ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “A Sense of Urgency” by Patrick McLean (Fiction)

A SENSE OF URGENCY by Patrick McLean

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Baseball franchise moves can break your heart.

Mark Weber, President & CEO of the St. Louis Cardinals, thought he landed his dream job. Little did he know it would turn into a nightmare shortly after management changes at parent company Rheinhold Brewing Company.

Christina Rheinhold, newly installed President & CEO of the company that bears her name, is anxious to keep the small brewery afloat. What better way than to shed non-beer assets? Especially if you don’t even care about the team, purchased by her father when In-Bev acquired Anheuser-Busch and they also were in an off-loading situation. Christina [is] well aware of the 125 year plus tradition of the team in St. Louis, but it [is] very tempting to sell the team to out of town parties for top dollar.

Can Mark, with the help of natural and even supernatural support, save the team for the city and their fans?

REVIEW:

Baseball! So many different aspects of my life seem to be telling me I should brush up on my (nearly nonexistent) knowledge of the sport. I spent my middle and high school years abroad in a country where baseball doesn’t exist, which probably explains why I know so little about the sport–including its history and why it is of such significant importance to Americans today. There are some similarities across sports: baseball and cricket, for example, are both considered “gentlemens’ sports” in that competition coexists with camaraderie and umpires are as important as the players, their calls are of the utmost importance, and sassing an umpire is as gross a misdemeanor as exists. In many other ways, though, baseball and the culture that has formed around it is utterly unique. In A Sense of Urgency, Patrick McLean captures much of the detail and texture of daily life with baseball and infuses his book with the spirit of the same.

Like the sport itself, A Sense of Urgency is a dialogue-driven read. Thumb your way through the book and you’re liable to land on a series of pages where the majority of the text printed on that page is being spoken aloud by one character or another. McLean is somewhat unusual in this–in writing, I mean. My personal addiction when writing is to scenic description (sometimes I think it’s all I know how to write) and that was fairly common among the writers I became acquainted with back in my college years. There are also plenty of authors who are addicted to what you might call the Infodump, or in some genres worldbuilding without much action. In moderation both worldbuilding and scenic description can be useful, but as most of you can probably attest, something needs to happen in a book in order to keep the momentum going and readers engaged. Too much summary description of action as it unfolds, though, can come off as distant. (“He ran, then he stopped. He ate a sandwich. Then he moved to Alaska to learn how to muster sled dogs.”) It’s almost as if some writers (me included) can completely forget about the power of dialogue–but not Patrick McLean.

One of the benefits of a dialogue-driven book is that it doesn’t come off as teasing or deliberately disingenuous to withhold certain information until the critical moments in which those details are important; a third person omnipresent narrator, however, knows everything the character knows and can therefore be something of a tease in books that depend on the timing of those details for plot momentum and reader interest. (If an author knows that it was Lady Scarlett in the dining room with the candlestick but asks me to consider the butler and Colonel Mustard as primary suspects, I start to wonder what else the narrator is hiding from me. And then I start skimming ahead. Because sometimes I’m a very impatient reader! Whoops.) With dialogue, though, an author is fully justified in only conveying what the characters themselves know or are willing to share in the moment, since their voices are the only (or at least the dominant) voices on the page. This comes in very handy in A Sense of Urgency.

Dialogue also conveys personality and regionality in a way like no other text can. Speech patterns, dialect, and idiom tell people who we are when we speak, more than even our clothes and our resumés, since we can put on costumes and brag as much as we like, but how we speak and how we speak to each other will always reveal who we are underneath the affectations and behavioral habits we acquire.

When it comes to plot, there’s not much I can tell you about A Sense of Urgency that’s not already in the description without spoiling key details, but as the omnipresent narrator of this review I’m going to tease you with hints at what you’ll discover when you crack open a copy for yourself. McLean’s command of the details is exquisite. (Who wears loafers without socks??! Who are these people? My mother would be mortified if she were caught out of doors without socks in her sneakers. I, meanwhile, wear sandals until the snow is thicker than the soles of my sandals. Then I switch to boots. I do not loaf. You’ll have to read on in order to discover why this is important in the book.) The little things aren’t always little in this book. But that could also be a hint of misdirection; a Colonel Mustard moment of mine, if you will. (See? Don’t you hate it when a narrator tortures you? McLean doesn’t do this thanks to his dialogue-driven approach.) The Cardinals are more than just a team. Security is called to escort people out … and there are several moments where things get “a little dicey,” to steal an expression from the book. There’s plenty of drama to go around, but I won’t embarrass myself by trying to replicate McLean’s command of how baseball works and will simply state instead that this is a book that is focused on the game and what the game makes possible in the lives of those people who are involved in it.

If you like baseball, or even if you know nothing about baseball but enjoy seeing just desserts dished out by characters who are knowledgable and passionate, this is a book to add to your reading list.

