Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Melanie Reviews: Obliterate the Following Items from the Beginning of Time

Obliterate the Following Items from the Beginning of Time by Thais Benoit
Pages: 35
Publisher: NAP magazine
Released: July 2013

Reviewed by Melanie Page

More and more the way we encounter “books” surprises me. Thais Benoit’s bitty work is a downloadable PDF as opposed to a thing with pages, even pages stapled together and handi-crafted with love. I approach such small works in a PDF more like a Happy Meal representation of the author’s writing than a full meal that showcases the writer’s palate.

Benoit is able to create interesting juxtapositions in a small spaces. She writes:

The speaker runs from someone lecherous, but as she does, she doesn’t lose the youthful exuberance that compels us to bap flowers as we pass them (especially those hard-to-resist fluffy dandelions). Her speaker is two persons at once.

Beniot also juxtaposes strength with weakness by stringing together two famous women, one who saves everyone, the other who must be saved: “I’m a handful, forcefully felt / A pint sized Wonder Woman princess peach.” Blurring the differences between Wonder Woman and Princess Peach opens the door for Benoit to say her speaker is complicated and contradictory at times by cleverly conjuring these women of pop culture.

Complex speakers fill the other poems, too. One declares, “I like puzzle people” and later says, “I am a puzzle person.” The speaker defends herself, explains the speed and which her mind races, and still is open to understand another person intimately. She explains who she is: “i prefer to take my time; i like good accidents / and the kind of sunsets caused by pollution.” Benoit adds an unromantic flavor to the sunset by giving it a good dose of reality: the skies are filled with pollution, so this is how we experience sunsets today.

Some of the poems read more like lists without meaningful connections to the reader, like in the poem “things i’ve done as a child.” There is something familiar there, though; Benoit works in the alt-lit genre, typically a boys’ club of lowercase letters; nonsense exclamations about the beauty, and, conversely, meaninglessness of life; and pop culture references (Kanye, dubstep, hashtags). But she’s not so flighty—there is something there that resonates with me in some of Benoit’s stanzas, as opposed to leading me to think “brah, ur funny #LOL” like I usually do when I read alt-lit poems. Here’s an example of a stanza that represents youthfulness pile-driving into adulthood, a flighty speaker who understands consequences:

Melanie Page has an MFA from the University of Notre Dame and is an adjunct instructor in Indiana. She is the creator of Grab the Lapels, a site that publishes book reviews and interviews of folks who identify as women at grabthelapels.com.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Indie Spotlight: John Smelcer

Today, we share an insightful essay by John Smelcer, author of The Gospel of Simon. Here, he goes into detail on the inspiration behind the novel, his attempt to forget it, and how it haunted its way into being....

Check it out.....

Tyger in the Night: John Smelcer’s Fearful “Vision” of The Gospel of Simon

“Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

“The Tyger” by William Blake

 They say truth is stranger than fiction. They also say there are no coincidences; things happen for a reason. There might be something to these sayings. My story of unlikely beginnings and even more unlikely coincidences began one wintry night in Alaska in 1996 as I was standing in a field beneath a sky full of stars and northern lights at thirty degrees below zero.

To tell the story truly, I have to begin months earlier during the summer. After hearing yet more atrocious news on the television and radio about people killing each other in the name of religious intolerance and bigotry, I remember saying a heartfelt prayer that my meager talents as a writer might be used to help remind the world that Jesus’s message was love, mercy, compassion, charity, and peace, something the world seemed to have forgotten but needed desperately. Indeed, these are universal tenets among the world’s major religions. Ironically, I wasn’t even very religious. I say this after having attended many diverse churches in my life, spanning the denominational range from Unitarian Universalists to Baptist to Catholic. More than anything, I was a curious explorer searching for something unnamed that I couldn’t put my finger on, but I knew it was out there somewhere. In this respect, I was probably a lot like you.

