30 August 2011

5 Pillars, 7 Sins by Paul McDonnold is now available for FREE!

Paul McDonnold's e-book 5 Pillars, 7 Sins: A Novella is now available to download for FREE!

Earlier this year I reviewed The Economics of Ego Surplus - A Novel of Economic Terrorism by Paul McDonnold and he also participated in an author interview. In the interview he mentioned he was working on 5 Pillars, 7 Sins: A Novella, and that it's a prequel to The Economics of Ego Surplus - A Novel of Economic Terrorism and introduces the main character Kyle Linwood.

I haven't read it myself yet (I've got a bit of a backlog of books at the moment) but I'm sure it'll be good if The Economics of Ego Surplus is anything to go by (I gave it 4 stars in my review). So feel free to download it, and let me know how you get on.

You can download it free in PDF format or find a variety of eReader formats on Smashwords.

Free e-book? Gotta love that! Happy reading.


That's my four bucks!

27 August 2011

Review: London Under | Peter Ackroyd

If you've ever been intrigued by what lurks beneath the road or the footpath, then this is the book for you. Peter Ackroyd takes the reader beneath the surface in London Under and investigates the murky depths of tunnels, sewers, hidden rivers and streams and the history of long ago London.

History buffs will relish the chapter on the locations of old wells and springs, and their relevance in the naming of streets. I was surprised to find that precise access points to tunnels, sewers and even old war bunkers are referenced and described in the book; to the point I began to consider whether this information could be a security risk.

Nevertheless, Ackroyd provides the reader with an amazing insight into the building of the first tunnel beneath the Thames River and I found myself easily visualising the first journey through the tunnel in horse and carriage. I also enjoyed reading more about the Fleet Street 'ditch', the Roman history beneath London, the development of the Tube and the use of the Underground during the War.

London Under is a short read at around 210 pages (including sketches), however in addition to the facts and history, I was hoping for a little bit of a shock or a scare. I was hoping to read about animals or deformed creatures living underground (real or tales) or information on homeless population living underground. Ackroyd did explain that the Church wasn't in favour of tunnelling underground for public transport, as they were of the opinion that the underground was the devil's territory. But for the most part, London Under is a well-structured and sensible book about the history and services located beneath the surface of London.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

24 August 2011

Review: The Observations | Jane Harris

It's 1863 in Scotland and Bessy is running away from her past towards an unknown future in Edinburgh. On the way, she has a chance encounter with the Lady of the house at Castle Haivers and accepts a job as her housemaid after it is revealed she can read and write.

Bessy is the only housemaid inside the isolated country house - it's hardly a castle - and the Lady of the house, Arabella, soon begins to make some odd requests of her. Bessy is narrating the story and her dialect - attributable to her upbringing, location and it being 1863 of course - makes her instantly endearing to the reader.

By her own admission Bessy is wicked, however she's always trying to improve and she'll do anything for Missus; until she finds out her secret that is. Then everything begins to fall apart and Bessy will do anything to take it all back and tries to apologise to master James.
The Observations is a unique mystery, complete with a creaking attic, a locked drawer, hidden journals and family secrets. I always enjoy these elements in a novel, but in this case, the plot seemed unique and took a different direction than I had been expecting, which was quite refreshing. Bessy also adds a touch of humour to every page and I thoroughly enjoyed her clever but somewhat naive charm.

I was pleased to discover The Observations contains enough gothic elements to qualify as a gothic novel according to gothicreadingchallenge.blogspot.com which means this qualifies as one of the books for the Gothic Reading Challenge - I signed up to read 5 by the end of 2011, and this makes #2.

I also have to comment on the cover art, I absolutely adore the cover of this book, it's evocative and powerful and relevant to the story. Visually stunning, I love it!

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

20 August 2011

Review: Immortal Last Words, History's Most Memorable Dying Remarks, Deathbed Declarations and Final Farewells | Terry Breverton

This is an interesting non-fiction collection of last words, comments, epitaphs, suicide notes, diary entries, letters, poems and much more belonging to famous and some not so famous people.

Each phrase, remark or statement is presented in date order, with one page devoted to each entry. Each entry contains the person's name, their date of birth and date of death, the remark, statement or deathbed declaration chosen by the author, and a short bio of the person. The short bio provides enough background for the reader to understand the person's place in history, including how they passed.

This is a perfect book to dip into from time to time; you don't need to remember where you're up to and you can flip back and forth as each page can be read in isolation. It's also a terrific way to absorb historical facts and information.

Some of the phrases or quotes were familiar to me: "It's better to burn out than to fade away" attributed to Kurt Cobain, and
"If the Persians [Medes] darken the sun with their arrows, we shall have our fight in the shade" spoken by Dieneces the Spartan in 480 BCE.

Others were new to me: "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is ready for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter." This was said by Sir Winston Churchill on his seventy-fifth birthday in 1949; he wasn't to die until 1965.

My favourite excerpt from the book were the last words spoken by Pancho Villa: "Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something."

Some statements and comments were funny, others were inspiring and some were reflective. I definitely recommend this book; I laughed, I learned and I was inspired.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

15 August 2011

Review: Curtains, Adventures of an Undertaker in Training | Tom Jokinen

With a teaser like this:
"If Bill Bryson were to join a funeral home as an apprentice, and if he searched for the meaning of life and death while he was at it, you'd have Curtains."
I was really looking forward to reading Curtains - Adventures of an Undertaker in Training by author Tom Jokinen. Tom tells it like it is, and writes about the funeral industry and the inner workings of one particular funeral home that he works in.

Tom works as an assistant in all duties performed in the funeral home, from driving the hearse, collecting deceased and assisting in the embalming process to dressing corpses, selling coffins, operating the cremating oven and sifting and sorting the ashes.

In between describing the ins and outs of these processes and giving readers the inside scoop, Jokinen comments on death and grief and the ways in which we do and don't cope / deal with it. He also writes about the increased preference for cremation in place of burial, and how families and loved ones choose to remember their dear departed.

I found this a curious but sometimes depressing topic and I could only read a little at a time. Curtains satisfied a morbid curiosity I had to find out what happens in a funeral home, however it was a little repetitive towards the end and I began to feel that my curiosity had been satisfied and I wanted to shrug off the morbid topic and move onto a more livelier book.

Nevertheless, an interesting book to dip into, but I didn't finish it through to the end.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

13 August 2011

Review: Earthing, The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? | Clinton Ober

Clinton Ober is the author of Earthing, The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? Simply put, earthing is the term Ober has given to describe the phenomenon when humans make a connection to the earth with their bare skin.

Given our bodies are somewhat electrical - our brain, heart, muscles cells and body systems function electrically - and the earth resonates with its own energy levels, when our body comes in direct contact with the earth, it equalizes to the same energy level as the earth. Ober also calls this grounding and being grounded.

Ober claims that most people no longer have regular contact with the earth; many of us live in high rise apartments and work in towers of glass and concrete. We walk around wearing shoes made of rubber and plastics and many of us don't have regular contact with the earth, walking barefoot in the grass, or on the beach etc. I for one live in an apartment building, don't have a backyard, and need to go for a walk or drive in the car to find somewhere to take my shoes off and put my feet in some grass.

Ober is convinced that this loss of connection with the earth, could be partially responsible for the increase in the number of patients with illnesses, diseases and chronic pain. I must admit I did get a little lost in much of the science and medicine behind the theory of earthing - which was the fault of the reader, not the author - however, what I did take away from the book was his claim that earthing reduces inflammation, and by earthing and reducing inflammation, patients suffering from some illnesses, injuries and chronic pain can be helped and healed.

The book contains many case studies, testimonials and articles from Doctors and specialists, including the two co-authors. I was interested to read for instance that teams from the Tour de France had been sleeping in Ober's earthing bags since 2007 and had reported dramatic increased recovery rates.

I've purchased two earthing products from an Australian company and am trialling them myself in the hope of improving my own health and well-being. Ober understands that this discovery is still relatively new, and the health industry will require study after study before it is universally accepted as a means of treatment.

Personally, I think earthing will eventually be categorised as a method of alternative medicine or healing (like acupuncture) if it isn't already. Big pharmaceutical companies certainly won't want Doctors telling their patients there is an alternative to drugs and surgery that is free and available to every person, regardless of their financial or socioeconomic background. There is a lot of money to be made preying on the sick and the infirm, particularly if their condition is ongoing.

