On Tom Sawyer and Reading in General

Good Tom? Evil Tom?

Alright, I give up. You’ve doubtless watched me burble on endlessly for quite a while with my book reviews and after handing out far too many 2 and 3-star reviews I have to admit that I’m done. I’m cooked. I’m out. I’ve shuffled off the mortal coil and joined the choir invisible when it comes to Amazon book reviews. I just can’t do it for one minute more. There’s just too much random rottenness out there and I can’t bring myself to waste one more second of my time reviewing all this pasty modern tripe. My God there’s a lot of junk out there and everyone seems to think they’re the next Hemingway.

So what to do instead? I have, for now, gone back to plan #9: Pick a classic novel and dive in to up to my eyebrows reading commentary and interpretation and then spiraling outward to the reading the works related to it. Then it’s my intent to read the books which preceded it and then those which it inspired directly. In this way it’s my hope to not only have read the book but also come to a keener grasp of its contexts, influencers and the resultant works within a larger literary cosmos.

Pursuant to that, I picked the lightest and fluffiest thing I could think of in the category of modern classics and sat down to spiral it out as described above. That leads me to the beloved and much adapted Tom Sawyer.

Reading this for the first time as an adult it strikes me just what a total ass Tom is. All too often we tend to hold Tom up as a delightful mischievous scamp who’s just being a playful little boy but nobody seems to mention that for most of the book he’s making plans to become a highwayman and murder people on a regular basis. Or at least that’s the persona that he’s presenting to the rest of his “gang.” It remains to be seen if Tom is really Satan incarnate or just a weaver of tall tales but the text leaves a fair ambiguity on the question of whether Tom is just a precocious boy or if he is destined to become the next Injun Joe ready to rape, murder and plunder for the sake of a few coins.

Moving on to general commentary, those who know more than I do on this topic by a factor of millions, seem to fairly consistently agree that Tom Sawyer is rather a structureless mess of disconnected narrative. Having re-read it I can’t help but agree that it seems a jumble of random anecdotes that have cohesion only in that they involve the same “loveable” scamp of a boy. The real service of the book seems to be as an introduction for the more highly respected Huckleberry Finn.

So with that I’m back to Finn followed by “Tom and Huck among the Indians”, Tom Brown’s School days and Aldridge’s “The Story of a Bad Boy.” If nothing else I’m amused by the profligate use of the name Tom in this particular genre.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Reviews: Grizwall’s out,and he is telling his side of the story (**)

As usual I received this book free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I will be absolutely candid about it in spite of the kind consideration of a free book delivered unto mine doorstep.

Amazon describes the book this way, blurby goodness follows:

Grizwall is a collection of short interconnected stories that share the adventures of a dog who experienced many things in his amazing life. From bears and porcupines to helicopters, planes, and torrential rains.These are a few of his adventures I have tried to share in an entertaining way, the stories are true, except….Grizwall didn’t really talk.

The wilds of beautiful British Columbia the setting we follow Grizwall from Vancouver Island to the far North on one adventure after another. So sit back and enjoy the ride Grizwall always did.

With commentary from Grizwall himself the stories are meant to entertain and hopefully amuse.Take care,enjoy.25% of every purchase donated to the S.P.C.A. on behalf of Grizwall. For ages 8 to 108>

The nutshell view of this book is that it’s a parallel dual memoir of a man and his dog. The man’s thoughts appear interleaved with those presumed thoughts of his dog as they muck about in the wilds of Canada having all manner of rather random adventures.

On the positive side, this is a book with quite a bit of heart. It’s advertised as a tribute to a boon companion now passed on. Like all dog owners Grizwall has felt the joys of having a dog and the sorrows of suddenly not having a dog and he pours his heart and his memories into this book with great candor and openness.

Unfortunately, all the candor and openness in the world cannot compensate for the poor execution of this book. It is rife with typos and misused words and completely lacks professionalism. Like many of its ilk it is in need of a good sound editing both for grammar and for content. The rambling and sometimes poor text aside, the pictures included in the book are also in need of attention. Each time before the dog in the story speaks his picture appears in the margins. Very sadly the way the picture is cropped makes it look as if the dog is in some sort of pain or twisted into a very uncomfortable position. The effect is rather unsettling.

