Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Response to Ewan Morrison

A couple weekends ago at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, author Ewan Morrison spoke about what he saw as the future of publishing, specifically the future of the paper book and of writing as a profession. The following Monday the website for The Guardian posted a shortened version of Morrison’s argument, which calls Morrison’s vision “bleak.” Although Morrison makes a persuasive case, backed up with numbers and other evidence, I felt it was one-sided –slanted too far toward a doomsday vision when many others see the future as cause for optimism and celebration. This is my attempt at a response or rebuttal to Morrison’s vision, slanted in the other direction.

Predicting the future is difficult beyond the very short term. It is often no more than a wild guess based on available clues. These might be recent changes in the area under discussion. We might study other fields that have already gone through similar changes, looking for patterns that might be an indication of what to expect in our field of concern. Morrison did both of these. In large part, my disagreement is in his interpretation of these comparisons.

Morrison came to two major conclusions. First, that the paper book is going to die and second, writing as a profession will end; that it will no longer be possible for a writer to make a living through writing. He is only talking about authors as opposed to other kinds of writing and, based on his examples, he is probably only talking about fiction authors although the same rationale, for or against, could apply to non-fiction writers that write for a populist, rather than an academic, audience. Throughout this essay, one can assume writer means “fiction author.” Also, for simplicity I will say I am quoting Morrison when I am actually quoting The Guardian’s condensed version of what Morrison said.

The Death of the Paper Book

On the issue of the death of the paper book, I’ll dispense with that prediction quickly, as Morrison did. The short answer is, he is right. While I don’t think paper books will cease to exist, I do think they’ll become specialty items, not unlike vinyl records. As long as there are people who are willing to pay a premium for paper books, there will be a company willing to fill that need. My response is, so what? A book is a string of words that make up a story. Paper is only the container. What matters is that the books exist in a usable form. A book that exists as an electronic file, readable on e-readers or other devices, is more convenient. An e-reader weighs roughly the same as a single paper book, yet can hold thousands of books. Bookshelves are dust magnets and provide an excellent habitat for spiders, paper louse, silverfish, and other bugs. E-books solve the issues of weight, storage, and many other problems with paper books common among avid readers.

How soon before the e-book delivers the blow of death to the paper book is anyone’s guess. Who would have guessed two years ago that Amazon would be selling more e-books than paper books this soon? While we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that paper books are still, by a large margin, the highest volume book format being sold, we can expect this will change, and it will probably happen faster than any of us can imagine.

The only downside I can see to the death (or close to it) of the paper book is that the malleability of e-books presents opportunities for censorship and abuse by governments and corporations. However, through computer systems and laws, these potential problems can be prevented and is something we, as readers, should be addressing now. (If you’re interested in more about this topic I recommend M. Clifford’s novel, The Book, which explores this issue.)

Writers will no longer be able to make a living

Morrison’s prediction is largely based on a statistic from a speech given by Richard Sarnoff, CEO of Bertelsmann, who pegs the future of the paper book on the baby boomer generation. Sarnoff said, “Generation Y-ers (the children of the boomers) already consume 78% of their news digitally, for free, and books will follow suit” with Morrison concluding, “interpreting Sarnoff's calculations, the paper book has a generation left.” Morrison then posits that since Generation Y-ers and, by implication, subsequent generations, will consume the majority of their books for free, that writers aren’t going to get paid. If writers don’t get paid, then writers will no longer be able to make a living from their writing. Depending on how far the percentage of books sold as paper has to fall before paper books can be declared dead, I suspect Sarnoff’s prediction (or Morrison’s interpretation of it) might be much less the twenty years implied by “a generation.”

While I don’t question the 78% statistic that Morrison uses as his jumping off point, I do disagree with his conclusions. He quotes Chris Anderson, who has written two books pertinent to the discussion: The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More and Free: The Future of a Radical Price. In the second of these Anderson says that, “every industry that becomes digital will eventually become free.” The Guardian piece links to a Youtube video where Anderson talks about the reasons for this.

Morrison’s remaining argument is made up of a cherry picking of facts and statistics from various industries that might be indicative of the direction in which publishing is headed and arguing that what is called “long tail marketing” (a concept explained in Anderson’s first book listed above) will hurt writers over the long term. He claims the only way to prevent the eventual inability for writers to make a living writing is a combination of writers supporting publishers and governmental intervention.

I disagree with Morrison’s predictions. I also see his proposed solutions as remedies to problems that don’t exist.

Some industries should fail

Industries have failed in the past and will fail in the future. Surely no one would argue that buggy whip manufactures should have been propped up by government intervention. Choosing an industry that has failed within my lifetime, should the companies that made typewriters that were not nimble enough to convert to making computer printers have survived or somehow been saved? I would argue that many of the industries Morrison holds up as examples are failing because something better came along (the equivalent of the car for those who made buggy whips, or a computer with word processing and a printer killing the market for typewriters). Other companies have risen to serve the new market.

If this means many publishers, those companies that have existed in the past to manufacture and distribute paper books, fail, it doesn’t mean writers don’t have a way to sell their books. We’re already seeing many writers cutting out the publishers. This system falls short in today’s world because the writer is unable to match the distribution available from publishers, but as paper becomes a smaller part of the market this will become less of an issue. Failure of publishers doesn’t mean failure of writers. By helping prop up a failing industry, writers would only be delaying the inevitable. Trying to prevent the failure of the legacy publishing system makes no more sense than it would have for them to have tried saving the failing typewriter industry, which was once critical to their profession.

A business without revenue fails

This seems obvious. So why aren’t all industries that have gone digital failing? If you listen to the video of Anderson linked above, you’ll find there are reasons for this. In this context, free is actually a shorthand for free or very inexpensive. E-books selling for $0.99 (possibly even $2.99) can be argued as being almost free when compared to buying a hardback book with the same content for something north of $20 or a paperback for around $10.

