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Verdict: 5 Stars

This book was fun for the very reason that books are meant to be read: it provided an escape into a world of “wouldn’t it be great if I could, but I never will.”

In Freudberg’s title, main character Martin Muntor made it a goal early in life to excel, not in the psychotic driven way of a man who cannot fathom failure, but more in the way of a man who had early examples of how not to live, and rose to overcome them. He takes good care of himself, works hard at a good job, and basically enjoys life.

Until he is diagnosed with lung cancer thanks to secondhand smoke from a childhood surrounded by smokers, only to follow that up with a doomed marriage to a smoker.

Everyone wants to point fingers at lung cancer patients as though to ask, “What did you expect to happen?” But in Muntor’s case, he was neither a smoker nor able to escape from an environment filled with the toxic stuff. Given that the book is set in 1995 when smoking was more prevalent and the effects of secondhand smoke were downplayed, the man is a casual victim who refuses to go down without a fight.

Instead of a medical fight, though, Muntor becomes a man on a mission, hellbent on taking down the tobacco industry, serial killer-style.

Much in the same way that we can enjoy TV shows like Dexter for both the sick pleasure of watching the bad guys suffer and the “it’s never gonna happen but what if” plot, Freudberg’s story line is both a sick pleasure and a fun pseudo-warning to the corporate entities who hurt the population in the name of twisted greed. I’d love to see what the author comes up with in addressing Monsanto, but that’s for another book.

There were places where the writing dragged for me, but I am admittedly not a massive fan of the genre. I can appreciate good writing and a highly unique plot, though, both of which the author provided in abundance.

Find Virgil is available now.

Verdict: 4 Stars

I adore well-done historical fiction, and as a particular favorite category, I never get tired of Titanic stories. There is so much to be said and learned, because essentially the ship carried–and lost–more than 1,500 different stories. It would be a treasure to know them all.

In Gaynor’s title, the story of the Titanic is almost a side plot of its own as the real story is of Maggie Murphy’s personal loss, not on the ill-fated voyage, but at leaving her real love behind in Ireland. After surviving the disaster, she moves forward in the way that only a young woman of the early twentieth century could: she put it behind her and never spoke of it again.

Interwoven with Murphy’s story is that of her own granddaughter, who suffers her own brand of loss seventy years later. Together, they work to heal the hurts of the past by ripping them open and hoping for new enlightenment.

For everywhere that the story was touching and well-written, there were equally important places where the accuracy just wasn’t there and the reading level was very middle grade. It was a fun book, even in spite of its fluff, and I was able to concede that there are stockpiles of in-depth, well-researched non-fiction and fiction titles about the Titanic. This one seemed to have the Titanic as more of a backdrop of the book, which is fine if readers aren’t expecting James Cameron’s level of detail and accuracy.

The Girl Who Came Home is available now.

Verdict: 4 Stars

Despite Good e-Reader’s focus on digital publishing and ebooks, when the chance to review this title came along, we took it. More than just because it was written by an indie author and we support the efforts of people who are revolutionizing publishing, this book was selected because the genre of memoir is so disergarded by the publishing industry to the point that they almost won’t publish your life story unless you’re a celebrity.

Kim Kardashian tell-all? Yes. Story of a man who cut his own leg off then crawled through a frozen wilderness to survive? Meh.

In this title, Gary Edinger explains in the first person his horrifying tale of survival, including the fascinating transcript of the 911 team who stayed on the phone with him after he finally got to his truck and attempted to drive while losing so much blood that he often made no sense during the call. But before getting to that point, Edinger outlines an incredibly clear, in-depth picture of his family’s roots in the Yukon River region, generations of whom made their living through logging, hunting, and trapping, and filled their leisure time with sled dog racing. It’s as if Jack London decided to wake up in the middle of the twentieth century and start writing again.

While Edinger may not be a celebrity or other person of note, this is the kind of story that draws readers in and fascinates them, despite what the publishing industry would have us believe about the marketability of a book. True, I don’t know Edinger’s great-great-grandfather and I don’t really have any reason to care, except that the stories surrounding the author’s past are what shaped him into the person who tried to staunch the flow of blood with his belt, only to have it break due to decades of use and the minus-20 degree temperatures that day. What did he do when the belt broke and he couldn’t use it as a tourniquet for his leg? He kept going, finally getting a manual transmission truck started with only one leg, a leg that was arcing blood with every heart beat.

