Tag Archives: violence

These Week(s) in Review…

There’s no denying that I’ve been massively remiss in posting as of late.  Perhaps it’s better if I post things as they come up rather than trying to wait for the end of the week which will inevitably become several weeks.  Anyway, click on the book covers to view the full review.

 

Firstly, and as usual, it must be noted that I didn’t buy this book. Instead, it came to me for free as the result of a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Despite that kind consideration, I give my candid opinions in this review. Also, it should be noted that I’m not a Christian so it may seem a bit odd for me to be reviewing Christian literature. Nonetheless, I’ll review this book based on its literary merits and ignore any philosophical differences I may have with the genre.

On the positive side, the book is very competently executed and it’s set in a period of history that’s always amusing and vastly underutilized in literature. Pittman gives us a colorful and alluring rendering of the era and some fairly interesting characters.

To the negative, the Christian aspects of the novel seem to be an affectation and are poorly integrated. It’s almost as if the author recognized that no mention of religion has been made in X number of pages and therefore has the characters suddenly decide to pray. I have great respect for literature in which the characters make Christian choices and live Christian lives but Pittman’s novel seems to include prayerful interludes just for the sake of staying in the Christian genre. Lastly, the cover art appears to be a fairly horrifying photoshop job. Others in my family saw the cover sitting on the shelf and stated rather quizzically, “Doesn’t really look like your sort of book…?” without even cracking the cover.

In summary, this would make an interesting novel if it would only make up its mind what it wanted to be.

 

On the positive side, the author has chosen a great theme. He takes on childhood illness from the viewpoint of the patient and this always makes for a powerful and evocative story. We all too often fail to realize the weight of such circumstances on the afflicted especially when they’re so young.

Sadly, the negative side of this book far overshadows anything positive I could possibly say about it. The editing is atrocious; the text is filled with typographical and grammatical errors. The dialog is stiff and robotic and the vivid descriptions of the sick child are interlaced with this bizarre science fiction sub-plot akin to “Osmosis Jones” or “Fantastic Voyage”. I’m agog that the author would take the book in such a direction. What could have been a heart-rending portrayal of a dire situation is turned into a literary laughing-stock.

In summary, this book is just not worth the time. Generally, I never give out less than three stars unless the book is unreadable or socially irresponsible. This book is as close to unreadable as I’ve seen in quite a while. I hung on to it tenaciously for a long time in hopes it would have great soul but it turned out to be a train wreck. I like the idea but the execution was completely lacking.

 

Firstly, it should be noted that I religiously avoid reading the back jackets of books, so going into this one I had only the cover and the subtitle “A ghost story” to go on. Because of that I spent a fair amount of time looking for the literal ghost only to find that the ghosts that haunt William Bellman are of a completely different sort than one generally expects from children’s literature.

On the positive side of things, this book is a deliciously subtle story of one man’s haunted life. Setterfield weaves her story and her characters together with a sagacious and haunting assiduousness that pulls the reader gently along from one short chapter to the next. This is an acutely wrought novel with a tenacious grip on realism while still washing the entire scene in an afterglow of the supernatural. I’ve not read anything this well written in quite some time. Our author brings us a tale as unhurried and as natural as life itself.

The only real negative I can put forth is really more of a warning to potential readers. This is a great book but it’s likely not for everyone. For those accustomed to the pablum of easy modern literature, I suggest humbly that you look elsewhere. For those reading by the pool in the joyous light of day, perhaps your time is better spent between other pages. But if you find yourself in a darkened room listening to the rumble of far-away thunder, then this may be the book for just that setting. It is not a gripping thrill ride, but it does take you gently by the hand and pull you quietly into another world where the sky harbors a thousand watching eyes and time does not undo all wrongs nor heal all wrongs.

 

Since this is a children’s book it should be noted that I approach the review from a different viewpoint, focusing on appropriateness for young readers and general coherence and execution.

On the question of appropriateness for young readers, this book has done marvelously. In general I scowl at any children’s book that contains sexual or drug content and this novel contains neither problem. It does have some light violence but nothing that kids won’t have picked up from any mainstream cartoon. In the vein of profanity I don’t tend to judge harshly but this novel even avoids that problem and does so in a clever and entertaining way that’s consistent with the general story line. Dukes’ novel is as pure as the driven snow and somehow still remains very real and entertaining. It doesn’t SEEM sanitized but through some miracle of authorship it really is.

