Tag Archives: fiction

Review of Hearing Thoughts by Anthony Diffley

As is often the case I received this book free for the purposes of review but I’m absolutely candid about it below because potential buyers deserve to know what it is they’re about to pay money for.

The nutshell on this novel is pretty well summed up by the back cover. Normally I would consider it a spoiler to reveal so much about the plot but since it IS on the back… Essentially, a high-power attorney is kidnapped by aliens and now can hear other people’s thoughts. Thus the title. Not exactly massively original really.

In most cases I try to frame a book by its positives and its negatives. In this case though I can’t really find anything even remotely positive to say about it. The story is trite and has been already been explored by dozens of other authors. The writing is deplorable and the dialog reminds me of a conversation you might hear in a Dick and Jane novel. I guffawed aloud when grown men started talking about their “tummies” and many of the scenes defy any knowledge of how the adult world works. It reminds me strongly of the videos you see in which a small child describes what they think their parents do all day at work.

In summary, while I always hate to take it to new authors with such vigor I can’t be party to anyone actually considering paying money for this. I’d encourage Mr. Diffley to keep at it and try a different idea with a new copy editor because the one you have has failed you terribly.

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Book reviews: One Person’s Craziness R. T. Ojas

As is often the case I received this book free for the purposes of review. Despite that kindness I’m absolutely honest about it below.

The nutshell overview on this one is that it’s a twlight zone type narrative that touches on alien abduction and alternative human origins. Saying much more would constitute a spoiler but you get the basic genre, I hope.

To the positive side, the narrative is pretty cliche in many ways but manages to find its feet in the end. For 85 pages it was a profound drag but in the last 6 it begins to resemble something worth reading. The text is also reasonably clean with only a few blatantly misused words.

To the negative, the writing is at times painful to endure. The author has fallen into the very common trap of including much irrelevant detail while also omitting many details that might be of interest. The text is rambling, repetitive, self-contradictory and profoundly cliche all the way down to the green-blooded aliens. A few textual samples follow:

“We could make anything out of anything. Literally.”

“As they approached the entrance to the vessel, she saw an opening through which she could slip through.”

“For some reason, I always liked the rain. Something about the rain falling always seemed to give me joy. On our island, it rained maybe once or twice a week. In some periods of the year it rained almost every day…” [tired of typing. you get the idea. It’s’ quite a lengthy and irrelevant hunk about rain]

“As we got pulled into the vessel, we both suddenly stopped yelling as we observed the interior of the vessel.”

In summary, there’s a small nugget of goodness in this book but it’s hidden under an absurd amount of poor writing and tired plot points.

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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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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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Book Reviews: The Hoard – Neil Grimmett

As is often the case I received this book because the author offered it to me for free in exchange for a review. Despite that abundant kindness I give my candid thoughts below.

Categorically, the book is historical fiction-based-on-fact surrounding an unexplained explosion which occurred at an ordnance factory in 1951. Relatively complex and convoluted in its telling, this story twists and turns through many possibilities of a conclusion seeming at times to edge near to the supernatural before gently veering away to absolutely concrete occurrences.

To the positive side, the author’s rendering of place and character is haunting. There are many books which I’ve read over the years that leave their quiet but indelible marks on my memory and this is one such book. Grimmett’s characters are vivid and lifelike and will likely haunt my waking recollections and some of my darker nightmares for much time to come. As I said in the preamble, the story sometimes jogs lightly past what might seem like the supernatural but always manages to come down to something completely mundane and concrete. Also, the author has a keen talent for the graphic. His depictions of violence and sex are eye-popping and not for the fainthearted. Such details are used sparingly, however, and in just the right quantities to convey to the reader that some of Grimmett’s characters are right bastards.

To the negative, this book does require some patience. The author very artfully draws his scene and his characters but it can take a while to come around to a payoff. Once the book concludes it is satisfying enough but I don’t recall ever feeling a moment when I was entirely immersed in what the author had to say. I felt as if I was chasing a wisp of fluff around a meadow and just as I thought I had a handle on what was going on suddenly something new came up that required me to reset and try to untangle what I had lost. The book is satisfying but dense and complex. The casual reader is advised to keep a few simple notes to help keep things straight.

In summary, I get offered a lot of books and most of them get torn cleanly asunder but this one resides in the top percentile. An abundantly magnificent offering that will take you on a delightful journey if you give it sufficient time to develop.

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Book Reviews: Married to the Military by Terry L. Rollins

As is so often the case I received this book from the author in exchange for a review. Despite that immense kindness I give my candid thoughts below.

The book is a collection of easily digested vignettes featuring, unsurprisingly, the wives of those who serve our country every single day. Topics range from the joys of birth to the tragedy of death. Pretty much exactly what you would expect given the title.

On the positive side, the book certainly does tug at your heartstrings. Though fictional, I suspect that much of what is written here is pulled directly or at least adapted from real life. The sacrifices that these women make every single day is not to be dismissed or forgotten and Rollins portrays their struggles in an emotional style that makes it simultaneously easy to read and hard to forget.

To the negative, it is worth mentioning that the book is written from a heavily female point of view which makes it a sure winner with wives and mothers everywhere. That said, the male gender may have a bit of trouble empathizing because of this. That’s not to say that it’s impossible but potential gift givers should be aware of this possibility. Also, I found myself disappointed that the author had to ‘create’ these women rather than drawing more biographically on actual wives in the military. While I’m certain that the women in the stories represent their demographic wonderfully, something is always lost from the fictionalization of a story that could be just as well done and probably contain much of the same content when you can say that this person actually does exist. Readers love to imagine that the characters they’re reading about are real people and this book just barely misses that mark.

In summary, this book is an obvious choice for any woman and particularly one who has some connection with the U.S. military or, honestly, any military in the world. Men will have less of a connection to it but it might help them see more clearly just what the struggles are that their wives go through every day.

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Book Reviews: James Maxey – Bad Wizard

I received this book free in exchange for a review but despite that kindness I give my candid opinions below.

It’s been 10 years since Dorothy has returned from Oz. She’s now an investigative reporter for a Kansas newspaper and her primary target is none other than the Wizard who himself has successfully returned and is now the Secretary of War. I’ll not be spoiling anything if I reveal that they don’t stay in Kansas very long in this one.

Firstly I can’t say enough good things about this author. I get offered a lot of books and many of them… well, let’s’ just say our relationships just don’t work out. Maxey, on the other hand, had me hooked from the first chapter of the Dragon Apocalypse series that he sent me when it first came out a couple of years ago. His writing is twisted in that delightful way that makes you want to know what oddness he’s going to aspire to next and makes you sigh sadly when the last page is turned. If not for the pile of free books on my bookshelf, Maxey is the author I’d look to first if forced to actually buy my literature.

On the positive side, Bad Wizard is a delightful continuance of the Oz series and, for the most part, retains much of the flavor of the original book series. It’s obvious Maxey has done his research as he delves deeply into the original oeuvre of written Oz and ignores the cinematic adaptions. The book is filled with all the old favorites as well as many of the less known personages from the original series. To all this traditional Ozishness, Maxey also applies a subtle layer of mild steampunk. Our favorite munchkins can now look to the skies to behold a fleet of dirigibles. It’s a very complimentary mix of images.

The only negative I can really propose is that while Maxey has retained much of the original flavor of Oz, he has burnished off to some extent the kid-friendliness of the original. As an adult I find this a positive development but it does give me some small pause in recommending it to my kids until they’re teenagers.

In summary, as always seems to be the case, Maxey has nailed it. Once started this one was hard to put down and I found myself reading it while standing at the stove or brushing my teeth. It quietly grabs your attention and keeps it mercilessly hostage as Maxey’s work tends to do. If you’re a fan of the Oz milieu, then this is a must have. Those outside that demographic are encouraged to get a copy of the original Wizard of Oz (available as a free Kindle download) and read that first. It’s about a two hour investment and well worth it as background and education.

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On Tom Sawyer and Reading in General

Good Tom? Evil Tom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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