Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kate reviews: The Devil's Workshop

The Devil’s Workshop by Jáchym Topol (translated by Alex Zucker)
4 stars - Highly Recommended by Kate
Pages: 166
Publisher: Portobello Books
Released: 2013

Guest review by Kate Vane

This novel by Czech writer Jáchym Topol is a dark satire which asks troubling questions on what we should remember and what we should forget.

The unnamed narrator grows up in Terezín, a town which houses a Medieval fortress and a former Nazi prison. His father is a military bandsman, his mother a survivor of the prison, as are most of the people of the town. The narrator grows up, in a mockery of a pastoral idyll, herding goats on the fortifications, scrabbling in underground tunnels for Nazi memorabilia and failing to live up to his father’s ambitions before he is forced to leave.

Years later he returns to Terezín. The army has left and the authorities no longer want to maintain the town. His “uncle”, Lebo, born in the Nazi prison, is determined that nothing should be lost. They begin a protest movement which draws international attention – and lucrative opportunities as they sell souvenir T-shirts and accommodate visitors and obtain funding from philanthropists worldwide. Then political upheaval means the narrator has to leave for Belarus where the book takes a darker turn.

The narrator has a sly naivety. He recounts events as he experiences them, stripped of context. This can make it difficult at times to follow events. There is an afterword by the translator which fills in some of the gaps but I think he was right to put it at the end. It means that like the narrator, the reader experiences conflict and instability as most people do when they are at the heart of them –seeing details, specifics, without a coherent narrative, which is only imposed later, and somehow make whatever occurred seem inevitable.

The narrator has no sense of history, only of a home. He accepts the world as he finds it and makes the best of the opportunities he sees. In contrast, Terezín attracts what he calls the “bunk seekers”. They are distinct from the casual sightseers who take photos and walk the heritage trail. They are western descendants of Holocaust survivors who believe they have a personal interest in the town’s story. They look for meaning in the prison camp, something to give them an identity.

The book’s humour lies in the way it overturns assumptions. Sara, a bunk seeker from Sweden, berates the narrator. She, not he, is the one that truly suffers the legacy of Terezín. His complexes only arise because of what he’s lived through. Hers are a product of her unique personality.

The simple language of the book contrasts with the complexity of the ideas as the story turns in on itself. How is the past commodified, and for whose benefit? If you don’t know your history, does it still shape you? Does it even make sense to call it “yours”?

This book is dark, unsettling and raises lots of questions. It also resolutely refuses to provide any answers.

Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End. She lives on the Devon coast in the UK.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Audio series: JW Bouchard

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. It's a fun little series, where authors record themselves reading an excerpt from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Today, JW Bouchard reads from his self published novel The Z Club. Bouchard is a horror, crime, science fiction, and children’s fantasy author best known for his novels Last Summer and The Z Club.  When he isn’t writing, he enjoys surveying unexplored parts of Wind Cave in South Dakota, traveling to exotic locales, and teaching his kids bad habits.  He lives in Iowa.

Click the soundcloud link below to hear JW Bouchard read an excerpt from The Z Club:

The word on The Z Club:


When a Chinese space shuttle carrying mysterious cargo crash lands in the small town of Trudy, Iowa, a group of nerdy horror movie buffs must band together to stop an outbreak that is bringing the dead back to life and turning the rest of the population into brain-eating zombies.


Armed with their considerable knowledge of bad cinema and an ice cream truck full of stolen guns, they will battle the infected to save their town and to keep the outbreak from spreading to the entire world.


This book is full of gore, humor, and more cheesy one-liners than you can shake a stick at.
*lifted with love from goodreads

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: The Z Club

Read 4/2/15
4 Stars - Highly Recommended to fans of zombie lit with a sense of humor
Pages: 248
Publisher: Self Pubbed
Released 2013

There is nothing better than picking up a book with the intention of reading just a few lines on that first page to test it out, when the next thing you know, it's four hours later and you've read the darn thing cover to cover.

That was me and JW Bouchard's The Z Club two weeks ago. By now I think you guys know that I'm a super-sucker for all things zombies. I've read and reviewed a bunch of zombie lit and I've watched more than my fair share of zombie flicks. Some of my absolute favorites are Warm Bodies (the book was better than the movie, ICYDK), The Autumn series, A Questionable Shape, Braineater Jones,  Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, The Walking Dead (both the comics and the show, and helloooo, did you see? The companion series is coming out this summer!!)... smart, serious, satirical, cheesy, gory, choose your own adventure, give them to me. I love them all.

