Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book with a View Part 1

We had so many book reviews sent in this month, I couldn't include them all in the e-zine. So, I'm adding an additional post this month and hope you enjoy the good reading as the warmer weather approaches. How nice to sit outside and read!

A Crucible of Innocence
Author: Roger W. Forsythe
ISBN: 978-1-4327-2881-6
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com, 2008
Genre and Target Market: fiction, literary, spiritual
Pages: 455
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for Writers in the Sky (WITS)

There have been several instances in my extensive book reading career, which spans about thirty years, in which I have found my head spinning from the text that awaits me on every page. In some cases, my dizziness is prompted by the fact that the story was so poorly written that I could not comprehend how an author could deem the material fit to share with the general public. In other instances, however, my mind trip is based on the frantic adventure on which the writer is able to take his readers. With books that fall into the latter example, the reader is transported into the mind of a main character that is spilling his life before the pages. When I take a break in the middle of this type of novel, I find myself needing literally to shake my mind to clear it from the alternate personality that was able to become such a gripping figure. Such was the case with A Crucible of Innocence by Roger W. Forsythe, a book described by the author as a “poetic novel” and one that challenges us to rethink reality, reincarnation, and religion through the mind of one man. Whatever your conclusions when you reach the last page, you undoubtedly will know that you have been treated to a compelling work that crosses genres and challenges convention.

Through A Crucible of Innocence, Forsythe introduces us to James Conrad Scott. This troubled but brilliant man approaches his thirtieth birthday with financial, professional, and health crises all dominating his thoughts. After yet another run-in with his boss at the local newspaper, this time over his limited abilities due to a broken foot, Conrad Scott decides to quit his job and enter a period of self-reflection. As bills must still be paid even when the desire to find one’s self is beckoning, Scott takes on five part-time jobs. Due to absolute exhaustion and a lifelong battle with depression, Scott’s frantic schedule eventually leads him to a suicide attempt and time in a psychiatric hospital. It is the way in which Forsythe brings his readers to the point of his character’s nearly fatal decision and then guides us through Scott’s thoughts after his failed suicide effort that makes the book so fascinating and unique.

The readers spend much of the book inside the mind of Conrad Scott, through the frequent inclusion of his essays and journal entries as well as the extensive episodes in which he imagines himself to be a survivor of the Titanic, a Civil War soldier, or a fortunate attendee at drinking festivities held by great literary masters at the Troubadour Poets CafĂ© and Bistro. In some chapters, we are given fairly standard narratives of Scott’s life amongst friends and at his places of employment. We are then jolted out of the storyline with poetry or prose interludes by Scott that provide us with insight into how he uses fiction to work through the struggles he is experiencing in coming to terms with his own place in the world. By taking the reader down this non-linear and sometimes disorienting path, Forsythe demonstrates a magnificent ability to bring to life a man who is struggling to stay in the present and function within a society in which he sometimes feels woefully misplaced.
The Crucible of Innocence truly is a book that needs to be experienced, as its contents cannot adequately be described to someone who has not opened its pages. The novel is a chaotic combination of pieces that delve deeply into our own convictions about God, angels living in our world, what constitutes mental sanity, and how the beauty of literature and art can be an amazing healing agent. Once read in its entirety, the reader will be able to recognize an intentional structure and beautiful tapestry created by both Forsythe and his main character Conrad Scott. If you have an appreciation for poetry, take interest in the concept of reincarnation or the lasting impact of the great writers in our modern history, or simply enjoy the artistry when a book’s carefully determined layout lends as much to the meaning of the text as the words themselves, you will enjoy The Crucible of Innocence. Roger Forsythe is already the published author of three volumes of poetry and a textbook chapter on the Civil War. With this new release, Forsythe adds his voice to the world of fiction in a way that is certain to leave readers with plenty of material for reflection, yet also craving more from Conrad Scott and the insights he offers.


Adventures in Publishing
Author: Brent Sampson
ISBN: 978-1-932672-33-6
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com 2009
Genre and Target Market: marketing; self-publishing authors
Pages: 22
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS

As someone who works on a regular basis with authors who have entered the self-publishing world for the first time, I understand the concerns and hesitations that come with determining the best way to put your written material out for public consumption. Which publishing company will be the best fit for my type of book and my specific needs? What about my concerns that the final product will not match the vision I had for my work when I started the process? How do I go about promoting my book in the most effective ways possible? Writing a book is a very personal process and authors want some assurance that their hard work will be taken seriously and given the care it deserves. With his new book, Adventures in Publishing, the CEO of Outskirts Press Brent Sampson shares the steps in working with his self-publishing company, and his wonderful creation will undoubtedly bring great comfort to new writers.

