Universe 4 – Edited by Terry Carr 1974

519QW9-HHhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Like our last post this too is a collection of rather random sci-fi goodness but this one is from the 70s. I give a brief reflection on my thoughts after reading each story below.

Assault on a City – Jack Vance
At 48 pages this one is a full-blown novella. At its heart, it is a story of class struggles in a future that has taken fashion to an amusing extreme. It’s a solid story and an easy read in an hour.

A Sea of Faces – Robert Silverberg
At under 20 pages this brief foray into the genre is primarily psychological. In it a woman with a mental disorder is treated and we see the situation from inside the mind of the patient. The trip back to consciousness is illustrated as a journey on a mysterious floating island that has to be steered back to the mainland so the patient can rejoin the rest of society.

And Read the Flesh Between the Lines – R. A. Lafferty
In this brief story we have what I would categorize as an alternative history of sorts. Our protagonist, if he can be called such, has an Australopithecus as a servant and lectures his guests that a full third of history has been intentionally wiped from the collective recollection of society. This is a bizarre and rather surreal tale and one would not go amiss in noting that what it lacks in plot it makes up for in setting of the scene.

My Sweet Lady Jo – Howard Waldrop
Weighing in at under 20 pages this one reads like a twilight zone script. I will attempt not to spoil but know merely that it has a wry twist at the end. I cannot claim that it’s a terribly original twist but a twist none the less. In the story, man has bridged the gap between the stars but is still in the early, clumsy phase that requires him to sleep away the decades waiting. One such intrepid group has made the journey to Terra Nova and back again. How will they get on with the people of Earth who have passed decades while they slumbered?

Stungun Slim – Ron Goulart
This is a story of a stark but fairly realistic future. Interestingly, I find that of all the stories in this collection, this one stuck with me the least. The only lasting impressions I have is of public executions and insane personal debt with the most notable item being a $4,000 personal computer from the J.C. Penney catalog.

Desert Places – Pamela Sargent
Like a previous story, this one reads like a Twilight Zone episode. In it, we follow a family as they move from house to house attempting to stay ahead of some destructive force that’s gobbling up their world. At the end we find that the destructive force…. well, now I wouldn’t tell you that, now would I? That would be obvious spoilage. Suffice to say that it’s a keen allegory that has played out a million times on a million worlds including our own

If the Stars Are Gods – Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
Of all the stories in this collection, this is probably my favorite. In a nutshell, aliens visit the Earth and they want to talk to the entity in charge. Which, it turns out, they believe to be the sun. The story goes into a fair amount of detail about how the aliens came to believe in the sentient nature of stars and points out effectively how our physical environment shapes our long-term mental framework about how the universe works. At the risk of somewhat of a spoiler I will reveal that the aliens evolved on a planet with an extremely elliptical orbit and large axial tilt so their seasons were acutely variable in temperature. At certain points when proximity to the sun coincided with the proper angle of inclination to the sun entire populations had to pick up and move to the other side of the planet. One wonders how early life could possibly evolve in such conditions but it does make one ponder the ramifications of such an arrangement. At any rate, as has been amply illustrated by my prolonged babbling, this one made an impression.

When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal – Alexei Panshin
In direct opposition to my feelings about the previous story, this one left me flat. Clearly some huge mental shift is taking place in humanity during the course of the story but it is intentionally kept vague and impenetrable to the point that I cannot muster any emotion from this story at all.

And there you have it. Well, there I have it. I don’t honestly expect anyone to read these but some future version of me that’s trying to remember what that weird book was that had the story of the aliens that looked like the Apple logo. So hello, Future me! How’s it going? Did we ever figure out what that weird growth was in the corner of the back yard or did it take over the universe?

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Space Science Fiction Magazine – August 1957

spaceI picked this little gem up from a Yerdle swap a few months ago and have finally gotten around to reading it. I’m not trying to do a book report here but do want to jot down a few notes just to jog my memory in the future.

“Flying Saucers Do Exist” – Steve Frazee
This 48-page novella is simply the standard narrative of a young man who shows up in town with a wild story about aliens and the townsfolk have a hard time swallowing his tale. As time goes on more evidence comes to the fore but not until… well, I don’t want to be a complete spoiler but needless to say it’s not a happy ending.

One item of note is that Frazee’s aliens are pretty unique in their creepiness.  It’s rare that non-humanoids make an appearance in space lit but in this case they’re weird H-shaped creatures that cartwheel around their craft.  The imagery is a bit jarring.

The Thing From Outer Space – Jean Martin
At about 18 pages this one is very brief. I’d categorize it as a weird mix of gardening, alien visitation and a love story. If my grandfather were to summarize it he’d probably say something along the lines of “Alien critters came down and got in the punkin’ patch”. The overall moral pitch of this tale though is a not common one. Didn’t God make all of us, even aliens? It points out.

The Star Dream – Raymond F. Jones
I’d summarize this 25-page story as a love-triangle with sides that span space and time. Our protagonist is building a massive device to fling himself to the nearest star in hopes of finding his long-lost love. This is all well and good except that his Earth-wife isn’t terribly happy about the competition. The narrative flows along well enough until it reaches its horribly maudlin conclusion and bows out with the line (paraphrasing) “I’ve found something so much faster than the speed of light: an angel’s wings”

An Experiment in Gumdrops – Russ Winterbotham
At under 10 pages this was one of the briefest stories in the edition but to me it was one of the most pointedly apropos. A businessman travels to an alien planet and recruits a life form with a very helpful skill to assist with his newest business venture. He pays for this unique talent with the most minimal of remittances and all seems well until the alien wises up… in a manner of speaking.

This one has a strong undercurrent of that old adage that you never know what you’re missing until you have it. Ignorance truly is bliss even if you’re on a barren rock digging your way through solid stone for a living.

A Practical Man’s Guide – Jack Vance
At a mere 7 pages this one hits fast and quick. Our protagonist is the editor of a DIY magazine and he’s come across a real doozie of an idea from one of his readers. The submitter’s description of the idea is vague enough that we never really do find out for sure what it is but when the editor follows the submitter’s incomplete instructions he finds himself…. well, we don’t really know where. This one is a delightfully open-ended little story that might end up a thousand different ways. Almost everything is left to the reader’s imagination.

Slow Djinn – Mack Reynolds
As you might guess, this little story revolves around that most ubiquitous and troublesome of magical servants, the Djinn. Rather than being a malevolent beast though this one is just downright idiotic. He certainly does try but despite the intent all goes to rot and ruin until his clever master finally figures the right way to utilize this slave’s exponential ignorance.

Critical Mass – Arthur C. Clarke
Who knows what horrendous thing will happen if Clarke’s main character can’t contain the destruction that’s rumbling down the road in this tiny story. Excitement builds to a fever pitch until nobody can stand it any longer in this honey of a tale.

OK, so that’s the 2-minute overview. On to the next book!

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Filed under 1950s, sci fi, science fiction

Books for the week of 6/14….

