Book List

Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Indie Books of 2014

A towering work of speculative fiction that will have readers rethinking what it means to be human.

AMERICAN NEOLITHIC

This powerful cautionary tale mixes political satire and legal thrills in a near-future America where the existence of a Neanderthal threatens a government that has devolved into a “trailer park theocracy.”

When jaded Manhattan lawyer Raleigh is hired to represent a suspect accused of murdering a popular rap artist, he understands immediately that the case could interest Homeland Security. His client—nicknamed Blingbling—is described as a “crazy homeless retarded guy”; he has no Social Security number, license or Homeland passport. In a country where Patriot Amendments have been added to the Constitution to radically limit civil liberties and give Homeland Police unlimited jurisdiction over cases concerning national security, Raleigh knows that if Blingbling is involved in any terrorist activity, his own career—and his freedom—could be at stake. But the case becomes exponentially more complicated when a DNA test shows that Blingbling isn’t human: He’s a Neanderthal who, with the few others of his kind, has been secretly living in a “Nest” in an abandoned building in New York’s SoHo district. When, in an attempt to dismiss the case, Raleigh goes public with the revelation, he finds himself at the center of a national firestorm over the theory of evolution. “The mouth-breathers amended the Constitution just one step short of criminalizing modern science and here you go proving evolution,” Raleigh tells Blingbling. The political and social commentary throughout this unique novel is razor-sharp, as are uses of imagery and symbolism. The disturbing contrast of nonviolent, contemplative and deeply compassionate Blingbling to the brutality, apathy and ignorance of modern-day America is profoundly moving. One standout among many is a brilliant sequence in which Raleigh attends a bum fight—“illegal, but illegal the way whiskey was in 1924. And I make my living off the kind of people who in the Coolidge administration would have been meeting trawlers full of booze at midnight on the North Fork. Well, kind of like them. Just worse.”

A towering work of speculative fiction that will have readers rethinking what it means to be human.

Pub Date: May 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1936196333

Page Count: 200

Publisher: C&R Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

A delicious, scalding cup of satire.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF APPS

In this debut satire, a trendy numerical rating system determines the fates of individuals.

Philip Goodwin is trapped in a loveless marriage. The problem is that he has a great sense of humor, while his wife, Sheila, is “Hypo-Humoresque”—completely without humor. Their plight is worsened when “Data Snatcher” Alex Pragat creates the Pragat Personal Rating system, which—like the Zagat restaurant rating system—appoints numerical values to people. This seems innocent enough, except that “[w]ithin months of the website’s launch, an individual’s PPR came to define for one and all the worth of an individual to society.” Despite Philip’s decent rating, Sheila cheats on him with their marriage counselor. This prompts the middle-aged romantic to search for new love, which he finds in the ravishing Sophie D’Amour. She and Philip realize they’re perfect for each other. But after a few unforgettable dates, Sophie reveals that she’s a “habitual and compulsive trespasser”—a crime for which she’s then arrested. As a result, Philip struggles with loneliness. Sheila, meanwhile, is struck by a lightning bolt of astounding power. The accident hospitalizes her, but she glows (literally) with celebrity allure. Philip tries to retain his privacy, and sanity, as events spin out of control. Debut author Begler is a fabulously skilled comedian capable of winsome asides and ruthlessly ribald jabs. His gonzo narrative skewers many of modern society’s most controversial subjects: privacy rights, health care and class division. His extended commentaries often feature moments of surreal wonder, as with “a low-flying, small black cloud, which to all eyewitnesses, not one exception, resembled a profile of Abraham Lincoln wearing a baseball cap.” Begler’s exuberant cleverness is perhaps most cutting when focused on the rich and famous: “Several celebrities were brave enough to place their heads directly into [Sheila’s] mysterious light,” which grants instant face-lifts. Sometimes, however, Begler throws too many jokes at the wall, and not everything sticks—a small price for admission into this wonderland.

A delicious, scalding cup of satire.

Pub Date: April 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4928-5301-5

Page Count: 308

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

A welcome memoir of France that offers a complex mosaic of memories.

A LONG WAY FROM PARIS

A MEMOIR

A rich, lucid debut memoir of an American hippie’s adventures on a goat farm in southern France in the early 1980s, pieced together from the author’s journals.