In summary, the author has a good idea but has simply failed to execute on it. This is, at best, the rough draft for a book that needs several more weeks of attention before it is sufficiently polished and deserving of sale to the general populous.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Reviews: Scream Vacation (The Raven Archives) by Dr. I. Seymour Youngblood (*****)

As is the usual preamble I received this book free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I’ll be completely honest despite that kind consideration.

The Amazon blurb describes the book this way:

Carter’s spring break is a total bust. His family was Orlando bound until his twin sisters, Maren & Macee, sabotaged his dream vacation with their dorky ghost-hunting obsession. Now, he’s stuck in some “haunted” backwoods cabin in the middle of nowhere all because his sister’s favorite show is filming there during spring break. But what Carter always made fun, his sister’s love of the supernatural, turns out to be no laughing matter on their SCREAM VACATION.

Firstly, this is a book aimed at youth so I give it a slightly different going over than I would an adult book. I look at three basic questions and the first of those is to ask if there’s anything inappropriate for the age group. It has been my sad duty to give many books for adolescents poor scores because they had sexual or drug content but in this case the book is clean as a whistle. There is some mild pre-teen rebellion but there’s nothing to be scared of if your kid brings this book home. There’s not even any violence to speak of.

The second thing I look for is rather the opposite of the first and that’s to find positive lessons or morals in a book. This book does reasonably well at that since the main character does come to understand his family a bit better and after all is said and done they’re a closer group than they started out. This doesn’t really seem to be the focus of the book but it’s there.

Lastly, I ask myself if the book is entertaining and in this case the book scores high marks. I’m an adult and I found it amusing so kids will probably devour it. It is, of course, rather simplistic and from an adult perspective nothing new but these are kids we’re talking about as the target audience and it will be right up their proverbial alley. I can see this series doing really well.

In summary, this is a real standout in the realm of independently published books. Aside from a very few editorial errors this is an exceptionally professional, responsible and entertaining book for the young people in your life. Highly recommended for kids that like to be scared but not too scared.


Want to help us out? Go visit the review on Amazon and vote it helpful. Every vote helps us get more books to books to review for you. Want to help the author? Go buy the book! Most of the time these books are from independent authors who are just starting out. Get in on the ground floor of the next Stephen King. Lastly, if you’re in the Indianapolis area and want to have a look at some of these books for yourself then just drop me a line and I’ll be happy to pass them along.  Free to me, free to you.  Just promise that you’ll read them, review them and pass them on to someone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Reviews: The Siege by James Hanna (*****)

Firstly, and as usual, I received this book free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I give my candid thoughts below despite the delightful privilege of receiving a free book.

From the standpoint of narrative form the book is comprised of two parts. In the first 100 pages the narrator is in the midst of a hostage recovery effort but through the use of well-organized flashbacks we see the days that lead up to the incident in meticulous detail. The second part deals with the aftermath in a more straightforward narrative flow.

On the positive side, the writer quite obviously knows what he’s talking about. This is NOT the parboiled Hollywood version of prison drama; this is the raw, gritty and complex reality of life in a prison and the best of its genre that I’ve ever come across. The author’s style is rich and engaging painting a vivid picture of his setting and his very believable characters. If you want the truth behind life in prison administration this is probably the book you’ll want to pick up first.

The only negative that I would note isn’t really a negative so much as a caution to readers who might be looking for a guns-blazing action novel. This isn’t that. As I said, this is real life and real life seldom lives up to the idiotic standard set by the movies. There are moments of what one would call “action” but for the most part the novel is one of psychology and tangled mental interactions between the varied cast of characters.

In summary, highly recommended if you like your novels with engaging ideas over fountains of blood and violence.

1 Comment

Filed under books

Book Reviews: American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney (***)

Every once in a while I actually pay money for a book and in this case I rather wish I hadn’t. Usually I go into a “positives vs negatives” analysis on books but in this case I think I’ll opt for more of a “this is what this book is” concept.

