Tag Archives: romance

The Paved Road by Michael Cavanaugh

As is often the case I received this book free in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I’m absolutely candid about it below as I believe readers (and authors) only really benefit from honesty, not baseless praise.

The nutshell on this one is pretty well summed up in the book’s description. It follows a young man as he grows into adulthood carrying a torch for one particular girl and … well, I won’t spoil anything just know that there’s a boy and a torch. You get the idea.

To the positive, the writing is straightforward, forthright and easily gobbled down. The narrative is linear and can consumed in one sitting as long as you don’t drink anything that induces you go to to the bathroom halfway through. Our narrator is honest about his feelings and evolves nicely throughout the story as he realizes the value of the relationships he enjoys with his friends. The brief military interlude is well-placed and adds nicely to the overall flow of the story even if it doesn’t ring out in a particularly lifelike way.

To the negative, the text is rife with problems. The spelling is solid but at times the wrong word entirely is used and it does have a bit of a jarring effect. In fact, at the time of this writing, the description of the book on Amazon even has an issue in the verbiage. This is a consistent problem but only a minor distraction except in a few specific areas.

Also, while the story drips with sincerity, it comes across as a bit flat. At its heart, this book seems to be a story about the inner life of a relationship much more than it is anything that’s going on outside of it. It is entirely possible to make a successful novel without any real notable outward events but the author has to provide intricate internal mental details as a substitute to make the whole thing really satisfying. Instead, the author seems to be in a hurry and skims over the parts that could make this a deep study in the way two people think and interact over a lifetime. I’d suggest that the author might look at his own feelings during this time in more detail and also get his friend to add her side of the story. I could easily imagine this as a novel in which we see his and hers viewpoints alternating throughout the book and giving us some real insight into how both characters are thinking.

In summary, I think this is a good rough draft of exactly half a book. There’s a good story to be told here and I think the author could do well to develop it further into something that readers can really sink their teeth into.

Rob Slaven
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Books: Love and Cola Wars (*****) [YA]

Firstly, and as usual, I received this book free from the author directly for the purposes of review. Despite that kindness I give my usual candid and sometimes acerbic opinions below.

To begin, this is a young adult novel so my criteria for judgement are different than I would tend to apply to an adult novel. The first question to be answered is whether this book contains anything inappropriate for the target audience. On this account, the book is acceptable. There is some mild reference to sex but the characters respond in a realistic and appropriate manner when the topic arises. There’s little of a violent nature and no use of drugs though there is reference to alcohol and attempts to gain such before legal age. There is also a fair amount of sneaking about and lying to adults but this is far from unusual in any book featuring children.

The second question is whether or not there’s anything positive in this book that I would want my kids to read. On the surface this is a modernized Romeo and Juliet with all the usual trappings of young love and obsession. Taken completely at face value the whole thing is rather inane and vapid but there’s a strong undercurrent that’s worth paying attention to. Avoiding spoilers, in this fictional world everything is sponsored from Coke and Pepsi High School to Microsoft University and these affiliations divide the world in a very strict manner. These rigid commercial castes, if you will, are a potent illustration of our own society’s stratified structure. I have no idea if any of this was intentional on the part of the author but I was struck by the way this sociological lesson was presented in a vivid and relateable manner.

The last question I ask is whether the young reader will be entertained. I would have to say that’s a strong possibility among teenage girls. This is an upbeat view of the life of a teenager in love from the inside that’s just modern enough that the readers might see themselves in the main character. I do have my concerns about whether the theme of corporate sponsorship will make these readers turn away since it does at times come across as almost silly, but it’s worth a shot.

In summary, an intriguing little story that at first aroused my strong suspicions but turned out to be more than I expected. Or, at the least, I saw more in it than I expected to. Light, fun and entertaining with a thread of a lesson if you seek it out.


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Detroit Unleaded – Wonderful slice of Arab culture in romance form (5/5)

I picked this movie because it’s newly out on Amazon Instant Watch and it looked lonely and in need of a review. I’m glad I did.

The story starts rather tragically with the violent death of the patriarch of a Lebanese-American family. Now, the son is forced to put all his own plans on hold and stay behind to run the family business instead. Anything more than that would constitute a spoiler so there I stop with plot-summary.

To the positive side, the story is a great allegory for being who you are, and pursuing your dreams despite the expectations put on you by others. Further, I’m a cultural xenophile so I was extremely entertained by the details of Arab-American culture and the interplay between that and the larger urban culture of Detroit. It’s also amusing to see the complex role of the neighborhood gas station in an area. In short, this was a great slice of urban ethnic anthropology. If nothing else you can love it for that along with the strong visual symbolism.

To the negative… this isn’t really a complaint I had but I could imagine that some might be concerned that there’s not really a lot of movement either in plot or in character in this movie. The entire action could have taken place in a day and the characters don’t evolve so much as suddenly come to their senses.

In summary, a great little film to watch with someone special. It has enough tidbits to keep the viewer entertained, a few small laughs along the way and a hopeful and uplifting outcome. Great film.

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A Man Called Hero – Amusing enough if you have the right frame of mind (4/5)

I picked this movie because it looked lonely on Amazon Instant Watch. At first I had my doubts but by 20 minutes in I was glad that I did.

So this is a multi-generational revenge/drama/romance film. Some innocent people are killed, a son goes in search of revenge in America. We don’t hear much about it until his own son shows up in America almost two decades later. Eventually fighting and the standard expected stuff ensues.

On the positive side, this is a martial arts film rife with all the standard soft of action you’d expect in such. It should be noted that this is primarily a family drama and not all that much action. I’d say it’s 80% family drama and 20% combat. it’s really, really cheesy combat but combat none the less. The real joy of this film comes from seeing all the stereotypical portrayals of Americans as viewed from the standpoint of the Chinese. They’re not all QUITE walking around in spurs and chaps but they certainly do dress alike.

To the negative, some of the scenes are just ill-constructed. I’m talking Power Rangers bad here. Early on we get a glowing-red obviously plastic sword that really steals a scene or two and it is an effort to suspend disbelief. Other fighting scenes are similarly laughable but that’s all part of the fun.

In summary, this is a good one to sit down with and not take too seriously early on. The story’s not half bad; you just have to decide to focus on the parts that amuse you and not the parts that are terrible.

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Toll Booth (Gise Memuru) – Dark and surreal but takes a while to get started (4/5)

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I picked this title because it looked sad and lonely on Amazon Instant watch. Am I glad I did? Yes, but you have to be in the right mood for this one.

Firstly, as the title of my review says, this mvoie does take a while to get started. It builds slowly and works its way upward. This is a pretty standard archetypal story of a son who just wasn’t good enough. He comes from a rough childhood and finds himself in a menial civil-service job that suddenly starts to go downhill. I can’t really say a whole lot more without accidentally creating a spoiler so I’ll stop with that.

On the positive side, the whole thing is rather eerie and surreal. At many points one is left wondering what exactly is real and what’s just imagined. Sometimes you don’t ever really figure that out. It’s a very atmospheric piece that leaves you in a big cloud of question marks. Also, I love a dark movie and this was exactly that. No happy Holllywood fluff here. This movie tells it like it is. I suddenly have an appreciation for Turkish cinema.

To the negative, this one was a slow developer. I found myself restless in the beginning and going a half dozen other things, pausing the movie far too much. It wasn’t until the last third or so that it got my attention fully.

In summary, I like the idea and the movie is well executed but it was somewhat of an uphill climb. If you’re up for it and want to watch the tension build then go for it. Otherwise, this isn’t the quick-hit movie to watch when you want something indisputably exciting.

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The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel – Release Date October 7, 2013

The Biology of LuckThe Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As usual I received this book free of charge; specifically, through the grace of a LibraryThing monthly giveaway. Despite that kind and frequent consideration, I give my candid opinions below.

“Biology” is an enigmatic little tale of an ugly and unfortunate man. The chapters alternate between the narrative of his real life and chapters from the book he’s written, named somewhat concentrically, “The Biology of Luck.” His real life is a rather frustrated tale of a man looking for love while book he’s written is a highly optimized and optimistic view on the same events.

On the positive side, this book is highly surreal and captures the dichotomy between our real lives and what we would wish them to be. Our main character builds up his book-within-a-book around the life of his prospective lover and an unlikely series of events that it is hoped will bring her ultimately to his arms for good and all. Other reviewers have called this book “funny” but personally I didn’t find it funny at all but rather dark and far too easy to relate to. The protagonist is a sad little man who makes one big wish and releases it into the world in book form.

To the negative, I would only warn readers that this is not a typical happy go lucky romance novel. This is very deep, patient and thought provoking work and those looking for fluffy romance or a grand payoff at the end will be disappointed. Read this book when you want to spend a day in contemplation, not for an afternoon by the side of the pool. For some this will be a warning and others a recommendation. I leave it to you to decide which category you fall into.

In summary, this novel is a highly literary and complex tale of love, lust and human desire. It also has a lot to tell us about how we perceive others and exhibits the great talent of the human mind for taking tiny shreds of information about people and weaving them into exorbitant narratives that generally have no relationship whatsoever to reality. Just the sort of book you could read three times and get more and more and more from it on each reading.

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Book Reviews: New Beginnings by Mary Metcalfe

New Beginnings (Look to the Future, #2)New Beginnings by Mary Metcalfe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As usual, this book came to me via a GoodReads drawing and, as it is a romance, I wouldn’t have normally bothered with it if I’d read the description more closely. That aside, never let it be said that I don’t cast the net for my reading material far and wide.

Metcalfe’s book is simple and readable with no great complications. This is mind candy at best. I generally try to look back on a book and make note of at least one thing I’ve learned while reading it but this book completely fails to supply anything. I suspect that this trait is one held commonly by the romance genre but it was notable to me as one who does not wander into that field with great regularity. The author’s technical execution of the book was sufficient but not exemplary.

As the story goes much of the dramatic element was wholly implausible and left me rather horrified at the leisurely way in which the authorities executed their jobs. The overly-privileged characters bounce through their bubble-gum lives and while there is some brief and unrealistic drama, all returns to sunshine and rainbows wrapped up with a nice little bow in the end. Again, it’s worth pointing at that this criticism is probably directed more at the genre than this specific work. This seems to be the very definition of “romance” but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The work did beg the question of exactly why anyone would read novels of this sort. The characters depicted are far from normal people and rather unrelatable to the masses so why is literature of this type so eagerly sought out? I can only speculate that like the fantasy genre it boils down to simple escapism. Personally, the lives depicted seemed rather vapid and shallow so who would want to bother? At any rate, I’m philosophizing needlessly now.

In summary, this book was four hours of mild amusement. I would put it on the aching bloody fringe of recommending it to readers of the female persuasion with the understanding that they should seek little substance from it and make moderate efforts to suspend disbelief.

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