28 September 2011

Review: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four short stories by one of my favourite authors, the legendary Stephen King.  The first in the collection is entitled 1922 and is an unsettling story about a husband who believes he has no choice but to murder his wife.  The theme of retribution is ever present, however the main character is haunted by his actions and there's a good morale here.  There were some quite memorable visual descriptions throughout the tale, and some gave me the shivers.  Not gory so much as creepy, and let's face it, that's why King is King!

In the second story Big Driver, we meet Tess, a single, middle-aged cat owner and well-known author who is raped and left for dead.  I was amazed at King's skill and ability to capture the essence and emotions of a middle-aged female character under extreme duress so exceptionally well.  The main characters in 1922 and Big Driver couldn't be more different, and it really highlights King's skill as a writer.

The third story in the collection, Fair Extension was the one I enjoyed the least, however was still an interesting concept.  Streeter - suffering from terminal cancer - purchases an 'extension' of life from a salesperson on the side of the road in exchange for passing on the name of someone he hates.  The consequences of the purchase and what happens to the person he named seem anything but fair, or do they?

The final story is A Good Marriage, and this was gripping reading.  In the beginning, Darcy and Bob appear to have a loving and solid marriage.  After years and years together and raising two children, they know each other inside out, irritating habits and all; until one day when Bob is away on business Darcy discovers he has been hiding something.  My favourite character in the entire collection was the retired Detective in A Good Marriage, so well drawn, and completely unforgettable!

All in all, a very entertaining read here from Stephen King.  No supernatural themes or monsters here, just the monsters lurking deep within some of us.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
21 September 2011

Interview with Paul Salvette, author of America Goes On: A Novella

Paul Salvette
Paul is the author of America Goes On: A Novella.  He lives in Bangkok with his wife Lisa and daughter Monica, and has taken some time out this week to answer some questions: 

Tell us about the inspiration behind America Goes On: A Novella?
I came up with the idea for America Goes On while I was serving in Baghdad from 2007-2008. Being cooped up in the relatively luxurious Green Zone as a staff officer, I felt a bit of guilt for the guys and gals who were out patrolling the streets every day. A story, in my humble opinion, was the best way I could bring a small bit of attention to their struggles and reality to my countrymen and internationally. 

There have only been a few great novels and films about modern veterans, and we need more. A lot of the media's depiction of veterans focuses on the "crazed vet" Rambo-type that's going to get their PTSD all over you, and it's really much more complicated than that. Looking at the issues most concerning my fellow Americans at the time, it seemed that people wanted to ignore what was happening in Iraq and turn on American Idol instead. It is dangerous for a country to exist where people involved in the current war effort is less than 1% of the population, and it is a very frustrating for many of us.

What can you tell us about your own time as an Officer in the US Navy?
The Navy is great place to be from, but not to be at. You probably understand that very well as a fellow veteran. I served from 2002-2009 with numerous years in the submarine force and a one-year stint in Iraq. My time in the Navy was classified by 98% boredom and paperwork, 1% fearing for my life, and 1% having fun on liberty; although, the bad memories are fading and the good memories remain. I'm very grateful for the friends I made during my time in the Navy, and I had some great leaders along the way. However, I could never have done it for the full 20 years required for retirement, and I have a lot of respect for those who stay in for the long haul to serve their country.

How has America Goes On been received by your Navy colleagues?
So far so good, and my old Navy buddies are enjoying it. A lot of them couldn't believe I wrote a damn book, but with the self-publishing revolution that's taking place, I don't see how you could not write a book. America Goes On has been passed along to some Marine buddies as well, and I'm hoping for some good feedback from them. It's my first novella, so I really need to keep improving on my writing and the feedback. I've got a ways to go to get my one million words in, but the journey has been really fun so far.

Have you always wanted to be a writer, or was it the furthest thing from your mind while you were in the US Navy?
It never occurred to me that I would want to be a writer when I finished my time in the Navy. Honestly, you get so bogged down in your day-to-day routine, you never think about long-term goals for your life. Once I got out, I had to start making decisions for myself. Now, I'm married in Thailand with a daughter--it's funny how life works. I started writing, because I pretty much in quarantined in the house with the new baby, and I thought I could make a little bit of money while having some fun. Hopefully, I can make a full-time living at writing, but I've got a ways to go.

What are you working on at the moment?
Currently I'm putting together a technical How To guide that focuses on eBook formatting. It's not the sexiest thing in the world, but I think there is a strong need for this knowledge in the self-publishing community. It will be released soon, so stay tuned. Also, I've just finished the first draft of a sci-fi novella. I gave it to my editor, but he just started law school, so it might be a while before I hear back from him. I hope that the writing is an improvement over my last one, because that's what important at this point.

What kind of books do you like to read yourself?
Books can come in all sorts of flavours for me. Now that I've "converted" to the Almighty eBook religion, I've found myself reading 2-3 books a month rather than just one every few months. I enjoy both indie and established authors in the genres of thriller, sci-fi, horror, and everything else. Non-fiction is also pretty enjoyable, and I admit to reading Dick Cheney's memoirs right now, mostly because I wanted to see what all the controversy was about.

Do you read to your daughter?
Baby seems to be most interested in pooping herself and crying for milk, but I have tried reading Goodnight Moon to her, and we even got a smile out of her. I want her to grow up learning to enjoy the written word. In Thailand, it's difficult to get print books in English, because the cost is the same price as the West, but the average salary is much lower. With the advent of low-cost technology, we hope to be able to purchase a lot of children's books with a few clicks and a few bucks.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you very much to Tracey for giving my self-published novella, America Goes On, the time of day. We're all in this together, and it's comforting that there are book reviewers interested in indie authors. Please keep up the great work at My Four Bucks.

Thanks for your time Paul.  You can visit Paul at his website www.paulsalvette.com or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PaulSalvette.
19 September 2011

Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day and the perfect opportunity to review Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. 

The narrator and young hero of the book, Jim Hawkins is a very likeable character and I can definitely understand why this book was so popular with boys; who wouldn't want to be young Jim?

It was interesting to finally meet the characters of Captain Flint and Long John Silver and I enjoyed the pirate dialogue by thunder!

I was somewhat surprised to find the plot a little more layered than I expected, being written for young boys. I can definitely imagine a young reader enjoying the adventure the first time through, but discovering and understanding more about the nature of men on the second read, perhaps several years later.

I confess I feel a little late to the party - only reading Treasure Island in my 30s - but it's never too late to catch up on a classic. Having read it now, I can't rightly say what makes Treasure Island a classic though, or why it has endured. It was first published in 1883, but is still popular today. What are your thoughts?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
18 September 2011

Review: America Goes On - A Novella by Paul Salvette

America Goes On - A Novella by Paul Salvette book cover
* From the author for review *

This novella (short novel) follows the journey of a young veteran who spent time in Iraq and who has just recently become a civilian.

He has no idea what his future holds, and so for now he is driving across the US while contemplating the past and coming to terms with what happened in Iraq. He is visiting old friends and trying to make sense of American attitudes towards the US involvement in Iraq.

However the highlight of the novella is definitely the ending. This novella had an ending that caught me by surprise and I never saw it coming. I hesitate to say it had a 'twist' because that will have readers searching for a twist from the beginning, but I was certainly impressed by the ending. I'll say no more though, because I don't want to spoil the best part.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
15 September 2011

Review: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome book cover
Published in 1889, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome is a Penguin Classic, and a book I've been wanting to read for quite some time now. It's a slim read at only 185 pages but it's an absolute hoot to read and I completely fell in love with it.

Essentially it's the story of three men and their trip up the river Thames in a boat. We meet them early on complaining about their health, and J, the narrator, claims to have all of the ailments in a medical reference book with the exception of housemaid's knee. When they decide to take a boat trip to escape their troubles, I began to wonder how they'd cope, but that's just when the fun begins.

I was laughing and chuckling on almost every page, and this book was just such a joy to read, I found myself wanting to read it aloud to anyone who would listen (mostly my husband). Here's an excerpt from page 36:
"Now, I'm not like that. I can't sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can't help it."
Another of my favourite sections in the book happens when the narrator J accidentally falls into the river, after the others turn down the idea of going for a swim, on page 102:
'By Jove ! old J.'s gone in,' I heard Harris say, as I came blowing to the surface. 'I didn't think he'd have the pluck to do it. Did you?'
'Is it all right?' sang out George.
'Lovely,' I spluttered back. 'You are duffers not to come in. I wouldn't have missed this for worlds. Why don't you try it? It only wants a little determination.'
I haven't laughed so much since reading A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which is one of my favourite books of all time. I wouldn't say Three Men in a Boat is good enough to join my all time favourites, however it was a quick read and very enjoyable. The snippets above are indicative of the style of humour, so if you enjoyed those, then you'll enjoy the book. I couldn't recommend it more highly.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
14 September 2011

Publishing News - Good Reading Magazine

Review published in
Good Reading Magazine
(middle, right)
I'm really excited to share some publishing news with fellow book-lovers and readers.  My favourite magazine, Good Reading Magazine, published a book review of mine in their August 2011 edition. Woohoo!!

I've been a loyal subscriber for many years now, and I guess it's always been a private goal of mine to have a review published, but for some reason I didn't submit one until this year.  

It was such a joy to have it accepted right away, and then seeing my review in print in the 'What You're Reading' article (right) alongside all the other reader reviews was a real buzz.

September 2011 edition
If that wasn't enough excitement for one year, it was closely followed by an appearance in the September 2011 edition of Good Reading Magazine. Unbelievable huh? Selected as one of six readers to feature in their 'Caught Reading' article, I was positively over the moon and even managed to include reference to my blog My Four Bucks. It was a dream come true.  

Melbournians are going crazy for football around this time of year, but like many of you, I prefer books and reading, and thanks to GR Magazine, I've had a pleasant distraction.

Have you had a review published? Or written a letter to an editor of a newspaper or magazine?
13 September 2011

Interview with Stephen Ayers, author of The Taba Convention

Stephen Ayers
Stephen Ayers is the author of The Taba Convention, which is a fast paced thriller set in the Middle East.  I recently reviewed it giving it 4 stars and I thoroughly recommend it.  Stephen has taken some time out from his writing and busy hotel management career to participate in an interview with My Four Bucks.

Early on in the novel, the main character Jordan Kline listens to the music of Enigma.  I love Enigma, so I have to ask, do you listen to Enigma when you're writing?  
Do you have a favourite Album?
I love the music of Enigma, and listened to it for hours when we lived in Eilat. I love the album MCMXC A.D., amazingly soothing.  By the way, did you know that the wife of the founder of Enigma is a great singer called Sandra?  She also had a few hits way back.  However, when I write I just like to write surrounded by the sounds of everyday life, the street sounds.  When I write I am fortunate in that I am ‘transported’ to the place that I am writing about, so I travel the world on a free ticket while sitting at my desk!

Being in the hotel business yourself, how much of yourself do you draw on when writing the character of Jordan Kline?
Actually quite a lot.  The daily business of running a hotel is described in the book, and taken in large part from my experiences as a general manager.  The anecdotes, including ‘The Eiffel Tower’ story are true and happened in the hotels I managed.  I find that hotel life is fascinating and I wanted to create a ‘different’ kind of hero and convey his new, interesting life in contrast to his violent past.  I wanted to ‘paint’ a passive ‘hotelier’ Jordan opposite the ‘violent’ Jordan reluctantly drawn back into the world he wants so desperately to leave behind. 

How often do you review your work?
When I write I write.  I do not go back and check anything until I am through with the session.  I do not want to interrupt the flow of my thoughts while writing.  However, once I am done I will go over and over the draft text.  I review all of what I have written after each writing session.  I then review the whole book perhaps ten times before manuscript submission for editing, and then again after that a good few times.

Do you believe a peace agreement in the Middle East - like the Taba Convention - is possible?
I have always believed that a peace agreement is possible.  However, it must take into account the acute security interests of Israel.  Look at what is happening in the Arab world these days.  Israel does not want the occupied territories, but the borders must be defensible.  Look what happened after they gave back Gaza.  As one clever politician put it, “If the Arabs put down their arms there will be peace, if Israel puts down its arms there may be no Israel.”

Are you worried about any backlash from political or religious groups in regard to the content of The Taba Convention?  
Not at all. It is purely fiction. I wrote Taba to be purely a thrill action read. I do not think that there is any content that is abusive to any degree at all. It is not a book that is making any political statements.  If readers of Taba are entertained for a few hours, and it takes them away from the stress of daily life for a short while, I will have done my job.

What will Jordan Kline get up to next?
Wow! The next Jordan Kline in the series is The Righteous Within.  It is the story of a Nazi plot, hatched by German Generals long in their grave that threatens to bring annihilation to Israel at the beginning of this century.  The deadly plan was hatched towards the end of The Second World War, when Berlin burned and the Thousand Year Reich was crumbling with the approaching defeat. The plot even frightened me!

I wrote the series so that my readers can follow Jordan as he lives his life. By that I mean that in Taba he lives with Irit his girlfriend, in The Righteous Within he is married to her, and in The Kharta Conspiracy I introduce their young daughter Noah. I think that the ‘progression’ of their lives adds a different angle and lots of interest for those that will read all three, while they are also of course ‘stand alone’ novels too. Irit is very much involved in all three novels.

What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer.  He is a master storyteller, his books amazing, the read keeps you spellbound.  The book is a modern ‘remake’ of The Count of Monte Cristo………I strongly urge everyone to read it! 

Thanks so much for your time Stephen, it's been a pleasure having you on My Four Bucks!
10 September 2011

Review: The Taba Convention by Stephen Ayers

The Taba Convention by Stephen Ayers book cover
* From the author for review *

In the beginning of The Taba Convention, Jordan Kline rushes to the aid of a car accident victim, only to hear the dying words of ex-colleague Josh. Jordan served with Josh in the Mossad 10 years ago, but left that life behind him long ago. Jordan Kline is now the General Manager of the Sands Hotel and happily living with his girlfriend Irit in Eilat on the Red Sea.

Kline is troubled by Josh's last words and begins to dig a little into his death and begins to uncover a dangerous and deadly plot to upset the Taba Convention; an attempt to sign a peace agreement in the Middle East.

Author Stephen Ayers has taken a risk writing a political thriller with a peace convention in the Middle East at it's centre; but regardless of current events, his novel The Taba Convention still 'works'.

If you are the type to judge a book by its cover, you might assume this is a book geared towards engaging male readers. I can honestly tell you that Kline's occupation as General Manager of a Hotel makes him accessible to all readers and sets him apart from the main characters found in other action thriller novels on the market.

Ayers does a magnificent job transporting the reader to the dusty sands of the Middle East and in particular: Eilat, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and I enjoyed seeing the landscape through Kline's eyes.  The Taba Convention sets a cracking pace and I enjoyed this novel immensely. In fact, if I could have ordered room service from the Sands Hotel while reading, I would have!

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
06 September 2011

Review: A Lifetime in the Building - The Extraordinary Story of May Savidge and the House She Moved by Christine Adams

A Lifetime in the Building - The Extraordinary Story of May Savidge and the House She Moved by Christine Adams book cover
This is the true story of Miss May Savidge and her determination to prevent her historic house in Hertfordshire from being bulldozed in the name of progress. She attended numerous council meetings, wrote thousands of letters and when the council would not budge, she decided to save it by painstakingly dismantling it piece by piece and slowly reassembling it in a new location in Norfolk.

Being an engineer and brought up in hard times, May did most of the construction work herself, but it meant that progress was slow, and months ran into years. Conducting business by written correspondence as well as dealing with unreliable tradesmen didn't help the matter.

Sadly May didn't live to see the finish of her house, although author and daughter-in-law Christine Adams made a promise to May in her final moments and saw to it that the house was finished. (May bequeathed the house to Christine and she now runs it as a Bed & Breakfast).

May Savidge was a hoarder and Christine was amazed, astonished and overwhelmed at the stuff May accumulated over the years. Not a single bus ticket or newspaper had been thrown away, but even more than that, the belongings had been carefully and accurately filed away. May had made copies of her letters and kept notes regarding the progress of the construction of her house.

Christine remembers these years with a pang of guilt, and wishes she had offered to help but May was stubborn and wouldn't accept any help. May's story received attention in several newspapers which generated a lot of mail and it seems she made an effort to answer each and every letter.

After her passing, her house generated interest when a member from the Antiques Roadshow came to look at an antique desk. The staff member became more interested in the history of the house and May Savidge than the desk. The interest in May and her house snowballed and Christine agreed to write a book, and now we have: A Lifetime in the Building - The Extraordinary Story of May Savidge and the House She Moved.

I thoroughly enjoyed this biography, and found Miss May Savidge to be a courageous, persistent and patient woman. I could not have willingly chosen the living conditions and hardships she put up with year in and year out; although from time to time I also found the whole situation a little frustrating. I wish she'd had some help and had time to enjoy it when she was alive, but it wasn't to be. A great read.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
03 September 2011

Interview with Edward Medina, author of Mathias Bootmaker and the Keepers of the Sandbox

Edward Medina is the author of Mathias Bootmaker and the Keepers of the Sandbox, Book One: It is Said and was excited to participate in the following interview.

Many years ago I was a New York theatre director, working on several shows and getting ready for my first film project. I was on the ‘A’ train heading into the city with a friend when there was a delay. There we were stuck in a tunnel. It took a while. My friend asked me if I would ever work on a project for a younger audience. At the time I said no. I just wasn’t interested. She pushed her point and asked me to apply my imagination to the task. I thought about it and started to lay out a story based on a world were all things for imagination come from.

The story always stayed with me and continued to grow. It finally became the Mathias Bootmaker Trilogy. Now it’s a story with a very deep message for people of all ages.

With your book being likened to a blend of [Lewis] Carroll and [Stephen] King, were you influenced by these authors as a youngster or as a writer?
I was always a reader from a very young age. I read Dracula and Frankenstein when I was seven. I went to a Jesuit high school and the summer before my freshman year they gave each student a list of one hundred books. We had to pick twenty and read them before the first day of classes. The Alice books were on that list. I was mesmerized by the depth of his worlds.

I discovered Stephen King years later. The Stand was my first. I loved it so much that I just started devouring his work. I love the rhythm of his writing. It was the first time I discovered that a writer could have a voice. It was as if he was whispering his tales in my ear. People that have read my work say I have a similar tone and sound. I’ll take that compliment anytime.

(I would have loved to have been given a list of 100 books, at that age. By comparison, I think compulsory reading at my school included less than 4 books each year).

Being a fan of author Stephen King myself, I have to ask, what are some of your favorite books by Stephen King?
Well there are a lot of them that I love. The Stand is at the top of the list. Carrie is brilliant and the story goes that he hated it and threw it away. His wife found it in the garbage, read it, gave it back to him and told him to rework it and get it out there. Best ever killer clown in history is in IT. Best killer car is in Christine. That is an amazing book for a lot of reasons. Pile on those any and all of his short story anthologies and I’m a happy puppy. King fans will say… but what about… and I would say… I know, I love that one too.

When do you do your best writing?
Whenever and wherever the muse strikes and the words flow. Usually late at night when the world around me is asleep.

Do you like to listen to music when you write?
Yes, I do. The choice of music usually depends on what I’m working on and it could be just about anything. I have rather eclectic tastes when it comes to music. But most times when I write I’ll have some great movie on TV playing quietly in the background. I was a latch key kid so I would come home and do my homework with the television on. That habit stuck.

What advice would you give writers in the fantasy genre?
Don’t hold your imagination back. Don’t limit your world to conventional thinking. Read what everyone else is doing then do something else. Read the great fantasy writers of the past. They knew what they were doing and they had lessons to teach us about the world we live in.

When will Book Two in the series be published, and what's the title?
Book two of the Mathias Bootmaker Trilogy is titled, The Academy Darke. No spoilers here if you haven’t read the first. You’ll enter the mysterious castle with the terrible past and spend some time there learning a great deal more of the world I created and the haunting that exist there. Target release date is December of this year. I like to think of it as a spooky holiday gift to my readers. (Sounds exciting).

What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I’m working on a few things all at once.

There’s a preview I’m releasing for one of my books coming out in 2012 called X Pirates: Nightthorn’s Revenge. The preview of this very different pirate adventure, is in the form of a prologue that tells the origin tale of the books villain, Benjamin Nightthorn. The prologue itself is called A Murder of Crows.

The other book I’m working on at the moment is a tale that is very near and dear to my heart. The Upiies of Isla Mona is a very special little story about a very special little family that live on a very special little island.

Your followers should head on over to my authors page for previews and samples of my current and upcoming works Edward Medina I’ll be there to meet them and answer any and all questions.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Just this… Thank you, to you and your followers for taking the time to get to know me. Now it’s time for them to go just a bit further down the rabbit hole…

Thanks for your time Ed!

Review: Mathias Bootmaker and the Keepers of The Sandbox by Edward Medina

Mathias Bootmaker and the Keepers of The Sandbox by Edward Medina book cover* From author for review *

Marketed as a blend of [Lewis] Carroll and [Stephen] King I was excited and looking forward to 'journeying down the rabbit hole' with author Edward Medina in Mathias Bootmaker and the Keepers of the Sandbox, Book One: It is Said.

I must confess though, I felt a little lost in the beginning, although so does the main character Mathias Bootmaker, as he finds himself in a mysterious world without all of his memory.

I immediately understood the references to Lewis Carroll and I'm assuming Alice in Wonderland, as my imagination was assaulted from every angle by strange concepts and characters and I struggled to make sense of it all. Medina has created a new and modern wonderland, but like Mathias, I didn't quite know how to navigate my way around.

Some of the concepts were very clever and thought provoking. I loved the concept of the stories and the pile of books (I'll say no more though, I don't want to spoil it for other readers). I will share a small snippet though. My favourite character in the early part of the book was a rabbit who liked to sit on his master's shoulder like a parrot. The rabbit would communicate by writing notes and showing them to his master, who would then read them aloud and eat them. Classic!

The turning point for me in the book was when the Darke family was introduced. This is where I felt in my element; I was back in familiar reading territory and as Mathias began his quest to free the kidnapped children from the Darke Academy I was completely immersed in the novel and felt the suspense building. This is where the Stephen King references will have been made, so it's no surprise I enjoyed this part of the book the most, being such a big King fan.

I didn't want the book to finish before I'd discovered more about the Castle and it's inhabitants, but it finished on a cliffhanger, paving the way for the next in the series.

If the book had started with Mathias on his quest to the cursed castle to free the kidnapped children from the Darke Academy and face the dreaded Oracle Darke and continued beyond the point of the cliffhanger ending (into what will now be Book Two) it probably would have earned an extra star from this reviewer.

Edward Medina has been kind enough to participate in an author interview, so I hope you enjoy reading the interview and the inspiration behind Mathias Bootmaker and the Keepers of the Sandbox, Book One: It is Said.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!