March 26, 2015

Book Review: "The Empathy Exams" by Leslie Jamison

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison

The Empathy Exams
By Leslie Jamison
Graywolf Press
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

At first, this collection's title struck me as an ironic way to quantify the unquantifiable, but Leslie Jamison makes it clear fast that she is out to interrogate empathy: the empathy of society, the empathy of the reader, and her own capacity for it. The Empathy Exams, then, is a remarkably good nonfiction collection. All good collections, genre aside, should strive for thematic coherency, but The Empathy Exams attains it with a remarkable force. Jamison uses each essay to expand and complicate the others, weaving self-induced pain and guilt in with examinations of power and privilege. There's even dialog across essays: a character whose quest to run extreme marathons, chronicled in "The Immortal Horizon," returns as a convict in "Fog Count." The real-life friendship he developed with Jamison is used as a personal entrance point into a study of the American prison system.

What struck me, about this one, was how well Jamison made me feel her words. The title essay, about the strange practice of medical acting - where people are paid to pose as patients for young doctors - creates a palpable awkwardness. "The Immortal Horizon's" description of a racecourse down a mountain is exhausting, while "Lost Boys'" analysis of the much-publicized West Memphis Three is vivid and visceral. Most horrifying is "Devil's Bait." This essay concerns the controversial condition known as Morgellon's Syndrome, which makes its sufferers believe they're infected by parasites; the way Jamison describes the disease might make you paranoid. Her efforts to bring you into her writing enhances the empathy aspect; the reader is made to feel alongside Jamison and her subjects.

This collection is most frustrating when Jamison's empathy seems to fail. There are moments, especially in "Devil's Bait" and "The Immortal Horizon," where it's hard to tell how seriously Jamison takes her subjects, whether the empathy filter is valid or an excuse to write about the central figures as weirdos. It's easy to imagine that Jamison intended this as a way of interrogating her own empathy; however, I don't think this aspect was fully explored, as its deliberateness isn't as strong as it could've been. Still, it's hard to argue with a collection this vivid and fully conceived.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about The Empathy Exams: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari |

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, March 26, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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March 20, 2015

American Odd: "Kooks," by Donna Kossy

Kooks, by Donna Kossy

Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief
By Donna Kossy
Feral House (1994)
Review by Karl Wolff

The cult movie Iron Sky has a memorable scene where African-American astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby), dressed like a homeless person, ranting at pedestrians about how "Moon Nazis made me white!" To the average moviegoer, the scene captures the absurdity and camp of the film. But Nazis with moon bases or living in the center of the earth are what one can read about in Kooks: A Guide to The Outer Limits of Human Belief by Donna Kossy. The book is an anthology of Kooks Magazine. Kossy, a former housemate of fellow zinester Pagan Kennedy, plumbs the depths of human belief, discovering a vast underground landscape of conspiracy theories, Ufology, weird science, and other unclassifiable strangeness.

The first edition was published in 1994, with a second expanded edition coming out in 2001. The publication date is key to its importance. In 1994 there was a convergence in technological development. By that time zines experienced a collapse, the cost and effort in making handmade zines fast becoming irrelevant to the new mass medium: the Internet. (On a personal note, I purchased Kooks from the local Half Price Books in the late 1990s, during this very same media revolution.)

In 1994 where would one get this kind of information? Kooks is singular in its mission and scope. Besides Kossy, RE/Search Publications comes a close second in its independent publishing agenda. Before the Internet became a household item, the information explosion, and the immediate accessibility of Wikipedia, the possibility of discovering the background and history of marginal thinkers was slim to nil. Even today, Kossy's subject matter is sorely underrepresented in academia. Although the text could be used for a sociology, anthropology, or history class.

Kossy comes to the material with a sympathy for preservation and accumulation. An earlier book, Ivan Stang's High Weirdness by Mail (1988), covers much similar ground, but plays things for laughs.

Kossy classifies kooks status as "inherently a matter of perspective, relative to history and culture. A kook in the 19th century might become a scientific hero in the 20th." She later goes on to say "We must also distinguish kooks from quacks, frauds, and hoaxers, for kooks are invariably sincere. Their main intent is not to deceive or defraud; to the contrary, they are trying to impart an essential truth. A kook's thoughts rarely turn to profit; some squander personal fortunes to investigate or spread The Word." This book is also important because "There is a tendency common to those who define the boundaries of reality - scientists, religious figures and politicians - to dismiss countervailing beliefs as delusions or hallucination." Despite my own personal animosity towards certain kook-like groups - anti-vaxxers, climate change denialists, creationists, birthers, and truthers - one needs to take a couple steps back. First, from making widespread ideological assumptions and dismissals. The second, from seeing everything from the perspective of "scientism." Meaning, not every human behavior needs to be seen through the lens of the scientific method and the demand of a scientific explanation. Granted, science education is highly, highly important. But Kossy's book falls into the softer, mushier category of sociology and anthropology. Soft and mushy is beneficial in this case, since Kossy wades through some bizarre, contradictory, and occasionally self-contradictory systems of thought. In organizing the book, she faced the challenge of where to put certain individuals. Suffice to say, the book has plenty of overlap. To quote Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." One doesn't have to worry about that criticism in Kooks.

The book is arranged into several categories: Religion, Science, Metaphysics, Politics, Conspiracy, Enigmas, and Outtakes. The first two essays offer a straightforward history of Anglo-Israelism and Black Messiahs. The two different belief systems have radically different origins, but both dwell on the predictable subject matter of anti-Semitism. As strange as it sounds, Anglo-Israelism didn't begin as an anti-Semitic religion. It remained cordial towards Jews and Judaism until more radical hateful strains overtook the movement and mutated it into what we know as Christian Identity. Kossy explores the variety of messianic religions within the black community. Some adapt the trappings of Islam, others of Judaism. The beliefs range from the mainline to the eccentric. For those seeking an explanation of what drove Randy Weaver to proclaim his war against ZOG and what is behind the number-centric speeches of Louis Farrakhan, these essays will enlighten the reader.