Murray writes with grace, complexity and humor of the months she spent living and working with a farming family in France’s Languedoc region in late 1980 and early ’81. Jumping into farm life cheerfully, with no running water and limited French, Murray quickly learned to make cheese, birth calves and survive on one bath a week. With compassion and candor, she vividly paints the strong personalities of the farm’s family members and hired hand and deftly describes the relationship she developed with each one. These interactions are fraught with cross-cultural misunderstandings, language barriers or good old-fashioned dislike. But they’re also interwoven with kindness, humor, simple pleasures and the joy of shared work. Murray provides both bleak and beautiful descriptions of the climate and landscape, along with meditations on her spiritual transformation and purification in the southern French mountains. She portrays her beloved goats as well as she does the humans in the story; as she grew fond of her little flock, she struggled to confront the harsh realities of farm life. But just as readers will weep at the death of baby goats, they’ll also laugh at the comical portrayals of truffle hunting and relish the descriptions of simple Christmas festivities and evenings spent reading by the fire. They may also admire the author’s metamorphosis from a privileged preppie to a hardworking farmhand who herded goats during raging blizzards. The author gives the narrative a strong sense of place and time with continual references to the popular culture and politics of the day. At the end, this highly enjoyable book turns somewhat unexpectedly toward the tragic, which invests the memoir with a rare balance of light and darkness.

A welcome memoir of France that offers a complex mosaic of memories.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

Cole maps out a propulsive emotional journey.

HENRY'S RE-ENTRY

Cole’s (The Pleasure of Memory, 2013) novel is equal parts snark-filled road trip and bittersweet confrontation of past sins.

Henry wakes up in a gas station bathroom, crusty with vomit and missing both a shoe and his wallet. Exiting, he finds himself in New Mexico, his car nowhere in sight and his memory lost to a weekend of boozing. This is his re-entry into a miserable life spent guilt-ridden over how he treated Zoe, his wife, who’s been dead for four years. Naturally, his first stop is a bar just steps away. Clarence, the philosophically inclined bartender, insists that he drink some water. During the ensuing back and forth, Clarence calls Henry out on carrying needless emotional baggage. Eventually, Henry leaves and begins hitchhiking; he meets a string of fascinating people, including Rev. Joshua White, a social worker named Mrs. Pena, and the stunning Alice—a dangerously perfect companion who’s on a yearly pilgrimage with her siblings. Henry joins Alice and company in their van, hoping to reach California while reluctantly cleansing himself of the idea that he’s no good for people. Has Zoe’s ghost trapped him, or can Henry be salvaged from this self-destructive epic outing? Cole’s tale of impossible redemption is, sentence for sentence, a textural feast. Fabulous lines like, “He collected friends the way a lumberjack collected trees...[they] only complicated his plans,” pop on every page. Equally marvelous is his dialogue; Clarence tells Henry, “You like the drama because it makes you feel important, gives you a sense of purpose, a reason for not being dead.” Readers will savor Cole’s narrative as it unfolds across a series of conversations that are by turns probing, poignant and hilarious. From his time with Rev. White, readers learn that Henry is a relentless cynic; from Mrs. Pena, that he’s softer than he appears. Alice, with eyes like bright green kryptonite, threatens all of his bourbon-drenched defenses. By the end, readers will wish these terrific characters could stick around longer.

Cole maps out a propulsive emotional journey.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9894249-4-3

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Caelstone Press

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

A stunning, fertile selection of poems worthy of the broadest possible audience.

THE TREE THAT WALKS

POEMS OF SELF INTEGRATION

Duncan’s debut collection of introspective poems plaits together pain, love, truth and self-discovery.

The author begins her magnificent collection with the simple premise of knowing oneself. Taken together, the poems chart her journey from suffering heartbreak to embracing life. Shards of a shattering loss shimmer from page to page, and Duncan examines them piece by piece, with her reinvention of herself hiding between the lines. Symbolism lends depth in “Small Waters,” in which the poet describes longing as droplets: “But if / you chance to listen to the sigh / of each tear as it curls around stone, / you may feel a thirst that fills you / and wets your carved cheek.”  Her words document both pain and joy, and her poems document a journey of self-integration and change; even a poem about emerging from painshouts with triumph. Duncan speaks of love in words reminiscent of the Bible’s Song of Solomon in “Please Hold My Hand”: “Neither your vessel nor mine will last / forever; each with its cracks will finally / break. Soon enough we will fall into / another season of beauty. So for now, / please hold my hand. Let us drink wine / and sing love songs to one another.” After these intimate explorations, the collection ruminates on larger, more ephemeral issues, such as universal oneness and humans’ connection to nature. In these areas, the poet becomes less tangible and more airy, but the rich, vibrant language evokes moonlit incantations and meditations in the open air. In one gorgeous line from “Grace,” for example, Duncan sums up the life of the artist: “I have only words to express my restless heart, / only a few clear notes that ring inside my busy head.”