On that freezing night as I stood alone in the field looking up, an answer came to me in a flash. The entire contents of a book wedged itself into my brain. I saw it all, beginning to end. I wept at the incredible ending, my tears freezing on my face. Some people will undoubtedly call it a vision. I hesitate to call it that for all the associated implications. All I can say is that I was elated and terrified at the same time. The image that came to me was a re-imagining of the most familiar story in western civilization: The Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus. But it was very different from anything I had ever learned. This was the story told from the point of view of Simon, a man, so the Bible tells us (Mark 15: 20-22), came into Jerusalem that fateful day and was impressed by Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry his cross to Golgotha. Preachers rarely speak of Simon of Cyrene, and when they do it is always in error. They speak of how we should all help lift up the burdens of others. But Simon didn’t ask to carry the cross. He wasn’t a helpful Samaritan. He was ordered to carry the condemned Nazarene’s three hundred pound cross at the point of a sword. He would much rather that he had never been standing along Via Dolorosa that Friday. The Bible goes on to say that all of Jesus’s disciples had abandoned him out of fear of suffering the same fate. Peter denied knowing him three times. And yet, somehow, without any witnesses (other than the Roman legionaries who scourged him), we have the story of Jesus’s Passion. The only sympathetic witness, from beginning to end, was Simon. And yet he is little more than a footnote in history with only two lines mentioning his existence.

In the instant that the book seared itself into my memory, I heard previously unknown conversations between Jesus and Simon in which Jesus admonishes us for misusing his words and his life and death to foster bigotry, division, hate, intolerance, and oppression. I saw an astonishing ending that would shake the world awake from its nightmare of indifference, cruelty, and the economic enslavement of billions of people. Far from elated at the revelation, I was terrified. I was nobody, less than nobody, a dust mote aswirl in a tempest. A book such as this should be written by someone of great stature and learning in religion—a bishop or cardinal. The Pope. On the other hand, hadn’t I fervently prayed for just such a book, one capable of changing the world?

I resisted the gift (curse?) for a long time, fearful of what would happen to me if I wrote the story. Some friends I told in confidence cautioned me to forget it (I never told anyone about the amazing ending) while others said I had to write it. Over the years and through life’s ups and downs—unemployment, divorce, depression, remarriage, the birth of a second daughter nearly a quarter of a century after the first daughter—I worked on the book on and off, trying to find how best to tell the story. I’d finish a complete draft, share it with folks who offered input and praise, only to abandon it and start anew months, sometimes years, later. At times I wanted to forget about it altogether, such was my apprehension.

But the vision persisted. Simon. Jesus. The Cross. Write me!

I started reading books on religion to fill my gap of knowledge. I must have read over 150 books. I took graduate courses in religion at Harvard, including a course in the historical Jesus of Nazareth. I had long distance conversations with many of the world’s greatest religious thinkers and clergy, from conservatives like Billy Graham and Cardinal Edward Egan, to more liberal scholars and clerics like Bishop John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, and Rabbi Michael Lerner. I passed early drafts to folks like Coretta Scott King, talked about it over dinner with folks like Tom O’Horgan, who directed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. I shared my idea with writers like Norman Mailer, Chayym Zeldis, and Saul Bellow, all of whom encouraged me to write the book. Mailer, who wrote The Gospel According to the Son, joked that if I didn’t write it he would (he also helped me develop the structure for my follow up novel).

One of my most inspirational sources during those years was the writings of Thomas Merton, one of the most influential Christian writers, thinkers, mystics, and social rights and peace activists of the 20th century. Merton (left) helped inform Martin Luther King Jr.’s notions of peaceful civil resistance and was one of the most vocal critics of America’s unjust war in Vietnam. Here’s where the story takes a bizarre turn, one of those coincidences that verges on divine intervention.

While I was working on my book about Simon and Jesus in a grocery store cafeteria in the middle of nowhere in northern Missouri (look at a map if you think I’m exaggerating), a man came up to me one day and looked at the book by Thomas Merton I was then reading as part of my research. He asked me what I was working on. Thinking him a country bumpkin, I replied, “A book influenced by Thomas Merton.” Long story short, he knew who Thomas Merton was. More than that, he knew a little old former nun who had been best friends with Merton back in the mid-to-late 1960s. He said about twenty-five years ago, she had showed him all these trunks full of Merton’s personal possessions. I asked how she had come to have them. He told me that she had married one of Merton’s fellow monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky, and that after Merton’s untimely and mysterious death while attending a religious interfaith conference near Bangkok, Thailand, the Abbott had ordered her husband to remove all of Merton’s personal possessions from the Abbey to foil would-be relic hunters. For fifty years the objects, hundreds of them, were thought to be lost forever. In the entire world, the nun who was safeguarding the treasure lived outside Kansas City, a three hour drive from where I lived.

