Monday, May 15, 2017

BUY BOOKS or else BYE BOOKS


































In other book related news...



But I refuse to grow disheartened. I will continue to write from the heart and hope that readers give it a try. I will continue to find and support and promote brilliant writing from a diverse array of authors. Some I will like, some I will love, from time to time there will be a MEH...






...and every so often I will be awed and powerfully reminded of why I fell in love with reading and writing in the first place.




Saturday, May 13, 2017

#WHATTOREADNEXT



I decided to dedicate a post to one of my all time favorite questions. I just finished reading a book (the second of the two novels listed below) which inevitably leads me to ask myself - What Should I Read Next? Up above is a photo of the candidates. I'll eventually get to each of them, God willing. But which one should I tackle first?


1) The General in His Labyrinth - by the one and only  (who happened to write what may be the greatest novel of all time, my beloved Love in the Time of Cholera)

2) The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love - by  (I enjoyed the movie and when it comes to adaptations, I prefer to first read and then watch. But reading this particular book will move me another step along in my quest to read all of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winners

3) Purity - by  (who I consider to be a bit of a fool and a jerk for the Oprah snub, but the guy sure can write)

4) The Turner House - by   (Since I can never read too many novels by People of Color, particularly Caribbean and African American authors. I've heard good things about this particular one)



I'm having trouble deciding on my own so invite you to leave comments of recommendation. Thanks in advance to anyone kind enough to help me out. See below for reviews of the last two books I read. And if you're on Goodreads you may want to enter my contest there for a chance to win a copy of MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE.





MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not many perfect books have been written but a handful can make a legitimate claim to the title. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is the type of novel that would have made me fall helplessly in love with reading if I wasn't already there. The steady handed prose does not try to shock or even take us by surprise, but instead takes readers on a fascinating journey up a family tree, leading us to the end of a narrative branch where we reach its strange fruit.

View all my reviews



The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stieg Larsson was not a great writer. Not by a long shot. But he had a knack for creating indelible characters. Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating woman whom readers first meet in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In The Girl Who Played with Fire we learn about her background, gain insight into the events she managed to survive and thus shaped her into a pint sized dynamo with a knack for overcoming astronomical odds. We're introduced to her evil father and comic book style villain of a half brother. There are also a bunch of secondary characters in this book that seemed barely necessary. Since this is the second part of a trilogy, presumably there is wrapping up of subplots and fuller development of background characters in the final installment. And I will probably read the third book since I've come this far. I'll continue to overlook flaws in writing that often seems amateurish in order see the crazy ride that Larsson created through to the end.

View all my reviews




Goodreads Book Giveaway

Matters of Convenience by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Matters of Convenience

by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Giveaway ends May 29, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway


Twist ending. I decided to go with a book that wasn't on my list. A work of non-fiction. 

                               The Secret Life of Houdini


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Comic Con



Curiosity led this cat to attendance at my first Comic Con event on this beautiful Spring day (that reached Summer temperature) in 2017. Along with me were my wife and our daughter. The latter is a big fan of graphic novels, the hilarious animated TV show Teen Titans, and all members of Suicide Squad with special affection for Harley Quinn. My wife doesn't go in for superhero stories much, but as a professional illustrator she appreciates the artistry that goes into creating comic books.

As for me, I can't help but marvel at the worlds of Marvel and DC and beyond. Others are far more fanatical about their fandom than I am. My level of enthusiasm is moderate enough to retain dignity, but I have nothing but love for the zealots who go full out. If you're going to be over the top passionate about something, it may as well be something cool. Batman and Superman stories may not receive official stamps of approval from fancy book award committees or Oprah, and they aren't assigned reading material in most English Literature classes, but they are unarguably cool.


A post shared by Roy Pickering (@roylpickering_author) on

A post shared by Roy Pickering (@roylpickering_author) on



I was too busy being dazzled by the bombardment of colorful imagery while squeezing through the bustling crowd to take as many pictures as I wanted, but I did manage to snap a few shots. Check them out below. Maybe I'll run into you at a future convention such as New York Comic Con in October. You're never too old to be a kid at heart. Only a dastardly villain would tell you different. Fortunately superheroes save the day and refuse to let them get away with it.


Her turn in the role bombed at the box office and deservedly so, but Halle Berry wore the hell out of that cat suit and I happily snagged this doll, I mean, this action figure.



There is no cooler set of wheels than the Batmobile, any version of it.






















