28 October 2013

Review: That Day in September by Artie Van Why

That Day in September is a personal account of an eyewitness to 9/11. Unfortunately the first disappointment of the book is the realisation that instead of the book being written by someone who was in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon or a first responder, as I first assumed, it is actually by someone who was very close to the World Trade Centre that day but was never actually inside, and was in fact only in the area for a very short time after the planes hit. Indeed, very little of the book is actually a description of what he witnessed that morning, although some of the description he gives is harrowing, such as watching a pile of bodies grow as people started jumping from windows.

The vast majority of the book is the author’s life story, he talks about being gay and moving to New York, having a dead end job and eventually becoming an actor after releasing that life was too short to be held back. Unfortunately none of this is particularly interesting, and as Artie Van Why wasn't vastly more affected (in an overall perspective) than most others by 9/11, the post 9/11 events don’t hold the same draw as those told by those more profoundly affected like the victims families.

I think That Day in September is more of a cathartic experience for the author than a real attempt at producing a bestselling account of that day, and in this I hope it succeeded.

Overall, there is not really anything special about Artie’s short account, as he didn't really experience anything differently to thousands of New Yorkers, and wasn't really involved in the events of 9/11 for very long. As such it is not really an interesting read and is not a book I would recommend.

That Day in September is available from Amazon.co.uk for £3.85 and from Amazon.com for $5.73

[A review copy was provided by the author]

21 October 2013

Review: Blood and Stone by Chris Collett

DI Tom Mariner decides the perfect cure for his grief after the death of his ex-girlfriend is to take a walking holiday in Wales. Unfortunately trouble seems to follow Tom and in short succession several people around him are dead. Is it the work of a recently released convict, a criminal from Mariner’s past or someone else entirely?

Blood and Stone has everything you need from a crime thriller – a realistic lead character, an interesting setting and so many interweaving threads that you’ll be kept guessing until the end. Tom Mariner is a very fallible character and like most in the book is characterised well. Collet switches between several characters when telling the story and so leads you on a merry chase which will have you swearing blind that you know who the killer is several times before the truth is revealed in a surprise ending. For those of you who have an aversion to gore, Collet gets the balance just right, not glossing over it but not going into every little detail.

This is sixth book in the DI Mariner series, and whilst past events are mentioned several times, I did not feel like I missed out having not read the previous five books, so Blood and Stone is fine when read as a stand alone novel.
Overall a very well done crime thriller which whilst thrilling leaves you with a nice cosy feeling at the end. Highly recommended for all readers – there is romance, murder and suspense.

Blood and Stone is available in dead tree from Amazon.co.uk for £14.99.

[An ARC was provided through NetGalley]

20 October 2013

Guest Blog: Stephen Kozeniewski on the zombie genre

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big runner.  I quit the U.S. Army, in fact, due to my passionate hatred of running.  And getting up at 4 am.  And eating sawmill gravy.  And getting mortared.  Look, let’s not complicate the issue.  Let’s just pretend like the reason (or even the main reason) I quit was running. 

I don’t recall there ever being theme runs when I was a kid or as recently as a few years ago when I was still chuff-chuff-chuffing away daily.  (Well, if there was a theme, it was like, muscular dystrophy or something, and it wasn’t so much a theme as it was a charity we were running for.)  These days, though, everyone seems to be going on theme runs, and after several hours of closely researching my Facebook newsfeed I have classified these theme runs into three main types:

1)  “Spartan” runs which are to ancient Sparta roughly what Lucky Charms are to modern Dublin

2)  Mud runs which seem to degenerate into pun name contests (“The Dirty Birdies?  That rhymes!  But I still wish we had come up with Sticks in the Mud!”)

3)  Zombie runs

For our purposes today I’m going to focus on the third one.  Well, not really, since everything I’ve written up to now has been part of a throwaway gag that really just kind of ballooned out of control.  So let’s move on to the next portion of this blogpost.

Can you name a movie released this past year that grossed over a half a billion (with a “b”) dollars?  There are a handful, but I know of at least one: World War Z.

Here’s another leading question for you: do you know what the most popular show not just on cable today, but in cable history is?  Well, even if you didn’t before just now, you probably inferred it already from all of the hints I’ve been dropping.  I’ll just say it anyway, though: The Walking Dead.

Now let’s take this random assortment of half-truths and factoids and attempt to cohere them into some kind of unassailable unified field theory.  What we know at present is that zombie movies are still making big money, television has been reinvigorated by the zombie genre, and the shambling dead have so infiltrated our society that otherwise ordinary people are willing to get out of bed and exercise on their behalves.  Heck, I even learned the other day that the Centers for Disease Control here in the U.S. has a zombie preparedness comic book.

Regular old folks seem to love their flesh-munching corpses.  That’s my conclusion, anyway, and there’s no arguing with popularity.  Well, there is, but it mostly ends up with me getting sand kicked in my face and Cheryl stepping out on me with that stupid Elvis-looking beach hunk even though I paid for those French fries, Cheryl!  But nevertheless, let’s take this analysis one step further.  Name a popular zombie novel.

Got it?  What’d you come up with?

Obviously, we’re not really having a conversation.  I mean, we sort of can in the comments section.  You can call me a half-educated buffoon and tell me I forgot about <insert name of important zombie novel here.>  But if I had to guess, if you’re an average Joe, you probably came up with nothing.  Or maybe World War Z.  Although, to be fair, I did mention the movie just a few short paragraphs ago, so I’m going to claim the credit for that one myself.

Of course, World War Z (the novel) came out in 2006.  The other big zombie novel that jumps to my mind is The Rising, which came out even longer ago, in 2003.

The Newsflesh trilogy is a little more recent.  Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesWarm Bodies.  I’m not going to lie: after I kind of wracked my own brain I checked the internet and there weren’t a whole lot I was missing.  In terms of mass marketed, significant zombie literature it seems like there’s a bit of a drought lately.

There could be any number of reasons for that.  It could be that the zombie, conceived in folklore but born of filmmaking is an inherently cinematic creation.  Perhaps the walking dead just don’t “play” off the screen, either big or small.  For my own selfish reasons (which I will get to in a moment) I hope that isn’t the case.

Another possibility is that I’m focusing too much on big, popular, traditionally published books.  It’s entirely possible (and according to my GoodReads suggestion list, apparently true) that a whole shambling herd of self-published and small press zombie novels have filled the corpse-shaped hole in our collective hearts.  The death of a thousand bites, if you will, rather than a single killer app.

I’m *pretty* sure this last scenario is the case.  I can tell you from my own trials and travails trying to get my own, admittedly offbeat, zombie novel published that publishing industry professionals seem to feel the market is saturated.  I was perplexed by this attitude for all of the reasons I’ve outlined above: the living dead seem to be at the height of their popularity with the public and yet there aren’t a whole lot of big-time zombie novels that jump out and bite me on the fontanelle.  I think that people are satisfying their zombie fix with the indies.

But a third possibility, and an entirely self-serving one at that, also occurs to me.  Maybe it’s simply that no one has written the Great Undead Novel yet.  The reason that’s self serving is because my own novel, BRAINEATER JONES, came out last week and I humbly offer it to you, dear reader, as a contender for that title.  BRAINEATER JONES is the story of a man who woke up facedown, naked, and dead in a swimming pool.  With alcohol the only thing that keeps his brain functioning he sets out into the Prohibition-era urban jungle to solve his own murder. 

Has JONES got what it takes to become the ULYSSES (or, if you’re a philistine, the MOBY-DICK) of the living dead?  I don’t know.  Probably not.  But one thing it does have is moxie.  That’s a ‘30s term for, like, heart, except that, you know, zombies’ hearts don’t beat.  I guess I could’ve said “pluck,” too, but that didn’t really work out for that half-baked pun I just sort of made.

If you’d like to contribute to the groundswell, you can purchase BRAINEATER JONES at any of these fine retailers:

<links pending>

Or, to hear more of my disjointed ramblings, you can follow my blog at http://manuscriptsburn.blogspot.com or my twitter account at https://twitter.com/outfortune.

14 October 2013

Review: The Boy Who Was Born A Girl by Jon and Luisa Edwards

Based on the TV documentary of the same name, The Boy Who Was Born a Girl is the inspiring story of a mother and son coming to terms with gender dysphoria. When the documentary was filmed, Jon was just starting hormone therapy to develop more male characteristics. This book, written four years after the documentary, covers both the stuff seen in the documentary and the aftermath of the 'fame' and hormone treatment; as well as providing tips and reassurance to others in a similar situation.

Jon was born as Natasha in 1992, and spent most of his childhood feeling different to other girls, and experienced some social isolation because of this. At the age of 15, after having to deal with his mum's bipolar illness, his parents divorce, bullying and his grandmother's passing, he attempted to take his own life and was hospitalised in an adolescent mental health ward. During this time Jon explored his sexuality and gender identity and found solace in a community of other LGBT youth, and eventually found the confidence to come out as transgender. The later part of the book deals with some of the issues associated with being transgender, such as sexual relationships and starting hormone treatment, and Jon, here more than anywhere else in the book, comes across as a well adjusted, happy, mature twenty year old. The book ends with a tender, heartwarming letter from Luisa to Jon, that will bring a tear of joy to any eye.

The book is written with separate chapters written by Jon, and his mother Luisa, with them both offering different perspectives on events or periods of time in their lives. This is slightly off-putting at first, but the reader quickly gets used to the flips in narrator. The contents page makes it easier for those seeking information on a particular period of time to find that section; and there is a helpful glossary section for those new to the whole gender dsyphoria world.

Jon and Lusia Edwards
Overall, an informative quick read which will be of particular interest to those with gender dsyphoria and their families.

The Boy Who Was Born a Girl is widely available, including as a Kindle e-book at Amazon for £3.66.

6 October 2013

Review: Black Oil, Red Blood by Diane Castle

Black Oil, Red Oil is an Erin Brockovich style thriller following lawyer Chloe Talyor as she fights to prove that the local oil refinery gave her client’s husband cancer. As she struggles with her complicated personal life, her case starts to fall apart when her expert witness is killed days before the trial. With the big oil company and several in their pay trying to stop her, will she manage to get justice for her client?

If you like a story with a message then this one is for you. The author obviously doesn't like the petrochemical industry and the reader is well aware of this by the end of the book as the characters occasionally become puppets spouting anti-big oil rhetoric. There is nothing wrong with the argument, I just question how overt it was in this novel, and it does detract from the story.

The story itself is pretty much run of the mill for an action-thriller. There’s a conspiracy, there’s danger, there’s explosions. You are kept guessing over exactly who is in on the conspiracy and who isn't. I was enjoying the story up until the events near the end of the book, which were rushed and simply unbelievable.

For me the characters were a little 2D and stereotypical. Miles, Chloe’s paralegal, comes across almost as a caricature of a gay man, though he does provide a lot of humour in the novel. Nash, the detective, is your all American man, who Chloe falls for. Chloe herself comes across like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde; there is actually a scene talking about clothes and shoes!  

So, the good – it’s fast, it’s fun and there’s enough suspense to keep you reading. The bad – 2D characters, run-of-the-mill story and a strong political message. Overall if you are looking for a serious thriller then this is not for you; if you want a light summer read with a bit of action then give it a go.

Black Oil, Red Blood is available from Amazon UK for £3.35 and from Amazon US for $5.10.
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