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review 2018-01-10 16:45
Gorilla and the Bird by Zack McDermott
Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love - Zack McDermott

This is a fantastic memoir by a public defender with bipolar disorder, who occasionally experiences intense psychotic episodes. Zack McDermott is an excellent storyteller and onetime aspiring comedian, so this book will pull you right in, keep you rapt and sometimes make you laugh, despite its sometimes heavy subject matter.

The beginning of the book throws readers right into McDermott’s first psychotic episode: having met with a producer about his comedy routine only a few days before, he walks out of his apartment convinced that he is in the middle of an audition. He wanders New York City for hours, acting wacky for the cameras, until the police pick him up and take him to the hospital. Over the next couple of years, he’s hospitalized several times, struggling but eventually learning how to keep his disease under control. He is supported throughout by his mom “the Bird,” a rock star teacher of underprivileged teens who is there for her kid no matter what. The book also traces McDermott’s childhood – growing up poor in Kansas City with a single mom putting herself through school – and includes a fair bit about his work as a public defender. (I enjoyed those bits a lot; they are as no-holds-barred as the rest of the book.)

McDermott would probably make an excellent novelist, because he turns his life into a compelling story, with humor and sharp dialogue alongside a gripping plot. I read it very quickly, and it’s one of those books that’s hard to review in part because when I return to look at something in the book, I start reading it again. It seems to me that, despite some dark subject matter, the author chose to put an optimistic spin on his life in the book; an essay published the same week includes some of the same material but also discusses trauma that’s absent from the memoir. It seems like the book’s happy ending is true as far as it goes, but also isn’t the whole story. Probably no memoir is.

At any rate, it’s an excellent book. And without ever appearing to have an agenda (the author seems more upset about the way poor people of color are treated in the criminal justice system than anything that happens to him), the book challenges the stigma around mental illness, as well as the notion that a serious mental illness will inevitably ruin someone’s life or end in tragedy. I definitely recommend this one.

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review 2018-01-09 15:08
(Don't) look behind you.
Bird Box - Josh Malerman

"You can smell it, too. Death. Dying. Decay. The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead."



Let me start this by saying I would absolutely die in the world of Bird Box. Walking around the world, afraid to open your eyes because monsters are about to jump at you? Nope. So much nope. There are main characters in horror movies, and then there's that extra that dies 5 minutes in. That's me.


The premise here is terrifying. I can't imagine living in a world where the big bad is the light around us, our ability to see. And the start of the book shows that amazingly, I was terrified for our main character Malorie and her two unnamed children, that have no names for obvious plot convenience. Seriously, Malorie? I know you were busy trying to like, not die, but you couldn't take 4 minutes of your day to stop calling your children Boy and Girl? Name them after chocolate brands for all I care. Twix and M&M's would be lovely kids.


Besides this plot weirdness I thought the start of the book was amazingly written, and so is every chapter set in the present. Every moment that went back to Malorie, lost and blind in a boat, was chilling to me.



In a world where you can’t open your eyes, isn’t a blindfold all you could ever hope for?



The problem with this book wasn't there. The problem was the flashbacks.


Every character in Malorie's flashbacks is one dimentioned. Here is Tom. He is brave. Here is Don. He is cautious. Here is Jules. He has... a dog. Is having a dog a personality trait? I hope it is, because otherwise I would never be able to tell him apart from Felix. They are both completely useless to the plot. 


As it usually goes, humans are theo other problem here. While the setting is creepy and unsettling, the humans are flat and boring. Even Malorie got annoyingly one sided in her flashbacks. I couldn't care less if any of them died. The only ones I liked were the children. 


The ending was satisfying enough. Surprised me and rose this from 2 stars to 2.5.


Sentence: Honestly, if this has been just a short story with only the parts of Melanie in the boat, I'd be happy. But it wasn't, so I'm sticking to my 2.5 stars rating, rounded up to 3 on Goodreads.

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text 2018-01-04 07:58
My 2017 writing year in review

This is a review of my writing for 2017. You couldn't call it a success, nor could you call it a failure since something would have had to have been achieved in the first place. Get what I'm saying? If you've never been up how can you be down?


If you don't, well, that's okay since I write this for myself to put the previous year in perspective.


Last year I decided to see what it would be like to take part in public readings and conduct writing seminars. The idea was to raise my profile while at the same time sell my books at these events.


It didn't take much to get booked for both, but the experience was not very satisfying, akin to pitching from behind a table you've rented at a flea market. After my initial experiences I didn't look for more opportunities. Sales just aren't that important to me.


