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My Best Reads of 2020, Part 3: The Final Seven

Here are reviews of seven more books to round out my best reads for this strange year.

Death’s Detective (Malykant Mysteries #1-4) by Charlotte E. English

Book Description:
Konrad Savast is the Malykant: foremost and most secret servant of the God of Death. His job? To track down the foulest of murderers and bring them to The Malykt’s Justice. No mercy. No quarter.

My Review:
The book consists of four novella-length stories, all of which feature Konrad Savast and his friend the apothecary Irinanda Falenia. Each of the four presents a murder for which retribution must be delivered, but supernatural justice is quite different from that found in most detective stories.
The city of Ekamet, in which the stories are set, is dark, cold, and gloomy. It’s almost always snowing, raining, or blowing. Nearby is the weird Bone Forest, where Konrad has a hut on stilts. It features in every one of the stories, adding its own brand of shivery attraction. Most of the characters’ names have a Russian flavour, and there’s a nineteenth-century feel to the place, but it’s entirely fictitious.
Even though the stories are about death and strangeness, Konrad and Irinanda’s conversations are lightened with humorous banter. Their friendship is an overarching theme of the four episodes, along with the difficulties that come with the job of Malykant and how Konrad copes with them. His spirit-serpent helpers, Eetapi and Ootapi, also furnish the odd subplot as well as unexpected funny moments.
I recommend this book to readers who enjoy cozy mysteries with an additional touch of Slavic-style shivers.

The Termite Queen. Volume One: The Speaking of the Dead, and Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing by Lorinda J. Taylor

Book Description:
In the 30th century, an off-world expedition returns to Earth with a specimen of giant termite whose behavior suggests intelligence. Kaitrin Oliva, a strong-willed and ambitious young linguistic anthropologist, is charged with finding a way to access its unique form of bioelectric communication. However, the insect dies and the team members realize too late that they have unintentionally murdered an intelligent lifeform. A second expedition is mounted with the purpose of making first contact and reparations. Griffen Gwidian, the entomologist heading the expedition, is a complex man with a dark personal secret. He falls in love with Kaitrin and against her better instincts Kaitrin responds. The result is a love story by turns turbulent and funny, passionate, tender, and troubled. Meanwhile, civil discord is brewing on the termite planet. Ultimately, the two plotlines intersect in an explosive climax, after which the team must return to Earth and try to come to terms with what they have experienced.

My Review:
I have to admit I was hesitant to read these books (even though I’ve read and enjoyed several others by this author) because they are in part about giant termites. Big bugs. How could a book featuring big bugs, however intelligent, be anything but off-putting? I’m happy to say it’s not so, and I’m glad I decided to read The Termite Queen.
This is a multi-dimensional and ambitious work. Set in the 30th century, its characters include several species of non-human intelligent life forms besides the giant termites. Even more, the author has invented languages for these life forms. These conlangs give depth and richness to the reading experience.
This may sound intimidating, but The Termite Queen is eminently readable, with clear, coherent prose and careful pacing. The scenes that include only termite characters are written rather like scenes from a play, and indeed the sub-plot involving these creatures resembles a Shakespearean drama. The primary termite characters are distinct and memorable, although their intricate names took a bit of getting used to.
Kaitrin Oliva, the linguistic anthropologist, is a sympathetic character. Her part of the story involves both her academic interests and the development of a significant personal relationship. Important background details of the future society in which the story is set are artfully conveyed in a way that enhances the reading experience.
Volume One is an absorbing read because of the clever combination of familiar human story elements with boldly original ones.
The primary focus of Volume Two is Kaitrin Oliva’s recovery from the traumatic events that conclude Volume One. This process involves revisiting many of the events of the first book from a psychological point of view. At times I felt the story bogged down in these details. but there are intriguing aspects, such as parallels between ancient Welsh mythology and the 30th century tragedy.
I re-read both books recently (October 2020) and changed my rating of Volume Two to 5 stars because I better appreciated its poignant interweaving of language, culture, storytelling, and spirituality.

Innerscape Omnibus by A.C. Flory

Book Description:
Welcome to Innerscape, a virtual reality in which anything is possible, even murder. Includes Book 1, Miira; Book 2, The Godsend; Book 3, Nabatea.

