Sunday, May 27, 2007

All Encompassing Trip

Author: Nicole Del Sesto
POS: Afterbirth Books
Price: $14.95 ($10.17 at Amazon)
ISBN: 1-933929-12-X

This book bears re-reading to get at all the themes and influences, and I've only been through it once, so the best I can do for you here is brush the surface. Perhaps that's a good thing, however. Like any journey, everyone gets something different from the experience, and you probably wouldn't end up at the same place I did at the finish of another, deeper reading, anyway.

There's a wonderful sense of magic and fellowship in All Encompassing Trip and a definite sense of not taking oneself too damn seriously, even when things that happen are grimly serious. Self-confidence is an important part of the story, relying on your own instincts and intuition, allowing yourself to value your own judgement and not depend on someone else's permission.

There's a Tolkienesque flavor to it, too, with a fellowship that gathers and separates, some mundane and then some mystical journeys, and evil magic versus good. I'm also reminded a bit of Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys, in the way no one mythology has precedence, rather a blending and sharing of many different types, and how the mythological norms are changed by the modern setting.

The action in the book mainly takes place in Northern and Southern California and the author knows these geographies well, you get a good sense of place in the lively description. The protagonist, Nikki, and her friend Amber are good friends who met in an exercise "boot camp" where Amber is the trainer. Their world changes overnight and they are led to other companions, and through their journey, by a coyote who arrives at Nikki's door on the day of the change. He is named "Lefty" by Nikki, and he communicates to her using cryptic song lyrics. Along the way Nikki, Lefty and Amber meet a number of unusual characters, both friend and foe.

This is one of those books where attempting to give you a thorough synopsis of the story is futile. Nikki makes things disappear in her new "reality", something she finds especially distressing, because coffee is one of the things she misses the most and when she touches it whole coffee shops go poof. The passage about her flight to Anaheim is surreal in the extreme. Another example is the scene with the lunch in the Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland between two 7 foot plus characters, one who is black, apparently Jamaican, and sports van Gogh tattoos, the other who is green and they're brothers. Disneyland is important to the story, the brothers are as well. Trying to give a glimpse into why, not so easy. I'm not even going to try to explain the importance of Oprah in the story.

Some of the character traits of the secondary antagonist characters are quite exaggerated. There's a woman who has an extreme Vegan, Godess worshipping, high colonic addicted, personality - and she's also very gassy and unwashed throughout the book. She and the other single minded characters are more allegorical, but they fit the overall irrationality of their place in the story, so I didn't find it distracting, just worth noting. Plus, they're pretty funny, in a Keystone Cops kind of way, as they blunder through their places in the plot.

The action is continuous; things don't bog down, and I always wanted to turn the page to see what would happen next. I felt there were moments where the point was a bit too obvious, a little preachy, but it didn't dilute my overall enjoyment of the story. What I did find disappointing, and personally could have done without, were the two afterwards. The good thing about afterwards is you've already finished the story and can decide for yourself if you want to disregard them.

Because I read an electronic copy, I'm not certain if some of the small typographical errors were an artifact of the PDF or exist in the hardcopy. There were words where the first few letters were missing scattered throughout the text. I hope this is just a problem with my PDF, otherwise it will be a bit annoying.

Overall, I enjoyed being on the All Encompassing Trip. I don't often read fantasy in a modern setting, but I think, that del Sesto has talent in that genre. I hope she keeps writing and goes far.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

No Review This Week - But...

But the good news is that I have a small press submission to work on for next week! It's All Encompassing Trip by Nicole Del Sesto from Afterbirth Books. This is Nicole's debut novel.

I'm also working on what my overall objective is in doing these reviews. I guess a "business plan" for something that's only a hobby, seems kind of strange, but still, it's a good idea to have some kind of a thought out plan for any endeavor. Where am I going with this and how do I get the word out that small press books of interest and my reviews of them are here? How picky am I going to be about submissions?

All this and more after ponderment is complete.

Oh, in case anyone wonders, I'll do e-books, too - that is to say books only being made available as e-books, but again, they need to be from e-book publishers. Self published e-book authors should submit to POD People.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

May Not Have a Review This Week

Here we are at Wednesday and I haven't found a new small press book to review - yet. I read fast, so it's possible that I'll squeak one in under the wire if I find it soon.

If you (yes, you, one of my 3 loyal readers!)would like to suggest something, please leave me a comment or send me an email. If you've been published by a small press and would like a review, please contact me!