Free content can be used to generate other revenue streams to pay for it. The U.S. broadcast TV and radio industries have always been supported by advertising. Other industries, past and current, have provided free or cheap content, subsidized by advertising. The magazine industry is one example of advertising subsidizing cost. The newspaper business is as well. Morrison points to newspapers as one industry that is failing, blaming this on the demographics of their ageing readership. What he fails to mention is the newspaper industry has been on a downward slide for some time now due to a decrease in revenue from classified advertising. Failure of newspapers to adjust their business model over the last twenty years is the real culprit.

Many web-based businesses provide free content with all of their revenue coming from advertising or premium services. Amazon has experimented with subsidizing the price of a Kindle using advertising in the “Kindle with special offers.” Some authors have already experimented with advertising in their e-books. I expect we will see some e-books wholly or partially supported with advertising in the future.

Another impact on this issue we shouldn’t lose sight of is the economics of the new world. J.A. Konrath, a writer who blogs about his experiences with e-books and what he sees for the future, has demonstrated that a self-published book priced at $2.99 nets the writer as much for each sale as the writer would have received for the sale of a hardback published through a legacy publisher. Under legacy publishing this same author would have had from a few weeks to a few months for his book to get noticed and gain traction before it would be pulled from bookstore shelves. With an e-book that same writer has forever, or at least as long as they live, to sell the same number of copies.

Most writers haven’t made a living from their writing in the past

Morrison “leaves alone” the question of whether writers should be able to make a living from their work. I’ll do the same since I suspect we agree that it should be possible. He makes the claim that “most notable writers in the history of books were paid a living wage.” The key word here is “notable.” Part of this might also hinge on your definition of what constitutes a livable income.

This is already becoming overly long, so I’m not going to justify what I have to say. If you doubt it, a little research will verify.

Walk into the book department of your local supermarket or discount store. Scan the fiction section. Count the authors. There you’ll find names you recognize like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and John Grisham. These writers receive advances in the hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. They are the notable writers.

Now go to the nearest large chain bookstore. Count the number of books written by someone who wasn’t in the first group. Go to a few more stores to expand this list because every bookstore will have those books from the notable authors, they won’t from the others. Have you ever read any of these books? These writers receive advances in the thousands, sometimes tens of thousands. Included in these are the midlist writers that Morrison references in his discussion about the decrease in publisher advances. Most of these writers aren’t making a living wage from writing now, nor were they ever. Most of them have a day job that pays the bills. Some, but relatively few, might fall in the “notable” category to which Morrison refers, and make a living from their writing. This is where the long tail and what it really means comes into play.

Marketing to the long tail is more likely to mean that more, not less, writers will make a living from their writing

In another Youtube video Chris Anderson talks briefly about the concept of the long tail. 
In it, he discusses ways the distribution method has distorted the market in movie theaters and other businesses. In essence, the limited number of movie screens arbitrarily limited the percentage of films made each year that were shown in movie theaters. Netflix, with their almost unlimited "movie screens" have provided a market for these movies the were not making it to the big screen before. In the paper book market we have the same situation, with a limited amount of shelf space in book stores. Even worse is the shelf space for books in grocery and discount stores, where a large percentage of paper books are sold. Lack of shelf space leads to a scarcity in the number of books available and a distortion in how the existing distribution system promotes these books. It is a system built on creating bestsellers.

Amazon and other sellers of e-books are long tail marketers. Morrison correctly sees the long tail marketing as destructive to the bestseller system. “Rather than selling, say, 13m copies of one Harry Potter book, a long tail provider can make the same profits by selling 13m different obscure, failed, and niche books.” Morrison sees that as bad. I don’t. I’ll explain why by talking specifics.

For the sake of argument, let’s say a large portion of those 13m books are 500 to 3,000 copies a month of each of thousands of different self-published books. (From what we’re seeing in the e-book market today, this is a reasonable assumption.) Based on Amazon’s current royalty structure this is providing a monthly income of $175 on the low side to $6,279 on the high end to the writers of these books. (500 copies @0.99 at a 35% royalty and 3,000 copies @2.99 at a 70% royalty rate.) The reality is that J.K. Rowling isn’t going to be poverty stricken, however, by removing the distortion in the market created by the bestseller system, Rowling won’t sell millions of books (although I would expect she’ll be selling more than enough to live on). Many of these thousands of writers on the high side of this range will now be making a livable income. We’ve exchanged one writer making well in excess of a livable amount for thousands now doing so. If some of the writers selling on the low side of this range have multiple books available, they might also be making a living wage.

Morrison seems to imply the writers of these books aren’t worthy. I would say they are victims of the distortions in the market, but deserve to make a livable amount for their work, or at least have a chance to do so. So what are these “obscure, failed, and niche books” whose writers would be taking money from J.K. Rowling’s pocketbook in this scenario?

One might be Beth Orsoff. Her book Romantically Challenged was published by Penguin/NAL. A subsequent book, How I Learned to Love the Walrus, didn’t find a home because the Chick Lit genre had fallen out of favor with publishers. Now available as a self-published book, Walrus, is selling and receiving excellent feedback from Chick Lit readers, who are increasingly being ignored by legacy publishers.

What might Morrison mean by “failed” books? One interpretation is books that have already run the gauntlet of gatekeepers in the legacy publishing system. These books were published, didn’t find a market, or as sales volume tapered off, went out of print. With limited shelf space a book that doesn’t immediately find its audience or sells well for awhile, but doesn’t maintain a high sales volume, will eventually get pulled from the shelves and become unavailable. Many mid-listers are republishing their books that have gone out of print and finding there is still demand for these books, even if the demand isn’t enough for publishers and bookstores to profitably fill that demand. Rather than have a single book on a store shelf, these writers may have several on the virtual e-book shelves. If they sell several hundred copies a month of five or ten different books, odds are good they’ll reach the livable wage category. Examples of books in this category include Romantically Challenged, mentioned previously, Rebecca Forster’s The Witness series of legal thrillers, or Donna Fasano’s romances, such as Return of the Runaway Bride.

Last, we have niche books. These are books with some level of demand among the reading public. However, the perceived demand is not high enough to be profitable for the legacy publishing system. An example of this might be Suzanne Tyrpak’s book, Vestal Virgin. A suspense novel set in Ancient Rome, the demand for this isn’t enough for legacy publishers, yet there is demand – demand not met by the legacy publishing system.