My Review:
Having greatly enjoyed Miira, Book 1 of this work, I was delighted when this omnibus edition, comprising all three books, became available earlier this year. I intended to read it slowly, savouring the strange setting and intricate plot, but that didn’t work out. In Book 2, The Godsend, the tension ratchets up to an unbearable degree. I simply had to know how things turned out for Miira, Kenneth, and Jaimie. These characters have so many strikes against them to start with that the new complications, resulting from greed, deception, and brutal self-interest on the part of those around them, are totally compelling.
The setting is Australia in the 22nd century. Climate change has altered the environment to the extent that those who can afford it live in domed communities. But the Residents of Innerscape, a select and privileged group, can travel–virtually–almost anywhere–to Paris, for example, or the ancient city of Petra, or Japan. They can also enter hyper-realistic gaming worlds. In reality, though, these individuals’ surgically altered physical selves are sealed in confinement units, kept alive by advanced technology. That means they’re totally dependent on the technology working as intended, a fact that makes them vulnerable to clever and inventive individuals pursuing hidden agendas. And there are plenty of those.
The point of view shifts from one character to another at times, but the shifts are clearly signalled and not confusing in the least. The plot moves along steadily, building on previous incidents and revelations. Along the way, the reader is treated to vivid images of places, technological wonders, and characters’ clothing and physical characteristics — enough to create thrills but not so much as to be tedious. This contrasts chillingly with brief glimpses of a dystopian world, especially the truly frightening penal system.
Altogether, these three books combine human drama with a futuristic vision that add up to an engrossing read with a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion. I recommend them to any reader who enjoys a glimpse beyond the boundaries of present day reality.

One Night in Bridgeport by Mark Paxson

Book Description:
Jack McGee is on his way to having it all — a promising legal career, marriage to his high school sweetheart, and a happy normal life — when his boss sends him to do some legal work in Bridgeport, California. There he meets a gorgeous local girl, Lea Rogers, and he throws caution to the wind — for one night.
The next morning, Jack panics when he realizes what he’s risked and rushes home, content to leave Bridgeport, Lea, and their steamy night together buried forever. A few days later, Jack loses everything when he is arrested for rape and hauled back to Bridgeport, a small town full of secrets and intrigue and citizens determined to destroy Jack.
One Night in Bridgeport is an intriguing tale of lust and vengeance, and of one man’s desperate attempt to salvage his life.

My Review:
This realistic legal thriller shows how it feels to be a man accused of rape. Its methodically constructed plot benefits greatly from the author’s firsthand knowledge of legal processes. Jack, the main character, although innocent of the crime with which he’s charged, is immature, often petulant, and at times downright annoying. His lawyer, Tammy Evans, is tough but sympathetic. Watching her deal with Jack and do her job, both in and out of the courtroom, was a pleasure.
The book is fast-paced, even as it shows that legal processes take a wearisomely long time. Jack makes his initial bad choice in summer, but winter arrives before his trial begins. The third person omniscient point of view shows the thoughts and actions of different characters, but at times the narrator steps away from the story to explain things to the reader. I found that helpful but a little jarring. I also appreciated the descriptions of Bridgeport (a real place) and environs.

The Inn at the Edge of Light by Michael Graeme

Book Description:
Do you think you’ve only the one life to live? Well, how about two, at the same time, or maybe more? And if you think that sounds complicated you’d be right. So, beware of dreams of the Inn at the Edge of Light in case you go to sleep in one life and wake up in another.
In the summer of ’87, Chris Marshal travels to the Western Isles of Scotland and spends the night in a remote mountain hut. There, he’s joined by an adventurous backpacker, Jen Munroe, who invites him to go with her on the trip of a lifetime, just the two of them, hiking along the old Hippy trail, all the way to India.
But Chris is shy of and afraid of this bold, confident woman, so he says no, then wakes the following morning to find her gone. It’s then he realizes going with her was actually the one thing his life actually needed, that he’s now doomed to spend the rest of it searching, for the essence of what it was he lost that day.