Imagine the coincidence!

Long story short, within a month, I was standing in the nun’s living room, and by the end of the visit, she gave me all the objects, with the proviso that I find the rightful homes for them. Over the rest of the summer and the next year, I eventually found the appropriate homes: The Vatican, The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, where Merton wanted his archives to be housed. The nun told me on numerous occasions that I was the answer to her prayers, and that Merton himself had led me to her. Though less certain than she, I like the idea nonetheless.

(The author in Merton’s habit and cowl)
There I was writing, writing a book about religion and religious relics, and I stumble upon one of the greatest discoveries of Christian relics in a century. As I said from the beginning, this is a story of coincidences. After the Merton discovery, my experience writing The Gospel of Simon kicked into high gear. The newest version of the novel began to write itself. I “bumped” into the right people at the right time, people who were poised perfectly to help me at the moment I needed it most. The writing was intense, transcendent, and far better than my abilities.

Like Coleridge, I awoke nightly from visions, frantically scribbling in the darkness what I could remember. Sometimes, against my wife’s protests, I got up and worked on the computer, such was my burning need to get the images and dialogues onto paper before they evaporated with the morning light. Merton’s master’s thesis at Columbia University was on the religious poetry and art of the British Romantic poet, William Blake (including his poem “The Tyger”). My ecstatic vision and the experience of bringing it into creation have offered me insight into the obsessive passion that must have consumed Blake, and Merton himself. At long last, The Gospel of Simon is coming out this September in English and Spanish.


John Smelcer is the author of over fifty books. His stories, poems, and essays appear in over 500 magazines. For almost a quarter of a century, he has been poetry editor at Rosebud.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Book Review: First, You Swallow the Moon

Read 8/5/16 - 8/10/16
4 Stars: Strongly Recommended to heartbreakers and those who have had their hearts broken.
Pages: 219
Publisher: Radialgrain
Released: March 2016

I don't know about you, but I hate... HATE... reading books that are going to jerk my emotions around and get me all worked up over shit I thought I had buried and put behind me. There is little worse than trying to lose yourself in a book that is determined to work its paper thin words inside the tender scars of your own past heartbreaks. I read to escape, not to stew in a pot of my own snively self pity licking old wounds, you know?

Thank GOD this is not one of those books. Though, honestly, I had feared it would be, which is why I was so gosh-darn hesitant to pick it up back when Kipp Wessel first sent it my way back in February.

Don't get me wrong, there's heartbreak here, lots and lots of it, and that same depressing struggle of moving forward because time keeps trucking along even if you don't want to, and the more time that passes the more you find yourself holding on to the pain of being left by someone you love because you just can't bear to let it go, because without the pain there might be forgetting and you refuse to forget and so you just keep fucking holding on to that pain. And then you panic a little because time is just such a fucking bitch and it's dragging you farther and farther away from the moments that were good and happy and warm, the moments you wish you could cocoon yourself inside of, and you think about how one someone can't make any more memories and it kills you to know they are gone and you are not, and you think about how the other someone is making memories without you and that kills you too, and there is such a tremendous pressure on your heart when you think of those things and you are terrified it will break into a thousand pieces right there in your chest and so you start training your heart to slow down, to beat slower, to beat like a hibernating bear's, and when it learns to hibernate you find the numbing floatyness of it addicting. You become obsessed. You jump from the brink of depression into the arms of obsession. You obsess over training your whole self to hibernate. To shield yourself from the pain and to cocoon yourself in the memories and to hide from the right now. Because acknowledging the right now is to acknowledge that things have happened, are happening, will continue to happen, around you, with or without you, and moving on into the right now is simply not an option.

(deep breath.)

Ok, so that was less me and more Jack, the poor heartbroken dude who takes the unexpected death of his older brother really badly. So badly, that he slips into a state of semi-depression and teaches his heart to hibernate like a bear's. While smooshing around in his half bear funk, he decides to move to Montana to actually study bears because he's digging the whole hibernation thing and secretly wants to try to train his whole body to do it. He breaks the news to his girlfriend Clare and she takes it pretty well, transferring schools to go live out there with him and giving him time to "find himself" as he figures out how to cope with his grief. But Jack, man.... the dude is just so darn mopey and selfish and eventually Clare gets sick of it and says she needs a break. She's been so busy taking care of Jack that she now needs time to find herself. And you're thinking, no, no, nononono, Jack you gotta pull up man, she's leaving you, and you're like Clare, wait, wait, waitwaitwait, Jack is not gonna handle this well, just wait a minute before you go blowing his whole world to shit, but it's a book, and they can't hear you and you're like fuuuuuuuuckkk.

First, You Swallow the Moon is a crafty little debut. It's all heartbreak and obsession and not being able to see what's right in front of your own face because you're busy hanging on to the past and it's mopey and indulgent but in the absolutely sweetest sort of way.

It reads like art. It feels like home. It took me places I didn't expect it to. And you should let it take you there too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Where Writers Write: Wendy J Fox

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!


Where Writers Write is a series that features authors as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Wendy J Fox. 

Wendy is the author of The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories (Press 53, 2014) and the novel The Pull of It (forthcoming, 2016, Underground Voices). Her fiction, essays, and interviews have appeared in ZYZZYVAThe Tampa ReviewThe Missouri Review, and The Pinch, among others. More at www.wendyjfox.com

Where Wendy Fox Writes

Between 1996 and 2009, after never moving once as a child, I changed house on an average pace of a little over once a year, getting me to 16 moves. It was a combination of the volatility of roommates and relationships, heading oversees and coming back, a pit stop at my mother’s, the influence of employment (or lack thereof).

It does get easier, when you move constantly; you have less stuff, you can do almost all of it in a hatchback, you become less attached to anything you can’t lift on your own (pro-tip: put your books in liquor boxes, small and sturdy and very stackable.)

Then, I thought I would settle, and I bought a townhouse in Seattle. Yet, less than a year into my 30-year mortgage, I was packing again—I had fallen in love with the man I would eventually marry, and life was taking me to Denver.

Even at the 17th time, the sound the strapping tape made as it came off the roll gave me a particular feeling, some combination of hope and queasiness.

Always, because of moving and later, because of frequent travel for work, I was a flexible writer in terms of space. My writing nook was opening my laptop or surrounded by hard copy. I wrote on airplanes and kitchen tables and on the occasional camping trip; I squeezed it in where I could, both physically and in terms of time.

Relocating to Colorado marked, in the beginning, the destruction of my social life. 

Thousands of miles away from friends and finding it hard to make community outside of my fiancĂ©’s circle, I was in a new era of writing productivity, and the dawn of what I have come to think of as Patio Writing.

I do have a proper desk at home, and in all the homes I have been in, but I also have a desk job, so I don’t really like to sit at a place that feels like an office. I will do it if I need to print a lot, or if the weather is very cold. My desk is very typically messy and is nothing interesting to look at.

In Denver, my fiancé turned husband and I were not as transient as I had been in Seattle, but we still bounced a little.

Our first move together was to the loft, which was an amazingly large apartment and essentially one big room. It was a fantastic place to throw a party. However, we started to feel like closets might be useful as well.

In the loft, I wrote from the upper or lower patio. 

 A double rainbow over the Gold Star Sausage Factory, est. 1936, where the whistle still blows at break time, 
Denver, CO, Summer 2011 – Upper Patio

Spring snow looking towards the Colorado Rockies, 
Denver, CO, March 2012 - Lower Patio

I like to write outside because I feel very connected to physical space and to landscapes. All writers are good at imagining, but for me there is also something to the experience of the body. Patio Writing helps me get to a clearer feeling of the seasons. Writing cold, when I am cold, for example, or writing heat in the blare of summer. Writing rain. Writing wind.

I also prefer the action of outside. I grew up rural, where there are wells and springs for water, but also the slaughter of animals and fire. I have lived exclusively in cities since the late 1990’s. I miss the open space, but not the hardness of country life. 

View from porch of the home I grew up in, where I first learned to love to write. 
Tonasket, WA, June 24, 2016, 8:34PM.

Unlike being out in the sticks, there are a lot of things to see from the vantage of an urban patio. Breakup and makeout sessions, car accidents and kindness. There are sirens, many sirens. Light pollution and noise pollution and the sheer evidence of humans.

By 2013, we were in a downtown neighborhood, with a lot less space than the loft, but I had just changed jobs and my hours-long commute suddenly became a walk, and we were also in an apartment with a more ordinary structure. When a cousin stopped by after we first moved in, he said, Ooh! You have walls!

Yes, walls. And a patio, where for several years I worked on two novels and a collection of short stories. 

View looking north. My first book of short stories was almost issued, but I was also waist deep in writing one novel and revising another. It was a good year for manuscripts and the weather was mild. 
Denver, CO, October, 2014.

In April of 2015, we moved again, taking me to 20 house changes. My book of short-stories was out, one novel had just gone under contract. (The second novel is still looking for a home)

We painted our new walls in colors named Velvet Curtain and Cajun Shrimp and Wings of a Dove (shades of dark blue and pinkish orange and platinum gray), but still, I spent most of my time on the patio, hacking along. 

View looking northwest, just before the weather stops cooperating, 
Denver, CO, June 2016 – Top Patio

In support of the environment of Patio Writing, I grow food and flowers in pots (we don’t have a yard), because it makes me happy to have some green around. Because there is a satisfaction in sprouting plants. Because when bees land in the lavender and butterflies on the sunflowers and there’s one lonely grasshopper lurking in my peppers, it feels a little like home.

Squash and sunflower blossoms on the current writing patio, 
Denver, CO, July 4, 2016.

Growing is a lot like writing–you plant, you try, you hope.

Sometimes, I am demoralized by hail or frost (rejection), or I am are singed by heat (rejection), or I am are pelted by rain (rejection).

Outside, I wipe my pages dry, blot the moist from my laptop or my pages. Tarp the pants. Manually sex (rejection) the peppers if there are not enough pollinators. I put out a bee wash because I am concerned.

As much as possible, in life or writing life, you look for places where you can bloom.

When I move again, which feels bound to happen, again I will take what’s important: the hard copies and drives, the scraps for novel ideas, the seeds I have collected from the columbines and the peony, the volunteer tomatoes and celosia that sprang from the compost. And of course, I will be looking for a new patio. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Buried in Books - My New Precioussssess

Because I can't possibly read every single book that finds its way into my home IMMEDIATELY, though I fully intend to die trying, allow me to show off our most recently acquired precioussssess...

For Review

Colin McAdam
Soho Press

Told simultaneously from the perspective of humans and chimpanzees, set in a Vermont home and a Florida primate research facility, A Beautiful Truth at times brutal, at others deeply moving is about the simple truths that transcend species, the meaning of family, the lure of belonging, and the capacity for survival. A powerful and haunting meditation on human nature told from the dual perspectives of a Vermont family that has adopted a chimp as a surrogate son, and a group of chimpanzees in a Florida research institute. A Beautiful Truth is an epic and heartfelt story about parenthood, friendship, loneliness, fear and conflict, about the things we hold sacred as humans and how much we have in common with our animal relatives. A novel of great heart and wisdom from a literary master, it exposes the yearnings, cruelty, and resilience of all great apes.

*Requested for review / Audiobook

100 By 100
ML Kennedy
self published
August 2016

100 by 100 is a collection of 100 stories that are each 100 words long. Mathematically, that makes each worth 1/10 of a picture. Some of these 0.1 pictures are scary, some are funny, some are funny and scary, while others are just odd. Possible uses include: Causing bad dreams, Prompts for community college writing group, Bedtime stories for children with narcolepsy, Reading aloud to cats to curtail crippling loneliness, Inspiring new videos on your unpopular YouTube Channel, Conversation starters at the weddings of your spouse’s co-workers, A story-a-day calendar from January 1st until April 10th (non-leap years), General entertainment 

*From author for review

The Ugly
Alexander Boldizar
Brooklyn Arts Press
September 2016

Muzhduk the Ugli the Fourth is a 300-pound boulder-throwing mountain man from Siberia whose tribal homeland is stolen by an American lawyer out to build a butterfly conservatory for wealthy tourists. In order to restore his people’s land and honor, Muzhduk must travel to Harvard Law School to learn how to throw words instead of boulders. His anarchic adventures span continents, from Siberia to Cambridge to Africa, as he fights fellow students, Tuareg rebels, professors of law, dark magic, bureaucrats, heatstroke, postmodernists, and eventually time and space. A wild existential comedic romp, The Ugly tells the tale of a flawed and unlikely hero struggling against the machine that shapes the people who govern our world.

