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Robert’s Roundup #21 (July 2021)

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Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint. NYP means “Name Your Price” (that’s an option on Smashwords and other booksellers).

Smashwords is doing another sitewide promotion. That’s first on my list to check out, but to be honest, last sitewide sale wasn’t that interesting (and besides I’d already bought some incredible deals in previous years).

Indie Author Spotlight

Sorry for not choosing an author for this month or last month. Next month will certainly name an indie author, I promise! (This month’s column was a lot longer than usual!).

Smashwords July Sale

As I mentioned above, I have been somewhat disappointed by how few quality titles have been discounted in their seasonal sales. In my March 2021 column I linked to my favorite publishers on Smashwords (and don’t forget that Personville titles on Smashwords are discounted for this month).

I notice that titles by Paco Jones (home page) are being discounted. If I were to oversimplify, I’d say that he’s an aging California hippie with a Phd in religion who has written some conventional suspense novels with some sexy elements thrown in. Actually he’s written several series — with 2-6 in each series. These Girls Can Play is about the trials and tribulations of a girl garage band. Castaway Island (6 parts) is a sci fi series about aliens helping humans to leave earth, Deanna, a coming of age story and Craft Faire Love (spies in love), Vietnam: A distant memory (based on the author’s own life) and Things to Come, about a Vietnam soldier’s love affair with one or more girls before going to Vietnam (not based on the author’s own life, he says upfront). Jones’ fiction hasn’t received much attention, and I’d been meaning to delve into his fiction — and given the substantial discounts, there is no better time than now.

Accursed Women by Lucianna Cavallaro. 0.99 (Author Website). Australian-Italian historic novelist retells some Greek legends. She has published two volumes in in the Servant of the Gods series which involve Greek gods contacting contemporary humans. Aha, volume 2 Labyrinthine Journey involves some time-traveling elements (surprise, surprise). The later works is about 30% cheaper on Smashwords than it is on Amazon. Here’s Cavallaro’s piece about what the ancient Phoenicians ate. (Reposted from last month’s column).

Jane Seaford (website) is a New Zealand-based author with 2 discounted titles: Dead is Dead and Other Stories and Insides of Banana Skins (1.99 each). The story collection is about “intimate stories that hold a spotlight on relationships. The stories delve into the complicated, challenging and diverse incidents that make up everyday life. They are disturbing and unforgettable, and will leave the reader gasping and wanting more;” The second book (the novel) relates the story of a 17 year old Sukey living on the edge in 1960s London. (“a time for experimenting, pushing boundaries, being outrageous.”) I read the first chapter of that one; it tugs at your heart while being frank about everything (she loses her virginity on page 2!)

Sex: Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth by Michael Adrian. (NYP!). Adrian is an “evolutionary advice columnist” who discusses dating and courtship — presumably from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Adrian is a Canadian psychologist and academic who hosted a radio show and might have interesting insights.

Lit Gloss: A rose by any Other Name by Crystal Carroll. According to a long interview, Carroll writes a lot of fairy tales and children’s stories. Most of her titles are free this month, and some are always free. Lit Gloss explores various what ifs in Shakespeare. What if Ophelia became pregnant, or Juliet has second thoughts about faking her own death? Corner of First and Myth puts Greek mythological characters in modern cities.

Chad Taylor is a well-known New Zealand author (author’s website) who has won several awards. Many of his ebooks are heavily discounted to a dollar or two this month. To generalize, many of his novels are noir mysteries with a dash of the bizarre. His books have been reviewed in several leading US publications. One review described him as a “stylish writer of noir novels who has been compared to Ross Macdonald. But his seductive command of the language and his elegiac tone more closely recall Thomas McGuane.” One book Heaven was made into a movie starring one of my favorite actors Martin Donovan. It’s about a man who meets a transexual streetwalker who sees the future in her dreams. Church of John Coltrane is a sequel to Heaven, (written a decade later) about how the character loses himself in the jazz collection of his dead father (!?). Man who wasn’t feeling himself is a collection of sci fi stories with some erotic elements. If you’re into that kind of thing, you can check out Aurelie and Aurelie 2 (which is an art heist thriller). Also, see the Marginalia blog which as best as I can tell, is a potpouri of observations about pop culture and movie.

