Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: WAYZATA by Ted Korsmo

A detective. A Millionaire. A Millionaire's wife. A mistress.

Hijinks and tragedy ensue.

Set in the late 1930's, our yarn is set in the rural, resort suburb of Minneapolis. Detective Carroll LaRue has quit his badge, picked up stakes and put a haunted past in Hollywood behind him -- after all, his fellow officers on the LAPD kept mistaking him for a perp. LaRue exchanges the hilltop lifestyle and orange groves for a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth existence in the blue-gray Midwest. Taking photos through windows, even if the people aren't movie stars? It might not be sexy, but it's a living.

My thoughts: By the way it was written, I could almost hear Dick Tracy’s voice—stark and shrewd—adding color to an otherwise quiet and monotonous town, presenting a scene right out of a 1930’s noir flick. The spit-fire dialogue of our detective was very fitting.

At first, the story was slow at capturing my interest. It almost seemed like there was a mystery behind the mystery by the way the conversation between Mrs. Fortescue and Mr. LaRue lagged on. Why couldn’t she just tell him what she needed him for? To follow a husband’s mistress, got it!
Most of the story was centered on the ins-and-outs of Wayzata (well, of course, since that IS the title,) but I felt that it deviated the focus from the mystery, which was what I really wanted to dive into.

Overall, I felt that it had the potential to be an interesting read, but it didn’t quite pan out for me. 

My rating: 2 stars

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: NORMAL by Danielle Pearl

“My outfit was chosen with care for one single purpose. Not to be in, not to fit in, or to impress the in crowd. I don't want to be "in" anything except invisible. And it appears that I am.” (5)

Rory Pine has the honor of a highly coveted role: the new girl at a new school.

The best thing about Rory was her introverted yet candid personality. “I hate football players. I hate the sport, hate the people that play the sport, the people that watch it... the people who are convinced it's the most important damned thing in the world.” (5) Me, too! She was relatable in many ways.

These days, ever since her parents’ divorce, the only way Rory can seem “normal” is through the magic of her anxiety pills.

Then, on day one at a new school, of course, she runs into him. “[Sam] is a walking trigger for me. Gorgeous. My God is he gorgeous. And gorgeous guys in high school are assholes. Especially jocks. And judging by his physique, that's exactly what he is. He's tall. Built. Six plus feet of lean muscle... athletic. Something I'd have found incredibly attractive a year ago.” (7) How embarrassing it must be to have a panic attack in front of him.

But, for Rory: “I don't need him to make me feel normal. I'm not normal. And I've already accepted that I never will be again.” (11)

Still, both Sam and Rory do share one thing: to not be the target for attention. For Sam, Rory just seems real—not “normal,” just real. There is a special bond between them, but Rory can’t seem to let go of the past, no matter how much she desperately wants to. Besides she’s never been good at dating, never had any experience in it. After all, “how common can finding actual true love in high school really be?” (23) I liked that Sam wanted to be her friend and showed genuine concern for her right from the start. You can tell that he is her savior, the key to free her from her mental cage.  

The majority of the story centers on the concept of being “normal,” which, according to Rory, can only be obtained by looking “happy and carefree.” Of course, seeming is not the same as actually being. “But I know better than anyone, just because they seem like some golden couple, doesn't mean it's true.” (23) Rory was convinced that everything was “normal”—the love, the jealousy, the lies, the pain.  Imagery and illusion are bound to the archaic concept of “normal,” rendering truth with doubt and false insecurities.  Even though broken, Rory was damn lucky to have had a friend like Cam, who wanted to keep her safe. Cam was strong, safe, and sensitive—he was just a wonderful guy!

Scenes from the past and present play side by side throughout the book, unearthing the crumbling remains of Rory’s psyche and revealing the gradual descent of her world. What happened? What was so bad that it completely unnerved and crippled her? And what on earth happened to Cam? Don’t tell me something happened to Cam! But, of course, I had that distinct feeling…

Bound and riveted, readers will want to unveil the dark skeletons as a grappling strength simmers and beckons the heroes to keep on fighting.

Pearl has written a thought-provoking and enjoyable story, albeit repetitious and emotionally daunting at times. Witty and heart-felt, Normal is a journey of self-reflection, a maze to personal fulfillment in the face of adversity, and a staggering road to recovery.

My rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: DIVERGENT DREAMS by Tony Evans

Great stories told in 1,000 words or less to fill those times between sleeping and working. In this book you’ll learn that burying a body in the woods is difficult when you’re being haunted by a doll. You’ll discover a new underworld of humans upgrading their bodies with inexpensive electronics. And you’ll go on an adventure with Oake and discover that there is more to his meager existence than meets the eye and the path to truth is through a fruit. These and many more stories await inside…

My thoughts: This is a collection of flash fiction that provides a mere glimpse into the lives of morose and disturbed characters.

In “My Soul to Keep,” a menacing doll stalks a man after burying the body of a little girl. I especially enjoyed the bleak irony in it.

“Sailing Away” is exemplary of a writer’s poetic prose to human compassion.

Divergent Dreams is open to wide interpretation with its ambiguous style and complex metaphors. At first, I thought it may have had a religious element, but then I felt that it was more sci-fi; I wasn’t sure. Obviously it had worlds where anything was possible. Quite frankly I was more puzzled than intrigued by these short tales. 

My rating: 2.5 stars

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: DOING GERMANY by Agnieszka Paletta

“Okay. So here’s the thing: if you’re a woman, you can probably relate to dreaming about a life in Paris, Provence or some charming little vineyard in Italy. Dreaming about running away, starting over, leaving and never looking back. Finding romance, adventure, yourself. (If you’re a man you’re probably wondering why in God’s name women are so banal.) Well, would you believe I made it happen? Yap, I did. Out of the blue, I dropped everything in Toronto: my job, my friends, my family and bought a one-way ticket to Italy. I abandoned my predictable life and began a new one. Just like that. I made that charming little vineyard in Italy happen. And plenty, plenty of adventure. Maybe not love, but definitely some romance. Italy was a dream. A suave, unreal, poetic dream. I highly recommend it.”—Prologue

Instantly I was captivated by the author’s witty, snarky, no-nonsense style. Yes, sometimes I wish could ditch the job, the boss, the responsibilities, the life in exchange for traveling the depths of the world. Oh, yeah! Hell, I wanted to read on just to find out how she did it.

The reader is given the brief highlights to how the rapid transition to Germany came about. I would’ve preferred more details to the kind of life she had before Germany, before “M” (why didn’t she give him a name? Was it a reference to Fritz Lang’s German thriller film, M?) At times, she tended to babble a little too much about trivial things, like her obsession with the dance floor or the American-European football conundrum. I found it tedious sometimes.

“No, in Europe, all the doors are open. Train, bus, tram or subway. You don’t really need a ticket to travel. It’s sort of an option. I mean, by law it’s required that you buy a ticket, validate it, and carry it with you, but by no means are you forced to do so. Nobody’s checking at any entrance points. You know how people say humans are essentially good by nature? Well, not when it comes to public transportation. Or paying taxes for that matter. Or anything else really. Who’d voluntarily pay for anything if there were no repercussions? Hence ticket controllers. People who sporadically pop-up, flash some ID and ask to see your ticket. If all you have to show is an embarrassed smile, you get fined. Hence the validation.” (13) This reminded me of my travels through Italy. Yes, that’s how it is alright.

Written in a diary format, this memoir depicts the various wacky adventures on a foreign land. Every day was a learning experience, like how you get packages from the post office or the revelation of chocolate yogurt at the supermarket. Although flaky at times, the main character was admirable in the sense that she never stopped trying to learn. Does anyone really, especially in a foreign country? I mean, there’s the language alone that you have to learn. And why was Italian easier to learn than German? I stayed in Italy for 3 months and I didn’t pick up the language not one bit.

“It was my first job after university. I was sort of a managing editor and a publishing assistant and a circulation manager and a secretary too. You know how small businesses work, right? But I grew disillusioned with the job, with love, with my life. One day I was just staring out the window and it hit me: I can leave! I don’t just have to dream about it, or watch movies about how others do it. I can do it! I can go anywhere in the world and start over! Find adventure and love! Find the meaning of life! (I was a bit of an idiot, of course. Or to put it affably, a young and naive romantic.)” (49)

“The concept of “home” was rather a confusing one for me. I’d been skipping countries for the past ten years. What defines “home” anyway? Where you live? Where you feel comfortable? Where you keep most of your underwear?” (39) You can’t help but enjoy the author’s boisterous humor!

The writing itself was average at best. Overall, I found this book to be quick and easy to relate to.

My rating: 3.5 stars

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: PAPER DOLL by Joe Cosentino

Jealousy, resentment, anger—all were combined to grant Bette Davis a stark, chilling presence in Whatever happened to Baby Jane, a simple psychological thriller that gave the horror genre a brand new name. Totally awesome! Surely inspired by such films, Paper Doll was a story I was definitely looking forward to reading.

Jana Lane is a former child star plagued by haunting memories of her time in the spot light.

“Back then . . . I was under a great deal of pressure. From the time I was six years old until I was eighteen, I did two films a year and went to classes on the set. I enjoyed the make-believe . . . playing so many characters in so many different locations. But the movie business is a business. An entire studio relied on me to deliver audiences—film after film. Not only the studio boss, Mr. Cavoto, but a great deal of people’s livelihoods depended on the success of my movies—producers, directors, writers, actors, publicists, costumers, set and lighting designers, sound engineers, camera operators, and makeup artists . . . to name a few.” –Jane Lane (13)

Now that the pressure was off, Jana could enjoy her time, her family, and her wealth. But nothing was ever easy. She kept on seeing images of her past, re-living that horrible incident at the studio; she kept on seeing the man in black.

Who could this stalker be? With all the crazed fans—fans still following Jana, wanting to be close to her, to touch her—it could be anyone. And what about her sanity? Could she be imagining all the strange, eerie things that have been happening?

Confusion clutters poor Jana’s mind, but still she trudges on, digging deeper and deeper, trying to gather the broken puzzle pieces from that incident and uncover big secrets—secrets that may tear Jana apart.

With his in-depth knowledge of the film industry, Cosentino weaves an intricate tale of tantalizing mystery and emotional turmoil. Taking the reader on a long, arduous journey through a child star’s past, he reveals the incredibly insidious show behind the stage curtains. Reading it will make you feel like you’re watching a 1930’s movie, resplendent in its classical theatrics and notable effects. At times, it became a little daunting, especially when the POV kept changing and the past-present kept switching back and forth in the same paragraph.

Well-written and enjoyable!

My rating: 4 stars

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: PHONING HOME by Jacob Appel

This is a collection of academic essays.  

In “Phoning Home,” Appel evaluates the acts of misbehavior—what drives the act and the effect on a person’s character. He states that “past performance is no indication of future unreliability.” (11)

Author cleverly recounts childhood memories and the lessons—both joyful and cruel—that were bestowed upon him. He was like Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years with a PhD. Full of humorous anecdotes.

In “The Man Who Was Not My Grandfather,” the author challenges his feeble grandmother to ponder what would have been had she gone through with the arranged marriage. His best theories were in “Sudden Death—A Eulogy,” an essay scrutinizing “sudden” death.” “Six decades after Great Grandpa Simon plunged off his mortal coil, sudden death now threatens to go the way of rotary telephones and passenger pigeons. The exact rate at which we are not dropping dead is difficult to calculate.” (63)

“I made the mistake of observing to my date that Ms. Hager was ‘drop dead gorgeous.’ My date replied, acidly, ‘in that case, keep staring.’ Needless to say, as forcefully as I ogled, my heart beat only faster; it did not stop. ‘Drop dead gorgeous,’ of course, means far less in a world where people don’t actually drop dead…We can speak figuratively about sudden death, trivialize it—even joke about it—because we do not actually expect to confront it. Not now, not soon, not until we’ve been afforded ample time to prepare.” (64)

“What we can do—and what we have not been doing—is paying closer attention to the complex ways in which how we die is transforming how we live. I fear the most subtle, yet pernicious, consequence of a world in which people do not as often die suddenly is a world in which people do not appreciate life.” (68)

Riveting and compelling, these compositions are witty and intelligent; they are thought-provoking and insightful. Appel eloquently writes with craft, logic, and reverence.

“What my students have never done, however, is reflect upon a life without toys. In a society where mass-produced plastic action figures cost ten dollars a piece and every middle-class family has a closet well-stocked with such wholesome board games as Monopoly and Risk, my students find ‘toylessness’ as alien as homelessness.” (20)

At times, the concepts were foreign and complex. I didn’t understand the Jewish terms, and not every story was interesting. Jacob Appel is a giant, walking brain (physicist, attorney, bioethicist, professor.) He will take you back to the school of Critical Thinking.

My rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: MOM CON by Karl Fields

Meet Anita Henry, a hard-working, single mom trying to launch her own business after losing her job. To top it all off, her ex-employer is suing her for stealing company secrets.

Corporate espionage? Please. Her single greatest offense was a high school fashion felony. But when a shady court ruling forces Anita to cease and desist, she's determined to get revenge.

My thoughts: “My people are usually the wait staff, but if the white girl wants to serve the Mexican girl for a change, who am I to complain?” –Renee (4) 

Chris, Renee, and Anita are the great trio. They are part of the unemployed pact with big dreams yet to be fulfilled and little mouths that constantly need to be fed. Pinching pennies is something Anita knows all too well. To top it all off, she’s also getting zilch from her cheating ex-husband and she’s being sued by her former boss. Nice, huh?

“In every company, there are workers and visionaries…You three ladies are workers…But I’m a visionary. I see the big picture. It’s my job to see where the company is headed and plot a path to make sure it gets there…Not everyone is cut out to be a CEO.” –Anita’s Former Boss (13)

Well, that’s just all but daring them to get their product idea out and finally start their own business.

“We’re smart, we’re good at our job, and we’re all good people. But when it comes to doing the dirty work, we don’t have a clue.”—Anita (21)

Yep, getting your hands on people’s money might be a lot harder to achieve.

Quick and easy to read, the story is infused with likable characters along with witty commentaries about the economy and the cruel business industry. You can’t help cheering on as Anita fights the shady dealings of a music producer; you can’t help being on the brink of tears when she discovers her car was stolen and destroyed beyond recognition at a chop shop. Fields created such relatable characters that you’ll laugh and cry along with them. All the drama concerning the kids didn’t appeal to me so much. No doubt about it that kids are very hectic—that’s why I’m glad I don’t have any. There was also a giant mystery concerning this “con” Anita and her crew were going to pull. What were they going to do exactly—kill the boss or beat him at his own game? I was suspecting it to be the ladder as their efforts concentrated more on getting the business started using little resources and funds for M.O.M. Con (a parenting convention.) Perhaps I anticipated a comedic ploy similar to the Dolly Parton movie, 9 to 5. Instead Anita was like Diane Keaton in The First Wives Club—intelligent and reserved while also cunning enough to make them (her boss, her ex) pay. Like they said in the movie, “Don’t get mad, get everything.”

A good story for those hard-working, fast-moving, single people with no money, a lot on their minds, and the strong will to survive.  You don’t have to be a mom to enjoy this book!

My rating: 4 stars