Showing posts with label self published. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self published. Show all posts

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Banks of Certain Rivers...redux!

Hello readers!  You may remember that last year, I did a review for a novel called The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison.  I was reluctant to review it at first, because it was self-published, but the book ended up being exceptional and quelled any fears I had about its self-published status.

That said, The Banks of Certain Rivers found a publisher this year!  It was released by Lake Union Publishing on September 23.  I was asked if I would mind re-posting my review in honor of this updated edition, and I wholeheartedly agreed, because it's good stuff.

So, feel free to enjoy my review again HERE.  And congrats to Jon Harrison on the new edition!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Title: The Banks of Certain Rivers
Author: Jon Harrison
Publisher: self-published by the author
Publication Date: March 19, 2013
Source: copy received from an outside party for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Neil Kazenzakis is barely holding his life together: ever since an accident left his wife profoundly disabled, he's been doing his best as a single dad and popular high school teacher. He's also been dealing with Lauren Downey, his sort-of girlfriend of the past two years who's pushing for a commitment—and for Neil to finally tell his son Christopher about their secret relationship.

Neil's carefully balanced world begins to fall apart when some questionable footage of him is anonymously posted to YouTube...just as Chris learns about Lauren in the worst possible way. Doubting his own recollection of the events in the online video and threatened with the loss of his job and the ability to care for his wife, Neil must find a way to prove the truth to his family, his community, and himself as he struggles to regain the splintered trust of his son.

My Review:

You all know that I am very, very, very (you might say very) picky about reading self-published novels for review.  So, the fact that this one made it through my tighter-than-a-chastity-belt screening process says something right off the bat.  When I read the description, it immediately grabbed me--it sounded like a great family drama, and a little different from those in the women's fiction genre (my typical source for relationship dramatics).

Soon after jumping into this novel, my remaining worries about its self-published status were banished.  Neil's story takes off like a shot, and within a few pages I was immersed in his complicated world.  However, even though the plot snowballs quickly in the beginning, Harrison does a great job leaving some details and events for later, allowing the full saga to unfold slowly throughout the book.  I loved the feeling of constantly uncovering new twists, even when I wasn't looking for them.  Admittedly, there were a few parts about halfway through where I felt things were maybe a little TOO drawn out, but for the most part, the book keeps a solid pace.

There are a lot of complicated issues warring against each other in Neil's life.  Disabled wife, secret girlfriend, teenage son on the verge of going to college, incriminating videos of him at work...a book with this many issues has the potential to fall flat if the author doesn't handle them with care.  I've read some novels like that that end up feeling either too overzealous (the issues didn't mesh into one story well), or too perfunctory (not enough time was spent on each issue to make it feel important).  Thankfully, Harrison blended all of these issues into one seamless narrative.  They all interconnected extremely well, and made the novel feel fuller, rather than too ambitious.

I only have one complaint to share: I felt like the ending was rushed.  After such an intricate, well-paced story, the conclusion ramps up and ties together far too fast (especially the conclusion as related to Neil's work woes).  The actual events involved in the ending were satisfying--that wasn't an issue.  But I just wish a little more time had been taken to get there, in order to make it feel more in line with the rest of the novel.

Bottom line: this novel is wonderfully complex, but it still has a contemporary and fast-moving plot.  The characters are engaging and clearly-voiced.  The ending wasn't perfect, but I was willing to overlook it in my overall rating because of how much I loved the rest.  If you have doubts about picking this up because it's self-published, do yourself a favor and put them aside.  This novel will take some time to unfold itself, but I promise it's worth the wait!

Have you read any great family dramas lately?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review and Giveaway: Bluff by Lenore Skomal

Title: Bluff
Author: Lenore Skomal
Publisher: self-published
Publication Date: September 3, 2012
Source: e-galley provided by Novel Publicity Blog Tours for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

"To the medical world, I was a host body, surviving only to bring a new life into the world. And while I wanted to die more than anything in the world, I never wanted this. No, I never wanted to cease to exist. This was the worst death of all.”

Jude Black lives in that in-between, twilight place teetering on death but clinging to life in order to bring her baby into this world. Only she knows the circumstances surrounding her mysterious fall off the bluff that landed her in the hospital being kept alive by medical intervention. Only she knows who the father of her baby is. In this poignantly crafted literary novel, the mystery unfolds and the suspense builds as the consequences of Jude’s decisions threaten to reveal everyone's deceptions, even her own. Bluff offers a sensitive look at essential questions such as the value of human life, the consciousness of those in a coma and the morality of terminating life support. At the core is the story of a tragically misunderstood woman who finds peace, acceptance, understanding and even love on her deathbed.

