Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Robert McCaw

Robert McCaw has been a math major, Second Lieutenant in the Army, and a lawyer (for over 40 years). The common thread that motivated him through it all was a love of solving complex puzzles. When he first visited Hawai’i, he fell in love with the place. Repeated visits to Hawai’i allowed him to pursue another interest – astronomy. With a second home in Hawai’i and intrigued by the richness of the land and people, he studied the culture, history, and language of the region.

He was still actively pursuing his legal practice when he first began to write. His first novel was completed only after retirement though, when he was able to dedicate more time to it. And just like that, he found something else he loved to do. His first novel, Death of a Messenger, introduced Hawai’ian Chief Detective Koa Kāne, whose adventures continue in Off the Grid and Fire and Vengeance. The series is one of the most unique and interesting mystery ones out there.

The latest Koa Kāne mystery, Treachery Times Two, releases on 4 January 2022. You can check out the review of the book, which is one of the best in the series, here. Ahead of its release, we interviewed Robert McCaw and got his thoughts on writing, publishing, the home of Koa Kāne, and a preview of what to expect from the upcoming book.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Robert McCaw: As an army brat growing up around the world, I had opportunities early in life to experience cultures other than my own. As a young adult, I graduated from Georgetown University as a math major, served in the US Army as an artillery officer, and, upon leaving the military, decided upon a legal career, earning my law degree from the University of Virginia (UVA).  In retrospect, I’ve come to understand that the intensity and professionalism I experienced in the Army and at UVA Law became the foundation upon which I built a formidable legal career.  Coincident with my chosen profession, I had the opportunity to visit Hawai’i, where I became fascinated with the Islands’ geography, history, and culture.  Over the years, I went back time and time again before establishing a second home on the Big Island. For more than twenty years, I made it a point to travel Hawai’i’s back roads and absorb its unique topography ranging from lava moonscapes to snow-covered volcanic summits.  I “talked story” with real Hawaiians and generally fell in love with this complex Pacific “paradise.”  And, now, I pour all that fascinated me into the Koa Kāne series of mystery novels.

Rishika S.: You have written four books in the Koa Kāne series. Tell us a little bit about how this series came to be, especially the inspirations behind the setting and the character of Koa.

Robert McCaw: The more I learned about Hawaiʻi, the more I felt compelled to write about the “real Hawaiʻi,” far from the tourist haunts of West Maui and Waikiki. My law practice involved litigation and criminal law – with lots of factual investigation – and I have always loved mysteries. So, I decided to share my love of Hawaiʻi through detective stories and thus created the character of Koa Kāne, Chief Detective of the Hilo, Hawaiʻi police force. He is a pure native Hawaiian with his own personal criminal backstory. His backstory makes him unique, motivates his compulsion to hunt down killers, and explains his fear that a perp might outsmart him as he had once outwitted the police.

Rishika S.: You’ve got a new Koa Kāne book coming out soon – can you tell us a little bit about that?

Robert McCaw: Treachery Times Two (January 2022) weaves together two stories. In one, Koa Kāne’s criminal past comes back to haunt him. The other involves an effort to sabotage Deimos, an American military superweapon under development at the Pōhakuloa Army Training Area in the saddle lands between the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes on the Big Island. In the first story, events force Koa to revisit the circumstances of his own crime as, step-by-step, his carefully constructed cover-up unravels until another man is falsely accused. Koa must ultimately face the possibility that an innocent will go to prison for a crime that Koa committed. The second story throws Koa into the midst of an FBI espionage investigation. The deeper Koa digs, the more he realizes the possibility that the Feds are not telling all they know.

Rishika S.: What do you love the most about the Hawaiian culture?

Robert McCaw: I have a special affection for the spoken Hawaiian language, which is lyrical and quite beautiful. I think of it as a recovered gem. In 1896, after the US takeover of the Islands, the territorial government banned the use of native Hawaiian in schools and government offices, and many Hawaiian elders recall being punished for speaking their native language in these settings. According to the University of Hawaii Foundation, in 1985 – some 90 years after the government banned Hawaiian in schools – only 32 children in the Islands spoke Hawaiian. Fortunately, there’s been a renaissance in all things Hawaiian in recent years, and the Hawaiian state constitution now protects the study of this musical language. Today, people throughout the Islands speak their native language.

Rishika S.: Let’s talk a little about writing in general. What was the final push that made you decide that it was time to write that first novel? And what was the experience like?

Robert McCaw: The genesis and ultimate publication of Death of a Messenger, the first Koa Kāne novel, is somewhat complicated, beginning some twenty years ago. That’s when I first started writing fiction. Back then, I had an extremely active law practice and wrote only intermittently, grabbing a few hours a week while traveling or on vacation. Only when I hung up my shingle did I get serious about finishing and publishing the first story, which had incubated for more than twenty years. My mother and my wife Calli were instrumental in encouraging me to get over the finish line, and for that, I’m most grateful.

Rishika S.: Has the experience changed over time? In what way – good and bad? And what drives you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) day after day?

Robert McCaw: Lots has changed over time. Foremost among those changes was my transformation from legal writing – where the author has little control over the facts – to novelist where I could make up the facts to fit the story I wanted to tell. Over time, my imaginary characters became ever more real, growing and evolving like real people. With experience, I began to “see” scenes like they were on a movie screen playing in my mind. Lastly, the writer’s tools have gotten better. The Scrivener software I now use allows me to reorder scenes effortlessly, and Grammarly goes far beyond early spell-checking programs. And, the “read aloud” feature of Word is a marvelous proofreading aid.