*From Publisher for review

Katie Kitamura
Free Press

Cal and his trainer, Riley, are on their way to Mexico for a make-or-break rematch with legendary fighter Rivera. Four years ago, Cal became the only mixed martial arts fighter to take Rivera the distance -- but the fight nearly ended him. Only Riley, who has been at his side for the last ten years, knows how much that fight changed things for Cal. And only Riley really knows what's now at stake, for both of them.  Katie Kitamura's brilliant and stirring debut novel follows Cal and Riley through the three fraught days leading up to this momentous match, as each privately begins to doubt that Cal can win. As the tension builds toward the final electrifying scene, the looming fight becomes every challenge each of us has ever taken on, no matter how uncertain the outcome. In hypnotic, pared-down prose, "The Longshot" offers a striking portrait of two men striving to stay true to themselves and each other in the only way they know how.
*Requested for review  / Audiobook

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Where Writers Write: Lavinia Ludlow

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series that features authors as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Lavinia Ludlow. 

In addition to being a TNBBC Review contributor, she is a musician and writer dividing time between San Francisco and London. Her debut novel, alt.punk (2011), explored the ragged edge of art, society, and sanity, viciously skewering the politics of rebellion. Her sophomore novel, Single Stroke Seven (2016), explores the lives of independent artists coming of age in perilous economic conditions. Both titles can be purchased through Casperian Books. Her short works have been published in Pear Noir!, Curbside Splendor Semi-Annual Journal, and Nailed Magazine, and her indie lit reviews have appeared in Small Press Reviews, The Rumpus, The Collagist, The Nervous Breakdown, Entropy Magazine, and American Book Review.

Where Lavinia Ludlow Writes

Although living out of a single suitcase has its head and heartaches, life on the road is one of the most exhilarating, charming, and weightless experiences. Knowing that I can check everything I own at an airline's kiosk eliminates many of the mental and emotional complexities that come with a permanent residence. Over the past few years, I've traveled the North American continent extensively for work while dividing my personal time between San Francisco and London.

In March of this year, I was incredibly fortunate to see my sophomore novel, Single Stroke Seven, published through Casperian Books. Much of the backend preparation and promotional work occurred in airports, cafes, hostel lobbies, and wherever else I could find a safe and relatively hassle-free environment to crouch with a laptop. When rough drafting text for short stories or potential novel content, I seek out quieter venues such as:

Cafe in the Crypt, which is an old burial space beneath Saint Martin's in the Field. The breathtaking brick archways block all internet and cellular reception, allowing me to word process distraction-free.

 Brompton Cemetery, which isn't as ominous and bizarre as it sounds. Part of the Royal Parks, the expansive property allows me to retreat beneath a nook in the colonnade or amidst the headstones to write. 

 Saint Dunstan in the East, which is nestled in the heart of London's city centre. The building was damaged in The Great Fire of London, and heavily bombed in the 1940s airstrikes. Though the roof collapsed in the chaos, the vine-shrouded scalloped walls survived. The quaint garden in the middle of the property is a great place to scribble in a notebook.  

  To fuel my creativity, I've consumed many slices of Guinness and rainbow layer cake, along with the Rupert Street Food Union's famous chicken, chorizo, and seafood paella. 

Although I might lead the life of a modern day vagabond, the past few months in London have provided me more than enough content to fill another novel, and that's precisely what I'm doing now: writing that third book. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Nick Reviews: Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus by Nick Suttner
Pages: 194
Publisher: Boss Fight Books
Released: December 2015

Reviewed by Nick Page

Looking back on the games that I have played, Shadow of the Colossus (released in 2005) stands out as a unique experience: a game with almost no story, but awe inspiring action and amazing visuals set to an orchestral soundtrack that would feel at home in any given fantasy epic. A young man carries a young woman’s body to a temple and makes a deal with an incorporeal being: he will defeat a series of colossi to bring the young woman back to life. In short, the game involves a series of long horse rides through a beautiful country that each end in an epic battle with a big bad guy, your only tools being a sword, a bow, and your trusty horse, Agro. Aside from the lack of little bad guys, it sounds like plenty of other games, so what makes Shadow unique? Many gamers would see at a glance what makes it so, but Suttner walks the reader both through the game itself, as well as the lasting legacy of the Shadow of the Colossus.

Suttner incorporates his experience finding Shadow at E3, the largest video game industry event of the year, and its subsequent effects on his life. He further establishes his credibility as he describes his career selling games, writing about games, and eventually working at Sony to “help shape the culture of independent games on the PlayStation.” Suttner also cites creators of several other games, such as Fez and QWOP, and how the influence of Shadow reaches new games and gamers even today. Having twice interviewed the director for Shadow of the Colossus, Fumito Ueda, six years apart, the author builds trust in the reader with primary research. Finally, Suttner discusses the extensive research and videos of Michael Lambert, or “Nomad,” who has extensively searched, researched, and catalogued every virtual inch of this game’s world. The sheer volume of time spent with Shadow of the Colossus under a microscope is itself fascinating, considering the subtractive design philosophy of the director, “Like pruning tree branches, it’s necessary to cut things out in order to improve the quality of a game.”

The book is divided into 18 chapters that follow a playthrough of the game. Most of them are given names from the cryptic description of each colossus given by Dormin, the incorporeal quest-giver, as he provides clues to Wander, the mostly silent protagonist, about how to destroy each colossus. Aside from the introductory chapters that outline the basics of the game and its mechanics, each follows the player on the journey to and conquest of each colossus. Along the way, the reader is also given background on the creation of Shadow of the Colossus, as well as the lingering affects the game has had on other story-driven titles. There are no images of gameplay, but Suttner describes each battle in detail, and as one would experience it in the moment of playing: “My sword is driven home one final time as Malus groans in protest, holding a huge hand to his face as his life drains away. . . . For a moment, there’s nothing but death across the Forbidden Lands. I think of Agro [his horse and only companion].” Suttner captures the sadness that builds in the player as it dawns on him/her that victories do not come without cost.

Shadow is part love letter and part Let’s Play, with a pinch of documentary and strategy guide. A Let’s Play is a walkthrough of a game, sometimes in annotated screenshots, often in recorded video with commentary by the player. My favorite Let’s Plays are those in which the player explores all nooks and crannies of a game, completes every objective, and speaks to the history, development, and legacy of a game. Suttner captures a similar experience as he talks through the journey to and defeat of each of the sixteen colossi. As one who has played and loved the game, it was a fascinating way to relive Shadow of the Colossus in a way that both felt familiar and new.

Suttner played through the game yet again as he wrote his descriptions of the battles with each colossus, and he describes a troubling realization: after he explores the very last secrets of the game, he wishes that he could turn the last stone over again, simply to leave some mystery, but that simply can’t be. It leads me to think that the best experience would be for those unfamiliar with Shadow of the Colossus to play the game before reading this Boss Book, or at least watch a Let’s Play without commentary. Let Shadow of the Colossus speak for itself, then turn to this book to fill in the gaps and help make sense of the unique experience it has to offer.

Nick Page is the manager of educational technology at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. His favorite video game to play and/or watch on YouTube is Minecraft.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Book Giveaway: The North Water

Since July 2010, TNBBC has been bringing authors and readers together every month to get behind the book! This unique experience wouldn't be possible without the generous donations of the authors and publishers involved.

It's the beginning of a new month and you know what that means..
Time to give away our September Author /  Reader Discussion novel!

We will be reading and discussing The North Water
with author Ian McGuire

His publisher, Henry Holt, has made 10 copies available to residents of the US. 
(Sorry international folks!)
Your choice between Print and Digital formats

What it's about: 

A nineteenth-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp, and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship's medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage.

In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?

With savage, unstoppable momentum and the blackest wit, The North Water weaves a superlative story of humanity under the most extreme conditions.

This giveaway will run through August 9th . 
Winners will be announced here and via email on August 10th.

Here's how to enter:

1 - Leave a comment here or in the giveaway thread over at TNBBC on goodreads. Remember, you must be a resident of the US to enter.

2 - State that you agree to participate in the group read book discussion that will run from September 19th through the 25th. Ian has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him. 

 3 - Your comment must have a way to contact you (email is preferred).


 *If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion at TNBBC on Goodreads (the thread for the discussion will be emailed to you before the discussion begins).