My Review:

OK readers, if you read the descriptor information above, and remember this post I did about self-published novels, you know this review is a BIG DEALIO for me.  I generally do not accept self-published novels for review, but when I saw this one available through a Novel Publicity tour, the description was just too darn good to pass up.  I had to break my own rule for a hot minute and give it a shot.

Overall, I'd say that I'm glad that I did.  This is not (I repeat, NOT) the type of poorly-edited, full-of-plot-holes self-published work that I have (unfortunately) had too much experience with in the past.  This book is absorbing, provocative, and is sure to linger in your mind for days after you finish the last page.

Bluff had many pros and cons for me, but the biggest pro is that the plot is full of intriguing and (in some cases) controversial issues.  Sexuality, drug use, infidelity, termination of life support--these topics are all woven into a novel that already has a large and diverse cast of characters.  I was never bored, or at a "slow point" in the book, because there isn't one.  The hits just kept coming.

The book is told from a wide variety of perspectives.  At the center of the novel is Jude, who fell (jumped? was pushed?) off a bluff near her house.  She ends up badly injured, in a coma...and oh yeah, five months pregnant.  You do get Jude's perspective for some of the novel--she seems to have what I can most closely equate to "locked-in syndrome", wherein her body is unresponsive, but mentally she is alert and aware of what happens around her.  

At the same time, in between chapters told from her perspective, you also get the POV of nearly every other character in the book: Frances, her best friend.  April, her estranged sister.  Paul, her lawyer.  Mary Shannon, her nurse.  And many others.  One of the great things about this wide variety of characters is that it made me feel like I was putting a puzzle together, trying to figure out Jude's true nature.  Is she the snarky but caring individual that Frances portrays?  Or is she cold-hearted and withdrawn, as April seems to think?  My impression of her was constantly evolving, which served to heighten the mystery surrounding the central questions of the novel: how did Jude fall off the bluff?  And who is the father of Jude's baby?

However, these two pros (the many controversial issues, and the big cast of characters) also worked against themselves and became cons at various points in the novel.  In terms of the many issues, I often felt like this book was having a bit of an identity crisis--it couldn't decide what its true central purpose was.  A good example is the problem concerning Jude's life support.  In the beginning of the novel, this seemed like it was going to be a hotly-debated topic among the characters as the plot moved along.  However, by the end, the potential controversy fell a bit flat, and wasn't debated much at all.  It left me wondering why this was introduced so strongly to begin with.  It seemed to me that, at times, the author got a bit ambitious with the scope of the novel, and would have done better saving some of these issues for a separate book.

The same goes for the cast of characters.  I appreciate books that tell me the story from multiple POVs, but this one was overkill at times.  I counted 13 different POVs before I stopped keeping track. This was great at times (see above: putting together the puzzle!), but at other times, it was just frustrating.  I felt like I wanted these characters to be more deeply developed, but they were each given such little time to explain themselves, that I was sometimes confused.  For example, Mary Shannon starts out hating (like, really hating) Jude, but midway through the novel she suddenly has a change of heart and considers them to be "friends".  This was explained very abruptly, and left me wishing that this emotional transition had been explained further.  Plus, some of the perspectives just didn't seem necessary (Officer Murphy, Dr. Jefferies...).  The important details in those characters' stories could have been told from an already-existing perspective.  So again, I got the sense that the book was a little overzealous in this department.

Overall though, I'm sticking with my original statement: this is a captivating novel that is worth a read.  It is not light reading--some of the topics/events are dark, violent, and/or sexual in nature.  (Violence involving women and children is involved--just a warning for those that may be sensitive to that.)  And I do wish that it was a bit more directed at times.  But if you don't mind the tenebrous and multi-focused mood of the novel, I can promise that this one will leave you in suspense more than once.

Want to win a $50 gift card or an autographed copy of Bluff?

  1. Leave a comment on my blog. One random commenter during this tour will win a $50 gift card. For the full list of participating blogs, visit the official Bluff tour page.
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest! I've posted the contest form below, or you can enter on the tour page linked above.
About the author: Lenore Skomal wants you to eat her books. Her passionate desire is to touch your heart, inspire you, and luxuriate in the world of the written word. She is an award-winning author with the single goal of resonating with others. Winner of multiple awards for blogging, literature, biography and humor, her catalogue spans many genres. With 30 years of writing experience, 18 books published, a daily blog and weekly newspaper column, the consistent themes in her work are the big issues of the human experience and adding depth and voice to the intricacies involved in living a multi-dimensional existence. She has won many Society of Professional Journalist awards, the Whidbey Island Writer's Conference honorable mention for best fiction, Writer's Digest 73rd Annual Fiction Contest, New York Public Library's Best Books for Teens 2003, and most recently, the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award for humor for “Burnt Toast.,” her first anthology of her award winning humor columns. From journalism, to literary fiction, to humor and biography, her writing is consistent, if not in genre, then in message. Connect with Lenore on her website, Facebook, GoodReads, or Twitter.
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Monday, November 5, 2012

Self-Published Novels, Reconsidered.