The week was a pretty diverse one…. As always, I received these via some free outlet or other in exchange for a review. Despite the joy of getting a free book, I’m absolutely honest because… well, anything else would be a pretty poor showing on my part now wouldn’t it?

A World Without Boundaries: A story of human atrocities, despair, migration, and interconnectionsA World Without Boundaries: A story of human atrocities, despair, migration, and interconnections by Ge Xiong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The nutshell view on this book is that it details the author’s escape from war-town Laos until he eventually finds himself in the United States speaking not a word of English. The narrative is a detailed and honest retelling of this grim life transition.

To the positive, the author omits nothing. During the tale the narrator takes the time to make comments about farming methods or family history even while the chaos of war is breaking out around him. It is very much a stream of consciousness story and anything that did happen is related in detail to the reader. It’s a rather refreshing approach to the historical narrative.

To the negative, at times this can become cumbersome. There is a LOT to go through to get to the heart of what is being discussed. The reader must go along narrator’s idea of proper pacing and immerse themselves in the detail.

In summary, this is an exceptional snapshot of place and time. The author’s descriptions are vivid and detailed and really take the reader back in time mentally but it is a fairly intense labor to get there. You have to be patient and willing to get the full effect from the book. Otherwise you are left with a rather empty shell of the experience.

Le Tomcat Diaries: Lies, Fries, & Blue Skies in the South of FranceLe Tomcat Diaries: Lies, Fries, & Blue Skies in the South of France by E.A Menches

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story is written in first person from the viewpoint of a family cat and from a narrative standpoint it follows the basic pattern of a character displaced from their familiar surroundings and forced to set up shop in a new and unfamiliar place.

To the positive side, the narrator is amusing and extremely cat-like. He behaves and thinks in exactly the way any cat owner would sometimes suspect their pet to be thinking based on their apparently irrational behavior. Dead birds are gifts. Owners must be trained to do the right thing and the cat is absolutely always right and in some ways completely in charge. Having been around a cat or two, this seems pretty close to their own self-image. From a writing standpoint the text is solid, simple and very straightforward.

To the negative, this is fun for about 30 pages. After that it just becomes somewhat repetitive and trite. What was funny at first becomes rather laborious and you just want it to end. This is no “Watership Down” I’m afraid.

So all in all, it’s a cute idea but just didn’t quite do it for me. The optimal target audience for this book is probably that group which shares the most in common with the protagonist and his owners. If you’re in the south of France and you’re a cat lover then have at it. I think everyone else will probably be only lightly amused.

The ActorThe Actor by Paul A. Wunderlich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The nutshell summary of this book is that it gives us the inside view of the greatest actor of his age, the smiling face that moves the Texalifornia propaganda machine forward from one weekly episode to the next. The tone of the book is partly Orwell’s 1984 and partly Mike Judge’s Idiocracy.

To the positive side, I really like where the author is trying to go. The concept, though at least partly derivative, has a fresh take on the dystopian horrors that await us after after a nuclear exchange. Seen from the viewpoint of one of the cogs in the propaganda machine, this isn’t a narrator that we’re at all accustomed to seeing in this sort of novel. I think the concept could be extended greatly into a quite a series. The author has found a great concept to wrap words around. There is also an extremely visual element to the book that the author uses to great effect. Many of the author’s descriptions will stick with me for quite a while.

To the negative side, the novel really had me struggling in a couple of areas. Firstly, the mix of Orwell and Idiocracy was hard to swallow. While it is possible to mix dark social commentary with farce, it’s exceptionally hard to get away with and I found the author’s more comedic images to be a distraction from what I assume he was really trying to say about society and culture in general. Textually, the book struggles as well. I’m hopeful that my copy was an early release because the typographical problems scattered like cockroaches from every page. The misuse of common words was distracting and the almost constant repetition of certain phrases such as “inch-thick layer of makeup” was at fairly maddening.

In summary, I had a hard time settling on one rating for this book. The concept has wonderful potential but the execution boggled my mind at times. Wunderlich has done a unique job of cobbling together various elements of the standard Dystopian genre and making it his own. I do wonder how much better it could be with a good sound drubbing by a professional editor, however.

Sunny The Snail- And a Colorful Crayons: Inspiring Children's Book about being creativeSunny The Snail- And a Colorful Crayons: Inspiring Children’s Book about being creative by Karmen Sanda

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a kids book, of course, so rather than the standard format I’ll just jot down a few notes as I go.

* Illustrations are fun and whimsical and fairly colorful.

* A few problems with the text. Colorful is misspelled in the title page and the passage “…help his beloved mommy to finally distinct who is who between his brothers” isn’t … well, just isn’t quite English.

* This book has a solid message though; I approve of any book that teaches people they can (and should be!) different from others and to not be afraid to make their mark in the world.

* The coloring page at the end to ‘make your own snail’ might be a touch difficult to execute on with the eBook.

Stuck in the Passing LaneStuck in the Passing Lane by Jed Ringel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll admit that when I received this book I looked at the cover and thought… ok… then I looked at the back and suddenly my expectations went straight into the cellar. This isn’t really a book that’s going to immediately grab you by the hair and make you pay attention to it. In fact, the first 20 pages I kept thinking, “ok, how much of this do I have to read before I can legitimately give up…?” But around page 30 or so, it finally took its hold. The simple nutshell on this book is that it’s the intimate no-nonsense view from the inside of the brain of a pretty common everyday guy who finds himself in the online dating world. And it’s not one of those in which he blames every woman he breaks up with for this or that. He goes through all the same thoughts that real online daters do (not that I had years of experience with that myself, *ahem*) in which they ask themselves not only what happened but also that most common of repeated mental phrases, “what’s wrong with me?”

So to the positive side of things, Jed writes like a man who has really figured himself out. Well, has figured himself out as much as any guy ever really figures himself out. He may not know the answers to the big questions of relationships but he has at least figured out what the questions are. His take on things is completely honest and unassuming and while some readers may find his tendency to jet off to Singapore a bit perturbing, especially if they don’t have the assets to jet off to Singapore themselves, I think that anyone who’s done the online dating bit will find a lot that’s familiar in this book. Lastly on the positive side, the author has a very good balance between too much detail and not enough. I find in many memoirs that the reader is forced to grind away endlessly for hundreds of pages to find the real meat in the proverbial salad but Ringel’s all meat, if he will forgive me for the unfortunate analogy. *ahem again*

On the negative side, many readers will be, I think, at least somewhat disappointed that the narrative doesn’t really end up anywhere. Essentially, the author starts at his divorce and goes through relationship after relationship in chronological order. There is no grand denouement; there is no final smoking gun or any sudden revelation of truth; there is no shaft of light down from heaven. Things just stop and you’re looking at the back page. I’d argue that’s OK though because that’s the way life is. Until, of course, life isn’t. But by that time you’ve stopped reading.