Stepping back and speaking more generally about the novel, the author has provided a brilliant and witty take on what is, I’m am sure, a standard daydream of every young person. Our protagonist has ultimate and unlimited freedom but what happens when suddenly he doesn’t? What tangled complications await in a world with no responsibility and limitless possibilities? In addition to its tendency to provoke deep contemplation, the writing style is witty and made even me, a perennial curmudgeon, laugh aloud in spots. The writer has found that intangible balance between teaching the reader something and entertaining them at the same time. Any teen will stumble upon a hoard of new words begging to be looked up in the dictionary and probably spare at least a few cycles for the complexities of causality and consequences of seemingly simple actions. That lesson is worth the price of admission.

In summary, this one was a rare treat. After a long recent string of losers, ‘Caught in a Moment’ is just the sort of book I’d want my own kids to read. Clean, erudite and with a moral or two hidden in spots for those who will only seek.

 

I’d put this book in the genre of concentric psychological horror. The main character is a published novelist and short-story writer and his stories appear as brief vignettes within the main body of the work. I assume that these stories are examples of Conlon’s own short story work. So this is a novel that is several stories embedded in a larger encapsulating (though mostly unrelated) narrative.

To the positive side, Conlon has an immaculate grasp of how to say just enough about a situation to get the reader’s attention and erect an air of tension in a situation. His imagery is vivid and surreal yet still retains an element of plausibility that is rare in any novel dealing primarily with the metaphysical. Conlon’s work reminds me strongly of Lovecraft in its deep yet inexplicable feeling of terror. The reader is on edge but can’t quite explain why that is so. One factor in which he deviates strongly from turn of the century horror though is his raw and unapologetic portrayals of sexuality. While I would not go so far as to call the results erotic, he is certainly not afraid to deal candidly and skillfully with the topic.

To the negative side, the novel as a whole did seem to lack the incisiveness of the individual sub-stories. As a reader I’m tempted to go back and re-read the stories within the story and ignore the more protracted narrative. In the vein of the larger narrative, it seemed to stumble a bit as it tried to explain the metaphysical aspects of a particular event in the story. I was severely jolted out of my reverie of enjoyment at the first mention of the words “soul catcher” and subsequent explanation. I will say no more for fear of spoilers but know simply there are a few rough spots that are easily enough ignored.

In summary, the novel demonstrates a great deal of artistry. The book is very much worth while though at times skimmable to cut down a bit on bulk. The stories-within-a-story are pure gems and if you read nothing else then take the time to read those. They are easily picked out as they are printed in a different font than the rest of the novel.

 

In a nutshell, this is the retelling of the King Author myth spanning from Author’s birth through his rise to the kingship. As Authurian legends go, this one tends towards the strictly realistic and pulls no punches about the state of the world at the time.

On the positive side, Hume’s writing is beyond reproach. I found myself constantly entertained at her use of appropriate and timely language which pulled me to my dictionary repeatedly and with unbridled glee. This is a book that educates while it entertains. Anything she chooses to write in the future will have my utmost attention. Here is a tale that is woven with intricacy and detail that is unrivaled.

On the negative side, and this is a negative side that is rather implied by my perceptions of the tastes of other readers, this is not a book that speeds along with any great rapidity. The book goes on for almost 500 pages and while I was entranced by the intricacies, I can imagine other readers finding themselves in the arms of a rather intransigent ennui. The book does move slowly but the arc that it traces is an epic one.

In summary, this is a book to approach in an unhurried and open-minded manner. It has much to teach you, not the least of which is vocabulary. It’s not a book for a single solitary rainy afternoon but instead one to be taken a few chapters at a time over the course of a week. It is a book to be pondered over and digested slowly. As epic tales go, this is a fresh and delightful retelling but don’t expect to swallow it in one go. Take the time to savor and learn from what it has to tell you. I look forward to the subsequent volumes. This is a book for the thinkers among us.

 

I’m exceptionally late to the party on this book so I won’t attempt the usual Positives/Negatives bit as I usually do. This book was a real perplexity for me. I spent the majority of the text trying to figure out if the central figure of “Life” (as described in the back-cover description) was an actual physical person or a metaphor for human existence. Unfortunately, even after 486 pages I still don’t really know for sure.

This book has a property that I’ve not found in a title for quite some time. I consider myself a fairly attentive and avid reader but it’s seldom that a book makes me late to work and then late to bed and generally takes over my life. For the few days it took to finish it I did little else but read this book and find ways to compress my other daily duties to accommodate more time for it. I learned during this period just the perfect way to balance a bowl of morning cereal while reading. The only problem with all this is that I’m not actually entirely sure why it was such a fascinating book.

