Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: THE MORTICIAN'S DAUGHTER AND OTHER STORIES by James R. Dubbs

In one story, the mortician's daughter felt "crazy and alone as a mouse trapped in a hat box." (31) She was always the outsider, always the oddball, always the one that got constantly teased and ridiculed. But perhaps this dark poet may be just the person to lend a willing ear.

In another story, one aspiring writer is dramatically taken by the genius works of Kafka. "I also read with deep shame at the jealousy I felt: jealousy that someone should write better than I; jealousy that another writer should say his part, then have his stories— stories as timeless as a platonic form—sit on the shelf of a second-hand bookstore collecting dust while I labored vainly, foolishly even, on flawed nonsense, thinking I was producing great art." (52) With his idol holding on to his last breath, the writer wonders if his writings should "be printed and sold like vegetables at a market." (56)

This small collection of stories is a well-written account of incisive wit and raw sensitivity. I thought the writing style was reverent and intelligent with a quiet solitude, but the stories didn't quite captivate me. While some were more enjoyable than others, most of them felt "unfinished," leaving the reader with questions rather than answers. And perhaps that was Dubbs' main establishment in these works. It's clear that these stories contain a philosophical approach that provoke critical analysis and pensive thought.  Like the stories that ran rampant with no end, perhaps this book would inspire the same in critical thinking, ensuing in a torrent of questions with no answers.

 

My rating: 3.5 stars

Review: WHAT IF I GOT DOWN ON MY KNEES? by Tony Rauch

Described as "a series of romantic misadventures and entanglements," the book mainly consists of colorful vignettes of oddball characters that don't necessarily involve love and relationships. For example, "In the Dust" was about dogs? Mmmm...

Judging by the subtitle, I anticipated comedic tales on the struggles and downfalls of love, marriage, and relationships. I mean, getting down on your knees is a symbiotic element of the whole marriage thing. I found it strange that these stories had nothing to do with that. Instead, they were eclectic, ranging from subject matters of music, religion and football, new neighbors, a father's secret, and shiny things.

One of the few tales that involved dating was "Lesser Gods," which was about a guy raving on and on about the excitement he felt over a girl asking him out. He was even going so far as to ask people on the street if he could hug them. Hug them? Really? Weirdo.

Another weirdo was in "Congratulations," which involved a pregnant guy. WTF?! And this stranger was trying to extract the baby??? What!

For me, the stories didn't really make any sense. They tended to ramble aimlessly with little to no direction. I mean, what was the point in all of this? What was the theme that tied these wacky stories together? I usually don't mind if a story has some wayward style or bleak irony. Yes, for some stories, the sky is green and the grass is blue, and it can still make sense in some interesting way. I'm sorry to say that these were not interesting. They were more odd, confusing, and just plain weird.

 

My rating: 2 stars

Review: HOLDING BACK DAYLIGHT by Carrie Crafton

It's Claire's birthday, but it would seem that she's not feeling it as much as everyone else. Working her family's bar was her legacy, and she was bred for it ever since she was a young teen. Now, she had officially taken it over, ever since her family's death. I guess it must've happened around her birthday, since she had trained herself not to feel sadness, a sadness that still creeps up on her every now and then. "Ever since, it had made celebrating seem ridiculous." (8)

Story had a very slow and uninspiring start. Although Claire's feelings of sorrow and remorse were well-written and thoroughly crafted, I found it rather exhausting and dismal. It was endearing to see all of Claire's friends pushing her to do something for her birthday, but there were a few too many characters to keep track of, especially when one was just as forgettable as the last.

Eventually, Claire succumbs to their advice and does something. So what does she do? She goes to a bar, of course. You'd think for someone who works in a bar, one would be sick of them.

All in all, I found Claire to be a dull character with no real depth, making it hard for me to keep up with her insipid story.

 

My rating: 2 stars

Review: ETERNAL LOVE by Curt Larson

A man fretting over a wedding. But not his wedding, someone else’s. The woman he loves is marrying another man.

“Sometimes there is a love that transcends times and space…This is our story.” (5)

Prologue was beautifully written and captivating. Then the story dives in with a man’s love for the seas. A captain, a pirate, a soldier, whatever one may call him, he traversed the waters, navigating adventures, pillaging and plundering. Suddenly, the reader is thrust into a Pirates of the Caribbean world with its historical significance and enriching dialogue. However, the start-up didn’t quite compel me as much as the Johnny Depp movie. It was pretty slow in the beginning. In fact, it kind of continued on the same lag for the bulk of the story. Sailors, Ladies, Kings, and Trojans all abounded in this convoluted tale.

I thought this would be a story of love, judging by the title, summary, and prologue. Oddly, I found the prologue to be the most alluring aspect of it.

This is mainly an adventure story with a splash of historical romance, which is fine and dandy but not really my niche.

 

My rating: 2 stars

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: SMUGGLERS AND SCONES by Morgan C. Talbott

Pippa runs a bed and breakfast inn, where authors can relax and unwind.

"All my guests were mystery authors, as per Raymond Moore's will, and though they came in all shapes, sizes, experience levels, and subgenres, they were all hopelessly dedicated to their craft."  (9)

Pippa had that cute charm that hits a soft spot for the reader. The author definitely had a way with words and infused a delightful wit to an endearing character.

The story had a slow start that only progressed at a superfluously lagging pace throughout. I thought that the premise of murder combined with the history and folklore of an enriching ghost tale was interesting, but, unfortunately, the point of it all took much longer than it should've. For me, a good mystery should be well endowed with the capacity to keep you on your toes. And, while this book was indeed well endowed with fruitful details and vibrant settings, it wasn't the page-turner I was expecting.


My rating: 2.5 stars

Review: SAVING GRACE by William Graney

"Technically, the new millennium wouldn’t begin until 2001 but most of the world considered December 31, 1999 to be the last day of the century and the dawning of the next thousand years. While celebrations were beginning on the other side of the planet, Grace sat peacefully with a latte and contemplated the possibilities of Y2K catastrophes and what life would be like when the year
started with a two instead of a one." (5)

This New Year's also marked Grace's 50th birthday. With loved ones long gone, Grace has come to accept her solitary existence with no husband or children in the foreseeable future.

During a routine jog on the start of a new year, Grace encounters a middle-aged man named Levi. Like Grace, Levi was also lonely with the divorce from his ex-wife and the death of his only daughter. The two find an instant connection through their grief and hope. As the two get to know each other, they come to realize they have much in common, including the struggle to make it and trying to make the world a better place. Even though each have their own skeletons in the closet, both Grace and Levi find peace in running and passion in their profession (Grace as head ER nurse and Levi as a high school English teacher.)

Meanwhile, Laura, a convicted woman who killed someone near and dear to Grace, was due for a parole hearing and executed a plan for release and revenge.

Story was simple and well-written. I enjoyed the bond between Grace and Levi--two dark souls that found a light in each other. Graney did a wonderful job developing characters with true depth and raw emotion. As the story is written in the POV of these characters, we feel the torrent of emotions that swirl through, like Levi's overwhelming love for Grace and Grace's cautious optimism for a man that has re-awakened her spirits. We also feel Laura's poisonous and methodical mind as she manipulates her cohorts and plots to kill our sweet Grace.

Of course, the pace was languid and the story tended to wander. Laura's cold-hearted revenge was a very compelling angle in the story, but the premise was too drawn out, trudging along insipidly and going almost nowhere. All we hear about is her time in the halfway house and her sweet thoughts of revenge. Okay, so where does that take her? I was rooting for a final showdown concerning Laura, but the whole thing was rather anti-climactic. The bulk of the book was mostly on the new couples (Grace/Levi and Michelle/Robbie,) which was okay, I guess.  

Still, the story was, for the most part, interesting, but not quite up to my tastes.

My rating: 3.5 stars 

Review: MY DADDY, THE SERIAL KILLER by Cindy Kovacik

Katelyn was six years old the first time she saw a woman chained in the cellar. She will never forget the pain in her face and she could never figure out why her father would do such a thing. It’s at that point that she decides her father is “mean,” and aims to get out of that house.

As years go by, Katelyn becomes more withdrawn, which subjects her to the relentless teasing of the other kids. That just angers her. After biting the boy she hated, Katelyn soon realized that her father might not be so bad after all, especially when she didn’t get punished for it.

As more time goes by, the girl sees more grisly things. She doesn’t know what’s going on or why, but she knows that she’s afraid. She knows that the man she’s living with is not her daddy anymore.

Just like the title says, this is the story of a sadistic and twisted father told from a little girl’s point of view. The whole thing is basically a compilation of memories—fragments of what she witnessed in that house and how she felt. It was like a frightened girl’s diary. Storyline was simple and the writing was good, but I thought the pace lagged a little too much. All I kept on hearing about were the sick and twisted things the father did; how the girl would try to stay out of his way; and that she would vow to leave someday. I just thought that was a little daunting and redundant. What I liked best is that we don’t get into gory, bloody details. I think that stories can say a lot without revealing too much.

Overall, I thought this was nothing but the inane ramblings of a psychologically damaged child. Well, of course, who wouldn’t be damaged with a serial killer daddy?


My rating: 3 stars