Even Steven

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I’d have to say I’m not really used to A LIFE IN MEN, unless we’re sitting around discussing football, or Breaking Bad, or Kansas being whacked from the NCAA Tournament. But you’ve gotta start somewhere, and I rather enjoy usurping the occasional insight about the fairer, more complicated sex. The ones who really do make life worth living, even if I’m occasionally left in the dark, sleeping on the sofa, or forced to change my wardrobe for the second time that day.

You see, men like to think we’re in charge, but smart men know the real story. We’re only in charge if our wives grant us knighthood, but again, the smart ones don’t complain too much, because we know the benefits are normally pretty good. This novel certainly had its share of benefits, but it felt more like a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, the language nearly caused me to drift off, floating freely in the otherwise complicated universe, as my hand darted around my face, the characters felt lifelike and real and complicated and motivated. On the other hand, I managed to lose myself a time or two over the course of this tale, I had trouble completing the race, and I nearly stumbled my way toward the finish line.

But I wanted to like it. The realness of it all left me more than a little depressed, as I slammed my fist against my chest, and contemplated the difficulties of being a woman. Which tended to scare the hell out of me just a bit, if we’re being perfectly honest here. Because with women, even friendships are extremely complicated, and let’s face it, my brain just doesn’t work that way. I like simplicity, and in fact, there are times I even crave it like crack or chocolate or copulation.

What made this story a bit difficult for me to follow was the timeline at times. Maybe I’m just a simple man, but I tend to appreciate a more linear flow to my tale. If you don’t need it, or want it, you’ll probably be a bit happier with this story than I was. And that’s okay. We don’t have to agree on everything, but it’d be nice if we could agree once in a while. As for the rating, we’ll call it Even Steven, and we’ll both move on with our lives.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Redneck Poetic Prose

6464524 by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemper might just be the best redneck I know, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. If I ever need to know about the best lawn ornaments, or how to best utilize my Cool Whip salad bowls, or what to do if I get more than a few IQ points deducted on account of my accent, or if I need to know what to do with the dead body in my backyard, I’d probably try to get in touch with him. And if I ever decide to start a crystal meth operation in my garage, I plan on getting in touch with Daniel Woodrell—he just doesn’t know it yet.

This book might have landed firmly in a brand new category. Wait for it…wait for it…redneck poetic prose. My teeth might have been covered in pop; the bag of Doritos stuffed in the corner of my pantry started looking pretty good, even though I’d just eaten a steak dinner; I wanted to find a beagle with a slightly lopsided ear and a short leash, after I punched out my two front teeth with a Coke bottle. I’ll show all the lovely ladies my farmer’s tan as I ride around on my John Deere, tractor that is, and I plan to wander off in the woods over the weekend and get lost for approximately twenty-four hours.

All I need is a Four Wheeler and I’ll scream yee-haw at the top of my lungs. Life will be pretty nice, but it might be even better within the confines of WINTER’S BONE, as I long as I can continue to live vicariously through Ree Dolly, and not actually have to experience the trials and tribulations of her Ozark-infused life. But she’s one tough walnut sitting rather nicely atop a piece of peach cobbler, and I devoured this prose so fast I might have caused myself a bit of acid reflux, right before I went back for seconds.

The dialogue struck me with as much force as an uppercut, and the abject poverty nearly caused me to start handing out ones. But it’s not all toothless smiles and haphazard grins and next-of-kin. There is hope and promise contained within the sparse prose. You may just have to get the crap kicked out of you first.


16058621 by
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I’d like to thank my friend Delee for throwing down the gauntlet and shoving me with both hands toward the finish line. I couldn’t help but accept her challenge, and now I’d like to offer up one to you, my friends. If you haven’t read her reviews, you need to do so right now. I’ll wait twiddles thumbs and taps footand we’re back.

If that wasn’t enough history on this novel, I have a bit more for you. I met the lovely Jamie Mason at Bouchercon where we briefly discussed Goodreads—and no I didn’t mention that I was a card-carrying member—although I suppose I could have, and then puffed out my chest accordingly, only to be smacked from behind by the next guy in line. While her smiling personality didn’t persuade me in any way with this review, it’s one of those nice-to-know pieces of information that I like to keep in my hip pocket for emergency purposes.