IN SUMMARY:

While the world keeps reminding me that Americans play baseball and not cricket, A Sense of Urgency pairs the sport with storytelling that is bound to appeal to fans and newcomers alike. And yes, Patrick McLean really does convey … a sense of urgency … in this compelling slice of life narrative.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find A Sense of Urgency  wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Patrick McLean’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

The year 2020 being what it is, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to Integrity Based Policing by Dan Barry, which is an insider’s perspective based on Barry’s thirty or so years in law enforcement for the City of Las Vegas. Personal opinions aside, I think it’s an important moment to be seeking out stories from all perspectives on this topic in order to better understand what’s going on in the world (specifically America) today.

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

Self-Publishing News: 7.21.2020

21 July on wooden blocks with a white daisy on a red background

And now for the news.

Highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing:

In their recent press release, the industry data analyst Technavio has published some insights on the trends that they observed in the global publishing industry throughout the first half of 2020 and some they expect to continue to develop through the end of the year–and then onward through 2024. The release opens with the statement that “Although the COVID-19 pandemic continues to transform the growth of various industries, the immediate impact of the outbreak is varied. While a few industries will register a drop in demand, numerous others will continue to remain unscathed and show promising growth opportunities.” That tantalizing statement is a preface for (paid) access to their full report, although the do offer a free sample report that is definitely worth seeing. (Infographics really are our friends!) From what we can gather, print sales are lagging across many genres and ebooks are again rising in popularity to offset that, likely as a result of bookstores struggling to put print books into peoples’ hands by way of bookshop browsing. Consider this your annual reminder to seek out new ways to partner with your local bookstores–and to diversify the ways and means that readers can lay their hands on your books!

In an article for Entrepreneur that was picked up later by The Hour and other online platforms, Lucas Miller of Echelon Copy LLC shared six common errors that self-publishing authors frequently make when breaking into the business. We won’t spoil the whole article for you, as it is truly worth a read on its own merits, but we were particularly struck by how no. 5 (“Forgetting print and digital formatting”) reinforces what we just noted above in our review of Technavio’s report: if you want your self-published book to thrive during the era of social distancing, making sure you have multiple avenues–Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org and indie bookstores, and so forth––to purchase your books is important, and so too is making sure that you have a range of formats–ebook, print, print-on-demand, audiobook, and so forth–available to suit the needs of your readers. 

Our last news that we’re going to feature this week is specifically relevant to those indie authors based out of the US who use the program Substack for their newsletters, and since Substack continues to grow in popularity, we thought it worth a mention here. Brian Heater of TechCrunch covers Substack’s latest move, launching Defender to assist in (lacking a more specific term) defending the legal rights of indie authors. As Heater puts it,

In the worlds of journalism and publishing, it’s fairly common for the wealthy to attempt to shut down reporting with legal threats. For those publishing on large platforms with plenty of resources, such challenges can be a massive headache. For independent writers and publishers, on the other hand, the consequences can be far more dire.

If you use Substack, take a look at Heater’s full article. Hopefully other newsletter platforms will follow suit!


spa-news

As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

In Your Corner: Self-publishing Ripple Effect Marketing

Think of self-publishing book marketing as a marathon, not a sprint. Plan the journey, prepare to work, pace yourself, and not become discouraged when you the bear jumps on your back. Your second wind is right around the corner.

Unlike blockbuster books like Harry Potter, which sell 90% of their copies in the first 90 days of release, an independently published book is often the opposite––not surprising since titles like Harry Potter make up a percent of a percent of all books published. It takes time to build awareness. Sales may start slowly, but can climb over time if you persistently market your book.

If you’ve yet to nail down a specific marketing plan, I suggest starting in your own hometown. Build a following. Attract the interest and readers of people in your inner circle before you focus on your neighborhood. Then, focus on your neighborhood before concentrating on your city. Next your state and region, etc. This is known as the ripple effect.

It applies to both online and traditional marketing tactics.

Water background red and silhouette hand

Thinking of marketing as something other than a sprint, or a laundry list of items to get through (“Poetry reading, check! Social media account created, check!”) is the wisest advice I’ve heard all year. Thinking of your marketing as you think of your other relationships–as more than just the sum of its parts, or the sequence of events–is important. Every action affects every other action, and the changes are cumulative or even, sometimes, exponential! Think, instead, of your marketing strategy as a whole, and a whole which is best contemplated as a web of interrelated components which all touch each other and all affect how the other components play out. Some pieces need to come before others in order for them both to work, and sometimes a misstep with one component will lead to a cascade of problems in the others.

