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REVIEW: Path of Valor: A Marine’s Story

Author: George Derryberrypath-of-valor-a-marines-story

2013, CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Filed Under: Short-Run, Nonfiction

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 10

Like every other American born around the time Hitler was invading Poland, I have some very concrete memories of World War II. Rationing. Victory Gardens. Kneading a button of yellow dye into a bagful of grease to create “butter.” Rebecca Tansil, my parents’ good friend, looking perky in the uniform of a high-ranking WAVE officer. My uncle John Hammond, Army Air Force, flying 18 missions over Europe. But my only specific memory of the Marines was howling “From halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” while my elementary school’s vice principal thumped a tiny upright piano during weekly assemblies. (He made every student of Margaret Brent  School #53 learn all the words to all the armed forces’ songs–“shell-shocked,” some whispered.) I even remember how we stumbled, singing the Marine song, when suddenly “in the land and on the sea” morphed into “in air, on land, on sea.”

What a person remembers first and finally about huge global events is probably always made up of details like that, come to think about it. That’s what makes Path of Valor so rich an account.  Every page bears the stamp, the fingerprint, of one individual, H. C. Ayres, and how “Ayresie” experienced the war.  
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REVIEW: Basewood

Author: Alec Longstrethbasewood

2013, Phase 7

Filed Under: Graphic Novels, Fantasy, Short-Run

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6
Art.... 9

Here’s yet another Kickstarter graphic novel I backed. Once again, I’m very pleased with the results. Basewood is a compilation of a comics miniseries written and drawn by one artist.

It opens with an amnesiac waking in a forest, with a gash in his head and a shoe missing. He dresses his wounds and follows a friendly dog to the outskirts of the forest, where he marvels at the vast cliffs that tower over the forest. When he sets up camp in the field at the forests’ edge, the dog runs off. For help, it turns out; a giant dragon attacks the man and destroys his camp. Only by the intervention of a old guy named Argus (the dog’s master) do they escape the onslaught.

The man moves in with Argus in a sweet treehouse in the forest, where the monster doesn’t attack. They settle into a pretty nice life, but as he learns more of Argus’s past, and pieces together more about his own situation, he eventually determines to set out on a search for who he is and where he came from, even if it means facing the monster alone.


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REVIEW: Papa

papaAuthor: Vera Greentea (Artists: Joseph LaCroix, Ben Jelter, & Lizzy John)

2013, Greentea Publishing

Filed Under: Graphic Novels, Short StoriesSci-Fi, Short-Run

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Here’s another of the Kickstarter graphic novels that I backed last spring. Similar to The Book of Da, Papa is an indie sci-fi comic book in short story form. But instead of just one story, like with Da, there are three here, each featuring some sort of paternal relationship (hence the title).

Greentea wrote each of the three stories in this collection, though each is drawn by a different artist. The styles vary by quite a bit. I found the LaCroix entry to be the most appealing, but all three stories look pretty good.

The written stories are compelling, too, particularly the first and third. The title story, which opens the book, begins with a young boy finding a dead superhero washed up on a beach. It just so happens that the boy’s father is writing said hero’s biography. When the hero’s disembodied soul possesses the young boy (whether this actually happens or whether the child is vying for his father’s attention isn’t 100% clear), the father’s reaction is not what you would expect–and LaCroix’s drawing really nails the facial expressions in the closing panels.
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REVIEW: Book of Da

Authors: Matt Bryan and Mike McCubbins

2013, Big List of Dead People

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi, Short-Run

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6
Art..... 9

We talked at length on the podcast a while back about Kickstarter and publishing, and followed that with a mini-episode interview with the cool cats at Anomalous Press about their own Kickstarter campaign. As part of that adventure, I backed a number of crowd-funded indie books that I thought showed promise. The graphic novel Book of Da–the campaign for which surpassed the $3,000 the authors sought all the way beyond $17,000–is the first fruit of my harvest.

I’m impressed, and eager anew to see how the other books I have coming pan out.