And there is no motor vehicle more terrifying than Stephen King's CHRISTINE.




This bearded guy knew who to call.





“The reason birds can fly and we can't is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” J.M. Barrie

“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.” Coco Chanel







Superheroes need coffee breaks too.




I haven't written a comic book...yet. But I did write a novel entitled Matters of Convenience and you can enter the giveaway contest at Goodreads for a chance to win a free copy. Good luck!




Goodreads Book Giveaway

Matters of Convenience by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Matters of Convenience

by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Giveaway ends May 29, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway


Price of Kindle edition of MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE to be discounted at Amazon 5/13/17 - 5/20/17. The earlier you jump in, the bigger the savings you get.



Monday, April 3, 2017

Doing it for the 'gram



So I finally got around to joining Instagram. And then hackers, apparently thinking that I'm the DNC or perhaps allegedly directed by mischievous President Obama (America's last legitimate prez), worked their way into my account for who knows what reason. Practice and alleviation of boredom are the lead candidates.




It is my third attempt at an Instagram account that is up now and I'm hoping will prove to be the charm. If you find weight loss programs and/or lingerie clad women posted there, it means that hackers have worked their magic once again, and that will probably send me into photo posting retirement. Unless Instagram proves to be too addictive to quit, and so far that is where all signs are pointing.

A few of the pictures I've put up so far can be found below. To see more, feel free to follow me and chances are good that I'll follow back to liven up my feed.  I've just about exhausted the 'gram worthy photos in my phone's photo gallery, so I'm inspired to venture forth in search of all things photogenic. I'd rather do that than bombard voyeurs with selfies. My plan is to capture exhibitions of the beauty of nature and architecture...and bookish stuff. Not only is literature in its printed form food for the soul, but it's often candy for the eyes as well.












Goodreads Book Giveaway

Matters of Convenience by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Matters of Convenience

by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Giveaway ends May 29, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Ava Appelsawse



"The spice jars next in line to be used took up space in the kitchen. A great many more were on shelves in the basement, waiting their turn." ~ from The Absolutely Amazing Adventures of Ava Appelsawse (written by Roy L. Pickering Jr., illustrated by Erin Rogers Pickering)



My darling daughter, who turns 11 this year, reintroduced me to the world of children's books. Since I had already entered the world of book blogging, it made sense to merge the two endeavors. In March of 2009 I posted a collection of mini-reviews of books written for miniature people. I began the post with these words: Having a child means getting to experience the wonderful world of children's literature all over again. I've been pleased to find out over the past few years that not only are the old standards as charming as I remembered, but plenty of great new books for little ones were written while I was busy growing up. Reading to my daughter on a daily basis allows me to revisit tales I fondly recall and discover new ones along with her. 

Fast forward to 2017 and these days I don't do much reading aloud to my daughter since she now reads for herself. And yet the world of children's books continued to call out to me.  My daughter's bookshelves are still filled with the books I read to her in her earliest years. They are a constant reminder in our household of a more innocent time and style of prose.

Several years back I wrote what was intended to be a rhyming board book for toddlers and their exasperated parents. It was inspired by the trying experience of finding the right daycare facility for my daughter. It's not half bad in my opinion, but I'm no Dr. Seuss and was not strongly compelled to bring it to the light of day. Some writing projects are destined to remain tucked in a drawer. I put the story/poem away and any career as a children's book writer I might have was put on indefinite hold.

Instead I threw full energy into completion of my second novel, Matters of Convenience. I somewhat improbably continued to write A Line A Day blog posts on an irregular schedule. My daughter changed from my baby girl to a beautiful young lady. Instead of picking her up at daycare with fingers crossed that it was a good day, I'm now a coach of her middle school basketball team hoping she'll work more on her dribble while being impressed by her post game. Still, the siren's song of children's books could be heard in quiet moments. And so it was that one day I set pen (or was it pencil?) down to paper and started to write what would become THE ABSOLUTELY AMAZING ADVENTURES OF AVA APPELSAWSE.

It's often been suggested to me that I do a follow-up to a novel or short story I've written. I've resisted the urge because they were meant to be standalone tales, even if ending in a way that makes readers want to know more about the characters down the road. For the first time I am now tackling a sequel. The Absolutely Amazing Adventures of Ava Appelsawse was intended from the start to be a series. My wonderfully talented wife Erin Rogers Pickering is currently working on illustrations for the first installment while I have gotten started on book #2. Two and a half chapters of the first draft are done so far. I'm trying to figure out where the rest of the story is going, or else it will need to inform me. Either way works. 