As a reader I found myself rooting for him, despite the obvious fact that I knew he had lived to tell his tale. It was heartbreaking when he realized how far he still had to drive to get help and might not make it, and instead told the 911 operator to tell his wife he loved her and to tell his kids he was proud of them.

I do wish the publishing service Edinger had relied on had a sense of the value of ebooks and a good cover, as well as the need for a great blurb on retailers’ websites. Those issues can be overcome, and I hope the author chooses to do so.

Will to Live: A Saga of Survival is available from Amazon and Stonydale Press.

Verdict: 5 Stars

Rowling/Gilbraith has done it again, and this one may be even better than the first in her Cormoran Strike series.

It was both sad and amazing when JK Rowling returned to fiction writing after closing the covers on her Harry Potter series. As she transitioned into becoming the head of the worldwide wizarding empire that has seen a movie franchise, interactive website world, licensed products, and even a theme park, her writing bug may have been quieted by the other projects, but it certainly hadn’t died. With her embarrassingly disappointing first adult novel, no one could argue that Rowling didn’t stay true to herself and write the book she wanted to write, critics be damned.

But with her second series, Rowling smartly opted for a pen name to avoid the comparisons. Her adult fiction is nothing like the world she built for avid young readers, and she avoided being associated with the first book for as long as she could. Still staying true to her literary choices, she penned the book she wanted to write and her audiences responded favorably.

With the second installment, The Silkworm, Rowling crafted an even more gripping story than the first Strike novel, this time focusing more on the literary world. After a novelist goes missing and Strike is called in by the wife to find him, Strike discovers that the writer’s most recent manuscript is a tell-all that would expose people who know the novelist personally, including his own wife. Someone has a motive for murder, and Strike must sift through the saga of dirty laundry in order to beat the killer to it.

Even more than the ever-present writing ability of an author who has the ability to put her readers in the setting, whether it’s a dark alley or Diagon Alley, this is one book that might hit too close to home for the world famous author herself. Who better to write about the perils of literary fame than one of the highest grossing authors of all time? It was easy to wonder “what if” as I read, wondering how much of the torment her character feels applies to her own life.

Despite the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette, this title is now available in all formats (paperback still pending).


The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann

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Verdict: 4 Stars

Equal parts mystery and broken family saga with elements of deep dark secrets, this title is hard to categorize into just one genre.

Married couple Siri and Jon head back to her childhood home for the summer so Jon can presumably finish his long-awaited follow up novel. The family begins to unravel in many overlapping places, beginning with Siri’s mom, Jenny, who finally takes a drink after twenty years of sobriety. But even more dirty laundry gets aired involving the tragic death of Siri’s younger brother as a toddler, long-ago affairs come to light, and a young au pair’s body is found, leaving everyone suspicious of the role all of the others may have played in it.

In typical Ullmann fashion, this story is about as dark as it gets. The characters are intriguing, but I couldn’t find a single thing to like about any of them, even the children. By the end of the book, I was hoping for their final comeuppance just to rid the planet of a few of them.

Despite the depressing characters and story line, it still pulled me in as I had to find out what happens to resolve the underlying mystery. Ullmann’s writing style is gripping, even if she carries some of her famous father’s dark plot elements. The translation by Barbara Haveland was flawless and really speaks to the hard work that goes into translating full-length novels.

The Cold Song is available now.

Verdict: 2 Stars

Something strange is afoot with Stephen King…

First, he writes what is arguably one of his worst books yet. Completely devoid of supernatural story line (which I realize is not a requirement for a King novel, but it certainly does make it amazing), King’s approach to crime fiction is more about a deranged mass murderer than any kind of horror plot. I may be a little too old school-King fan to see the value in this story line, but humans killing other humans (specifically by running them over with a car before planning out an even bigger, farther reaching genocide-level event) is the stuff of news headlines, and I thought King was a little more creative than that.

The story, unfortunately, features characters that I wouldn’t want to ride on a crowded elevator with, let alone sit down and read about. His take on an African-American male character (complete with outrageously inappropriate dialogue) is practically offensive, and his detective who comes out of retirement specifically to stop this killer is a walking stereotype, the star of about thirty different cop movies. Throw in a romance element with the out-of-shape, sickly, nearly-suicidal Detective Hodges, and you’re sure to throw up in your mouth a few times.