I also thought I'd take a moment to give an idea of the kinds of books I would love to read:

Techno or Political Thrillers
Psychological mystery or thriller (I like Jonathan Kellerman, for example)
Science Fiction - pretty much anything
Humor and Satire
Military history/fiction (I read W.E.B. Griffith, for example)
Historical fiction (I love Rutherford and the like)

Now, if you've written GLBT themed fiction or romance, I could give it a try - I'm not a reader in this genre but I won't rule it out. Very strongly sexual erotica - also not a reader and probably wouldn't do it justice.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Nudist Guy and Yankee Gal

Author: Allen Parker
POS: Authors Ink Books
Price: $10.99 (current sale price, reg. $13.00)
ISBN 09722385-1-4

Full Disclosure: Allen is a member of Absolute Write forums, as am I. We've had a number of conversations via AW and email going back a couple of years now. He's got a great sense of humor and a wonderful attitude about life and writing which comes through in his contributions to the various threads on the boards. I count Allen as one of my online friends.

About a year ago he sent me a copy of his book A Mouse Among Us. I had the occasion to sit in a hospital emergency waiting room for several hours one day, and used that time to finish reading through the book there, heedless of the occasional glare that came my way when I laughed out loud at a passage. A Mouse Among us is Allen's second book featuring the nudist, Chester. I have not had the opportunity to read the first book in the series, A Nudist Among Us which introduces Chester and his immediate family to an unsuspecting world. A Mouse Among Us was full of Chester's family and childhood reminiscences, along with humorous insight into a unique culture that includes Baptists, hillbillies, and nudity. Chester is a Southerner - but I can't help but feel that he's not entirely representative of the citizenry south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The subject of this review is Allen's third book about Chester, the Nudist Guy, and his family. This book, like A Mouse Among Us, and I assume A Nudist Among Us, as well, is a collection of short stories, slices of life, set in present day Virginia.

In the introduction to his book, Allen assures us that while there's a "small piece of all of us" in Chester, he's a completely fictional character. I'll take Allen at his word, but he's created a complex and fully realized character in Chester, so I can understand how some folk might wonder about the autobiographical feel to the writing.

Moving on - the stories in the book remind me of half-hour sitcoms, in fact reviews of his earlier work compare Chester's experiences to "I Love Lucy", which I think may be a fair assessment. Each story reveals an idiosyncracy of the main character, there's conflict as a result of said quirk, which is eventually resolved after mis-haps and usually some embarrassment on somebody's behalf, and it's not always Chester. There's a definite slapstick feel to the stories centered around Mountain Mist moonshine's effect on judgement, to say nothing of the stories that have fireworks in them.

Because, like in the typical sitcom, there isn't necessarily a linear flow from story to story, Nudist Guy and Yankee Gal is a challenging book to read all at one sitting. The break in continuity is a bit distracting if you try to take it all in one go. After reading the first two stories back to back, I took breaks between the rest of them to clear the mental palate before reading on.

As in sitcoms, sometimes the story is about Chester's efforts to keep a situation from collapsing in utter ruin. Chester usually contributes to further chaos with each attempt to fix the problem, as in the stories "The Chicken's Little Revenge" which centers around the annual church picnic, or "The Fourth of July" which is about a nudist celebration of our nation's birthday, complete with fireworks. Other times it's about the importunities life (or his wife) thrusts upon him and his sometimes futile attempts to retain a modicum of dignity, as in "The Gym", "Doctor's Visit" and "The Baptistry". The "Civil War Family Reunion" is a variation of the 'fish out of water' premise, where the Southern Chester manages to create turmoil at his Yankee wife's family reunion.

Aside from the occasional perplexing use of a word, the book was fairly well copy-edited, I didn't run across a lot of typos or punctuation errors, things that always throw me out of a story. I'm not well acquainted with small press books, yet, so I don't know what one should expect in general regarding other editorial input. Allen's voice is that of a homey, folksy, storyteller regaling his audience with another doozy of a yarn with all the exaggerations and occasional meanderings typical of those tales. Sometimes that translates to the written word better than other times. As a result of that propensity, it seems to me, there were passages that could have been cut or tightened and others that, I felt, needed a bit more exposition and this, I believe, is where a good editor comes in.

All told, this is a warm-hearted and funny book that gives a glimpse into a different way of life than I'm familar with, being a generic protestant Yankee who keeps fully clothed when not in the shower. I enjoyed reading it and hope many others will as well.


A note about "rating" - a number of reviewers give ratings to the books they review. I haven't settled on whether or not I want to do that or how I'll construct my rating criteria. So for now, the absence of a rating is no indication of whether or not I liked the book.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Progress Report

I'm well into my first book, Nudist Guy and Yankee Girl by Allen Parker. I should have a review ready by Sunday.

Hope you come back then!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Yep, I'm Gonna Write Book Reviews Here

The other day at POD People, I received a submission email from a writer I know from Absolute Write. His book was published by a small press, not self-published. POD People reviews self published books. So I had to turn his submission down, but I said I'd ponder about doing a review and posting it somewhere else.

Ponderment done - I'll be reading and reviewing books here. About a book a week (I hope) when RL things don't get in the way (like vacations or visiting relatives). Come back next week and take a peek at my first review.