I don’t really know what to think of THREE GRAVES FULL. Smarter people than me have rated it four stars, but since I’m not that smart I’m going to rate it at three, and end up in the same boat as Switzerland and Canada headed toward the Arctic Circle.

On the one hand, the writing popped higher than a jack-in-the-box, and I was left wishing God had actually granted me a few more IQ points, so that my prose might be wonderful and lyrical and fantastical. And I could form more than a coherent thought or two before—squirrel—the next distraction. There was plenty to distract my mind, and more than one storyline to keep things extra interesting, but then again, that might have been why I ended up seeing a scurry of squirrels around nearly every bend, and instead of taking me a few days (like Delee), this novel took me a few months, and I even added an additional one on for good measure.

On the other hand, I would have preferred a bit more action with my lyrical prose, and a stronger spine on Jason Getty, instead of one that bent rather abruptly at the slightest provocation. It really felt as though this novel tried to do a bit too much amidst its 320 pages—a darkly humorous literary novel with a clever twist and a tense pace. But I’m also fairly certain this is one of those it’s not you, it’s me instances.

Straddles The Line

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

This novel tries to straddle the line between literary and commercial fiction. What the publishing gods have deemed upmarket fiction. Unfortunately for THE GRAVITY OF BIRDS, it probably tries a little too hard, and therefore doesn’t do either as effectively as if it just picked one and flew above the treetops. Instead, it crash landed into a cactus, and I was left picking needles out of my butt.

The structure proved a little confusing, with the movement between time periods, and I was prone to forget who I was, or where I was for brief periods of time (sometimes a wee bit longer). This was certainly a literary element, as I end up more confused and discombobulated when I read “more serious” works than when I read the high-octane commercial fiction. What can I say? My brain likes to be entertained, and I feed it generous helpings of the good stuff.

Not that this novel lacked an entertainment factor. It just might not have been what Tracy Guzeman intended, as I wanted to throttle Thomas Bayber within an inch of his life for being a self-indulgent ass. Note to readers who are not artists, we are not all like this. Some of us (surprise surprise) actually have a soul. The other source of entertainment was a “Who’s on First?” sketch between Finch and Jameson that made me want to slap my head and then get on a plane in the middle of a blizzard.

As for the other characters, I was less than impressed, except for a cameo appearance near the end of the novel. The cameo setting—New Mexico land of the sand and vast openness—proved a rather beautiful side trip during which I could have indulged myself further, had I just been given the opportunity to do so.

While some might call this a mystery, or hear it marketed as such, and then proceed to be disappointed when it’s not, I’d say this is more of a coming of age or contemporary fiction tale that had more of a literary spin than it knew what to do with. In other words, this book had an identity crisis, and I’m not sure I can really help this novel solve its problems. But someone smarter than me can probably make a better effort at identifying its feathers.

A Few More Rounds

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

I just need to stop reading historical fiction. Like right now. But I keep trying, like the little kid who keeps reaching for the electric burner, even though he’s bound to burn himself for the thirteenth time and once again lose several layers of skin in the process, or like the woman who just can’t stop dating that man-child with the six-pack abs and commitment issues and the Mickey Mouse voice, because damn it she can bounce quarters off his belly button, and that ought to be worth a few more rounds on the merry-go-round.

Because like that little kid I want to reach out and just one time find the burner turned off, or like the woman I just want to meet a man who looks like Brad Pitt but has a bit of substance for once in her damned life. Well, not me personally, but I feel your pain sister. With historical fiction, I am beginning to think it’s a bit personal, and I am beginning to think I’m the only one who hasn’t been let in on this wonderful, exotic secret that will somehow change my life, but maybe not. And it’s frustrating and intoxicating and I keep coming back for more. Just spin me one more time, and this stint is bound to be different.

And I end up…right back where I started. Let’s start with the dialogue shall we. Now I love me some good dialogue. I want to hug it and squeeze it and kiss it and pat its little forehead and somehow find a way to make it my own. More often than not (and this novel is no exception), I end up disappointed with the overused phrases tossed in my direction. It reminds me of the jellybeans often found beneath the sofa cushions. Just don’t eat them. Sure, they might have been great and wonderful three months ago (like the dialogue might have been snappy and witty about two or three generations ago), but I’m not feeling the love now. And I want to feel the love.

The characters proved a bit too unlikeable. Heck, let’s face it, at least one or two were probably borderline bastards. And that works for me, if the others pick up the slack and shine brighter than a Colt revolver. But I’ll be honest: I didn’t really like any of the sons-a-bitches. Again, sometimes that works when it’s done correctly, but yeah, that wasn’t really working for me either. The characters were just a bit too full of themselves, or completely and totally self-involved (like six-pack abs guy).

Let’s talk about setting. I love Massachusetts and Boston. I love the Cape and the North Shore with its quaint little towns and storybook houses. I love it even more when its spring or summer or fall, and when there isn’t a foot of snow on the ground with layers of ice packed underneath. But this didn’t really feel like Massachusetts to me. Something was just a bit off, and that’s probably a rather quick way of summing up TIGERS IN RED WEATHER.

A Truly Rare Gift

17999688 by
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

What I’ve learned is having faith is a truly rare gift, and that even if I’m filled with that much faith, or confidence, that I still have my doubts, those moments where it feels like it will all go to hell, but it won’t really matter because no one is paying attention anyway, and I can make whatever mistakes I need to make, and that ends up being another great gift: the opportunity to fail miserably without the whole world watching. Just when it seems like I’m at my lowest point, and there’s no way I can move up from the bottom of the glass, I realize that people really do care, that they are paying attention, and maybe I can’t measure it, or quantify it, or even extrapolate it and place it on a graph, but it’s there just the same. And while encouragement from others is a great and wonderful and beautiful thing, the best strength comes from within.

What I took away more than anything else from UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY is a sense of faith (not the religious kind): faith to stay in a relationship, faith to experiment with your writing, faith to scrap an entire story and burn it in the fiery embers of wood and ash, faith to realize that life will come to an end and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, faith to travel and live around the globe, faith to get married, and faith to stay married through the trials and tribulations of daily living.

Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson may not have had what might be considered a normal relationship, but then normal is defined as it relates to you, and the creative process is about as far from normal as you can be. Having two writers in the same household practically puts you on another planet altogether, so they did have that going for them, even as Robert’s health faded.

Despite all this mojo working in its favor, I never really felt myself become one with this novel. The dialogue never really flowed like a river; the descriptive passages never really allowed me to become fully immersed in the tale; the characters resembled more ethereal creatures hovering in the distance; and the ending left me a bit unfulfilled.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Nicotine-Induced Haze

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If a shotgun wielding redhead jammed a double barrel between my lips, told me to reach my hands toward the stars, spit a glob of chewing tobacco six inches from my left foot, and then asked me this dreaded question: What is the theme of LIGHTNING FIELD? I’d tell her I have no idea, shut my eyes tight, and hope her nicotine-induced haze didn’t include a trigger pull, as she offered up a bit of mercy on my soul.

What I can tell you, though, is infidelity and the fragility of the human spirit run rampant through this tale, faster than a mouse running through a maze with a shotgun three inches from his bum. And there’s a certain lack of cohesiveness many folks might find intriguing. I found it interesting but not overly so.

But emotional damage thundered through me of the constant variety with the blackened hearts of the blackened souls of these blackened and damaged characters, many of whom paid witness to the bleakness of human suffering. And I found myself rushing toward the end, in the hope that some of my sanity might return in full force, or I’d even settle for half-mast, as the fragility of the human spirit rested rather resolutely on the pending outcome.

Dysfunctional Family On Steroids

79699 by
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I think it’s safe to say teenage boys think about sex. A LOT. In fact, teenage boys think about sex so much and with such enthusiasm that teenage girls are often overridden around every bend. With teenage boys in mind, I have compiled a list of penis slang. This is by no means all-inclusive, but it should suffice for the task at hand. There’s Johnson and skin-flute and boner and anaconda and anal impaler. Bald-headed yogurt slinger and baloney pony and bratwurst and chubbie and cock and ding-a-ling and ding dong and dingis. John Thomas and joystick and knob and love stick and member and middle leg and Mr. Happy. Schlong and Schwartz and shaft and tallywacker and trouser snake and wang and weenie.

If you add up all the slang terms (there’re 27) and then multiply this number by 15, you probably end up somewhere in the vicinity of how often teenage boys think about getting laid. That’s nearly 17 times an hour. Am I exaggerating? I wish I were. And it doesn’t really matter if your father is half-crazy and your mother decides to start boning her psychology professor, a teenage boy can still dream of a better life. Even if your nanny doesn’t feel the same way about you, you can still enjoy the view and keep the more X-rated thoughts to yourself and have wet dreams in the privacy of your bedroom.

THE UNTHINKABLE THOUGHTS OF JACOB GREEN reminded me of a dysfunctional family on steroids. When I reached the end, I had developed an even greater appreciation for my own upbringing, and it was hard not for me to consider myself lucky. Sure, I could bemoan my own familial problems, or my own teenage drama (rather mild in comparison), or the skirmishes my brother and I experienced on multiple occasions, but none of those thoughts crossed my mind. Instead, amusement crossed my lips, as character after character acted out in the craziest manner, and I found myself hanging on for the ride.

Pretentious Dialogue

17571276 by
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I’d have to say it’s rather difficult to describe my emotional state after finishing BELLMAN & BLACK: A GHOST STORY. On the one hand, this was a well-written, slowly developing story that caused me to contemplate the consequences of all my actions, not just the major, life changing experiences; on the other, it did have ghostly elements, but when I picture a ghost story, this isn’t exactly what I have in mind. It’s more of a literary ghost story where you realize the ghosts are there, but they hover above the playing field and never really step out onto the grass. It also develops this phrase in narrative form: Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. Which proves an interesting expression to ponder for a novel, but I never felt like I was fully invested in this tale.

The dialogue proved a bit pretentious for me with many characters never really becoming enamored with contractions. While William Bellman was certainly an interesting and intriguing character, he never grabbed my attention the way I hoped he would. He was stiff and aloof and more than a tad bit prickly, rigid, and distant. And the pace often proved a bit too leisurely for my tastes. It was more of a meandering jaunt in a field of lilies than a race in an open field. But the writing often sung a soprano solo in the middle of December, I just found myself only half-listening.

In the end, I wanted to enjoy this story, and even though I tried a bit too hard at times to do so, ultimately I just wasn’t the right audience. Since I received THE THIRTEENTH TALE in my Bouchercon book bag, I’ll take it for a spin on the merry-go-round, but I’ll do so with a bit more careful consideration.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Funny All Of The Time

16074109 by
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I can state rather emphatically that this book does not suck elephant balls. In fact, you may have to hold your tallywhacker in place as you bend over at the waist from laughing so hard. Edward, my man, you are more than just pretty funny sometimes. I’d say you’re funny all of the time, even when you’re not trying to be.

I’d even go so far to say that I have what might be construed as a bromance with Edward Stanton. I don’t know if I’d call him my hero, but he’s a damn fine character, and this is one damn fine story. His preference for facts, dry sense of humor, cursing like he jammed his toe against the sofa and then smashed his head on a wooden table, repetition of choice words and phrases, photographic memory, extensive vocabulary, and his unique love for words make this son of a politician an absolute joy to behold. So much so that I just had to finish EDWARD ADRIFT in less than twenty-four hours.

Edward has some rather righteous curse words. Here are a few of my favorites: shitburger, whipdick, shitballs, chicken’s asshole, sort out the shithouse, and assweeds. I’d have to say it was fun to be fucking loaded and take a trip through Idaho and Wyoming and singing along to my bitchin’ iPhone playing R.E.M. songs on shuffle.

I really can’t decide whether 600 Hours Of Edward or EDWARD ADRIFT is better. It’s easy to make an argument for either one, and if you start spouting off to the wrong hothead, you may end up in fisticuffs. So choose your argument wisely and be ready to back it up with empirical data, not conjecture.

I won’t give away the ending, since I know you’ll want to read this literary masterpiece for yourself, but I will say it was the perfect ending to a perfect story. Had it ended any differently, Edward and I might not be on speaking terms right now.

I’d like to say you’re a cocksucking assweed if you don’t buy, beg, borrow, or berate your local library into carrying this novel, but I won’t. You may, however, have to hang your head in shame if you don’t hop in your Cadillac and traverse to your local bookstore to pick up your copy.