Saturday, May 18, 2019

My April in Reading

Here's a review of all of the books that I buried my nose in last month.

Colette Arrand
Split Lip Press
(March 2019)

4 Stars

haunted language, vintage rock, wrapped in a gorgeous cover, what's not to love?

JS Breukelaar
Meerkat Press
(February 2019)

3 Stars

A diverse and intriguing collection of short stories that span genres - horror, sci-fi, and just the right amount of bizarro for funsies - and showcase Breukelaar's range as a writer. 

Favorites include Union Falls' mysterious armless piano player; the subtle story of Ava Rune's white trashiness; the fierce secrets of Lion Man and unlikely friendship that forms in Fairy Tale; and War Wounds' cowboy roughness, for their more straight-forward story telling. 

Stories like The BoxRouges Bay 3013 were a bit too heavy on the strange for my tastes, and Fixed, which was a pretty decent story overall, lost me when (view spoiler). She broke my cardinal rule with that one!

The rest just hovered there nicely, sitting prettily between the covers. A perfect set of stories for someone looking to lose themselves in a collection unlike any other.

Ben Arzate
Cabal Books
(April 2019)

4 stars

A bizarro road trip novel for the, ahem, record books. Oh, c'mon, it's the perfect way to introduce Ben Arzate's debut novel, which is written as a surreal, fictional account of a wanna-be music journalist named Alex who, in an attempt to make it big, decides to hunt down the reclusive and relatively unknown (though wholy non-fictional) artist Y. Bhekhirst.

Stylistically, Ben is a less-is-more kind of writer, so the 134 pages read like a fever dream, jam-packed with minimalist dialogue and breakneck, nonstop action, easily making this a book that could be read in one sitting. The curious cast of misfists includes a ghost trapped in a vinyl record; Alex's BFF Larry, better known as Lobster due to a malformed hand in the shape of a claw; and Alex's girlfriend Primavera. Along the way they cross paths with a mystical shapeshifter, a pissed off cartel, a missonary church that acts more like a portal to other places, and a seriously badass evil boss. No bizarro book is complete without one! In keeping with the book's theme, the chapters are cleverly titled "tracks" and the book even contains a hidden one.

All told, The Story of the Y is a well balanced blend of the silly and the serious, and it's an absolute hoot to read!

Zachary Schomburg
Black Ocean
(April 2019)

3 stars

Not quite on par with Mammother, which I absolutely adored, though wholly unique and absurdly crafted. Broken out into chapbook length sections, I was most drawn to the storylike poems that were contained within Now is a Good Time, and the disconnected but appealing poetry of Oars. Those collected in the section titledHaircut and The Future/The Baby seemed to draw from the storylike format of Good Time while blending the chaos of language from Oars and also drew me in with their mysterious cadence. The parts that were good were really good, and those sections that I failed to name fell incredibly flat and missed their mark completely.

ST Cartledge
Clash Books
(April 2019)

4 Stars

Pixel Boy in Poetry World contains two independent chapbook-length collections of poetry. Within each, the poems align to tell a cohesive story of identity and survival, whether in the surrounding world or the more surreal world they've built inside their heads. Poets and dragons and pixelated tears accompany us as we navigate our way through the pages, following Pixel Boy and Basho on thier journeys.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Page 69 Test: Offline

Disclaimer: 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 Brian Adams' Offline to the test. 

OK, Brian, set up page 69 for us.

The poor girl! Banished by her parents to live a techno-free summer with her gay hippie grandfathers, seventeen-year-old Meagan is forced to attend a Netaholics Anonymous meeting where two hot boys come on to her. Not used to navigating offline relationships, the two have asked her out to the same party and she’s inadvertently said yes to both of them.

What Offline is about:

Offline is a young adult romantic romp through the dark underbelly of technology. Our heroine Meagan is an online dating addict scared to death to take those online “relationships” offline. Falling in with a ragtag bunch of Luddites, Meagan joins a zany softball team, takes the game of Scrabble to a whole new level, immerses herself in the world of invertebrate sex – all the while coming to grips with her raging netaholism and discovering the joys and heartbreaks of offline relationships.