My Review:
This book is written in second person present tense. The person experiencing the events that make up the plot isn’t “he” or “I,” but “you.” It took me a while to get used to that, but I’m glad I kept reading. The experience was like undoing a tight knot in a string, maddening but ultimately worth the effort when the tightly twisted strands loosen and open up.
The main character is at times a young man, at others middle-aged and living in a harsh world where the social order is collapsing into chaos. The time period ranges from the 1980s to the 21st century, a near future projected from the actual present. Scenes circle from the inn of recurring dreams to episodes in Chris’s real life (referred to as “topside”). At first, it’s all pretty obscure, but eventually patterns and a sense of progress emerge.
The narrative is full of symbols and references to mythology, psychology and philosophy. Recurring images include Scotch whiskey, bottles (with and without messages), watches, cameras, keys, and a pebble. There are references to the enneagram, inner journeys, and mystical quests. Almost all the action is interior, a scrutiny of Chris’s memories, thoughts, expectations, and hopes. It’s almost claustrophobic at times, but ultimately, the knot opens to an ending that, although ambiguous, is satisfying. This is a book I will think about for a long time and probably re-read at some point.

Beneath the Lanterns by C. Litka

Book Description:
No good deed goes unpunished.
The historian Kel Cam enjoyed a pleasant life in Azera, the colorful capital of the Azere Empire. In the dark days, he taught classes at the University. In the bright days, he traveled the wide steppes to visit Blue Order communities, seeking clues about the mysterious, long dead civilization of the Elders in their libraries of ancient texts. However, when his best friend, Lefe Sol, the son of the ruler of Azere, discovers that his father has arranged his marriage to Ren Loh, the fourth daughter of the Empress of Jasmyne, Kel offers to stand by and help Lefe deal with his unexpected, and unwanted, bride-to-be. Kel soon finds himself caught up in the intrigues of empires which not only upset his well ordered life – they lay it to ruin.
Beneath the Lanterns is an old fashioned novel of adventure and travel set in an imaginary land – a land of colorful cities, sweeping steppes, and lush valleys littered with the ruins of a lost advanced civilization. It is a world of sixteen days of day light under the Yellow Lantern and sixteen days of night lit by the Blue Lantern. And across this wide and wild world under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns, Kel Cam finds that he must flee for his freedom, if not his life.

My Review:
There are really only two important characters in this book: scholar Kel Cam and the eccentric Ren Loh. Brought up by her father as one of his Imperial Lancers, Ren is dead set against the marriage her mother has arranged for her. Kel’s friendship with the prospective bridegroom gets him entangled with Ren early in the book, and the rest of the story is about how the two of them work things out while eluding the clutches of those who want to drag Ren back to the politically expedient marriage. Kel is serious and methodical; Ren is an adventurous risk-taker. To escape discovery, the two disguise themselves as caravan guards and later as pilgrims to a mystical city. More than once, Kel hopes he’s seen the last of her, but chance, and eventually loyalty, keep bringing them together. Engaging secondary characters include a dog with personality and a couple of horses.
Well, there is another noteworthy “character,” and that is the world in which the action takes place. The landscapes and urban scenes reminded me of old China, but the long days and nights under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns suggested a different world. Places called Cauldrons, of unstable ground and toxic gases, resemble volcanic features, but not exactly. Remnants of the Elder Civilization are also tantalizing, for example the building material called “poured stone” and the enormously tall Blue Lantern Tower. That’s another thing–the story is full of colour, starting with the two Lanterns. There is a White City, a Green City and communities of something called the Blue Order. I would love to learn more about this world.
As the author’s description says, this is indeed an old-fashioned adventure story, with comradeship, conflict, hard choices, and narrow escapes. It reminded me of movies like High Road to China and Romancing the Stone. I hope a sequel is in the works.

Almost all of these books are available in the usual place, but some of them may be acquired at the Smashwords store, which is having an end-of-year sale right now. In fact, two of these titles are permanently free at Smashwords.

Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of these 2020 reviews.


Books: Supplies for the Brain

So maybe you’re quarantined, or in voluntary isolation, or just stretching your social distance to the walls of your own house. Everything is closed or closing, even your local library.

Sure, you have a tottering TBR pile, but it can’t hurt to add a few more books to it. You don’t want to run out of reading material in this time of uncertainty!

frog on toilet
Plenty of TP and something to read!