From the moment a potential reader takes one look at the cover to Adventures in Publishing, she knows that an imaginative and beautiful reading adventure lies within its covers. The author has created a gorgeous piece that has the appearance of a children’s book, with the purpose of primarily appealing to authors of children’s books and other full-color publications, but contains substantial information that is essential for anyone hoping to see their name in print. Each page addresses a different element of the process at Outskirts Press as explained through rhyme. What aspiring author cannot relate to the following concepts, “Her adventure didn’t start easy because she didn’t know where to turn. Traditional? Independent? Full-service? It seemed too hard to learn.” Sampson then uses the next twenty pages to take the readers through his character Mindy’s Outskirts adventure and the growing sense of excitement that she feels as her dreams of being a published author move ever closer to fruition.

Obviously, this book is intended to serve as a marketing piece for the services offered by Outskirts Press. One of the most effective ways in which Sampson accomplishes this task is through the gorgeous illustrations that appear on each page of Adventures in Publishing. The pictures are striking in their color, detail, and relevance to the accompanying text. Children’s authors who are considering Outskirts Press for their publishing needs certainly will enjoy letting their imaginations run wild with the possible visuals that Sampson’s company may provide for their own stories. Sampson plays up the illustrating component of Outskirts by displaying the various options that are available for authors and touting the impressive pricing for the beautiful pictures.

Sampson not only takes readers through the publishing process experienced by the fictional author Mindy, but also introduces us to several real clients who share wonderful testimonials about their experiences with Outskirts Press. These author pages, which are included throughout Adventures in Publishing, each display a photo of the happy author, some words of appreciation for the service that Outskirts Press provided and the covers of the author’s published novel or novels. I appreciate Sampson’s effective weaving of actual clients into his book, as there is no more persuasive marketing tool for a company than the words of satisfied customers. After reading the testimonials, I came away with the strong belief that Outskirts Press is a business that is committed to meeting the needs of each author and that works tirelessly to make sure the publishing process is as smooth and enjoyable an experience as possible.

Once authors finish reading Adventures in Publishing by Brent Sampson, they will be familiar with every aspect of self-publishing as offered by Outskirts Press. From being assigned a representative to selecting a layout for the book to working with a marketing coach to reach as many potential readers as possible, new authors will be able to track the steps they can expect to follow when they are ready to offer their writing for publication. Links to specific information at the Outskirts Press website are printed throughout the book so authors can turn to their computers and automatically learn more than what is already covered in this introductory book. The message of optimism that is conveyed through every detail in this book, such the encouragement embedded in the text and the bright colors that jump off the pages, will likely inspire many new authors who had previously been hesitant to take that first step towards publication. Through Adventures in Publishing, Brent Sampson and Outskirts Press have produced a piece of which they should be proud, and one that I hope all aspiring authors will take the opportunity to read.

Internet Dating is Not Like Ordering a Pizza
Author: Cherie Burbach
ISBN: 978-0-9789747-5-6
Publisher: Bonjour Publishing
Genre and Target Market: online dating; advice
Publication Date: 2008
Book Length in Pages: 165
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS

I would never consider myself to be someone who quickly embraces the latest opportunities that come with our ever-developing technology. I finally learned to send text messages when I realized that was the only way to reach my husband during the day. I still do not own an iPod for my trips to the gym or a GPS device to assist me when I become lost on the way to a destination. However, I believe I was one of the early participants in the world of online dating more than ten years ago. The results were more than disappointing. I met one gentleman who was at least six inches shorter than the height he shared on his profile and another who missed our lunch date altogether because he got drunk after his softball game and completely forgot about our meeting. I quickly became disenchanted and left the world of internet dating. I have no doubt that the process is now much more sophisticated and the variety of people who participate has grown. I even think that, if I was not already happily married, the expertise of Cherie Burbach could make my navigation through online profiles and first meetings much more enjoyable. In her new book, Internet Dating is Not Like Ordering a Pizza, Burbach provides in detail all of the hints you need to create a successful profile and the process to follow once a connection has been made. Her conversational writing style and practical information make this book a must-read for anyone who is ready for greater success with the online dating process.

