Archive for March, 2014

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

Author Dan Schell found me and asked if I’d be willing to review his novel, The Road to Fluffer. It’s about a journalist, he said, a rock journalist, who is assigned to go on the road with this band, Numb Skull, and follow their adventures as they try to gain enough exposure and experience to gain a sponsorship from an adult energy drink.

Sounds perfect. It got better, too, once I started reading and realized that the Fluffer of the title is, indeed, the adult energy drink. Fluffer. As in the slang term used in the adult movie industry.

The sly laughs don’t stop there. The band is named Numb Skull. Its lead singer is named Chester Drawers, and he can’t say anything without tacking on an “All right!” at the end.

Slam dunk. This is one fun read.

But it’s not without its flaws. Lead character and music journalist Darrell is a nice guy. Maybe too nice. He sort of floats through the novel as his marriage crumbles. He’s not fighting for it, nor is he fighting for his job with the sort of passion one would expect when faced with losing one’s marriage AND one’s job. You gotta salvage one or the other so that, at the end of the day, you’ve got SOMEthing, right? Maybe not, but it’d have been nice to see a bit more fight out of our lead character.

The band bumbles along in a very real way. They’re inept, but also a bit too passive. They say they want this, but their passion isn’t shown. And there’s not much at stake, overall: the band either will or won’t get the sponsorship, but nothing bad will happen if it doesn’t happen.

That said, this is a greatly fun read for anyone who loves the Rock Fiction genre. Schell’s got the chops and the details to bring life on the road to vivid life and give the reader a taste for what it feels like to be out there, a struggling band who can’t make it from Point A to Point B on what they’re earning each show.

There aren’t a lot of glimpses of this part of the road. It’s like writers: most people assume that if you’re in a band that’s touring, you’re raking in the bucks. The truth is far from the dream, and at the end of the day, that dream is what fuels so many of us to keep going. Schell’s managed to let us empathize with the members of Numb Skull while educating us, all at the same time.

A West of Mars Recommended Read, simply because it’s a fun one, even though it stopped short of being great.

I remember watching Josie and the Pussycats when I was a kid. If you’ve never seen it, it was this cartoon about young women with incredible figures who wore ears and tails and leopard-colored clothes. They were a band. And if there was any more to the show, I’ll be darned if I can remember it.

Guess I was always a rock-minded chick.

A month ago, which means in time for Valentine’s Day, Archie Comics has put out a graphic novel that plays with the idea of what if Valerie, the Pussycats’ bassist, and Archie get together.

From the book’s description:

They’ll have to harmonize to deal with rock band drama, reality TV and “real jobs.” But their biggest challenge will also be their most successful collaboration, when their daughter Star lives up to her name and her talented heritage. And of course, all the dreams and drama come laced with the classic comic mayhem we all expect from Archie!

How can you resist??? I sure can’t. None of us should have to. Pick up your copy!

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

Everyone, it seemed, was talking about Jessica Topper’s Louder Than Love coming into Rocktober 2013. There were a lot of raves about it—along with some criticisms, as well. Those balanced reviews made it totally irresistible, and when author Topper got in touch with me, I was over the moon.

That was before I started reading, even, and I’m pleased to say the book lives up to the hype. I loved Louder than Love. Yes, the beginning is slowed by too much backstory—which I told Jessica I’d have beaten out of her if we’d worked together before she sent it to her editor (and you should have seen my face when I realized who the acquiring editor at her publisher is, too. Let’s just say she’s someone who edits some of my other friends and acquaintances, and I hold her in very high esteem).

The story is that of Katrina Lewis, a widow who’s been grieving for her husband for long, it’s become a part of her. Pete died years ago, but she’s still trying to put her life together when we meet her. She’s got a young daughter, and it’s in her quest to put together a program for this daughter—and the other kids at the library Tree volunteers with—that she meets obscure singer Adrian Graves.

Blond, tattooed, and sexy as anything, he’s also drunk when he shows up for the kiddie program, and Tree’s not really sure what she’s gotten herself into.

All’s not what it seems, and that’s the jist of the story. Adrian and Tree—Kat, he calls her—navigate her friends, his past … and finally, they reach the point where Kat has to acknowledge her past and make the overdue commitment to move forward to a new life, one without her precious Pete. Can she, or can’t she? That’s what the book ultimately hinges on.

At its heart, Louder than Love is a romance, so right there, you know how it’ll end. But what is worth mentioning—and what makes the book so darn good—is that beyond the slow, backstory-filled start, this is a fabulously crafted book. I can’t tell you how many times I set it down and thought about the structure, the pacing, the clever building of the characters.

Now, you can counter by saying Adrian’s past is hardly a shocker. Or that the only unexpected twist to the storyline is that he doesn’t relapse into heroin use. Yeah, I’d agree with both those statements.

But I’ll also argue that some of the best books work the formula in such a way that you don’t really realize you’re reading formula until you think back over what you’ve read. That’s the mark of a good writer, one who sweeps you along in the story, who creates characters who you wish were real, who makes you turn off your critical thinking skills and instead react emotionally.

I can’t wait to see more from Topper. And I have to confess that I hope her invite for me to join her at a Buffalo RWA meeting holds true. That would be one heck of a fun day, and I suspect I’d learn just as much as the people I’ve been casually asked to present to.

This review was first posted at West of Mars. It’s being reposted here, at its new permanent home.