The book-selling process in today’s world brings both joy and pain. Publishers, large and small, expect authors to play a significant role in promoting their books. As a result, I meet fascinating people and am privileged to engage with readers, something I love to do. On the other hand, while necessary in our virtual age, social media is a royal pain.

Creativity drives me to the keyboard. There is something immensely satisfying about crafting a story that excites readers and hopefully leaves them with a better understanding of the setting’s people, geography, and history.

Rishika S.: Can you tell us a little about the ‘business behind the creativity’ regarding getting published, working with agents and publishers, and your thoughts on the practical stuff involved after the writing?

Robert McCaw: Getting published is easy. Anyone can self-publish an e-book on Amazon with little or no cost. The difficulty is in achieving quality publication and a system of distribution. Quality requires careful editing, formatting, proofreading, and cover and jacket design. Distribution beyond e-books requires a publisher, distributor, provision for shipment and returns, and lots of publicity. One can purchase these services but only at considerable expense.

Finding a publisher who will assume most or all of these costs and pay a royalty is tough. In this endeavor, an agent can be invaluable. But make no mistake, both finding an agent and securing a publisher are daunting, especially for new authors. I got lucky that Mel Parker, an experienced and highly qualified agent, Pat and Bob Gussin at Oceanview Publishing, a terrific specialty publisher, and Fauzia Burke of FSB Associates, one of the best literary social media publicity firms in the country, had faith in my work.

Rishika S.: What is the one thing you love and one thing you hate about being an author?

Robert McCaw: I love plot twists and hate proofreading.

Rishika S.: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Robert McCaw: Be authentic. Write what you know. Find a trusted editor to improve your work. And lastly, don’t give up.

Rishika S.: Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?

Robert McCaw: I have long believed that to reach your highest potential, you must do something you love. That may be even more true for writers than in other fields of endeavor.

If you’d like to pre-order Treachery Times Two (and you definitely should if you like mysteries and thrillers), you can do so from many different stores here.

As always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station; we hope you enjoyed reading the amazing tips and insights from Robert McCaw.

Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Robert J. Harris

Scotland author, Robert J. Harris (born in Dundee, settled in St. Andrews) has been a bartender, a game creator, and an author (among other things). Having co-written novels and short stories with Jane Yolen, including Queen’s Own Fool and the Young Heroes book series, Harris had his first solo novel – Leonardo and the Death Machine – published by Harper Collins in 2005. His latest novel is A Study in Crimson (read its review here), where he reimagines Sherlock Holmes in 1942 London.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into discussing writing, publishing, and everything else with Robert J. Harris.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about yourself.

Robert J. Harris: I am a Scotsman married to a fabulous American lady. We live in St. Andrews, Scotland, where we met as grad students and have three grown-up sons. My wife Debby became a published author while I was creating my very successful board game Talisman. Later, our friend Jane Yolen took me under her wing and made a writer out of me. I enjoy a good cigar, a fine whisky, and listening to the Blues. My sporting activities consist of highly competitive croquet and petanque (French boules).

Rishika S.: What are the genres you love reading and that you enjoy writing?

Robert J. Harris: As a teenager, I read almost nothing but science fiction. As a student, I branched out into classic Russian and American literature. Later still I finally discovered Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and other great writers. Most recently I have been reading classic Scottish authors Scott, Stevenson, Conan  Doyle, and Buchan. Like any civilized person, I enjoy a good mystery and am absorbed in the novels of Fred Vargas and Christopher Fowler.

I consider myself to be a writer of adventure stories for all ages, now mostly for grown-ups. I feel I am following in the tradition of the four Scottish authors mentioned above, to whom I should add Alistair MacLean.

Rishika S.: Is there one (or two) of your books that you absolutely loved writing (or that’s closest to your heart)?

Robert J. Harris: My second novel, ‘Will Shakespeare and the Pirate’s Fire,’ was a real pleasure, as I immersed myself in Shakespeare’s plays while writing it. That was a very enriching experience and I felt inspired all throughout the writing of the novel. Aside from that, my favorite is always the current one, in this case, my second Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The Devil’s Blaze.’

Rishika S.: Who are your favorite authors, and what have you learned from them that you have tried to imbibe (or successfully imbibed) in your own writing?

Robert J. Harris: My first writing was done in collaboration with my great friend Jane Yolen. From her, amongst other things, I learned the importance of interior landscaping, making the personality and history of the main character part of the texture of the novel. My favorite mystery writer is John Dickson Carr often called the master of the impossible crime. He inspired me to create impossible crimes of my own, such as the activities of an invisible thief in ‘Artie Conan Doyle and the Scarlet Phantom,’ and the two mini locked room mysteries that feature in ‘A Study in Crimson.’

Rishika S.: Who are your favorite literary characters and who are the ones you most dislike, and why?

Robert J. Harris: The best characters are to be found in Dickens. My favorite is Sam Weller in ‘The Pickwick Papers.’ On the other hand, it is very hard not to dislike intensely Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Rishika S.: What do you like the most and hate the most about the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they were originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

Robert J. Harris: I like the fact that there is a spark to their relationship and that Watson is occasionally able to score a point off Holmes by puncturing his vanity. Holmes is sometimes rather mean to Watson, but that too is part of the charm of the stories and there is never any doubt of the affection and respect they feel for each other.

Rishika S.: Tell us the one thing you love and one thing you hate about the process of writing.

Robert J. Harris: I love it when I am on a rush of inspiration and the words are flashing through my mind faster than I can type. On the other hand, there is the odd day when I stare at a blank screen and can’t think of what comes next. Best thing then is to go away and do something else for a while.

Rishika S.: You have worked on books individually and also as a co-writer. What is the biggest positive and biggest negative difference between the two?