Another great image to keep in mind is the ocean. Yes, the ocean operates under the same physical principles and constraints as a ripple in a swimming pool–but would we really compare their behaviors and say they’re the same thing? There’s more at work than simple scale; the ocean works on its environment in a multitude of ways, and one of its most impressive qualities is its ability to wear anything down–given time. The ocean is interminable, it is unstoppable, and it is unwearying in its work upon the seashore. Wave after wave after wave can lead to an entirely new shoreline, right?

So as we head into Fall, think about ripples and oceans. They are the same thing … except they aren’t. Steal from both. Steal the cumulative effects of the ripple (and the interrelationships of the web) and steal the repetitive unstoppability of the ocean. This is your arsenal against the soporific atmosphere of midsummer.

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing News: 7.14.2020

National Mac and Cheese Day - July 14

And now for the news.

Highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing:

Now here is some news both adorable and useful! Mother of two Tara Travieso self-published a book explaining the need for social distancing as a response to COVID-19 after refining a metaphor she had already been using (and seeing some success in communicating) with her own children: bubbles! (We all can appreciate bubbles.) Katie Kindelan of ABC News covers the mother’s story, writing that

When she saw how quickly her own daughters took to the idea, and got positive feedback from other parents with whom she shared the idea, Travieso got to work writing a children’s book.

Just six weeks later, Travieso self-published her first book, Billie and the Brilliant Bubble: Social Distancing for Children.

Kindelan goes on to summarize the many challenges Travieso faced while finishing her first children’s book, from acquiring an ISBN to locating an illustrator to finding the time to write while also working full time and splitting household responsibilities with her husband. The book “tells the story of a young girl named Billie who has an imaginary bubble to keep her safe, according to Travieso. It follows Billie as she goes to a park and meets new friends, who learn about her imaginary bubble and then want one themselves.” And while popping another person’s bubble is not at present a thing Billie wants to do, out of care and respect for others, the book does end on a hopeful note––with Billie expressing excitement over the future day when it will be a thing of joy to pop one’s own bubble and emerge into a safer, bubble-reduced world.

It’s such a marvel to be living in the day and age we are––a day and age with plenty of difficulties, it’s true, but one which is also full of opportunities we wouldn’t have dreamed of even two or three generations ago. Enter stage left 92-year-old Mary Alice Baluck, who currently resides in a senior living community. As Raymond Smith of the Tribune Today notes, the seed that would flower into Baluck’s first self-published novel, Heaven’s Doorway, were planted around forty years ago––proving that there’s no putting a time limit on the creative work of a writer’s imagination. (As more than one writing professor has stated, “Nothing is ever wasted.”) Baluck is already working on finishing her second novel, and has plans for a children’s book as well. Smith quotes Baluck:

“My husband passed away in 1999, and although I had always written short stories and poetry as a pastime, I had never seriously thought of writing and publishing anything until he died,” she said.

And we’re so very glad she did, because her novel sounds fascinating! An intergenerational saga set near Lake Eerie, Heaven’s Gate was self-published only months before Baluck’s 93rd birthday. 

Remember this: It’s never too late to get started!


spa-news

As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?”

Religion 531 cover art

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

You Are Much More Powerful Than You Think You Are—And, Unfortunately, Are Totally Responsible For What Happens In Your Life.

You are NOT a physical being with a Spiritual nature. You are a Spiritual being that happens to be in a physical body at the moment. It is almost certain you have lived many physical lives. Your mission (and everyone else’s) is to return to God as an eternal companion to him. You do this by learning what brings you closer to God and what moves you farther away. In this book, you will learn:

  • God judges no one—You are your own moral agent—You will reap everything you sow
  • Whether you are religious or not, you are on your ‘correct’ path, for all paths lead to God
  • In 325 CE, a schism split ‘Christianity’ into those who believed in the ‘Mystical’ Jesus and those who believed in the ‘Mythical’ Jesus—the ‘Mythical’ believers won
  • Long lost, and recently rediscovered, writings indicate the ‘Mystical’ Jesus is a better choice
  • The ‘Mystical’ Jesus taught reincarnation, Karma, The Law of Return and other long-suppressed truths
  • Jesus did not start the Christian religion you practice

REVIEW:

Many books on religion are a minefield of biases, whether the author is conscious or unconscious of that fact. Refreshingly, Josephus the Scribe is extremely up-front about his goals from the very beginning of Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It? (I’ll shorten the title to Religion 531 from here on in this review). I always read introductions, without fail, because they are critical to my trust and faith in a book’s content, in that I can’t quite relax into a book until I know I grasp the author’s intent and baseline character. In his introduction, Josephus lays out his relationship to the facts (discoverer, not proprietor) and the analyses within the book. He both acknowledges his credentials and admits that credentials do very little to persuade those who disagree with the facts as written. So, by the time he gets around to saying:

Forty years of work experience, particularly those with the federal government, coupled with an extensive informal study of many religions, reinforced what I learned in college and illustrated repeatedly how ‘good intentions’ get derailed by bureaucracy and dissent.