I was excited by Earthing, The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? for personal reasons, and it seemed to make sense to me, but I'll let you make up your own mind about it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

08 August 2011

Interview with Nadine Larter, author of Coffee at Little Angels

Today I'm interviewing Nadine Larter, author of Coffee at Little Angels. She's living in South Africa, so we're conversing by email.

What was the inspiration behind Coffee At Little Angels?
A couple of years ago (and by a couple I think I might mean as many as six or seven, but I can't be sure) I lost an old high school friend in a car accident. I was devastated of course. This boy gave me my first kiss, he bruised my heart a couple of times, he provided wonderful friendship, endless headshakes, a friend and I even fought over him constantly - all those silly small-town dynamics were there. He had the most beautiful blue eyes you have ever encountered. He was sweet. He was charming. And he is possibly the only person who ever made me swear to him that I would never change. And then he died. And that just seemed ridiculous because..well..death is just kind of ridiculous, isn't it? Someone who used to be there just isn't anymore. And I couldn't escape the fact that he didn't really have to be dead for me. He could just be in my past. Like a whole bunch of other people who I never see anymore, but who I care about as people who were once upon a time part of my life. If I didn't think about how I would never see him again, then it wouldn't be so terrible. At least not for me.

The book is not about him. The relationships you find in that book are not relationships that ever existed. But it was just the idea. The idea of how much harder it would have been if he had died just a couple of years earlier. Really it was just an idea that came out of trying to process something that I wasn't sure how to respond to at the time.

The characters in your novel are well drawn, how closely do they represent people from your past or people you've known?
My sister is the only other person who has asked me this question. She asked before she read my book though and was mock offended that I never based anyone on her. These characters don't represent anyone from my past. I think perhaps when I picture Phil, I picture my friend, but the character is not the same as my friend. Just the hair and eyes.

I don't know if it's the same for other authors, but I like to create my own characters. If I create someone based on another person it is only very loosely. And when I say loosely, I might borrow a certain character trait here and there. But characters really do develop on their own. They decide on their own personalities as they go along. It's all very well and fine if you think to yourself "Oh this character is my friend Charlie" but if you don't let that character be who he wants to be and instead insist on making him the splitting image of "Charlie" I think you're almost doing your character an injustice. He knows who he wants to be. Let him be that person.

What's life like as an author in South Africa?
Can you ask me that again in a year? Or maybe ask someone else? Because I don't know yet. Thanks to the internet I know a few South African authors, and I must say I have grown to love them without even meeting them in person because I am so happy that there seems to be a community of "just writers" popping up. I love it.

I come from a small town where my education was really...well..I never learnt anything about literature at school! And I never got to jet off to university because it just wasn't financially viable when I finished high school. When it comes to "South African writers" my idea was always that we have some sort of obscure duty to make sense of apartheid for the rest of the world so that they can all understand what a dreadful and hideous thing it is blah blah blah. Now this is obviously a ridiculous assumption but it is one that has stunted and plagued me for a long time. I sort of got this idea in my head that if I wanted to be a writer I had to be very serious. I don't do very serious too well.

And then along came this wonderfully talented man called John van De Ruit and he changed everything for me. He wrote with humour and pure himselfness. And his novels have been so ridiculously successful. I think I cried through the first one thinking "Yes, John, this is how we must write!" After the first Spud book came out I stopped worrying about being an apartheid guru. I know nothing about it anyway! I didn't live through it. Things were like they were and it sucks. But I refuse to sell South Africa as an oppressed country. Are there problems? Hell yes! And some might make their way into my future novels, and that is fine. But you know what? My why-South-Africa-is-awesome list is a lot longer than my why-South-Africa-sucks list is. As for what it is like, I really just don't know yet.

Where do you like to write and can you describe your working space? Is it a mess or do you need a clean environment to write in?
I hate getting this question because it really feels as though I should come up with some sort of inspiring thing to tell you. Honestly? I write on my lap. In the lounge. In front of the TV! And what is on the TV? Barney...

Why do I work like this? Because my son bugs me less if I hang out in the same room as him! So, I know all the words to every single Barney song ever written. I know how to block him out of my head. And I have come to learn that if I have to write one sentence at a time between being told to clap (lots of clapping in Barney!) or dance, well that is just how it has to be. I imagine that once my kid starts preschool I will quickly get used to and take advantage of a few hours of quiet, but until then I just do what I can when I can. And why do I not send him to day care, I hear you ask. Well, I will send him to day care as soon as he can talk properly. If he can't tell me that there is something wrong then I want him home with me where I know what's going on in his life. That may be the scary single mom in me... but I can't help it!

Anyway, as long as there is no tension I can work. If people are sulking or angry at each other I can't work. Chaos stresses me out. And ringing phones and doorbells! They mess with my mojo. But my son and I have developed a symbiotic existence. When it's just the two of us (and Barney) we do just fine.

How do you prioritise your writing between emails, admin, blogs (given you are involved in 3 katalina.co.za, thepoetryproject.co.za and passingtheopenwindows.co.za ) and novel writing?
*curls up into a ball and sobs*
I haven't figured out how to do it yet. I am constantly swamped with all sorts of things. I took the weekend off last weekend, and woke up on Monday with flu and 122 emails to respond to. I nearly cried. Sometimes all I want to do is skip this part and just go back to writing. But at the same time I am loving every minute. I am loving meeting reviewers. I am loving the response to my work. I am loving doing the marketing and learning about printing and all sorts of things that I knew nothing about before. Every step has been an achievement for me. And that is quite a thing when it is something you care about. I have never felt this way about a job before. Once I have a pile of novels on my lounge floor I am going to have to take a break and re-assess everything. Figure out how to fit it all in. I am certainly my father's child in that I can work 18 hour days without blinking, but the family is not always so pleased about that! So I will have to figure a few things out. For now I am juggling and trying not to beat myself up about the balls that get dropped from time-to-time.

Are you working on a new novel at the moment, or are you focusing on your blogs?
My blogs are really at the mercy of my whimsy most of the time. I contribute to them when I have something to say. I don't really force things as far as they are concerned. My poetry blog needs some serious TLC and I will soon be trying to sort it all out. I am going to have to bring on someone new to help keep things running smoothly. I do have someone in mind. I just need to give myself the time to focus on it all properly. Otherwise I have a completed novel that needs to be shredded and rewritten. It's called The Tequila Thursday Writing Club and I am very eager to get back to it.

If you had 20 words to convince a reader to read your book, what would they be?
You know what the best part about my book is? It's short! Perfect for moms!

What's the best book you've read so far this year?
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, I think. What insanity! I loved it! Or We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Both were brilliant. I think I possibly have a thing for sociopaths...

Thank you so much Nadine, and best of luck with your next novel.

06 August 2011

Review: Coffee at Little Angels | Nadine Rose Larter

* From the author for review *

Coffee at Little Angels has an intriguing opening line:

"I went jogging on the morning I died".

It was this first line that primarily convinced me to read this book from author Nadine Larter, and I'm glad I did. It was a voice I wanted to know more about.

The jogger was Phil, and his hit-and-run death in his small town in the beginning of the book, brings his old high school friends back to town for his funeral.

However, it's been many years since they were all together, and much has changed since then; or has it? Although this isn't an original plot mechanism, the friction and drama that unfolded was engaging enough to keep me reading into the night.

I enjoyed the bitchy dialogue and peeling back the emotional relationship layers of several characters. The theme of love and heartbreak was a considerable focus and I enjoyed exploring this across the different characters and dynamics. I'd recommend this novel for any reader who enjoys reading contemporary drama or chic lit!

I'll be interviewing the author soon, so watch this space!

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

04 August 2011

Interview with Paul McDonnold, author of The Economics of Ego Surplus - A Novel of Economic Terrorism

In June 2011 I reviewed the Economics of Ego Surplus - A Novel of Economic Terrorism, written by Paul McDonnold. Paul has been kind enough to touch base with me again today from Dallas Texas, to answer a few questions.

How have members of the academic community responded to your book, The Economics of Ego Surplus?
A few economics blogs and teachers have given me valuable promotion, but most of the marketing I've done so far has been to the general reading public. That seems to be where I am getting the most response. At some point I would like to market the novel to high school and maybe college economics teachers for use in their classes, and possibly develop a study guide to go along with it. But that is still down the road.

