Robert’s Roundup #17 (March 2021 Edition)

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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.


3/7/21. The 1 week Smashwords sale starts today so I’ll do a quick search of quality titles and list them ASAP. I’ll add other non-Smashword titles as I go along. 4/1 I’m leaving the titles discovered on the sales even though most probably snapped back to the “normal” price by now.

Indie Author Spotlight

Paul Hina is a prolific author and poet who has been producing quality fiction and poetry for over 2 decades. My review of Other Shore is below. It’s hard to categorize an author on the basis of one book, but I think he inhabits the genre of short “pensive romances.” I already grabbed his Lavender Haze: Three Stories of Flirting with an Affair and Golden Boat. By some crazy coincidence, Hina lives in the same city as Jack Matthews (the author my Personville Press has been publishing). His ebooks are discounted semi-regularly on Smashwords and stay in the budget category on other ebook distributors.

(Read about indie authors profiled in previous months).

Smashwords Sales

First, Smashwords lets you search/sort by Publisher, which is really helpful. Here are the most interesting presses I’ve seen so far on Smashwords: Unsolicited Press | Fomite Press | Whitepoint Press | OpenBooks (interesting but overrpriced?), Bold Venture Press (republishes classic, pulp and genre fiction | Lethe Press | ReAnimus Press (established scifi press which republishes lots of things) | LDB Press | Black Opal Books | Propertius Press (too expensive though) | Atthis Arts | Leaf Garden Press (mainly poetry — see here). Also I would be remiss if I didn’t link to my own Personville Press titles — great stuff — all discounted!

I haven’t checked all these presses yet, but after superficial browsing, it appears that all of Unsolicited Press titles are heavily discounted. They publish mainly literary fiction and poetry, all of it great. Below are some interesting titles I haven’t seen or bought before. Keep in mind that I’ve recommended some other Unsolicited titles in previous roundups — see here and here. I’m guessing that these titles are also discounted.

  • Anne Leigh Parrish, What Nell Dreams, (Author website). Parrish is one of the literary stars on Smashwords and one of my favorite discoveries. The 3 other titles on SW are good also, but several other titles are Amazon only.
  • Tin Can House and Other Stories by Susan Pepper Robbins. Actually her earlier collection Nothing but the Weather has 2x as many words, so it must be twice as better — right?! Here’s an interview and a published story.
  • Biography of a Body by Lizz Schumer. (Author Website) Schumer is a young “Jackie of all Trades” writer who writes a lot of nonfiction for well-known publications and (according to her bio) does fiction and poetry as well (not yet published). Book excerpt and short video
  • And Yes She Was by Tsipi Keller. Keller is a Prague-born author and translator who lived in Israel and now Florida. No home page, but her fictionaut page lists a lot of fiction titles, books and bio (she lists a lot of European titles as faves). This title — the only one on SW — is about a disintegrating marriage.
  • Bread and Salt by Valerie Miner (author website). Story collection by a prolific author and Stanford prof of feminist studies. By the way, SW only has one of Miner’s books (1.99 this week). I just wanted to point out that Open Road Media promotes all her other books, so despite the high sticker price, her other ebooks gets regularly discounted to 1.99. Miner is a regular guest on podcasts (see here) , so you can see and hear her in several places. Here’s a page collecting reviews of her ebooks. Here’s one review of Bread and Salt: “she deftly moves readers across the seas with lush prose and razor-sharp insight. The collection’s stories celebrate the musical complexity of language while addressing real world themes of immigration, suicide, gun violence, and state terrorism.”
  • The Minors by Chris Ludovici , a novel about baseball (presumably the minor leagues). Here’s an author interview and a nice book review:
    “This is a character-driven story, and Sam and Nick and the others have the nuance and beauty that comes from genuine affection on the part of the author. Such writerly love is infectious; it only took a few pages for me to care about Nick and Sam. The story’s premise about the nature of people and adulthood is fundamentally compassionate; people aren’t bad, Nick contends, they’re “just stupid.” They make mistakes and stumble through their relationships. In The Minors, coming of age is the acknowledgment that no one has really made it out of “the minors,” that everyone is trying their hardest and there are good moments and bad moments to life.

I raved about Paul Hina‘s “literary romance” title (see book review below). He’s still been writing poetry and fiction, and his Smashwords titles are free this week.

Ever since I discovered Harvey Havel on SW, I’ve been interviewing him, writing book reviews and ultimately maintaining an active correspondence. His books are mostly free now this week on Smashwords.

Moskowitz Code by Joel Bresler (Humor book).

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints.

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Under the Radar

Sorrows of Young Mike (KU, LE, 0.99 ), by John Zelazny (FB Page) Several years ago Zelazny wrote a modern retelling of Goethe’s Werther, using instead a horny college student travelling around the world. Intriguing premise — hopefully with a different ending than the original Goethe! He’s a music journalist who also published Past Deadline, his reporting one year from the Aspen Music Beat festival.

Lisette Brodey (author website) is a prolific California author born in Philadelphia who is also a super-blogger. To my amazement, she has 17 pages worth of interviews with other authors (several authors per page!) — which is quite a feat. (I can’t wait to browse through them). Lisette’s Book Page is here, and prices range from 0.99 to 2.99 on Amazon (LE, KU). In addition to writing a YA Paranormal series, she has written several ebooks for adults which are periodically discounted. I grabbed Crooked Moon about two friends who grew up in Philadelphia meet again 20 year later. Here’s an interview she did with blogger/author Deborah Nam-Krane about her story collection Hotel Obscure. Quote: “..(B)ecause I think that most of us have misconceptions/stereotypes about groups of people, no matter what the common denominator, I wanted to focus on this small population of people, bring them out of obscurity, and let their individuality shine. Too many people are hidden away in real life and categorized as someone or something very different from who they genuinely are.” Also interesting: Squalor, New Mexico (a mother refuses to talk about her sister around her daughter) and Sum of Our Sorrows, a tale of how a family tragedy affects one of the daughters.

Brodey worked in communications and acting both in NYC and California, so she probably met a lot of interesting people along the way. Almost forgot: Brodey produced a collection of her mother’s poetry, My Way To Anywhere by Jean Lisette Brodey.

Geek who Came from the Cold: Surviving the Post-USSR Era on a Hollywood Diet (Free!, KU, LE) by Leon Kaminsky

True Porn Clerk Stories by Ali Davis (99 cents, KU, LE). Hilarious first person tale of a young female comedy writer and performer who worked at a porn store in the 1990s. I read this a decade ago and laughed really hard. More recently, she’s been interviewed on Soundcloud . Highly recommended!

Built to Fail: The Inside Story of Blockbuster’s Inevitable Bust by Allan Payne. (99 cents, LE). In the 1990s Payne managed the San Antonio HEB video stores (called “Video Central” ) and later was hired by Blockbuster to turn around failing Blockbuster stores. This price probably won’t last, but I have people who worked at both stores in the 1990s.

Coldness of Objects by Panayotis Cacoyannis. (99 cent sale, KU, LE). (author website). I’ve corresponded briefly with this Cypress-born UK author — who is related to the famous Greek director. He’s written several acclaimed literary novels, and I can’t wait to read them (and dang, PC just released another one). This one is a Kafkaesque post-Covid political satire

Seeing the Grocery Store through Seinfeld Eyes by R. Scott Murphy. I definitely get the sense that humorist Murphy is trying to hang on Seinfeld’s fame by putting his name on the titles, but this is an earnest book of humous observations.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

(books which go temporarily on sale for a day and then jump back to regular price; to hear about them, you generally need to set up price alerts on ereaderiq).

Edge of Reason by Julian Baggini (author website). He is the author of the readable classic Pig who wants to be eaten (which was used skillfully by a high school teacher I observed to get students into philosophical questions)

Apropos of Nothing by Woody Allen. 1.99 I bought it because I knew it would be a brooding but entertaining read.

Eros of Everyday Life: Essays on Ecology, Gender and Society by Susan Griffin (1.99). A feminist philosopher, whose book I read in the 1990s. She’s written several

Quirky: Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators by Melissa A. Schilling. A great 99 cent bargain business book. Without even trying I’d read the first two chapters about Musk and Einstein.. There’s general insights here, but the lives depicted here are so iconic that it’s worth revisiting.

Writer’s Library: Authors you love on the books that changed their lives by Nancy Pearl, etc. 1.99 Why am I such a sucker for these books?

Creative Commons — Academic — Public Domain

Nothing here yet

Once in a Lifetime Deals

None this time

Indie Titles/Other ebook distributors

None this time

Review Copies Received

None this time

Library Books & Printed books bought (Better World Books, Amazon, etc)

I bought all of these books at bargain prices!

Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Science Deniers by John Cook. Book is a brilliant mind behind which is used to fight conservative misinformation about climate change. He’s a great science communicator, as this video shows.

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge EO WILSON BIOLOGICAL GENIUS

Calculated Risks: How To Know When Numbers Deceive You by Gerd Gigerenzer. GOOD BOOK ON STATS

The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems ROBERT HASS — FAMOUS POET. Also, Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry by the same poet.

New Frontiers: A Collection of Tales About the Past, the Present, and the Future (BEN BOVA) I’ve always wanted to read more sci fi.

The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World by Carl Safina, ZOOLOGIST AND MACARTHUR GENIUS WRITES ABOUT NATURE — I READ HIS OTHER BOOK, BEYOND WORDS.

Unknown Masterpieces: Writers Rediscover Literature’s Hidden Classics (New York Review Books Classics)



Levee by Paul Otremba. HOUSTON POET WHO DIED IN HIS 30s 2 YEARS AGO.. read library copy – thought it was terrific

Ebook Reviews

Other Shore by Paul Hina (book cover)
I love this book!

Other Shore by Paul Hina (Author home page and twitter account)

In the novella “The Other Shore” Paul Hina captures romance and domestic drama with psychological nuance. He writes incredibly well and with tenderness about unique relationship situations and flawed but complex characters. The first novella in the volume is remarkable: a son of a famous poet returns home to mend his relationship with his dying dad and deal with his sexual attractions to a grad student at his dad’s department while dealing with his own rocky marriage. The story may have ended in a predictable place, but I really enjoyed getting to know all the people. My only “complaint” (maybe it’s a lament?) is that everybody is so rational and well-spoken that it’s hard to imagine them really fighting for long. This book is a beautifully told tale; it’s both a multi-faceted love story and an exploration of the protagonist’s ambivalence about marriage. Compare to DH Lawrence or possibly some realistic writer like Anne Tyler or Somerset Maugham.

Literary Articles and Essays

Salon’s Laura Miller interviewed Norton Juster about Phantom Tollbooth. (Juster died a few days ago, and remains one of my favorite authors).

Remember those wonderful Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) novels for kids. There have been many attempts to recreate the magic of those novels in ebook form — without much success. By accident I stumbled upon the Choice of Games website. Apparently some developers built a software platform and a programming language to make it easier to display CYOA games. These guys have been around for almost a decade; they publish CYOAs as mobile apps — selling them for about 5 dollars. Alternately you can create one of your own and host it on the User-made Games portion of the site. All apps are free for download, and you are allowed to read 3 chapters before they prompt you to buy the whole thing. I downloaded one CYOA and thought it was very well written. (I’m actually playing with the idea of writing one myself)..

Lauren Gross on the forgotten genius of Nancy Hale.

Nancy Hale’s voice has become a quiet and internal intelligence that over the past months I have begun to rely on; finishing the book gives me a gentle, bittersweet tang. She once said, according to her granddaughter Norah Hardin Lind, that the work of a great writer makes it feel as though we are “sitting on some cosmic front porch together, rocking, exchanging long, gratifying accounts of our happy or unhappy lives. At any moment the writer is trying to make it seem that the reader can break in upon the writer’s stream of discourse crying, Why, that is just the way it was with me!” Many times in reading for this volume, I had that same slippery sense of connection with a keen and perceptive mind that saw pieces of my life more clearly than I could. A small, ignoble part of me even wants to keep her as my own brilliant friend without having to share her with the rest of the world; a joy held secretly within the heart can illuminate a dark time or a difficult day, and there have been plenty of these for all of us in recent months.

Here’s an interview with author Joy Castro whom I briefly knew at Trinity University where we studied together. Here’s an interview with author Joy Castro whom I briefly knew while at Trinity University. She mentions taking an English course on Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and Lawrence Durrell where classes met each week at a different bar. Wow, that’s a class I must have missed! (and besides, by that time, I was too preoccupied with European fiction to deign to read anything written by Americans — though those 3 did travel a lot….) Castro has written fiction — which I have not read, but would probably be interesting. She’s written several essay collections and several memoirs (including Truth Book, which was a harrowing tale about growing up in a chaotic Jehovah’s Witness family.

Literary Audio/Multimedia

If you have been reading this blog, you will know that I am working tirelessly to digitize a lost classic by Pulitzer-prize winning author Robert Hillyer (1895-1961). I can promise you, publication is less than a month away! Hillyer is mostly known for his poetry, but I never in my wildest dreams expecting to come across audio files of Hillyer reciting poetry at poetry events. Apparently U. of Delaware has hours of audio from his last decade of life. Hillyer reads a combination of famous poetry and his own. He also introduces his good friend Robert Frost to a poetry reading, which also is a treat.

Here’s a great TV interview with Katherine Anne Porter for a short-lived Day at Night TV show run SUNY in the 1970s. The interview show only lasted a year, but it had a nice guest list: Norman Lear, Irving Howe, Ray Bradbury, Christopher Isherwood, etc (too lazy to make the links)

Personville Press Giveaways and 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 Google, Amazon, BN, Apple and Kobo. In May 2021 you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.






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