I found the fact that King released an essay on gun control and then wrote a plot about a man who barrels into a crowd of people with his car to kill as many as possible a little too coincidental. It felt contrived. I’m certainly willing to believe I’m reading way too much into this, but the timing was odd, especially given the propensity of people on both sides of the gun control debate to say ridiculous things about other methods of killing people. Archie Bunker’s quote comes to mind: “Would you rather they was pushed outta windows?”

Sadly, long-time King fans may be disappointed in this title. I keep hoping it was a fun social experiment in which King pops up in two months and yells, “Surprise! My neighbor’s kid wrote this one, and I published it as mine to prove that the publishing industry will sell anything with my name on it! I could publish my grocery list and you people would line up to buy it!” (I’m not holding my breath for that scenario, however.)

There is a really strange phenomenon happening, though; the Amazon reviews for this book are incredibly unnerving. The one- and two-star reviews for this book are filled with paragraphs on what’s wrong with this title (and I’m relieved to see that these people had almost the same problems I had with it, minus the lazy “ripped from the headlines” quality of the story line and my deranged conspiracy theory about King simply highlighting other methods of killing people), but if you look at the five-star reviews, they are frighteningly identical. It’s like the Stepford Reviewers came along. If you want the hair on the back of your head to stand up, this is the only thing about this book that will do it.

Page after page of five-star reviews are filled with almost verbatim copycats. “Great book, can’t wait to read the next one, will definitely recommend it!” A number of them even casually mention, “I’ve already preordered his book that’s due out in November!” They tell nothing about the story line or plot, they’re almost all the same length, they’re all overexcited and peppered with exclamation points; even more interesting is the fact that they are all “Verified Purchase,” as if no one received a copy of the book as a gift or bought it at Walmart or even an airport bookstore. They look…planned. I’m in no position to throw around accusations about the reviews, but where were the die-hard fans who couldn’t wait to throw out spoiler alerts or drag out every nuance and every side character? No one wanted to expound on it for more than eight words?

Overall, the only thing about the book that left me questioning what I thought I knew and understood about human nature turned out to have nothing to do with the plot. Here’s hoping King returns to his glorious roots and gives us something worthy of his name.

Verdict: 4 Stars

It was great. It was tender and raw at the same time. I’m sure the movie’s going to be fabulous even though I don’t plan to go anywhere near the crowds of people who were camped out to see the midnight showing and are swooning for Team Augustus.

I had to take the book down a bit for its dialogue. I would love to live in a world where teens were naturally as witty as Hazel and Augustus, but after sixteen years of teaching experience I’m sad to say: they’re not. It was fun, and there are the occasional Hazel/Augustus types out there, but it eventually felt a little forced.

This one is going to get me hate mail, but I quickly grew tired of Hazel’s darkness. Yes, she’s got terminal cancer, and yes, she’s had it for years. Yes, she even has a diagnosis of clinical depression, which is not something people can snap out of. I almost didn’t like the juxtaposition of her cancer and her mental state, because it seemed to me as though the cancer was the “excuse” to be depressed. Depression is an illness all on its own, it doesn’t need an “excuse.” That’s why it’s so misunderstood and so belittled, and why its patients suffer the way that they do.

But once I got done nitpicking about everything I didn’t like about the book, it was a pleasant read. I’m sure a lot of my enjoyment came from the writing/author theme that carries throughout the book with this one title that Hazel adores, and the inventiveness Augustus shows. Spoiler alert, the ending almost cost it another star with me…you were warned. But that star came back because I love books that get society reading, even if it’s Twilight or 50 Shades or a book about two teens with cancer and not a chance in the world, if it gets people excited about reading again, then it’s worthy.

Verdict: 5 Stars

Any fans of either quotations or writing will want to keep this reference on hand. This fun volume has compiled over one thousand quotes from major players in the writing and publishing industries and, while fun to peruse, actually contains cited words of wisdom from names that many would-be authors will recognize.

According to a press release from publisher North Ridge Books, Gordon’s title “offers some of the best advice about writing and getting published today. The book features not only the collective wisdom of many literary greats (Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Lebowitz), but also many working writers, editors, and publishers.”

While some of the book is dedicated to information and funny quips on getting published–such as, “There is only way to make money at writing, and that is to marry a publisher’s daughter,” told to George Orwell –much of the book contains insightful and interesting quotes about the craft and process as well.

This title is not yet available as an ebook, a fact which almost cost it one star in the review. This type of book would make a great reference for those who wish to include quotations on a number of related topics, and the search capabilities of an ebook would be ideal for a referencable work like this one. Let’s hope that the publisher sees the need for digitization soon.

The physical book is available now from major retailers and booksellers.

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The Alliance of Independent Authors has released its recent guide to all things self-publishing, and this year awarded its inaugural service award to Smashwords and its founder, Mark Coker, for the work the company has done in furthering the cause of indie authorship. Good e-Reader spoke to ALLi’s founder and director Orna Ross about the guide, and what it means for authors who are considering self-publishing.

“I’m personally looking forward to meeting ALLi members, advisors and friends in New York” Orna Ross, director of ALLi said, speaking of the book’s official launch at BookExpo. “And delighted to be launching the latest update of our services guide at the new Author Hub at BEA. Many authors feel paralysed by choice when faced with the array of self-publishing alternatives before them. Our watchdog team have done the hard work of research and comparison, so we can point a clear pathway through the rapidly changing, and often confusing, landscape of author services.”

According to the book’s introduction, the internet is lousy with “sharks in the waters,” individuals and companies alike who have made a reputation for taking thousands of dollars from authors who dared to hope that someone would read their books. Instead of an enjoyable book, these authors are left bankrupt while holding a product that is barely worth the paper it’s printed on. ALLi’s guidebook helps alleviate a lot of those problems by rating different well-known companies, as well as offer a wealth of information for authors who are starting out.

“The guidebook, compiled by ALLi’s watchdog team – including Victoria Strauss, Mick Rooney and Giacomo Giammatteo – is a comparison of a representative sample of the key self-publishing service players. Featuring case studies, service analysis and the experiences of author-publishers and ALLi members, the guide is a timely and indispensable source of knowledge for anyone considering self-publishing as an option.”

This resource guide is available now in both digital and print by clicking HERE.

Verdict: 4 Stars

I first came across the creatives behind Sharky Marky and the Big Race at this year’s BookExpo America event. It’s a great thing when someone walks up, engages you in conversation, and then offers you a copy of a book. That’s exactly how publishing industry events are supposed to work. It happened a number of other times during the event, such as when Pam Jaffe from Avon handed me a new title to review, or Rick Riordan handed me a copy of one of his Percy Jackson titles that he so kindly offered to autograph. But no one else handed me anything quite like Sharky Marky.

The illustrations are engaging enough that a variety of age groups can enjoy the pictures; the same is true of gender, as this book is neither too far leaned towards boys or girls. It has a theme children of many ages and backgrounds can identify with, namely, facing down a difficult situation while others around you seem to be better, faster, or smarter. By sticking to what he knows, Sharky Marky (spoiler alert) ends up winning the race.

The only drawback were a few places where the rhyme scheme felt a little forced, such as the use of the word “dire” to complete the rhyme. That’s getting a little bit beyond the vocabulary level of the intended audience. In a few other places, like the countdown, the grammar intentionally slipped in order to fit the meter, and as an English teacher and a mom I didn’t care for that.

Overall, the book was fun, professionally made, and very high quality. It can easily keep younger readers’ interest, and other than some vocabulary or grammar concerns, it can easily become one of their first and favorite self-selected texts that can be completed on their own.

Verdict: 5 Stars

Sweet Tooth has every right to be filled with teen angst, only it’s too funny to be dark. Author Tim Anderson, who was available at a book launch party timed in conjunction with BookExpo America, is as funny in person as he is on the page, and his natural personality and voice come through in his tale that has every right to be a difficult and sensitive subject.

Anderson spoke to Good e-Reader about the subject of the book and the publishing process.

“It’s basically a gay, diabetic memoir of an adolescent in the eights. It starts when I’m fifteen years old when two striking events happened to me. Number one was my discovery of gay porno mags, and number two was my diagnosis as a Type I diabetic. I was a very religious little boy at the time, and I thought I was being punished for the former with the latter. In the summer of ’88 I was diagnosed with the high blood sugar they’d ever seen, and the book has these two threads going on.”