First and foremost, while a digital version of this comic would be totally worthwhile, the physical copy I received was leaps and bounds more professional than I expected. It’s a slim clothbound, with gold embossed details and a paper jacket that ribbons only around the middle: it looks like something from McSweeney’s. The panels are printed on heavy paper and the contrast between the blacks and whites is great, though this does cause the grays that appear every so often look a little blurry.

(via kentikins)

Book tells a very unique story: there is a mysterious sea creature called Da–part pyramid, part giant squid–that controls the sea’s emotions. The story follows an unammed diver as he explores the dark depth of the ocean, and ultimately meets and defies Da. The other half of the story follows a lizard-creature preacher in a fedora as he tells the story of Da and the diver to a congregation of similar lizard-creatures.
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REVIEW: Whack-Job Girls

Author: Bonnie ZoBell

2013, Monkey Puzzle Press Press

Filed Under: Literary, Short Stories, Short-Run

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 9

Just as the term sounds, a “whack-job” is defined in the urban dictionary as: 1. A Person for whom failure is so consistent that they are slowly driven into madness. 2. Someone who partakes in unbelievably odd behavior that a reasonable human would avoid.  3. An extremely erratic or irrational person.

The ten stories in Bonnie ZoBell’s neat little collection are full of such characters, and as the term further suggests, the characters and the tales are darkly comic.  Because these are flash pieces – brief narratives that are over before a reader has time to get too emotionally involved – they are not really “tragic” stories, but tragedy hovers over them, menacing as a thundercloud, ZoBell subtly teasing out the ghastly implications with the skill of a gifted storyteller.  Often as not, though, there is a redemptive detail at the end and not just imminent doom.
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REVIEW: There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights

Author: Laura van den Berg

2012, Origami Zoo Press

Filed Under: Literary, Short Stories, Short-Run

Find it on Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8

If I’m not careful, my review of Laura van den Berg’s recent collection of short shorts might end up being longer than the book itself. It’s not that I’m normally long-winded. It’s just that the whole thing is only thirty six pages long, and there’s a lot of good stuff in There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights. I’m tempted to summarize each of these little narrative gems–only one of its nine stories is longer than four pages–but by the time I finished that, you might as well have just read the book.

And you should read the book. Van den Berg’s very short stories are self-contained parables of modern life and love gone stale and the ways people sometimes try to rescue themselves from themselves. Her characters’s efforts run the gamut of realism and fantasy, from a struggling couple who rents a house by a lake for a summer to a family who adopt a couple of cannibals to help out with childcare. Whatever the mode, these stories are astutely observed and precisely composed portraits of life’s disappointments, large and small.
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REVIEW: Whatever Used to Grow Around Here

Author: Lauren Belski

2012, Crumpled Press

Filed Under: Literary, Short Stories, Short-Run

Check out The Crumpled Press‘s site.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 7

Immediately apparent once you dig into this slim little book of stories is a great sense of pacing. The sentences seem to move with a sort of poetic effluency that is enviable, especially when we’re talking about a short-run debut collection of eleven stories.

I’m a sucker for austere paragraphs like this, from “Everything to Remember”:

Now here is a speck in the multiverse–a day in the Met. Pay what you wish, but we wish you’d pay this. Mankind in a series of hieroglyphs and paint strokes. Pigeons eating the buns of hotdogs on the front stairs.

or this, from the same story:

Japanese calligraphy is like a dance of the hand. I am in love with the sky, it says. I will sing my fingers on silk until it reflects the mysteries of every blade of whatever is wild in this world. I will memorialize, memorialize. memorialize until everything to remember is sacred.

Sentence-level stuff aside, there are some stand out stories here. My favorite, “Reasons to Run,” tells of an underclassman cross-country runner who tells herself she needs to run as far from her life as she can as she takes off for a jog. After a while, her crush pulls up and offers her a ride.  They drive around and talk awkwardly before she decides to take off running again. Perhaps it doesn’t sound like much but the narration for this story is its strength, with a complexity of emotion showing through an at-first mundane exchange.

“A Postcard From the Side of the Road” is another great story, with a much more aggressive, almost manic narrator:

God I am so in love with everything, I thought. Even the concrete slabs and abandoned construction sites of New Jersey. Even Allen Ginsberg even though I haven’t got a chance, because, you know, he’s dead and he’s gay.

It’s only a couple pages, and definitely worth your time.

The rest aren’t particularly remarkable for any particular thing they do, but reading all these stories in a row results in a real sense of pleasure. The sentences roll together into a sort of cadence. Pulling that off in a collection, no matter the length, is a task many writers aren’t up to; here’s hoping Belski gets to try her chops at a novel. I’d read it.

Similar Reads: The Outlaw Album  (Woodrell), What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (van den Berg)

[A review copy was provided.]

 

REVIEW: The Rabbi’s Husband

Author: Brenda Barrie

2011, Gray Matter

Filed Under: Literary, Chick Lit, Short-Run

Find it on Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 9

To describe The Rabbi’s Husband as “chick lit” would be both accurate and misleading.  Chick lit typically features a female protagonist whose womanhood is central to the plot and addresses issues pertaining to women in contemporary settings – gender equality, balancing motherhood and career, etc.  Moreover, the protagonist’s relationships with her family and friends constitute another important theme in the chick lit genre.  They are not “romance novels,” even when the relationship with the significant other is the central issue at stake.

These staples of chick lit are present in Barrie’s novel, but the plot also involves deeper questions of self-discovery, identity and authenticity within but not confined to Jewish practice and belief.
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REVIEW: Cain, Abel and the Family Cohen

Author: Mark Carp

2011, Xlibris

Filed Under: Literary, Short-Run

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 6

Written in the serviceable prose-style of a newspaper reporter that keeps the reader turning the pages, Mark Carp’s new novella, Cain, Abel and the Family Cohen, tells the story of the rapid rise and breathtakingly precipitous fall of Jonas Cohen, the youngest child of Rabbi Abraham Cohen.   Related largely in the first person by Jonas himself (with a couple of minor but confusing switches in point of view in several places), Carp takes us through the beginning of the recent financial crisis when the housing bubble burst, financial institutions tanked and the economy went to hell.  Jonas, a recent college graduate and hotshot financial analyst, has just joined the Frick Group, a New York hedge fund where he had interned for several summers.

A precocious investment analyst, Jonas foresees the downturn in the housing market when he arrives in New York to begin his job (his family is from Baltimore where his father leads a congregation) and notices the vastly overpriced properties.  He quickly does his research and advises his boss, A.J. Buckner, about the imminent decline in prices and advises him that the Frick Group should begin “shorting housing indexes,” a maneuver to maximize shareholder profits by betting on the decline in housing prices.  A real estate broker by day, Carp writes with authority about this in a concise and enlightening manner while furthering his plot.

Jonas’ predictions and advice pan out and he becomes something of a Wall Street celebrity, interviewed on business talkshow programs and consulted for his insights into the economy.  A wunderkind, by his own description.
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REVIEW: Watch the Doors as They Close

Author: Karen Lillis

2012, Spuyten Duyvil Novella Seriess

Filed Under: Literary, Short-Run

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 9

Karen Lillis’ gem of a novella is written in the form of a diary by an unnamed female over the course of three weeks in December, 2003.  It is not a diary in the sense of daily entries that recount the events of the day.  In fact, we know almost nothing about her activity during this time except that on December 24 the narrator, who lives in New York City (Brooklyn), boards a train for Washington, DC, presumably to spend the holidays with her family, though nothing’s ever mentioned, and on December 30, the final entry, she is about to board the return train.

Watch the Doors as They Close is a soul-searching exploration of an all-consuming love affair that has recently ended.  In fact, three days into the journal, December 14, the narrator writes,  “Anselm and I broke up a week ago – a week ago today, in fact.  On the phone, after he’d already left New York again to return to his mother’s house in Pennsylvania.”

Indeed, the journal begins, “This is the story of Anselm.  The story of Anselm as told to me.”  It’s this introspective inquiry that makes the choice of the diary form so compelling.  A diary is written for oneself, an attempt to make sense of one’s life.  To get a bead on her own life, the narrator must come to terms with her lover, the man with whom she shared a room for the past three months in an often tempestuous affair.
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