I specialize in reviewing Print-On-Demand (POD) published books for my website and Midwest Book Review. Please query for a review by email to hgunther234@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TOM'S WIFE by Alana Cash

Hacienda Press
Los Angeles, CA
Genre: Fiction novel
ISBN: 978-1449996321, $12.95, 302 pp.

Quoting from the back cover:
““She already hated being married to Tom after less than a year of it. Hated the three-room pine house with its bare floors and windows. She’d gone home once to her mama’s house trying to get out of it, but her mama told her, ‘A good woman don’t go off on her husband’...” (pg.3)

“Annie is nineteen, illiterate, and married to Tom Huckaby. It is the Great Depression and Tom works in a coal mine, leaving Annie to tend the farm and their newborn son. When he’s home, Tom is crude and callous. For Annie it’s a lonesome life filled by walks to the general store, attending church, and visits from her friend Twila who helps her defy Tom and earn some money of her own by selling eggs.

“One afternoon, a traveling peddler named Jake Stern wanders up to Annie’s porch in a clean white shirt selling notions and tenderness. After that, everything on the farm belongs to Tom, except Annie’s heart.

Alana Cash is an award-winning filmmaker and short story author. She taught writing in Austin, Texas and was one of 60 U.S. teachers profiled in the PBS series ‘A Writer’s Exchange.’ As a child, she spent summers on a farm in Arkansas. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

Tom’s Wife has been produced as an award-winning feature film.”

It’s wonderful that Alana Cash has such strong credentials and that her novel, Tom’s Wife, has been made into a film, and I wish her continued success. However, this 300-page-plus, simple story did not appeal to me. That does not mean it won’t appeal to you. The second paragraph from the back cover pretty much sums of Annie’s life. Add some abject poverty, single-minded motherly devotion, wifely hate, and guilt-ridden adultery. I won’t disclose the ending, but I doubt you’ll be surprised.

In my opinion the plot is simplistic and the character development shallow, with the exception of Annie, of course, as she is the protagonist. Alana Cash’s writing style is what I call typical or average–she gets the job done–but there’s nothing there to savor, and this novel could use one more editing for minor errors. I imagine Tom's Wife could be considered a poignant story about a dirt-poor family during the Great Depression; possibly that’s its appeal. Check it out for yourself...she’s the award winner.

Kaye Trout - May 18, 2011

Monday, May 09, 2011

BREAD AND WINE (Leb I Vino) by Trefor R. Stockwell

Matador, 5 Weir Road, Kibworth Beauchamp
Leicester LE8 0LQ, UK
Genre: Fictional Short Stories
Rating: Excellent
ISBN: 978 1848765 894, $12.09, 256 pp.

Quoting from the back cover:

“The title of the collection, Bread and Wine (Leb I Vino), derives from the old Bulgarian custom of hospitality to strangers: it is considered a great discourtesy if visitors to Bulgarian homes are not offered food and drink, and an even greater discourtesy if this offer is then turned down.

“‘It was a lesson I quickly learned,’ says Trefor, ‘and one that afforded me much pleasure, inspiration, and - I might add - several king-size hangovers!’

“Fans of short stories and Magical Realist fiction will enjoy this collection of stores, which range from those inspired by the dark and bloody history of the 500-year-long Ottoman occupation, the folk-lore and onto those reflecting, modern-day Bulgarian life; an eclectic mix from bawdy comedy to psychological bleakness.”

Bread and Wine is indeed a magical, well-written, well-edited read with an interesting, attractive cover. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every story, and that it had its roots in Bulgaria, little known to me, added to the delight. Clearly, Trefor R. Stockwell is an accomplished, exceptional writer with a unique gift.

I would like to share with you an excerpt from the story, Researching the Researcher, which I particularly liked: A little background here...the writer is writing about trying to write on his laptop computer.

“So here I am seated in front of the accursed machine. I have an innate fear, you see, of all thing technical. To me they have a mind of their own, and they don’t appear to like me, which is fair enough. I suppose as I spend half my time bemoaning the fact that they work against instead of with me. I curse and swear at the strange ‘pop up boxes’ that appear uninvited, unheralded and unwelcome on my screen. I threaten, cajole and eventually retreat in the face of this inhuman intelligence. But, I am told by those who know about these things that ‘they are only machines’ that ‘you can turn them off’ and that ‘they are inanimate objects’. But I can help doubting, and I can’t help wondering, as I gaze at the flickering screen, at the possibility of some malignant inhuman being lurking behind the plastic waiting for an opportunity to emerge and fry my brain. It’s another sign of the change in me and I’m sure it’s another affect of this place. My armour of atheism is gradually being eroded - a kind of osmosis of spirituality is taking place and I am at a loss to explain this phenomenon away, and it is a phenomenon which any dark day now threatens to force me on my knees praying to a god I have always denied.

“There is a mirror on the wall behind my screen, in which I can see my own reflection. I am surprised to find that I look much the same as I did in my old life. Oh the lines are a bit more pronounced, the jowls a tad more saggy and the hair line continues to recede, but essentially I remain physically unchanged.

“I recognise the face, it is familiar to me, but I feel no attachment to it. It is as if the inner me, that indefinable energy source, call it soul, call it spirit, call it ego, call it what you will, has become divorced from the physical me. I still make use of this husk of a body, but it is now simply a convenient vehicle for propelling myself from one place to another, and for conveying my thoughts (such as they are), needs and desires (such as they are) to those around me. In return for this I ensure it is fed, watered, cleaned and suitably stabled. Our relationship to each other is one of convenience, and I feel no great affection towards this weak and feeble shell, and would discard it without a pang of conscience should I feel the need. However, for the time being we need each other, this thing and I.”...

“Curiously I know not if I am happy, or unhappy, contented, or discontented, settled, or unsettled. I feel as if I am adrift on a dream ocean, with no compass, sextant or rudder, entirely reliant on winds, currents and the whims of fate. It is not an unpleasant feeling, but then neither is it a pleasant one. I appear to have become numbed, anesthetised by the slow steady heartbeat of this place.”

If you enjoyed this little excerpt, like the short-story genre and want more, that can be easily arranged. Purchase a copy of Bread and Wine, which I highly recommend–both that you do and the book, and if you’ve read many of my past reviews, you know I do not ‘highly recommend’ very often.

Kate Trout - May 9, 2011