While anti-Semitism remains a dark undercurrent in many of the entries, some defy classification. Kossy covers several hollow earth philosophies. One is Cyrus Teed, a self-made messiah who believed we lived on the inside of the earth. During his lifetime, he became wildly popular. Another individual is Norma Cox. Her anti-Semitism is wrapped up in a system of thought that embraces hollow earth theory, UFOs, and Hitler being alive. It would be easy to write her off as yet another racist, but her theories are so bizarre one has to take notice. Her personal cosmology is as strange and vast as William Blake or Henry Darger. Here is an excerpt:

"Wearing the mask of the Savior, Jesus Christ, the god of Vatican hierarchy is the sungod, Apollo, the Lucifer of Scripture; this, while the moon-goddess, the evil Ashtoreth, the whore of Revelation 17, is paraded as Mary, the mother of Christ. The fraud, perpetrated on Catholics since the time the church took root, has so undetected that CBS, the TV network working the communist side of the conspiracy, boldly displays Sungod symbols on the "Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt" show. Unknowing, Christians attending Sunday church service are paying homage not to their Creator and His Son but to the pagan superman whose Sun Chariot daily rides from east to west. ..."

At the beginning of her entry on Cox, Kossy writes, "A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but it is also essential if one is to explain why the world is a complete mess. It seems that the less you know, the more you can explain, and Norma Cox can explain everything." Kossy, a generally sympathetic accumulator of weirdness, isn't above getting in a good jab.

While Cox's rants possess a bizarro appeal, it is nothing compared to Francis E. Dec, Esquire. His densely-typed screeds had become legendary within the kook community. The writing exhibits that Dec was attempting to sort out his own life, albeit one full of paranoia. Here's a small sample of Dec's "Rant #2":

"Gangster Computer God Worldwide Secret Containment policy made possible solely by Worldwide Computer God Frankenstein Controls. Especially lifelong constant threshold brainwash radio. Quiet and motionless, I can slightly hear it. Repeatedly, this has saved my life on the streets.

"Four billion worldwide population, all living, have a Computer God Containment Policy brain bank brain, a real brain in the brain bank cities on the far side of the moon we never see. Primarily, based on your lifelong Frankenstein Radio Controls, especially your Eyesight TV, sight and sound recorded by your brain, your moon brain of the Computer God activates your Frankenstein threshold brainwash radio lifelong, inculcating conformist propaganda, even frightening you and mixing you and the usual, "Don't worry about it." For your setbacks, mistakes, even when you receive deadly injuries. This is the Worldwide Computer God Secret Containment Policy."

Not too far off from "Moon Nazis made me white!" But while these may be the rantings of a mentally imbalanced individual, the paranoia isn't exactly unfounded. One can look at the personal history of Philip K. Dick. He made a specialty of paranoid science fiction and total government surveillance. Then the FBI broke into his house. More recent developments with Edward Snowden and Wikileaks make one second-guess about the American ideals of free expression and not being spied upon without cause. Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not after you.

Beyond the paranoia and conspiracy, Kossy visited The House on the Rock, the tourist attraction in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Built by eccentric Alex Jordan, Kossy's essay explores how an idiosyncratic dreamer with vast capital can build his dream house. The House on the Rock is an architectural marvel, perched upon a bluff. Jordan's penchant for eccentricity and collecting makes him a Wisconsin version of Charles Foster Kane or Mad King Ludwig II. Not only is the house massive, but it holds the world's largest collection of world's largest collections. The house exhibits a strange power, driving Kossy to equal parts exhaustion and wonder. It plays a pivotal role in Neil Gaiman's American Gods and is, at root, very American. Few houses display a sincere peculiarity like The House on the Rock. It is like the ideals of American Rugged Individualism and the desire to be the biggest collided into an explosion of kitsch. It is simultaneously ridiculous and sublime. I visited House on the Rock when I was a child. Unfortunately, I don't really remember the visit. But reading Kooks made me put the landmark on the next road trip.

Kooks samples many strange beliefs and systems of thought. The book itself is a delightful hodge-podge of in-depth essays and excerpts from primary documents. The primary documents collected here are especially important, since Kossy provides little commentary. She lets the kook's words stand on their own. It is up to the reader to discern any value.

Why is this book odd? You really needed to ask? In all seriousness, Kooks is emblematic of this entire essay series. It operates as a kind of crackpot Rosetta Stone. We will see certain themes repeating themselves - crackpot messiahs, conspiracy theories, strange writing, roadside attractions - along with serving a real sociological purpose. It remains an invaluable resource for those seeking out the weirder crevices of human knowledge and some of the stranger by-products of the American Experience.
 
Read even more about Kooks: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia
 
Coming next: History of Joseph Smith by His Mother by Lucy Mack Smith

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, March 20, 2015. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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March 19, 2015

Stalking the Behemoth: "The Recognitions," by William Gaddis

The Recognitions, by William Gaddis

The Recognitions
By William Gaddis, 1955
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

Those who have followed my "Stalking the Behemoth" series might've noticed a few massive gaps in chronology, namely in my leap from Don Quixote to Moby-Dick, but release dates grow a little more consistent from here on out. After all, this is where we enter my favorite period, postmodernism, and who better to kick postmodernism off than Gaddis? I'd get more into where The Recognitions sits historically, but this is a book review and not a history lesson; suffice it to say that it was influential and that its influence is probably not done taking shape. I'm also going to leave it as a given that The Recognitions is difficult, since nine-hundred-page postmodern novels aren't exactly known as beach reading. Besides, that would be such a perfunctory way to review this book, wouldn't it? Check off the acknowledgment of its influence, mention that it's no walk in the park, obligatory reference to how despite its difficulty there's beautiful language and narrative entropy and all of that other good stuff, and hey-hey! I've reviewed The Recognitions. Check it off the list, onto the next review. Let's not do that.