While adapting to both of these truths about himself, Anderson paints certain scenes in this disconnected, third-person way that almost reads like a movie happening within the book. During the times in the story when the author’s blood sugar spikes and he’s out of himself, the reader is treated to the scene through the eyes of an outsider narrator.

The cast of characters are as diverse and eclectic as any family and friends that most of us have but could be a little hard to understand at times; more importantly, though, (spoiler alert) an important character plays a role in the author’s story at the end of the book.

Sweet Tooth is available now.


Console Wars Book Review

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Console Wars is a new book written by Blake J. Harris and tells the tale of the the battle between Nintendo and Sega in 1980 and 1990. The premise of the book is how Nintendo employed heavy handed tactics, roping in developers into exclusive agreements to publish on their platform and paid a pittance of royalties. Most jumped ship to the young upstart Sega, where they embraced developers, knowing they were the key to the success of any hardware platform.

Ever since Console Wars was released, it has garnered tremendous fanfare from people who grew up in the 1980’s and playing console games became a way of life. The book has been adapted into a feature film by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who provide the book’s foreword.

When Nintendo burst on the scene they controlled 90% of the entire American console market. They had a mascot in the form of Mario and an extensive library of games, such as Zelda. Sega on the other hand was spending a copious amount of money on celebrity endorsements and had no identity. This all changed when Tom Kalinske took over as President of Sega. He generated Sonic as their Mario killer and beat Nintendo to the punch with a the Sega Genesis. We get excellent introspectives on how the Sega Game Gear was developed and RND projects such as 3D Glasses.

Many people don’t’ realize but when the Playstation technology was originally being developed it was based on the Sega CD platform. Sega and Sony were jointly working on the next generation of gaming until Sony bowed out and released their Playstation. The book discusses all of the semantics of the deal and is fairly eye opening to people who weren’t aware of a lost piece of history.

Sega of America prospered under the watch of Tom, selling 350,000 units in the first year. It is especially interesting to see the decline of Sega in the ensuing decade from hardware developer to being relegated to developing software. Harris tells us that every bad decision Sega made that resulted in a loss of market share — the ill-advised 32X add-on and the premature launch of the doomed Saturn console among them — was entirely within the purview of Sega’s stubborn parent company.

Console Wars does not go into the development of the biggest gaming properties Sega developed. The conceptualizing of the games from ideas to the finished product would have been especially compelling.

This book is one of my favorites to be released all year. Anyone who has ever had a subscription to Nintendo Power, Sega Magazine, or spent hours watching the Saturday morning Nintendo cartoon should read this book. It gives a clear perspective of the video game crash of Atari and the Colecovision and the rise of modern gaming.

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Verdict: 5 Stars

As far as the genre known as “cozy mysteries” goes–dead guy, yes, psychopathic serial killer, no–there are a host of authors out there crafting really fun story lines and developing settings and characters that speak to a broad audience of whodunnit fans. These books typically run in a series so that fans can get a real feel for the backstory involved in the plot, and because fans of these titles enjoy finding out new aspects to their beloved characters’ lives.

Shelley Costa, author of the brilliant You Cannoli Die Once (Pocket Books, 2013) has done it again with the next book in the Miracolo series, Basil Instinct. This title once again follows Eve Angelotta, head chef of her family’s four-generation Italian restaurant, along with her cousin sidekicks, as they have to sort out a mystery while whipping up a to-die-for eggplant parmesan.

In Cannoli, Eve’s grandmother, Maria Pia, was accused of murdering her octogenarian boyfriend with the kitchen mortar and it was up to them to clear her good name. Now, Maria Pia has been invited to join a secret society of great female culinary experts, one that has a seedy reputation for its almost Mafia-like intensity where cooking is concerned.

Murder and antics ensue for Eve, Landon, and the rest of the familiar cast of characters, but what really will grab readers’ attention is Costa’s undeniable comedic style. These may not be people you know, but you will certainly wish your circle of friends was this colorful and amusing. Family dynamics, relationships, love interests, and murder combine artfully in this cooking-themed series, and…never mind, I’ll spare you the recipe analogy.

Basil Instinct will be available on May 27th.