Robert J. Harris: It’s very stimulating to toss ideas back and forth with another author and to hear them come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of yourself. There’s a lot to be learned that way. Writing by yourself gives you great freedom but doesn’t come with the security of having somebody else to blame.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about what it’s like being married to another author. How do you help each other out and drive each other up the wall (if at all)?

Robert J. Harris: It’s great to have my own personal editor here in the house to give me advice and encouragement. That said, Debby is my most demanding editor, sometimes to the point of actual cruelty.

Rishika S.: Which of your past books would you say is your best work and why?

Robert J. Harris: A number of people have told me that ‘A Study in Crimson’ is the best novel I have written to date. Who am I to argue?

Rishika S.: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on as an author?

Robert J. Harris: I have just completed a second Sherlock Holmes novel (The Devil’s Blaze: Sherlock Holmes 1943). I am currently working on ‘Redfalcon’, the third of my Richard Hannay Returns trilogy which began with ‘The Thirty-One Kings’. For the future, I have in mind a medieval murder mystery and two cinema-related detective novels set in the 1960s.

Rishika S.: Tell us a little bit about the games you’ve created.

Robert J. Harris: Talisman is based on a game I made at high school in which the players are all teachers out to become head of the school. When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at university, I had the idea of changing that game into one where the players are warriors, wizards, etc. seeking to become the ruler of a magical land. I later created another fantasy game Mythgardia which has a long and complex history. I self-published a limited edition of this and am still hoping to find a proper publisher.

Rishika S.: Are you working on any new games?

Robert J. Harris: No, I’m too busy writing novels, and I already have some games to offer around.

Rishika S.: Any books that you would recommend emerging writers as a ‘must-read’?

Robert J. Harris: That’s a bit of a tall order. I can recommend a mixed bag of books by authors I am friends with, which are favorite books of mine by favorite people. I know that they have all had their struggles and yet have produced these marvelous stories.

  • The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle (genre-bending detective story)
  • Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie Thompson (hilarious teen fantasy)
  • Walking Mountain by Joan Lennon (wonderfully imaginative tale)
  • The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill (lunar murder mystery)
  • The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane (a dog and cat detective team investigate brutal murders in Kathattan)

Rishika S.: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to cut it as an author on each topic – the activity of writing and on the publishing industry as a whole?

Robert J. Harris: Don’t be afraid to write badly. Get a flow going so that you write your story through to the end. Then you can go back and polish it. Second, don’t be discouraged by rejection, and don’t get too caught up in the reasons publishers give for rejecting your work. These are sometimes quite random.

Rishika S.: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?

Robert J. Harris: If they go to www.quantumfridge.org.uk they will find a series of comedy podcasts co-written and produced by myself and my friend Alan McFadzean and performed by our marvelous cast The Peak Performance Players. The shows are:

  • Watch the Skies! (eccentric scientists protect the Earth from alien invasion)
  • The Adventures of Saffron Star (space opera with a glamorous heroine)
  • Jack Standish the British Lion (two-fisted spy stories)
  • Backlash (the president of a newly created country comes up with various schemes to finance his miniscule nation)

We hope you enjoyed this insight into Robert J. Harris. To know more about him and his other works, you can check out his website at http://www.harris-authors.com. You can also follow him on Goodreads here. As always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this author interview.



Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Science fiction, Thrillers

Book Review: The Remember Experiment (By Joanne Elder)

Big thanks to Voracious Readers Only for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Remember Experiment brought together two things that I find interesting – the concept of reincarnation and serial killer thrillers. So obviously I went in with quite a few expectations. Did the books meet those expectations? Read on to know!

Genre: 

Thriller, Sci-fi

Length: 

335 pages

Blurb:

Jake Monroe is a PhD. student working with nanobots. He becomes instrumental in the first experimental treatment on an Alzheimer’s patient. But the results of the treatment are barely in when Jake finds himself being injected by experimental nanobots. Slightly different than the ones used on his patient, the nanobots have an unexpected reaction – Jake begins to have horrifying memories of being murdered in a past life. As he attempts to find out who could have injected him with the experimental tech, his memories continue to grow… until he remembers that the person he used to be, was a serial killer. Framed for theft of nanotech worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, facing terrible effects of the unexpected procedure, and with his past and present clashing together, Jake begins to question reality, and his sanity. Will he find answers to the unending list of questions plaguing him? Or will the strange impulses taking over him, changing him, finally win and turn him into something – or someone – capable of horrific things?

Overall Rating:

7 out of 10

Plot:

7 out of 10

Characterization:

8 out of 10 for most of the characters; 5 out of 10 for one specific character whose arc was more convenient than convincing

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 for its thrill and sci-fi

Writing Style:

8 out of 10

Part of a Series:

Maybe. Although this is currently a standalone and the book does not end on a cliffhanger, it definitely ends with potential for a series.

Highlighted Takeaway:

An interesting and not-too-often-done concept coupled with the much-loved serial killer thriller theme makes for an intriguing premise that is well explored.

What I Liked:

Some of the scenes, especially those that referred to Jake’s nightmares and memories, were done really well – pulling you right in. The story itself is interesting, and the premise is intriguing.

What I Didn’t Like:

The story, although not too long at 335 pages, definitely seemed a lot longer. There were times where it seemed like it just wouldn’t get to the point. The blurb on Voracious Readers Only and Goodreads also point to an aspect of the story that is made to seem a lot more central than it actually is. That set inaccurate expectations from the story, which was possibly why I felt like it moved slow. Also, a couple of the characters were terribly unlikable, and they weren’t actually meant to be unlikable. That is where I felt the characterization wasn’t as good as in other places.