A stunning, fertile selection of poems worthy of the broadest possible audience.       

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4929-2265-0

Page Count: 118

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

Dark, enigmatic, depressive verse that’s often compelling.

M.A.D. Again!

Lurid imagery, squalid settings and redemptive epiphanies run riot in these vivid poems.

Morbid themes run deep in this collection, as forthrightly declared in “Poe Describing Me”: “This numbing, slow-moving self-ignorance runs through my veins. / Like embalming fluid being injected while my blood gushes into a sink.” Many of the lugubrious poems are set in the detritus of some unspecified personal or planetary apocalypse: “Back to the Future” surveys ruins where “Splinters of glass pop through each and every bare toe,” “God-given Situation” takes in another desolate tableau featuring “Maalox bottles packaged with barf bags. / An ant colony hired as full-time maids,” and “Nearly the End” imagines an eclipse that “left the world forever dark.” And ordinary life? In “Time-Bomb Rocky,” it’s a meaningless cycle of ritual niceties and ennui, of “Try[ing] not to belch out loud in front of the old lady’s mannerly kids” while “The clock still spins in invisible circles like helicopter blades” and “The determined time bomb of life leaves nothing but waste.” Relationships with the female figures that flit through the poems are evanescent or vampiric: “Tight leopard-skinned skirt. / Black sexy pumps. / Bit of a flirt. / …She’ll suck the life out of you with her deadly fangs,” promises “Her Deadly Fangs.” Yet amid all the gothic visions are a few incongruously heartfelt, even conventionally spiritual poems. In “Childless,” the prospect of adoption—“There’s no special blood for a loving child”—eases the anguish of a couple “willed by God to be without,” while “Thanksgiving” offers a prayer for “Giving our strengths to those who fear.” Donovan’s verse features lacerating metaphors that veer among lyricism, grit and the cynically prosaic, as in “Cold River”: “The bridge with moss-filled initials like a funeral home’s sign-in log.” His poems are so private—even cryptic—that it’s sometimes hard to find a way into them, but the strong imagery and the emotions they convey will linger.

Dark, enigmatic, depressive verse that’s often compelling.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2006

ISBN: 978-1419646027

Page Count: 64

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Expertly crafted narrative nonfiction that reveals the framework of people’s lives.

99 JOBS

BLOOD, SWEAT, AND HOUSES

A general contractor and author looks back on a 35-year career contending with a variety of houses and people—most in disrepair.

Beginning when the author was just starting out as a novice handyman in the 1970s, this collection of short essays roughly progresses through to the present day, when, despite numerous tumbles off ladders and at least one impaling, Cottonwood is still plying his trade. The many blue-collar jobs that Cottonwood (Clear Heart, 2009, etc.) wonderfully describes in his latest offering may involve worm-gear saws, ladders, lighting fixtures and the like, but they’re really all about people. Some are wealthy, some poor, but all are frail in some way and in need of some proper shoring—that includes the ace carpenter himself. Each vignette confidently stands on its own, whether several pages long or only a few paragraphs. The robust snapshots of the carpenter’s working life toiling in crawl spaces and basements around Northern California over the last four decades consistently play on important themes of mortality, class and personal fulfillment. Elegant entries like “A Working-Class Hippie” and “The Airplane Room” touch on the often ephemeral nature of close human relationships. A vague sense of melancholy pervades much of Cottonwood’s work, even in the midst of relative triumph, such as when Cottonwood receives a check for a job well-done: “This simple act always fascinates me: the transfer of wealth. So casual. So vital. A rich man of immense power, a tradesman with none. What if he refused?”

Expertly crafted narrative nonfiction that reveals the framework of people’s lives.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615909448

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Clear Heart Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

A visually powerful, angst-ridden and sometimes funny story set in a world of killer DJs and smuggled soul music.

Grooveworld

THE OHM CHRONICLES BOOK 1

In Gray’s sci-fi/fantasy debut, the highly stratified society of Overtone finds itself torn apart in a fight to channel the Ohm, a ubiquitous but tightly controlled energy source akin to electricity.

Like most young men, Flick dreams of being a Shaper, someone who can literally create new worlds by adeptly joining and mixing musical sounds. To see if he has this ability, he visits the Resident, the Shaper designator, who lives in the center of Overtone. The Resident says nothing significant at their first meeting, yet Flick comes to a much fuller understanding of the scope of his powers when an explosion upsets the flow of Ohm to the grid, unleashing tensions between the privileged people of the Inner Rings and the hardworking citizens of the Outer Rings. Flick begins a wildly imaginative journey that takes him through fights against far more powerful, embittered foes while exposing him to the heartbreak of hero worship and love from afar. Partly a coming-of-age story, partly a detailed exploration of the physics of music and sound waves, Gray’s novel features marvelous passages of sci-fi flight: “[Flick] examined the various shapes and sizes of the sound waves, the way the bold bass throes bounded forward like lumbering whales, or the way the high pitched screams frizzed up like dust motes on a kitchen floor. The tunnel of light and sound throbbed and shifted and echoed.” While the conceit of a world that operates entirely on sound waves and bootleg mixes wears slightly thin over the course of a full-length novel, the enthusiasm with which Gray writes often makes up for the occasionally heavy-handed allusions to a society engaged in class war. Flick’s culture shock and growing awareness of the disparities inherent in a tightly regulated caste system are interspersed with oversize, playful creatures that are half-organic, half-subwoofer. The novel suffers a bit from its worldbuilding; every one of the hero’s actions is colored with outré magnitude. Regardless, Gray’s ability to create a richly imagined universe will delight genre enthusiasts, and his skill bodes well for future efforts.

A visually powerful, angst-ridden and sometimes funny story set in a world of killer DJs and smuggled soul music.

Pub Date: May 8, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Ohm Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2014

Bloodcurdling recollections from a regular guy who answered the call when the alarm bell rang.

Heroes and Giants

The heart-and-guts career of a California firefighter whose good days saw children saved and bad days saw loved ones lost.

At the time, Ashby’s choice of profession seemed random. A self-described “non-directional male,” he went to the courthouse to pay some parking tickets and saw a recruitment flier for the Pasadena Fire Department. It was the late 1960s, and fighting fires while attending college seemed like a better choice than Vietnam. Little did Ashby know he would spend the next 30-plus years crawling through smoke-filled buildings, racing to accident scenes and saving lives. In this sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-rending memoir, Ashby rises from lowly recruit at Pasadena to battalion chief with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The author recounts with authentic detail the horrific incidents that firefighters encounter. In one instance, he and his crewmates responded to an apartment where a man had slashed his girlfriend with a machete and then buried the blade in his own neck, nearly decapitating himself. There are also harrowing accounts of river rescues, gang shootings and even a bomb threat at a sex-toy warehouse. More revealing is how Ashby coped psychologically during grueling 56-hour workweeks. He describes a mental “filing cabinet” where he stashed the “terrible things I’ve seen that would otherwise scar my soul.” The book’s stomach-turning tragedies are counterbalanced with more prosaic reminiscences about first loves, old chums and fatherhood. Yet Ashby doesn’t shy away from the darker corners of his life, including his problems with alcohol and the murder of his nephew. Given that he often witnessed the ugliest side of humanity, Ashby might be forgiven if his words carried a cynical edge; instead, he writes with a sanguine, sympathetic outlook that acknowledges bad things happen to everyone. His personal credo reflects the workmanlike attitude of emergency professionals who confront calamity every day: “We do all we can, and it has to be enough.”

Bloodcurdling recollections from a regular guy who answered the call when the alarm bell rang.

Pub Date: April 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62902-553-7

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Tate Publishing & Enterprise, LLC

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

A thoroughly addictive collection.

The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World

A bounty of tasty literary morsels—acerbic, whimsical, incisive and moving—spills from this anthology of short pieces culled from the online magazine Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and Humanities.

RALPH, descended from the much-praised Fessenden Review, is known for lively, opinionated book reviews that aren’t afraid to draw blood. An impressive selection is included here, including Lark’s barbed dismissal of Laura Esquivel’s Malinche (2006) (“the language heats up and runs off the page and falls into the toilet”) and Carlos Amantea’s revisionist attack—who hasn’t longed for one?—on James Joyce: “My own reading of Ulysses is that there are probably 300,000 words too many.” There’s also a generous helping of poetry, from Garcia-Lorca—accompanied by a winsome account of an English class entranced by the idea that he had an Afro—to Joseph Brodsky, Quan Berry and Sharon Olds. There are short stories, including Joyce Cary’s droll vignette on the class war between artists and rich dilettantes. And there’s a wide-ranging miscellany of nonfiction feuilletons, some original and some reprinted: Javier Marias’ evocative biographical sketch of William Faulkner; a snippet of food memoir by M.F.K. Fisher; L.W. Milam’s celebration of student diaries as literature; S.W. Wentworth’s atmospheric tribute to Mississippi Delta juke joints; a raft of light think pieces on humanistic design and urbanism à la Jane Jacobs; an interview with S.J. Perelman on the horrors of Hollywood; excerpts from Werner Herzog’s diary on the ghastlier horrors of the Amazon; a funny take on the similarities between academics and house cats; and grave speculation on the extraterrestrial origins of Bach. Sometimes, as in R.R. Doister’s Freudian-pacifist reading of a volume of letters from a West Point cadet, contentiousness tips over into heavy-handed polemic. Still, almost every page crackles with sharp writing and offhand—occasionally off-kilter—insights that will fascinate readers.

A thoroughly addictive collection.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 513

Publisher: MHO & MHO Works

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

Morbidly fascinating, even in its deadpan style; likely to become a staple in zombie collections.

Bulletin of ZOMBIE Research

VOLUME 1

Leppanen’s sci-fi debut is a collection of scientific reports on how best to control and manage the worldwide spread of Zooanthroponotic Occult MetaBiomimetic Infectious Encephalitis—zombies!

The Society of Zombie Research and Management conducts studies on zombies, who have been a serious concern for about 50 years—long enough that undead test subjects can be selected from a containment facility in Minnesota. The research involves people in various stages, such as asymptomatic humans who have tested positive for ZOMBI Encephalitis or those in the more advanced stages, typically demarcated by the consumption of human flesh. Experiments range from the effect zombies have on monarch butterflies, which seem to prefer them as hosts for feeding and pupating, to the public’s association of baldness or thinning hair with infected humans. Leppanen commits completely to her book, abandoning a standard narrative and writing in the cold voice of a scientific study, including graphs, tables and selected literature (both genuine and fictional) at the end of each study. But hidden within the technological jargon is the story of a world surviving a devastating epidemic. Aside from the Convention on Global ZOMBIE Safety, there’s mention of humans killing other humans based on the mere probability that individuals with different colored eyes could be infected. There are also instances of utter creepiness: In one experiment, humans are dosed with aminopyralid, an herbicide, in an effort to combat the problem resulting from weeds growing at a faster rate in zombie tissue; and expectant mothers should be wary of the study involving infected pregnant women (hint: “cannibalistic offspring”). But it’s Leppanen’s academic approach to ZOMBI Encephalitis that resonates loudest. Zombies are unmistakably the norm, and the research nonchalantly takes into account a few horrifying issues—e.g., an inability to determine a test subject’s time of death, since he or she may appear alive, and in a study on zombie communication, speculation that zombies are frustrated because there’s no one to eat. The studies do become progressively more intense (one dealing with infected cancer patients surviving longer than uninfected ones), but the eight experiments, presented as separate sections, could be ingested in any order.

Morbidly fascinating, even in its deadpan style; likely to become a staple in zombie collections.

Pub Date: June 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499576757

Page Count: 184

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

A beautiful resource about a mysterious San Francisco landmark.

Sutro's Glass Palace

THE STORY OF SUTRO BATHS

Martini relates the history of a now-defunct California attraction in this lavishly illustrated volume.

At the western edge of San Francisco, visitors will find a curious set of ruins at Ocean Beach which, from above, look something like a flooded ice-cube tray carved into the hillside. From 1896 to 1966, the Sutro Baths were an important city landmark: a lavish complex of pools, bleachers, changing rooms, restaurants, exhibits and displays. It was built of glass, iron, wood, and reinforced concrete, and its water was supplied directly by the ocean. Older city residents, like the author, will remember ice skating “in the cavernous former bathhouse” and peering through “gaps in the painted-over windows into the closed section of the building, where I could see a labyrinth of half-drained swimming tanks and endless bleacher seats marching toward the ceiling.” This fine book tells the story of how Adolph Sutro, a German-born businessman and politician, conceived and built the Baths, their eventual decline (mostly due to the high cost of maintenance) and plans for their future. Sutro, who served as mayor of San Francisco for a short time, did nothing by halves; he told a reporterin 1894 that a “small place would not satisfy me. I must have it large, pretentious, in keeping with the Heights and the great ocean itself.” In addition to swimming, the complex offered contests, “band concerts, trick diving exhibitions, acrobatic acts, May Day celebrations, and animal acts.” Martini tells this story clearly and well, providing not just period photographs, but also new architectural illustrations which greatly illuminate the Baths’ complicated structure. He also provides contemporary photos of the now-skeletal ruins alongside artist’s renderings of the complex when it was first built, which may help readers relate the past to the present day. Martini also offers many lively anecdotes from newspaper accounts, court documents and other sources to bring this past wonder to life.

A beautiful resource about a mysterious San Francisco landmark. 

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Hole in the Head Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

A charming, wildly imaginative introduction to a brave new girl.

Lucy Lick-Me-Not and the Day Eaters

In this fanciful picture book, a birthday disappears and a little girl must get it back.

What if your favorite day just up and disappeared? What if that day was your birthday, never to be celebrated again? Such is Lucy’s dilemma. When she was younger, a frog shot her with a venom dart; thankfully, she was immune to the frog’s poison, but it turned her skin, well, poisonous. This proves to be perilous when the little girl begins to make friends. Soon, she becomes known as Lucy Lick-Me-Not (she’s lost a few kittens along the way). Like any child, Lucy loves her birthday—March 32nd—and she dreams of cake and presents. But it’s not to be: Lucy wakes up on her birthday to find not presents and balloons, but just any other day—her birthday has vanished. When she comes upon the Day Eaters—the grumpy, colorful monsters responsible for this calendar change—Lucy must think fast in order to get her birthday back. A little dark and plenty humorous, this gem of a picture book will appeal to both kids and grown-ups. Children will appreciate the vibrant illustrations and the heroine’s happy-go-lucky attitude, while adults reading along will chuckle at Lucy Lick-Me-Not’s weirder, darker origin. Carmel’s rhyming prose is frothy and funny—a feat, considering that Carmel is telling the absurd tale of a girl whose skin is poisonous. The rhyming couplets work well, driving the story along while still keeping things lighthearted. Illustrator Burkmar’s drawings are vivacious and alluring, perfectly aligning with the work’s irreverent vibe; the monsters etched on the page are indeed absurd but certainly not scary enough to frighten away younger readers. This work is the first in a planned Lucy Lick-Me-Not series, and future installments of Lucy’s story will assuredly be welcomed with open arms. Bad news for kittens.

A charming, wildly imaginative introduction to a brave new girl.

Pub Date: July 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9906248-1-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

Surreal, poetic and unforgettable: a truly original voice.

SHALLCROSS

In this one-of-a-kind novel, a South Florida man living with hallucinations falls in love and meets danger along the way.

Aubrey Shallcross, 42, “was a respectable businessman in his small town and had learned how to appear normal since grade school, even though he…saw things other people did not”—such as Triple Suiter, a 3-inch-tall, three-piece-suited man who lives in Aubrey’s left armpit. Independently wealthy after selling his car dealership (friends dub him the Anti-Chrysler), Aubrey enjoys hanging out at the Blue Goose and eating conch fritters with old buddies like Punky and The Junior. Over the course of this unique debut novel, he sees some friends die, falls in love, surfs, participates in a cattle roundup, learns the art and discipline of dressage, and undergoes a fearful attack by his girlfriend’s palindrome-obsessed ex-husband. But no plot summary can convey the surreal flavor of Aubrey’s mind and the characters (called “slippers”) who manifest themselves to him. Besides Triple Suiter, a kind of guardian angel, there’s “the tiny Amper Sand, who lived in Trip’s sternum and didn’t speak. To communicate, Amper Sand typed backward letters on Trip’s chest.” The sinister Slim Hand, “rogue slipper, a bad passenger,” always seems to be trying to cram something bad down Aubrey’s throat. Head Wound is “a burlesque overdraft of an abnormal.” In this word-drunk, thickly allusive and poetic novel, characters speak in an at-first confusing mélange of shared jokes and colorful imagery: “Straight over the four-way’s the road to stag-damn-nation….The Head Wound turns left with the angel on that crosspiece, doesn’t he? For the gorgeous left pearls. Finished.” Porter gradually illuminates the significance of these references. Though first-person accounts of schizophrenia usually convey its terror and loneliness, Aubrey’s experience is seldom frightening. His hallucinations are usually creative, helpful, even joyful, and Triple Suiter is touchingly solicitous of him. However bizarre Aubrey’s thought processes might be to outsiders, his inner world is artistically coherent.

Surreal, poetic and unforgettable: a truly original voice.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 262

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2014

One of the best paranormal fantasy releases of this year—a self-publishing benchmark.

Masters' Mysterium

WISCONSIN DELLS

This extraordinary work of paranormal fantasy—a debut, no less—revolves largely around the morally bankrupt owner of a museum of oddities who attempts to reinvigorate his flagging business by capturing the Hodag, a legendary creature believed to inhabit the woodlands of northern Wisconsin.

The Rev. Jay Masters is a scumbag. A former faith healer, he currently owns Masters’ Mysterium—“a collection of every oddity, rumor, hearsay, improbable event, and conundrum created by nature or man”—a failing business in Wisconsin Dells that’s being overshadowed by nearby amusement and water parks. With few options left, he hires three hillbilly hunters to go into northern Wisconsin and trap a mysterious beast that has been rumored to be killing unwary travelers. But when two of the hunters end up ripped apart, the sole survivor ranting about aliens and monsters, Masters decides to visit the remote town of Creekside himself. There, he meets the town’s strange residents, including his 21-year-old daughter, Trudy, a waitress at the unfortunately named Cluck and Grunt restaurant; she’s not exactly happy to meet him for the first time. The mythical beast turns out to be a demon, and Masters and his daughter soon become entangled in a supernatural war between seraphic beings and the forces of evil. But this isn’t run-of-the-mill paranormal fantasy with angels. The characters are extremely well-developed, the narrative is intelligent and at times highly humorous, the storyline is original and engaging, and the religious aspects are decidedly understated. The first installment of a series, this is paranormal fantasy done right: a unique, relentlessly entertaining page-turner that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Fortunately, there’s more to come.

One of the best paranormal fantasy releases of this year—a self-publishing benchmark.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

A study that may become the new sausage makers’ bible, outstanding in its range, depth and clarity.

Charcutier. Salumiere. Wurstmeister.

A culinary cri de coeur by author Vecchio and photographer Silva that explores the history, process and prospective future of sausage making.

This book approaches sausage creation as both an art and a science. It begins by introducing readers to the industry’s leading artisans from Spain, France, Italy and Switzerland, who each offer their own unique philosophies regarding their trade. Despite their differences, however, all are bound by their dedication to making quality pork products. The author’s study focuses on the care and attention that these artisanal producers bestow upon their work, culminating in a diary-style recounting of Hawaii-based charcutier Thomas Pickett’s experiences giving pork seminars. An in-depth examination of the current state of the sausage industry follows, which can be read as a kind of call to arms. The author asks for a re-evaluation of the industry’s core values—namely, he advocates a return to quality over quantity. He also looks at how traditional approaches not only make for a better tasting sausage, but are also more environmentally sound. The book heralds a new wave of chefs and butchers who have a respect for sustainability, humane husbandry, organic growth and ecology. It also offers a series of educational chapters that tackle important subjects such as spices, salting, chopping, stuffing, tying and aging. Alongside the fundamentals, the author considers the minutiae of the craft, such as the role of activated proteins during the mixing process. He also includes more than 40 detailed, step-by-step recipes for everything from the ominous headcheese—a sausage made from snout, lips, cheek and tongue—to the deliciously spicy nduja sausage from Calabria. This approachable, elegant book, clearly the result of extensive research, will appeal to master butchers as well as ambitious home cooks.

A study that may become the new sausage makers’ bible, outstanding in its range, depth and clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615720845

Page Count: 240

Publisher: FRANVEC

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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