C.Y. Croc (author website) has written a lot of sci fi /fantasy/romance novels that involve male aliens abducting human females. Her boxset for Perinqual Galaxy Aliens contains the first 3 volumes in the series and is discounted to 1.49, which sounds like a pretty good deal. (Here’s the 6 volume series on Amazon; apparently, they have received a lot of favorable reviews from readers). It sounds like sexy escapism and world building in a space opera, which sounds fun, I’ll admit.

I want to mention two other great authors whose titles are either discounted or free on Smashwords. Paul Hina, Harvey Havel and others. These were all my picks for indie authors of the month.

Mobi D’Ark (author website) is a retired Englishman who lived in Thailand for 14 years and after returning to England with his family, decided to write several novels about Thailand, full of intrigue, crime and passion. They are all free! (for July anyway). He varies the themes somewhat with one novel set in Nigeria. Most of these books have good reviews on Amazon btw.

Nonentity by Kirk Alex (1.49). Alex is a verbose author rough around the edges who wrotes mainly horror and other transgressive things. This novel is much tamer than his other stuff but hits close to home. It’s about a reclusive and unemployed author looking for work. Hey, we’ve been there, that’s as much as a horror story as a blood-slasher. Here’s an interview.

J. G. Frazer and the Platonic Theory of Being by Thomas Yaeger. Another volume by a London-based philosopher and scholar of ancient history. I’d blogged about his other books.

Idaho-based Brian Kindall (author website) has written several books about Didier Rain, a scalawag, poet and entrepreneur in the 1950s. He has two volumes with this character: Delivering Virtue Book 1 and Fortuna and the Scapegrace both on sale for $1.24 each. Scott Semegran writes, “This novel has several plot twists, almost too many to count, while the magical realism and pitch-perfect language of the period elevates this story above similar rote adventures from classic texts. I found myself laughing out loud to the predicaments Didier Rain found himself in.” Generally both books have been well-received on Amazon. Aha, I see from Kindall’s blog that he appeared on the Austin Liti Limits podcast. That should be fun.

William X. Adams (author website) is a cognitive psychologist who writes psychological science fiction. Scientific Introspection: Tools to Reveal the Mind. Among his novels is Alien Talk, Alien Body: First in the Phane Series and Intelligent Things. Reluctant Android is a NYP novel which is first in a series. In his interview, Adams explains that although he enjoys “hard” sci-fi stories but calls his works my work psi-fi, rather than sci-fi, because it’s about psychology, artificial and human, in a storytelling context. When I have androids or aliens in my stories, it’s to explore psychology. I have little patience with space ships and ray guns, alien empires and talking squid. Well, maybe I care about the squid, because that involves language, which is central to consciousness. I liked the movie, Arrival, for that reason.

2 Name your price ebooks by Ian Gabriel Mitchell (author website): Mr Schlepper and Alternate University.

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints

In previous columns I used to link to amazing books from Amazon imprints which were selling at 2 dollars or less. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t seem to be publishing many new titles and their older titles are at more expensive but still reasonable prices (usually 1.99 to 4.99). So I may have to discontinue this section for future columns.

Under the Radar

Open Me (LE, 2.99) by Lisa Locascio (Website) Here’s an interview with Aimee Binder and a listicle about the best literary sex scenes and the best books about domestic labor (fictional and nonfictional). Fun description, Locascio has an MFA and Phd and writes a lot of book reviews and essays.

Razorback by Carter Ettore. (KU, LE) (author website). Book description: “Hilarious, absurd, and surreal, Razorback is an outrageous modern take on the “superfluous man”. An epic disintegration of consciousness and composure that questions the true nature of who we think we know, who we may very well be, and the limits of redemption.”