And now The Z Club sits right up there with all the rest. It's fantastically hyper-aware of itself and pokes fun at all of the very best things about the genre. Old school zombie aficionados will find a ton to love here. When you boil it down, it's basically about a group of grown up BFF guys with their girls, who have a more-than-disturbing knowledge of all things Zombie culture, suddenly find themselves in the midst of an actual zombie apocalypse. But it's so much more. It's like a kid walking into a candy store, only a billion times more deadly.

I loved how JW kicks the novel off by throwing us gut-deep into the initial zombie outbreak. Though for those first few pages, we don't know it yet. We're just as clueless as the dude who wakes up to a strange noise in the middle of the night. As he climbs out of bed to investigate and the realization that we're fucked dawns on us both, JW yanks us out of the moment and plants us firmly in the past - 48 hours earlier, in a  comic book store with Kevin and his staff of two - Derek and Rhonda - as they watch the CNN report about a missing Chinese space shuttle and its mysterious cargo. Hmmm....

Meanwhile, part of the shuttle has crash landed right in Kevin's small town, and his buddy Ryan - a local cop - is one of the first on scene when a firefighter who gets too close the wreckage suddenly takes ill and is rushed to the hospital. So we've got our Patient Zero, and all the questions like wtf was that shuttle carrying, but uh-oh, it's too late for that now, because the virus starts to spread like nobody's business. And then there's their poor ole pal Fred, a reluctant, sex starved plumber, who is completely oblivious to what's happening as he hits up his morning's first appointment. Because you always have to have that one guy who wanders straight into the lion's mouth without realizing...

As you can imagine, shit starts rolling downhill pretty quickly from here and in a very cool but very we-totally-saw-it-coming Shaun-of-the-Dead way, our previously scattered group of friends all magically find their way to one another. Once they're bunkered down, they seem to make all the wrong B movie choices and the whole time you're like "no you idiot, don't do thaaaaat" and "now's not the time for nookie" and "stay inside! why in the world would you go out there?" but lo and behold, our little group of goofballs pull themselves together long enough to put together a ridiculously insane plan that could  quite possibly save their shitty little town from getting their brains sucked out.

Complete with requisite groans of braaaaaiiiinsssss and a stupid-wicked stash of weaponry, our man JW does the zombie genre proud. We even get to watch our little band of small time heroes battle a big ass boss - as one does - because defeating swarm after swarm of brain eating, flesh slurping, rotbags isn't enough. Oh, and those deleted scenes at the end? Priceless! You can tell he had as much fun writing the novel as I had reading it.

A hugely entertaining read all zombie fans should add to their lists, and a superb example of self publishing done right.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Page 69 Test: Bombyonder

The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
we put Reb Livingston's Bombyonder to the test....

OK, Reb, set up page 69 for us.

It’s the last page of a section titled “Protection” where the protagonist, in her usual helter-skelterish manner, ruminates on shields, names, historical contexts and connections. All themes that run throughout the novel. What is a true threat? What are we witness to? How does protection work and what does it accomplish? She struggles to create her own structure and views, while rejecting what currently is in place, despite being complicit in what she attempts to reject. Every time she thinks she’s made sense of something, something comes in to complicate matters further. There is no sense. There’s a boy on a donkey, he’s dead or maybe he’s alive. She has no idea who he is or what he’s about and at this point in the story, she chooses to let the matter drop and focuses her attention on a golem (“Terrifyingly Handsome”) she created from her husband’s corpse.

What is Bombyonder about?

After agreeing to her father’s request to slit his throat so his much anticipated legacy can begin, the unnamed protagonist swallows his invention, a “kind” bomb in pill form. This triggers a psychic shattering of sorts which begins with her barfing up a dead bird that she is compelled to rebirth/replace/bury (she’s not sure) by embarking on a fragmented psychic excavation where she commits an additional murder of her husband, meets a parrot-faced cat girl and a boy on a donkey and then creates a new lover by decoupaging her husband’s corpse with denim and other household craft items.

Throughout the novel the protagonist struggles to recognize both the roots of her malaise and why she repeatedly searches for solutions/escape through her bizarre partnerships with men. She muddles through with help from her friend, Lily, a straight-texter who lives in a box inside a box and by mysterious, anonymous notes written to her by the Carries, her long gone female ancestors. When the protagonist finally acknowledges that romantic partnerships are not the way to improve on her situation, she connects with her unconceived brother, Rauan, who never existed (due to a genetic condition affecting all the women on her mother’s side that doesn’t allow male zygotes to develop in their wombs). Rauan desperately wants to connected with their abusive mother, the Worm Queen, while the protagonist makes plans to smother her to death with a pillow. Friction develops between the siblings who clearly desire different outcomes and as Rauan tries to overcome his non-conception to become a tangible, corporeal being.

Eventually the protagonist alone must face her worm-filled mother, avenge Rauan’s non-conception, figure out how to birth her vomit bird and through personal historical revisionism create a new life for herself and those she brings with her.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about?

Somewhat. The book is, well, strange. It’s told from the protagonist’s fractured psyche, which goes all over all the place so I’m not so sure one single page could give anything close to an accurate sense of what the book is about. It’s a bunch of shards that when pieced together tell the story.


Page 69 

Please provide a viable DNA sample for the footnotes else this entry will be marked for deletion.

The family agreed to help the boy’s mother grieve. Or at least see what they could do. The unwanted shield left on the door waited for something to be done. Waiting for something to happen is like slitting your own throat. It’s better to have the ability to swallow, even if it hurts. You don’t want that foulness dribbling down your fresh shirt. It makes a terrible impression.

The boy on the donkey rides again. Free donkey rides. The confluence of a donkey and a horse is a mule or hinny.

A one-dream donkey. Started with the name, diverged with the boy, and then something well-meaning died. Then came another boy on a donkey. Reborn donkey boy has risen? Younger, more handsome donkey boy brother? Donkey boy 2.0?

He has risen?

Risen from what?

I didn’t inquire. He was much too young for me. My attention fixed on Terrifyingly Handsome, my bounded mate.


Reb Livingston ( is the author of Bombyonder (Bitter Cherry Books 2014), God Damsel (No Tell Books 2010) and Your Ten Favorite Words (Coconut Books 2007). She curates the Bibliomancy Oracle ( and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and son.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Review: All This Life

Read 3/30/15 - 4/2/15
4 Stars - Highly Recommended, I mean, c'mon, it's a Mohr!
Pages: 304
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Releasing: July 2015

If you're reading this review, you are most likely either hanging out on my blog right now or viewing it on Goodreads. And you probably discovered that I had written the review because you saw it in your feed burner, followed the link from our Facebook post, clicked on the link when I tweeted about it, or saw it in your Goodreads updates.

God bless social media, huh? It's insanely immediate, connecting complete strangers at the click of the mouse to news, videos, rants, raves, and yeah, even book reviews like this one. It helps us feel like we are a part of something bigger. We can sample and download the latest music. We can stream the biggest blockbusters. We can post videos of cute cuddly kittens and people falling flat on their faces. We can tag friends in our photos. We can contact authors and publishers and request review copies. We can comment on everything, everywhere, at any time. We can cyber bully. We can subtweet. We can stalk. We can lurk. We can embarrass and astonish. With social media, we can be whoever we want to be. We can become an overnight success or the brunt of one of the biggest online bash sessions.

And in Joshua Mohr's All The Life, we experience just how quickly social media can connect us while it simultaneously tears us apart.

It starts out with a morning like any other for Paul and his son Jake, crawling through the morning commute traffic on the San Francisco Bridge - Paul lost in his own thoughts and Jake randomly recording strangers outside his car window. Until he spots the marching band, catching their tragic statement on tape and uploading it to YouTube -an experience that creates a nasty chain of events that will change his life, and the lives of so many others, forever.

Jake sits back and let's the video do its thing, reaching tens of thousands and ultimately millions, as the social media and news outlets latch on to it, sky rocketing him into near celebrity status. Paul grows concerned and then desperate as Jake withdraws further from him, while Jake struggles with his new found fame, still trying to digest what he witnessed that day on the bridge, and misjudges the lengths his followers will go for him.

In Arizona, Sara's watching Jake's video of the marching band when she discovers through a series of texts that her (ex)boyfriend has just posted one of their sex tapes online. Within days, the tape goes viral. Distraught at how her small town will react, Sara confides in her neighbor, and long ago crush, Rodney, who suffers from a debilitating speech impediment caused by a freak accident back when they were just kids. Born partly from her desperation to escape the wrath of her over protective brother, Sara and Rodney make plans to head to California to find Rodney's mother, who abandoned him when the stress of his accident became too much for her to bear.

As all of this is happening, Noah, brother of the one of marching band members, attempts to come to terms with what his sister has done and views Jake's video. Stuck in a cycle of self blame and near denial, Noah embarks on a mission to say goodbye to Tracey in the very place the video was recorded.

In his most character-heavy novel to date, Mohr masterfully moves this group of lonely, lost souls together, as they each struggle to come to terms with the things they've lost. Sara, who grieves the loss of her privacy; Rodney, the loss of his former self; Jake, the loss of his innocence; Paul, the lack of a relationship with his son; Noah, blaming himself for the loss of his sister; and Kathleen, her choice to abandon Rodney when he needed her most.

All This Life shines a spotlight on social media's ugly side. It's a stark reminder of how quickly we can lose control of the things that define us, the things we hold most private, and warns us to be wary of what we share.  How the smallest ripple can cause the greatest waves. And how life can quickly spiral out of our grasp and become larger than we ever imagined. In a way, I feel Mohr's novel challenges us to appreciate the life we have, to live it for what's it worth, aware of the scrapes and scars we might endure but not to become crippled by them, not allowing ourselves to get bogged down with the things we can't control.

Worth a read if you're a social media addict like me!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Audio Series: Jamie Grefe

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. It's a fun little series, where authors record themselves reading an excerpt from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Today, Jamie Grefe adds his voice to the series by reading an excerpt from 
"Domo ArigaDIE!!!"
 Jamie is an author writing within the realms of the bizarre, the darkly comedic, the surrealistic, the horrifying and the cinematic. His first book, The Mondo Vixen Massacrewas published in 2013 by Eraserhead Press. Grefe is also the author of two limited-edition Dynatox Ministries  novellas, Cannibal Fatales and Mutagon IIIn 2015 his novelization of Tim Heidecker’s Adult Swim web series, DECKER, was published to great acclaim as DECKER: CLASSIFIED. Most recently, Grefe’s Domo ArigaDIE!!! was published by Rooster Republic Press. His short fiction and poetry appears in such venues as Birkensnake, The Bacon Review, New Dead Families, elimae, Prick of the Spindle, Sein und Werden and Bizarro Central among other places. In 2014, Grefe began writing for the screen. Believe it or not, he quickly sold FOUR scripts to one his low-budget directorial idols who shall (for the time being) remain unnamed. Currently, Grefe is amassing a library of spec scripts that he hopes to sell and/or attract the attention of a talent agency and/or manager. For more on Grefe’s specs, go HERE.

Listen to Jamie read an excerpt from Domo ArigaDIE!!! by clicking on the soundcloud link below:

The word on Domo ArigaDIE!!!

From Jamie Grefe, the author of DECKER: CLASSIFIED (with Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington), The Mondo Vixen Massacre, Cannibal Fatales, and Mutagon II, this bizarro blade of a book boils with a fevered cinematic intensity, sure to satisfy and heal your inner beast.

Alodia Obelisk is a ninja assassin whose life is about to take a stab for the worst—for the ultra-violent worst. When her elderly ninja master is slaughtered for the ninja secrets he possesses by the sadistic boss of The Order of Azaded, a perverse death-cult, Alodia and her sister, Erika, become next on the cult's kill list. The cult's plan for the sisters: to crack open their skulls, extract their brains and blend those magic-infused-brains with a brute soldier clone—for the purpose of world domination. But when the cult seizes Erika during a crazy New Tokyo bathhouse battle, Alodia has no choice but to strike back and annihilate the opposition before her sister's brains are scooped from her cranium. With vivid bursts of suspense, surrealism, science-fiction, saucy humor, and neo-pulp ferocity, comes a story of the psychophysical power hidden inside of a true warrior, a story that doesn't shy away from the blood, the grime, and the glory of love, and a story of one ninja's powerful transformation in the face of utter evil.
*lifted with love from goodreads

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Indie Book Buzz: Fig Tree Books

We're trying to bring back the Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. If you are a small press publishing house and want to spread the word about some upcoming titles you are most excited about releasing, you know what to do!

This week's pick is brought you by Erika Dreifus, 
Media Editor at Fig Tree Books

COMPULSION: A NOVEL, Meyer Levin (with a foreword by Marcia Clark and an introduction by Gabriel Levin)
(To be released: April 14, 2015)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: This reissued classic is a riveting and literary thriller about the basic drives that compel us to act in the name of good or evil. Based on the Leopold and Loeb case of 1924 – once considered the crime of the 20th century – Meyer Levin’s Compulsion presents both an incisive and nuanced psychological portrait of two young murderers. Part of Chicago’s elite Jewish society, Judd Steiner and Artie Straus have it all: money, smarts and the world at their feet. Obsessed with Nietzsche’s idea of the superhuman, they decide to prove that they are above the laws of man by arbitrarily murdering a boy in their neighborhood — for the sheer sake of getting away with the crime.