… I believe him. I believe that he is not setting out to (as I’ve heard often during my childhood about those outside of Christianity) “undermine the Church.” (Capitalized to represent the entirety of orthodox believers, according to whatever the speaker took to be orthodox.) Even on my first read-through of his introduction, I understood that Josephus’ goal was to lay out the commonalities and shared beliefs between groups that have been divided from each other in public debate for eons, and to provide perhaps some talking points for those wishing to build bridges between various faith-based groups. In fact, later in his “About This Book” section, Josephus writes that “You do not have to deny your faith (whatever it is) to learn from this book. […] This book attempts to identify some of the common threads that are woven through all.”

In my mind, that’s an admirable goal.

As a reviewer’s job, my question is to ask if he achieved that goal so that you can feel equally as confident as I do in reading that introduction.

Let’s talk about the book in terms of clarity first. I appreciated Josephus’ warning (in “How to Read This Book”) that “The concepts in this book are difficult to follow. They are also difficult to explain.” A part of me, the sassy teenage daughter part, wants to roll my eyes (just a little bit) at his need to defend the book’s existence as-is, but mostly I’m grateful for the warning. He might as well have posted a big warning sign: IT GETS COMPLICATED. Which, well, that fits with the way life is working out, doesn’t it? “It is also likely that you will need to go back to previous pages of the book to understand fully concepts that you are reading in later pages,” Josephus writes: “This is expected, as absorbing a new way of thinking is tough.”

What is this new way of thinking? It’s not “scholarly,” as the author points out, but it is primary-text-driven. As he also notes that he’s primarily anticipating that his readers will mostly be Christians (presumably, protestant ones), it’s also not an attempt to “validate or refute” existing understandings. Josephus is clearly attempting to slow down the tendency to leap for an Apologetics-driven reading when his stated goal is to simply get people thinking and to a place of connection.

In some ways, the book’s structure is a hybrid between something like a traditional devotional book and a philosophy textbook for those looking for something more digestible than Plato or Kant. Each chapter is short, between roughly 5 and 15 pages long, excepting only the chapter on “What Does This All Mean?” which is broken out in 1 to 2-page bite-sized chunks. The opening Table of Contents and the closing Index are your friends, since some chapters are indeed worth revisiting as Josephus’ thoughts circle back later on. (I suggest sticking a post-it note there to make them easy to find. I don’t dog-ear books, but if you’re okay with me gasping in horror, go ahead and you do you! JOKING.) The book is fantastically easy to navigate.

Religion 531 is extremely accessible when it comes to voice as well as structure. Sentences are short and to the point, as well as what my writer friends like to call “voicy.” That is, there’s a lot of personality on the page, with humor and emphasis writ large on the page using punctuation, asides, and metaphors. Not all of the paragraphs are short, but they are all way shorter than you will find in typical textbooks and philosophy books. (Thank you, Josephus!) I love a good and to-the-point paragraph. The only stylistic choice that gives me pause is Josephus’ regular use of quotation marks (“”) to set apart words or expressions tied to common religious principles or beliefs. It can make him come off as skeptical, even though it would overall appear that he is nothing of the sort.

I reserve the right not to step into the minefield of attempting to review this book on the merit of its religious or religion-adjacent points. As a child of Christian missionaries, I know exactly how fraught that can be, no matter who I’m’ in conversation with. I am growing increasingly immune to taking offense when someone disagrees with me on arguments (I’m not naturally good at it) pertaining to the Deep Things (my umbrella term for faith, mental health, relationships, human nature, natural history, and science)–but in large part I can thank my brother-in-law’s family for making it clear to me that many people in this world just naturally love debate, love pushing thought to the outer edge of the envelope, and arguing over topics without taking them personally. I think Josephus would love having dinner with that side of the family. (You’re welcome to sub in for me at the next reunion, Josephus!)

If you’re more like me and prone to care very deeply about these things and feel utterly wrecked when the ground shifts underfoot, I still think it’s worth going on the adventure (or roller-coaster ride, depending) that is Religion 531. You just might want to take it slow and remember, always, that Josephus’ goal is to expand both your mental and emotional vocabulary for thinking about and connecting over items of faith. That’s an admirable goal, but he leaves the success in your hands!

That’s pretty brave, I think.

IN SUMMARY:

Josephus the Scribe tackles the core tenets of world religions, with an emphasis on modern protestant Christianity, in an attempt to broaden readers’ understandings and possibilities for connection over matters of faith in an easy-to-read, voicy book that isn’t afraid to ask big questions.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?  wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Josephus the Scribe’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’ll be wrapping up A Sense of Urgency for my next review! It has been a process working through these two books side-by-side, but a very enriching one. Watch this space!

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.