Tag Archives: LibraryThing

Book Reviews: The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne (***)

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As usual I received this book for free in exchange for a review. This time from LibraryThing. Also as usual I provide my scrupulously honest feedback below.

The story runs basically along the lines of the standard ne’er-do-well gambler who runs afoul of not only the law but also the laws of probability until one day… he doesn’t. That’s really all you need to know and probably exactly what you expected.

On the positive side of things, the setting for this novel is fascinating and that fact alone is what kept me reading. The multitude of cultural differences in the East and Macau specifically make for an entertaining backdrop if you’re a xenophile who just likes to see how other people live and think. It seems evident that the author has spent no small amount of time in this region and has gotten to know the natives as well as they know themselves. I believe this is what the more professional reviews tend to refer to as ‘atmospheric’. It was that and it’s a good thing because there wasn’t much else to keep me interested.

To the negative, there just isn’t … anything. To speak bluntly, things happen to this gent but at no point am I at all sure why I should care. He’s neither sympathetic nor sufficiently odious to inspire any real opinion one way or another. The description refers to this book as “suspenseful” and somehow a “ghost story” but don’t believe a word of it. Through the book there’s a passing reference to spirits in two sentences out of the entire text. Even then it’s just passed off as the superstition of the natives and quickly dropped. I just don’t see how this book lives up to its description.

In summary, normally I blast through a book this size in a night but in this case it stretched on for a week because I kept finding reasons not to go back to it. This one drags on abominably and resides on the fetid fringes of not even worth finishing. If you’re really into Eastern culture or love baccarat specifically, this will have some appeal. The rest of you should just move on to something else. An interesting cultural peepshow but not what the majority of the world is going to consider worthwhile.

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Edited to Death – Good to see NPR-listeners in a book but not a great plot (3/5)

Firstly and as usual I received this book for free in exchange for a review, this time via a LibraryThing giveaway. Also as usual I give my candid opinions below.

The book centers around a professional writer-cum-sleuth who gets involved in the murder investigation of her editor and close friend. The novel is set in the San Francisco bay area and the characters are very liberal; they listen to NPR, have wine with dinner and enjoy a very socially and culturally diverse group of friends. To me this was joyful and refreshing to see in a novel but if you dislike those who practice what is generally termed an “alternative lifestyle” then you will want to look towards another book.

To the positive side, I quite enjoyed the writer’s depiction of the area and the people in it. It’s obvious that she’s spent some time there and she makes the place sound like an idyllic retirement locale if I should ever be so lucky. Her characters are vividly drawn, diverse and behave in self-consistent and colorful ways that makes them seem like old familiar friends that you’d really want to hang out with. As one who conveys people and place this author is top-shelf.

To the negative, the plot seemed rather flat and trite. I kept reading for the people but the plot seemed like one that has been played out a hundred times in a hundred books. There’s nothing particularly innovative about the story except that it’s been shifted to an unusual demographic. I religiously avoid spoilers so I can’t say much more, especially considering this is in the mystery genre, but at the end I felt like I’d read the script for an episode of CSI.

In summary, I love the writing and I love the locale but the story struck me as rather a non-event. I look forward to more from this author if it should happen to show up on my doorstep.

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Under the Black Ensign – Pure and simple pulp, pulp and more pulp (5/5)

As usual I received this title for free in exchange for a review. This time from LibraryThing and in AudioBook format. Despite that kindness I will give my scrupulously honest review below.

First and foremost, it should be realized that my review is predicated entirely on the understanding that this is pulp action fiction pure and simple. Is there a grand and complex plotline to keep you guessing? no. Is there Dickensian detail and character development? no. Is there a grand social commentary buried in these pages? Not really… but sorta. This is just action, action and more action and that’s all it tries to be. And at that, it does pretty well. OK, so that understood, lets get down to it.

So, on the positive side (and remember I have the audio book version of this) the book isn’t really a book so much as a radio play. The narrator’s voice is strong and steady and flawless throughout and the sound effects are comparable to what you would have heard in one of the radio broadcasts back in the 40s-50s. I’m a fan of such rot so that’s a positive for me. It may well be a negative for you.

To the negative, while the narrator is steady his supporting cast is sometimes a bit off their game. The only other real negative is, possibly, everything I said in the first and foremost category. If you want depth or complexity look elsewhere. If you want sword battles and cannon fire, then stay right here.

In summary, it’s pretty good at what it tries to be. I cannot fathom actually reading this text as it is pretty pulpy but as an audio book is does pretty well.

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Strange Fruit by Michelle Janine Robinson

Strange FruitStrange Fruit by Michelle Janine Robinson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book for free. This time, from a LibraryThing Member giveaway. Despite that kindness, I will give my candid opinions below.

To summarize the plot in a nutshell, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket and an American Apartheid has settled over the country. Terrorism and economic devastation reign supreme and a growing group of racial activists are fighting to stem the proverbial tide.

On the positive side, and it’s a slender one, this book had potential for an interesting story of sorts. If properly done, there was some amount of potential for this but absolutely none of that potential was realized.

The negative side is rather a lengthy ledger, sadly. First, one can’t say enough negative about the writing. It seems to be written at about a middle school level. The author writes in a rather redundant and choppy manner with little regard to transition or narrative. The editing is similarly poor. It’s obvious that the spellchecker has been run but little else; words are often transposed, misused, or clumsily chosen.

Leaving the words themselves aside, the author has made the story utterly implausible. Characters seem to shift in personality rapidly and without cause like they all suffer from bipolar disorder. Anyone trying to read the text will be left in a rather fearsome jumble attempting to keep track of the various goings on since the author doesn’t tie things together in anything approaching a connected narrative. The whole thing is rather a mess.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch at least briefly on the content. The main premise in this novel is that white conservatives are going to take over the country and reestablish slavery. While I’m the last person to side with white conservatives about anything, it would seem that if a white guy wrote a book with the premise that African Americans are going to take over the country and enslave the whites, it would be classified as hate speech. This book at its heart just seems to inflame racial tensions. Personally, every demographic in this country has problems and every demographic causes problems. We’re all at fault in one way or another for the problems which plague us. Books like this don’t really add constructively to the solution of any of these issues; they just serve to annoy and polarize readers’ thinking.

In summary, poorly written, poorly edited, socially non-constructive. Might have been entertaining if not for all the previous negatives.

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Ten Thousand Heavens by Chuck Rosenthal

Ten Thousand HeavensTen Thousand Heavens by Chuck Rosenthal

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received this book free of charge in a LibraryThing giveaway. Despite that kind consideration by the publisher, I give my candid feedback below.

In a nutshell, the book is fundamentally Watership Down, but with horses. A troubled horse finds a connection in her new trainer and their lives become inseparably intertwined.

On the positive side, the author does a reasonable job of viewing the world through the eyes of these noble and intelligent creatures. While I’m not a horse person myself I can see how his portrayal of the inner workings of their minds might not be far off the mark. They are, I suspect, smarter than we give them credit for and do have mental lives more complex than we dare to speculate about.

Sadly, the negative side of the book far outweighs any equine insight by the author. After a reasonable start at an intimate character sketch of two species, the author endeavors to conceive a plot which is at the same time maudlin, beyond any reasonable credibility and much better suited to a childrens’ novel. The use of profanity, which adds nothing to the book, sadly ruins it for consumption by the young adult market, however.

In summary, this is a child’s story written for an adult audience that will be left with eyes rolling. It reminded me strongly of the “Land Before Time” series of movies that my now teenager enjoyed so much when she was a small child. It is this reviewer’s opinion that the book should be cleft in twain. One half can stand alone as the story of a relationship between a man and his horse without need for contrived plot lines. The other half can entertain children with its story but divest itself of all the unnecessary adultness.

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Sword: The joining by Martin C. Sharlow

Sword: The joiningSword: The joining by Martin C. Sharlow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As is usual, I received this book for nothing but will candidly review it anyway. Thanks to the author and LibraryThing for providing it.

In this story we have a modernized bildungsroman as a nerd addicted to computer games discovers that there are more exciting aspects to life than what can be found on a video monitor. Ghouls, zombies and sword-carrying maidens ensue in short order and suddenly his keyboard seems like an empty shadow by comparison.

On the positive side, Sharlow has provided for us the kernel of an innovative and engrossing tale. His characters are relatable to this potential audience and he does a good job of fleshing them out. One really does feel for his protagonist as he struggles to figure out first, what in the world is going on around him, and secondly what to do about it. There’s great potential in the storyline…

… but the execution is at times startlingly poor. The numerous typographical and grammatical errors are distracting and the writing is sometimes clumsy and ill-constructed. Characters often end up in situations that are non-sensical with irrational emotions and display inconsistent behavior. In short, the book needs a good editor or at least a good proofreading.

In summary, “Sword: The Joining” while at times a bit cliche, has its heart in the right place. There’s great potential but it needs some significant clean up. Well worth the $.99 list price on Kindle but I’d be hard pressed to recommend it at any higher price point.

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