Who Should Read It:

If you enjoy psychological thrillers or thrillers where the main character tries to make sense of not just what’s happening to them, but also what they’re experiencing (emotionally, physically, mentally), you’ll probably enjoy The Remember Experiment. It’s more about that than the actual serial killer theme.

Who Should Avoid:

If you are firmly against the idea of reincarnation, then I would strongly recommend avoiding The Remember Experiment. It definitely assumes the existence of the concept (although, to be very honest, its implementation has been very different than everything I’ve read on the topic).

Read It For:

The odd mix of reincarnation, sci-fi, and a serial killer theme, which manages to make an interesting tale.

If you’re an avid reader and enjoy reviewing books on Goodreads, Amazon, or other portals, check out Voracious Readers Only. And drop a comment below if you’d like to share anything about the site that’s bringing readers and authors together or Joanne Elder’s The Remember Experiment.

And as always, thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this review!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Mystery

Book Review: Treachery Times Two (By Robert McCaw)

A big thanks to the author, Robert McCaw, and Oceanview Publishing for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Treachery Times Two brings to the forefront one of the biggest ongoing arcs in the Koa Kāne series – Koa’s one mistake that made him who he is, but the revealing of which could take away everything that he’s earned. Does the book do the arc justice? Read on to find out.

Genre: 

Mystery

Length: 

361 pages

Blurb:

Numerous bodies are unearthed in an old, abandoned cemetery when a volcanic earthquake disrupts Hawai’i island. In them is the mutilated body of a woman, unrecognizable, and clearly buried only days ago. Chief Detective Koa Kāne’s investigation into the woman’s death leads him into the world of a politically connected defense contractor, an incredibly powerful and secret military weapon – Deimos, and an FBI espionage investigation. Forced to defy his Chief of Police in his search for justice for the victim, Kāne faces a new threat – that of his thirty-year-old secret being revealed. Years ago, Kāne had killed his father’s nemesis – the man who’d been responsible for Kāne’s father’s death – and covered up the murder. Now, the grandson of the dead man has arrived, and Koa is forced to investigate the homicide he had committed. Until another man is falsely accused of the murder. Can Koa stand by and watch an innocent man pay for his crime? Or will he accept his guilt before everyone, losing the chance to find justice for the mutilated, forgotten woman, and losing the woman he loves, the respect he’s earned, and everything he has ever held dear?

Overall Rating:

9 out of 10

Plot:

10 out of 10

Characterization:

10 out of 10

Primary Element:

10 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

9 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is Book No. 4 in the Koa Kāne series. The books are connected and are best read in order, but can be enjoyed as standalone-s too. Check out the review for Book No. 1, Death of a Messenger, here, and Book No. 3, Fire and Vengeance, here.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Even better than its prequels, Treachery Times Two brings everything you’ve come to love about the Koa Kāne series – mystery, culture, and characterization – and ups the ante.

What I Liked:

There were three things that I liked the most in Treachery Times Two:

  1. It’s got the perfect mix of culture and story, with neither outshining the other.
  2. It showcases Koa Kāne in his rawest, most human form – flawed yet morally strong.
  3. It has multiple storylines and brings them all together perfectly.

What I Didn’t Like:

There is nothing I can say I actively disliked in the book. I found it to be even better than the earlier books in the series (except for Book No. 2, which I am yet to read), and feel that it’s set the bar higher for the series.

Who Should Read It:

If you like mysteries, especially those that have multi-layered plots, you’ll definitely enjoy Treachery Times Two and other Koa Kāne books.

Who Should Avoid:

I don’t think anyone would really dislike this book, unless you absolutely do not enjoy mysteries.

Read It For:

Koa Kāne’s ultimate test – professional and personal. And the always-enthralling representation of Hawaiian culture.

Treachery Times Two releases in January 2022 – pre-order it from most online bookstores or Amazon.

Got questions or something to share about Robert McCaw’s Koa Kāne series or Treachery Times Two? Drop a comment below! And as always, thanks for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this review!

– Rishika

Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Paul Haddad

Today, we have the chance to share the interview that The Book Review Station did with author, documentary producer, and ‘sometimes’ network executive, Paul Haddad. A Hollywood native, Paul has written numerous books in varying genres, including Paradise Palms: Red Menace Mob (check out its review here), Freewaytopia, and Aramid to just name a few.

Paul shared with us his insight into his experiences, passions, and more, including some excellent advice for aspiring script-writers and authors. Read on to know more!

Rishika S.: Tell us a little about yourself.

Paul Haddad: I was born in Hollywood and have lived in Los Angeles my whole life. My “day job” is in television—primarily as a documentary producer and sometimes-network executive—but my passion these days really lies in writing books. I’ve been fortunate enough to have three novels and three nonfiction books published.

Rishika S.: You’ve always maintained that you love LA and Hollywood. What is the one thing you can pinpoint that you would say you love the most?

Paul Haddad: It’s tough to focus on just one thing, but I’d have to say the diversity. Much of the city’s vibrancy and culture can be attributed to its melting-pot population. And the varied landscape, which includes beaches and a mountain range (the Santa Monica Mountains) cutting across the city, makes it ideal for outdoor recreation and keeping fit.  

Rishika S.: And if you absolutely had to pick one thing that you disliked, what would that be?

Paul Haddad: That’s easy—traffic! If there was one upside to the early days of the pandemic, it was that roads and freeways resembled the zombie apocalypse. Driving from Downtown L.A. to the Santa Monica Pier took less than 20 minutes. For a few fleeting months, the freeways revisited their utopian 1950s and ‘60s states, when transportation officials—and Angelenos—boasted that you could get anywhere in L.A. “in 20 minutes!”

