Monday, July 30, 2018

Founding Martyr: A Book Review

History is written by the winners, it is said, but it's the winners who survive that live to tell their tale.

FOUNDING MARTYR is the biography of one who died early in a conflict, a work that brings to light the many contributions of Dr. Joseph Warren. By rights, he was one of America's founding fathers, and Christian Di Spigna does a fine job of illuminating the life and times of a man who has been largely forgotten.

Dr. Warren had a comfortable life and a booming medical practice, yet he did not hesitate to join the resistance to British interference in colonial self-government. To read about a man's dedication to what he thought was right and just makes for fascinating reading. Imagine yourself, with young children to provide for, but you are so incensed about unfair taxation that you organize resistance, even at risk of imprisonment or death.

The man was an intriguing character, and the narrative lays out a timeline of events that show how one thing led to another until the first shots of the American Revolutionary War were fired. Readers will come away with a strong sense of what made a gentleman in those trying times, and what was expected of those who dared to step forward and lead.

Well worth reading for history buffs or anyone enjoying the liberty bought at a high price.

As always, thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Friday, July 06, 2018

OK, Mr. Field: A Book Review

What is the novel about? It does not matter. This one is all voice: adrift, floating, moving in space with such smoothness that you don't realize the narrative is moving.

The protagonist is a concert pianist after a debiliating injury. The novel takes place in his scattered thoughts. The prose is remarkable.

Mr. Field has taken his settlement post-injury and moved to South Africa with his wife, who leaves him but it takes a while for you to realize she's gone. Yet you don't mind, the not-knowing, because the words are so lovely you aren't following the arc of the story but letting the words wash over you like the sea.

In time, he becomes obsessed with the widow of the architect who designed his house. They have conversations in his head, imaginary chats, delightful talks that feel real but we all know it's just his imagination. The obsession becomes stronger and drives him to act in bizarre ways that fit what has gone before.

This one is not for everyone, and if you're looking for a story to get lost in, this won't do. This is a piece of writing that you can fall into like a soft feather bed, more poetry than prose, a journey into a character's head when said character may not be altogether of sound mind.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Orchid & The Wasp: A Book Review

Appropriate somehow to tackle a book with poetic prose as dense as ULYSSES with Bloomsday just behind us.

Caoilinn Hughes is a poet, and her prose has the lyrical quality of poetry. It makes for a difficult read, however, not unlike walking through a thick swamp of words that string together so prettily but confuse the reader when it comes to telling a story.

Gael Foess is a product of the Celtic Tiger and the crash that followed, wandering in search of the right hustle. Her family is not entirely supportive, and she turns down what help is offered by a father in the financial game. She protects, or tries to protect, her younger brother with mental health issues, using perception to finagle quite the payday out an art scheme she concocts for the money that's in it.

At least I think that's the gist of it. The narrative doesn't quite flow as smoothly as you might like for a relaxing read, and the prose itself is so intriguing that you read without gaining any context. Not a book for everyone, but for those who like the stylings of James Joyce, this is worth considering.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Eagle & Crane: A Book Review

I want to finish this, if only to discover what exactly is the mystery in this piece of historical fiction, but I can't seem to get through the pages.

EAGLE AND CRANE is built on the bigotry faced by the Japanese in the American West during the Second World War, using the old contrivance of friendship made and broken and strained between ethnic groups. The problem I've encountered is one of repetition. How many times must I be told by the author that Japanese-American Harry is wild about Harry (Houdini) and Louis comes from a long line of hardscrabble farmers?

I got the first few times, honestly. Quite clear.

The narrative winds through the Great Depression era of aviation barnstormers while intertwining a World War II tale of Japanese incarceration and the fate of Harry, possibly murdered by his fellow barnstormer Louis. There's the love interest to complete the triangle, but I've gotten too bogged down in extraneous backstory. Does a reader really need to know how Harry's family came to arrive in America? Or how Louis' kin chose the US of A? The enmity between the families could have been explained in far less than two-three chapters.

I'm bored. Time to read something else and maybe finish this some other time.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the use of the review copy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Intermission: A Book Review During An Intermission

Note to Penguin Random House, supplier of the review copy provided:

All this talk of diversity in books, yet where is the diversity in setting? Must every work of women's fiction be set in New York City? Can we have stories about people who aren't jaded, entitled and whingeing over trivialities?

I slogged through one-third of THE INTERMISSION before I realized I was wasting valuable reading time on something not worth the investment. Again, yes again, the acquisitions editors at Penguin Random House have found another manuscript that speaks to them, young professionals in New York City with psychoanalysts on retainer, spending every waking minute analyzing the minutia of life and believing that these thoughts are deep, relevant, and of vital interest to the rest of the world.

Our characters are a pair of well-heeled New Yorkers, five years into a marriage, and wouldn't you know it but the wife is up to the usual examination of her existence because she has little else to do. No one in these novels ever considers volunteering at a soup kitchen, to be surrounded by characters with far greater problems. That's not how modern publishing works.

Poor Cass is so burdened by the weight of entitlement that she must take a break from marriage and so she proposes an intermission (not a trial separation. That's so last century). And where does she jet off to, to find meaning in her empty life?

She doesn't land on Mother Teresa's doorstep. No indeed. Our Cass goes all the way across the USA to Los Angeles, that other bastion of entitlement.

Where she finds an affordable flat in West Hollywood. Is this historical fiction, you might ask, or do the entitled think $2000 per month for a dump is affordable?

But what of the novel? Does Cass find herself and heal her marriage?

I don't care. I have given up on her tale of self-centered woe. I cannot finish this novel full of emptiness.

Author Elyssa Friedland can string words together to make sentences, but that's not enough to compose an entire novel that is enjoyable or enlightening or entertaining.

Diversity in publishing, please. There is an entire world outside of Manhattan, beyond Park Slope, and surely there is the next Ivan Doig seeking publication.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Do This For Me: A Book Review


Sometimes you need to indulge in a bon-bon of a book, and DO THIS FOR ME will satisfy that craving for something sweet.

The story of Raney Moore, prestigious attorney, is filled with clever wit, making an unappealing sort of woman quite sympathetic to the reader. While you might fear that a character who tends to crush underlings beneath her powerful foot would be unlikeable, the author has written Raney with enough humility to soften the hard edges and have you root for her as she discovers that her neatly compartmentalized world has crumbled.

Like any good researcher, Raney sets off to uncover the source of the flaw that led to infidelity, and the quest makes for some very funny reading. She undergoes a satisfying transformation as she learns about life and herself, with the author engaging in standard women's fiction arcs, but who cares as long as you the reader have some fun on a weekend with some light reading?

This is definitely a book for adults, however, with lengthy passages about sex as Raney explores different sex partners in a most random, tomcat sort of fashion. Unleash the libido!

This is a carefree bit of prose, something to pick up for a beach read or holiday.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Mirage Factory: A Book Review

Los Angeles is an interesting bit of sprawl, and to read THE MIRAGE FACTORY is to come to an understanding on how that urban oasis came to be, in a most unlikely of spots.

Gary Krist does a fine job of presenting three separate narratives that describe well the events that shaped LA and guided the city towards significance. He begins with the story of Mr. Mulholland, the man who stole water from other areas so that LA could grow. Intertwined with the water saga is the brief history of D.W. Griffith, the star film director who was prominent in the film business that would define the area. Finally, the author introduces the reader to Aimee Semple McPherson, a character in her own right, and the sort of resident you'd expect to find in a city that has its own culture.

While the three key players were familiar to me, there was a great deal that was not, and I found this book to be a page-turner as Mulholland pushed ahead with his scheme to irrigate LA while D.W. Griffith cranked out film after film and became a force in the movie business. And how did the evangelist get her start before drifting into scandal? It's in THE MIRAGE FACTORY.

I thoroughly enjoyed this treatment of LA in the early decades of the Twentieth Century, when the city grew so fast that the water supply system couldn't keep up. The book is packed with fascinating details and anecdotes, and would be better than any guide book if you're planning a trip out west. Or have ever enjoyed a film or wondered about those mega-churches that draw enormous crowds.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the advanced copy. This was one of the best I've seen.