Do you think this page 69 gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about?

Much of the humor in the novel comes from Meagan’s missteps and screw-ups as she desperately strives to rid herself of her online addiction and interact with the real world. The novel is heavy on snarky dialogue and clueless teen angst, while highlighting the serious and growing problem of netaholism. This page is one of many chronicling Meagan’s stumbling antics as she slowly unplugs and makes the transition offline.


            I took the phone and whacked myself in the head.

            “Shit!” I cried.

            “What?” Sheila asked. “What just happened?”

            I whacked myself again.

            “I can’t believe what I just did. Oh my God! How could I not have figured out who was who? I am such an idiot!”

            “Tell me!” Sheila said.

            “I just made a huge screw-up. It was Jonathan who I told about the bees. Not Derek.”

            “And . . .”

            “And so it must have been Jonathan who I said yes to the first time. Not Derek.”

            “Jonathan?” Sheila asked. “The other netaholic dude?”  


Brian Adams recently retired after teaching for 20 plus years at Greenfield Community College in western Massachusetts where he was a Professor of Environmental Science and co-chair of the Science Department. Brian is active in the climate change movement on and off campus. He has authored numerous health related brochures distributed nationally by ETR Associates. For his first novel, Love in the Time of Climate Change, which was a Foreword Reviews 2014 IndieFAB Gold Medal Winner for Humor, he drew heavily on his experiences teaching and working with students. Brian lives with his wife in Northampton, Massachusetts and now devotes his time to writing romantic comedies centered around environmental activism.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Where Writers Write: Pete Fromm

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Pete Fromm. 

He is a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Literary Award for his novels If Not For ThisAs Cool As I Am and How All This Started; the story collection Dry Rain; and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles. He is on the faculty of Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program, and lives in Montana with his family. Find out more at

Where Pete Fromm Writes

I write at home, which, for a long time, was in Great Falls, Montana, in the basement of a little Craftsman bungalow, a basement I finished just as my first son was born.  My old office upstairs, looking out onto the backyard, an ancient multi-trunked crabapple where, in not too many years, I’d be building a tree fort, had been turned into our son’s room, so down I went.  And it was kind of perfect down there, enough high basement windows to let in light, but nothing but a wall before me, a slate blank enough to let me travel anywhere, to let all sorts of people wander in.  In the early years, I typed with my son in his carseat on the pullout shelf of the old oak desk, the tapping of the keys lulling him back to sleep.

But, ten years ago, we moved over the mountains to Missoula, bought the only house we could afford in the place we wanted to stay, a hundred year old Craftsman of some small grandeur that had fallen onto hard times over the last decades as a rental.  After tearing out the walls upstairs, moving doors, windows, building bedrooms for both of our sons, I started in on the first floor, where my office was, moving my desk out onto the enclosed but unheated front porch, where I could work in the predawn dark and chill, listening to the coyotes yip and howl up on the mountain, before trading the keyboard for the tool belt, another day of an entirely different kind of work.

My newest novel, A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO, started amid the rubble of that tear down and rebuild, the main character, Taz, imaginatively enough, becoming a finish carpenter rebuilding, yes, a hundred year old house in Missoula with his pregnant wife, Marnie.  Their place is a wreck they live in, work on, dream of, their lives stretching out before them until, eventually, Taz is there on his own, amid the wreckage and dreams, trying to learn how to raise a baby alone, rebuild far more than his house.

So, here is where I work, and where Taz and Marn lived, from the day we moved to Missoula;

Through the tear down we all lived through;

And all the way to today;

…surrounded by books, and reminders of where I’ve come from, from a shot of my grandfather, the ashes of my wild old friend Sage, a scale model of a British fighter my father built from scratch, to photos of my sons, the knives the French seem to give to me every time I tour over there.  Even Hemingway and Twain have snuck in, reminding me to keep it simple, and to have some fun.  And, of course, Taz and Marn, hanging around, seeing how it’ll all turn out.