Rishika S.: Tell us a little more about what inspired Paradise Palms? And what (and who) inspired its characters, especially David and Rae?

Paul Haddad: Paradise Palms represents the convergence of several ideas. I dedicate the book to my father, Jack, because he was kind of a mysterious guy to me growing up, much like Max Shapiro, the patriarch in my book who also hails from the then-mean streets of Chicago’s South Side. Though my dad didn’t run with mobsters, he had a friend from his childhood who trafficked in the world of loan sharks and illegal gambling. It was also rumored that this man had fathered a child through an extramarital affair with a woman from Alabama, which inspired the character of Rae. What if a real-life Rae, a self-possessed African American girl in the 1950s, were to reach out to her biological Jewish father and half-brothers when she turned 18? What’s more, what if it turned out she was the one who, ironically, helped keep the family together in the midst of their war with the mob?

Coupled with that, I wanted to set the novel in a hotel. This same friend of my father’s managed hotels throughout his life, and I got to see him operate. I also spent much of my childhood kicking around the Beverly Hills Hotel. Every day for two years, I took a city bus after school to the iconic hotel, where I waited for my mom to drive down the hill and pick me up. Those years of exploring its grounds seeped into my imagination (the hotel also hosted several family events over the years). In all three of my novels, I have set them in specific locations, which allows me to create character ensembles like you might find in a play. In my first novel, Skinny White Freak, it was a summer camp; in Aramid, my sci-fi YA book, it was a high school robotics class; and in Paradise Palms, it was the Paradise Palms Hotel.

The character of David—as the eldest son of Max Shapiro, he’s really the protagonist—was the closest character to serve as my surrogate. I understood his motivations and could relate to his active role in trying to guide his family unit, a role I’ve sometimes found myself in. I also related to his realization that the truism “no good deed goes unpunished” often applies to our lives!

Rishika S.: Tell us the best and worst experience you’ve had when filming for TV.

Paul Haddad: I’ve been lucky to have traveled much of the globe for my documentary work, including places like India, China, Bali, and Brazil. Those experiences really opened my eyes to other cultures and fed an insatiable appetite to explore more of the world, something I’m looking forward to resuming as everything opens up again.

My worst experience was in 2008. I was the VP of Programming & Development for an unnamed cable network that was having growing pains. Nonetheless, I felt confident (perhaps overly so) about my prospects of advancing through the company. One day, the heads of the network flew out to Los Angeles to host one of their “state of the union” assemblies with the whole company (about 200 employees), which were usually just cheerleading sessions. On the morning of the meeting, an HR representative told me my presence at the meeting was not required, and that I was to report to my superior’s office. When I did, my boss informed me with much regret that I was being let go due to budget cutbacks. It was one of those “this-isn’t-happening-leaving-my-body” moments. The assembly was essentially a bait-and-switch. While some employees did attend it, others—like myself—were pulled aside and fired. The suits had cleverly scheduled the companywide get-together to ensure that all employees showed up that day.

Rishika S.: Tell us the one thing you love and one thing you hate about writing for TV.

Paul Haddad: Because I am primarily a documentary and docu-series filmmaker, my writing for television is of the nonfiction variety. But the goal is the same whether you’re writing for scripted or unscripted shows: Every segment of every show should entice the viewer to stick around after each commercial break. Over the years, I’ve learned the value of crafting a good tease. Not only that, but writing for TV requires you to not waste time navel-gazing. You need to have an economy of language and be quick to turn around scripts due to deadlines. These two elements—teasing the next segment, and being prolific—have greatly informed my book-writing process. I’m fairly well-practiced in the art of cliffhangers to keep readers moving onto the next chapter, and have learned how to be efficient with my time, typically achieving a 1,000-word quota per day.

The only downside to TV writing—if you could even call it that—is that once you finish a script, it is then subjected to a multitude of voices, usually network executives. Often their input is great and crystallizes your messaging. Other times, they may feel compelled to make changes for the sake of justifying their jobs, or to fulfill an agenda that is not aligned with yours. Usually one can reach a compromise; one must pick one’s battles and know what’s worth fighting for. For this reason, book-writing is a purer process because in the end, my voice is more unadulterated in the final product, and a copy editor often only improves it while keeping the integrity of my vision.

Rishika S.: Tell us the one thing you love and one thing you hate about the process of writing.

Paul Haddad: The one thing I hate is not so much about the process of writing, but the process of getting people interested in my writing. Full confession: I have never been able to land a literary agent. And yet all six of my books were released through legitimate publishers. How did I do it? After getting dozens of rejections from agents—the reasons were varied, though often they just didn’t spark to my ideas—I ultimately decided to directly approach publishers who published books similar to mine (Note: some publishers won’t consider manuscripts from unrepresented writers, but many of them probably would’ve rejected my more niche-genre books anyway). By cutting out the middleman (agents) and strategically going right to the source (publishers), I was able to achieve success far more quickly, and with far fewer rejections and time wasted. Granted, an agent would’ve been nice to negotiate book contracts, but you can simply pay a flat fee to a literary lawyer if you desire, and that way you also save 10% agent commissions on your royalties. Bottom line: If you reach a dead-end with agents, hook a U-Turn and try a different path that leads directly to publishers.

Rishika S.: Which of your past books would you say is your best work and why?

Paul Haddad: Skinny White Freak, which is middle-school YA, is by far my most personal because it’s loosely based on my experiences of being tormented by a camp bully at Malibu Hills sleepaway camp. But I do think that Paradise Palms, as my most recent work, was the first book in which everything came together to tell a compelling, tight narrative of an era (1950s Hollywood) I find endlessly fascinating. I also feel that I’ve made strides as a writer, and that’s probably reflected in the final product.