Conclusion

Gutenberg caused a revolution with invention of the printing press. Although this revolution necessitated a reassignment of duties for many priests, everyone else involved came out ahead. I contend that we’re in the midst of a revolution that will prove to be the most beneficial change in this arena, for both readers and writers, since Gutenberg.

Very little of the vision I’ve outlined here is original thought, it is my version of the different theories put forth by others. To those interested in reading and following what others are saying on this subject, I would suggest the following, all of which were major contributors to my thinking on the subject.

Both books by Chris Anderson, mentioned earlier.

   The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More

   Free: The Future of a Radical Price

J.A. Konrath, A Newbies Guide to Publishing


Dean Wesley Smith

David Gaughran, Let’s Get Digital

The Passive Voice

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Company of Fellows / Dan Holloway

Reviewed by: Jess

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Availability

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Author:

Dan Holloway is an award winning spoken word performer. Aside from his passion for live shows he has written 3 books besides The Company of Fellows (which won Blackwell's online poll for Favorite Oxford Novel). They are Songs From the Other Side of the Wall, (life:) Razorblades Included and The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes. If you'd like to learn more about Dan, visit his website.

Description:

After his breakdown 12 years ago, Tommy West left academia behind and escaped to a new life as a successful interior designer. To his surprise, he is delivered news that Charles Shaw, his mentor from that previous life, is dead. Determined to help Shaw's daughter Becky discover the truth, Tommy finds himself struggling with the ups and downs of his psychosis, as his brilliance is challenged yet again by those he once admired, and by their questionable ethics which he uncovers along the way.

Appraisal:

This book was intriguing. The writing style and detail in it were exquisite. Dan perfectly captured the small nuances in body language and personal preference that make all humans unique. This aspect of his writing style was strictly preserved throughout the story, helping to maintain the integrity of the characters. The female leads were strong and alluring, but reading between the lines I sensed they had secrets, and was curious what they were. The characters faced several ethical conundrums which I found myself pondering throughout my workday and the ending had some unexpected twists.

There were a couple of themes that made me put the Kindle down and stop reading for a few days. One in particular was horrifically offensive for my taste. It took me a long time to shake it enough to continue reading. For this reason, I will not recommend this book to my girlfriends. If you enjoy psycho thrillers, find that excellent writing compels you as much as the plot of the book, and can accept the potentially offensive themes for their intended shock value, then you should give it a try.

Format/Typo Issues:

There were a substantial number of typos. The Kindle version needed another round of proofing. Although I didn’t decrease the rating for this, those who are sensitive to these issues should take this into account.

Rating: **** Four stars

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Egyptian / Layton Green

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

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Author:

Layton Green has worked at a variety of odd jobs, from bartender, to teaching English as a second language in Central America, to the oddest of them all, an attorney. He says he’s visited more than fifty countries and lived in several of them. Somehow, amongst all of that, he found the time to write two novels, get married, and produce a son. The family of three currently lives in Miami. For more, visit the author’s website.

Description:

We first met Dominic Grey in The Summoner, <where he investigated a missing diplomat in Zimbabwe and in the end found new employment, working as an investigator for Professor Viktor Radek, an expert on religious practices and cults. In this second installment of the Dominic Grey series, Grey works his first case for Viktor.

Appraisal:

Typically a book series will have a formula of some kind. Formula, in this instance, isn’t intended to imply a value judgment, either positive or negative, but some common elements. It takes a sequence of three in math to determine the pattern. It may be a fool’s game for me to attempt to determine the common elements in this series after reading just two books, but I’m going to try to identify them, at least the obvious ones.

Since Dominic Grey’s employer, Viktor Radek, specializes in religion and cults, it is safe to assume obscure or offbeat religious practices play a part in the story. Most of each book takes place in an obscure corner of the world, at least for those from English speaking countries who are most likely to be reading the books. As you might guess, The Egyptian takes place in Egypt, both Cairo and other locations. A significant portion also happens in Bulgaria. Last, you can expect you’ll learn at least a little, in some way. Part of this may be increasing your vocabulary. I complained in my review of The Summoner that Green sometimes seemed to use obscure words because he could, not because they were needed. This time around it didn’t seem as extreme, but you should still expect to refer to your e-reader’s built in dictionary a time or two. In The Egyptian you’ll also get a feel for the geography and history of both Egypt and Bulgaria.

However, the most important part is the story. Green knows how to tell a suspense-filled tale. That it largely happens in foreign locations and cultures only heightens the effect, as most readers are that much more off-balance, unable to predict what might come next. As I get deeper into the series and feel like I know Dominic Grey better, I like him more and more.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

FYI:

Although the second book of the series, reading both books in order is not needed. The small amount of back story needed to understand The Egyptian is reviewed enough so that it can be read as a stand-alone or out of order.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lessons III: Demonic Dolls and Other Morbid Drabbles / Michael Crane

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Flash Fiction/Horror

Approximate word count: 3,500-4,000 words

Availability
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Author:

Michael Crane is a graduate in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago, his hometown school. Crane has an addiction to Red Bull and a pet chinchilla that is reputed to be bloodthirsty. In addition to the first two Lessons volumes, Crane has a short story collection, In Decline, and a novelette, A Gnome Problem, available for your Kindle. He has also been featured in many short story anthologies. On rare occasions, Crane will post on his blog.

Description:

In his newest collection of drabbles, flash fiction pieces of exactly 100 words, Crane’s theme is playtime, with deranged toys figuring in many of the stories.

Appraisal:

In this volume, Crane continues his popular series of drabbles – most horror, many darkly comedic. Telling a story in one-hundred words, start to finish, is story writing at its most extreme. Crane gives us thirty, each well done – spare of prose, simple of plot, yet complete. Who’d have guessed toys were so evil? Perfect to read when you have a spare minute, and no more.

As a bonus, a flash fiction piece from each of five Indie author peers is included. Daniel Arenson, Imogen Rose, Jason Anderson, Sean Sweeney, and David Dalglish each contributed.

Yes, this review is one-hundred words.

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to Get Almost Instant Obedience from Your Woman / Radu Belasco

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Self-help

Approximate word count: 4-6,000 words

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Author:

No bio available.

Description:

I’ll cherry pick a few lines from the blurb on Amazon.

“If you are interested in having a wife or girlfriend who is submissive and obedient (no matter how stubborn or disobedient she is now) then the brand new book will show you how.”

“The kind of obedience that has her WANTING to follow your lead, please you, and help you achieve your goals as your ‘helpmate’ -- without any of the nagging, whining, sexual blackmail or usual female ‘drama queen’ nonsense.”

“This ain't for the "politically correct."

“This book is not about being a jerk.”

Appraisal:

A friend loaned me this “book” and asked me to review it for my blog. I agreed because I thought it was a prime example of both the good and the bad of the e-book and self-publishing revolution.

In the comments section of one of my other reviews an anonymous poster said, “The best thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it. The worst thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it.” Strictly speaking, this book doesn’t appear to be self-published. It indicates it is published by “MakeRight Publishing,” which, based on searches of Amazon and Google, is a service that will format an author’s manuscript for the Kindle and Nook and publish it to various sites for a small fee. Semantics aside, not much different from self-publishing. The comment is still pertinent.

Books like this have always existed although, given the length, it would be more accurate to call the paper equivalent a pamphlet. Pre-internet you’d find this kind of thing for sale in the back of certain magazines. The venue has changed and possibly made those books more visible. This visibility might make them easier to sell, but also makes people aware of their existence. I’m all for letting any theory have voice. Saying so might brand me as too politically correct for the author, but I’m confident that the spotlight of high visibility will kill a bad idea much more quickly than if they are only voiced in dark little corners.

After reading what Belasco has to say I can’t help wondering, was he born too late? He seems to believe that women are second-class citizens, and that a marriage (or any relationship) should be a dictatorship rather than a partnership. This might have worked a hundred or even fifty years ago. For economic reasons it might have made sense for a woman to accept this then, but not anymore. I’m sure it works now with certain women, although no woman I’d be interested in.

On the surface, some of the author’s suggestions make sense. For example, one of the rules he proposes is to, “never reward bad behavior.” That makes sense until you realize that to this author, bad behavior means whatever the man wants at the moment when he wants it. For example, if he’s in the mood for sex and she isn’t, it is “sexual blackmail” and thus unacceptable bad behavior. The next rule, “Never say you’re sorry,” is because to do so would reward bad behavior. He explains, “If you really DO screw up, fine, repent away. But even then, I do not recommend saying you’re sorry, and instead just saying something like I goofed, I shouldn’t have done that, or the infamous mistakes were made.” This strikes me as contradicting his earlier encouragement to “be a leader.” Do half-assed apologies when “mistakes were made” increase confidence in your leader or make them seem weak and not worthy of your respect?

Another complaint I have is that the reader is supposed to believe a statement is true merely because the author says it, with no logical or expert backup. For example, he says some people think that, “If a man wants his wife to be more responsive physically, he should pick up and help keep the place clean.” He calls this ridiculous and says it “does not hold up to reality or logic.” Yet his response boils down to his opinion that it isn’t true. Experts who say otherwise are wrong because “most of the information for the past 30+ years about dealing with women has been doled out by … women.” I love a good conspiracy theory, but I’m not buying this one.

Just as with anything good, taken too far, good can become bad. This goes for political correctness at its most extreme, but not for most instances of political correctness. Earlier today, I saw an internet forum post that struck me as saying exactly what I wanted to say. The poster, who uses the handle ginmar, said many people talk about political correctness as if it is “some huge new form of cultural cowardice. It’s not. It’s what your mom called being polite – and not being a bully.” Just as slaves were freed many years ago, women are now in a position to choose not to stay with a jerk.

Protestations aside, yes, this book is about being a jerk.

Format/Typo Issues:

Relative to its size, this book has too many typos. (Roughly the same number I would find acceptable in a novel ten or more times as long.)

Rating: * 1 star

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Beach Beneath the Pavement / Roland Denning

Our newest Pal, Arthur Graham, is an Indie author with two books available. For more about Arthur and his books, visit his blog.

Reviewed by: Arthur Graham

Genre: Literary Satire

Approximate word count: 90,000-95,000 words

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Author:

Roland Denning is a UK-based writer and filmmaker. The Beach Beneath the Pavement is his first novel. For more information, see the book’s official website.

Description:

Bernard Hawkes is a cynical, disillusioned journalist who finds himself in a spot of trouble when someone starts enacting the theoretical terrorist plots described in his satirical newspaper column. So begins this sardonic tale of conspiracies within conspiracies set in modern day London.

With the sinister Tranquility Foundation (a New Age conglomerate promising “serenity with security”) on one side and the Primitive Front (a group bent on shaking people out of such complacency) on the other, Bernard’s previously humdrum existence suddenly becomes quite interesting as he is drawn ever deeper into the intrigue behind the bombings. Adding to his problems are Inspector Pitmarsh, the paradoxically chummy yet menacing police detective, a vivacious young revolutionary calling herself Animal, and Dillwyn, his alternatively rational and paranoid neighbor.

The book’s title is a reference to the 1968 leftist revolt against the French de Gaulle regime, of which the slogan sous les pav├ęs, la plage (under the paving stones, the beach) came to be one of the central rallying points. This simple statement was meant as a reminder that, for all its claims to legitimacy, our so-called civilization is merely a thin veneer overlying a much less rigidly structured natural world. Since bricks and stones have proven handy weapons in popular uprisings from Watts to Gaza and all points in between, the slogan is both literally and symbolically relevant to the idea of revolution, which comes to be one of the book’s central themes. Unfortunately for Bernard, however, there may be more than one layer of paving stones between him and the truth...

Appraisal:

Too many novels fail to address the underlying issues of the day, and of those that do, fewer still manage to pull it off with any kind of genuine insight. With The Beach Beneath the Pavement, we find a rare read that educates as well as it entertains. For while neither Denning nor his protagonist seem to draw a very hard line where sociopolitical struggles are concerned, and while it neglects to answer most of the bigger questions it raises, this book will likely leave responsive readers with a newfound appreciation for both skepticism and belief where such matters are concerned.

The characters are interesting and believable, and the dialogue between them serves to illuminate their unique personalities and the world they create. The text itself is very well written, and despite its episodic nature, the various plotlines are easy enough to follow and piece together.

Much of the conflict between the characters and their respective factions is explained through the lens of Post-Credibility, a theoretical framework employed to describe the paradigm we currently inhabit. Greatly exasperated by mass communication technologies, the Era of Post-Credibility is curious in that so much information is so readily available these days that people actually have no idea what to believe. So engrained is the resultant skepticism that Cred Havens – points in space and time where even those mistrusting everything will believe – must be artificially manufactured in order to provoke the desired reaction in the world’s masses. It’s probably best not to mention who exactly is pulling the puppet strings throughout the story (and to what effect), but let it suffice to say that such multi-dimensional power plays remain central to the plot.

For readers unfamiliar or uninterested in conspiracy theories, the history of popular uprisings, and the larger forces (real and imagined) both before and behind them, this book may prove to be a bit of a challenge. But for those who sense that the biggest conspiracy of all may be the one in which we ourselves are the conspirators, The Beach Beneath the Pavement is sure to please.

FYI:

The author is from the UK and uses UK slang and spelling conventions.

The book contains some adult language/sexual situations.

This is a review of the original 2009 paperback edition. The version available for Kindle readers is the 2011 Austerity Edition, which has undergone substantial cuts to the original manuscript. As Roland explains, “I cut out a character that nobody liked, shaved down a sub-plot and added one new chapter. It was the least I could do to contribute to the nation's current mood of despair and futility.”

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.


Rating: ***** Five stars

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vengeance & Hunting Season / J.E. Taylor

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller/Supernatural

Approximate word count: Vengeance 95-100,000 words. Hunting Season 70-75,000 words

Availability

(Vengeance)
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Author:

J.E. Taylor’s first book, Dark Reckoning, was originally released by Fido Publishing. The first of the Steve Williams series, Fido also originally published Vengeance, the second in the series. Both have been re-released by the author, along with the third installment , Hunting Season. Taylor also has a series of erotic thrillers (published by eXcessica). In addition, Taylor edits Allegory, a Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror zine.
For more, visit the author's website.

Description:

Vengeance

Working undercover as a corporate lawyer for one of the biggest drug lords on the East Coast, FBI Special Agent Steve Williams is on the verge of making his case. He orders the arrest, when things start to unravel after a serial killer attacks his wife and his cover is in danger of being blown.

The Hunting Season

Killer Kyle Winslow escapes from custody and targets everyone important to Steve Williams. Can he stop him? How far will he go to do so?

Appraisal:

Vengeance is an intense, fast moving thriller. Steve Williams is one of those characters who, although on the right side, stretches the rules and makes overly risky decisions. He’s the kind of character who in real life I would despise (law enforcement stretching rules is a pet peeve) and wouldn’t last long, either by getting fired, incarcerated, or killed. But this larger-than-life persona is something I like in fiction. In Vengeance, Williams is clearly the good guy, and although he sometimes stretches the rules and takes some risks, it doesn’t cross the line – at least not by too much. Vengeance has some relatively minor supernatural aspects, although they are a major element in the story.

Hunting Season picks up where Vengeance ends. While a minor supernatural element was integral to the story in Vengeance, in Hunting Season it becomes a much bigger part of the story, with many more characters having supernatural powers. Steve William’s propensity to take risks and stretch the rules also increases, as does the body count. If William’s had crossed some of the lines he does here in the prior book it might been too far, but with the added challenges due to the additional supernatural elements, along with many of the events that happen, it seems like considering all the rules off is reasonable.

Although Hunting Season is much different from Vengeance, it is still a thriller and a logical story progression for the series. Thriller fans should like both, with your personal favorite determined by your taste for the supernatural.

FYI:

Despite being the second and third book of a series, I didn’t feel lost, even though I hadn’t read the first. Enough of the back story is given in each book that they can be read as standalone books.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos and word usage issues. Several of these are using the word waive instead of wave. I’m not going to waive my hand. No one could make that mistake more than twice.

Rating: **** Four stars

Monday, August 22, 2011

Learn Me Gooder / John Pearson

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Humor

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Availability
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Author:

After being laid off from his job as an engineer, John Pearson made a drastic career change and became an elementary school teacher. His initial year of teaching provided material for his first book, Learn Me Good. Its popularity among Kindle owners convinced Pearson that just one book with a grammatically incorrect title wasn’t enough. Hence, this sequel. Pearson lives in Texas and is proud of attending both Duke and Texas A&M universities. (Insert your favorite Aggie joke here.) For more, visit Pearson’s blog.

Description:

Six years have passed since John Woodson started teaching. He’s still exchanging emails with his former coworker Fred Bommerson, sharing stories of his school days, and reminiscing about how teaching is different from his former job.

Appraisal:

For those who read Learn Me Good, you know exactly what to expect from Learn Me Gooder. If you liked the first book, you’ll like this sequel. If not, the sequel isn’t for you, either. Everyone else, read on.

I’ve been wondering lately if I’m losing my sense of humor, at least where books are concerned. I find plenty to laugh at in books from non-humor genres. Snappy, smart-ass dialogue and funny situations that are part of a bigger story still unleash the chuckles. But most of the books I’ve read where being funny was their main aim have fallen short. They’ve had funny parts. They’ve also had irritating, stupid, and even infuriating parts. Learn Me Gooder has convinced me it is still possible to make me laugh the whole way through and alleviated my concerns about that missing sense of humor.

The book is structured as a series of chronological emails from John Woodson, a fictional elementary teacher, to his former coworker, Fred Bommerson, who still works for Woodson’s former employer. Each email has a subject line that is usually humorous, often a play on words that relates to the subject. One example is “That doesn’t make any cents,” as the subject for an email where Woodson tells Boomerson about trying to teach his class the relative values of US coins. Each email is “signed” with a name that follows the same pattern, “Seven Dollar Billy” for the last email and “Add’ em Ant,” for an email about teaching addition.

These added touches add to the funniness and give a hint of Pearson’s sense of humor and wit, but the body of the emails is where the real fun lies. The situations described are, if not totally true, at least totally believable. Although drawn from Pearson’s actual teaching experiences, Learn Me Gooder is fictionalized and, at times, the author takes literary license for a better story. Pearson combines school happenings with his inner dialogue, then stirs in comparisons to his former coworkers and comes up with comedy gold. Although each email is a discrete unit, like a small chapter, the book doesn’t read like a series of emails. Pearson’s students and even his former coworkers become like characters in a novel as we follow the students’ progress through the year. Likewise, in references to Bommerson and his other ex-coworkers, Pearson integrates them into the story too. (Sometimes the adult world isn’t that much different than elementary school.) If you have children, work with children, or have ever been a child, I think you’ll find Learn Me Gooder just the thing to tickle your funny bone.

FYI:

Although this book is a sequel, the references to events from Learn Me Good are limited and inconsequential. I also recommend the original, but reading it is not a prerequisite to reading the sequel.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five stars

Friday, August 19, 2011

Conflict of Interest / Lauryn Christopher

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Mystery/Crime

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Availability
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Author:

In this section, I usually paraphrase the official author bio in my own words, sometimes adding things from other sources. However, Lauryn Christopher’s bio is too good not to steal fully intact. I think it gives insight into her approach as an author that my summarization or paraphrasing would lose. (Yes, she has written other books and you can find out about them from her website
or the website of her small publisher, Camden Park Press.)

I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, and looking for clues in the ordinary behavior of my friends and family. Then I graduated to the Alfred Hitchcock school of mysteries, where innocent people were often caught up in situations that were beyond their worst imaginings. That led to police procedurals, and whodunits and a whole slew of other figure-it-out reading.

Much as I loved solving the mysteries, I often wondered about the shadowy characters who perpetrated the crimes. The people who had gone over to the “dark side.” So I decided that while I’ll often write stories from the point of view of the problem-solvers, I’d write some from the criminal’s point of view as well — they’re not always who (or what) you might expect. I hope you enjoy exploring what makes these characters tick as much as I have.

– Lauryn


Description:

Corporate spy and hit-woman Meg Harrison has a smoothly operating business. Then not only does a new client piss her off, but she discovers he’s hired her to kill her sister. A sister she didn’t even realize she had.

Appraisal:

Corporate spies, assassins and hit-men (or women) are such staples of certain fictional genres that readers are accustomed to the premise and suspension of disbelief is easy, regardless of how prevalent we believe they are (or aren’t) in the real world. Once we buy into the initial premise, the stories fall into a few basic formulas. How well the author executes the formula while making it feel unique is what sets one book apart from the others and determines the best reads.

Conflict of Interest has a couple things that made the story unique. First is the protagonist, Meg Harrison. The stereotypical hit-person is a lone-wolf man. He’ll be amoral (almost a requirement for the job), or a psychopath as well as cold and unemotional. He’ll often live off-the-grid or, if not, have a cover completely separate from his life as a assassin, with frequent “business trips” as an explanation for his disappearances to perform his contract killings.

Meg’s situation couldn’t be more different from the stereotype. Not only are there the obvious differences we’d expect because of gender, but her approach itself is much different. She operates as a business, with legitimate (although not totally unrelated) legal activities filling the time between her more clandestine jobs. This has many advantages with easy laundering of the money from her illegal activities one of the biggest.

Although largely unemotional about what she does, we find Meg doesn’t fit the norm, as she discovers the identity of her latest victim-to-be. As a reader we’re setup to want Meg’s assignment to be successful, with the story conflict turning out to be just how she should define success this time around. With Conflict of Interest, Christopher turns the hit-man formula on its head, and in doing so gives us a surprising and entertaining read.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Matrix of Angels / Christopher Conlon

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Suspense/Literary Fiction

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words for main novel.
Also includes a 10,000 word bonus short story.

Availability
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Author:

The author of one prior novel, Midnight on Mourn Street, which he has also adapted for stage, Christopher Conlon lives in Maryland. He has written numerous short stories and poetry collections. Conlon also edits books, most notably the Bram Stoker Award-winning He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson. For more, visit Conlon’s website.

Description:

A depressed, middle-aged alcoholic, Frances Pastan is also a famous author of children’s books. While on a book tour, purely on a whim, Frances decides to visit a small town she has vague memories of living in as a child. Her visit triggers recollections of her time there and her first good friend, Lucy Sparrow.

A Matrix of Angels was originally a short story, published in an anthology for charity and read by few. Over the years, Conlon kept coming back to the story, believing he hadn’t told it all. Eventually he built on this initial skeleton, expanding the story of Frances and Lucy into a novel. The original short story is included as a bonus.

Appraisal:

A Matrix of Angels is one of those hard to pin down books. It has a murder with some mystery surrounding it, at least where the protagonist, Frances Pastan, is concerned. But the mysteries are more concerned with understanding events surrounding the murder and coming to terms with them than they are about finding the killer, who is identified mid-book. It isn’t a murder mystery. It has some traumatic childhood experiences that need to be understood and worked through, yet it isn’t a coming of age story. Despite not being either of these, it is also a book with plenty of appeal for fans of those genres. However, if I were forced to categorize, it has to go in one of the catchall categories, either literary or contemporary fiction.

While superficially a success, Frances’ life is in shambles. In revisiting a life-changing and traumatic time that she has long repressed , she is able to understand the events that led to her current situation. Going through this, Frances is almost practicing self-psycho-therapy, which will possibly set her on the road to a better place. Going through this exercise with Frances, the reader may glean some insights into human nature; the novel gives us a better understanding about how past events can both inspire us in positive ways and drag us down if we let them.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bros & Hoes In Prose / Slava Pastukhov

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Humor/Satire

Approximate word count: 15-20,000 words

Availability
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Author:

Slava Pastukhov says he’s the second funniest person he knows (no word on who is the first). Pastukhov is a University student in Toronto, Ontario, and writes for the website Points in Case: The Fine Print of College Life 
under the pen name Yaro Shepherd. Much of the content of Bros & Hoes In Prose originated from this column. He also has a website, if you’re interested.

