Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Audio Book Review: Above All Men
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
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
Schuler Benson’s work has been featured in Hobart, The Lit Pub, Kudzu 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.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Book Review: Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty
4 Stars - Highly Recommended to fans of strange (and sometimes gag-inducing) short stories that focus more on the fucked-up-ness of the characters than it does of the situations the characters find themselves in
Publisher: House of Vlad
Released: February 2015
In blogging terms, Brian Alan Ellis and I, we go way back. All the way back to January of 2014, when he contributed to our Indie Ink series. Since his demonstration of the fat-headed penis cleverly disguised within the body of the girl in his tattoo, I've reviewed two of his books - The Mustache He Always Wanted But Could Never Grow and King Shit. I've seen him half naked in a bathtub filled with books. I've squeeeed with joy when I discovered that he'd blurbed me on the back cover (and inside page) of his novelette, and nearly pissed myself when I realized I'd been included in the acknowledgments for this collection.
That's like a lifetime worth of events right there. And so it's strange to think I've only known about this dude's existence for 15 months. This right here. This is why I crush so hard on the self published and small presses, you guys. The appreciation I have for the work these guys do, the way they interact and connect with their readers, their "fuck it, count me in" attitude for all of the goofy stuff we put them through... this is the shit. This is why I do what I do.
And this is why I continue to push BAE's (heheh, bae, that's cute) stuff to the top of the review pile. Not just because he blurbs me because, hell, I had to like his stuff enough to say what I said about it. And not just because he publicly acknowledged me for supporting his work, because see that last sentence again. I push his stuff to the top because he writes good shit and he's actually really appreciative of the time we spend reading his shit and telling other people about his shit, no matter how we feel about his shit.
It's not like I'm running around 5-starring the hell out of his books, either. Mustache and King Shit both got 3 stars. Because they're not going to be for everyone. And because some of the stories, or vignettes, weren't all that crazy impressive. But BAE's stuff is pretty fucking solid. His stories are always about the underbelly of society and his characters are unlike any you've ever read about before and Ellis doesn't hold anything back. He doesn't cater to his reader. He doesn't worry himself with whether or not a particular story is going to be too much for you. He doesn't dress his characters up. He just lets it all fly. Or at least, that's the impression I get when I read his books.
Take this one for example. Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty is a collection of stories that, while they are not interconnected, equally showcase some pretty deranged and maladjusted people. His stories movie between genres. Or maybe he's creating his own. We'll call it Humoristic Bizarro Fiction.
The collection starts out pretty normal enough. We meet Flo and the late night patrons at the Holiday Diner. It's your typical "odd group of people who all get up in each other's business" story in which things go from calm to pull-a-gun-out-to-shut-everyone-up wild. Nothing we haven't seen for ourselves or read in the newspaper.
In Raven's Ladies, Ellis kicks it up a notch when we meet this dude who creates bogus profiles and pen-names to pick up "bitches" on various online dating sites. This partcular time, he lands a chick with multiple personalities and realizes that he has his work cut out for him.
An Object Never Before Put to Use also features a blind date, only this time the dude's a pathetic, suicidal recent divorcee who manages to screw the date up pretty badly.
But the further into the collection we go, the more messed up our characters become. The mother-daughter pair in The Proposal are an absolute bunch of crazies. Both pine over Annie's (the mother) boyfriend Peter and the jealousy drives them to do some psychotic, sadistic things to one another. This one was almost too much for me to take. Wait till you get to the fingernail scene, I cringed while reading it...and I still get the shakes every time I think about it.
Only BAE would create a story about a chick who falls in love with her girlfriend's glorious beard. Or one in which a stalker severs her old flame's dick. And the dick's got teeth. Actual fucking teeth.
Then things start to taper off and we're back in the land of the semi-normal. While I usually dislike infidelity in literature, I got a kick out of Flowers at Full Speed, which features a fabulous bunch of drunk and drugged up rednecks who find themselves in a bit of a love triangle when one dude just can't keep his dick out of the other dude's lady. And the collection wraps up quite quietly with The Floating Mickey Mouse T Shirt, in which two hotel employees sit on the curb, tossing back a bottle of wine, when a floating T Shirt approaches.
With an imagination like his, you never know where his stories are going to go. He's seen the best and worst of us. He knows our darkest, dirtiest thoughts. And he infects his characters with it all. If you don't find a piece of yourself buried within this collection, you have no idea who you are. And I don't trust you.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Lavinia Reviews: Once I was Cool
Guest Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Audio Series: Stevie Edwards
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, Stevie Edwards helps us dust of this series as she reads a few poems from her latest collection Humanly. Stevie is a poet, editor, educator, and an advocate for mental health awareness. She is currently Editor-in-Chief at Muzzle Magazine, Acquisitions Editor at YesYes Books, and a Lecturer at Cornell University. Her first book, Good Grief (Write Bloody 2012), won an open manuscript contest and received two post-publication awards, the Independent Publisher Book Awards Bronze in Poetry and the Devil's Kitchen Reading Award from Southern Illinois University - Carbondale. Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Rattle, Devil's Lake, Indiana Review, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Cornell University and a BA in economics and English from Albion College.