Do you believe that We Need Diverse Books? I do. Do you believe greater emphasis by the publishing industry on promoting books told in Our Own Voices by writers from various backgrounds is important? I do. But lofty causes aside, ultimately my wife and I are two artists you may not have heard of (yet) with stories to tell through words and illustrations that we believe you and your little ones will connect with.

While I'm crafting the Ava Appelsawse sequel, stay tuned for updates on the first book in the series which is scheduled to publish later this year. If you have kids, or know anyone with kids, or perhaps were once a kid yourself, then this is the book for you. And this time I'm not stopping at just one, not that I have a particular number of them in mind. The older I get the more things I realize I do not know...yet. I have no idea how many books and stories intended for various audiences are stored within me. But as a major milestone birthday approaches I am more determined than ever to put as many tales as possible out into the world and see how far they go. I hope you choose to accompany me on the journey.


























"In a slightly crooked house with the address of 123 Oaktree Lane there lived a seven year old girl named Ava Appelsawse."




"It was excellent tomato sauce, possibly the best in the world, for it was made with love."




"Ava decided the hamster was a girl.  It did not disagree and also did not complain about its name, perhaps because this was the most interesting thing about her."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

DOG EAT DOG ROMANCE - a short story



Dog Eat Dog Romance

By Roy L. Pickering Jr.  (Author of Patches of Grey)



This short story is dedicated to the newest member of my household. Rescued on a cold December day from the unforgiving streets of NYC. Tough as a rattlesnake, cuddly as a newborn bunny, feisty as barrel of monkeys, affectionate as Nana greeting her grandbabies, squirrel obsessed, not quite fully house trained but we'll get there, the best Christmas give ever - the one and only SHADOW.









“It’s perfect.  Absolutely perfect.”

“I know.”

“We could look for a million years and not find another place half as nice as this in our price range.  Hhardwood floors, beautiful moldings, floor to ceiling windows, a river view, a backyard, a fireplace even.  And look at all this space.”

“I know,” I repeat, for what else is there to say?  Claire is right.  This place is perfect for us.

“Are you sure they wouldn’t be willing to bend their rule about …”

“I’m positive, Claire.”

“So we either give him up to move in here, or else we keep looking.”

“That about sums it up.”

“Would you willing to find another home for him, Adam?”

“I was about to ask you the same question.”

“It’s easier to ask than to answer, isn’t it?”

“Maybe we should flip a coin,” I suggest.

“Over something as important as this?”

“A coin is the fairest judge there is, Claire. No matter how big or small the issue is.”

“Okay, let’s do it.”

I pull a quarter from the change pocket of my jeans.  

“Heads we give him up and move in here, tails we find a place that will let us keep Max Two.”

I toss the quarter into the air.  My eyes widen along with Claire's as we watch it rotate – George Washington’s head on top, then the eagle spreading its majestic wings, back to gorgeous George’s profile, the stoic bird of freedom once more.  The quarter hits the floor, bounces up and does its final spin, then settles in place.  We crouch to learn what our decision will be.

The sequence of events leading up to this moment began nearly a year ago.  That was when my best friend Leon went away for the weekend on a business trip.  While out of town, he needed someone to feed and walk his dog, Max.   

By no means was I what you would call a dog person.  As a kid I’d once been chased by a particularly nasty Nazi Shepard for half a block before making a narrow escape from his salivating clutches.  Also, a deceptively timid looking Chihuahua once bit me on the toe, proving that his bite was much bigger than his bark.  I had not been especially fond of dogs or open toed sandals ever since.

I'd spent enough time around him to know Max was well behaved, but this did not make me relish the idea of picking up after him when he did his business on the sidewalk.  Leon loved to go on about how smart his dog was, but if Max was truly intelligent, why couldn’t he be toilet trained?  Him flipping down the lid and flushing his waste away would have impressed me considerably more than his ability to sit, fetch, roll over, play dead, and bark on command.

Yet I agreed to be Max’ caretaker.  My motivation was not exactly selfless.  Leon lived in a one bedroom apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan while I resided in a studio apartment in the middle of a nondescript neighborhood way out on the outer edges of Queens.  Although I would have preferred not to have a furry four-legged roommate, I was looking forward to spending a weekend in the city.  I was still two or three pay raises away from being able to afford rent on an apartment in a desirable part of Manhattan.  Every penny I could get my hands on was being saved for the glamorous future I envisioned for myself.  It dumbfounded me that Leon was actually moving out the following weekend.  He had bought a condo in Westchester that his longtime girlfriend would also be moving into.  Leon had reached a stage where being with Iris seven days a week, cozily nestled in a suburban neighborhood, was more appealing to him than having a bachelor pad in the heart of the greatest city on earth.  To each his own.  My own stage of life was far less advanced.  I didn’t even have a girlfriend, much less plans to cohabitate.

There was a park just two blocks from Leon’s apartment with a fenced in area where people let their dogs run free.  Saturday turned out to be beautiful, sunny and warm without being oppressively humid as August days in New York can be.  I was a little hung over from Friday night revelry with a group of friends I knew from college.  Just like back in our years as undergrads, the pitchers of beers and failed attempts to charm girls too sober for our own good had been plentiful.  Time outside to let the remnants of alcohol in my system evaporate in unobstructed sunlight would do me good.

When I arrived at the dog’s private section of park, there were maybe a dozen people there and roughly the same amount of canines.  But from the moment I took notice of those sea green eyes, her taut showcased abdomen, hip hugging shorts over the shapeliest bronze legs designed by a most benevolent Creator, I only had eyes for Claire.  As luck would have it, Max got all excited over the mutt attached to the leash in Claire’s hand.  Soon our leashes were entangled, giving me a tailor made opportunity to start up a conversation.  I learned her name, that her smile could light up one’s life, and that her laughter was the catchiest tune you ever did hear.  I really liked this girl.  The feeling was instant and irrevocable.  But she was short on time.  She had to go.  Precious minutes after making her acquaintance, Claire was gone.  I had not mustered the courage to ask for her phone number.  Everything had moved too quickly for decisive action on my part.  One minute I’m being tugged down the street by my friend’s dog, the next I behold a vision, hyper dogs knot us to each other, while untangling we speak inconsequential words at a volume not much louder than my pounding heart, and then I am watching her walk away, tragically aware that in all likelihood I will never see her again.

As the days passed I figured I would forget about Claire.  Instead she grew increasingly vivid in my mind’s eye.  I had to see her again.  If we could somehow run into each other and take up where we’d left off, I’d know soon enough if the spark I’d sensed between us had the strength to burst into flame. For sure, I was not the smoothest talking guy.  More often than not, the presence of a beautiful girl would act as Novocaine injected into my tongue.  Somewhere between expressing how I felt and trying to play it cool, my thoughts and words would trip over themselves.  The more I longed to impress, the worse of an impression I made. 

But talking to Claire had been different, easy as getting wet in the rain.  If we spoke a second time, I knew I’d say the right things.  I’d get her number, and I’d call her, and I would take her out, and from there the most wonderful of things would become possible and plausible.  In a city of millions of strangers in countless nooks and crannies, there was only one place I could think of to run into Claire again.

My plan was impetuously drawn up.  I would ask to borrow Max for a while the following weekend and show up with him at the dog park.  No, scratch that.  I remembered that Leon was moving to Westchester in a couple days.  By Saturday he and Max would no longer reside in the city.  I could show up without a dog in tow, but that would make me look a little desperate, make that a lot desperate, stalker-like even.  There was only one reasonable reason for me to show up in that dog park.  I needed to have a dog by my side.  And not just any dog.  I remembered that when Claire had commented on how cute Max was, I grinned and agreed without bothering to explain that he was not in fact mine.  She seemed attracted to the notion that I was a dog owner, so why dispel it?  When she commented that “they really do grow on you”, I moronically responded that “my Max is almost like a son to me, a son with really bad breath.”  This succeeded in making Claire laugh while further perpetuating my little white lie.  I had to have Max with me, or a close enough facsimile. 

The next day I strode into a pet store in my neighborhood, my fourth pet store visit of the day, and walked out after spending a ridiculous amount of money with a carbon copy of Max.  Two days after that …

“Hi, Claire.”

“Hi, Adam.  Hey, Max.”

Max Two strained at his leash, anxious to romp with the other pooches.         

“I was hoping I’d run into you again,” I said.

“Me too.”

Things were going extremely well so far.

“Sit up and beg, Max,” Claire requested.  Max and I had showed off a couple of his tricks to impress her the prior weekend.  Max Two didn’t have a single one in his repertoire, of course.  Not unless I counted peeing throughout my apartment and chewing my Air Jordans to shreds as tricks. 

“Max was performing all morning,” I said.  “He’s tricked out for the day.”  A lame excuse, but the best I could come up with on the fly.  Claire ran her fingers through his thick mane.  I could not have been more jealous of him.

“He’s so cute.  I love Chows.”

“Yeah, Chows are the best.  I’m thinking of getting a second one.”

“No actually, that’s a Chow,” said Claire while pointing at a dog sauntering past us.  “Max is a Keeshond.  I always mix those two breeds up.”  She then looked at me curiously, understandably so, no doubt wondering just how low my IQ was.  “Why did you agree with me when I mistook him for a Chow?” she asked.

“Uh.”  I realized that more than one incoherent syllable would be required here, but a multitude of alternatives were not rushing to occur to me.  “I didn’t realize you were talking about Max.  I thought you said ‘I love cows’.”  Clearly I was not the world’s quickest thinker on my feet.

“What?”

“I’m just being silly.  Thought maybe I could earn another one of your lovely smiles.” 

Against all odds my predicament was salvaged as Claire granted my wish.

I undid Max Two’s leash to let him join his fellow beasts before Claire figured out that he was an impostor, much like his new master.  Max Two had tested the limits of my patience during his brief time in my care.  I knew nothing at all about house training a dog, much less getting one to sit up and beg or roll over and play dead.  But Max Two was certainly expert at finding trouble to get into, and at putting me into a state of panic every twenty minutes or so.  And man could he shed.  On every dark item of clothing and piece of furniture I owned was evidence that I was now a pet owner.  Within hours of bringing him home I was convinced that I’d made a huge mistake.  This feeling persisted until I saw Claire again she said “me too” and the genius of my plan was confirmed.

“So where’s Daisy today?”  Daisy was Claire’s Pomeranian.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?  Daisy is my friend’s dog.  I was only watching her for the afternoon last weekend.”

So there I stood, new owner of faux Max, solely to impress a girl who for all I knew cared about man’s best friend as little as I did.

Then a logical question occurred to me.  If Claire did not own a dog and was not even watching one today, what was she doing here in the dog park?  This is just what I asked her, to which she replied – “Like I said, I was hoping to run into you again.”

We’ve been together ever since.

One year later Claire and I stand in an amazing rent controlled apartment, staring down at the head of a quarter.  In case you don’t recall, heads means we’re going to take the apartment.  It’s been a month since we decided to move in together.  A big step, but one we’re both ecstatic to be making.  She still lives with her parents and my place is much too small for two people.  So this is where we’ve decided to hang our hats, a great steal thanks to an inside tip from my friend the realtor, who currently lives in Westchester with his girlfriend and their dog, Max.  I'm not getting out of Queens, but with Claire agreeing to move into it with me this is a non-issue. 

As for Max Two, he’s out of luck.  No pets allowed in this palace.  Claire and I turn towards one another and it’s immediately clear what we must do.  Max Two has grown on both of us over this past year, not to mention that he is largely responsible for getting us together in the first place. 

I revealed to Claire long ago that Max Two was a look-alike of the real deal.  Since then I’ve managed to mostly house train him, failed in all attempts to teach him any tricks, and have been through multiple pairs of sneakers, Max Two’s favorite chew toy.  I’ve also embarked on the greatest love affair of my life.

“Two out of three?” I ask.

Claire replies – “Two out of three.”




Free on Amazon from February 1st to 5th of 2017: Kindle edition of MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE





Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book trailer for MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE


Drum roll please....................................





Kindle edition of MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE will be FREE at Amazon from February 1st to February 5th. Seemed as fine a way for me to kick off Black History Month as any.



Thursday, January 5, 2017

My 2¢ on BOOK DIVERSITY



See below for musings that were kick started by tweets that caught my attention on Twitter.




























Below are book reviews I wrote in 2016. I'm a bit embarrassed by the low number (especially after having seen goodreads annual report totals for some other people) but I'm an admittedly slow reader plus much of my book time last year was spent WRITING the final drafts of my own rather than reading others. Hopefully I'll do plenty of reading AND writing in 2017. A children's book series awaits (more on that later), the plot of novel #3 surely waits around the corner for me to outline and get to work on a first draft, and I've resolved to spend less time in 2017 staring at screens (either TV or computer or tablet or phone) and more of it with eyes glued to a page.  As for the list of books I managed to get to and through in 2016, I suppose it could have been more diverse. It could have been less diverse too. It is what it is. I don't read according to any rules but simply read the most intriguing book I get my hands on and then move on to the next one...and then the next after that...and so on...and so forth.



NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book delivered and proved the old adage that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Stephen King's son has proven capable of giving his old man a run for his money. Taking the merriest of holidays and turning ho ho ho's into a tale of horror was a stroke of genius. Hear Jingle Bells in late November or December and it brings smiles to the faces of those who celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Heard in June and it's straight up creepy because it so obviously does not belong. I wouldn't be surprised if it was this particular event that planted the seed which became NOS4A2. Regardless, Joe Hill's novel is a well executed tale inhabited by characters who are easy to relate to. It features a protagonist who is able to conjure up a bridge with her mind that can take her wherever she wishes to go. We all wish at some point that we had a super power, whether it be invisibility or x ray vision or superhuman strength or the ability to take flight. In NOS4A2 we meet a woman who can find whatever is missing, wherever it may be. But taking too many trips in search of lost things comes at the risk of losing her mind. Or having everyone believe that is what's happening to her. This spooky, inventive story has me anxious to read more of Joe Hill's work, and to take down my Christmas decorations ASAP. Anybody can make Halloween scary but Mr. Hill appears capable of freaking out readers 365 days a year.

View all my reviews American Gods (American Gods, #1)American Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intriguing premise. The various gods who have been worshiped by mankind over the centuries are real. When belief of them is at its height, when they are being prayed to and sacrifices are regularly made in their honor, their powers are at peak. As the years pass into modern times and memories of the old gods fade, they become shadows of their former selves. New gods are continually created because there are always new things that men believe in and live for and sometimes kill for. But plenty of the old gods, usually masked as common people walking among us, are still around. If enough of them band together, perhaps the ancient gods can vanquish the newer ones in a war. A man named Shadow, who toes the line between the world of man and gods, is enlisted in the cause. There are many books I've greatly enjoyed that I no longer recall many details about. Something tells me that American Gods is one of those books that for reasons I scarcely understand will stick with me.

View all my reviews RubyRuby by Cynthia Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a devastating book, a relentless series of gut punches that batter the soul. The title character is put through a hell that the most evil of people would not wish upon their greatest enemy. What somehow fails to kill Ruby does manage to annihilate her spirit and make her incapable of respecting, much less loving herself. If you can't self love then another person has little chance of earning it. But despite the many horrors witnessed and cruelties visited upon Ruby, she has just enough strength to care for her spiritual children while living a shell of a life perched on the edge of madness. And this keeps her going. Her body is used and abused at the whim of men who take advantage because there is no resistance. But one man is different - a man whose love for Ruby gets him to stand up for her and himself rather than mutely accepting what is handed to him. Ephram shows Ruby that in spite of all that has been done to her and by her, she can still be viewed with tenderness, adoration even. But the world is harsh, atrocities abundant, the devil ever present, people judgmental when not being indifferent. So love is not a big enough miracle to save Ruby. Sometimes the only person who can save you is the one found in the mirror. This is not a gentle read, but it is a fantastic one.

View all my reviews Go Set a Watchman (To Kill A Mockingbird #2)Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"I looked up to you, Atticus, like I never looked up to anybody in my life and never will again. If you had only given me some hint, if you had only broken your word with me a couple of times, if you had been bad-tempered or impatient with me---if you had been a lesser man, maybe I could have taken what I saw you doing. If once or twice you'd let me catch you doing something vile, then I would have understood yesterday. Then I'd have said that's just His Way, that's My Old Man, because I'd have been prepared for it somewhere along the line."

The words above are spoken to Atticus by his daughter Scout towards the end of Go Set a Watchman. They basically sum up the entire book. As you may already know, or in case you didn't until landing upon this review, Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird quite a few years later. Jean Louise (aka Scout) is now a grown woman contemplating marriage to Henry, whom she has known since childhood. Henry has remained in their hometown of Maycomb, Alabama and followed the footsteps of Atticus into the law profession. If Scout wishes to marry a father figure, she's all set. Yet apparently she wants more out of life than Maycomb has to offer, because she now lives in New York City, which is about as different from the small southern town she grew up in as a planet in another galaxy. Maycomb holds many ties on her though. The narrative of Go Set a Watchman takes place during a visit to the place where her identity was formed in the earliest of her 26 years.

Much has changed in America from the years Mockingbird are set in to the 1950's. A considerable amount of the change has to do with race relations. People who were once blatant bigots continue to be so. Some things never change. But those who were closet bigots with enough good manners not to let it show in polite society now feel free to express hostility openly. Turns out they were only able to give the appearance of open minded respect for their fellow man when scales of opportunity were tilted heavily in their favor. As the scales became more balanced, the truth beneath southern hospitality was revealed. Count Henry and even our hero Atticus among those in Maycomb more willing to hear out the KKK than the NAACP. Changing times to them means time to put up a more aggressive fight against progress.

Amazingly Scout has been clueless about her father's true social/political views until he is about 70 years old. Once she is finally in the know, of course she feels betrayed. Her father was a lie. Her childhood was a lie. Her life has been a giant deception and she must get through the devastation and figure out how to come to terms with this.

I did not like Go Set a Watchman much. Not enough happening in the plot (no cool subplot like the one Boo Radley presented in Mockingbird). Too many long speeches that did not ring true to how people speak off the page of a novel. A domestic violence scene (I realize this was a far different time than 2016 but still) that was jarring and felt unnecessary and plain weird to me. Last but not least, I just didn't buy that it would take an intelligent woman so long to obtain an inkling of how the people closest to her feel about topics of such importance to her. It's not as if anybody was trying to hide anything from her. But somehow she only saw nobility in her father without catching a whiff of the stench of the rotten core that lay beneath his principles. Those of us who read To Kill a Mockingbird and/or saw the movie adaptation were also duped. This isn't the Atticus we thought we knew. How had that guy actually been this guy all along? Did we not read the book closely enough, all subtext going over our head? Or was Atticus given a complete personality transplant, which means not only did Atticus betray Scout, but Harper Lee betrayed us?

I could choose to contemplate Watchman in a vacuum, pretending I have no awareness of Mockingbird, that I'm meeting these characters and examining their motives for the very first time. If I do, I don't think it changes my opinions much. I still see the same flaws regarding lack of an attention holding plot, too many wandering speeches, etc. Sense of betrayal would be lessened, but I would still find it odd that it took Scout so long to finally wander into a room and learn what type of people she has been surrounded by her entire life.

Maybe that last part is unfair of me. After all, I know a thing or two about racist views remaining undetectable for a long period of time until the right situation brings them out from hiding. I've known parents who showed no overt sign of bigotry until their child became romantically involved with someone of another race. Prior to then, from their words and deeds and even choice of friends, few if any clues of intolerance were given.

There are things we don't know about those who are closest to us. There are things we don't yet know about ourselves because the circumstances to unearth them still lay in the future. There are cowards who believe they are brave, timid people who don't realize their potential to be adventurers, and friends who do not yet know that they consider you to be their enemy.

Unintentional deception is an intriguing premise for a novel. I don't feel that Go Set a Watchman examined it particularly well, but merely brushed up against the surface. I suppose that's why Lee's editor advised her to put Watchman aside and craft a new book based on an incident referenced in what turned out to be a first draft several decades before emerging as a sequel. That sound piece of advice (or so the legend goes) led to the creation of the vastly superior To Kill a Mockingbird.

Then again, perhaps the beloved Atticus Finch of the time tested Mockingbird is simply too good to be true. Maybe Atticus of Watchman is the more realistic depiction of a flesh and blood man, because the fact that he is a hypocrite is made plain. The shattering of illusions we depended on always goes down hard.

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View all my reviews The Given Day (Coughlin #1)The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What an incredibly eventful time period to read about. Somehow in one city in one year there is The Great Molasses Flood, the early growth stage of the NAACP in a racist climate, a Spanish Influenza pandemic, unions gaining a foothold to combat unfair labor practices and absurdly low wages, the Boston Police Strike of 1919 and resulting riots, the start of Prohibition, a relentless hunt for violent radicals who sow seeds of fear, and Babe Ruth being traded from the Red Sox to the NY Yankees where a dynasty will result. This action packed period of time in history was fascinating to learn about, with a multi-plotted page turner Dennis Lehane story line thrown into the middle of it as bonus. The more things change the more they stay the same was the thought that repeatedly came to mind as I read The Given Day. In 2016 we call the violent radicals Islamic terrorists; the medical crisis du jour is the Zika virus; protests follow questionable shootings with riots sometimes resulting when activists from the newbie #BlackLivesMatter movement face off against police officers with #BlueLivesMatter mindsets; and Kevin Durant has left Oklahoma City to form a super team in the Golden State. What's the modern day equivalent to the molasses flood? Donald Trump's presidential candidacy perhaps. Both certainly created enormous messes to deal with.

View all my reviews The LoneyThe Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes it's necessary to carefully arrange a system of beliefs to explain the unexplainable. People love a good mystery provided it gets solved in the end. Unresolved we are left with questions that can haunt us. Religion serves the purpose of providing answers without needing to bear the burden of proof. By accepting the influence and omnipotence of a higher power, rather than wrestling with questions, people accept explanations that cannot be disproved. But even the most strongly constructed belief system can be vulnerable to harsh doses of reality and cruel twists of fate. The Loney is a place where people come to seek miracles, a private Lourdes. Maybe the miracles are gifts from God. Maybe they come from elsewhere. If you find what you seek, does the source matter? If you learn the truth, was the miracle worth the lesson? I recommend giving Andrew Michael Hurley's atmospheric debut novel a read. I've done my best to review it spoiler free. Like high tide on a desolate beach, this novel will pull you in and hold on fast.

View all my reviews YoungbloodYoungblood by Matt Gallagher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fine book of place, if not plot which this novel is rather light on. Matt Gallagher effortlessly (which of course likely means he took great effort) pulls us into an Army unit in Iraq and gives us a taste of what modern warfare is like for members of an occupying force. It isn't a tale of heroism so much as of following orders and doing what it takes to make it from one day to the next, hopefully without abandoning too much of one's conscience along the way. There is a bit of detective story thrown into the narrative, a bit of star crossed love story too. There are threats to the narrator Jack Porter from within his own unit that are as ominous as bombs and bullets coming from the official enemy. There is sand and heat and scorpions and falafels and brokered deals and needless death and unhelpful remorse and the biding of time. I feel somewhat knowledgeable about the day-to-day existence of a 21st century soldier stationed in an ancient land after having read this book. But I'm wise enough to know that reading what it's like is one thing, living it as Mr. Gallagher did and admirably documented, quite another.

View all my reviews Z: A Novel of Zelda FitzgeraldZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fine piece of literary historical fiction. I've always been fascinated by the Jazz Age and the artists who gave it its reputation. Especially the American writers who took a break from our shores to live in Paris and join the future icons from Europe in wine, cheese and debauchery. Therese Anne Fowler did an exemplary job of bringing familiar names and reputations from literature anthologies to life, skillfully transporting us to romanticized days. Reading this novel I felt like Owen Wilson's character in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, suddenly thrust into a world where each day was filled to the brim with an excess of genius, celebration, and elegant style. In the middle of this story we find Zelda Fitzgerald, a woman who on the one hand was perfectly emblematic of this time, yet on the other could not fit in the way she truly yearned to because she was a woman/wife/mother in a man's world. Zelda was a person of bursting talent and ambition that could not be fully exploited and showcased because of her role as Mrs. Fitzgerald. Fowler explores the great passion that brought and somehow held the Fitzgeralds together over the course of their tempestuous marriage. The reader knows before turning to the first page that greatness is in store for them, most especially for F. Scott, but Zelda is more of a mystery to us. As the pages are turned and the narrative unfolds, we learn that there is more to Zelda than her reputation. We watch her try to be a good wife as the time period defined this term to the man she loved, while also trying to be a woman ahead of her time who hoped to carve out her own place in the history books. We watch her desires nearly destroy her as her husband's vices wreak havoc on their roller coaster marriage and his health. Various famous names flit in and out of their lives. Ernest Hemingway plays a major role in expanding F. Scott Fitzgerald's insecurities and loosening the bonds of his devotion to Zelda. There is plenty of glamour and globetrotting and name dropping and a Great War and eventually another one. In the center of it all is a fun loving southern belle who decides to take a chance on a cocky northern soldier that her daddy does not approve of. She chooses to defy conventions and expectations, and tries to discover herself along the way rather than meekly accepting who society says she is supposed to be. F. Scott Fitzgerald casts a great shadow. Seeking light nearly destroyed Zelda, but she was a formidable woman who could withstand everything but the literal flames that consumed her on her final day. With able assistance from Therese Anne Fowler, Zelda has risen from the ashes and assumed her place as an icon from a magical time.

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