Description:

A collection of humorous essays. In the foreword, the author says they cover “all aspects of society that can be easily ridiculed.Most of these stories will make you smile, some may make you laugh and some of these stories will piss you off, but only if you fit into any of [the] cookie-cutter molds that have been presented to us by MTV.”

Appraisal:

One of the essays in Bros & Hoes in Prose starts, “welcome to the first and last installment of Relationship Advice from a Guy who’s Never Been in a Relationship.” (It turns out this isn’t really the last installment, since we get the “next installment” later in the book.) After reading the first several essays, I can’t say I’m surprised. This assumes Pastukhov is serious about never being in a relationship, which might be a faulty assumption. And therein lies my main problem with this book.

The best and edgiest comedy requires walking a tightrope. It often means holding a mirror up to a segment of society to show its flaws in a humorous way through exaggeration and caricature. My sense is that is what Pastukhov is attempting in the first several essays in a section called, The (un)Fairer Sex: How to get women. Also, how to get rid of them. The first essay in this section, 3 Women You Should Date, compares three different female types along with the pros and cons of dating each. The descriptions of the three types of females with the pros and cons were humorous and mostly managed the balancing act for me. However, I found the setup, starting with the “how to get them …” subtitle of this section to his describing the first essay as “product reviews for pussy,” too much. I felt it went over the line, from humorous to misogynistic. Even when the author moves from women to other subjects in later sections, this feeling kept popping up in other ways.

Although I found many places in Bros & Hoes in Prose that made me smile and some that made me laugh, as was promised in the description, I also found too many that pissed me off. I guess this means I need to watch MTV to find out which cookie-cutter mold applies to me. I do suspect a narrow demographic segment, maybe certain college age males, would love this book. One positive is it is free on Smashwords for those who want to see for themselves.

FYI:

Some adult content.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos.


Rating: *** Three stars

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bad F*ck / Naomi Kramer

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Flash Fiction/Humor/Horror

Approximate word count: 5-6,000 words

Availability
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Author:

Australian Naomi Kramer is a technical writer by day and a fiction writer at night. She is the author of the popular DEAD(ish) series of novelettes and the YA novella Maisy May. Bad F*ck II, the follow up to this book, is also now available.

Description:

A collection of flash fiction built around the theme of sex gone awry.

Appraisal:

“What you need,” said the girl sitting next to him at the bar, “is a good fuck.”

And, so begins the first of many short tales that end up as anything but what is suggested by the girl at the bar. Some are funny. Some of the stories border on horror, others are science fiction, and many are hard to put a label on, although I wouldn’t call any of them erotica. Many imply much of the story, with the reader left to fill in the gaps based on what they do know.

What they all have in common is Naomi Kramer’s warped and twisted imagination, which those who have read any of her Dead (ish) books have come to expect, and either love or hate them because of it. Love her books, or hate them, you won’t find anything quite like Kramer anywhere else.

FYI:

If the title isn’t enough to make it clear, this book has adult language and sexual situations.

Kramer is Australian and consequently this book uses Australian spelling conventions and has a small amount of Australian slang.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Accidental Family / Donna Fasano

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Romance

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

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Author:

A bestselling and award-winning author of romance and chick lit both under her own name and as Donna Clayton, Fasano has written over thirty novels and sold more than 3.5 million books in her twenty-some-odd year career. Fasano lives on the Atlantic seaboard, and loves to go to the beach whenever she can, although actually getting in the water where creatures live is a different story. For more, visit her website


Description:

“I do,” they said, with fingers crossed. Thus begins a marriage of convenience for Jonas Winslow and Robin Hampstead. This was a temporary solution, an accommodation to ensure the court would appoint them co-guardians of their orphaned nephew. Simple and uncomplicated, until they began seeing each other differently.

Previously published by Harlequin ™ as Daddy Down the Aisle under Fasano’s pen name, Donna Clayton, An Accidental Family has been updated and expanded by almost 10,000 words for this independent reissue.

Appraisal:

There is an old Chinese proverb that says “the journey is the reward.” I’ve come to view romance novels the same way. The setup happens early. Start with two people –traditionally one man and one woman, although I think most states allow other combinations, at least in books– with at least one of the two not at all interested in the other, often actively disliking them. You know how the story is going to end. The entertainment, insight gained, or whatever reward the reader receives, is in the journey.

Working within the conventions of the Romance genre while keeping the story fresh and believable requires both creativity and a keen insight into human behavior. A good romance author needs to understand the range of emotions, inspirations, and reactions of both men and women in many situations. Fasano has this, and her success thus far demonstrates it. For example, in An Accidental Family, the man and woman don’t like each other, but their reasons are based on faulty first impressions and misunderstood motivations. Helping them make that journey from not-a-chance-in-hell to happy couple while maintaining credibility is a talent, amply demonstrated here. Fasano’s talent is the reader’s reward.

FYI:

This book contains some mild sexual content.

Format/Typo Issues:

The review is based on a Beta copy. I can’t evaluate the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four stars

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tasting the Wind / Allan Mayer

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller/Suspense

Approximate word count: 130-135,000 words

Availability
Kindle US:
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Author:

Allan Mayer has a “first class honours degree in English Literature and Theology and a Master of Philosophy degree in Biblical Criticism.” He manages a service for people with “profound and multiple disabilities.” All of this figures into this book. (Okay, maybe not the Biblical Criticism part.) For more, visit Mayer’s website.


Description:

Martin Peach takes a job caring for people with disabilities, not because he cares, but because he needs the job. Starting at a hospital that is slated for closure, and then transferred with a handful of patients to a small community bungalow, Martin finds the job is more difficult than he’d imagined. In addition to taking care of the patients, no easy task, he also has a strange new manager who appears to have a history with some of the people in his care.