All my books are either free or half-price at the Smashwords store through Sunday, March 22nd. Use the Coupon Code LH52T when checking out.

More about the books here.

And of course, for us writers, it’s a great time to write!

Smashwords Christmas Sale!

There are deals to be had at the Smashwords store from December 25th through January 1st. Thousands of ebooks are discounted or free, including mine. And the Smashwords store has a new, improved look that’s worth checking out if you haven’t been there lately.

All the books you see above are included in the sale. Browse and buy right here.

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Update or Re-edit? Revisiting Word docs

An excellent piece of advice to authors publishing a new book is to add information about it to the back matter of all their existing books.

Easy, right?

Well, it depends…

The back matter is found — well, at the back. Meaning the end of the document. Unless you zoom directly there (Ctrl + End) with your eyes closed, add the description of the new book, save and exit the document, you’ll inevitably notice things. Things like typos, problems with quotation marks, not enough white space, and other details you just wouldn’t find acceptable if you were formatting that document today.

You do a couple of small fixes. Then some larger fixes. Next thing you know, you’re doing a seat-of-the-pants unplanned re-edit and/or reformatting.

I don’t recommend this approach, unless you enjoy chaos.

I’ve just revisited 16 — yes, that’s right, sixteen — Word documents to add info about my latest book to the back matter of my eight published books. The oldest doc was created in 2010, the newest in 2016, using two different computers and different versions of Word. There is a Smashwords document and an Amazon document for each book. The docs are nearly but not quite identical. (In my experience, a Word doc correctly formatted using the Smashwords Style Guide will have no problem being processed by Amazon).

In formatting my latest book (She Who Comes Forth — still on pre-order at a special price, by the way), I rediscovered the magic of creating my own Styles in Word, including a handy one called “No indent,” to be applied to paragraphs whose first line should not be indented — the first paragraph in a new chapter or section, for example. This adds a “professional” touch to the text, and Lord knows we self-published indies need to look professional.

As with so many other features of Word, you have to be careful with Styles. My advice — before you do anything, uncheck the “Automatically update” box in the Modify Style window. It’s disconcerting when you discover that a little tweak in one spot has unintended effects all over the document.

So far, only one of my 16 documents has had problems on upload. It got through the two automated checks on Smashwords’ infamous “Meatgrinder,” but the subsequent detailed review revealed blocks of 14-point text among the intended 12-point. Not pretty.

Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my newly-created “No indent” style was at fault. Its definition said Times New Roman 12-point, but I suspect that when I created that style, my cursor was sitting on the one and only instance of 14-point text in the entire document. Every paragraph to which I applied this style ended up as 14-point once it was turned into an Epub. This didn’t show up until I downloaded the Epub and viewed it in Adobe Digital Editions, as the good people at Smashwords advised me to do asap. Because this document had been around since 2010 and jumped the hoops several times over the years, I assumed it was clean. But of course the new style was an add-on.

So here’s my advice, for those who are looking at revisiting the base documents for their ebooks…

  1. Decide in advance whether you are going to do more than add the new info to the back matter. If there’s been something about the book that’s been bugging you since you published it (known typos, misaligned text, presence or absence of bolding or italics), this is an opportunity to apply fixes. If reviews have mentioned errors, it’s definitely worth doing. But if you consider the book to be okay, don’t start looking for trouble unless you have the time and energy for a systematic re-edit or re-format. This is especially true if you’ve paid someone to do that stuff for you. If it’s okay, don’t mess with it.
  2. The longer a document has been in existence, the greater the chance of problems developing if you tweak something. If it was originally created using a 1990s version of Word — or maybe even WordPerfect! — playing around with it may have unintended consequences. If you must tweak, be mentally prepared to deal with unpleasant surprises.
  3. If you’re uploading to Amazon, don’t skip the online previewer. It’s right below the spot where you upload your file, and you can use it as soon as the file has been ingested. It shows you what your doc will look like after being converted to an ebook. Go through the whole book, even if it’s 10,000 “locations.” If you find problems, you can deal with them immediately and upload the corrected document.
  4. Smashwords doesn’t have a previewer. If your document passes the Autovetter and Epub checks, you get an email telling you that and suggesting you download your newly created Epub file and look at it using Adobe Digital Editions. (This is the step I omitted with my oldest document). Some problems invisible in the Word document show up beautifully when viewed this way, so it’s definitely worth doing. As with the Amazon previewer, page through the entire book. You may find and fix problems before the Smashwords folks send you an email telling you there are problems with your baby.
  5. Once you’re happy with your updated Word docs, save them extravagantly! Save to your flash drive, your external hard drive AND to a cloud storage service like Dropbox. Sure, your books are published and available everywhere, but you need those base files if you want to make any more changes to them.