In summary, if you can relate to this book as a mature dude dating again later in life, it’s a real find. If you’re a mature lady dating mature dudes and wondering what’s going through their puny little brains, it’s even more of a find. If you’re neither of these things… well, I’m sure you’re not still reading this anyway.

Legends and Lies by Bill O'Reilly and David Fisher | Summary & Analysis: The Real WestLegends and Lies by Bill O’Reilly and David Fisher | Summary & Analysis: The Real West by InstaRead

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The title of this book is ‘summary and analysis’ but to be utterly frank, it’s 95% summary. The book is these basic parts.

Summary – 10 pages. Essentially, a list of all the characters in the book with a 2-3 paragraph description of what they did and why they’re important.

Main Characters – 3 pages. The same list of characters that appears in the summary but with much shorter descriptions.

Character Analysis – 4 pages. The same list of characters but broken down by subgroup: hero/outlaw – educated/uneducated – performer/folk-hero

Themes – 12 pages. The same characters broken down by what theme they represent: respect for the law, ethics, media sensations, etc

Author’s Style – 1 page. A very brief analysis of the authors.

To say that this is fairly unreadable is to understate things tremendously. It does, I suppose, summarize the book well enough, but it boils out anything approaching entertainment value. It’s exceptionally dry and almost entirely devoid of anything which could be termed analysis.

Are You Seeing Me?Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The tiny nutshell view on this book is that it’s the story of a family trying to find stable emotional ground again after the death of their single-parent father when one member, Perry, the son, is autistic and has to depend on his sister for many of his daily needs. The narrative is constructed from a dual viewpoint so you get half of the story from the daughter’s viewpoint and half from the autistic son’s.

Firstly, this is a YA novel so I give it a different critical eye than I would an adult novel. I ask myself three simple questions. The first of which is: “Is there any reason I wouldn’t want my kids to read this novel?” In that regard, there is a fair amount of profanity but it’s nothing over the top. There is brief mention of sex but nothing graphic. The book is devoid of drug use and has only minimal violence and it’s the sort that kids are exposed to in action movies: car chases and the like. So on that basis I have no negative concerns about the book.

Secondly, I ponder whether there’s anything in the book that would make me WANT my kids to read it. In this case, there are a few positive messages about reconciliation and coping with situations and perhaps understanding a bit more about how the autistic mind operates. These themes don’t leap out and club you over the head but they do represent an example of a family in a tough situation making it through to the other side so children dealing with loss might find it helpful. The book isn’t terribly strong in this regard but its themes are at least present.

Thirdly, and somewhat less importantly, will the kids enjoy reading it? In this case, I’m not really convinced. As an adult I found it interesting from more of an intellectual standpoint, getting inside the head of this autistic child and seeing their family dynamic. Unless the YA in question knows a person in this situation I think it might be difficult to engage their interest completely.

So to the positive, the book is clean and has some weak lessons to teach. I was reasonably entertained and zoomed through this title in a few hours so it’s a quick trip to be sure. The family dynamics are well rendered and the characters vivid (as you’d expect since the author lives with an autistic son).

To the negative, the action does seem to flag about three quarters of the way through as evidenced by my sudden nap at about that point. Also, some of the segments from the autistic son’s point of view leave the reader rather wondering what exactly happened. His perception of events (or retelling of them) is sometimes warped by his autism so some part of the real story is rather unknowable.

In summary, this is a solid afternoon read and safe for the kiddos but it’s not on my “if you only read one book this month” list exactly.

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Written in the form of a letter from a father to a son, “Between the World and Me” is a detailed crystallization of the state of racism in our country today and its historical roots throughout the entire history of our country.

My normal review format is to prattle on about positive and negative aspects of a book but in this case I think it’s really more important to the potential reader that they understand what exactly it is that they’re getting.

For those who want a light breezy primer on racism… this is not it. This is profound and erudite and is the sort of book you could pick apart sentence by sentence for a year and at the end of that year just shake your head in despair. What Coates has done, like I’ve never seen before, is passionately and profoundly lay out the sad state of race relations in this country. The book reads like a PhD thesis as it patiently and methodically makes its points and then proves them.

The book is also infinitely quotable. I read a few passages aloud to my fiancee and her wide-eyed reaction was to simply mouth the word “wow”. Coates strings words together in a most elegant tapestry that forces the reader to think carefully and internalize the grim realities of life as a victim of racism in this country. Read so that ye may weep and know the truth.

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Book Reviews for the week ending 6/7….

Rather a light week this week, it seems. Do you have a book you’d like reviewed? Email me at slavenrm@gmail.com and let me know what you’ve got.

MORE DROPPINGS FROM THE DRAGON: A Hitchhiker's Guide To SalesMORE DROPPINGS FROM THE DRAGON: A Hitchhiker’s Guide To Sales by Richard Plinke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The nutshell view on this book is that essentially, it is a disconnected series of random conceptual tidbits about the process of being a salesman. No, scratch that, more generally it is about being a human who interacts with other humans and how to do that in such a way that people both respect you and know that they’re being respected in return. It should be noted that your reviewer this evening is a software developer by trade so if there’s one thing we know how to do it’s look down on puny humans. This book completely contradicts all of my time-worn strategies for putting humans in their places and making sure they know exactly how worthless they are to me!

To the positive, this book really does have a great sense of “person.” What do I mean by that? Well, as the reader one can really sense the author’s personality lurking behind the printed page. Mr. Plinke is just the sort of person who #1: would hate being called Mr. Plinke and #2: would be a delight to sit down and have a conversation with. He’s witty, easy-going and filled with lots of introspective insights that would make an evening fly by like a flatulent dragon on a updraft. The book isn’t really all that much about sales; it’s not about ‘closing strategies’ and all that specific rot but really strikes me more as a simple guide to being a professional in human society.

To the negative, I’m not terribly sure that every reader will necessarily fall in line behind my opinion on this topic. The author appealed to me at least somewhat because he unceasingly decided to quote my favorite songs and movies over and over and over again until I was dizzy with the ambrosia of nostalgia. Those who have less of a visceral relationship with Douglas Adams and every Beatles song ever might be left rather wondering who in the heck he’s talking about.

In summary, Plinke has endeavored successfully to both amuse and teach something at the same time. While he’s not going to have any crowd rolling uncontrollably with rather a different color of underwear than they came in with, he does manage quite nicely to give one something to think about as well as keeping things light and entertaining. If the world lived by Plinke’s guidance we’d all be quite a bit happier. And get along a whole lot better as well.

Fortune SmilesFortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is comprised of six very dark but very different stories. The protagonists range from child pornographer to North Korean defector to cancer patients. In each case, the characters are facing some key turning point in their lives, for better or worse.

Years ago Johnson’s previous novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son” son, showed up on my doorstep as an ARC for review
and after reading it I kept the book around when I usually give away my ARCs to other readers. Similarly with “Fortune Smiles” I felt like this book was one to keep on the shelf forever. Johnson’s first three stories are breathtaking and kept me up late to finish them. His characters are so bold and candidly portrayed that you can’t peel your eyes off of them wondering what they’re going to do next. The stories are solid, gripping and original as well as potent and unforgiving in their honesty to the darkness they portray.

To the negative, the last half of the book, while still entertaining, does tend to flag a bit. The stories of North Korean defectors and an ex-warden in an East German political prison camp were certainly timely but failed to hold my attention as keenly. Perhaps I had become accustomed to Johnson’s style again but I didn’t feel quite as pulled along as I did with the first three stories.

In summary, at least in part this series of stories is a masterpiece. It is brutal and deals with people at their absolute basest level. It unapologetically paints portraits that make the reader cringe and yet also nod with some element of recognition.

Small and TallSmall and Tall by Uri Newman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book strikes me as a simple melding of two books I read to my kids when they were younger. It’s the old Muppets big/tall story plus Green Eggs and Ham. I’ll quote one page as illustration:

“I do not need
to be here and there.
I can be
I do not need
to jump on the wall.
I do not need
to do it at all.”

So I suppose that’s potentially interesting to kids but it’s nothing terribly new or original.

Moving on, the illustrations are simple line art and reasonably entertaining but don’t be thinking there’s anything more complex than the cover hiding on the pages in between. Also worth noting, perhaps, that the villain’s face is a dead ringer for Snidely Whiplash

The story illustrates the differences between adults and children. The two characters banter back and forth for 30 pages about which one is best. The man says he’s best because he’s bigger and gets to do things. The child argues that he’s best because he gets to just sit around and play all day. Again, nothing terribly original about that and the characters don’t come to any agreement so much as they agree to disagree.

So all in all, I’m not sure my kids would have been terribly interested but maybe yours would be. The book is free of misspellings and grammar problems so that alone puts it head and shoulders above a lot of free children’s books out there.

Turning BlueTurning Blue by Stuart Canterbury

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The nutshell on this book is, essentially, exactly what you’d expect from the blurb. It’s the day to day grind (no pun intended) of shooting X-rated films. It dives into depths (no pun intended) that you wouldn’t expect and isn’t afraid to expose (ok, pun intended) all the behind the scenes rigmarole that goes into them. It is at times mundane but that’s one thing that makes it so obviously realistic. It’s not all about the Money Shot.

So to the positive, as I’ve noted, it does feel exceptionally real. I’m no fan of this particular genre so I’m not terribly well qualified to say it, but no author would include so much detail that can’t be construed as particularly interesting unless it added quite a bit to the realism of the story. One wonders at times if Canterbury wrote a book or if he just transcribed a series of recordings. Also, the book styles itself as ‘hilarious’ but I’d put it more in the category of ‘quirky.’ At no point did I laugh during the reading of this book but it was filled with quite unusual characters that represented their archetypes very well. It’s quite a varied cast of characters from the oleaginous producer to the high-maintenance stars themselves.

To the negative, for all the realism it’s almost too real. Sure, events transpire in the book but they’re all fairly low-key. Even when the cops bust in or people die it’s somehow a non-event and things just move on rather unaffected. There’s a very non-emotional vibe to the whole thing. It’s as if characters are doing things which should be very charged emotionally and should be important but they’re somehow carried off as irrelevant and no big deal. Come to think of it, that sort of sums up the entire x-rated industry, doesn’t it?

So to summarize, this is a solidly written book with some potential to entertain those who have an interest in this particular segment of the movie industry. Personally I found it a tad flat but if you’re into this sort of thing I can see how you’d really love the behind-the-scenes view on this genre.

Fraternity HouseFraternity House by Arthur Jay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book free for review from the author in exchange for an honest review. Despite the privilege of receiving a free book, I’m absolutely candid about it below because I believe authors and readers will benefit most from honest reviews rather than vacuous 5-star reviews.

The nutshell view on this book is that it’s entirely what it claims to be. It covers, in three highly amusing parts, the life of a college Frat brother in the late 70s/early 80s (I’m not sure we’re ever told specifically but this is based on the choice of music in the book). The general structure and organization of the house is laid bare for all to see along with life as a fully-formed brother and as a pledge (or poop).

To the positive side, this book really is entertaining, if you have any interest in such debauchery. It puts forth the good and the bad in somewhat equal measure and doesn’t hold back. It’s candid about alcohol and drug use and hazing and all the sordid details of life in the fraternity. We also get a cringe worthy view of house discipline and initiation rites. The book is broken up into numerous sections of less than 10 pages so you can easily read a bit and come back to it without difficulty. It’s a well-organized book even for someone who’s not an avid reader. It’s very easily digested.

The only real negatives are fairly trivial. Firstly the writing does wobble at times. The text suffers from a few typographical errors and misused words. It’s nothing a fairly gentle editing couldn’t rectify. Secondly, the book ends rather abruptly. I won’t make any attempt to spoil the ending but I did find myself expecting a final reflection on life in a Frat house. Perhaps something with a philosophical bent or some words of advice to future poops. After turning the last page I felt that I’d been pushed off a cliff about 10 pages too early.

In summary, this is a vastly entertaining book and an honest one. There’s no huge crescendo of action but it just very consistently lays down the events as they transpired for all to see. It probably helps that the statute of limitations is long expired on all these shenanigans. A recommended read but you’ll want to ignore some of the textual issues and take it for what it is.

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The week in book reviews for 5/31

It is sometimes mind-boggling to look back on a week and realize how much bookage I’ve ploughed through in the past week. So without further ado, I give you the lucky 13

BodiesBodies by Si Spencer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This graphic novel is a multi-threaded time travel murder mystery of sorts. It has many mythological aspects and delves into the ideas of secret societies, ancient texts and even manages to rope in bog bodies. The narrative is exceptionally complex and at times, honestly, is beyond total comprehension. I was able to unravel the overarching concept of the book but many of the details simply escaped me completely.

To the positive, the book does touch on some interesting concepts and its use of language is a joy. I found myself heading to the dictionary quite a few times and there are dozens of wonderful period English colloquialisms. The artwork is solid, sometimes shocking and exceptionally adult. This is not a novel for the kiddos of any age. There is much sexual congress, drinking of blood (straight from the proverbial ‘tap’) and outright murder.

To the negative, as I said, I just couldn’t quite tease out all the meaning in the various storylines. I know generally what happened and the storyline is reasonably satisfying but there are so many loose ends in my head that I think it would take a couple more readings to properly sort out. The text isn’t terribly dense it’s just that there are so many threads and there is little visual difference between some characters to properly tell them apart. Adding to that the rapid switches between timelines make it difficult to know not only who is acting but also when they are in time and where they are. It is certainly a bit of a puzzle.

In summary, for intense fans of the genre, this is probably a winner but for me as a more casual fan this blew my head apart. It’s graphic, innovative and complex but maybe a bit too complex for my addled mind.

When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super BowlWhen It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl by by Harvey Frommer (Author), Frank Gifford (Foreword)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book covers, in epic detail and from the view of the person’s involved, the first Super Bowl, though it wasn’t strictly speaking called that at the time. About 80% of the text is quotation from the people involved with the events described (or their children) including but not limited to Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, Lamar Hunt Jr, Hank Stram, Susan Lombardi, Len Dawson and Bart Starr.

On the positive side, the book’s level of detail is dizzying. This single event in sports history is covered at a depth which is unprecedented. The story takes you from the childhoods of the two battling coaches and winds its way to the fallout after the game and a ‘where are they now’ of the players on both sides of the ball. The coverage of the game composes only about 20-25% of the book but you get keen psychological insight on both the winners and the losers.

To the negative side, the book is primarily quotation and most of those seem to be verbatim transcripts of video conversations about the game. As such they can tend to be a bit rambling and not as concise or on-point as they could be. Also, while the detail is wonderful it can at times be overwhelming with so many names and places whizzing by it’s hard to keep a firm grip on all of them at one time.

In summary, this book smells like someone’s doctoral dissertation on the game. It is extremely well researched and masterfully detailed and sometimes almost TOO detailed. This is a great reference tool and good for the expert in football history but as a casual fan I was at times overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. A great book but you’ve got to be committed to take it pretty seriously and give it your utmost attention.

Excellence in Forgiving & ToleranceExcellence in Forgiving & Tolerance by Tanveer Ahmed

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is a very short book so I’m just going to make a few notes as I go through. Take them for what you will.

* Formatting in the web reader is VERY poor. Almost to the point of unreadability.
* The text is composed of 13 very short phrases or passages which illustrate the point of the book. In total the book is about 3 and a half pages in the cloud reader’s view of things.
* Text is littered with citations such as (Musnad Imam Ahmad, pp. 71, vol. 7, hadis 19264) and every mention of the prophet has a… benediction in curly braces like so: {peace be upon him}. This can get very distracting.
* The subject matter itself is very true and basically boils down to what Christians would term “love your enemy” and general forgiveness. These are extremely positive messages but most readers will have a hard time teasing them out of the text of this book.

In summary, I think it has a great message and one that many could appreciate but it needs a LOT of work to reach a wider audience if that is the intent.

Nesselorette: The BookNesselorette: The Book by Clem Maddox

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Thematically, this book is a mixed bag. You’ve got voodoo and witchcraft somehow bound up in an ancient hunt for treasure that can only be revealed by one person because of their mystical bloodline. Enough said probably to avoid spoilers.

On the positive side, the book does have some very, VERY brief interesting moments. With enough work you could craft this into a passable novella but it would be a fairly cliche one. There are some amusing tidbits about Louisiana swamp culture but I’m giving the book the benefit of the doubt in assuming that they have some vague basis in truth.

To the negative side…. where do I begin. Firstly, the story, by the time you get to the end, is just an impossible mess and is a Frankenstein monster of old tired premises all bundled together in a completely untenable manner. You start out right away with the foundling on the doorstep of the hospital and from there you wind your way into the mysterious family history motif. This sort of thing isn’t entertaining even when done properly. Connecting all these narrative bits together you have long strings of impossible situations most notably involving Child Protective Services. My fiancee and I laughed at length at how profoundly misrepresented those sections were.

Further, the writing is clumsy and unprofessional. The author uses bizarre turns of phrase and melodramatic lines that don’t fit with the total mood of the book. Some of my favorites include:

“she tried desperately to lift the heavy phone book”
“falling into a deep subconscious sleep”
“I have heard so much about Cajun food and the spiciness of its flavor”
“your brilliant hereditary genes”
“That idiot of a b-tch”

I wondered many times if the author’s first language might be something other than English. Add to this the fact that the dialog is wooden and implausible and I’m sad to say the book unravels into a complete mess. It’s rare that I am called upon to review a book that has so little to recommend it to readers.

Kalki Evian: The Ring of KhaoripheaKalki Evian: The Ring of Khaoriphea by Malay Upadhyay

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Firstly, it must be stated that I could not bring myself to finish this book. After 100 pages I had to tap out and move on to something else. From what I did read the narrative is a two-threaded story of a man who wakes from a 23-year coma to find himself in a strange new futuristic world. The other thread of narrative seems to take place in the same timeframe but it’s not clear to me how they’re connected. In it a woman escapes an abusive husband to find a caring protector. Again, I’m not sure how these two threads are connected and clearly they will be later in the book but I just couldn’t make it.

To the positive side, the book does have an intriguing story. The setting the author has chosen is one of those impossibly bright futures but that has a not-yet-revealed dark side to it. I’m a big fan of not-yet-revealed dark sides. There’s goodness at the core of this book but…

To the negative side, the writing is abominably perplexing. I found myself understanding about half of what was trying to be conveyed (at least I THINK I did) but was constantly bamboozled by the use of language. It is filled with unintentional malapropisms, awkward phrasing and at times descends into utter nonsense. A random sampling that I noted:

“…Kanha lay submerged in thoughts and simple set of metals stocked in a separate room…”
“…her lips reduced to faint shiver instead of the lush they were born to revel in…”
“Quin lied down and shut his eyes. Sleep dawned abnormally quickly…”
“She was there to attend to a splurge of curiosities he bore in his heart…”
“So we were forced to transcend our mental fixations with vertical growth.”

In summary, there is a good story here but it’s hopelessly bogged down by exceptionally poor writing. Writing so poor that I can’t even be entirely sure what the book is trying to tell me. It needs to be thoroughly scrubbed up and redone I’m afraid but there is a solid start at an idea here.

Ray RyanRay Ryan by Aiden Riley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The two-second summary of this is that it is essentially a biographical sketch of the main character from childhood through early adulthood. Each chapter section is a year starting with 1994 and extending to 2022. During this time he deals with an abusive father, the standard childhood enemies and drug-dealing thugs. The story isn’t terribly original and one wonders if on some level it’s not an embellished autobiography but I have no basis for that proposition except that the author is from the same town as his protagonist.

To the positive, the author has laid out in great detail a life in Nottingham. It feels very much like a life that could have been lived by a real person… at least the first bit. The characters are vividly rendered and the reader can certainly sympathize with their situations.

To the negative, realism is all well and good unless the story becomes painfully bogged down by it. The text is full of what seems to be irrelevant detail that doesn’t really add to the story but instead distracts from it. The story does eventually pick up but by the time it did I was just tired of reading every intricate tidbit of the hero’s life. Further, the author’s writing style is passable but it seems to be comprised largely of “Yoda speak” in which verb and subject switched they are. This is tolerable but does eventually become rather a painful distraction.

In summary, I don’t really have a target audience that I would suggest this to except those who themselves have lived in this area and feel share they a parallel history. It feels to me as if the author didn’t quite know what it was he wanted to write and instead just kept writing and writing and writing until something that seemed completely cooked came out on the other side. As it turns out, he seems to have written himself two books: one an episode of “The Wonder Years” and another an Episode of “CSI London”

Pumice Seed (Tullman #1)Pumice Seed by Patrick Stoves

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The nutshell summary on this book is…. Well, honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I could not get past page 10. The book suffers so horribly from typographical problems and just downright poor writing that I can’t make heads nor tails of it. Since I received it as an ePub I was able to copy and paste some direct quotes from it.

“A facet drew chilled water.”

“As I closed off all trace on the automations a scythe swing in my mind caught me unaware forcing me to open those blood red eyes again.”

“Lucidity wanders over to the feather.”

“Clouds dance the sky and fall onto a far away landscape alike.”

“Over the horizon once again the gas guzzling miasma makes its debut. A caught up wind buffets the car as I compensate with an oversteer to the right around a mountain incline. The precipice blocks any oncoming drag from my path. Slight relief at the perceived change I relieve my grip from the wheel tired of fighting with it.”

These are direct quotes copied from the text of the book. I hope fervently that this is an erroneous copy of some sort. It seems to be missing about 80% of the apostrophes and most question marks and the text reads more like a haiku than it does a novel. Perhaps this is some sort of literary device that I’m just not quite smart enough to figure out?

The Book of StoneThe Book of Stone by Jonathan Papernick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The nutshell view on this is that it’s a complex character development novel that traces the evolution of a son after the death of his emotionally estranged father. The book describes itself as incendiary but I would call it more of a slow, methodical burn. It brings to the fore some very controversial ideas.
To the positive, the author has brilliantly portrayed the psychology of a young man in mental crisis. The protagonist demonstrates so many traits that could be pulled straight from the DSM and it is delightful and head-nod inducing as he manages to project his own needs on the facts of a situation. As a reader you never QUITE are sure which ideas are real and which ones are just Stone’s warped imaginings. The author’s ending too, which is all of about 10 pages and hits you like a ton of matzah, leaves you nodding your head as all those long-held suspicions turn out to be justified. It’s a wonderful conclusion to an exceptionally complex novel.

To the positive, the story centers on a very contentious topic, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. At times the book goes on a length about the rightness of one side over the other and it does seem almost preachy. I realize this must be included to demonstrate the motivation of the protagonist but it can sometimes be rather wearisome. In that general vein, the narrative is a rather long one. It’s not a punch-filled action novel but rather a bit of a plod at times.

In summary, I enjoyed this book both much more and much less than I expected to. Its depths from a character development standpoint are profound. From an action/plot standpoint it’s fairly middle of the road. If you like epic battles that are waged between the ears then I think you’re well served with this book. Everything else is just backdrop to that conflict in one man’s mind.<

Robert Heinlein's Citizen of the GalaxyRobert Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Lazaro

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The nutshell on this book is essentially that a poor slave boy rises to become “not a slave” and in the end makes good. I won’t say exactly how good he makes it but suffice to say that it turns out to be good enough.

The positive side of this little novel is that it has a good moral thread which essentially boils down to “Slavery is bad, M’kay” as Mr. Mackey might say. Any reader will get the overarching point easily enough.

To the negative, the whole thing is vastly oversimplified. I realize that the novel on which it’s based is juvenile literature but this graphic novel is too low-brow from the artwork to the dialog and overall structure. Worse than that, the ultimate conclusion, which is essentially a boardroom proxy vote showdown, is completely over the head of anyone who might relate to the puerile style of the novel.

In summary, they’ve taken a good book and made it into a graphic novel that was too short, too simple and just will not resonate with any audience who can relate to it. I was thrilled to have been given the opportunity to review this novel but in the end… I’m just shaking my head.

Christianity. . .It's Like This: An Uncomplicated Look at What It Means to Be a Christ-FollowerChristianity. . .It’s Like This: An Uncomplicated Look at What It Means to Be a Christ-Follower by David R. Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is an accessible introduction to the Christian faith. It covers all the standard topics from what is God? Who is Jesus and the Holy Spirit? And of course all the various points of what happens after you’re dead and what should you do while you’re still alive. In the interest of full disclosure, however, it must be noted that I am not a Christian and generally tend to view the mystical aspects of the Christian faith as pure hogwash. But in the interest of honest reviewing I will not let that obscure my vision as I look at this book as a purely academic endeavor.

To the positive, the book is, as it claims, very uncomplicated and easy to follow. It also adheres to the familiar and rigorous pattern of introducing a topic to you, telling you what it means to you and then backing up the point with citations from the Bible itself. It’s an accessible but also academic form that the author has done a good job of using to make the potentially complicated very easily digested.

The only negative I would point out is that the book isn’t really breaking any new ground. I’ve read lots of similar Christian “explainers” and they all seem to follow very similar lines. These are the same basic arguments that I’ve read a dozen times and as an atheist I’m no closer to believing them in this accessible form than I was when I read them in C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.”

In summary, this book is what it says it is. It’s very accessible and a great primer for those who might be confused. I’d suggest, however, that it is just that though, a primer. Those who want a more in depth take or have deeper doubts, I’d suggest you go straight to the Lewis and skip this one.

Alive Souls: InceptionAlive Souls: Inception by Elena Yulkina

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is a weird mix of the Superman “alien sent to Earth to get away” theme and the Never-ending Story’s “the nothing is taking over our world” story. The story is complex and endlessly convoluted but at the same time extremely short which makes for an odd and transition-free reading experience.

To the positive side, the author has no shortage of ideas and seems to spout them onto the page with complete abandon. I’ve read many books that had only a fraction as much to say but took four times longer to say it. This book certainly doesn’t leave you guessing about anything for long.

To the negative, the book is almost painfully difficult to read at times. The narrative thrashes through so much so quickly and completely without transition that there is no time at all for proper plot or character development. You can pound through this book in less than an hour but it seems a lifetime has passed in the life of the protagonist. Add to this the often nonsensical things which happen to the character because of this lack of transition and you end up with a real head-scratcher. Textually, the book has some real problems as well. It reads like a child’s book most of the time but will suddenly launch into vocabulary that sent me to the dictionary and then right back to child lit. It’s almost as if the author consulted a thesaurus just to have something big to throw in about every 20 pages or was not a native speaker of English. Add to this the frequent misuse of words altogether and you’ve got a book that needs a lot of editing.

In summary, the author has a lot of good ideas but has absolutely no idea how to properly cobble them together into a novel. This book feels like the Cliff’s Notes version of a 3-4 volume epic masterpiece. It gives you the general flavor of what the author wanted to accomplish but fails to provide any of the meat. Just as you were getting to know what was going on the book is suddenly over.

A Time-Traveller's Best FriendA Time-Traveller’s Best Friend by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The nutshell view of this book is difficult to constrain simply. A pair of time-travelers (a’la Doctor Who) skip about between a series of diverse worlds and engage in various rather disconnected adventures mostly involving criminal activities of a non-threatening sort.

To the positive, the author’s work has a tongue-in-cheek Douglas Adams feel about it though it must be admitted Gingell’s main theme of stealing a spacecraft (which can communicate verbally and has an annoying personality) and taking off in it does have somewhat of a derivative and familiar feel to it. The writing is solid in style and flows along quite nicely from a textual standpoint. The pace is fast, the action is reasonably gripping and the sense of world and character is intriguing and original.

To the negative, the work as a whole seems somewhat fragmented. I arrived at the end and wasn’t entirely sure how (or if) the beginning, middle and end related to each other. Certainly the characters are consistent throughout but there was no solid sense of A then B then C. In part this is a result of the non-linear construction and is a typical result of time-travel as a plot element but generally one expects things to finally come together in a more cohesive corpus when the end is finally reached.

In summary, this is a solid first effort in this series and has much potential but I think that in order to really take off the over-arching plot needs more solidity and consistency to give the reader a firmer sense of completion and narrative arc once the last page is reached.

Freddy Fumple and the MindmonstersFreddy Fumple and the Mindmonsters by Vegard Svingen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The nutshell view on this book is that it lies closely along the lines of the movie “The Never-ending story” from a few decades back. It’s fairly standard youth escapism in which the protagonist has some exceptional ability that means only they can save some faraway world from the oncoming devastation caused by the unbelief of the rest of the world. That’s the general idea and telling you any more would constitute a spoiler so I’ll just leave it at that.

I believe this to be primarily YA literature so I judge it by my standard three rules for books intended for children. Firstly, I ask myself if there’s any reason I wouldn’t want my children to read this book. I have absolutely no tolerance for drug or sexual references and this book is clean in that regard. There is some mild violence but nothing that’s going to make the average child concerned. Language, however, could be a major problem. There is a LOT of profanity and some of it is used in somewhat abusive situations. There are several dam*s, a couple shi*s, one godda&m and dozens of a$$ because one of the villains name is, I kid you not, A$s so his name is used as a running joke in every puerile manner possible from dumba$s to half-a$s to every other thing you can imagine. So on these grounds if you don’t want your child exposed to profanity, there’s your warning.

The second question I ask myself is whether I would want my child to read this book for some positive reason. Usually this involves some good life lesson that children can benefit from. In this case, the lessons, if there are any, are pretty week. The crux of the whole thing revolves around belief in a mysterious Other world which… I’m not terribly concerned if my children believe in myths or not. There is a weak thread of sticking with your friends and building teamwork but it’s not a terribly central theme. So the book is rather weak in this regard.

The last question is whether the reader will enjoy it. In this case I’d say it’s a strong yes. For all the book lacks in moral fibre and age-appropriate language, it is surprisingly entertaining. Because of the way in which characters and monsters are named it comes across as very 7-9 year old though so it’s going to be hard to get kids who might appreciate it to look past the silliness of that.

In summary, the book is much better than its cover and its title. I had a fair amount of fun reading it though I did start to get the creeping feeling that this story wasn’t all that original. At its heart, it’s just The Never-ending Story in a different venue but it’s a fairly original venue and the characters are entertaining and fresh at least.

And there you have it. The week that was in book reviews here at the Tattered Thread. Do you have a book that you would like reviewed? Just drop me an email or a comment and I can add you to my queue.

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The week in book reviews for 5/21

Well, here are the books that I scoured my brain with this week. It is, if I do say so myself, a pretty varied collection of randomness.

Alien Hunter: Underworld: A Flynn Carroll Thriller (Alien Hunter Series) by Whitley Strieber (*)

The nutshell summary of this book is simply that it’s gritty alien noir. Aliens come to earth. One man must stop them. That man stops them. Sorry if that’s a spoiler but that’s essentially what it boils down to.

To the positive side, the author has a unique take on the genre and the setting. No aliens are like Strieber’s and he isn’t afraid to go with something new and different. These aren’t your captain Kirk aliens. These are the terrifying and quiet Grays of your nightmares along with their many comrades from the stars.

To the negative, the whole thing is so incredibly implausible that it borders on idiocy. The aliens work in their quiet way but the hero somehow manages to go through so much and yet come out on the other side unscratched. I stopped counting the number of crippling injuries he had and almost threw the book in the trash when he underwent open brain surgery and then walked out of the hospital a few hours later. Related to this, the author wants to keep you engaged with gripping action but often when he tries to do so he seems to lose his grip on the narrative thread and the reader is simply pushed forward in the story and left wondering what happened. Many times a crescendo is reached and problems are somehow immediately resolved in a way that just isn’t explained. It’s as if a curtain of misdirection is laid over the story and we simply move on to the next bit. I’ve never quite read anything so poorly written.

In summary, this is a pretty strong avoid. It tries to be something great but just ends up being a disconnected mess. I read this through to the end but feel I could have spent my hours much more productively doing just about anything else.

I Don’t Believe God Wrote The Bible: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To Another Reality. (Life) (Volume 1) by Gerald Freeman (**)

The nutshell on this book is that it’s the autobiographical retelling of the author’s adolescent adventures in Europe after overcoming his drug addiction and stepping out into the wider world. The story is a pretty typical hippie adventure of youthful excess and exuberant living. It does have a fairly strong moral thread that basically boils down to living the life you want to lead rather than feeling you have to adhere to someone else’s expectations.

To the positive, I love the book’s central message. The idea of grasping at life’s opportunities and not adhering to some societal standard is a strong one. The author gives us a fine example of how to pull yourself up by the proverbial bootstraps and suck the marrow from existence. We’d all do better to try to live more of our lives true to the example the author gives.

To the negative, as a narrative the story has a strong ‘you had to be there’ component. Freeman did a lot of amusing things but they all start to run together after a while. There’s not a lot of real surprises and things turn out in a pretty predictable way. It’s just not quite interesting or diverse enough to be a novel of wide appeal. Those who know the man will be vastly impressed but most casual readers will get bored after the 57th or 58th drunken escapade. Also, the book suffers from some textual errors which are fairly distracting. The whole thing needs a good sound drubbing by an editor.

In summary, this is an interesting slice of one man’s interesting life but it’s just not interesting enough to appeal to the average reader. It lacks narrative arc and progression and manages to travel across a fair amount of the European continent without actually going anywhere.

I Take You: A Novel (*****)

The nutshell view of the story is, as the blurb states, the story of a woman who really shouldn’t be getting married. She’s got every issue that traditionally disqualifies a woman from being ‘marriageable material’ from substance abuse to a Federal criminal record. Despite that, she still manages to be an incredibly adorable person.

To the positive side, this book is just a delightful romp. It fails to take itself seriously for even a full page and the vibrantly drawn characters are just made for a movie. The story is constantly and delightfully shifting and touches on some deep human questions specifically in the area of human sexuality and relationships. I’m a guy, not exactly the target audience, and I inhaled this in one long sitting while getting my knees tattooed. It’s a wonderful distraction even to the most obnoxious pains of life.

To the negative, this book will be incredibly polarizing to many. It’s got drugs and sex and alcohol and more sex and infidelity and incredibly graphic descriptions of sex. There’s a lot going on here and it’s not always terribly light-hearted and fluffy. But then again, what normal life IS all light-hearted and fluffy? Our protagonist is deeply “flawed” by societal standards, but is she really?

In summary, this was, for me, a grand highlight to the genre. I could have done without some of the gratuitous sex scenes, but the richness of the depiction was one that made you wish that maybe YOU were marrying into this land of ribald dysfunction and merriment.

Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan (***)

The nutshell view on this book is that it is essentially the story of a friendship torn asunder. The narrative is fairly complex and the writing exceptionally literary but it does take a really long time to get to its ‘hook.’ Even when it does so, the hook isn’t terribly strong and takes a fair amount of willpower to carry forward with.

So on the positive side, the book is exceptionally erudite and paints a fine and detailed picture of its protagonists. They are very real and vividly portrayed and one could imagine knowing them in real life. Their intercourse is fairly realistic and they carry on like old friends tend to.

To the negative, the book takes a long time to get find its way to something interesting. The first full third of this short novel sets the stage and I found my mind wandering terribly and I wondered what exactly why I was bothering. Once I found the hook the a-ha moment was brief and only mildly impactful.

In summary, I can’t really find any group of readers to whom I would recommend this book. It wallows in the shallows of mediocrity and is not one that will come to mind unbidden over the coming months. In fact, utterly forgettable I’m afraid.

Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen (***)

The nutshell view on this is that it’s the memoir of a woman who finds out one day that she has a hole in her brain the size of a lemon. From that point of introduction, the story spirals forwards and backwards in time describing her struggles before her diagnosis and her coping mechanisms afterwards. All in all it is an exceptionally detailed but rather disconnected tale.

To the positive side, the author is completely honest with us about her life. She’s candid and leaves no stone unturned from her sex life to just getting around town. The level of insight she grants us is extreme and she invites us into her life without apparent hesitation. Because of this, her treatise is a wonderful guide for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation at least to the extent of the emotional and social aspects of such a diagnosis.

To the negative, the book as a narrative fails in many spots. The storyline is at times disjointed and fails to flow in anything approaching a consistent manner. The author seems to jump around in her story as much as she does geographically during this period. It is disconcerting and at times completely impossible to follow.

In summary, this is an intimate portrait painted with a confused brush. The author lets us into her life but once we get there the whole thing is a mass of carnival mirrors and foggy recollection. I understand the spirit of what the author is trying to say but her thesis is lost in a mass of proverbial spaghetti.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.

Snoopy, Master of Disguise (**)

The nutshell view on this book is that it’s a collection of about 100 classic strips from 1966 through 1987 in chronological order with one 4-panel comic per page. Most of the strips feature Snoopy prominently as doctor, Joe Cool, Masked Marvel, etc. The Red Baron is strangely omitted, however.

On the positive side, it’s hardly possible to say anything negative about Peanuts and Snoopy in particular. Snoopy is as adorable as always. However, as collections go this one just fails to be at all evocative. The omission of Snoopy’s most famous pseudonym aside, the collection just doesn’t have any cohesiveness; it’s as if comics were picked out somewhat at random. In a few instances a series of 3-4 consecutive days appears but for the most part each comic is a standalone. As a person who has ready the entire strip from beginning to end, I felt this a rather pale shadow of the true spirit of Schulz’s work. Further, printing one comic per page in a horizontal format seems like it’s just trying to waste paper and print as little content as possible.

In summary, a pretty large disappointment. I was really looking forward to this one but it turns out to be a very poor value.

The Worrier’s Guide to Life by Correll, Gemma (***)

The nutshell view on this book is that it is, simply, a collection of small graphical witticisms drawn from daily life. The topics covered range from women’s hairstyles to the contents of their purses and all the typical mundanity in between.

My fiancée and I both took a look at this book and ultimately I found it slightly more entertaining than she did. Even with my direct prompts of the form, “Don’t you think THAT is a little bit funny?” she just looked at me with almost a look of pity. On the grand scale of humor I found one “heh” in about every 5 pages or so (my favorite reference was the “twerker’s carbuncles”) my fiancée saw nothing of redeeming value. Our shared decision was that the author was “trying too hard” to be funny and thus failed more or less completely. (though I still have affection for those carbuncles).

So on the positive side, the author did provide a few amusing turns of phrase and her artwork is very simple and easy to digest. Unfortunately, it just never quite makes its way to humorous for either of us. Sad to say that this was well intentioned but just didn’t quite make it to the starting gate.

Girlgoyle by Army, Better Hero (*****)

Firstly, this is a YA novel and my criteria for judging those is fairly straightforward and three-pronged. First and foremost, I ask myself if there’s anything in the book that I would not want my own children to read or be exposed to. I have absolutely zero tolerance for sexual or drug references and this book has none of that. In fact the only thing I can find of even remote concern is some light non-graphic violence and exactly one profanity in the use of the phrase “p***ed off”. So this is a clean one for all but the youngest and most sensitive children who might have difficulty with the fight scenes.

Secondly, I ask myself if the book offers anything positive for the reader. In this case, it’s not effervescing with positive themes but it’s not entirely devoid of them. During the course of the book the female protagonist deals positively with and overcomes her own misgivings about her body and manages to overcome her initial misgivings about a group of girls that she had initially had difficulty with. There are strong themes of reconciliation and cooperation and shows the reader a good example of building trust. It also teaches the key idea of not judging people based on their appearances.

Thirdly, and most importantly to the reader, will it entertain them? I’d say the answer is a resounding positive. I pulled through the book in a few hours without difficulty and it has an early hook and brings you along quite steadily throughout the story. The 14-year-old female protagonist is relatable, kind and she finds herself in a varied and unique situation with engaging characters who are both friend and foe. I can easily imagine this as a prolonged series as the heroine develops into a woman.

The only negatives I can cite about the book I relate to overall story cohesion. At times the story makes reference to previous points in the story that just don’t exist. It feels as if the story was cut down from a longer version and in doing so lost some hunk of the story. I cannot prove that, of course, but in a few instances the text calls back to previous stories and plot points that just never happened. This is a fairly minimal concern, however, since context wins the day and one can make assumptions around the missing bits.

In summary, I was thoroughly entertained and the book is a positive one for the target audience. The plotline seems to be a mix of “Dead Like Me” and a standard youth exceptionalism tale like “Harry Potter”. I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.

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Random Babbling for 5/13

Really intended for future Rob Slaven to peruse but you can watch it if you want.

Main bullet points:

* Who gives a crap about anything I have to say? Only me really.
* Giving up on Amazon – Rejected Reviews, etc
* Penny Dreadful – Truly dreadful but it’s got a nude Billy Piper in it.

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