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Michael Kayser sent Susan a copy of Fast Cars and Rock and Roll, and she’s been super busy, so it came to me. Finally, something good!

In short, it’s the story of a dude who’s legally renamed himself Deacon Jones. Deke’s got a thing for cars and a thing for guitars—in that order, which sucks for us music lovers. Getting ready for some huge car race that’ll take over a week to finish up means spending a week visiting the towns the race’ll be held in, playing in a band to warm up the crowd.

Guy in a band. Rock Fiction, right?

Not so fast there, cowboy. Yeah, Deke’s always talking music and plays guitar and all that, but really, this is Car Fiction. Is that even a real thing? It is now. This book spends so much time talking cars and assuming we all know as much as he does… I was lost half the time and, frankly, bored the other half. Too much tech talk.

And then there’s the girls. Deke’s got two: a slutty bad girl and a prudish good girl. Nothing in the middle? Why not? Me and my friends all fall smack in the middle. Deke needs us, not those two. I hated them both, and so did Deke, by the way he talked about them and treated them.

So yeah, there’s music and it’s a good read if you can get past the cars. And the cars. And the cars. Did I mention the cars? Everything else is secondary to the cars. This is a modern-day (even though it’s pretty dated to the 1980s; I didn’t get all the references) story of a love affair with cars, like back in the day, when cars were all the girl a guy needed.

Maybe next time, the cars will come second and the music first. I’d read that in a heartbeat. Just lose some of the nicknames but let the underdog keep his day in the sun, let the bad guys get theirs, and maybe include some better girls. I’d read that faster than Deke at his fastest.

Oh, and keep the bugs. Gross, sick, fascinating, that scene had enough eeew factor to make up for those chicks.

Taking the art of Rock Fiction to a new level was (is?) rock band Gwar, one of my sentimental favorites for … wow. Twenty years now?

I own a white GWAR t-shirt, although I’m not certain where it is. Yes, you read that right: WHITE GWAR t-shirt. It was given to me by the band … after one of their shows. What a cool lot they were.

Word came down this morning that Dave Brockie, the genius behind GWAR and the force that was Oderus Urungus, was found dead in his home over the weekend.

In the past few years, I’ve followed Oderus on Twitter, howled with glee at the band’s video adventures (The Trick or Treating fun was a particular favorite), and shook my head in genuine awe at Oderus’ cleverness. Dave Brockie found ways to make the world conform to him… he never had a chance of fitting into our world otherwise. The man was absolutely brilliant. And smart! Oh, so freaking smart. To be able to maintain his persona, to be that consistently creative, all the time…

It’s a true loss we’ve suffered, although concert promoters and hall owners around the world might be breathing a sigh of relief. After all, Oderus’s cuttlefish packed a mighty punch.

I don’t say this often, but this is one band that I hope hangs it up. GWAR relied on Dave’s brilliance and inspiration. Seeing them be a diminished band… that’s a sort of torture that’s even worse than the idea of losing Oderus.

Travel well back to your world, Oderus. Your stay on Earth gave us all so much more than we’ll ever know.

The Rock Fiction just doesn’t stop… oh, how I love this new world of self-publishing. It’s perfect for Rock Fiction, which is considered by most of the big publishing houses to be a poorly selling genre.

Needless to say, my mission is to prove them WRONG. Who’s with me?

Today’s coveted book is Fortune Calling, written by Hunter S. Jones. It’s got the odds stacked against it because it’s set in Nashville, which is, of course, where the same-named TV show is set. I think any of us who watch Nashville (and I’m hooked, of course!) will pick up this book with a preconceived notion of what the scene ought to look like.

That’s most likely a shame because the plot’s intriguing. Different.

Here’s the book description:

<blockquote>Dallas Fortune is a small town girl with a gift for playing guitar. A member of her family has played the Grand Ol Opry since it began as a simple radio show in 1925. But, they are the minstrels, the troubadours–session players–not stars.

Dallas lives her life on the road. She’s just another guitar player with a dream until she finds an antique blue mandolin in a pawn shop. Her life comes into focus as the enchantment of the mandolin captivates her audiences. The Guitar God of Nashville beckons her. Everything is there for Dallas at last, until a stage accident sends her home and shatters her dreams. Blow after blow she fights the hand of fate. Is she destined to lose out in life? Hope, dreams, and love seem to be just out of reach. Every girl dreams of a happy ending. Will a spontaneous card reading reveal her destiny?Dallas Fortune has the best Fairy Godmother in country music history. Will she help make Dallas’ dreams come true?

Is the future among the stars, in the cards or locked in your heart?</blockquote>

Okay, okay, FINE. It’s Cinderella. But Cinderella with cowboy boots and a mandolin!

(Mandolin? Who plays mandolin anymore? COOL!)

It was growing. So is the editing business.

That meant Westofmars.com was getting … confused. Overcrowded.

The site over there is currently undergoing a complete overhaul (and WAIT until you see it), so Jett convinced me it was time to move to a new home, a place just for Rock Fiction (although we reserve the right to post about Rock Star Books — books that are so good, they deserve to be given Rock Star Status in the reading community).

And here we are. The Rock of Pages.

If you’re an author of Rock Fiction, stay tuned. Once all the content is transferred from West of Mars, I’m going to put up some sample pages. You’ll be able to buy one (yes, buy. With money) to feature yourself. You’ll also be able to advertise here, as well.

But for now, let’s all settle into the new digs. A custom overhaul is in the plans, but first thing’s first.