Rishika S.: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on for TV?

Paul Haddad: I just came off an investigative documentary series for Vice network about the underbelly of the NFL called Dark Side of Football. I helped write a lot of it and was the co-executive producer. I was really proud of that one since it dealt with a lot of hot-button issues. I also just directed a series of short-form documentaries for producer Norman Lear’s nonprofit company. If his name sounds familiar, Lear is the television genius who created All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, and countless hit TV shows in the 1970s that I grew up on. He’s 99 now and remains an inspiration!

Rishika S.: What are some upcoming projects you’re working on as an author?

Paul Haddad: I’m super-excited about my latest book, which released on October 5. It’s called Freewaytopia: How Freeways Shaped Los Angeles. Like the name implies, it’s a nonfiction book that looks at how freeways gave rise to Los Angeles. I spent a year researching it and interviewing people, and it also includes some rare photographs and maps from transportation archives. Freeways are such a signature of Los Angeles, I was shocked to realize no one had ever really written a book about them in a way that wasn’t overly academic. My book is for the masses; like a lot of my nonfiction, it’s written in a breezy, conversational tone that is hopefully infectious. I also like nonfiction because it often allows for “sneaky learning.” In this case, readers learn about the social, economic, and racial history of L.A. through the stories behind its freeways.

Rishika S.: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to cut it in the world of television?

Paul Haddad: If you’re in college, I highly recommend internships. Internships are a great entry-level way to get your foot in the door and be a fly on the wall on how shows are put together. It also allows you to survey the landscape to see if there’s an area you really like, like editing, writing, story producing, production, etc. I have hired several former interns for low-level paying positions (production assistants and associate producers), and once these people got their foot in the door—and proved their worth by working hard and making meaningful contributions—they were off to the races to have careers in television.

Rishika S.: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to cut it as an author?

Paul Haddad: Don’t try to write for the marketplace or whatever the trend du jour is. Write for yourself. In other words, don’t reverse-engineer a book idea; start with a great idea that is very personal to you and then figure out which genre and voice (first or third person) in which to tell it. Even the most personal stories contain universal truths—themes everyone can relate to. Readers will be able to insert themselves in your characters’ situations if the characters are authentic.

Rishika S.: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?

Paul Haddad: More than ever, promoting your work is as important as writing it. It’s an area, frankly, that I still need to improve, partly because I get more joy out of the act of writing than trying to sell myself or my works. But by the same token, books are meant to be read; no one wants to have dozens of copies of their book—which you’ve invested so much time and energy on—collecting dust on their bookcase. Whether you hire a book publicist or establish a presence on social media platforms, author outreach is essential to generate awareness and interest. Some of my most rewarding moments as an author have come from author events at bookstores, where I get to engage with the reading community, all of which serve to remind me why I write in the first place!

I would definitely recommend reading Paul Haddad’s Paradise Palms if you haven’t already, especially for readers who enjoy a more gritty, noir read. You can follow Paul Haddad on Goodreads here. We hope you enjoyed the amazing insight Paul provided. Thank you for stopping by The Book Review Station and reading this author interview.

Posted in All Book Reviews, Horror, Thrillers

Book Review: The House of Twelve (By Sean Davies)

I received a free copy of this book from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

Genre:

Thriller, Horror

Length: 

146 pages

Blurb:

Twelve strangers wake up in a house with no memory of how they got there, nor of who they are. A set of rules awaits them. One, they will not be able to escape no matter how much they try. Two, there is limited food and water and no more will be provided. Three, the eerie music that plays non-stop will stop for one hour between 11 PM and midnight every night, and one person must die within that period. If no one dies, at midnight, they all will. Four, only one person can die and only when the music stops – whether by accident, suicide, or murder. If anyone dies when the music is playing or more than one person dies when the music stops, they all die. Five, there is one way, and only one way out – redemption.

And so begins the harrowing tale of twelve people pitted against each other in their fight for survival… survival at any cost.

Overall Rating:

4 out of 10

Plot:

7 out of 10

Characterization:

2 out of 10

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 for its thrill

Writing Style:

4 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes, this is Book #1 in the Houses of Penance series, followed by The House of Thirteen.

Highlighted Takeaway:

An interesting concept, and a tale that does not shy away from showing the worst that people can offer.

What I Liked:

The House of Twelve is full of action – the story moves along fast, and can be read in a single sitting (or a couple).

What I Didn’t Like:

In its speed though, the book forgoes on character development, to the extent that you don’t find yourself caring too much or rooting for any character at all.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys fast-paced thrillers and may not care too much about depth of character will find this an easy read.

Who Should Avoid:

If you don’t like gore or violence, I would strongly recommend avoiding The House of Twelve. There is no dearth of either.

Read It For:

A quick vacation or weekend read if you’re a fan of thrillers.

Although I found Sean Davies’ The House of Twelve interesting, the lack of depth adversely impacted the reading experience for me. I wouldn’t actively purchase his books, at least of the Houses of Penance series, and it may be a while before I try any of his other books.

Share your comments on similarly themed books or other Sean Davies recommendations below. And as always, thank you for stopping by and reading this review!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Science fiction, Young adult

Book Review: Phoenix Island (By John Dixon)

I had added Pheonix Island to my TBR pile all the way back when the show Intelligence had come out, primarily because its theme was supposedly based on this book. Although I eventually learned that the two are pretty different (and Intelligence didn’t really take off), the book stayed on my list and I eventually got around to it last month.

Read on to know how it turned out.