No Taller than my Gun by David Rothman (LE, 2.99). (Author website here and more book info). See my capsule review below. (PS, Rothman is a friend who ran Teleread.org). Here’s a little profile Rothman wrote about the ebook cover designer.

Collected Poems by Michael Vaughn. (Author Website). Vaughn is a prolific fiction writer and poet. I’ve captured some of other Kindle ebooks before.

Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner. (1.99) Orner (author website) and writes a lot of fiction and has received several awards, but this is an essay collection. This was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Update: Orner apparently was a frequent guest on the Book Public podcast — today while exercising, I was listening to Orner and podcast host Yvette Benavides dissect a lovely story by author Gina Berriault.

Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. (Only 99 cents!) Here’s a Zoom reading/interview for this book with Kevin Barry (who is also a novelist himself). Both are Irish authors, and this interview is fun and talks about Irish writery stuff. Here’s the book page and a review. Apparently one of her stories, Psychobabble won 1st prize from Moth Magazine. Fun fact: As a dual Irish/American citizen, my grandfather hails from Roscommon county in Ireland — where the novel takes place.

Men who lost America: British Leadership, American Revolution and Fate of the Empire by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy. (1.99, LE). This intriguing subject is part of the Lewis Walpole Series in 18th Century Culture and History – run by Yale University Press. I was telling someone the other day how fun it can be to read some history books: some of my favorite reads in the history genre have been Roll, Jordon, Roll by Eugene D. Genovese and the Great Cat Massacre by Roger Darnton. Recently I’ve been reading Paris, 1919 by Margaret MacMillan and I keep wondering, why don’t I read more history?! As good as it can be to read primary resources, a good historian or biographer can put things together in a highly readable narrative.

Blink and it’s gone sales

Collected Poems by Galway Kinnell. 1.99

Essential Ginsberg 1.99. A nice anthology of Allen Ginsberg poems, plus essays, letters, commentary.

Poetry of Pablo Neruda (bilingual edition). 2.99. Over 1000+ pages.

Successful Aging: Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives. by Daniel Levitin. 1.99 (author page). I’ve read his earlier book This is Your Brain on Music.

Creative Commons/Academic/Public Domain

Downloaded several books by Thomas Wolfe from fadedpage.com (Haven’t read any Wolfe before although I distinctly remember a high school classmate doing so).

Library books/printed books

Purchased several books at my now open library:

Thurber Carnival by James Thurber. Compilation. Found replacement copy at library.

Best Novels of the Nineties: A Reader’s Guide by Linda Parent Lesher . You can view the full version online on archive.org (for an hour at least). The book was written in 2000, so it’s hard to think it can capture everything, but it gives rundowns of 700+ novelists. In a future post I will make a list of my favorite “book reference guides and book recommendation books”). For now you can browse the Lists of Neglected Books found on the right sidebar for the Neglected Books blog. I ended up buying a hard copy.

Presidential Anecdotes by Paul Boller. A political website recommends these light-reading books by Paul Boller on various presidential topics.

Eight White Nights: A Novel by Andre Aciman. I’m pretty much going to buy anything by Aciman I can afford (I blogged about him in last month’s column). His ebooks are not cheap though.

Coming Soon!!! by John Barth. Also Tidewater Tales. Two giant self-indulgent novels written in the 1990s when Barth was basically saying “fuck off” to readers, but I really want to read them now (PS, Barth was a former professor of mine at JHU).

Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum. (Author’s Twitter). Essbaum is a poet based in Austin

The Trace by Forrest Gander. (Author Website).

Literary Articles and Essays

“We are like books. Most people only see our cover, the minority read only the introduction, many people believe the critics. Few will know our content”. Emile Zola.

Michael Barrett summarizes the literary career of Margery Latimer (who died at an early age). By coincidence, a college friend of mine and author Joy Castro wrote a nice biographical essay about her fiction. Here’s the wikipedia page for those keeping score.