The story at the heart of this book is pretty simple, and compelling enough to be one of the most common we've got in literature: the earnest protagonist, who often stands in for the author whether we as readers like it or not -- Gaddis' protagonist, Wyatt Gwyon, even shares his author's initials -- struggles toward self-realization and -actualization in a world determined to deny them that. So, as Jonathan Franzen pointed out in his own review of this book, it's sort of like Catcher in the Rye. But in case Holden Caulfield puts you off, Wyatt isn't a teenager. Rather, he's an adult determined to become a painter but forced by financial strain into selling forgeries for the unforgettably slimy Recktall Brown and his smooth-maneuvering associate Basil Valentine.

Now, I grant, there's a lot you have to cut through to get to this basic story, and I'll be up-front and say that The Recognitions would not be a good fit for a "just the plot, please" type reader; but again, postmodern, 900-plus pages, you probably knew that. As Gaddis is wont to do, it's hard to tell what among it is essential to getting the plot and what's just there to be there, but what matters is how well Gaddis makes it all work. He sells us on his playwright whose dreams of glory keep him from greatness, his musician who really just wants to play, and Wyatt's overbearing Christian grandmother who discourages his painting because she feels it's an attempt to emulate God. And when the story, already laced with references to arcane Christianity and art history and alchemy, gets weird, Gaddis seems at his most in control. Characters hallucinate on ships and exhume mummies and get crucified by mental hospital inmates, and Gaddis finds his common threads, these strands of self-mythology and self-actualization and authenticity, these endless threads of identity to weave together into a bizarre and beautiful tapestry. And even if it doesn't all tie together for you, these extra bits still make for powerful flavor.

Masterful, this one. There are those who swear J R, the seven-hundred page panoply of conversation, is the best Gaddis, but I'm a Recognitions type of guy the whole way through. And those winding sentences really are beautiful.

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, March 19, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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March 18, 2015

Book Review: "Nashville Mercy" by M. Maitland DeLand, MD

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Nashville Mercy, by M. Maitland DeLand, MD

Nashville Mercy
By M. Maitland DeLand, MD
Deland Media Group
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

If it seems sometimes that I've been feeling worn down lately by the books I've recently been reviewing here, it's because I am -- ever since the new year started, my reading diet has almost exclusively consisted of vanity projects from basement presses by middle-class dilettantes who have an extra couple thousand dollars to hire a publicist specifically to send the book to people like me (i.e. litbloggers with an open promise to review any book that gets sent to them), and books sent under such circumstances almost never turn out to be more than mediocre at best, unreadable at worst. Take Dr. M. Maitland DeLand's Nashville Mercy for a good example, an utterly by-the-numbers crime novel that leans heavily on DeLand's actual medical background for most of its setting and plot; for while it's not actively terrible, it's also not even the tiniest bit better than some random B-grade episode of some random B-grade television show on some random B-grade basic cable channel (the important difference being that the latter only eats up an hour of my life, while the former consumes two entire days), less a polished novel and more a collection of obvious cliches that kept getting strung together until they reached 268 pages. Every time I read a book like this, my soul dies a little, precisely because such books are not out-and-out horrible and it's not like you can actively pan them; it's instead that they're so totally and pleasantly unnecessary, the literary equivalent of unconsciously scarfing down a bag of high-fructose, empty-calorie junk food while surfing Facebook without even thinking about what you're doing, then suddenly becoming aware of your behavior and being overwhelmed with existential nausea for the utterly disposable nature of the world around us, for the hollow clock-watching pleasure these little trifles give us. I know, a heavy reaction for some poor part-time author who just wanted to write a simple little Nancy Grace crime thriller, but this is what happens when you read too many books like these in a row.

Out of 10: 7.0

Read even more about Nashville Mercy: Official site | Goodreads

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, March 18, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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March 17, 2015

CCLaP's newest book, Steven Garbas' "Orest and August," is now available!

Orest and August, by Steven Garbas

Choo-choo! The CCLaP publishing train just keeps on rolling here in 2015; and I'm happy to say that our newest book, Steven Garbas' Orest and August, is now officially available for purchase and/or download. As always, it's easier for me to just paste in the book's official synopsis than to try to describe it off the top of my head, so here it is below...

Orest Godwin is ruining his long legacy three fingers of rye at a time. His lectures have become bizarre. He's smoking indoors. And he's begun to carry a knife. When Orest nearly burns down the campus destroying memoirs in his attic, the College has no choice but to dismiss him. After 50 years, a prestigious career is ended in a humiliating act of senility. Or so The Provost thinks. Orest decides he is no longer satisfied to be a known historian; he wants to be historic. So he cashes his pension, draws a new will, and vanishes. With the help of a failing Spanish student whom he has promised a fictional scholarship, he embarks on an adventure from northern California to the lawless badlands of Mexico to join a true rebellion. Armed with Wyatt Earp replica pistols and a case of rye, Orest and Augie trespass through a thousand miles of brothels, cantinas, jungles, diners, and motels, threatening those they meet along the way. If Orest can just elude the pimps he's crossed, the ranchers he's sworn vengeance upon, and kidnapping charges, he might just join his peasant uprising. At least while he can still remember where he is going. And if no one gives him a drop of mescal.

If this suspiciously sounds like a contemporary updating of Don Quixote, that's because it is, which is also reflected in the book's cover art; but Steven always likes me to remind people that the book contains a lot more than this, including sly references to the Bible and mythology, all wrapped up in a very modern storyline that is distinctly the product of Garbas's unique fevered imagination. I'm particularly proud of this book, because it's one of the first in CCLaP's catalog to have the same kind of sophisticated, polished, mainstream feel as a bestseller from Random House or another major press; in fact this book could've very easily been put out by Random House for eventual New York Times bestseller status, so I'm grateful that Steven sent it to us instead. (And speaking of which, I've also already signed Garbas's follow-up novel, The Peach King, another pitch-black human-interest comedy set in the same small town where this novel starts; that will be coming out exactly a year from now, in March 2016, but more on that in the months ahead.)

Orest and August, paperback edition

As always, the ebook is being released for completely free download here at our website, merely in the attempt to generate as large an audience for it as possible, in four different formats (PDFs for American and European laserprinters; EPUB for most types of mobile devices; and MOBI specifically for Amazon Kindles); or if you're a Kindle owner and prefer the convenience of having books instantly delivered to your device wirelessly, you can always purchase it at the Kindle Store directly. And of course we're also offering it as a gorgeous 400-page paperback, which is where both Steven and CCLaP make their actual money; so I encourage you to purchase that version either at Amazon or through us directly via the following Paypal button...

Options

Live in Canada, like the author does? We highly encourage you to instead buy the paperback through Amazon Canada, so that you will only have to pay local postage and wait a few days for your order. And of course don't forget that this book has its own listing at Goodreads.com; so if you're a fellow user of that "social network for book nerds" like I am, I'd like to please ask you to add this book to your library there, and especially to post a few thoughts about it after you're done reading. Word-of-mouth is the number one way a tiny basement press like ours generates new fans, so your recommendation of this book to your friends can and does have a huge influence on how many copies we end up selling.

The CCLaP train keeps on rolling next month, when we release the first volume of our coming trifecta of short-story collections by Chicago authors (including Matt Rowan's Big Venerable in mid-April, Joseph G. Peterson's Twilight of the Idiots in mid-May, and Ben Tanzer's The New York Stories in mid-June); but for now, I hope you'll have a chance to stop by the Orest and August webpage and download a copy of Steven's hilarious yet moving novel yourself, a book that made me laugh out loud on a regular basis yet literally cry by the end when I first read it, which I always consider a big bonus in one of CCLaP's novels. I'm incredibly happy to have our name associated with this smart, utterly readable book, and I hope you'll have a chance to enjoy it yourself soon.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:00 AM, March 17, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles |
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Book Review: "Kiddieland" by Tim Chapman

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Kiddieland and Other Misfortunes, by Tim Chapman

Kiddieland and Other Misfortunes
By Tim Chapman
Thrilling Tales
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Regular readers of this blog know of my distinct lack of enthusiasm when it comes to reviewing books of short stories, and Tim Chapman's Kiddieland is unfortunately a perfect example of why: for while the book itself is perfectly fine, not too terrible and not too great, not too long and not too short, I find myself with literally nothing else to say about it besides, "Yep, that sure was another book of inoffensive short fiction with an academic bent." And in a world where there are already literally, literally ten million books that already exist that can be described in this exact same way, as a reviewer I find it nearly impossible to get excited about that ten millionth and first example, or to be able to come up with a compelling reason why you should go out of your way to read this ten millionth and first. Certainly not a waste of your time, it's also far from a title that could be defined as a "must-have" or "one to specifically seek out;" and while I absolutely recommend picking it up if you'd like to be a supporter of this hardworking local author, I'm finding it hard to argue why you should care if you have no such local connection. It should all be kept in mind when deciding whether or not to buy a copy yourself.

Out of 10: 7.5

Read even more about Kiddieland: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, March 17, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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March 12, 2015

Book review: "Sidewalks," Valeria Luiselli

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Sidewalks, by Valeria Luiselli

Sidewalks
By Valeria Luiselli
Coffeehouse Press, 2014
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

There's a remarkable sense of flow and coherency to Luiselli's collection of essays, which, alongside her 2012 novel Faces in the Crowd, has helped put her on the literary map as of late. It's not just in the collection's medium blending, either, although this aspect helps it cohere; Sidewalks combines the observation of detail and interest in landmarks of travel writing with the deeper analyses and incorporation of personal details typically associated with the literary essay. No, it's the way in which each essay feeds off and builds on the next. Nothing exists in isolation here; rather, the essays all form an elaborate net. Her starting point is a journey to the Italian island of San Michele, in search of Russian poet Joseph Brodsky's grave. Her flight back to her native Mexico City is then discussed, followed by a meditation on biking ("Manifesto de Velo") that leads to one of the collection's key essays, "Alternate Routes," which juxtaposes her daily bike route with her thoughts on melancholy, as well as a few words on its history and etymology; it's like following her thought process as she bikes.

Besides the form of the book, the form of the individual pieces is also worth discussion. Luiselli breaks many of these essays into brief segments. She is not, of course, the first essayist to do so. However, she carves out her own territory within this well-worn idea by making the small segments stand on their own. The effect, which would be overwhelming if the book wasn't a hundred pages long, is of having several interconnected essays within several interconnected essays. So when she presents a brief fragment about urban violence, "Concrete," it doesn't seem like filler but like one of these pieces in isolation. There are the obvious thematic takeaways from this netting, especially when considered in context with Faces in the Crowd, which is thematically built around connection, but on a more practical note, they're great for building curiosity. A great one no matter what angle you look at it from.

For reference, note that the book has only been recently translated into English, which means its LibraryThing page is still based on its Spanish title, Valse Papieren, which roughly translates to False Papers and almost works better as a title than Sidewalks does.

Out of 10: 9.3

Read even more about Sidewalks: | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari |

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 9:50 AM, March 12, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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March 10, 2015

Book Review: "The Dark Will End the Dark" by Darrin Doyle

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Dark Will End the Dark, by Darrin Doyle

The Dark Will End the Dark
By Darrin Doyle
Tortoise Books
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

So first, let me admit that I have a bit of a bias here; for while I don't know the author personally, I am friends with the owner of the press that published this, and Tortoise and CCLaP have been talking about doing some co-sponsored events together later in the year, so you should take the so-called "objectivity" of this review with a grain of salt. But that said, even without that connection I would still like this book quite a bit, a collection of dark magical-realism pieces that unsurprisingly comes from a former student of such fellow dark magical-realism authors Stuart Dybek, Elizabeth McCracken and Rick Moody. Be forewarned, this is not the fun, life-affirming kind of magical realism so prevalent in, say, Spanish literature; these are instead stories where entire boats of passengers commit mass-suicide for no particular reason, where babies insist on gnawing on the severed limbs of their parents to stay happy, and where a man competes for the title of "longest case of hiccups in history" to disastrous effect, just to list the subjects of the first three pieces. Smartly done and more naturally compelling than most story collections, this comes strongly recommended from a reviewer who was admittedly rooting for this book from the start.

Out of 10: 8.8

Read even more about The Dark Will End the Dark: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, March 10, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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March 6, 2015

Book Review: "Five Bullets," by Larry Duberstein

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Five Bullets, by Larry Duberstein
 
Five Bullets
By Larry Duberstein
Brimstone Corner Press
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
Karel Bondy lives with his family in Prague prior to the onset of the Second World War. He comes from a tight-knit community of Czech Jews. Carl Barry is a wealthy businessman in New York City, overseeing the construction of new skyrises. Carl Barry is Karel Bondy, although this change in identity occurs slowly throughout Larry Duberstein's masterful novel, Five Bullets. After settling in the United States, Carl Barry falls in love with and marries Clara Weiss. She a widow, he a widower. As he becomes closer to Clara, he pals around with her nephew Lewis. Lewis likes to asks questions and Carl enjoys answering them, sometimes with humor and sometimes with answers that are far from truthful. Lewis, ever astute, realizes his uncle is hiding something from him.

Duberstein arranges the novel to follow parallel tracks. In the first track is the pre-war life of Karel Bondy. In the second track is Carl Barry's postwar prosperity. Each track, in its own way, heads towards a collision course. For Karel Bondy, it is Czechoslovakia's sacrifice to Munich and the incremental indignities conceived by the German conquerors. His wife, Mila, retains her optimism, even as conditions worsen. First Jews endure restrictive legislation barring them from certain kinds of jobs and then restrictions become repression and then oppression. As head of the family, Karel keeps his game face on, despite knowing that the German's have far more sinister plans than ghettos and work camps.

Five Bullets is a portrait of the twentieth century. Even after enduring the inhumanity, brutality, and evil that characterized that time period, Karel does his best to retain his humanity. After seeking refuge with a Polish farmer, he leaves to fight with Russian partisans. Unlike the joking and coarse partisans, Karel remains taciturn, cynical, and bitter. When the War finally ends, he decides to settle scores. But we only come to this pivotal scene, when he confronts the SS officer that sent his family to their ultimate extermination, several decades into his new life as Carl Barry. Lewis receives much information from Uncle Carl, seeing him as a font of encyclopedic knowledge. But when it comes to his experiences in the War, it is like pulling teeth.

Then Uncle Carl decides to tell Lewis everything. He decides to tell Lewis the story of the five bullets and how he used them. Five Bullets reads like an intense mashup between Mad Men, Schindler's List, and Titus Andronicus. It is a gut-wrenching story of the Holocaust, an astute portrait of Mid-Century American from the Jewish perspective, and a nail-biting revenge thriller. Duberstein's fiction reveals what we as a species are capable of doing to each other, both on a global, political scale and within the mind of a single individual hellbent on re-balancing the scales, even if that means taking the lawn into his own hands. Coupling together the immigrant narrative with that of a revenge drama turns a simple story into something more sublime.
 
Out of 10/9.0
 
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Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, March 6, 2015. Filed under:
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March 5, 2015

Book Review: "The Wives of Billie's Mountain" by Kelly L. Simmons

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Wives of Billie's Mountain, by Kelly L. Simmons

The Wives of Billie's Mountain
By Kelly L. Simmons
Self-published
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Kelly Simmons' The Wives of Billie's Mountain is essentially not much more than a frontier story in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder, only concerning a Mormon family in Utah in this case, so what you think of it will mostly depend on what you think of Wilder in the first place. Like her, Simmons' novel is a scrupulously researched and authentic-sounding account of the day-to-day lives of hardscrabble homesteaders (the title refers to the multiple wives of a Mormon husband, who were forced to flee their homes when polygamy became illegal in Utah, and who ended up settling in a series of natural caves along the face of the mountain in question), a fascinating look at a time now past and exactly how difficult it must've been to actually survive in such circumstances; but also like Wilder, Simmons' book is all plot all the time, or not even really "plot" so much as "all excruciating minutiae all the time," and those who suspect that they might get terminally bored reading an entire chapter that does nothing but explain step-by-step how a family of children hoed and seeded a garden one spring week would probably be wise to skip both Wilder and Simmons' work altogether. There are natural pluses and minuses to writing a book in this style, a style that's more of a how-to manual than a fully formed three-act novel, so it's unfair to assign a critical judgement to these pluses and minuses; but no matter what side you in particular fall when it comes to this subject, at least The Wives of Billie's Mountain is a well-written and well-researched example of its genre, and will be right up the alley of those who adore "Little House on the Prairie" and want more, more, more. It comes specifically recommended to such readers, although more general audience members might want to think twice before picking it up.

Out of 10: 8.4

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, March 5, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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March 4, 2015

Book Review: "Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster" by Mike Vasich

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster, by Mike Vasich

Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster
By Mike Vasich
Self-published
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

It's quite easy to describe the contents of Mike Vasich's new Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster, which is why today's review isn't very long; it's simply a series of stories about the notorious troublemaker of Scandinavian mythology, but with the dialogue updated to the style of Joss Whedon. As such, then, this is really quite a treat if you're able to get into the spirit of it all, and to understand that you're meant to put tongue firmly in cheek as you read this collection of delightfully dirty and funny stories. You already know if you're the kind of person who would enjoy a book like this; and if you are, I strongly recommend picking it up with no delay.

Out of 10: 8.6

Read even more about Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, March 4, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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March 3, 2015

Book Review: "The Antidote" by Oliver Burkeman

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
By Oliver Burkeman
Faber and Faber
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I know this is going to come as a shock to many of you, but I am not exactly an "Up With People" kind of guy, and the relentless forced positivity within a certain section of the liberal arts these days, despite being done for the most noble intentions, tends to wear me out. So thank God, then, for the newish The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by philosopher and participatory journalist Oliver Burkeman; he instead looks at the many groups over the last several millennia, from the Stoics of ancient Greece to the Buddhists of Asia, the Rationalists of the Enlightenment, and even such modern figures as Alan Watts, to show that maybe it's actually pretty healthy to sometimes picture the worst-case scenario, to embrace the failures you make, and to always carry with you a finely tuned daily awareness of your own imminent death. As these groups have each independently proven, he shows through a series of fascinating trips to various contemporary communities, tribes and experts around the globe, it can actually be really healthy for humans to understand their boundaries, to know which things they can reasonably accomplish and which they can't, and to know when to let go of an obsessive desire for a goal before that goal instead kills you; and in the meanwhile, he cites modern study after modern study that are each starting to show how much damage the "power of positive thinking" can have, from increased frustration over challenges to the body giving up on a challenge after enjoying it too much in an idealized version in one's head, even to the kinds of fatalistic embrace of violent quick-change solutions that always come with fascist administrations in times of crisis. (It's not a coincidence that Nazi-era Germans and Bush-era Americans were both obsessed with new-age beliefs.) A fresh splash of water in a lobotomizingly peppy world of endless Tony Robbinses and Deepak Chopras, this will absolutely change the way you look at the world if you're one of those people receptive to its message, and it comes strongly recommended whether to read or to simply carry to your next corporate-job-mandated "Unleash The Power of Positivity!" seminar at your local sports arena.

Out of 10: 9.7

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, March 3, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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February 26, 2015

Book Review: "Praying Drunk," Kyle Minor

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Praying Drunk, by Kyle Minor

Praying Drunk
By Kyle Minor
Curbside Splendor Publishing
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

You've got to hand it to an author who uses the first page of his collection to tell you, in boldface, not to skip around. Not just because of the gutsiness, although I admire how he's willing to risk looking like a temperamental artist in order to get his point across, but because it shows that the order of the collection is important to him, which in turn implies that things are connected. Which they indeed are. Praying Drunk is quite the plate-juggling act, and not only does he keep them all up in the air, he even manages to spin one or two plates on his finger.

It's hard to quite know where to set the breaks between stories. Kyle has divided this slim volume into two parts, and he's further broken the parts into a series of cycles. The first features a trilogy of interlocked stories, a series of miniatures about missionary work in Haiti, a Q&A session that confounds and expounds upon the book's major themes, and a beautiful capstone vignette. The second features a story, the stunning and sad and in some places remarkably warm "There Is Nothing But Sadness in Nashville," with several stories nested into it, a second series of vignettes about missionary work abroad, and another Q&A, this one far stranger. The structural parallels grow deeper when you consider Kyle's reuse of characters. I don't want to spoil the reader's fun and give them away. Let's just say that the first story features speculation about the suicide of a character's uncle, and that you hear from that uncle as the collection goes on.

The parallels imply an enormous universe, within a 200 page collection, and a believable universe at that; it seems as though the characters have lives outside of the pieces' confines. They're often brutally sad lives, as "There Is Nothing but Sadness in Nashville" and the staggering experiment "The Truth and All Its Ugly" (which is built around a series of strange and devastating turns, not the least being its shift into sci-fi) imply, but what matters is that we feel them, we feel their causes and their effects and understand them as continuing outside of the stories' confines. The way form and content combine to form a coherent whole is astounding. Praying Drunk's themes of faith and family seem to get the most press, but the way the form informs the themes by suggesting the broader implications of the actions within the stories is really what drives it; furthermore, if you're not a big short story reader, the binding ties might make it feel more like a novel. On top of that, the content - breathing fire in heaven, computerized shells of children - is strange and unsettling and astonishing in the imagination department. I don't know if this will be the best book I review all year, but Kyle Minor's doing some enviable work right now.

Out of 10: 9.7

Read even more about Praying Drunk: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, February 26, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 25, 2015

Book Review: "The Lycan Hunter" by Kelsey Jordan

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Lycan Hunter, by Kelsey Jordan

The Lycan Hunter
By Kelsey Jordan
Booktrope Editions
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

When you review as many self-published and basement-press books as I do, one of the unfortunate side effects is coming across novels on a pretty regular basis that should've never graduated from the editing stage in the first place, and that got published into a full book merely because the technology exists to cheaply make it into a published full book, not because it warranted a general release to the public based on its condition; and unfortunately a good example of that is the book I just got done checking out this week, Kelsey Jordan's The Lycan Hunter, which starts right off the bat with a ten-page prologue and beginning chapter that is so ludicrously overwrought and byzantine in its urban-fantasy mythology-building that I literally could not read any more of the book than that, so hopelessly lost I already was in its dozens of names, scores of races, and thousands of years of history it had already puked out by that point, all of it written so badly that I couldn't stand the thought of going back through it again and trying to make more sense of it all. I'm refraining from giving the book an actual score today, because even I can recognize how unfair it is to score a book based on reading only its first ten pages; but you can take the fact that I couldn't get past the first ten pages as a pretty clear sign anyway about whether you should read this or not. The very definition of why people roll their eyes when hearing the words "self-published erotic werewolf saga," it takes a pretty indiscriminate genre fan to have any love for this kind of actively bad writing...although let's face it, those people are probably out there, and are undoubtedly gearing up as we speak to write me an angry comment at Goodreads.com about this review.

Out of 10: N/A

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 25, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 23, 2015

Stalking the Behemoth: "Ulysses," by James Joyce

Ulysses, by James Joyce

Ulysses
By James Joyce, 1922
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

A theory for you: there's not a Joyce fan alive who loves every chapter of Ulysses. You'd have to either be an insane frothing-at-the-mouth James Joyce freak who worships every word the man writes or have the broadest literary tastes ever to do so, since every chapter is famously written in a radically different style. It's mainly known for stream-of-consciousness, but that technique only enters in a few chapters and is more fully explored in Joyce's first and most conventional novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The famous Molly Bloom monolog, which runs three sentences across a whole chapter and is mostly responsible for the obscenity charges leveled against the novel, epitomizes that style, but elsewhere, Joyce gets his point across through whatever he can think of - an absurdist play, a parody of romance magazines, and a series of newspaper headlines all factor in; the lunchtime portion is written via many a food metaphor; the first chapter, meant to signify the start of the day, is penned in deliberately simple language to parallel just how hard it is to wake up sometimes; styles of author after author are parodied and paid homage.

Everyone knows the setup, but I feel remiss not to mention it: using Homer's Odyssey as his springboard, Joyce tells the story of two somewhat eccentric Dubliners, Stephen Daedalus (he of Portrait fame) and Leopold Bloom (he of Bloomsday fame), as they go about a more or less ordinary day. Realism had already come and portrayed the ordinary on ordinary terms, but Ulysses portrays the ordinary in madcap terms. Joyce doesn't even pretend to portray objective reality here, preferring to let his characters' perceptions and subconscious take over, with no shortage of jokes, irreverence, and wicked wordplay. This novel has a reputation of being hard to read, and that's probably got a lot to do with just how dense and dizzying it is; besides dumping experiences at you and switching styles so fast it's impossible to sink into, it's also stuffed to the brim with allusions you might not even catch (I'm sure there are many I don't understand, since I lack Joyce's exhaustive classical education) and in places more concerned with words' sound than their meaning.

So how do you read Ulysses? Well, for one, it's funny. If you appreciate Joyce's knack for the absurd, and I sure do, you'll have a great time with this. For another, the language is gorgeous. Not just in its sophisticated rhythm, but in its pure sound; "Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home" is a particular heartbreaker, as is "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." But the real trick to appreciating Ulysses comes from just accepting that you won't understand all of it and going wherever Joyce takes you. He's the one who's driving, he's got his destination in mind, and he's on his way there regardless of what you might do or say to the contrary. So forget about understanding everything. Just lie back and enjoy the ride, because it's unlike any other ride you've ever taken.

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 1:34 PM, February 23, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 20, 2015

An Introduction to American Odd

A look at peculiar institutions, oddball literary experiments, and reckless rugged individualists. A celebration of American non-conformity.

Kooks, by Donna Kossy


America, by which I mean the United States, has been called a lot of things: a laboratory of democracy, a city upon a hill, and the land of opportunity. This nation has also produced a lot of odd stuff. Inspired in part by the literary blog ireadoddbooks.com and Michel Foucault, this essay series seeks to explore the stranger intellectual crevices of this great nation of ours. In previous essay series I sought to answer The Big Questions ("What does it mean to be human?") and investigate the erotica genre. A similar through-line occurs in the subject matter selected for this essay series. "What makes these works odd?" and "Is there something within American culture that cultivates this oddness?"

What is American Odd? For me it is a catch-all umbrella term for the strange, peculiar, idiosyncratic, and unclassifiable. This goes back to Michel Foucault. When he began teaching at the College de France he chose his own academic title. The title he chose was chair of the "history of systems of thought." During his academic career Foucault investigated the intellectual archaeology of systems and institutions we take for granted (the hospital, the prison, human sexuality, etc.). As it pertains to this essay series, I'm looking into non-mainstream systems of thought. These range from experiments in the literary avant-garde to manifestos to conspiracy theories. Also included are religions and roadside attractions and comics one can find in the newspaper.

This is an essay series of interrelations and resonances. I've always been interested in Mormonism. I'll look at The Cremaster Cycle, Matthew Barney's epic of five films. Mormonism plays a key role in Cremaster 2 with its re-enactment of Gary Gilmore's murder spree and execution. I will also look at a biography of the Prophet Joseph Smith. No ordinary biography, this one was written by his mother. Considered both a prophet and a madman, Charles Manson speaks for himself in The Manson File, an anthology of his writings, art, and song lyrics. Chicago-based oddities will include Martin Gardner's book on the so-called Urantia Cult and the art and writing of Henry Darger. Other oddball selections include Zippy the Pinhead (the newspaper comic), roadside attractions (Zippy has conversations with Muffler Men), The SubGenius Foundation, and Donna Kossy's endlessly fascinating book Kooks. In addition to these books, I will also check out Gilbert Sorrentino's trilogy Pack of Lies, an avant-garde fictional hall of mirrors, and Alexander Theroux's novella Three Wogs. Theroux remains the oddest voice in American contemporary literature.

The only predetermined perspective I will bring to this essay series is that of aesthetic appreciation. The intent is not to debunk or disprove these idiosyncratic systems of thought. Whether it is a fringe religion or a conspiracy theory, my aim is not to critique but to find out what motivates people to believe these things. I will also avoid medicalizing or psychologizing the subject matter. No easy task, since it is easy to classify Henry Darger, conspiracy theorists, and fringe religious believers as "insane" or "crazy." To take the example of artist and writer William Blake, offering a psychological diagnosis for his personal self-made mythology adds nothing to aesthetic appreciation.

Humans are pattern-making creatures. Conspiracies help certain individuals and groups make sense of the world. Despite my position of non-judgment, I won't sit on my hands or utter some platitude about how all belief systems are equal in value. They are not. In Donna Kossy's Kooks, there are swaths of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and other awfulness. It just happens to be awful belief systems that don't fit into the usual garden variety hate literature. This essay series will be a delicate balance of the celebratory and the critical. The important factor will be investigating why individuals believe they way they do. "Why?" is the toughest question to answer.

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, February 20, 2015. Filed under:
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Book Review: "Rare" by Keith Veronese

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Rare, by Keith Veronese

Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth
By Keith Veronese
Prometheus Books

It was in T.C. McCarthy's great science-fiction novel Germline that I was first introduced to the concept of rare metals -- basically the same class of elements as more well-known items like aluminum and titanium, but found in even tinier amounts in the natural world, and that up to our modern age had been virtually useless as a practical material -- and the coming military wars that will eventually be fought over their deposits mostly in central Asia, because of it turning out that such ultra-contemporary items as cellphones and tablet computers simply cannot be made without them. And now here's an entire nonfiction book on the subject, from the always reliable "science for the masses" publisher Prometheus, which walks us step by step through everything you might ever want to know about the subject -- from their original discoveries in the Victorian Age, to the actual science behind why they're so valuable in electronics, what this has to do with plutonium and nuclear reactions, why that relationship fueled a lot of these discoveries during the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, and a lot more. Just a bit too technical at points, which would be my only complaint, mostly this is a fascinating and easy-to-follow guide to an obscure but hugely important subject, one that will be in the headlines every day once our grandchildren are adults; and for anyone who is curious about what makes the teeny-tiny devices of our modern world work as well as they do, this is well worth picking up.