At least in part the ambiguity of one of the main characters has a role to play in this miniature obsession. I love nothing more than a good mystery to be unraveled and even now I’m left rather unsatisfied and confused on this topic. It’s also, perhaps, because I can relate to the main character. She shuts herself off from others with lies and keeps the world at a distance. This resonates with me personally but my weapon of choice is humor and deflection. Books are often very personal and in many ways this one was a mirror. At times a terrifying mirror, but a mirror nonetheless.

In summary, I was utterly enthralled by this book. At least to some extent probably irrationally because I’ve failed to understand the concept of “Life Audits” that may be commonplace in Ireland, but still the fact remains that this book really roped me in. It’s probably a good thing I’m not trying to come up with positive/negative analysis because I’d be hard pressed to criticize a book that consumed my entire life rather joyfully for two solid days.

 

In a nutshell, this is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in half a century on the planet. Walls’ story of her childhood is not only easy for me to relate to but it also makes me just downright angry. Her parents reeked of an abominable failure to be responsible and look out for their own children that just shakes me to my very core. While this is 300 pages of small type this is just the sort of book you could inhale at one passionate gulp sitting outside on a summers say. If you start reading you’ll be lucky to escape before the last page.

Generally, I try to balance my reviews by describing both the positive and the negative of a novel but in this case I’m hard pressed. “The Glass Castle” could easily be described as a modern classic as it sums up with great vividness an all too common situation in the half-century. The free-thinking hippies cum parents who completely failed to give a damn about their own children are all too prolific and Walls describes her own beautifully. My only realistic negative results from the ending which seems clipped and far too succinct. I suppose in this format there’s little choice in the matter but I could have anticipated another 300 pages or complete omission of the end.

In summary, this is by far the best memoir I have read in recent recollection. The author’s view is candid and heartfelt but does not commit the sin of meandering into self-pity like many would in this situation. This title is a best seller with a heart and soul and a pointed comment to any parent who fails to recognize the needs of their own child. I cannot recommend this one enough.

And so ends the weeks that were. As always, click any of the book covers to visit the reviews in question and feel free to vote them ‘helpful’ if you find them so once you get there.

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Screamscapes by Evans Light

ScreamscapesScreamscapes by Evans Light

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book for free. Not as usual, I have no idea why or from whence. It showed up in the mail, which isn’t unusual, but I can’t account for its presence on my shelf. Whatever the case, it was free. Despite that happy happenstance, I give my candid thoughts below.

The content of this book is straightforward horror pulp. In the tradition of those epic magazines of the 50s and 60s, Light brings us a collection of quick hits designed to entertain and horrify in small easily digested bits.

On the positive side of the ledger, Light’s works are reasonably unique. In some cases he goes back to old standards, but in general his stories are original and thrilling. From a narrative standpoint, he also does a good job of building tension and painting a narrative picture. He has the building blocks of a set of solid stories at his disposal.

On the negative side, there is a tendency to go too far. I understand that in general pulp is rather brash, but I have to admit that when flesh starts rending and blood starts splurting that it tends to lose me. Evans also has a tendency to telegraph his stories’ endings through overly-revealing titles and early missteps in the story. One is seldom as surprised as one would hope with an Evans story. Lastly, the writing lacks a certain degree of polish. This is the sort of thing acquired much later in a career so I have no fears for later work, but for now the author’s choice of words and phrasing is rather primitive and immature.

In summary, Light has the framework for an interesting series of stories. His view is fresh and provocative but execution is lacking. Otherwise good tales end up coming across as rather puerile. A fair amount of polish is needed here but the future is bright for this author.

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Always Watching by Chevy Stevens

Always WatchingAlways Watching by Chevy Stevens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As is the usual preamble, I received this book for free via the courtesy of a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that kind consideration, I will proceed to be abundantly honest about it.

The story is told from the viewpoint of a respected psychiatrist who didn’t have such great luck with raising her daughter. Early in life our protagonist barely escaped the influence of a vicious spiritual cult and now must struggle to bring the leaders of that cult to justice while balancing the needs of her drug-addicted and exceedingly remote daughter.