Wickedly good book review by Ted Goia: You want predictions about the future? Well, Bradbury’s most accurate forecast in The Illustrated Man may have simply been the title character’s full array of tattoos. Who would have guessed, back in the 1940s, that radical top-to-toe body art would be so popular in the new millennium? A few piercings, and the Illustrated Man would be at home in your trendiest modern-day nightclub, and ready for his own reality show on MTV. We may have made few steps toward colonizing Mars, but we are tattooing like there is no tomorrow.

Rant

When you are a full time writer and publisher, you do very little pleasure reading. I browse through a ton of books and literature (mainly to write this column), but it’s rare that I read novels from start to finish that are unrelated to my publishing projects. Partly it’s due to professional exigencies or the lack of a good chair to read from. Ultimately I am spending a lot of time before the computer writing or researching; when the day is over, I end up either watching one or two episodes of a sitcom or reading a chapter of a book. Last week I was working very hard on editing and formatting, but I was too exhausted to take a reading break; does that sound strange? Every day I see the books on my shelf and my ebook reader — so much fun stuff to read. Perhaps I am not as fast a reader as I used to be, but I read a lot of online periodicals (mostly about current events) and listen to podcasts. I am still as intellectually engaged as ever. I am just not reading as much fine literature as I should be.

Authors are pulled in different directions: to write stories, to research, to discover new authors, to explore the classics, to write book reviews and criticism, to blog about one’s life, to play around with new ideas, to investigate other genres. Finally for me as an indie publisher, I have to be a publicity machine, a tech genius and a savvy business man. It’s hard to figure out how many balls to juggle at once or whether I should be in the juggling game at all. Maybe I should volunteer at a homeless shelter or try politics? Go on more dates? Blog more? Life was so much simpler when I only had to write the occasional story.

Rant #2

Another rarity: I shall rant twice in one column. It’s about ebook covers. As much as I appreciate a good cover, I don’t really need one to get interested in a book. Everyone knows it’s all part of the Great Global Conspiracy to Impoverish Indie Authors by making them think that book covers impress people more than the book contents do.

That’s fine. One thing that bothers me is lack of a decent book description. Sometimes I can’t make head or tail out of these things. I have no idea what I am about to read. That’s especially true in the more artistic genres like poetry and short stories. The potential reader/buyer needs ideas about moods or themes of these pieces. I have a hard time figuring out what’s in store for readers. This is partially offset by the ability to read previews on Amazon. But not always.

Sometimes obvious details are not apparent. Like, when was the book first published? What country or region is the author from?

Capsule Book Review

No Taller than My Gun (2.99, LE) by David Rothman. (Book website and author website). This novel is a fast-paced Oliver Twistian rags-to-riches story set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unlike Western portrayals of the young computer genius (who inevitably achieves fame and ample venture capital), this novel has a twist: a teenage supergeek runs away to the capital city (Kinshasa) with dreams of a better, safer life — and instead ends up working under duress for a criminal racket. Lemba’s story about how technology can be both liberating and oppressive in corrupt societies offers a sober counterweight to Western techno-utopianism.

Written in a brisk style full of action and suspense, this story — and the violent actions described — can be a sometimes shocking read for U.S. audiences. The “happy ending” seems a little too forced for me — and I remain unconvinced that the road to success (and emotional recovery) for the brother and sister is as easy as presented here.

IN SUMMARY: It’s a quick & good read — with lots of incidents and dangerous escapes though it raises unsettling questions about how easily crime can exploit poverty in a society.

Multimedia, Podcasts, Etc

Wow, I’ve pleasantly surprised to learn about a new Texas book podcast (or two).

First, I was already aware of the excellent Austin Liti Limits podcast (which is run by Larry Brill and Scott Semegran). I haven’t listened to many of the episodes, but I’m sure they are excellent.

Just an hour ago I discovered Book Public, a podcast hosted by San Antonio creative writer Yvette Benavides. Apparently she is interviewing lots of authors on a weekly basis. Interestingly, about 1/4 of the episodes are discussions of stories by famous authors, which is always a delight. I just finished an episode with Andre Aciman about the paradoxes of time.

Personville Press Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. During July 2021 almost all these titles will be discounted on Smashwords. Check them out! In August you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.

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