Appraisal:

Tasting the Wind has two things going for it. The first, and most obvious, is the thriller storyline. Were it not for blurbs and occasional glimmers in the actions and dialogue of a couple of the patients, you might not realize for a good portion of the book that this is a thriller. The mystery slowly builds. Coming down the stretch, however, the action and suspense pick up and it becomes very apparent.

The other thing I liked is more subtle. One is the exposure to what it is like working with people who have what the author describes on his website (talking about his day job) as “profound and multiple disabilities.” (I’m sure there is a term some would deem more politically correct, but I’ll stick to the old standby here.) It takes a special kind of person to do well working in this environment. Those who don’t care about their patients (or clients) won’t do well.

FYI:

The author lives in the UK and uses spelling and slang appropriate to his native country.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four stars

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fatal Liaison / Vicki Tyley

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller

Approximate word count: 70-75,000

Availability
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Author:

With her first novel, the mystery thriller Thin Blood, Vicki Tyley became one of only two independent authors to have a book on Amazon’s list of the top 100 selling Kindle books of 2010. Her second book, also released in 2010, is Sleight Malice. She followed this with Brittle Shadows early this year, which was also the first book reviewed on this blog. Although a native of New Zealand, Tyley and her husband have lived in Australia since the early ‘80s.

Description:

Megan Brighton joins a dating service, Dinner for Twelve, at the insistence of her best friend, Brenda. Greg Jenkins does the same because he thinks the company or one of its clients holds the key to finding his sister, who has disappeared. When Brenda disappears, Megan and Greg join forces.

Appraisal:

I’ve read all of Vicki Tyley’s books, and all have several qualities in common. All are thrillers or mysteries with multiple suspects or potential resolutions. I’ve always been convinced each of the primary suspects was guilty at some point, yet the ending still catches me off guard. Tyley’s ability to plot a story is the envy of many of her peers. Fatal Liaison keeps this streak alive.

I thought the premise of the story, that someone is targeting women using the dating service, was clever and unique. The service is one of those that brings many people together in a bar or restaurant to mingle and, potentially, follow up by actually dating. The large number of people each woman might have met or been targeted by, all of whom are potential suspects, meant the story had many directions it could go. If you’ve read and liked Tyley’s previous books, you’re sure to feel the same about this one. If you haven’t, Fatal Liaison would make an excellent first read.

FYI:

The author is Australian and uses spelling, word choices, and slang appropriate to her native country.

Format/Typo Issues:

The review is based on an advance copy. I can’t evaluate the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ten Good Reasons to Lie About Your Age / Stephanie Zia



Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Availability
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Author:

A former documentary researcher and producer for the BBC, Stephanie Zia has also written for a variety of publications. She was the long-time “cleaning guru” for The Guardian newspaper’s Space Solves column. Zia has written several books, fiction and non-fiction, although only this book and a couple of her non-fiction books are available for your eReader. For more information, visit Zia’s blog.

Description:

Suddenly widowed, Sally Lightfoot’s life seems without direction or purpose. Her husband is gone and she is no longer helping him run the business he owned, a music studio. Her kids are grown and living on their own. After years of work and parenting, Sally is adrift, with no idea what comes next.

Appraisal:

Most definitions of the “coming of age” story involve a youth’s transformation into adulthood. Although not as dramatic, there are other changes later in life that are equally , and often more, traumatic. For some, retirement is like this. I could tell you some horror stories about former significant others and empty nest syndrome. For Sally Lightfoot it is primarily widowhood at a relatively young age.

The struggles Sally goes through are not unlike those of a young person in the typical coming of age story. There are issues of sex and romance. Is she ready? Will she ever be ready? There are concerns with finances and what she’ll do for a job.

Ten Good Reasons to Lie About Your Age got off to a slow start for me. As the story progressed and Sally started interacting more with people beyond her children and a small number of others, the story picked up steam. As this happened, her story also became more humorous, rather than just sad, and I began rooting for her to find her new equilibrium and, hopefully, happiness. As with a coming of age story, those who are going through a similar situation can take comfort in the fact that the difficulties are universal. Those who have already been there (and those convinced they never will) can laugh at Sally’s foibles.

FYI:

The author is British and uses UK spellings and slang. Although I read many books by UK and Aussie writers and, as those who frequent Books and Pals know, don’t have issues with that, I found this book harder to understand. It felt like the author used less slang than many and it isn’t a problem with grammar. The best explanation I can give is that it is one of style, with words put together correctly, but maybe how they were put together and some word choices felt unnatural to me. I am almost certain this is not a problem with the writing, but with the reader. If this book appeals to you, sampling first might be a good idea.

This book contains some sexual content that might not be suitable for younger readers.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Scavenger’s Daughter: A Tyler West Mystery / Mike McIntyre

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller/Suspense

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Availability
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Author:

Journalist Mike McIntyre has worked as a travel and theatre columnist, and a feature writer, for major newspapers including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, as well as contributing articles to many magazines. He has published two travel narratives, The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America and The Wander Year: One Couple’s Journey Around the World. McIntyre currently lives in San Diego.

Description:

Suspended by the San Diego Sun, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tyler West is desperate for a career-saving scoop. After the murders of several powerful people in what the police call “unrelated” cases, Tyler investigates.

Appraisal:

The protagonist of The Scavenger’s Daughter, Tyler West, is convinced that a series of murders are the work of the same person. Frustrated by police and city leaders who insist the murders aren’t related, Tyler digs deeper and uncovers the common thread that nobody expects. A
killer, who calls himself Friar Tom in tribute to the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, is committing each of the murders with a medieval torture device.

I found The Scavenger’s Daughter to be one of those books I didn’t want to put down. It was fast-paced and never apparent what was coming next. At times, it seemed everyone was working against Tyler, which brought out my natural instinct to root for the underdog. A secondary story thread, offering the possibility for Tyler to redeem a past mistake by rekindling a romance, also helps make Tyler a sympathetic character and ties in well with the main story line. Thrillers don’t get much more intense than this.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars