Secret of the Sands

July 31, 2009

SecretoftheSandsCover.previewRai Aren and Tavius E.

RFS Publications, 2007

300 pages, Mystery/adventure

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

When a pair of young archaeologists discover a stone chest that contains strange objects anomalous to ancient Egypt they know they have found something big. Alex and Mitch must research these startling find and do it before their greedy boss takes all the credit. Jump back 12,000 years to the unusual peoples who once owned this relic and you have Secret of the Sands, a pair of stories about ancient Egypt and modern archaeology filled with family drama, double-crossing relatives, secret alliances and a power that can destroy cities.

Any book that makes an early reference to Indiana Jones and then gives a shout out to Star Wars just pages later can usually win me over but I had a difficult time with Soul and Shadow. The premise is interesting and the stakes are high but as we flip back and forth between present day and the ancient times, this wordy book became a mishmash of simple characters short on description and back-story, and heavily melodramatic. Two characters and friends of our heroes, Jack and Bob, are nearly indistinguishable except that one drinks Coke and the other drinks Diet Coke. Even then it is hard to remember who prefers which.

The Egyptian family saga set in the year 10,000 BC moves too quickly to develop any dramatic tension. In the span of five pages, three years pass and a few chapters later, four more years have elapsed. Yet the relationship pick up where they’ve left off and no one has really changed. Perhaps the biggest opportunity of the book is the dialogue which is quite juvenile and almost completely unbelievable. People just don’t talk like this! I’m not sure if the language is accurate for the time…did the ancient Egyptians – or whoever they are – really use greetings like Mommy and Daddy?

The most interesting character is Zazmaria, a conflicted princess whose loyalty shifts back and forth between a pair of warring families. She was complicated and sympathetic but a story set 12,000 years ago felt very contemporary. At one point someone lit a match. Later on, someone pours a glass of water. Did these things exist back then? My research told me the first matches appeared around 500 AD.

I never felt like I was in ancient Egypt. I needed a sense of their culture. What did they do for fun? What kinds of food did they eat? After one character dies the body was “prepared according to Kierani custom” but what exactly is this custom? By the end of the book, I didn’t know any more about Egypt than I did when I started and this was the book’s biggest disappointment.

Too many questions were left unanswered and the plot is left unresolved and even sets the reader up for a sequel. Despite the criticism, and I know I’ve been generous with it, the book did reignite my interest in ancient Egypt and send me to the Internet in search of photographs of the Great Sphinx and the pyramids. I had always wanted to go to Egypt, and I remember that I still do.

Strengths: solid structure, interesting premise, mysterious

Opportunities: lengthy, with implausible dialogue

Will appeal to: juvenile readers, fans of Egyptology, family saga enthusiasts

Secret of the Sands is available on amazon.

Visit the authors’ website here.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, July 2009


On the Subject of Covers

July 29, 2009

When is it appropriate to put your own picture on the cover of your book? Most authors place a photograph of themselves on the back cover, or on one of the inside flaps. Do you need to have a giant picture of your face on the cover too? With the rise of digital photography, Photoshop and cosmetic surgery the practice of blessing your book with your own likeness has become more and more popular. I have observed four situations when an author will grace us with their beauty and knowledge, all with varying degrees of correctness:

1. Your book is autobiographical

Who can argue with this? Of course, if you wrote a book about yourself it only makes sense to slap your best photograph on the cover. A snapshot of you at your most elegant and impressive moment. Your hair is perfect, your pose is graceful and your setting (whether you are sitting on a couch or staring reflectively through a window) commands respect and speaks to your poise.  This works especially well if you’re a celebrity and your book details every glorious aspect of your star-studded life (yawn…).

Here are a few of my favorites…

clinton

 

Bill Clinton is so awesome his picture needed to grace the cover AND the spine. I mean, c’mon…

 

 

 

slash

 

Check out Slash, shrouded in the same smoky decadence that defines his music.

 

 

 

gilbert

 

Melissa Gilbert’s is great. The pose, the elegance, the hands clasped reverently, the makeup the hair. Striking.

 

 

 

mandela

 

Check out Mandela, smiling in all his  “I’m free now, suckers!” glory.

 

 

 

But what if your autobiography isn’t so glorious?

Eric Clapton did something cool. He didn’t use his photograph, he used his autograph. Check out his cover. It’s simple, classic and kicking complete butt.

clapton-memoirx

 

 

 

 

 

And if you’re not famous, say no one knows who you are – it makes no sense to put your picture on the cover. Check out A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. This cover tells us that the book is more about his experience than about him.

boy soldier

 

 

 

 

 

2. Your book is not an autobiography but it’s still pretty much all about you

Politicians do this when they decide to run for president…

biden

mitt-romney-book

Makes sense. If you run for president, there is a good chance no one will ever know what you look like, you’ll certainly never appear on TV or the newspaper, so it’s important to write a book with your face dominating the cover.

 

 

mccain

 

Check out what John McCain did. He used a picture from his war hero days. I guess that’s why he got the nomination.

 

 

 

kerry unfit

 

Someone used the my-face-on-the-cover-of-my-book trick and cleverly fooled a small but significant part of the population into thinking this John Kerry book was autobiographical….

 

 

I guess they got the last laugh.

3. You (claim to be) an expert in your field

dr phil

 

 

Look how smart Dr. Phil makes himself look. It actually appears that he knows something besides how to sound folksy on TV. Way to go Phil!

 

 

 

women-&-money-797938

 

Suze is a little less self-important – note how the title is bigger than her hair? She’s actually pushed into the background on this, trying to sell you on the book’s message instead of her charm.

 

 

BriefHistoryTime

 

Check out good old Stephen Hawking. You don’t get any more expert than him. He’s sitting there looking out at us saying “I’m 3×10^9 times smarter than all of you combined.” And we love him for it.

 

 

 

4. You are incredibly vain

This last category is where I have the biggest problem. These people are not experts, though they certainly claim to be. They have not really accomplished anything in their lives and are famous for being famous. Meet the cast and crew of the American political punditry!

I mean really – we see your yapping mugs on TV every night. Do we also need to see you on the cover of some timely 30,000 word book?

There are two classes that fit this demographic: the talk show host and their power panel. When it comes to the panel, some are legitimate journalists, others are “Fox News Contributors” while some have more vague titles like “Democratic Strategist.” The group I want to focus on are the hosts themselves.

These are not attractive people. They are carnivorous, hateful human beings concerned only about Macing their equally venomous opponents while scoring cheap political points during their segment of the 24-hour news cycle. They are despicable people and the most loathsome maladies of our society. Only God knows why we consume their books like Irishmen draining pints of Guinness.

No matter what side you’re on the same phenomenon holds true: that for every Foxbot who springs from the cesspool of political discourse, an equally hateful Minion of MSNBC will appear and feed their hungry rabble with red meat. The books they write are an extension of their shows – so why do we buy them? We like their faces on TV, apparently we also like to see them sitting beside us on the crapper.

Here are some examples of American vanity at its worst:

ingram

 

Here’s Laura Ingraham trying to look like your pretty, everyday soccer mom. She should take lessons from her own cover and keep her mouth shut because when it opens, the image you see on the left morphes into a rabid, wild lipsticked pig.

 

medved

 

Michael Medved just wants you to know that he’s constipated.

 

 

 

olberman

 

Is Keith Olberman trying to tell us that HE’S the worst person in the world???

 

 

 

huffington-book

 

I guess, if you say so.

 

 

 

So you see, punditry has become a lucrative home-based business and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

What are your thoughts? When is it appropriate to put your face on the cover of your book? Should this become a more widespread technique or have we had enough? Post your thoughts below!


The T-Minus Guys Reviewed by the New York Times!

July 24, 2009

What a thrill to have you book reviewed by the New York Times - and to have them react favorably as well!

I’d just like to say – The Boogle said it first! har har har (2 points)

The picture is easier to read if you click the NYT link above (but even easier if you buy their book!)

shafer-2-650


Sherlock Holmes and the Underpants of Death

July 17, 2009

holmes image

Chris Wood

LDB Publishing, 2009

196 Pages, Mystery/Satire

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

I’m a huge fan of British humor and especially love a good Britcom. I’ve spent hours and hours laughing and rolling my eyes at Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder, seen every episode of Simon Pegg’s Spaced, stumbled upon the goofy My Hero and own several DVDs of the legendary Benny Hilly and Monty Python. When I learned about Chris Wood’s Sherlock Holmes and the Underpants of Death I chuckled at the title’s humorous take on the famous detective but wondered if the book would make a mockery of Holmes or be a solid and honest tribute.

The story is completely ridiculous and perfectly captures the witty and outrageous style of Monty Python-style British humor.  While not familiar with the lore of Sherlock Holmes and having limited exposure to the renowned character, my unschooled perspective meant I would not be able to pick up on any inaccuracies or inconsistencies. But it also meant that this story was fresh.

It is a nonsensical book that does not take itself seriously and this is both the book’s biggest strength and also its biggest weakness. The prose is incredibly witty and the humor is the main attraction, not only pushing the mystery and plot into the backseat, but detaining it and holding it there with a foot to the throat. This is more shtick than story and within the hodgepodge of never-ending bathroom jokes there are some gems: “as enjoyable as farting quietly in a crowded room” as well as some new terminology, “a Guinness streamer.”  Most enjoyable was the army of suicide-bombing chickens who were basted with onion and sage before sent on their mission.

This is probably not the type of book to be read in large chunks but in snippets – waiting for the bus, during a commercial break or most appropriately, on the toilet. It’s a lot of fun but it expects you to tolerate an avalanche of poop jokes. If scat is your thing and you’re a fan of dysfunctional human digestive systems then you will love this book. If you’re a fan of British humor or humor books in general this will help you pass the time but it is probably not something I’d recommend to fans of Sherlock Holmes.

My hat’s off to Chris Wood (one of England’s least distinguished writers) for writing some very thoughtful and witty humor and I wonder what else this author has in store. He has a talented comedic mind and I’m interested to see what he can do when he’s not dealing in fart jokes but a more sophisticated type of humor. Underpants of Death is a good effort and succeeds in introducing the warped mind of Chris Wood and making me wonder what he’ll do next.

Strengths: incredibly witty, sharp prose

Opportunities: heavy on the dirty jokes, light on the story

Will appeal to: fans of satire, Brit humor and all things poop

Sherlock Holmes and the Underpants of Death is available on amazon.com.

Check out Chris Wood’s blog.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, July 2009.


Catch Me on the Radio Next Week

July 15, 2009

I’m privileged to be a guest on Bobby Ozuna’s radio show next week, Wednesday the 22nd, to talk about my book Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy.With the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing happening on Monday it’s a perfect time to revisit my first novel and celebrate the ridiculous premise that NASA faked the moon landing after a botched attempt to make Elvis Presley the first man on the moon. The story requires you to have a sense of humor and I’ve been pleased that those who have read and enjoyed the book have been accurate in their praise (read: they get it). If you like off-the-wall humor like Kids in the Hall or the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, you will probably enjoy Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy. I invite you to check it out. You can read more about the book’s here including an excerpt or check out Bobby’s show here or his blog.

Or go right to amazon and buy yourself a copy – just in time for the show!

Elvis2


They Never Die Quietly

July 6, 2009

51fv1zusm1lD.M. Annechino

BookSurge, 2009

440 pages, Suspense/Thriller

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

They Never Die Quietly, The Boogle’s Page One Contest winner, is a gripping and gruesome commentary on religious fundamentalism involving a Buffalo Bill style villain who acts on God’s will with unwavering and absolute authority. Simon, a name that means “God has heard” is a deranged rapist-serial killer with a fondness for gourmet food, fine wine, elegant shoes and manners befitting the royal family. He also likes to crucify his victims, cut their hearts from their chests and display these sacrificial organs in glass jars. A young Hannibal Lecter with a charming mask of sanity, Simon convinces himself that he is driven by his devotion to God yet is constantly tormented by voices in his head that call him to act on the Maker’s behalf and “cleanse” the souls of sinners (who all happen to be young, attractive females with small children).

The good guys are lead by Sami Rizzo, a confident homicide detective and single mother who has been living her life to please her deceased father. When she’s assigned to Simon’s case we know we are heading towards a certain showdown Silence of the Lambs style.

There are times when this book is incredibly violent and at one point, so gruesome that I had to set it down and take a few breaths. This speaks to Annechino’s success as a writer. He has constructed a thoughtful and compelling suspense thriller, filled with vivid details, where the reader reacts to Simon’s harrowing murders by almost immediately praying that he suffers, which makes us automatically root for Rizzo. The up-front violence is so disturbing that when we’re not in Simon’s basement watching this religious fanatic use his faith to reconcile his sick obsession to torture women and young children, you’d think the rest of the story would be dry in comparison. The author has taken on the daunting task of making Rizzo’s story as captivating as Simon’s and as we brace for the next murder, we settle into the story of a likable detective and her donut-munching, alcoholic partner who tries without much success to track Simon and end his spree.

The story works in almost every aspect and while Simon manages to be charming and terrifying at the same time he never completely defines why he chooses his victims. He claims they are sinners but also claims that we are all sinners. He arbitrarily picks his targets because they are female, young and have small children but we never hear Simon’s indictment of their sins. What exactly did they do to deserve the suffering he brings? When pressed for an explanation, Simon chooses the safe and easy justification of doing God’s will. In this sense he is spot on, steadfast in his mission and certain in his beliefs. There can be no negotiating with a man like this and he never once questions his faith and rationalizes any doubt by telling himself that God said so. And you can’t argue with God. But the story would work better if these women were seriously flawed and had committed unforgiving sins. Instead they are simple characters with no mental demons to overcome. They are in need of no cleansing. Even Rizzo is not much different after her ordeal than she was before and she never has a reason to redeem herself. She’s just a cop doing her job and then a prisoner trying to escape. Wouldn’t her story be more compelling, the ending more satisfying if Rizzo had realized the folly of her ways, that her cause was unjust and had chosen a path of purity? But she is not this complicated…and it barely matters because we like her enough to be completely invested in her triumph.

Next to Simon the most interesting character is Rizzo’s foul-mouthed, scotch-pounding partner Al. Once we get past the cliché of the icing-slurping cop and realize he’s a lonely, love-starved man he becomes a sentimental hero. It is a delight to join him as he scours every piece of information to locate Simon’s residence, like an obsessed bill collector skip-tracing a past-due consumer. As the story builds to an exciting climax with Rizzo just hours from being nailed to Simon’s cross, and Al’s leads fizzling into dead end after dead end, we cheer him because his methods are smart, his plan is noble, and he’s not only motivated by love, he’s doing this with an incredible hangover.

The payoff almost isn’t there. While Annechino takes Rizzo to a place where she cannot possibly succeed, the story is resolved quickly and the reader is left wishing that Simon’s demise would be described with the same dramatic detail as his crimes. We want him to suffer the way his victims suffered and we want to be there to savor every moment but his punishment is implied and left to our imagination.

This is a very good book and one that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good suspense/mystery/thriller. It feels like something John Sanford wrote and would make quite an exciting movie.

Strengths: exciting and frightening villain, filled with fast-paced suspense

Opportunities: familiar plot, 2-dimensional hero

Will appeal to: readers of thriller, suspense, mystery or horror

They Never Die Quietly is available on amazon.com.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, July 2009


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