Listen to Stevie read a few poems from her collection by clicking on the soundcloud link below:
The word on Humanly, (lifted with love from goodreads):
"Stevie Edwards’s Humanly bravely and vulnerably confronts the complexities of living with mental illness in a voice that is equally feral and crafted. Through a gorgeous and gorge-filled landscape, these poems struggle with dislocation, past sexual trauma, grief, the chronic looming of psychiatric wards, and a constant attempt to redirect patterns of suicidal ideation."
Advance Praise for Humanly:
“In Humanly, Stevie Edwards wakes us into our own bodies with her fierce honesty:The first time I tried to slip my outsides/I failed. This is a courageous book of startling images and original voice that surges beyond the difficult questions: If I string the night between two fence posts, /one side heaven and one side hell… Or: I was/watching myself in the hotel mirror to make sure/my body was still happening… Edwards blows the doors off the outer body, delivering us to the beating heart and the inner doors of human mercy. Humanly burns need and desire into the sound of survival: a prayer/in praise of the groaning in the backroom:/Let each body be loved until its end.”
"With an unpredictability that alternately jolts and mesmerizes, Stevie Edwards has crafted an intricate exploration of life as we'd rather not know it. There is much in these stanzas to jolt and unsettle--stark crafting and a relentless respect for the possibilities of word create a tension only felt in the presence of revelation."
"If I had never before heard anyone say 'Art Saves Lives,' I swear on the bullseye of my own wrist, I would have run through the streets screaming it the moment I finished this book. I want everyone who has never believed in the possibility of being given back Time, to read these poems. Not a moment of grief denied, and still, each turn of the page, a vaulted ceiling in my heavy heart. What a generous and intensely vulnerable offering to our survival this book is.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Page 69: Archivist Wasp
Friday, March 20, 2015
Audiobook Review: Grundish and Askew
4 Stars - Highly Recommended to fans of well written and hilariously raunchy bromance fiction, and huge kudos to Eells for a kickass narration
Length: approx 8 hours
Narrator: Brandon Paul Eells
Publisher: Vicious Galoot Books / Audible
I have a confession to make. This is not my first dance with Grundish and Askew. I read the book when it was first self published back in 2009 and my fondness for these never-do-well knuckleheads goes back farther than I've been blogging! So when Lance Carbuncle reached out to me a few months ago and asked if I'd give the audio a listen, you sure as shit better believe I said yes, I did.
I had so much fun getting reacquainted with the characters this time around. And Brandon Paul Eells, the audiobook's narrator, did a bang-up job giving voice to the bizarre world in which Carbuncle has placed them.
How I missed our dimwitted duo.
The big ole bear of a man Grundish - always willing to take the heat for his overweight goofball of a BFF Askew, serving time in the big house so he don't have to, getting his rocks off by squatting in homes while the owners are away, leaving a unique and stinky "calling card" of sorts behind as a warning for them to appreciate the things they have.
The chronic word-abuser Askew - who regards Grundish as the brother he never had, frustratingly unable to control his ridiculously inappropriate and awkward impulses, a ticking time bomb of a bastard who just keeps fucking things up for everyone.
This down-on-their-luck two-some can't seem to catch a break, and the longer they stay in one place, the quicker things go from bad to worse for them and everyone around them.
There's the kid that mercilessly teases Grundish as he works his street-corner-standing, arrow-sign-wearing shit-end job, who gets a Reservoir Dogs reception when Askew finally catches up to him. And the unfortunately messy death of the 25 cent tipper.
These guys end up pairing off with Askew's poor ole one-lunged, second-hand-smoke-sniffing, make-a-meal-outta-whatever's-lying-around Great Aunt Turleen as she gets swept up in all the hubbub when her nursing home kicks her out for strangling the staff dog - god, this shit must run in the family. And a knock-kneed, quiet-mouthed hooker joins the group as an accessory to murder when they turn tail to ditch the fuzz, who're finally on their trail and looking to lock the boys up for good.
There's also a prosthetic penis, some skanky gas station bathroom sex that might cause your stomach to wretch, a couple of feet-licking dream dogs, and a dead Mexican who ends up tied to the top of Alf, the sweet and smelly vomit-ball-hacking Sacred Burro.
The writing is wickedly smart and the raunch-factor is cranked up to an all time high as Carbuncle foreshadows the hell out of this buddy story. The Of Mice and Men references are like whoa and only a dolt like Askew wouldn't be able to smell what's coming for these two numbskulls.
Though the writing's on the wall from the very beginning, you can't help but find yourself happily tagging along cause you know it's bound to be one helluva ride - head out the window, wind in your hair, fancy french cigarette stuck between your two front teeth, smiling and gagging the whole way there....
You can grab it on audio now and the join the Author/Reader Discussion this April, when both Lance and Brandon swing by the TNBBC goodreads group to hear what we have to say about the book!
The discussion runs from April 20th through the 26th right here.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Product Review: Gone Review Part Deux
We're back with another product review for Gone Reading, the wonderfully bookish website that was founded back in 2011. Their mission, to sell brilliant products that will enhance your reading life.
Last August, the company reached out to me and sent along a few items to review. You can read about those here. I still have the Mark Twain oil diffuser on my desk at work, though the scent is not nearly as strong as it once was, and I'm still happily using the stack of bookmarks they sent over (though I guess once I run out that's it, because I can't find them on the website anymore).
I must have done a pretty ok job at spreading the word last time because they've added some new stuff to their catalog and shipped me over a box full of cool bookish goodies again. I'm quite the lucky duck.....
Shall we take a look?
This time around, the box was packed to the gills with Styrofoam peanuts and you can see why. I was thrilled to see this awesome book shaped plate, a Great First Lines of Literature mug, and a Book Well Read 2015 easel back calendar.
This 6 x 6 1/4 desk calendar fits perfectly on my desk at work. And it was just what I needed - I create training plans at work that require dates to be input for meetings and reviews and all that jazz. Before this calendar arrived (mostly because I am just the laziest person ever), I used to use my computer calendar - you know, that ridiculous little thing in the lower hand corner of the screen that pops up to run my date ranges. Now I can look straight ahead and see the entire month at a quick glance. And it features cute little vintage pieces of art that reflect a love for reading.
(Look to the right of the calendar and you'll see the Mark Twain oil diffuser I told you I still use!!)
I am so in love with this mug and plate I can't even tell you! That's my morning coffee and a coupla chocolate chip cookies. The perfect way to wake up in the morning.
If you're not into the opening lines of classic literature, Gone Reading sells a few other cool mug options, like one for Banned Books, or all Edgar Allen Poe, Kurt V, and Mark Twain...
And in my opinion, the only thing that would make the book shaped plate better would be if it was covered in bookish text too. That would be HOT!
So go and get yourself some awesome bookish goodies over at Gone Reading... I'd love to hear what you bought!
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Where Writers Write: Chris Cander
|photo credit Sara Huffman|
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Ain't No Lit Like Drunken Lit
It's a Saint Patrick's Day edition of Books & Booze, where a few of our review contributors share their favorite drunken literature. (I even turned the ole Books & Booze logo into a trippy green 4 leaf clover!) Rather than boozey recipes, today you'll just be reading about books we've loved that love themselves a little liquid courage:
Drew's Boozey Picks:
A strange little novel about a bartender who wants to be a writer. He starts drinking a lot and ends up falling down a personal (and kinda crazy) rabbit hole. Plus, you can read it in an afternoon before you head out to the bars.
Damascus by Joshua Mohr.
My first dance with Mr. Mohr and a turning point novel for me professionally even if I didn't realize it at the time. Set in a dive bar in the Mission, populated by some of the quirkiest and weirdest characters ever assembled, I still take immense joy in recalling this one. Plus, it gets some still-potent licks in about politics and art.
Lindsey's Boozey Picks:
Lori's Boozey Picks:
Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski
Ah yes, a good ole crime noir where the zombies must ingest immense amounts of alcohol to remain limber and coherent. It soggens the brain and halts rigor mortis in its tracks while also calming that nagging hunger for flesh. A really well written, brain tickling read.
A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst by Hosho McCreesh
Who doesn't love good poetry, right?! How about poetry so drenched and drowning in booze that you feel all buzzed and blissful as you read it? Hosho's collection is all about getting the drink on. So much so that he even fashioned a Books and Booze post for us.
Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
It's set back in the 1880's in a BROTHEL for the love of god! You can't get more boozey than that! Drinks, Girls, and Puppets, people. This book is one of the most lusciously decedent things I've ever read. Go on and get drunk on her words.
Whiskey Heart by Rachel Coyne
The protagonist in this novel was surrounded by people who abused the drink - a father who hid so many bottles around the house that she is still uncovering them years later, a cousin who drank to hide her inability to love. It's all about how deep the drink can cut you.
Termite Parade by Joshua Mohr
God I have a hard core crush on this guy. He gets it. And he writes it like no body's business. Here we have a crappy relationship gone so much worse when our protagonist takes advantage of his girlfriend's drunken stupor and does a thing he will soon live to regret.. the guilt practically eating him alive. Yummy stuff, this!