Compulsion is narrated by Sid Silver, a budding journalist at the University of Chicago and a fictional surrogate for Meyer Levin, who was a classmate of Leopold and Loeb and reported on their trial himself; like Sid, Levin became enmeshed in the case while covering it. Early on, a pair of Judd’s horn-rimmed eyeglasses is found at the scene of the crime. Authorities slowly begin to unveil other pieces of evidence that suggest the young men’s guilt. When their respective alibis collapse, Artie and Judd each confess. Fearing an anti-Semitic backlash and anxious to be viewed first and foremost as Americans, the Jewish community in Chicago demands steadfastly that justice be served.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This book sold over one million copies back in the 1950s when it was first published, but I hadn’t read it until I joined Fig Tree last summer; reading it turned out to be much more of a pleasure than responsibility. I’m a history buff, but I didn’t know more than the bare outline of the Leopold and Loeb case before I read this novel. And if, like me, you’re a fan of courtroom dramas, you’ll be fascinated by the legal strategies and courtroom scenes: The chief defense attorney, based on his real-life counterpart Clarence Darrow, hires a slew of psychoanalysts and begins to construct a first-of-its-kind defense—that Artie and Judd are not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Whole segments of the courtroom sections are taken directly from the trial transcripts (and Darrow was quite the lawyer). Plus, our edition features a simply gorgeous introduction by one of Meyer Levin’s sons, poet and translator Gabriel Levin, in addition to an insightful forward by attorney-writer Marcia Clark.

THE BOOK OF STONE: A NOVEL, Jonathan Papernick
(To be released: May 12, 2015)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A searing psychological thriller set in pre-9/11 Brooklyn in which a family’s dark history and an estranged son’s attempt to find meaning and purpose converge. Matthew Stone has inherited a troubling legacy: a gangster grandfather and a distant father—who is also a disgraced judge. After his father’s death, Matthew is a young man alone. He turns to his father’s beloved books for comfort, perceiving within them guidance that leads him to connect with a group of religious extremists. As Matthew immerses himself in this unfamiliar world, the FBI seeks his assistance to foil the group’s violent plot. Caught between these powerful forces, haunted by losses past and present, and desperate for redemption, Matthew charts a course of increasing peril—for himself and for everyone around him. From the author of The Ascent of Eli Israel and There is No Other, The Book of Stone examines the evolution of the terrorist mentality and the complexities of religious extremism, as well as how easily a vulnerable mind can be exploited for dark purposes. Lyrical and incendiary, The Book of Stone is a masterfully crafted novel that reveals the ambiguities of “good” and “evil”.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: It’s difficult to think of a novel that’s as timely as this one. Yes, the book’s action is set before 9/11, but much of what animates the plot—how a young man can be won over to extremism—exudes an utterly contemporary resonance. I read this book with ever-increasing dread and unease, and I agree with the advance readers who have pegged it as likely to ignite some very lively debates and discussions.

(To be released: June 9, 2015)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A profound and moving novel about love, the inevitability of loss, and the courage it takes to keep starting over. It’s 1994 and Adam, a drug addict from New York City, arrives at a kibbutz in Israel with a medieval sapphire brooch. To make up for a past crime, he needs to get the priceless heirloom to a woman his grandfather loved when he was a Holocaust refugee on the kibbutz fifty years earlier. There Adam joins other troubled people trying to turn their lives around: Ulya, the ambitious and beautiful Soviet émigré; Farid, the lovelorn Palestinian farmhand; Claudette, the French Canadian Catholic with OCD; Ofir, the Israeli teenager wounded in a bus bombing; and Ziva, the old Zionist Socialist firebrand who founded the kibbutz. By the end of that summer, through their charged relationships with one another, they each get their last chance at redemption. In the middle of this web glows the magnificent sapphire brooch with its perilous history spanning three continents and seven centuries. With insight and beauty, Safekeeping tackles that most human of questions: how can we expect to find meaning and happiness when we know that nothing lasts?

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Simply put, this book is gorgeously written, populated by distinct and memorable characters and absolutely marvelous dialogue. As I read it, I couldn’t help thinking of Amos Oz’s kibbutz stories and the ways in which Safekeeping, too, so magnificently creates a world that may be foreign to so many of us—I’ve never lived on a kibbutz, myself—and yet so richly vivid and palpable. (In my fantasies, I get to put a copy of this book in Oz’s hands myself.)


Erika Dreifus is Media Editor at Fig Tree Books, a new publishing company specializing in the best fiction on American Jewish Experience (AJE). She is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories (Last Light Studio), which was named an American Library Association Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title (for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature), a Jewish Journal “Notable Book,” and a Shelf Unbound “Top Small-Press Book.” Erika is also an essayist, poet, and book reviewer, as well as the editor/publisher of The Practicing Writer, a free monthly e-newsletter on the craft and business of writing.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Page 69: The Ghoul Archipelago

The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
we put Stephen Kozeniewski's The Ghoul Archipelago 
to the test

Ok Stephen, set up page 69 for us.