Genre: 

Young Adult, Sci-fi

Length: 

320 pages

Blurb:

Carl Freeman is sixteen years old. He’s a champion boxer who has immense skill, but who finds himself repeatedly in trouble and being moved from foster home to foster home because of his short temper. Quick to jump in and defend weaker classmates from bullies, Carl’s distaste for those who abuse their strength leads to him ending up in court. And the judge sentences him to Pheonix Island, where repeat offenders like him – who have no home, no family, and no future – are sent for a Spartan-style boot camp until the age of eighteen. Phoenix Island was supposed to be where Carl would train to control his temper, to direct it better. But Phoenix Island turns out to be something completely different. Off United States land and untouched by its laws, the island is run by sadistic drill sergeants worse than any bully Carl has met. The children are pushed beyond their physical and mental limits, and those that break are sent to the ‘chop shop’ – ground zero for the latest in combat intelligence. Except, no one is a willing participant, and the technology is still evolving. When Carl’s inability to bow to bullies lands him in trouble yet again, he discovers that the island is hiding more horror than he knew before. And when Carl is sent to the ‘chop shop’ as part of his growing list of punishments, he knows that a transformation awaits him. But after everything he’s seen, he doesn’t know what they’ll transform him into… nor if he wants to become what they want to turn him into.

Overall Rating:

7 out of 10 stars

Plot:

8 out of 10 stars

Characterization:

7 out of 10 stars

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 stars for the science fiction, which was a given and not really explored

Writing Style:

8 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is Book #1 in the Phoenix Island series, followed by Devil’s Pocket.

Highlighted Takeaway:

An interesting premise, with a really likeable lead character, Phoenix Island is perfect for its primary, young-adult audience. Adults may find it less than perfect, but enjoyable nonetheless.

What I Liked:

There were three things that I really liked about the story and characters:

  • Attention to detail in the action scenes – John Dixon has been a boxer and his knowledge is evident in the details and specifics of the action scenes. If you follow any form of hand to hand combat, you will find the narrative very visual.
  • The story touches upon some serious moral and social issues (at both individual and wider levels), providing some great food for thought conveyed through character development and story advancement (instead of preaching prose).
  • Characterization was really good, with the evolution being easy to associate with.

What I Didn’t Like:

The only issue, I felt, the book had was its pacing – it was a bit slow, and I genuinely thought that just a bit more speed would have made it a page-turner.

Who Should Read It:

I would recommend Phoenix Island to anyone who enjoys young adult fiction (including adults who often or occasionally dabble in that genre).

Who Should Avoid:

Phoenix Island may not be the best choice for adults who are used to faster-paced, edge of your seat thrillers or those who haven’t read any young adult.

Read It For:

A very likable, warm-hearted main character whose story you will end up wanting to follow.

I don’t read a lot of young-adult, although I have found some quite enjoyable, such as David Baldacci’s The Keeper. Occasionally though, I do pick up a young-adult book, especially if it’s based around science-fiction or fantasy. Although I didn’t love Phoenix Island, I think it has many things that were highly enjoyable, and I definitely want to read the sequel and follow Carl’s story.

Share your thoughts on Phoenix Island or any young-adult recommendations in the comments below. And as always, thank you for stopping by and reading my review.

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Non-fiction (Business and Other Stuff)

Book Review: The Data Detective (By Tim Harford)

The Data Detective is the first thing I’ve ever read from Tim Harford. And it was definitely unlike many non-fictions that I’ve read in the (recent) past. Read on to know what works and doesn’t work in this book on statistics by the famous economist.

Genre: 

Non-fiction

Length: 

336 pages

Blurb:

Statistics are all around us. With more and more studies becoming the basis upon which sociological discussions and debates take place, it’s becoming even more important for people to really understand statistics, and how they’re applied. Tim Harford delves into how statistics can offer great insight into human behavior, but only if they’re understood correctly.

Overall Rating:

10 out of 10 stars

Primary Element:

10 out of 10 stars (for the flow of the book and the subject matter)

Writing Style:

10 out of 10

Part of a Series:

No.

Highlighted Takeaway:

One of the most fun non-fictions I’ve ever read, that explains serious topics through beautifully presented and easy-to-consume stories.

What I Liked:

A few things really stood out for me in Tim Harford’s writing style and the presentation of the subject matter:

  • Tim Harford comes across as humble and conversational – both qualities that I’ve often found lacking in other non-fictions (for example, Zero to One by Peter Thiel) that tend to be too preachy. It made it really easy to follow what he was trying to explain.
  • The use of case studies and real-world examples adds immense value, making the concepts simpler and their impact that much more real.
  • The ideas in The Data Detective are refreshing and can guide anyone on how to maintain an objective and information-centric outlook, especially in this often-polarized world that keeps throwing information and misinformation at you.

What I Didn’t Like:

There was nothing to specifically dislike in the book. Smooth reading through and through.

Who Should Read It:

I have been recommending The Data Detective to everyone, regardless of whether they usually read non-fiction or anything economics and statistics-related. For those new to non-fiction, Tim Harford’s book is easy to read, making it a good starting point. For those who regularly read non-fiction, it’s a refreshing change of voice. And for those who normally don’t find statistics interesting, I share that I don’t love statistics either – and this book is way more than that. It is a whole new outlook.

Who Should Avoid:

People who spend a lot of time working with numbers and the prevalent themes may find that this doesn’t add great value (as per some Goodreads reviews). I still think it’s a book everyone should read at least once.

Read It For:

The Data Detective is a lot more than being just about statistics. It incorporates sociology, psychology, and a lot of themes that are underlying in our day to day activities and thinking. It is for that very reason that it offers usable tips to help navigate today’s world a little better. If there’s one thing to read it for, it’s the simple yet highly useful eye-openers.

After The Data Detective, I’m definitely looking forward to following more of Tim Harford’s work. Although I borrowed this one from the library, it definitely should be on an ‘owned’ list for easy reference. Share your thoughts on the book or Harford’s other work in the comments below. And as always, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read my review.

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Crime fiction, Thrillers

Book Review: Eeny Meeny (By M. J. Alridge)

I came across Eeny Meeny by M. J. Arlidge in the Goodreads Giveaways list. Although I didn’t win a copy, I checked it out from my library as soon as possible because of its very interesting blurb. Read on to know if it met expectations.

Genre: 

Thriller, Crime fiction

Length: 

421 pages

Blurb:

The first victim came out of the woods, starved, barely alive. She had been abducted with her boyfriend. The abductor had left them without food or water, with one gun, one bullet, and one choice – one kills the other, and the murderer survives. Survival, though, may be worse than death. Guilt and horror break the survivor’s mind, leaving her a shell of her former self. And Detective Inspector Helen Grace is forced to accept the girl’s horrifying, almost unbelievable, account when more people get abducted, and more survivors show up… leaving more dead bodies in their wake. DI Grace finds herself in one of the most terrible and challenging cases of her entire career. And the demons in her past, that she’s staunchly fought off in her rise to the top, finally seem to be winning. Will DI Grace find what’s driving the unseen monster before her past catches up to her? Or will a sadistic murderer bring about her downfall?

Overall Rating:

8 out of 10 stars

Plot:

9 out of 10 stars

Characterization:

8 out of 10 stars

Primary Element:

8 out of 10 for its thrill and suspense

Writing Style:

7 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is the first novel in the DI Helen Grace series, and is M. J. Arlidge’s debut.

Highlighted Takeaway:

An excellent debut, Eeny Meeny is not for those who get queasy easily. Some very disturbing scenes and themes and a layered, complex plot keep you turning the pages relentlessly. M. J. Arlidge is definitely an author that crime fiction and thriller lovers would want to follow.

What I Liked:

There are three things that made Eeny Meeny super interesting for me:

  • A layered, complex story with multiple arcs that tie in well.
  • Narrative that really pulled you in, making you truly feel for the characters (good and bad).
  • A strong lead character, who is as human as they come.

What I Didn’t Like:

There was only one arc that I didn’t really like too much, primarily because it felt a little out of character for me.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers, crime fiction, and thrillers. Eeny Meeny is definitely hard-hitting.

Who Should Avoid:

If you feel queasy with scenes that show the sheer desperation for survival inherent to human beings then you may want to avoid this one. The realness of the characters’ struggles and actions definitely had me squirming at certain points.

Read It For:

A new author and a new main character, both of which show an incredible amount of potential.

Before signing off on this review, I’d like to share that the revamp of The Book Review Station are underway. Starting with a new look (that we’re still fine-tuning), we’re soon going to be moving to author interviews and other new content. Let us know in the comments below if there’s something you’d like for us to include, and what you think about the new look.

As always, thanks for stopping by and checking out the latest book review!

– Rishika

Posted in All Book Reviews, Non-fiction (Business and Other Stuff)

Book Review: Zero to One (By Peter Thiel and Blake Masters)

I found out about Zero to One: Notes on Startups, and How to Build the Future through Goodreads’ Giveaways. I found a copy at my library and dove right in, super excited about the unique perspective that this book claimed to provide.

I’m not going to go into a detailed blurb (shocking, I know!) but I will quickly touch upon the topics the book covers: technical stagnation ongoing today, the potential of incredible innovation and “unchartered frontiers”, and the technique to overcome the former to tap into the latter. All by genius entrepreneur and investor, Peter Thiel!

Does the book actually go into all of that?

Not until the first 40% is over, at least. I may be in the minority with my lack of love for this book. But at about 40% in, after finally being unable to ignore many cringe factors, I gave up and marked it as DNF.

So what’s the rest of this review about? My unpleasant journey with Zero to One: Notes on Startups, and How to Build the Future, and the reasons for this discontent as summarized into the points below:

  1. Peter Thiel loves himself, and does not tire of showing you how smart he is by putting down a lot of opinions. I accept that self-promotion is part of any non-fiction, business book. But he does it by outright dismissing tried and tested ideas, and I genuinely felt it was for nothing more than giving a shock factor. I’m not denying that he has his skills (at all), but the sensationalism in his writing ends up just putting you off.
  2. The arbitrarily selective focus was another huge turn off for me. In short, his entire approach is “US innovation is the best, everyone else mostly fails”. There is nothing wrong in focusing your book or your research to a specific geographical area. But if that is what you choose to do, you can’t pick and choose examples from other regions when it suits your narrative – positively or negatively – only to completely disregard other examples that don’t suit you. Targeting, in research and readership, needs more consistency, especially if you’re talking about better business strategy.
  3. And last but not least, Zero to One is terribly preachy. It’s true that most business books come with some amount of preachiness; but coupled with actionable tips, they tend to offer some key takeaways that you can apply to your own work/business. But I found Peter Thiel’s writing lacking the actionable part. The end result is just a long literature review, seen from Thiel’s sensationalizing point of view.

Before ending this review, I’m going to share a disclaimer: Thiel may be an incredible business-person and strategist, and I am not commenting on his capabilities. I am only commenting on the book and how I felt about it as a reader and as someone who’s always curious to learn (which, I don’t think, is too far from the intended audience for Zero to One).

What did you love (or not) in Peter Thiel’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, and How to Build the Future? Tell us in the comments below! And as always, thanks for stopping by and reading my review.

– Rishika