Monthly Archives: August 2013

To Probe a Beating Heart: The Fall of a Serial Killer by John B. Wren

To Probe a Beating Heart: The Fall of a Serial KillerTo Probe a Beating Heart: The Fall of a Serial Killer by John B. Wren

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual I didn’t pay for this book, it came to me from the author who was kind enough to send me a copy for review. Despite that kind consideration, I’ll give my candid thoughts on the novel.

This is the story of a serial killer, from the first moments of his conception to his own grisly end. As story concepts go, this is a grand one. The author has cracked quite a meaty nut and one that is sure to entertain. If you’ve ever wondered how someone could be so depraved… here’s your answer.

On the negative side, while the story arc is appealing, the execution of it is profoundly lacking. The author has a very choppy and simplified writing style that reminds me strongly of Dick-and-Jane first readers. The author is certainly factual enough but just lacks writing flair and polish.

In summary, a great story but jot not very professional in the telling. I’m hopeful that future novels will acquire a more literary feel.

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Kids today are so different… but not really.

It’s been many moons ago, but believe it or not, I used to be a kid. I recall it with great vividness as I saved up the money to buy my first computer from Radio Shack. I’m fairly certain I’ve told the story of the Color Computer 2 I bought, complete with no permanent storage (unless you hooked up the tape drive to it and recorded over your least favorite Bananarama tape) and an epic 64K of RAM. As the years wore on I moved up to the 386 and the 486 and that holiest of holies, the “Pentium” processor. Because sometimes you’re a chip manufacturer and you just run out of numbers.

It was at the 386 stage that I started to get curious. No, not about that hair that suddenly sprang up “down there.” I started to get curious about how these blasted things worked. Sure, I’d seen that other people who ‘built their own’ or ‘upgraded’ something or ‘overclocked’ their processors but that was all a mystery to me because I was on a flipping $5 a week allowance and the idea of spending $50 on some computer component was the financial equivalent of climbing a large mountain in the middle of a blizzard.

At some point though, curiosity overcame practicality. I had exactly one computer to my name and I spent a LOT of time on it. At the time my life consisted of three activities: Eating, Getting rid of the things I’d eaten previously, and doing something on the computer. So it was with great trepidation that I proceeded to unscrew the screws on the back of my trusty 386. Before you know it, I had the blasted thing apart and could identify the vital components by sight. I was awash in adolescent hormones and my stress level was through the roof. It was as if I had taken apart my whole life, spread it out on the carpet and having properly dissected it, hoped fervently that I could put it back together again.

Twenty minutes later the poor little thing was back together and it was time to hit the power button. … … You haven’t lived until you’ve taken your only computer apart and then had to wait for it to boot up. I won’t go so far as to say it’s something really serious like, oh, a doctor who’s restarting his patient’s heart after a quadruple bypass, but at the time it seemed just about as serious. This little rectangle was 90% of my waking hours. If it went away…. what on EARTH was I going to do? Why had I ever been so foolish as to tempt fate in this way?!!??! In the end, it started up. Old reliable Windows 3.1 came up just as it always had but somehow I’d managed to zap the 3.5″ floppy in the process. Damn. But, if the random electrons were going to find their way to zapping something I’m glad they chose to zap the part that I could most readily ignore for a while. Heck, I’d already put the 12 floppies in that were required to install Windows in the first place so I was golden as long as I was happy with whatever software happened to be on my computer at the time. (Keep in mind that the idea of a download was limited by a little device called the 2400 baud modem).

So fast forward to today. I’m an adult (by many definitions) and I could buy anything I wanted. I have the cloud to back me up so worse comes to absolute worst, I go to H.H. Gregg, ask one of the exceptional sales staff for advice, and I walk out with a brand new computer. All that remains is to download my entire life history from Google and Facebook. Easy as pie. But when Laura’s son started exhibiting signs of curiosity about his own computer, part of me sprang to life. I recalled those days many, MANY years ago when curiosity fought with practicality and I wanted to dissect what it was a really bad idea to dissect.

It began simply for Laura’s son but the signs were obvious. He started with peripherals. Before we knew it the mouse was in pieces in front of us. The earphones weren’t far behind and I knew then that if this monster of curiosity was not fed then it would not soon abate. Luckily, in this day and age hardware is easily had for a song so I went upon my way looking for something to sate the insatiable beast. As I write today the machinations are in progress to get a machine for the boy to tear apart from step to stern, to inspect in all its most intriguing detail without an iota of guilt. A luxury that I didn’t have as a lad but would have most assuredly killed for.

But then…. but then it struck me. We think of the younger generation as so uniquely hip. They are eons advanced from where we were at their age… but really…. really they’re not at all. They’re the same curious creatures that we were, digging into every nook and every cranny that they can avail themselves of. They reach, claw and scrabble to seek more, to do more, to be more. They stretch the boundaries of their assigned paradigm to its utmost. Just as we did. The difference? In my case, my parents couldn’t have given fewer shits about what I was doing. Today…. today, I see that gleam and I want to feed it. I don’t want him to go through the sadness of “breakage” on his way to expertise. So I’m out on the lookout for cheap hardware that will open the door to his curiosity without closing the door on my budget. It’s what I would have wanted when I was his age. In the end though, it just goes to show that the kids of the current generation aren’t really all that different. They want to push the envelope the same way we did. It just so happens that it’s a different envelope.

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The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald

The Egg and IThe Egg and I by Betty MacDonald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the first time in a long while, I bought this book on purpose with the intent of reading it. Despite that, I may still be a bit biased as I just love the movies of the 40s and 50s that came about because of this book so I might be a bit biased.

As usual, starting with the positive, this book is a delicious snapshot of the time in which it was written. Characters are colorful and varied and painted with a broad and amusing brush. I was especially delighted when I realized (or remembered) that Ma and Pa Kettle made their debut to the world in this novel. The portrayal of those characters is rather harsher and more negative than their on-screen depiction, but they’re certainly recognizable. The author has a wry comic wit that falls just short of actual laughter. This one is a classic archetype of the day.

To the negative side of the ledger, the book is rather a random hodgepodge. Timelines bounce back and forth with seeming randomness and the whole thing is very much in the form of someone’s stories told around the kitchen table committed to paper. Little attention has been paid to the narrative long form and near the end especially things just don’t hang together very tightly.

In summary, this is a fast and entertaining read but no work of great literature. It has much to reveal about the time and place of subject and does so with some comedic effect, but falls short of outright guffaws.

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Friend Me by John Faubion

Friend MeFriend Me by John Faubion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.

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