Tag Archives: literature

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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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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Today in new Books – 2/4/2014

It’s another big week in book releases and it even includes a book written by the guy in the next cube at work. That doesn’t happen very often!


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Friend Me: A Novel of Suspense (****)


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

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

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

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


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The Deepest Secret: A Novel (*****)


As usual I received this book because it showed up in the mail without the need to purchase it. Unusually, I don’t seem to be able to track down exactly why it showed up. I am forced to assume it was a direct publisher giveaway of some sort. Nevertheless, my candid thoughts follow.

You’ve doubtless read the blurb so I won’t make even the smallest attempt to resummarize the summary. The narrative is written in round-robin narrative from the viewpoint of our protagonist, Tyler, who can’t be exposed to even the faintest shadow of sunlight, lest he die, his mother, his father and a few random viewpoints thrown in for fun.

On the positive side the whole thing is pretty attention-grabbing. At 450 pages or so I sat through most of it in one prolonged 4-hour stretch. It has a well-executed narrative flair that pulls you along at just the right pace. The writing and editing are all very tight and exceptionally dramatic. This is one of the best executed books I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended to anyone except the deepest recluse without friend or family. The book draws much of its power from the “What if this were my family?” spirit.

The book’s central theme, as anyone reading the title will no doubt guess, is that we all have our inner little bits that we don’t show anyone. Some of those bits are dark and some of those are light and some of them are a bit of both. Buckley’s true triumph is the realism with which she paints this narrative. Everyone has a secret something and some stay secret, some come to light and devour the secret-holder and some you just get away with. There’s no big happy bow at the end of this one; sometimes a secret is just too big.

In summary, I hesitate to use the cliche terms that usually go here but this book really does keep the pages turning. The page count is somewhat deceptive as you can pound through this light reading pretty quickly. Glad it arrived at my doorstep, even if I don’t really know why it did so.


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The Book of Jonah: A Novel (***)
As usual I received this book for free for the purposes of review. Unfortunately I can’t seem to determine exactly from whom. Whover the source of this unknown beneficence, I give my candid thoughts below.

Having read this, would I pay money for it? Probably not, but I’m on the fence.

This is a bifurcated narrative told from the perspective of two people with rather tragic lives. The story flips back and forth between the two the whole way until… well, in the interest of avoiding spoilers I’ll just say “until”.

On the positive side, this book is wonderfully and elegantly crafted. The author is obviously erudite and can really cobble together some wonderful sentences and has a flair for imagery. The style is very fluid and readable and despite being a VERY long 350+ pages, once you get into the rhythm of the text it speeds along quite nicely. I was able to choke it down in 8-10 hours. It’s also very neatly segmented into sections of 20 pages or so if the verbal finery gets to be too much for you then you can put it down and come back later. It has a very literary feel to it; it’s not at all a fluffy novel.

To the negative side of the novel, the narrative seems to hint at many grand story lines but never seems to decide to finish any of them. On one hand it’s an allegory about right and wrong… but only weakly. On another hand it’s a vast story arc bringing characters together in quirky and unexpected ways… but only sorta. I feel about this book the way I feel about this review I’m writing. I want to say something more powerful. I have plenty of words and I keep typing and typing and typing but it just never happens. The threads never come together. That’s exactly how I feel about the book… Just left a bit dangling.

To summarize, no, I wouldn’t pay money for this but boy can the author pump out some words. He’s vastly prolix and quite skilled but the proverbial participles were just left a bit dangling.


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Glitter and Glue: A Memoir (****)


As usual I received this book through the kind courtesy of some giveaway or other. In this case I suspect it was a ShelfAwareness drawing. Regardless of the origin and despite the kind consideration I give my candid opinions below.

This book left me in an exceptional state of ambivalence. On the surface of things, pretty much nothing at all happened for the span of 215 pages. As memoirs go this one is rather vacuous and non-eventful. Those looking for a storyline will be sadly disappointed because there really isn’t one. There’s just nothing going on here… except… except that there IS… but it’s all rather mysterious and internal.

Those who are familiar with my usual review format will note a departure from the “good stuff”/”bad stuff” motif. That just doesn’t apply here. If you were looking for car chases and explosions then this isn’t really the book for you. Instead, the old adage plays out in detail. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve been a married man long enough to know that a fair number of women live in fear of the day that they “become their mother”. For whatever reason mothers and daughters just don’t get along. Until… well, until one day they do. This book is the detailed narrative, told from the inside of the author’s head, of how that transition happens. How one day you think your mother is insane and the next day she suddenly makes sense. It’s a book about transitions and maturing, a woman’s bildungsroman.

At least that’s my take on the book… the other thing about this book is that it’s one of those that has a thousand meanings to a thousand people. If you choose to read the book it’s VERY likely that you’ll look back on my review and say, categorically, that I’m full of crap. That’s really OK because at its heart the book is one of inspiring ideas. The specific idea that’s delivered is up to the person receiving it. Look at it as being about mothers or renewal or recovery or family or whatever… it doesn’t matter. The book is a brief and candid snapshot of someone’s rather privileged life. The real point is that this book is one for thinkers but thinkers in an emotional sense, those who want to feel what someone else feels and extrapolate that to their own lives. There’s little of plot but much of mind.

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Today in new Books – 1/28/2014

It’s a big day in new book releases… or more likely it’s a normal day and I just happen to have read more of these than usual. Either way, here’s what I got on this day in book publishing history.


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The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress (****)
As usual, I didn’t pay anything for this book but instead received it for free directly from the publisher. Also as usual, despite that kindness I will proceed to be completely honest about it.

At a high level, this book is the speculative history of the disappearance of Joseph Force Crater in 1930. At the time the story kept the world riveted to their newspapers and was the object of much editorial speculation. This narrative cobbles the story together from the perspective of the women in Judge Crater’s life.

On the positive side, Lawhon’s novel is set in a wonderfully provocative period in history and gives us a story as capable of captivating an audience as it was 80 years ago. Lawhon’s characters are believable and sympathetic and she renders them wonderfully. She also very skillfully weaves her fictional threads through the facts of the case in a way that gives it great credibility. In her ending notes, she describes some of the liberties she took with the story and based on these tiny provisos, she has been very true to the tale which inspired her.

To the negative, despite the above, the novel does seem to take a while to get started. It took a week to get through the first half and a day to get through the last half. This is not the sort of novel that immediately inspires one to long persistent reading, though it does eventually gain momentum. Also, despite the wonderfully entertaining locale and time period, one cannot help but think it was not put to as great a use as it could be. While it was easy to tell we were in the 1930s, the story didn’t take full advantage of that fact. I would have anticipated greater use of the language of the times and a truer rendering of the culture.

In summary, a great story set in a grand part of history. For fans of the historical this is one not to miss. It only falls short in that it fails to full realize the potential of just how colorful such a venue can be to the reader. I liked it but wanted to like it more.


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Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (*****)
As usual I received this book for free just so I’d review it. Also as usual I’ll give my candid opinions below.

Since this is a child’s book I don’t judge by my usual criteria but explore two basic questions. The first is whether I would want my child to read it. To this I say most assuredly yes. It has a strong lesson to teach about following your own path, bravery and never giving up and being systematic in everything you do. As a fairly logical person I would like every chance to influence my children in that particular regard especially! More importantly, the book contains nothing one could consider even remotely of concern for young audiences. No sex, no drugs, just a bit of adventure, petty theft and lying to one’s parents. OK, maybe not the best example but not like some of the terrible YA stuff I’ve come across.

The second question is whether I think my kids would want to read it at all. This is always difficult to judge but it does have characters that kids can relate to and a pretty entertaining story line. The vocabulary is not especially daunting and the action picks up from the every first paragraph so I think this one has a chance at setting the hook.

So in summary, I was entertained enough reading it and I think kids will be too. I have no concerns about the lesson they’ll get out of it and they might learn something positive too if they’re not careful. Exactly the sort of book I wold have liked as a youngster.


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This Dark Road to Mercy: A Novel (****)
As usual I received this book via the grand courtesy of the publisher through a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Despite that great kindness my candid opinions follow.

The summary of this one is a bit tough because it’s so many things at once. It is, in equal parts, the story of children forced to grow up before their time, dark criminal suspense and sad story of parenthood failed. As if that’s not enough, there’s also a thread of baseball history and doping thrown in for good measure. The narrative is done in a panoramic style as we hear in first person from the oldest child, the hero and the villain in approximately equal parts.

On the positive side, the circumspect narrative style really gives the reader a detailed look at the situation from all sides. The story has a lot to say about fatherhood and whether that title is given by right or must be earned and delves into the complex situations of parenting in an intriguing way that’s not often seen in such an otherwise gritty novel. The author’s female characters are charming and evoke a great deal of pity from the reader and one inwardly roots for them as they make their way through the short span of time portrayed in the book. This one touches a lot of genres at once and never fails to keep the reader guessing.

To the negative, the narrative switches can sometimes be rather jarring and confusing. The first transition comes 35 pages in and I completely missed it and had to go back and reread a few pages to figure out why the eldest daughter was suddenly sitting in a bar. Once primed to expect it things settled down but this wasn’t the best executed thing about the book. Also, the female characters were very lifelike but the villain seemed rather flat and we missed his back story. He and his heroic counterpart lacked “pop” and didn’t quite pull the reader along behind them as the girls did. Lastly, on the topic of language, it’s worth noting that the narrators tell the story in their own distinct southern vernacular and this is not limited to actual dialog. So those who are appalled by “ain’t got no” and “ain’t hardly no” should be steeled for the fact that these characters have uniquely southern voices.

In summary, a very diverse and well executed book with something for everyone. Fans of gritty crime suspense will find a bit of something to tantalize them; those looking for child-welfare drama will be well served and baseball fans can relive a bit of the late-90s doping drama.

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Book Reviews: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

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As usual, I received this book through the kindness of some giveaway or other. In this case it appears to have been an actual GoodReads giveaway. That certainly doesn’t happen much any more!

So to begin, I realize that this book is probably in a genre more generally considered appropriate to the female gender and because of that, as a dude I’m a bit of an interloper. Despite that slight misalignment, I found this book pretty delightful. It’s complexity of character made me realize just how bad I am at keeping names straight. After 40 pages I came up short and found I had no clue who all these people were so I went back through those pages and made a nice tidy relationship diagram of who slept with whom and who was previously dating whom and which characters were, in fact, screwing like rabbits in the back storeroom. Of all these there are many examples.

On the positive side, after sorting out all the ‘whos’ in diagrammatic format, this story had quite a bit to say. The intrigues were entertaining as well as demonstrating a clear and refreshing evolution of character and story. I found myself very invested in the characters and fervently rooting for some justice at the end and for things to turn out just so. I took a couple days getting started but by half way I was staying up late and reading before work to get through it. It does get ahold of you.

On the neutral side, some of the subplots came across a bit weakly. I was tied up in most of them but others just left me rather quizzical. There are certainly high points and “meh” points. Also, in this translation some of the dialog just doesn’t come across as very Parisian. At times the characters seem more Midwestern than European and one wonders how a passage from Little House on the Prairie leaked into the novel.

One final item of note is that this book is exceptionally graphic at times. It’s not exactly pornographic but it certainly pulls no punches when it comes to who’s doing what to whom. If you’re easily offended by such things then don’t bother. Personally I found such candid talk refreshing but then again, I am a guy and we do have a different view on such things most of the time.

In summary, a grand and enthralling book that could have used just a little better translation job. It’s a quick and entertaining 430 pages.

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Reviews: Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him

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Firstly and as usual, I received this book for because someone was giving it away in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I’ll give my candid opinions below.

This book is at once a biography and a textbook on sociology. The opening chapters focus on black comedy and the environment into which Pryor entered the entertainment world. Throughout the book the names fall like rain and anybody who ever was or hoped to be anybody entered the scene for at least a bit. About a third of the way in we get down to the man himself.

On the positive side, the background presented in this book is thoroughly entertaining and much of the information was eye-opening and uniquely informative. I found myself scrounging YouTube looking for snippets of the people and bits referred to. It’s a fascinating period of history. As to the bits about Pryor himself, the story of his life is at once horrifying and hilarious. This lived a life of incredible pain, as with most comedians, and the book doesn’t hesitate one bit to be absolutely candid about what happened. From the sexual abuse he suffered as a child to the night he set himself on fire, this book goes into it all in sometimes painful detail.

On the negative side, all that detail can sometimes be a bit much. The story is only roughly chronological and meanders in sometimes confusing fashion. All the parts of a great story are here but they need to be straightened out a bit into a more cohesive whole. I felt at times that we were just jumping about for no good reason. There’s a real lack of cohesion.

In summary, after the first third of the book I thought this would be a keeper. I tend to get rid of almost all the review books I get but on rare occasion I’ll keep one about permanently for future rereading. After getting to the end though, it’s just not quite earned the bookshelf space. The first half makes me want to find a more general book about show business in the 60s-70s and put THAT on the shelf instead of this.

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Reviews: An American Outlaw

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As usual I paid nothing for this book as the author approached me with a free copy in exchange for a review. Also as usual though my absolute candid thoughts follow.

On the positive side, the author has a great grasp of his setting and his characters; I’d be unsurprised to find out he’s an ex-Marine from Texas. The book has a great air of believability and action and the author’s short, choppy, not-quite-sentences give the text a unique textual flow that works very well with the grim subject matter. His choice of characters in the person of an ex-Marine turned outlaw is innovative, relatable and timely.

To the negative, the book suffers from a rather typical lack of editorial polish. There are quite a few typos and misspellings and the author’s use of short action-oriented sentences can at times make the text rather disjointed and this leaves the reader wondering what they just read. Further, the language is very colloquial in nature and while this adds to the atmospheric feel of the work it can sometimes be rather befuddling.

To summarize, this novel stands out among its peers at this pricepoint but can’t quite earn five stars because it’s up against more refined competition. I could see this one picked up by a major house and republished with a bit more of the proverbial spit-and-polish.

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