Misspelled Paradise is a thoroughly enjoyable read. If I was a traveller intent on visiting Colombia, I would consider it a must-read.
There are a cou...moreMisspelled Paradise is a thoroughly enjoyable read. If I was a traveller intent on visiting Colombia, I would consider it a must-read.
There are a couple of points that made this a stand-out for me.
First is the fact that it is not a simple travel guide. The author lived in rural Colombia for a year, and while she took the opportunity to visit and describe some of the better known destinations, she also spent considerable time in the out-of-the-way places. Judging by the reaction of the locals, not very many tourists make the effort:
“We walked around, creating a small sensation. Santaneros had gotten used to us and we were always greeted by students, parents, and shopkeepers as we went through Santa Ana’s streets. Here in Barú, reactions was a mixture of unabashed stares (“Dios mío, there are white people in Barú!”), many looks of confusion (“Wow, these tourists are really lost if they were looking for Playa Blanca”), and a few sales pitches for tourist trinkets (“Amigas, we have beautiful towels for the beach”).”
Also, Bryanna Plog has a delightfully understated wit, and faces many of the less agreeable aspects of moving off the tourist tracks with good humour and, eventually, affection. The endless heat, the less than reliable services like water and electricity, the laid back attitude to scheduling, interminable school anthem/national anthem/local anthem singing, local food, drink, livestock, bugs, travel, history and customs are all clearly characterized as the reader experiences each with her on her journey.
There is also the sense of her frustration as the job she went to do, to teach English, is made near to impossible by a school system flawed and barely functioning. Against this is a genuine affection for her students and the people of Santa Ana, with their stoic acceptance of difficulty and exuberant expressions of joy.
Misspelled Paradise is a well-written and uncomplicated read, and one which zips by easily. I read it in three sittings. I am not a traveller and am not usually a reader of travel memoirs, so the one fault I found is probably irrelevant to those who are. Once put down, there is no page-turning narrative to drive you back to it. It is an enjoyable way to learn about Colombia -- and, no less importantly, the realities of volunteer work – and so best recommended for those who want to travel there, or to volunteer anywhere.
Where do you start to write a review of 50 erotic zombie short stories? I’m guessing if a reader is considering this title, they are looking for some...more Where do you start to write a review of 50 erotic zombie short stories? I’m guessing if a reader is considering this title, they are looking for something a bit different - with zombies; or they want something a bit different - with erotica; or they think the idea of zombie sex is so gross they want to be appalled; or they think the idea of zombie sex is so gross they want a good laugh.
Well, there’s something for all those readers in this book.
But no horror, really, unless you are a true dyed in the wool/ the mention of zombies makes you cover your eyes/easily scared witless zombiephobe, there is no true horror in this collection. None of the stories build any sense of dread, or concentrate on the fear, relentless pursuit, and desperation of a true zombie horror.
So what do you get? This work collects writers of various styles and to some degree, quality. It is hard to put erotica into a grab bag, too. What one person finds hot and juicy, another finds gross or underwhelming. The same applies to comedy and humour. So, I’ll present here what I think are the standout offerings, some for their quality of storytelling, some for the laugh, some for the erotica, and some for the gross-out.
In the many stories that remain there are quite a few well worth the purchase price, there are simply too many in this collection to deal with individually. All ratings are subjective, so readers may like some I’ve left out better than those I’ve chosen to highlight with four and five star ratings.
All up, I am happy with the selection the publishers have chosen here. My only advice to anyone who would consider reading this book is to spread out the reading over a few sessions. The blood and gore can get a bit mind-numbing taken in too-large doses.(less)
I read this story first as a web serial when it was posted, and was really pleased to get hold of the book when it became available. Underground Nest,...moreI read this story first as a web serial when it was posted, and was really pleased to get hold of the book when it became available. Underground Nest, as the title might suggest, is not a story about happy families and white picket fences. It is about a man driven to accumulate an ideal wife, the ideal family, the ideal career, and the ideal lifestyle. Zach Severins knows how everything should look. He has the veneer so perfectly constructed that he has convinced even himself that it is all real.
From childhood Zach pursued this ideal, collecting each piece of his life like so many Scout badges. Scouting and the high standards it demands are central to his image. He was the youngest scout to attain his Eagle Scout award, and after holding it without blemish for 25 years, he was entitled to the highest accolade of all: the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. He had his perfect wife, family, home, career and recognition. He even had a slew of meaningless secret affairs to add some spice to life. Zack was a man poised to own the world. And then a crack appeared.
Zach is not an easy man to like, but he is easy enough to understand. The plotting of his rise is all quite straightforward, and is detailed in the first third of the book. He is not unusual in his drive to succeed; we have all known and worked with people like Zach. He is not a bad man, and Kathleen Maher paints him with a sympathetic hand. She understands her character well, and his inevitable downfall and struggle to rebuild his life makes engrossing reading.
Zach’s wife, Beth, plays the perfect host for her husband’s deceptions and self-deceptions. She is not a weak woman, but is certainly the product of her world. She is a devoted mother and supportive and understanding wife. She has her friends and hobbies and her own special little artistic outlet: her pottery. She genuinely does love her husband, even when she hates him to the marrow of her bones. She is programmed by her own upbringing to need him, and to be essential to him: which makes sex an oddly fraught subject for her. The once safe marriage bed becomes an arena for love and hate and anger and the wielding of power.
His children, raised in sweetly oblivious luxury, are caught off guard; not by the reality of their father’s double life, but by the sudden realization that it is their mother who has created for them the image of their father as a loving and devoted man. They are teens when the ruse is up, and the backlash is immediate and cruel.
Zach’s friendships are mostly shams. When he finds himself unkempt, unwashed and homeless in his office, the only person who shows anything approaching kindness and friendship is a fellow professor who Zach has always studiously avoided.
And the glittering gem that smashes into Zach’s world and begins the demolition, Vida, is everything that Zach did not know he wanted. Vida is part of another world: bigger, brighter, and even more distinguished than the one he had thought perfect. But Vida is not Beth. And Zach cannot control and manipulate her as he does every other aspect of his life.
Underground Nest is a short read. It moves along very quickly, the writing style is both conversational and melodic. Watching everything Zach has built fall down is as fascinating as any car crash, and his efforts to rebuild and the lessons he must learn to begin that journey equally so.
This is not an easy book to categorize in genre. It is, as I have detailed, the study of a man’s fall and attempts to rise. It examines the inner turmoil exposed when the outer shell of a life is destroyed. It examines Zach’s lies, told to himself and to others. There is no action adventure, no mystery to solve, no seething romance to burn up pages. But it is a totally engrossing read.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it for readers who like to consider the charades we all, to a greater or lesser degree, enact as we make ourselves fit into the world as we know it.(less)
I was given a copy of Eighty Nine by the editor, Jodi Cleghorn, without any expectation of promotion. When I read the collection, I was so delighted b...more I was given a copy of Eighty Nine by the editor, Jodi Cleghorn, without any expectation of promotion. When I read the collection, I was so delighted by the consistent quality of the stories, I offered to post reviews.
Anthologies, even from a single author we admire, tend to be a bit up and down depending on our individual tastes. I read the opening stories of Eighty Nine and enjoyed them, then found I was up to the middle of the book and still reading avidly without wanting to pause, not even between stories. There are 26 individual tales here, based, as the blurb reveals, on a playlist of songs from 1989, and I did not rate any one of them less than a high 3 from 5. In those cases where I liked them less, it is definitely a question of taste rather than poor penmanship. Every story brings a different style and a different subject, [all a little bleak, as reflects the mood at the end of the nineteen eighties] so I will share those I enjoyed most.
30 Years in the Bathroom, by Icy Sedgwick– It is 1989 and Diana Phelps, an aging star, stares at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her age is well hidden, but she made her film debut thirty years earlier and now not even her beauty is sufficient to bring her the work she loves or the adoration she craves. Reduced to begging, she pleads for Aphrodite to renew her charms, but the gods are as fickle as fame itself. (5)
Nowhere Land, by Maria Kelly– The residents of Area Zero watch as a new inmate is discharged from The Bullet. It’s a door, the only link they have with the real world, and they hope endlessly for a newcomer with a textbook that will help them understand where they are. They are dissidents: names and faces who simply disappeared, and they live in barracks to defend themselves from the monsters that inhabit this nowhere land. If only they could find a way back…. (5)
Chronical Child, by Lily Mulholland– At the Imperial mausoleum in Hachioji, Kiko-chan remembers her life as the Emperor Hirohito’s beloved concubine. She combs her hair, tugging free memories of her love and the warnings she offered in the hope he would choose love over duty. (5)
Amir, by Benjamin Solah- One of the stories that made me weep, as it brings the image of the lone, unarmed student in Tiananmen Square and the horror that image represented into every other field of war. Amir is the story of solidarity, a word du jour for 1989, when artists and students stood up to tanks. (5)
The Banging on the Door, by Jonathan Crossfield– As the tide of political power swings in East Berlin, a Stasi informer flees from the neighbours he once monitored. Alone in the dark forest, in a hovel that offers scant protection from the elements, he meets with the spirit of another who has been hounded from safety by a witch-hunt. There, he learns to fear what his neighbours once feared most: the banging on the door. (5)
Cocaine, My Sweetheart, by Jodi Cleghorn– And as a last recommendation, a nod to the editor herself. In a slightly different tribute to 1989, this story leaves behind the political turmoil and moves closer to more personal tragedies. Cocaine, the mistress of choice for the 1980s. A sequence of memories that leaps from one reality to another carries Rebecca and Toby back into the arms of their sweetheart. (5)
All up, this is high quality short general fiction. Some readers might disagree with my ratings, marking some stories higher and others lower. I believe, however, that all readers will enjoy this selection as much as I have.
Excellent. Recommended without reservation. Five stars.
This book was requested for review. I am a long time follower of Amanda’s reviews.
Since I read ‘Waiting for Daybreak‘, Amanda has begun her promotiona...moreThis book was requested for review. I am a long time follower of Amanda’s reviews.
Since I read ‘Waiting for Daybreak‘, Amanda has begun her promotional blog tour and she has had a chance to express her intention in writing this story more clearly than in a 200 word blurb. That is a very good thing. I hope that readers like myself who have followed her reviews will have followed the blog tour and gained a feel for her book’s strengths, and so will not be holding expectations of the book which it was not intended to meet.
If I had begun reading knowing what to expect, a YA story of emotional development, I would have given grace to the author and trusted her to introduce me to Frieda and her innermost fears. Instead, I began reading a post-apocalyptic science fiction zombie story, well written, but with some serious flaws. That made me wary and I questioned, then, what Frieda was revealing to me.
I wavered for a long time over a rating for Waiting for Daybreak. I couldn’t decide between a three – ‘this is an okay read, but….’ and a four – ‘this was a good book; it ticked most of the boxes; go ahead and read it.’
I settled on the four stars so I should start with what I loved about it.
This is not a long book and it moves along at a clip. The story flies by and it is thoroughly engrossing, with periods of action and adrenaline nicely balanced by periods of memory and self-reflection. The sense of danger and suspense is well developed, and the narrator’s doubts and fears are easily understood. It is not hard to empathize with the characters in this book.
The main character, Frieda, has a dissociative mental illness. She is socially inept and has a history of deep depression, substance abuse, and self-harm. Her journey toward daybreak is compelling and well told. As a book about Frieda, it is well worthy of its four stars.
To begin with the coloquialism of the grammar and syntax grated every now and then. As I read on, however, I decided that as a first-person present-tense narrative, I was reading the words of the character and not the author, so that minus moved closer to a plus.
Secondly, as with most addictions, self-mutilation acts a dampener to emotional development, which explains the immaturity of Frieda’s actions and reactions. Her flawed decision making processes would then also have been deliberately plotted by the author. But it was difficult at first to know if they were intentional or if Frieda was an awkward characterization, acting as the author believes any reader in the same position might act. In the end I decided it didn’t matter; she is as she is and she acts as she does. As a vessel for sharing understanding of mental illness, she is better than many. Again, as I continued reading I became more aware and more convinced of the fact that I was following Frieda’s inner story more than an apocalyptic story.
Ultimately, these issues only arose because I struggled with the genre tags. With the freedom of self-publication, genre definitions are being blurred and discarded. That is fine, but it can make it hard for readers to connect to the stories they enjoy and for authors to direct their work toward its ideal market. By its nature this book is going to appeal to readers of two distinct types, and I am not certain either of them will find what they want unless the reader understands exactly what it is about.
It is framed, primarily, as a post-apocalypse zombie survival story. For readers who want that, it does not work very well; it is two dimensional. The opening scenes are straight out of ‘I Am Legend’, the remainder from ‘Shaun of the Dead’, with the splatter/melodrama/comedy intact. I apologize if that sounds harsh, but there is no nuance at all in this zombocalypse. It does not seem well thought out in regard to Frieda’s methods of survival, or the series of events that establish the story in its place. True devotees of zombie tales are likely to shred these elements.
The second group of readers, however, those who enjoy a sympathetic journey through the worst experiences of young adult angst, will find a gem. It is a story which asks the reader to question what is normal, as Frieda is forced to examine her darkest demons – those inside her head not those outside. I am not entirely sure they will find it, hidden as it is in its zombie-colored camouflage. The zombie apocalypse is no more than a crisis event on which to hang the threads of a deeper emotional story, and that is not made plain in the introductory blurb.
In summary, properly marketed so that it finds its way to its best readership, this book is deserving of four stars. If it is picked up by zombie aficionados, it will suffer. I hope the author reaches her intended market. Its tags at Amazon clearly show a primary reference to the lesser zombie/horror without mention of the superior emotional interior landscape. [zombies, horror fiction, dead series, post-apocalyptic, zombie apocalypse, etc] Its tags need boosting toward soul-searching, mental illness, and personal development.
“Alternative-Read.com (AR) is a website developed as a vehicle for promoting all comers from the writing world. This collection brings together the Wr...more “Alternative-Read.com (AR) is a website developed as a vehicle for promoting all comers from the writing world. This collection brings together the Writers on the Wrong Side of the Road, the most dangerous rule-wreckers from Alternative-Read.com who sprang at the chance to create an anthology designed to give the reader “a different kind of reading experience.
And just to make sure that happened, AR took away the rules and let them write whatever the hell they liked. Edited by Sassy Brit and Clayton C Bye.”
Reviewed from ARC requested from editors.
Overall, Writers on the Wrong Side of the Road was a really enjoyable read which I’d rate an easy four stars, with eight of the seventeen stories presented scoring four stars or up. Where there were problems, it seemed always to be with endings, endings too abrupt in otherwise well-written tales. Though I will admit to expecting something more outlandish.
The standouts, for me, were:
Simon Seeks by Natham Yocum – An emotive journey with a psychic who has known too much suffering to remain neutral in his work (4)
The Barefoot Hero by Timothy Fleming – This was flawless, a touching reminiscence of one young life ruined by war, and a simple act that said so very much (5)
The Cenotaph by Casey Wolf – Another war story of sorts. A young man who is uncertain about his future camps by an isolated cenotaph. In an interesting clash of past and present, he meets the lone survivor of a town who lost their sons to war, and who remains, endlessly tending their monument (4)
Take Two by Kit Germain – An inventive twist on post-apocalyptic survival of the species. Well executed and fast paced, this story looks at the twin horrors of religious intolerance and a genetically modified world (4)
Triona’s Beans by Casey Wolf and Paivi Kuosmanen – I understand that there were no boundaries put on this selection, but in my opinion, this is out of place here. As a story for the 5-10yrs age group, it is an engrossing look at tolerance and empathy for people who are different, but lost and utterly displaced. An excellent children’s story, not substantial enough to translate to an adult audience (4)
The Smile in Her Eyes by John B Rosenman – This was lovely. An old man sees his dead wife in the eyes of a teenage girl, then struggles with the certainty of his vision and the socially unacceptable relationship he must pursue (5)
Slumfairy by Tonya R Moore – This story requires a leap of faith; you go into a crisis with the characters and are carried along with them. There is little time to acquaint yourself with the world they are fighting through, but if you trust the author, enough detail is supplied to keep everything together. I enjoyed this thoroughly, but felt it could be part of a larger work (4)
Pronghorns by Casey Wolf – Probably my favourite story in this collection, not least because it met my expectation of something dark and utterly unique. It is a superb study of the thoughts and emotions of three people involved in a murder-suicide plot (5)
Of the stories that remain, one I’d like to comment further on is:
Malpas by Marion Webb-De Sisto. I rated this three (3) and I really wanted it to be more. I found the premise and characters intriguing and once it got started, the stage was set for a very unusual erotic love story, but it was the longest entry in the collection and it could easily have been cut in half. A shame; it would have been a favourite.
There are no stories in this lot that do not deserve to be read; they are all of a worthy standard. I believe some needed tighter editing, which they didn’t get – possibly for ideals of free expression.
REVIEW: Conditioned Response (Phoenician #2) by Marjorie F. Baldwin
Shayla didn't ask to be a Councillor. As a Phoenician, she shouldn't have to live...moreREVIEW: Conditioned Response (Phoenician #2) by Marjorie F. Baldwin
Shayla didn't ask to be a Councillor. As a Phoenician, she shouldn't have to live among the humans, let alone take part in their world. But the Seven Chiefs ordered her to go with Raif, a Proctor from the world Outside. They said they had a Plan. Well, the Seven Chiefs always had a Plan, and Shayla had plans of her own after suffering 13 years as a member of the humans' World Council.
Raif had never intended for things to go this far. A few months, maybe a year, and he could send the little Phoenician girl home again, back where she belonged. She's not a little girl anymore and now he finds himself in competition with his own progenitor for control over his Heir--and future. It's not a Councillor's job to protect a Proctor but that's just what Raif needs right now. Can Shayla save him before he loses his mind completely?
A fast-paced, Classic SciFi that reads more like a mystery with a Romantic SF thread woven in. Set in the far-future on an alien world, humanity's last remnants are trying to save the species from extinction. Huxley-ian eugenics in a Classic Dystopian caste system are artfully blended with an Asimov-ian "machine-turned-man" story by first-time Author Marjorie F. Baldwin.
Conditioned Response was not an easy book to review. As is my practice, once I had my own thoughts and feelings outlined I went back through the reviews others had provided. What I found pinpointed exactly the problem I needed to define in order to explain the difficulty I was having.
Many of the reviewers had loved this book and for good reason. Those who enjoy a detailed social Sci-Fi in the old tradition, where complex societies are presented and peopled by solid, complicated personalities, have found one of the best examples written recently. Conditioned Response is multi-layered, weaving together a number of intriguing social, personal, and political mysteries into a fast paced thriller.
The representation of this future human colony and its imperialistic disdain for the powerful indigenous people rings as true as any page of history. Caste discrimination, human trafficking, genetic regulation, sexual intimidation and violence, power-at-all-cost-manipulation of men and minds – all these things seem to rise from an inevitability we recognize in the societies we share today. And on that base the story, or more rightly stories, are masterfully built.
So, you wonder, if it was all so very good, what caused the difficulty in trying to find a fitting rating for the book. Like those who rated the story much lower, aspects I value very highly in a book were not strong, or were missing entirely.
To begin with, I found the story slow to start. That is necessary to some degree in any very complex world where many characters have to be introduced and understood in context, but I found that I was a third of the way in before things really started to move. We had not travelled further than Shayla’s office or lab, and all that time was spent in dense slabs of repetitive dialogue. That tendency for the characters to launch into paragraph after paragraph of oration was tightened as the book progressed, but I found it tough going for some time. Nothing happened to break the weight of the initial narrative dump.
And the thing which I missed most was a deep emotional connection to any of the characters. These people had suffered and went on to suffer great traumas and violence, and yet, the reader is held at a distance. There is no feeling of experiencing the horror from within, no sharing of the pain with the main characters. No immediacy.
As an example, [difficult to find without some sort of spoiler attached] early in the story we learn that as a very young woman, an alien child alone in a strange human society, Shayla was brutally raped by her fellow Councillor. When the event is first mentioned, Shayla herself dismisses the memory as if it was bad, but not something she chose to dwell on. Shortly after, Raif describes the terrible injuries Shayla had suffered when he first met her. These injuries were the result of the rape, and included a broken pelvis.
Now this is horrendous. This is the rape of a defenseless child, alone and attacked by someone who should have been her protector. And yet the events are narrated as if they are simply part of a distant history; we hear nothing of the anguish. None of the terror or the pain, none of the trauma this woman had survived – which any empathic reader can imagine – is brought forward with force by the author. This kind of distance left me with a coolness toward all of the main characters that I would like to have had heated.
What I deduce from this is that enjoyment depends on the expectation of the reader when they pick up a copy of Conditioned Response to read. Those who want Sci-Fi that does not depend on Michael-Bay-bangs and special-effect diversions will love the dense plotting and careful world-building. Those who want to feel deep connection with the characters themselves, and prefer the romantic/erotic threads of a fantastic storyline are more likely to be disappointed.
All up, I am happy to give FOUR STARS, because while allowing for where Marjorie F Baldwin was not strong, what she does do well, she does very well indeed. (less)