The only thing I self-published was a novella, The Rocker and the Bird Girl. It began as an experiment on Inkitt to see if a shallow story about a rock star and a young woman who ran a bird sanctuary would be popular with the juvenile readers who populate that site. Unfortunately, or fortunately - I'm not sure which, I was soon having so much fun with this story and became so enamored with my characters (though very few Inkitt followers did) I decided to pull it from that site and self-publish it.


Novellas for "New Adults" (protagonist between eighteen and thirty) seem to be trendy likely due to the diminishing attention span of this age group and the fact they're read on cellphones during commutes. Quite unexpectedly I discovered I had a lot of story ideas for this heroine and I could easily expand it into a series. Series, according to the "experts" sell better than stand-alones so what the hell, nothing else is working.


Despite a thorough launch for The Rocker and the Bird: listed as a pre-order on Smashwords three weeks in advance of publishing, email ARC copies to my Advance Reading Team, giveaways on Booklikes and Library Thing, two weeks free on Smashwords, free with coupon on my website, and promoted unabashedly on my social media accounts  - it so far has had two reviews and no sales.


Undeterred, the second in The Mattie Saunders Series, Cold Blooded, is set to be self-published in March of this year. Here's the blurb:


"When a suspicious death at the The Reptile Refuge closes it down, Mattie receives a desperate call from Liz, an old friend from high school, asking if it's possible to temporarily board some reptiles at Saunders Bird Sanctuary. Mattie's not concerned with the circumstances and sees it as an opportunity to reconnect with Liz as well as help some animals in distress.

Unwittingly, Mattie's drawn into a dark intrigue and soon discovers it's not just the displaced inhabitants of The Reptile Refuge that are cold blooded."


Still determined to break into traditional publishing I spent the balance of last year polishing the manuscript of East Van Saturday Night - four short stories and a novella and submitting it to Canadian publishers. The list of rejections continues to increase from those publishers gracious enough to send me one.


What's ahead?


This year, as mentioned, the second in my series will be self-published, the third is already outlined (okay, only in my head, but it's only January 4th) and a first draft will be written, plus I'll continue to work on another full length novel with the working title, The Triumvirate - three exceptional people, one insurmountable challenge. I've already stopped submitting East Van Saturday Night and, once the disappointment abates somewhat will take another look at the entire project.


Promotions of my backlist are also a consideration for 2018.


Book sales from all sources in 2017 amounted to $174.44. Expenses including book proofs, book orders and postage totaled $253.88. You can draw your own conclusions.


Oddly enough I'm optimistic. Why not?


Besides, writing for me is its own reward - really.


Stand calm, be brave, watch for the signs.




Sites associated with this blog:




My Amazon book page



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review 2017-12-20 17:28
Where the Sweet Bird Sings
Where the Sweet Bird Sings - Ella Joy Olsen

Emma Hazelton has just buried her grandfather. And she buried her son on the same day one year earlier. She's still grieving her little boy who passed away due to a rare genetic disease and she feels as though her husband wants to move on, to try to have another baby even though there's a 1-in-4 chance that baby will have Canavan's. Emma decides to get out of the house. She needs time and space to think. While going through her grandfather's things, she begins to untangle the web of her family's past and dig into the roots of her son's disease. And she learns that it isn't blood that connects a family, it's love.

I won a copy of her debut novel (Root, Petal, Thorn) and it was really good and, like this one, it has a beautiful cover. So when I saw this as a "read now" on Netgalley I had to click the button. But I couldn't get into it then and I tried over the months but it just wasn't holding my attention. I knew it was going to be a good read, so what was my problem? I donno. Anyway, I picked it up the other day and could not put it down. I devoured it. Emma's love for her child and her grief were palpable. It's predictable but that doesn't take anything away from the book. It's beautifully written. And if you've read Root, Petal, Thorn you'll get a nice little surprise in this one!

Thank you to Netgalley and Kensington Books for an ARC.

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review 2017-12-19 02:15
Lumberjanes Vol 7
Lumberjanes Vol. 7: A Bird's-Eye View - Shannon Watters,Kat Leyh,Noelle Stevenson,Grace Ellis,Brooke Allen,Carey Pietsch,Ayme Sotuyo,Maarta Laiho

This volume was published relatively quickly (so it seems), but it was mostly a filler adventure. The ending hinted that something bigger is coming, so hopefully the next volume follows through. Maybe the start of a longer arc? I don't mind these shorter side stories, but they weren't what I was expecting when I started reading the series. 


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