Copyright Mick Stevens, The New Yorker Collection

If you've read my review policy (which I'm sure you have...I mean, who hasn't?), you know it includes this line:

"I currently do not accept self-published books for review."

I have gotten questions about this statement several times since I started the blog.  Some people are just curious why.  Others imply via their tone that I'm being a snot.  And still others tell me that I'm missing out--self-publishing is blowing up right now, so why would I neglect all those books for review?

Let me tell you how that policy came to be.

I received my Kindle as a gift in May 2011 (over a year before this blog opened).  Before that, I don't think I had ever read a self-published book.  But if you get a Kindle, what is one of the immediate appeals?  ALL THE FREE BOOKS!!  I blindly waded into Amazon's "free" section and started downloading anything that looked even remotely up my alley.

Then I started reading them.  The first one  The second one was...meh.  By the end of the third one, I was a disgruntled reader.

The books had flat characters, awkward dialogue, nonsensical plot elements, and confusing uses of POV.  Not to mention that they were riddled with bad spelling and grammar.  I found myself wondering who in the world their editors were, allowing these things to be published?

And then I realized--there were no editors!  These were self-published works.

So when I started my blog, I decided that I would not be seeking out or accepting self-published works for review.  My early Kindle freebies had ruined me, and I had thousands of other books to choose from anyway.


Now that the blog has been running for a couple of months, I've had ample opportunity to read reviews of self-published works from my fellow bloggers.  And while some of them sound similar to how I reacted to those Amazon freebies last year, others sound pretty awesome.  I've also received several review requests from authors who have self-published works (despite the disclaimer in my review policy).  I've turned them all down up to this point, no matter how good they sounded, in the interest of sticking to my original policy.  Because when it comes right down to it, anyone can self-publish--and who wants to take the time to wade through all that mediocre work, looking for the good stuff?

But in the last week, two things happened.  First, I received an email from Novel Publicity tours (for whom I serve as a tour host), asking for blogs to host a book called Bluff by Lenore Skomal.  Reading the description, I was excited--this book sounded awesome!  I couldn't wait to read and review.  However, going on Goodreads, I quickly realized it was self-published.  Feeling deflated, I emailed a bit with the Novel Publicity rep about it.  She assured me this was a well-vetted piece of fiction, encouraging me to host if I was considering it.  I couldn't forget my initial excitement about the book--should I really let this one go?  So I took a chance, and said I would host.

Second, I clicked on a link in my daily Shelf Awareness email last week to get an ARC of a book that sounded pretty great: The Thief of Auschwitz .  The author (Jon Clinch) has published with Random House before, so I was initially confused as to why I was downloading the ARC off his personal website.  Then I read this article .  And I found Clinch's story quite compelling.  Long story short: he published with Random House, and despite good reviews, had disappointing sales with the publishing house.  As an experiment, he wrote another book and self-published it under a pen name--and lo and behold, sold thousands of copies with no publisher backing him.  So he decided to also self-publish his next literary novel (The Thief of Auschwitz).  Of course, this created a conundrum for me--should I turn down a self-published novel from someone who has already earned critical acclaim for his writing through bigger publishers?

In the end, I decided to take another chance, and I downloaded the ARC.

So, where does this leave me and my snooty review policy?

For now, I'm going to leave that line in the policy.  My personal belief is still that a lot (A LOT) of self-published work does not have enough editorial support to read as cleanly and strongly as that put out by publishing companies (indie or big-name).  (That's not to say publishers never put out terrible books--but the "terribleness" is usually not based in structural/editorial issues the way I've seen it in self-pubs, and if it is, the book usually gets enough widespread bad publicity that you know it well beforehand.)  However--I am more open to the idea of self-published work, if (after researching it) I have some compelling reason to believe it is a strong piece of fiction.  

These two examples have shown me that my early Kindle freebies may not necessarily be reflective of all self-published books.  Thus, I am going to use these two novels as an experiment.  Because my critics' assessments are correct--in the era of e-readers, self-publishing is huge.  And some awesome work is bound to come out of that.  But for me (especially as a blogger), the trick is wading through that messy sea of self-pubs and finding the treasure--not an easy task.

So, be on the lookout for my first two reviews of self-published work (for Bluff and The Thief of Auschwitz) coming up in December/January.  We'll see how this experiment goes, and I will post a follow-up once they've both been reviewed.

Readers, respond!  What has been your experience with self-published work?  How do you distinguish between the good and the bad--or do you not bother to do so?
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