First and foremost with any book is to attempt to categorize it into a handy bin so that readers know whether they have any interest in the concepts at all. In general, suspense novels fall into two major categories. The first is the forensic bin, all about blood splatters and footprints. The second is more emotional, in which we hear in detail how the characters feel and react to situations. This book is a subtle blending of the two, but the forensic side, rather than being focused on the physics of the crime scene, delves into the psychology and motivations of the characters involved. While many thrillers are “ripped from the headlines”, this novel is “ripped from the DSM” (DSM = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for those among the uninitiated.)

Steven’s characters, and her protagonist especially, are vivid and touching. One can easily imagine a mother, a thousand mothers, going through the same heart-breaking disconnect that her main character does as she tries to balance her professional life, her search for justice and her love for her daughter all at once. All in all it’s a brilliantly rendered episode in this character’s life.

The only remotely negative thing I would say is that it does tend to go on a bit. About three quarters of the way through I found my mind wandering. The real power of the novel peters out after a while and only the hope for a conclusion can bring the reader back around. On the whole though this is a rather weak complaint and one that I make only in the attempt at SOME sort of balance between positive and negative.

In summary, “Always watching” is … well, I’ll dispense with the usual cliched terms. It grabs your attention well and keeps it quite thoroughly. The author obviously did her homework and it shows in this well-written and true-to-life novel of life in a oppressive spiritual cult and one woman’s quest to stop the abuse. Top notch!

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The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen

The Butterfly SisterThe Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual I paid nothing for this book but also as usual I’ll review it candidly anyway. I received this book through the kind consideration of a GoodReads giveaway just as I have so many others.

Our protagonist is a broken woman, the victim of a spurned and ill-advised love. She revolves in her sad and wounded orbit until one day a suitcase shows up on her doorstep that belongs to an old acquaintance from her former college. From there the story twists mercilessly and unexpectedly to its whiplash-inducing ending.

Hansen’s novel is certainly full of surprises. I expected a romance (I never read the back of the book) but instead ended up with a full-fledged murder mystery. The author is masterful at painting characters in a way that makes them easy to relate to and gets the reader attached. They have lives of their own with histories that jive well with their actions in the here and now. She spends three quarters of the book building up background like a roller coaster tick, tick, ticking its way to the top of the hill. When finally the last quarter arrives the whole thing comes together in an almost dizzying hurry that is full of surprises and rushes by in what is guaranteed to be one sitting. Once the last 70 pages or so are begun, do not expect to put them down for any reason not related to Emergency Medical Services.

For all the drama of the last part, however, the author does seem to take her time. I found myself skimming mercilessly through the middle third of the book and when the end arrived I didn’t really felt like I’d missed much. Our author paints a wonderfully vivid picture of her protagonists but it can wind on for almost too long and tread on the reader’s patience. Ultimately though a well-crafted, if wordy, story.

In summary, this is a grand and very timely (ripped from the headlines as it were) murder mystery full of intrigue. Fans of the mystery genre should be advised, however, that this is one from the emotional side rather than the clinical one. No forensics, no evidence, no blood splatter patterns, just surprising twists and turns and eventually lucky cops. That said, it’s still entertaining.

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Killer Koala Bears from another Dimension by P.A. Douglas

Killer Koala Bears from another DimensionKiller Koala Bears from another Dimension by P.A. Douglas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book via a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that kind consideration my candid thoughts appear below.

This is the part of the review in which I tend to summarize the plot. Most conveniently, the author has left little doubt as to the plot by his clever selection of a title. This book is, unsurprisingly, and quite literally, about Killer Koala Bears from another Dimension. That’s enough said about that.

Anyone who follows my reviews with any alertness at all will know that I tend to be fairly serious-minded. However, when a book like this comes along, you can’t really be very seriously minded about anything. KKBFAD bills itself as a B-movie story and it lives up to that expectation perfectly. Its narrative is at once antic and coherent as the story’s antagonists march in and do exactly what you would expect Killer Koala Bears from another Dimension to do. In other words, it’s nutty but it’s that sort of nutty that at the heart of things really makes sense. I am especially gratified that the author chose the ending that he did. Saying any more about it would spoil the story entirely so I’ll just leave it at that.

Having liberally applauded, this is the part of the review in which I say something constructive. As with most books of this type, it suffered from a couple dozen or so grammatical, spelling or typographical errors. (Much like the ones that no doubt litter this review.) Also, when I started the book I had some hopes that I might be able to hand it to my 12-year-old stepson for his perusal. Sadly, the book is just a hair shy of being appropriate for such a purpose given some of the language.

