 
Winners will be announced here and via email on May 9th.

Here's how to enter:

1 - Leave a comment here or in the giveaway thread over at TNBBC on goodreads, stating why you'd like to receive a copy of the book, what format you prefer, and where you reside (remember, only US residents can win a paper copy!).


2 - State that you agree to participate in the group read book discussion that will run from June 15th through June 21st. Richard Fulco has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him. 

 *If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you before the discussion begins). 

 3 - Your comment must have a way to contact you (email is preferred).