Burbach takes her readers through each specific component of an online profile, from the headline to the essay to the use of photos. She explains how each piece that you create tells part of your story and can either draw in a potential date or end any interest with a simple choice of words. Burbach provides a thorough list of the “don’ts” for each part of the profile in bulleted form that is easy for the reader to digest because, let’s be honest, we first want to we are doing wrong so that we can fix it. For example, she reminds readers “Don’t call yourself a hopeless romantic” and “Don’t crop an ex-boyfriend out of the photo.” Once the negative elements are successfully eliminated, Burbach also shares some great suggestions for text and photos to include that really highlight one’s personality. She teaches her readers how to incorporate their hobbies, families, and careers into a profile in a natural way that does not make a profile come across as dry or self-serving. Burbach also understands that men and women who have been a part of the online dating scene for some time without success are pessimistic and wary of anyone who offers new advice. So, she incorporates a “Dear Ms. Dating Consultant” section into her chapters in which she imagines some of the questions that readers will have about her advice and addresses the concerns with understanding and the attitude of someone who has been there.

Cherie Burbach met her own husband through online dating and therefore provides a valuable perspective on the way to develop a successful approach. This is not only important when she is sharing advice concerning the creation of a profile, but also when it comes to the date itself. She warns her readers to meet in a public place, set a time limit on the encounter (which she recommends to be coffee, not dinner or drinks), and take any suspicious behavior seriously. She stresses repeatedly throughout the book that you do not really know a person with whom you have been communicating online. I appreciated her honest reminder that while you can meet some wonderful people (perhaps even your life partner!) through internet dating, people must always be aware of the participants whose intentions are less than innocent and genuine.

The book is a great read that provides concrete tips for online daters on every page. The writing is clever and Burbach obviously has a real sense of respect for those who are struggling with their efforts to find a special someone through their computer screens. I know that there are millions of people with profiles on the various sites that promise to find your perfect match, and all of them would benefit from having Burbach’s book in their hands the next time they sit down in front of the keyboard.

An Unknown Journey
Author: Dao Huynh
ISBN: 978-1-4327-3083-3
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com 2009
Genre and Target Market: fiction; memoir format; culture
Pages: 219
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS

I was a history major in college, and I have always had a particular interest in reading the stories of ordinary people who lived through extraordinary times. We all know that Marie Antoinette exclaimed, “Let them eat cake,” but how did the mother of hungry children feel when she heard those words? What was going through the average New Yorker’s mind as he looked up and saw a plane flying full-speed in the World Trade Center? Young girls around the world are fascinated by The Diary of Anne Frank because she loved her family and had crushes on boys, but this average teenager had to face a terrifying reality. When I am presented with a book that shares one person’s journey through a historic moment in time, I am automatically drawn to the story. Hopefully, I can transport myself into imagining how the characters must have felt going through these experiences. An Unknown Journey by Dao Huynh is a new work of fiction that provides insight we could not get from anyone else.

Dao Huynh came to the United States from Vietnam two decades ago, and she has used her knowledge of both cultures to develop a lead character that, I believe, is based on the author herself. Huynh tells the story of a girl named Dao, one of the thousands of “boat people” who escaped from Vietnam in the 1970s. Before reading An Unknown Journey, I shared the same images of Vietnam and that era of history as most Americans. I think of the girl who was photographed running from her burning village, the protests on the home front which tore our country apart, and the throngs of Vietnamese who tried to grab a place on helicopters as American forces fled Saigon. But, I must admit, I did not know a lot about the daily lives of the Vietnamese people or the struggles those who managed to leave faced during their travels and after reaching the United States.

The author lays out a vibrant description of life in South Vietnam, sharing Dao’s desire for a great education that will open doors and how this goal contrasts with a sense of duty that she feels to stay close to home and care for her family. Dao has a typical childhood, filled with changing friendships, school work, and family tensions. This world is turned upside-down, however, by the Communists’ victory following the departure of the Americans. Dao’s father is sent to a re-education camp and her brother whisks her away when presented with the chance to flee their fallen homeland over dangerous waters. The riveting chapters of the book then begin, with details concerning the months Dao spent at a refugee camp in Malaysia (where she reunited with a younger sister who had escaped a month earlier) and then the experiences she had as a new immigrant to the United States with limited English skills and a set of values very different than those promoted by the culture around her.

The most stunning component of An Unknown Journey is the details that Dao Huynh is able to incorporate into her storytelling. She recreates seemingly commonplace conversations with childhood friends, shares a thorough description of the aid workers in Malaysia, and mentions the songs that pass through Dao’s mind when remembering a college love with whom the relationship was left unrequited. I could sense the fear and doubt Dao must have felt when making the decision to step on the ill-equipped boat and leave her family behind in Vietnam, perhaps forever. I could feel the desperation she experienced when she wanted to learn English and searched for support on an overwhelming college campus. By providing such specific information about her life, Huynh allows her readers to immerse themselves fully in this adventure.

An Unknown Journey is a captivating new novel written in memoir format by Dao Huynh that likely reflects the experience of many immigrants who have left challenging circumstances and made the choice to resettle in America. The author is a gifted storyteller who realizes that some of the details that may initially seem mundane are really the essential pieces that create a complete picture for her audience. The entire book is a powerful testament to determination, the importance of education, and the love of a family. As Huynh reminds us as An Unknown Journey reaches its conclusion, there is no end to our travels. In fact, she leaves us as Dao is contemplating a decision that could take her down two very different paths. Perhaps we will be fortunate to read more about this amazing journey in the future.


Last Words
Author: Michael Presutti
ISBN: 978-1-4327-3743-6
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com, 2009
Genre and Target Market: fiction; horror; thriller
Pages: 123
Reviewer: Sarah Moore for WITS

As a child, I was not a fan of movies or books that detailed a violent apocalypse or a Hobbesian return to our primal selves. I was introduced to The Stand by Stephen King and the terrifying mini-series The Day After when I was college, however, and my interest in the darker elements of storytelling started to awaken. My accompanying studies of the Cold War in its waning days focused my attention further on the very real prospect of cataclysmic events affecting our planet. My love for the genre was sealed after marrying my husband, who is a devoted fan of the Sci-Fi Channel. Between ridiculous movies about spiders mutated by radiation, I discovered some serious cinematic commentaries on our current global state. I am now an advocate of the idea that extreme and violent stories of human destruction can provide wonderful insights into how carefully we all walk that line of maintaining a civil sanity. I share this background story to let you know how excited I am to discover author Michael Presutti and his recently published novel, Last Words. Presutti’s novel about traveling hordes of monsters, fratricide, and the daily fight for survival is terrifying and absolutely spellbinding … primarily because the possible reality of such a scenario is not as far-fetched as we might hope.

The author begins Last Words with a prologue that is guaranteed to grip the reader’s attention. We learn that a lone man bent on teaching the world a lesson has infiltrated a military compound and is set to release a deadly virus over the skies of the western United States. This brief and startling introduction is followed by a series of short broadcasts from a cable news network that tracks the progress of the virus as it spreads across the country. After only a week, the transmission signal goes dead. I knew that I was reading a piece of fiction, but I still felt a very real pang of helplessness and frustration with just this hint about the devastation that had occurred. Through his powerfully abrupt language, Presutti does a masterful job of creating emotional investment from his readers right away.

Throughout the pages of Last Words that follow, Presutti invites his readers into the lives of people who are simply trying to survive the virus that spreads to their communities through the ever-growing population of “infected ones.” We meet parents who kill their own children and wives who feel compelled to attack their husbands, all due to the unforgiving virus. With wild eyes and mutilated bodies, the infected beings feast upon human and animal flesh alike. The author creates vivid descriptions of these encounters that are both jarring and utterly fascinating. The visuals play clearly in the mind of the reader with every page that is turned.

One of the most effective ways that Presutti develops his tale of zombie-like predators, the breakdown of society, and the heroic fight for survival is through the short story format he employs. Each chapter is only about ten pages in length but packed with action. This layout creates frantic episodes featuring the lives of those who are desperate to see another sunrise. At no point in Last Words does the reader get a chance to relax or even take a deep breath. Even the interludes between each chapter feature single quotations printed on a stark white background. These words offer thoughts of Armageddon and often the human contribution to the approaching end of the world. Not exactly a respite from the agony felt through the main text of the plotline.

The new novel Last Words by Michael Presutti is a stunning read that leaves its readers thinking long after the final pages are closed. The author creates a scenario that could be campy and almost perversely comical if told from a different perspective. However, he instead develops a novel that delivers relatable characters and a mesmerizing plot. We feel the loneliness of the individuals who have managed to survive the grips of the virus and now long for any connection with another human being. We ache for those who have the charge of protecting our leaders but realize the bunker has become nothing more than an inevitable death trap. We cheer for the few who choose to forge ahead and help as many people as possible along the way. Last Words should be read not only by those who are drawn to the X-Files aspect of the book, but also anyone who can appreciate a story about the human condition under the most unimaginable of circumstances.

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