In summary, a pretty snappy little title that knows exactly what it is and has no delusions about it. I would be unsurprised to see this one come on as the 2am Spooky Movie. Well done, well thought out and pretty amusing on balance.

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Witchbreaker: The Dragon Apocalypse 3 by James Maxey

Witchbreaker: The Dragon Apocalypse 3Witchbreaker: The Dragon Apocalypse 3 by James Maxey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As is my usual preamble, I received this book as part of a GoodReads giveaway. In fact, I would like to thank the author once again because not only did he send me this book in specific, but also the two predecessors as well. Despite this very kind consideration, I give my honest feedback below.

So, you’ve no doubt noticed that in addition to this book I also made my way through the previous two books the author sent along. When I received the unexpectedly voluminous package in the mail I will admit that my first thought was, to put it succinctly, “I sure hope these don’t suck.” There’s nothing worse than 1100 pages that you feel mildly obligated to read. Luckily, those thousand plus pages were really quite engaging.

In previous reviews I’ve gone on and on about Maxey’s originality, his ability to stretch the typical “ogres and dwarves” platform to entertaining limits and his unique ability to mix sex, violence and fantasy in just the right ratios. In deference to those recent reviews I won’t prattle on further about those characteristics. However, a new thing that I realized about the series in this book specifically was that he has a very solid way of just letting things go once they’ve played out. In a lot of modern books characters and plotlines carry on far beyond their welcome. They’re like Joe Montana in a Chiefs uniform. You can understand why someone might have thought it was a good idea but ultimately you just wonder if it would have been better had things just ended. Authors seem to get married to their characters and drag them on and on through book after book. In Maxey’s books when a character’s work is done they just die. You mourn for a moment and then, like life, Maxey comes along with something else to entertain you. He’s an author who’s in love with his world, but like any God he’s willing to just let bits and pieces go for the benefit of the whole. It’s surprisingly refreshing.

In summary, I will relate a brief illustrative story. My fiancée perused a few pages on the strength of my previous reviews and after a short read she handed it back to me and stated simply, “reads like Tolkien.” Early on I had the same thought but felt it rather cliché to put such a thing in a review but I think she’s right. There’s just something that rings true about Maxey’s work, a richness that’s missing in almost of all of his modern peers. It should be noted that my fiancée didn’t express any desire to read the rest; this is clearly ‘guy lit’ but that should not diminish the positivity with which it should be regarded.

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Greatshadow (Dragon Apocalypse, #1)

Greatshadow (Dragon Apocalypse, #1)Greatshadow by James Maxey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a slight variation to a usual theme, I received this book as a result of a GoodReads giveaway but somewhat indirectly. I won the third book in the series but the author was exuberantly kind enough to send the entire series. Despite this wonderfully kind consideration, my candid opinions follow below.

It is difficult to begin without resorting to cliche, assuming that the opening about winning a book in a GoodReads giveaway is not already cliche. Maxey’s work, to sum it up, has a touch of everything. There’s a slight thread of testosterone. A twinge of adventure. A modicum of adventure. A dollop of humor (the long accepted standard unit of humor has long been acknowledged to be the dollop, I will point out). Unlike the vast majority of novels which try to walk such a wending and tormented path, Maxey’s work actually manages to make it all function together in a pleasing way. The humor isn’t tortured. The testosterone isn’t fetid. The adventure isn’t overwrought. It all balances well together and through the whole thing he manages to introduce fresh new ideas. He takes the standard orc/ogre/dwarf/elf milieu and stretches it into something that has the and pleasing aroma of originality.

To back up moderately, Maxey’s plotline is nothing fancy or innovative. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy-girl somewhat happy though ironically and comically star-crossed, boy-girl set out to slay terrible beast. There’s nothing shocking about any of that but the brush that Maxey paints with is one of almost dizzying originality.

Furthering the positive commentary, Maxey isn’t afraid to make a broader statement with his work. His villains aren’t mere pasteboard with no analogous relative in real life, no simple shadows upon a puppeteer’s screen. Like Tolkien before him he has a sociological statement to make and he’s not afraid to put it front and center.

In summary, and resorting completely to cliché, this book is one of the most entertaining things I’ve read in a long time. While it is fairly narrow in scope to the fantasy genre, among those players I think it ranks rather highly. Greatshadow is great “mind cake” with a thin thread of substance for those who wish to partake of it. To put it even more summarily, I’m impressed. I’ve read quite a lot of trite and worthless drivel and this quite nicely makes up for it. Highly recommended.

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