Well, I think I’m just about finished with ebook formatting for now. My next challenge — should I decide to take it on — is formatting She Who Comes Forth for print publication.  This time I will use KDP, since CreateSpace is no more, but first I have to wrestle a Word document into a proto-book, that will eventually be turned into an actual physical thing. I’ve done it four times already, but not for a couple of years — long enough to forget important details. I anticipate weeks of frustration, distraction, and going around muttering things like “recto,” “verso,” “odd page,” “even page,” “section break,” “keep with next,” various four-letter words, and AAAAARGH!

Woman at computer, surprised.

Where the !@#$ did THAT come from?

 

Images courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

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More From Smashwords

A podcast series for writers intending to self-publish ebooks!

Details at the Smashwords Blog.

SmartAuthor Final Cover

Heads up. This Friday October 27 we’re kicking off the Smart Author Podcast!

Hosted by Mark Coker, The Smart Author Podcast guides writers step-by-step from the very basics of ebook publishing to more advanced topics. It’s a free masterclass in ebook publishing best practices.

Whether you’re new to publishing or you’re already a New York Times bestseller, the Smart Author Podcast will help you reach more readers. You’ll learn practical, no-nonsense advice on how to make your books more discoverable and more desirable to readers.

open books, grass

Summer Reading Roundup

I’ve been catching up on a virtual TBR pile of ebooks I acquired in the past couple of years — most (but not all) from Smashwords, and mainly during Read An Ebook Week and Summer/Winter Sale events. Many of them were free.

Free ebooks are considered problematic by many. Rumor has it they are picked up by persons deficient in morals whose purpose is simply to amass hundreds of ebooks — electronic hoarders, in effect. And, rumor adds, these books are never read. Indie authors are advised never to give away their books for free (except as part of KDP Select’s five free days, of course. Oh, and Goodreads giveaways, in which case you give someone a free print copy, and often pay for shipping it to them).

End of digression. Now, where was I? Oh yes — free ebooks. I have deliberately acquired quite a few, mainly from Smashwords. And I have read most of them. One thing I’ve found, though — it’s really easy to forget ebooks, free or otherwise. Unless I download and start reading an ebook right after I buy it, it disappears into the universe of electronic blips that live in my computer. Unlike physical books that accumulate to form tottering piles on the bedside table (or the floor), ebooks easily vanish from sight. And you know what happens then.

Anticipating summer reading time, I had a look through a file called My Digital Editions. I was happily shocked to find half a dozen titles I had completely forgotten about, sitting there unread. I copied them to my e-reader (yes, I still have one of those) and proceeded to read.

Here are my impressions of some of those ebooks. These aren’t in-depth reviews, just superficial observations. The titles are listed in the order I began reading.

 

The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set. A boxed set of nine stories by crime fiction writers featured on the Crime Cafe podcast with bonus interviews!

A perfect accompaniment for a long flight, bus ride, or any situation that may involve lengthy waits. These books were originally published some years ago, but are still worthy of attention. Hard boiled to cozy mystery, novel to novella-length crime fiction by nine different authors. Quality ranges from okay to excellent.

In No Particular Order: a memoir / by Kevin Brennan. It’s true that life is linear, but the living of it is all over the map. In this memoir-in-vignettes, novelist Kevin Brennan (Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road) examines his life the way memories occur in the wild: in no particular order. Whether it’s recalling high school humiliations, ups and downs in love and romance, or unique interactions with the human race at home and abroad, Brennan both entertains and moves the reader with moments of unexpected poignancy and full-tilt humor. In No Particular Order is a deconstructed memoir, like no other because it looks at life as it really is — a kaleidoscope of individual moments.

Plucked from Kevin Brennan’s blog, this bouquet of vignettes and anecdotes presents a poignant picture of growing up and coming of age in the America of the 1960s through to the new millennium. These are thin but tasty slices of life to be savoured anytime. After reading, I find myself thinking, “Yeah!” or, “Oh!” or, “Hmm.”

The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part One: Eagle Ascendant / by Lorinda J. Taylor. Robbin Haysus Nikalishin was born on 31 October 2729 and became the first starship Captain to make contact with extraterrestrials. This book recounts the early life of this man who became one of Earth’s greatest heroes. All heroes are human beings and all human beings are flawed, and the man the Earth will come to know as “Capt. Robbie” was a very human man.

Combining hard SF with a coming-of-age story, this is an engrossing read. The future society in which the book is set is methodically constructed and fascinating. The fictional science sounded plausible to me. Step by step, the story builds to a gripping climax, ending with an irresistible situation that compels one to read Part Two.

The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part Two: Wounded Eagle / by Lorinda J. Taylor. In this second part of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin’s biography, the responsibility for the space disaster in Part One is determined and Prf. Eiginsh’s mystifying behavior is explained, while the Captain attempts to recover from the devastating aftereffects of the disaster. The resolution is bittersweet; will the Captain ever become capable of coping fully with the damage that was done to him? 

Exploring the causes and consequences of the catastrophe that ends Part One, this book is slower but equally interesting. Less technology and more psychology than the first volume.

Awful, Ohio / by Sirloin Furr. Troy Slushy’s exposure to his life-decimating job, depressed wife, and crumbling home encourage his desire for a life in perpetual darkness. It becomes his objective to destroy the bright, menacing beast that removes him from the ecstasy of his dreams, only to expose him to all of these worthless possessions. Troy Slushy declares that his mission is to destroy the sun.

A modern allegory? Experimental fiction? The author has forged a unique monstrosity, beating words into new shapes and meanings. I had to take a break at the halfway point to reset my brain.

A Long Night in Hell / by Jack Stornoway. The ride down the elevator to Agni Mining Station was like a ride into Hell itself. On a planet where you could never quite get warm enough, it quickly became uncomfortably warm, then uncomfortably hot. G. Drew Akers had been in deep mines before, he’d worked in one for two years in Hussy Crater in his early twenties.

This 10K-word story is categorized as science fiction, but the main character is a detective investigating a murder in a mining colony deep below the surface of Mars. Sadly, the tale does not live up to its intriguing setting.

Out of Focus / by Susan Egner. Morgan Grey photographs a prowler at her home 24 hours after her airline pilot-husband’s death. Picking up the pieces of her life, she debuts her photographic talents and features the unusual eyes of the prowler, setting off unforeseen events exposing her husband’s double life. The illusion of a perfect life gives way to the reality of a gifted artist’s celebrity—a life no longer out of focus.

A thriller of the “woman discovers her husband’s secrets after his death” type. Strangely, the reader is informed of the secrets early in the book, so the main question for the reader is when and how Morgan will discover them. Details about flying commercial airplanes, shooting photographs and processing film are interesting, and there are some suspenseful episodes, but the ending is rushed and unsatisfying. Includes a collection of metaphors and similes used to describe Morgan’s green eyes.

Baiting & Fishing / by Meredith Rae Morgan. A newspaper reporter investigates the circumstances of a corporate scandal, and finds the woman of his dreams. Is she his perfect match or a murderess? Is he a heel or a hero?

Middle-aged reporter Ray Bailey is easy to like and sympathize with, as what starts out a potential big story turns into a charming romance. The vanishing lifestyle of Gulf Coast Florida is a big feature of this book — especially fishing, eating fish, and more fishing. Turns out Ray’s mystery woman is a whiz at fishing, and really rich, and great-looking. And a bunch of other things as well, some of them not so good. Kept me reading, and wondering.

The Eternal Librarian / by Meyari McFarland. When humanity went to the stars they took many things with them. Brencis ensured that they took the books. Unfortunately, humanity also took along their greed, their blindness and their short-sighted focus on all the wrong things. The Eternal Librarian is a touching exploration of human nature, determination and the love of learning that is dedicated to librarians and book lovers everywhere.