Out of 10: 9.6

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 20, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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February 17, 2015

Book Review: "Einstein's Beach House" by Jacob M. Appel

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Einstein's Beach House, by Jacob M. Appel

Einstein's Beach House
By Jacob M. Appel
Pressgang
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I always have trouble doing analytical reviews of story collections, I suppose because of the very nature of the manuscript being reviewed -- my write-ups tend to be a detailed look at that book's themes, characters, plot and style, and you would need to do this ten or fifteen separate times to do a story collection justice, and I find it hard just to sum up all the stories in a collection in one easy paragraph. So let me just say that the newest collection of stories by Jacob M. Appel, Einstein's Beach House, is a perfectly fine read, even though I don't have a lot to say about it; mostly genteel character studies but with always a dark or strange detail or two to keep interest high, these pieces feel much like the best work of people like Richard Russo or T.C. Boyle, a mature and assured voice that delivers solid pieces that are each like a little mini-novel unto themselves. If you're into the short-story format too, this is definitely a book you'll want to pick up; although as always, for those like me who prefer full-length novels, this can be as easily skipped as any other story collection.

Out of 10: 8.5

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 17, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 16, 2015

CCLaP's newest book, Matt Fuchs' "Rise of Hypnodrome," is now available!

Rise of Hypnodrome, by Matt Fuchs

Wow, only mid-February and CCLaP already has its fourth original book of the year to announce! In this case it's Baltimore-area writer Matt Fuchs' wonderfully smart and dark science-fiction novella Rise of Hypnodrome, which we've been sending out to early reviewers for several months now but is finally becoming available to the general public starting today. As always, the book's synopsis can do a better job at explaining than I can here off the top of my head, so let me just paste it in below...

It's 2039, and a political faction called the Lifestyle Party has risen to power under the Presidency of Deepak Chopra. The new government bans scientific innovation and introduces a set of policies focused entirely on maximizing personal happiness. So why is Grady Tenderbath so unhappy? Believing that he's fallen short of his professional potential, he buys a personal robot muse to nurture his talent and ego, while his wife Karen, a genetic scientist, becomes more entrenched in her lab. But just when Grady seems on track to solve his career crisis, he discovers a new problem: he's swooning for the empathetic yet artificial Ashley. Not only that, he's distracted by haunting visions of Karen transforming into...something else. Half speculative fiction and half marriage thriller, Rise of Hypnodrome explores how future generations might draw from the realm of epigenetic engineering to eventually control their own biology. Whether human or robot, the characters in this cutting-edge science-fiction novella have one thing in common: an irrepressible desire to evolve.

Rise of Hypnodrome, paperback edition

Ooh, yeah, more please! This is CCLaP's triumphant return to hard SF for the first time in over a year, which just happens to be my personal favorite type of novel that even exists, so I'm particularly excited about this one. As always, the ebook versions of this title are being given away completely for free, merely in the attempt to raise the overall audience for the book; or if like me you prefer your reading experience to be a little more traditional, why you can always pick up the paperback edition for $14.99 plus shipping by using the button below...

Options

The book is also available over at Amazon, in both Kindle and paperback form, for those who would like to purchase it that way; and don't forget that Rise of Hypnodrome also has its own listing at Goodreads.com, so I hope my fellow Goodreaders will have a chance to add this to their to-read list over there, and especially to post a few thoughts about it after they're done reading it. Word of mouth is the number-one way a broke little indie press like us generates new customers, so your mention of this book online can and does have a substantial impact on how many total copies we end up selling. Our monthly publishing schedule is continuing without delay these days, with Steven Garbas' Orest and August coming out in just another 30 days; but for now, I hope you'll have a chance to stop by the Rise of Hypnodrome page right this second and download a copy, and see why I was charmed and moved enough by this full-length literary debut of Fuchs' to sign it with CCLaP in the first place.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:11 AM, February 16, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles |
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February 13, 2015

Book Review: "Dark Matter Tiding" by Chance Maree

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Dark Matter Tiding, by Chance Maree

Dark Matter Tiding
By Chance Maree
Self-published
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Chance Maree's Dark Matter Tiding is a perfect example of why I bother to review any self-published book that an author takes the time to send me; for while admittedly most of the time it's a chore to get through them, every so often you're rewarded with a smart and entertaining tale that justifies all the headaches that come with self-publishing to begin with. Like all the best science-fiction novels, Maree uses a Big Thing as a sort of anchor to the world-building in her particular story -- namely, that the Earth has recently started getting bombarded with more and more dark matter from the edge of the universe, which has the unfortunate side effect of making some people turn into murderous psychotics -- but then uses this milieu to instead tell a series of small, character-oriented tales within this Big Thing going on, most of them centered around or at least concerning our hero Camera Hence, a drone engineer who literally starts on chapter one by becoming horrified by the way her militaristic employer (a thinly-veiled Halliburton) has used her inventions for the mass slaughter of innocents in emerging nations, so gets her revenge by deliberately creating an "accident" with the drones during a stockholder party and demonstration that ends up killing every single executive of the company. This calls Chance's own sanity into question right from the very beginning of the book, a question we never get a definitive answer to as her storyline expands into other plots and threads (including a family ranch that is about to be foreclosed, a drug-addicted brother who owns the deed but has suddenly disappeared, his bodybuilding friend who is renting his house to a group of dark-matter psychotics who believe they are vampires and that he is their leader, an ex-hippie astrophysicist who is convinced that there is a direct correlation between dark matter and peyote, and a lot more). Like a typical William Gibson novel, all of these disparate storylines come together and reach a satisfactory resolution by the end; and I have to say, this tight, fast read was actually a lot better than many of the novels I've received in the last year even from large and established genre publishers, definitive proof that self-published work is not always a waste of your time as long as you bother to seek out the best of the best. It comes strongly recommended to fans of sci-fi and day-after-tomorrow technothrillers.

Out of 10: 8.9

Read even more about Dark Matter Tiding: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 13, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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