Okay, well, Papi and Mr. Kurtz are members of a low-rent freighter crew.  They're essentially paid to be blind and stupid, so while they may not know exactly what they're hauling, they can probably guess it's something unsavory.  In the deep backwater of the South Pacific, a band of pirates attacks their ship.  As the senior officers, like Pepper, attempt to negotiate with the pirates and deal with the sudden discovery of a stowaway, they send the crew to hide belowdecks.  That's where Papi and Kurtz learn the shocking truth: they're hauling corpses stuffed with drugs and money.  Oh, and did I forget to mention the dead just started rising to feast on the flesh of the living?

What is The Ghoul Archipelago about?

After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain. 

A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, the billionaire inventor of the mind-control collar seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a ghoul-worshipping cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown. 

To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of...THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about?

Ah, believe it or not, it's not a bad sample.  I don't know if the Page 69 test is supposed to work or fail, but this has a nice, solidly gruesome beginning that set the tone for the rest of the book, and segues into introducing some of our most important characters.  So, yay team!

Page 69

He pressed the nail-removing end against the roof of its mouth and pressed upwards.

“Give me a hand, Papillon,” Kurtz said.

Papi leaned on the gooseneck of the crowbar, adding his weight to Kurtz’s strength until the hollow-breasted thing lifted up into the air, and the crowbar plunged through its soft pallet and into its brain. Only then did it stop twitching.

The outside hatch began to thump, as someone from without pounded. The things in the crate joined in the pounding, forming a chorus of thumps and groans.

“Don’t open it,” Papi whispered.

Papi felt sure that if Kurtz gripped the crowbar any tighter, he would’ve snapped it in twain.

“Kurtz!” Pepper’s muffled voice drifted through the hatch, “Let me in!”

Papi heaved a sigh of relief. He couldn’t tell whether he was more worried it would have been a pirate or a monster.

Kurtz thrust the hatch open. Pepper was standing there with a strange young boy, dressed in ridiculous puffy clothes.

“Out of the way, Kurtz,” Pepper said, “we’ve got to get in.”

Kurtz shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Wright,” Kurtz said, “one doesn’t want to come in here. It’s dangerous. We all need to leave.”

Pepper stared up at him like he had a dick growing out of his forehead.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” the second mate asked. “There’s a god-damned battle going on out here.”

As if to prove his point, a bullet whizzed by, sending Pepper pressing past Kurtz’s frame in the doorway, and wrestling the stranger in with him.

“Close that hatch!” Pepper shouted.

Reluctantly, Kurtz obeyed. He had clearly hoped to discuss the matter further, but the men surrounded Pepper instantly, and began to barrage him with different, disparate elements of their tale from below decks, such that Pepper was staring at them all as though they were crazy within thirty seconds. Papi watched it all in silence.

“Mr. Kurtz!” the second mate bellowed, silencing the myriad voices in one go.


Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Book Review: A Shelter of Others

Read 3/16/15 - 3/26/15
4 Stars - Highly Recommended for the experience of the language alone
Pages: 216
Publisher: Fiddleblack
Released 2014

Can we talk about A Shelter of Others as a physical object first? And then get into the actual review? Is that cool? Because this thing is really gorgeous. The cover makes it look so old school, doesn't it? It's this grainy black and white photograph of a cemetery or burial ground, laid out against a solid black background, the only color a splash of green in the author's name. And the cover - I just can't stop touching it. It's incredibly soft, like smooth rubber. The book is short and squat, not your typical long and lanky paperback at all. Fitting perfectly in your hands, it all but begs to be held and read.

The cover design brilliantly compliments the story line. Within its pages, Charles Dodd White has penned a stark, gritty novel of love and longing, violence and protection, of things said but not spoken, of the ghosts from our past haunting our present. It's gothic in feel and raw in its language, every sentence like a sucker punch, felt in the stomach long after each page has been turned.

Set in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains, our story begins with Lavada, a woman who has estranged herself from her husband Mason, during his two year stint in prison. Though she never visited him, Lavada has remained home caring for his ailing father, Sam, and working a job at the local diner to make ends meet. Mason, now released, knowing better than to return to the cabin, makes his way into the woods and takes up shelter in an abandoned old shack. He's become a drifter, unsettled by the lack of routine and predictability that he had grown accustomed to.

Lavada becomes entangled with her boss Dennis, Sam slowly becomes unhinged, and the local police are just biding their time, waiting for Mason to mess up. And though this is very much a character driven novel, White keeps our focus sharply tuned to the setting. As the emotional tension between our foursome grows, so does a pending storm outside. You can sense how it will all come to a head but White's unique voice pulls you in regardless, nearly suffocating us with its dark, heady prose.

A Shelter of Others was a refreshing break from my recent post-apocalyptic and experimental lit binge. It reminds you just how powerful literary fiction can be at its very core, at its most honest - stripped of gimmick and genre.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Giveaway: From Here

Since July 2010, TNBBC has been bringing authors and readers together every month to get behind the book! This unique experience wouldn't be possible without the generous donations of the authors and publishers involved.

It's the first of the month and you know what that means.
It's time to bring you May's Author/Reader Discussion Book!

We will be reading and discussing From Here

Jen and her publisher Aqueous Books have generously made 10 copies of the book available:
 5 ebooks (PDF, epub, and mobi - open internationally) and
5 print (for US only)

Here's a little bit about the book:

Fiction. The twelve stories in FROM HERE explore the dislocations and intersections of people searching, running away, staying put. Their physical and emotional landscapes run the gamut, but in the end, they're all searching for a place to call home.

"From the Chechnyian girl sucked into the drug world, the alcoholic professor who uses his daughter to dodge a rap, from hippie graffiti to the “wet clicking of a bird-like heart,” Jen Michalski writes down the beast, and you remember. Strong sentiment, strong stories." - Terese Svoboda, Author of Tin God

"Jen Michalski’s characters seem to breathe through the pages of this emotionally expansive collection. Each story is a world in which the reader to linger—not to seek refuge but to gain insight, and perhaps, to find a kindred soul." - Dawn Raffel, author of the Year of Long Division

"This is short fiction at its moody, character-driven best. The people you meet are so vivid and so sympathetic that their joys and sorrows will quickly become your own. I haven’t decided which is my favorite story, but I know my favorite line. “Good luck with your broken things.” Fantastic." - Matthew Norman, author of Domestic Violets

This giveaway will run through April 8th. 
Winners will be announced here and via email on April 9th.

Here's how to enter:

1 - Leave a comment here or in the giveaway thread over at TNBBC on goodreads, stating what format you prefer (choose one option from above).

2 - State that you agree to participate in the group read book discussion that will run from May 18th through the 24th . Jen Michalski has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for her. 

 3 - Your comment must have a way to contact you (email is preferred). 


 *If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you before the discussion begins). 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Audio Book Review: Above All Men

Listened March 2015
3 Stars - Recommended to already-fans of audio books (Awesome 5 star story that just doesn't shine as sharply when narrated)
Length: approx 8 hours
Publisher: Fiddleblack
Narrator: Dane Elcar
Released: February 2015

Last January, I read Eric Shonkwiler's Above All Men and though it was the first book I'd read that year, and I was barely a quarter of the way through it, I had already named it an early favorite of 2014. The writing was phenomenal. Shonkwiler's sparse prose moved patiently across the page, building tension as it went, as raw and cutting as the dust storms that plagued his characters in this "apocalyptic western" debut. Nothing I read in the following eleven months even came close.

So you can imagine my hesitancy when I heard Fiddleblack was recording an audio version. I remember thinking that this could go very, very badly. Of course, there was an equal chance that it could go very, very well too, but I've always tended to be more of a pessimist with these sort of things. I am, admittedly, an extremely reluctant audio book listener. My weekend work commute, and my desire to "read" more books each year, eventually convinced me to give audio books a try.

Some narrators - like Ron Perlman (City of Thieves), Will Patton (the Dennis Johnson books), and Wil Wheaton (Ready Player One) - blew me away instantly. It was their interpretation of the words they were reading, the way they managed to make those books their own. Their voices were smooth, clear, and easy to listen to. When they read, it no longer felt like words written on a page. To be honest, they could read the phone book out loud and I'd probably be sitting there, listening with bated breath.

More commonly, though, I find quick fault with audio book narrators. I simply can NOT listen to English or British narrators. There's something about the accent, it  distracts me and I just can't concentrate. Sometimes the narrator's natural reading voice irks me. Or their "female" voices sound phony and whiny, or flat and nasally. Or the narrator is a deep breather. If I can hear every intake of breath, I'm done.

In the case of Dane Elcar's narration of Above All Men, I immediately struggled with his reading voice. I've recently listened to him conducting a podcast interview ( with Eric Shonkwiler, no shitting!) and I noticed that his speaking voice differs slightly from the one he uses when narrating. When reading, Dane has a very subtle uptick at the end of most of his sentences that I didn't notice when he was just shooting the shit. I quickly picked up on this and once I noticed it, I could not stop noticing it.

In moments of wonder and excitement, and fear and tension, I also picked up on Dane's odd habit of shaking his voice and raising it into a loud whisper. I think that actually bothered me more than the questioning sound of his sentences.

The voices he chose for the characters were different than what I had assigned them in my head when I first read the book, but we all struggle with that, don't we?  When we watch our favorite books become movies? We boo the big screen when we see who was cast and think "no! no no no nooooo! They got it all wrong!"

I know how this sounds. It sounds like I'm saying that Dane is a horrible narrator, and he's not. You have to understand that a big part of my overall struggle with the audio book comes from the fact that I had read the book first. I read the book, I had ALL THE FEELS with the book, and no narrator was ever going to do it justice. I had already made up my mind, without really be aware of that.

I almost NEVER listen to a book I've read. I'll listen to the audio, or I'll read it, but I don't make a habit of doing both. Though the words on the page don't change, the feel of it does when the words are being handled by someone else. Somehow, sadly, Shonkwiler's prose lost its luster.

Above All Men is just a book better read than listened to.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Page 69: The Poor Man's Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide

 The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 

OK Schuler, set up what we are about to read on page 69:

Page 69 throws us into the beginning of the story, "Ace Damage," that follows young Nadine just at the moment that a rural, backwoods snake-slinging preacher takes Nadine's pregnant mother away to be with the women of the church on the edge of town. Claiming that Nadine's mama has The Word in her, the story's antagonist strips the woman from her own family, then comes after Nadine, who has tripped, fallen, and smashed her head against a porch step.  This pivotal moment will shape everything to come for Nadine, as we follow her into the beginning of that journey to self-discovery and destruction. 

What is The Poor Man's Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide about?

Twelve stories, fraught with an unapologetic voice of firsthand experience, that pry the lock off of the addiction, fanaticism, violence, and fear of characters whose lives are mired in the darkness of isolation and the horror and the hilarity of the mundane. This is the Deep South: the dark territory of brine, pine, gravel, and red clay, where pavement still fears to tread.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the collection is about? Does it align itself the collection’s theme?

I think some of the collection's meatier themes are here. Most of these stories deal with characters who end up having to negotiate events that are outside their understanding, outside things they've successfully dealt with. A lot of the ensuing tension comes from these characters either going to extreme or desperate lengths in order to reconcile their courses within these obstacles, be they traumatic, confusing, or just absurd. Other tension comes from some characters' complete failure to adapt. "Ace" has a little of all of the above. In this scene's case, Nadine, a child, gets wrapped up in a traumatic, confusing scenario that I think most adults wouldn't be able to cope with much better than she or her dad do. Similar situations occur in other stories, to varying degrees. 


Page 69
The Poor Man's Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide

“Didi!” her mama called, as Nadine flew stumbling past her father and Hiram.

Hiram rose to his feet. Nadine spun around him, toward the light and the winged man it cradled, bare feet fleeing clumsy beneath her, tumbling, tumbling, spinning around, shooting forehead-first into the corner of the concrete porch step to the ringing of a harmonizing voice.

“An unlocked door is an open door.”

Bright, bright light. Then black.

Two months passed like Nadine thought Old Testament time would. Two months of grade school, coming home on the bus to the graying, two-story house on Hollis Street, drawing in the new notebook her daddy got her the day after Hiram shook her mama loose from them. Two months of waiting for her daddy to come home from different welding jobs, when he’d heat up Kid Cuisines for himself and Nadine, and sit down with their Bible to pray. Every night, they’d pray on bent knees in the den for Nadine’s mama to come home. Her daddy wanted so much to have his Marlene back, to run his hand over the skin of her belly as new life grew inside her. Nadine’s daddy thought if he just said the right words the right number of times, all would be restored. Nadine didn’t know. She didn’t know if Hiram’s God’s Word and her daddy’s God’s were the same, if either one could bring her mama back. As she and her daddy sat with their bowed heads reflecting in the den window her mama still haunted, Nadine doubted either God cared.

They’d pray together ’til the sun went down, then Nadine’s daddy would sit on the couch and drink beer while he read the Bible by himself and Nadine watched TV. Some nights, she’d pester her daddy about a commercial for pet frogs. Order them over the phone, and they’d come as tadpoles in a Styrofoam cup through the mail. Put them in water, watch them grow. Her daddy wouldn’t have it. On nights when he’d fall asleep in the den, she’d watch Liquid Television. She liked grown-up stuff, too. She liked the news.


Schuler Benson’s work has been featured in Hobart, The Lit PubKudzu House, and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in The Pinch. His first book, a collection of short fiction titled The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide, was released in 2014 by Alternating Current. He currently lives by the ocean with his fiancée and animals in South Carolina, and is a candidate in the MA Writing program at Coastal Carolina University. He tweets from @schulerbenson.