Well, the description pretty much sums it up. A short story with a sincere message.

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

Vampires, Heavy Metal and — Marionettes? : C Harrison’s We Are Toten Herzen and The One Rule of Magic

The explosion of books by indie authors has created an embarrassment of riches for readers. There’s no reason not to venture out of one’s comfort genre and read something unfamiliar. I’m not a fan of rock music, and haven’t been too taken by vampires in fiction either, but Chris Harrison’s blog, The Opening Sentence, opened the way to an interesting reading experience. His Smashwords interview is also worth reading.

we-are-toten-herzen

Harrison has written several books about the mysterious heavy metal band called Toten Herzen. The first in the series is We Are Toten Herzen. Here is the plot summary:

In 1977 all four members of the rock band Toten Herzen were murdered. Thirty five years later an investigation by British music journalist Rob Wallet led him to discover the band still alive in a remote village in southern Germany. He persuaded them to make a comeback. Hoax or strange reality? Find out in the only official account of Toten Herzen’s long awaited reappearance.

Sounds fairly straightforward, right? Well, it isn’t. The narrative swirls from place to place and decade to decade. A scene in which the reader is closeted with the band members (three formidable women and one understated guy), is followed by a flurry of tweets and news reports. Twenty-first century music biz honchos have to work out a modus operandi with folks from the 1970s who are pretty touchy about criticism and have their own ways of getting things done — ways that aren’t always pretty. Then there are flashbacks to the band members’ origins and the forces that created Toten Herzen. Rumors abound and tension builds as the first concert of the comeback tour approaches.

Harrison creates memorable scenes with masterly prose and what seems to be a thorough knowledge of the music business. I have to say, I didn’t find the characters terribly likable (they’re definitely not “sparkly” vampires), but they are certainly not cardboard cutouts. Rob Wallet, sometime journalist and general hanger-on, is an odd duck. He has clearly thrown in his lot with the band, but isn’t really “of” them. For the reader, he serves as a point of view character, furnishing “insider” views of the secretive, night-loving band. At times I found myself thinking he was a fictional version of the author, making an appearance in his own book the way Alfred Hitchcock used to show up in his movies. (But I may be wrong).

the-one-rule-of-magic

Curiouser and (to me) more entertaining, is The One Rule of Magic, a book whose main character has something in common with the members of Toten Herzen, and inhabits the same world (she’s a friend of Rob Wallet’s), but is engaged in a different sort of comeback.

Here is the plot summary:

Frieda Schoenhofer is dead, murdered in Rotterdam. For her grief-stricken parents the true story of their daughter’s life is about to begin.

Her father, slowly demolishing the world around him, tries to eradicate painful memories by throwing out his lifelong collection of film memorabilia. Her mother is convinced Frieda has been reincarnated as a new born foal.

But Frieda isn’t dead. She is travelling Europe hoping to rescue her father’s discarded collection. A journey of redemption that takes her to Nice, Prague, Turin and Vienna, where she meets a crooked dealer in antique silverware, joins a funeral party full of mourners who can’t stop laughing, falls in love with a beautiful marionette, and discovers a plan to destroy the legacy of Mozart.

The One Rule of Magic explores Frieda’s attempts to make amends for the crimes of her old life, come to terms with what she has become, and prepare her parents for the bizarre truth surrounding their daughter’s disappearance.

The book is charming as well as bizarre. Frieda’s quest for her father’s film memorabilia takes her to a variety of places and situations, some of them dire and others just weird. I found it a bit odd that anyone should pursue relentlessly things like hats, overalls and model skeletons, but of course it’s obsession that drives the serious collector, or, in this case, the collector-by-proxy. The items had all appeared in well-known movies, and were unique. Frieda’s odyssey started to intrigue me; by the time she hit Prague I had warmed up to her and sympathized with her mission. A surprise twist near the end provided extra payoff for reading this book.

 

 

Talking With Myself

Today I intended to write a “state of the garden” post, but instead took advantage of a new Smashwords feature — the author interview. It’s easy to use and surprisingly realistic — except that you are your own interviewer. The interview appears on an author’s main Smashwords page and is cross-linked to all their books. Mine can be viewed here.

I also did some work in the garden and took pictures, so that post is forthcoming soon.