Book Review – The Dark Man

TITLE: The Dark Man
AUTHOR: Stephen King
ILLUSTRATOR: Glenn Chadbourne
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHED: 2013

The Dark Man is a poem that Stephen King wrote years ago for an assignment in college.  He wrote it as a poem.  In this edition, it’s illustrated with pen drawings.  Also, the edition is laid out in the rather unconventional 7×5 inch (yes, landscape) format.

So, the poem is interesting, but as I read it, I found myself wishing I could just read the damn thing and not have to see the illustrations.  Sometimes I felt like having to flip the page every couple words took away from the flow the words should have had.  Fortunately, I got my wish at the end of the book.  Reading it in a crap format, I assumed it would be beautiful, but the flow got lost in the illustrations.  Reading it in a normal format, it actually was beautiful.  Hauntingly sad. Scary in a very human way.

The illustrations are interesting.  Some have things hidden (like the scratched form of a face coming out of a tree branch), some do not.  But some would very much have benefitted a larger format or being in color.

Which brings us to the review, and for that, I am torn.  The poem gets a very different rating than the book.  But this is a book review site.  We’re reviewing the whole package.  For that I give it 3/5 pages and a piece of advice.
Read the poem first, then start from the beginning.

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Writer Wednesday – Tammy-Jo Eckhart

Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
TammyJo Eckhart

What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
Science fiction, fantasy, horror, contemporary, and historical fiction, often classified as erotica since I don’t “pull my punches” and believe that sexuality is a natural part of life.

What do you want to pimp right now?
Book 3 of the “Beyond the Softness of His Fur Trilogy” has just been released by my publisher, Circlet Press.
Also my non-fiction and award nominated book, “At Her Feet” has continues to be widely read and apparently empowering as we hoped it would be.

What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
I always go back to “The Silver Metal Lover” by Tanith Lee because it really touched what was happening in my own life when I was finishing high school and starting college.

What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I’m a wife, a partner, I storyteller/game master for RPGs, I’m an educator and arts community volunteer, but most of all I’m a survivor of several things.

What link can we find you at?
My main website (find it here!) is the best since it links to my books and gives some other information about me.

*****

The Danger of Fans and Lack of Privacy for Writers

We often think of writers as being little celebrities but I’ve learned over the two decades I’ve been published that this comes and goes in cycles and that all attention is not good or desirable attention. Let me explain a bit more.

After my first book, “Punishment for the Crime,” a collection of short stories, came out with Rhinoceros, an imprint from Masquerade Books, back in 1996 I started to get emails and letters from readers, even the occasional flowers when they ran into me at events. This wasn’t an everyday experience but living in NYC at the time where I was doing readings to crowds or meeting folks through my publisher who was right in the same city it happened far more frequently than after I moved back toward the Midwest. It always felt good to be recognized but sometimes it also felt a bit creepy.

Most readers were sweet. They’d want to shake my hand or simply tell me that they liked my book. If I were selling books or at a bookstore for a reading they’d want an autograph. Meeting people face-to-face at scheduled events was expected and cool. Not all encounters with my readers were at these sorts of events.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and it took work for someone to find me or find out about me. Yet within a year of the first book with Masquerade coming out I started to get emails from strangers. I didn’t broadcast myself around at that time — the concept of networking on social media wasn’t a thing writers were supposed to do. And yet because I happened to various community bulletin boards or email lists, my email was out there. Once my email was found by one person, it was found by several and for the second and third year my first and second books were out, I got an email a week.

I’d like to say that most of the emails were cool and sweet like most of the face-to-face meetings but I can’t say that and be honest. Honesty is a big deal to me. No, instead the majority of the emails I got were a bit creepy. They hoped I was as mean as a character in the title story or that I was as hot and sexy as another one. They wanted me to crush them with my boots or they’d ask about my sex life. I just deleted the creepy ones. Problem solved right?

For the most part, yes.

My third book came out with a different publisher as Masquerade struggled with some internal issues and I moved back toward the Midwest. Every now and again I’d get another email and a few times some gift might arrive in the mail… a bit creepy how they found out where I lived but most often it was through this new Amazon.com thing which wasn’t supposed to tell anyone I didn’t allow what my address was.

Then the creepiest fan contact happened. Someone called me. It sounded like either a very butch woman or a transguy by voice but I frankly didn’t ask because I didn’t care. What started off as “I really liked X” story turned quickly into questions about kink looking for advice which deteriorated into sex talk and attempts to ask me about my sex life. I told the caller time and again to stop calling and finally had to threaten to call the police. These calls lasted over three years.

Now I’m sure that more popular authors out there have even creepier experiences but I’ve never forgotten my own experiences. This hasn’t stopped me from joining social media, my agent and all of my author friends claim it is a must, but I had to learn that even just being published puts you out there, it takes away some of your privacy. You have to learn how to deal with it or decide to never publish at all. After all you can’t control who is reading you any more than you can control how many people are reading you.

My lesson learned then is that if you want to be read you must give up some of your privacy. Not all of it but once that book is out there in public view you’ll have to fight to protect yourself and your family because you can never tell who is reading and how they might react. Never be afraid to put out your work but be realistic about what you are also risking.

Book Review – Halls of Ivy by Roland Nuñez

Title: Halls of Ivy

Author: Roland Nuñez

Format: Paperback

Written/Published: 2010

Today I am actually reviewing a book that was a request for our blog.  It is the first of many on my list.  Halls of Ivy is New Adult novel that focuses on a series of suicides that have been occurring on a college campus that aren’t quite what they appear to be.  As it turns out these suicides may actually have more nefarious connections than simple suicides something along the lines of murder.  Over all the concept of the book sounds promising but I found the execution to be severely lacking.

 

As a fan of murder mystery and a writer of said genera I have come to have certain expectations of a murder mystery.  What I would qualify as a fantastic mystery is one where I cannot figure out who the murder is as I am reading and when I get to the end I can look back and ask myself how did I miss all these clues that were laid out here, here and here.  That was not the case in Halls of Ivy.  To be honest I wouldn’t call Halls of Ivy to even be a good mystery.  There was no mystery or true investigative style or line that one could follow along and try to puzzle things together along with the protagonist.  It was a presentation of scenes of scenes with no connections between how this one even lead to this next event or what impact certain things had on others.  To be honest book was more set up and less murder mystery.

 

The cause behind the suicides was not even mentioned or indicated until the last third of the book and when the cause was brought up there was no question that it was the cause of the suicides.  It wasn’t enough for a case to be made properly to like say the police or an authority figure but in the world of writing there was no question and the character even was strongly inclined to say this is more than likely the cause – allow me to dig deeper to verify this.  This left no mystery and the book was more set up and filler than an actual mystery.

 

As the blurb says on the back of the book Cheyenne Winters was interviewing 21 students which indicates that it was a large cast list for the story but all the same there were several characters that added no substance to the core story or were just added filler to help make a conclusion easy and convenient.  It felt a little like it was a matter of let’s make our villain a little worse and have them rape someone and by having the villain do that it helps the police realize that there is real danger with this person (despite the fact that there was more than enough that indicated that there was real danger) it wasn’t till it was revealed that they raped a person that they were considered a dangerous threat.

 

Another issue I found myself having with the book was how often it jumped in time and formatting.  The book starts in 3rd person where Cheyenne is facing a committee about the school crisis to 1st person of Cheyene telling her story to a student bio followed by a student interview.  This is all well and good and is an interesting way to present a story yet the execution was severely lacking as there were also instances where after an interview the story would shift to 3rd focusing on the students, before shifting to something else the next chapter.  This was annoying and got confusing especially considering that Cheyenne came to the school late in the school year and interviews were when she was there at the school and the 3rd person narrative focusing on the students jumped to a previous point in the school year such as the first day of the school year and student orientation.  Then there were scenes in the 3rd person narrative that seemed to be present rather than past.  Then as the story progressed the time line seemed to coalesce and become one cohesive thing but all of it was in 3rd person even the parts that were focused on Cheyenne, which was very confusing and frustrating to me.  Additionally, the student bios were not always prevalent to the story and were present throughout the story till page 251 (this is a 272 page book).  I personally feel that a character bio is irrelevant and pointless at this point particularly when the mystery and story is being wrapped up.

 

Lastly, the ending seemed lacking, we never reach a conclusion of the hearing for Cheyenne, we only get what she thinks will be the results of the hearing, and there are several things that happen in the last chapter of the epilogue that have no bearing on the story at all save to potentially set up a second book which is advertised in the back of this first book.  The advertisement for the second book in some ways reveals that Cheyenne’s predictions about her career is wrong but we don’t get the results of the hearing or the purpose really of why Cheyenne is the focus of the hearing either when she was one of many people involved in the school suicide crisis.

 

Overall I feel like the story of the book was poorly executed and there was a lot of fat and filler to be found in the story.  The best thing I can guess with a lot of these extra characters who had little to no bearing on the main story itself is because they are going to potentially play a part in the next book.  Of course this is only a guess on my part and I could be wrong and that these random side characters who did nothing more than take up space and time were just that side characters taking up space and time.  It is hard to say – and to be honest I have no desire to find out – this book was a difficult read for me and it was also difficult to follow along at times.  This is why I’ll give this book a 2 page rating.  It had a good premise and concept, but very poor execution.

Book Review – The Southern Chapter of the Big Girl Panties Club by Lynda Stephenson

The Southern Chapter of the Big Girl Panties Club
A Frankilee Baxter Story
Lynda Stephenson
Paperback
2013

Okay. Reviewer Bloggers like myself have several options to obtain books, and this came from one of those. I requested it, because I thought it sounded really interesting. From the back cover:
The year is 1958 and the schools in the south are reeling against the 1954 decision of Brown V. Board of Education. In the beginning Frankilee Baxter, a freshman at Athena College, is not concerned with racial issues. Instead, she is determined to improve her looks, pledge a sorority, find a steady boyfriend, and make her name as a journalist at the college newspaper…
I’ll spare you the rest of the back cover. In other words, the world is changing and Frankilee just wants to be a regular gal until she finds herself in the thick of things. I expected a bit of southern chick lit, one of those happy-go books that you read with a cup of tea (even though I don’t drink tea).
By the second page, I was so over the southernisms that I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be ill or throw the book across the room. They were so obnoxiously over the top that I actually flipped to the author bio to see if she was making this shit up or if she thought she lived it. And I was seriously surprised to see that it was an older woman who had spent her life in Texas and Oklahoma. Because for every cottin’ pickin’ Mercy Maude still butterin’ a biscuit, I groaned a little louder. (For the record, I just flipped to a random page and all three of those were on the same page…)
The book progressed, and nothing really happened. There was one hazing incident where Frankilee’s beanie is stolen (be still my heart!), a dance, and of course pledge week. We meet her roommates, and we hear that one of them *gasp* swears because she says FRACK. Maybe Texas in 1958 was different, but where I grew up, frack would have been a totally acceptable word because it’s meaningless. Oh, and as a cuss word, it’s kinda nothing. Nevermind that Frankilee says several low-grade words of her own all the time. And if the suitemate is really saying something other than frack, well, the author is pretty much doing all she can to make her MC sound like the stupid, frail, southern thing that everyone pictures in steryotype.
The biggest thing that happens in 80 pages is that Frankilee’s roommate Pickles (*ahem*) doesn’t make a sorority and Frankilee goes to the Dean to complain. Wait, what? Just… *facepalm*
The leap to start the Big Girls Panty Club (BGPC) is a shallow, stupid moment, of not getting into a sorority and the dean getting all up in Frankilee’s face because she said “hell” in her office. It was at this point that I wanted to slam my head against the wall a few times.

So… I wrote the review somewhere around chapter 8, because I was at the point where, honestly, I was so put off by the main character that I didn’t care about her story at all.
The sentences are technically perfect. But the writing feels like a young adult book circa the early 80s where young adult just meant that the characters were older than 10, not the adult series that it’s supposed to be a part of (this is apparently book two, according to the author bio). I forced myself to get as far as I did, and yeah, I could force myself further, but I have absolutely no desire to do so.
In the end, I only give the book a 2.
And I know somebody’s going to say “but you didn’t even finish it!” which is true. And had the subject matter not engaged me, that would have been one thing. But since the author’s style was what disappointed me in the story, I think that deserves a rating. I think this book had potential, but since stuff that was presented as no big deal was the catalyst for the next 300-ish pages, well, that’s a bit telling, don’t you think?
In the end: the book is technically written well, but that’s the only thing going for it. If you have it laying around and it’s a rainy day, read a chapter or two for mindless entertainment, but I’m pretty sure you won’t be upset if you never finish it. I’ve had the book sitting *in* my bed for two weeks now that I haven’t had any urge to read further.

Book Review – My Orange Duffel Bag

Title: My Orange Duffle Bag: a journey to radical change

Author: Sam Bracken (With help from Echo Garrett)

Written/Published: 2008-2010

Format: Hardback

 

My Orange Duffle Bag is the story of a man named Sam, who was kicked out into the world by his mother at the age of 15 with nothing more than his orange duffle bag and a few clothes.  It deals mostly with his journey to not be another statistic, and to instead succeed at football and academics and later religion.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been excited to actually sit down with a copy of this book since the original self published version of it appeared at a booth I was part of during a book festival.  The self-published version was orange canvas, complete with a white zipper and full color pages and it was as beautiful and incredible as it possibly could be.

The version I finally got to review is the copy my library had; professionally published by Crown Publishing and missing the awesome zipper, but still awesome looking.

 

So, I popped a movie in and sat down with this book (ever the multi-tasker) and eventually turned off the movie and just finished this.  The book is about 200 pages long, but there’s a lot of white space and a lot of pretty layout, but it’s short on content so I finished it in just under two hours.

The book is divided into three parts – the first is a short history of his life.  Just a paragraph or so about a year in his life, boiled down to the most generic of story lines.  “Age 10 – I win my first track meet and my step-brother uses me as a human dart board”  Onto the next age.  And key points of his life – Age 18, I am baptized – are glossed over so quickly that you almost miss them.

The second part of the book talks about his time through college.  How he succeeded at football but doubly succeeded at academics because he set huge goals.

The third is over half the book and includes his “7 rules for the road.”

 

I was hoping for a little more, actually.  I think that Sam was trying to hard to be positive and uplifting that he forgot to tell us about himself.  I didn’t need a full memoir, but I wanted some sort of connection.  What I didn’t get anywhere in this book was EMOTION.

And what I didn’t get was what drew me to this book in the first place.  You see, after Echo got the book to my booth, I kept in touch with her and her brother Kevin Montgomery, who does a 50 states in 50 days concert tour to raise money for Echo and Sam’s Orange Duffle Bag Foundation.  So through them in other venues I’ve heard the stats.  Only about half manage to get a HS diploma, 2% get a four-year degree.  Over a quarter end up homeless.

And while Sam wasn’t formally in the system (he stayed with friends for random periods of time and bounced from house to house), the fact that this WASN’T him is a story that I wanted to hear along with the tips and tricks for being awesome.  Especially since a lot of these are common sense.  (The gist is want it and do what it takes to get there.)

 

Granted, the book is beautiful in any form.  Several of the pages could be really awesome motivational posters, and I wish they were.  And I think it’s a book worth sharing.

It’s not a top rating, but I’m confident putting it solidly in as a four out of five.

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