Firstly, what I expected was hard non-fiction. I wanted a tightly-connected book that described the history of funeral practices in some level of detail. Instead what this book gives you is a rather loose cobbling together of a few historical tidbits and a surprising amount of memoir. Imagine something of the form, “roadside memorials have become increasingly popular; Steve built a roadside memorial in 1976 when his wife died in a terrible accident. She was blonde-haired and blue-eyed and stood 5’8 with a wispy figure and a penchant for pancakes that would make any man weak in the knees.” OK, I’m making all that up but that’s the general form we’re talking about. The book seems to be about 15% history, 15% current day practices and 70% personal anecdote from the author’s time writing the book. It’s well-written certainly and entertaining in some ways but it’s completely not what I expected when I plunked hit the ‘buy’ button.

The second important thing to know is that the book is not really terribly historical. The first chapter talks about funeral practices of days gone by from hair jewelry to cooling boards but the second chapter is about memorial tattoos and from there we’re very much stuck in the present day. So this is a book about TODAY and only remotely historical.

In summary, it’s entirely possible that you’ll love this book. The author is a good writer and entertaining in a certain sense of the word but you should not buy this book with the idea that it’s going to teach you much about the history of the mourning process. It contains a plethora of anecdotes both relevant and not; some entertaining and some not but if you, like I was, are just looking for an exploration of the morbid history of how we deal with those most final of destinations…. this isn’t that book. Mary Roach’s “Stiff” is probably more your cup of tea.

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book Reviews: Dead of July (***)

As is usual, I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I give my absolutely candid opinions below.

The high-level summary of this book is pretty straightforward. Our main character finds herself in a new city and almost immediately embroiled in trouble just because she tried to help out a child in need. What ensues is a mixture of violence, suspense and the paranormal.

On the positive side, our author has taken great and obvious care with her work. Seldom has an independently published novel come across my desk that is so well edited and free of grammatical and spelling problems. Thompson also has a knack for creating characters that pop with realism; these are the sort of folks I’d like to invite out for a drink sometime. They are candid, real and well-formed almost as if the author knows them in real life. I also enjoyed the way the author wove the supernatural and mundane aspects of the world together. Yes, our protagonist has contact with the spirit world but it’s not the center of the story but put forth as a sometimes casual aside. This attitude lends a great deal of believability to the supernatural aspects of the story.

To the negative, I asked the author specifically what genre she was targeting because at times the book seems to drift between suspense and memoir. She replied that it was intended to be suspense and that didn’t surprise me but it did reveal that she has a fairly steep hill to climb from a writing standpoint. The novel is written in the first person and includes a wealth of very specific anecdotes that in no way add to the suspenseful aspects of the novel. That, coupled with the first-person point of view, tends to squash any attempts at really building tension from one page to the next. We know a lot about the character and we can relate to her. She’s very real to the raeder but it’s hard to build much suspense when the protagonist seems to spend so much time doing unrelated unsuspenseful things.

In summary, I like what the author’s done with this book and it has great potential but it does need some tightening up. As a reader we can see the action very vividly but the story does seem to lack the dark and grimy aspects necessary for a true suspense novel. I’d suggest that potential readers perhaps bookmark this author and wait for future installments when she has had a bit more of a chance to perfect her craft as I am confident she will. You may not be on the edge of your seat with this novel but you may well be with the next one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Movie Reviews: Ward No. 6 [Russian] (****)

I picked this movie because it looked very lonely on the Amazon Instant watch. Am I glad that I did? Yes, for the most part.

To the positive, this movie encapsulates some pretty deep philosophy, plunging all the way to the depths of pondering existence itself. The story follows a psychiatrist working in a mental ward who slowly goes native and begins to identify more and more with his patients until… well, you’ll see if you watch the movie. The movie shot is in a documentary format that makes the setting feel like a pretty accurate rendering of a 2007 Russian insane asylum.

To the negative, the film takes a LONG time to build up to anything. Even though it’s only 85 minutes long those first 30 seem like they could be condensed to about 5. By the standards of the average movie viewer this one is a bit long in the tooth. Also the yellow subtitles are sometimes exceptionally hard to read against the white backgrounds so keep your eyes ready for gymnastics as you read along with this one.

In summary, this is a slow-mover but one with a great point to make. There’s not a lot of action but plenty to think about if that’s the sort of thing you’re in the mood for.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized