Monthly Archives: March 2014

Book Reviews: Dancing in the Streets by Steven P. Unger (***)

As is usual I received this book free in exchange for a review. Despite the great kindness of the author I give my candid opinions below.

To start, I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to finish this book but I can imagine that for a certain sort of reader with more in common with the subject matter this would be a dizzying and unforgettable book.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it because of the almost endless detail. The author describes the times in which he lived with a clarity that few others can even begin to claim. His descriptions are almost Dickensian in their richness and if one has even a remote hook with which to relate to this content then they’ll be inexorably drawn into this cross section of history so wonderfully portrayed. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that hook so it left me with mind wandering and doing the math to find out how long it would be before I could move to something else.

So, is this book for you? I would posit that the optimal readers of this book are in their 60s, or devoted fans of life in the 60s and 70s. They have had some chance to travel, rather randomly and broadly and probably have some stories of their own to tell from the era. Readers of this sort will nod in recognition when they read this book while I was just nodding off.

In summary, this wasn’t the book for me and may not be the book for a lot of people but to some out there this will be THE book that crystallizes their own lifetimes and echoes their own adventures in a former world much different than our own. I appreciate it for its attention to detail and its rare literary craftsmanship but I just couldn’t force my eyes to finish it. Probably a pity but such are the random vicissitudes of literature.

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Book Reviews: Chains by Bobbie Sue Nicholson (**)

CaptureFor once I picked up this book on purpose rather than receiving it free in exchange for a review. It seemed a reasonable choice from among all those books available because, like the author, I spent some time at “Perdue” (as the author spells it in her biography) though I prefer the more traditional spelling of Purdue.

The best way I can sum up the writing style of this author is to quote directly from her editorial blurb for the book on Amazon because this short paragraph reflects closely the entirety of the contents of the book:

After graduating from Denver University, with a degree in Art Education, I attended Indiana State University for my master’s degree. Having earned two degrees in 5 years, I begin teaching and continued to take classes. I now have a lifetime teaching license in Indiana. I have taught Art at all grade levels from Kindergarten to College. I’m married and still living in Indiana. We have two sons who lived nearby. I wrote my first story when I was in grade school. My mother was the only one kindness to read it. My children were in grade school before I started to write seriously. I took a writing class from Perdue University. My stories are a joy to write. The characters can form to my winds and wishes.

Like the bio quoted above, the text of this book is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors and at times borders on incomprehensible. As I’ve said of so many books in the past, this one needs the devoted attention of a good editor. The frequent transposition of the number 1 and the letter l make me think this book was transcribed electronically from typewritten pages and never even spell-checked or read over to make sure it was correct. Lastly in the vein of formatting, the narrative switches points of view violently without so much as a blank line to indicate it. This leaves the reader wondering what’s going on and forced to go back and re-read whole pages before coming to the conclusion that one section has ended and another begun.

As for the plot, it consists of a story told by an aging grandmother to her curious grandson. Unfortunately, the story is rather flat and predictable and has that rather typical quality of only being truly interesting in the event that you know the person telling the story. It is a frequent and persistent truism that most stories told around the dinner table among family are not usually interesting enough for the general populous to consume and enjoy. This story falls into the rather cliche category of “had to be there”.

In summary, the author has obviously paid a great deal of attention to certain aspects of this book but has failed utterly to compose a coherent and readable work. Perhaps with a bit of care and attention to the textual components the story would be brought to light more effectively but in its current form it contains very little to recommend it unless you happen to have some personal connection to the events portrayed by this novel.

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Book Reviews: The Wife of John the Baptist (*****)

As usual I received this book free in exchange for a review, this time from the author. Also as usual I will give my absolutely candid opinions below.

This novel is a rather unique blend of religion, history and the supernatural. Our protagonist is the daughter of a rich Greek merchant who can sense the history of people and objects merely by touching them. This by itself is a sufficiently unusual beginning to pique most interest and it only gets better from there.

On the positive side, this book is full of intricate historical details but doesn’t really assume that you know anything about the life of everyday people during the life of Christ. The author very patiently explains everything from wedding rituals and menstruation to bathing habits. If nothing else this book is a grand history lesson. If that’s not enough, the book is also a passionate story of love found and lost and found again. One could easily and happily take this whole book in in a single sitting.

To the negative, there’s not much to say but for the span of 10 pages or so there’s a prolonged recital of John’s history that made my eyes glaze over and I almost put away the book. It struck as a discordant note in the narrative and I had to flip ahead several pages to avoid it. Also, it should be noted that I don’t really know the true history of any of these events so I can’t speak to their accuracy but I will say that nothing in the book rang out as obviously contrived. It seems to keep very truly to its primitive historical roots.

In summary, a beautifully wrought and detailed fiction wrapped around one of the most noted names in all of history. If you’re religious or just love a good historical fiction then this is highly recommended as long as you’re not easily offended by a lot of sexual references because apparently they do that quite a bit in the first century A.D.

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Book Reviews: Ghostly Tales: Poltergeists, Haunted Houses, and Messages from Beyond (*****)

As usual I paid nothing for this book but instead received it for free in exchange for a review. Despite NetGalley’s kindness I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.

This book is pretty simple. It’s just a collection of haunting tales. You could have guessed that by the title alone, I’m sure. But what it is NOT is any attempt to analyse or explain anything. It’s just straight-up campfire-grade spooky stories.

To the positive side, I give the author credit for just getting down to it. There is a bit of an introduction but not much and the stories just start right up without excessive preamble. Our tales of horror are divided into handy categories and were all sufficient to raise a bit of gooseflesh on me though I did prime things rather well by laying abed by myself in the dark before reading. It wasn’t enough to keep me up but it did keep me thinking.

To the negative, I’m not going to make any comments about whether you should believe any of these stories because, let’s face it, you’ll believe what you want to. However, these did seem to all fall along pretty common lines and you could place each story in some movie or some TV show of the past. I picked out a couple of Twilight Zone plots pretty easily and I’m sure most of these either have their roots in or have inspired some fictional retelling along the way. As I said, it’s up to your belief system which way that pendulum swings.

In summary, this is a nice, tidy collection of hair-raising tales that are either just nice stories or real-life accounts of encounters with the supernatural. Which is it? That’s your decision.

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Movie Reviews: The Grand Budapest Hotel (****)

Laura and I marched off to see this movie after seeing previews for several weeks. Are we glad we did? Oooh, mostly, though it put Laura to sleep and I was very yawnful at various points.

I won’t summarize the plot for you because that’s what the description is for but the feel of the movie was very French to me with a bit of 70s criminal comedic espionage movie. Imagine the Pink Panther movies, I guess. The movie is a first person narrative in which the characters speak to you directly throughout the action much like Amélie, one of my own personal favorites.

To the positive the movie was delightfully photographed. The scenes are artistic and well-composed and, as I said, felt very European. The plot is wacky and madcap and isn’t laugh-aloud funny but instead cute and whimsical. That said, it’s not really a comedy as it has a deep undercurrent of tragedy that overtakes the whole thing in the end.

On the negative side, when asked closely if she was glad we picked it, she was mildly non-committal since, as I noted above, she did fall asleep during the movie. It is visually stimulating but doesn’t really grab the viewer’s interest. Other reviewers hold differing opinions as aficionados of the cinema but as a plebe it just didn’t quite get my complete attention.

In summary, we were the youngest people in the theatre at 45 with the majority of the other viewers ranging into their 50s and 60s. They seemed at least moderately amused and there wasn’t a great deal of snoring (not even from Laura) but I didn’t hear any applauding after the movie either.

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Books: 30 Quotes for Powerful Living (**) May be worth a quick look for free but I wouldn’t spend money on it

As usual I received this book free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I give my absolutely candid thoughts below.

In a nutshell this book is exactly what you’d expect in such a thing. It’s 70 pages long in total and has 22 pages of introduction, about the author, table of contents, mysterious blank pages and an explanation of what he’s trying to accomplish. Following that you have 34 pages of quotes and the author’s explanation of those quotes and what they might mean to you. The rest consists of a pair of appendices that list various truisms about how to be happier.

To the positive, I admire what the author is trying to do here. He’s presented in this book in a spirit of helpfulness and has really put his heart into the endeavor. Pradeep really is trying to be a positive influence on the lives of his readers and it shows in his spirited approach to the topic.

On the negative, the text is badly in need of revision. The spelling is acceptable but grammar and word usage are clumsy and incorrect much of the time. The book is also heavily padded with blank pages and unnecessary background information. This one could be tightened up to about half its current size. From a content perspective, there’s not really a lot of new information here and what is new comes from such notables as Taylor Swift and Whitney Houston. I’m not personally convinced they belong in a book of quotes along with Henry Ford and the Buddha.

In summary, it may be worth a quick look for free but I wouldn’t spend money on it.

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Books: THE UNSEEN TERRORIST by OCHE OTORKPA (**)

As usual I received this book free for the purposes of review directly from the author. Also as usual I will give my honest opinions below.

This tiny novel is a collection of vignettes from the author’s fight against the HIV virus in Africa. Each section is about 2-3 pages long and bounded by a contextually appropriate quote from some important world or historical figure. The last 10 pages or so are devoted to a pamphlet about the virus and what to do to keep yourself and others safe from it.

To the positive side of things, this book is incredibly important from a content perspective and exposes the terrible plight of those in Africa impacted by the plague of HIV. I have no doubt that the author is an absolutely amazing person as he shares these important stories and his own role in the fight.

To the negative, the book is simply riddled with grammatical and typographical problems that are extremely distracting. Further, on the Kindle version I received, the photos which are included are blurry and illegible. Lastly, and most astonishing, the author quotes such notable figures as Roosevelt, Oprah, Bill Clinton, and Princess Diane but the person he quotes most often is himself. At least a third of approximately 80 quotations in the book are his own. As nice a gentleman as he is, I’m surprised that he should quote himself in the same context that he might quote Mother Theresa.

In summary, this is a rare glimpse into the horrifying world of this disease but it needs a lot of polish and refinement before it’s worth the price to buy it.

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