Have you had any feedback from past students? Do you miss teaching?
It's been several years now since I taught, and I haven't heard from any past students about the book. I definitely miss some aspects of teaching, like getting to know the students. Some other aspects I don't miss so much (i.e. low pay, particularly for part-time teaching). Teaching is important work that requires a lot of attention. It is difficult to do on a part-time basis, at least for me, so I haven't gone back to it.

Have there been any recent events that have inspired new ideas for a future novel?
I do have an idea for a new Kyle Linwood novel which is just in the formative stage, so I don't want to say too much. I am also revising a novella I wrote several years ago (5 Pillars, 7 Sins) which introduced Kyle Linwood. It is where the flashback scene in The Economics of Ego Surplus (TEES) comes from. I am planning to release it as a free e-book to help promote TEES.

What's your take on what's happening in Greece right now? What advice would you give their decision makers?
The problem is that Greece's policy of funding their government by taking on debt has worked its way into the culture. People have lost private initiative. They expect the government to shell out the benefits, but they don't want to pay the taxes it would take to cover it. There was a good article on this a few days ago in the New York Times ("Can Greeks Become Germans?"). We have a similar problem in the U.S. We have gotten used to government benefits like Medicare, but we don't want to pay the taxes it would take to keep them going. What is needed, it seems to me, is not just policy change but cultural change, so that we can willingly give up some benefits and/or be willing to pay more taxes to keep them going. Either option requires sacrifice, which no one seems to want to do.

What kind of workspace do you prefer to write in? Do you have any quirky habits you're willing to share?
I have a basic home office. Sometimes the solitude of writing gets to me, so I like to take my laptop to, for instance, a coffee shop at the mall and work with the activity all around!

Can you tell us anything about your novella 5 Pillars, 7 Sins, coming in 2011?
It's a story I wrote several years back and self published without working with an editor or anything. The openness of modern publishing is a two-edged sword because it can tempt a new writer to put work out there that might not be as good as it could be. That was the case with 5 Pillars, 7 Sins, so I pulled it from publication for some revising and editing.

With The Economics of Ego Surplus, I spoke to traditional publishers first and then went through a pretty heavy editing and revision process. Finally I decided to release it through a publishing company I formed myself (Starving Analyst Press) so I could get it out sooner and have a little more creative and royalty control. Also I just enjoy going the entrepreneurial route. It takes patience, not having a big publisher's resources behind you, but blogs like yours are doing good work helping books find audiences outside the traditional system.

What are you currently working on?
The new Kyle Linwood novel I mentioned before is in the very early stages. Other than that I have business clients I write things for (brochures, etc.), and am trying to get 5 Pillars, 7 Sins ready to re-release. And I occasionally get a chance to write a newspaper or magazine article.

What's the best book you've read in the last 12 months?
Good question! I read a copy of The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) which was making the rounds among some of my relatives. That was good. I am reading a couple of books now. One is The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), which I have heard about for some time, but am only now getting around to reading.

The other is a non-fiction collection of letters written by an American Civil War era family in the South, The Children of Pride (Robert Manson Myers). Together the letters give you an intimate view of those turbulent times.

Anything else you'd like to tell your readers?
Just that if you liked the novel, spread the word. Thanks for having me!

02 August 2011

Review: 365 Thank Yous, The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life | John Kralik

As the title suggests, 365 Thank Yous is a book about the year a simple act of daily gratitude changed author John Kralik's life for the better. John is a lawyer and the memoir commences in 2007 with his life in tatters; he's divorcing his second wife, his law firm is financially struggling, his children are distant, his health is deteriorating, he's living in a shoe box and doesn't know how to dig himself out of the mess he's in.

After a walk in the mountains on New Year's Day in 2008, he is inspired to be thankful for what he does have and decides to write 365 thank you notes in the coming year. Slowly but surely his life begins to change for the better.

This is an easy and inspiring book to read and anyone needing a pick-me-up will enjoy it. Some of the notes are included, making it easy to flip to any page and begin reading. Thankfully Kralik doesn't claim that thank you notes will save the world, but he did discover that he became a happier and healthier person when he focussed on what he did have rather than what he didn't. He also noticed a change in family members, friends, colleagues, clients, neighbours and others around him when he began to send his thank you notes.

Reading 365 Thank Yous - The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life inspired me to write more thank you notes in the future, and was a gentle reminder to be grateful for what I have. For more, you can visit John Kralik's own website here: www.365thankyounotes.com

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!