Monday, September 3, 2018

THE CASE FOR BOOK REVIEWS


If payment for novels was based on the amount of hours they take to write, or the amount of effort authors puts into them, or the amount of skill required to immerse strangers into an imagined world, a single book would cost thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands even. Great books would make it into the hundreds of thousands and masterpieces considered among the best of all time would have price tags in the millions. But since price is mostly based on the amount of paper and ink required to print a book (I'll stay away from the topic of e-book pricing) with a little extra thrown in to turn a small profit, readers of every novel ever purchased get an incredible bargain. Therefore the very least readers can do to pay authors their due is take a minute to give the book they just enjoyed a star rating and jot down a few words letting others know why they recommend it. It's not as if people aren't in the habit of giving opinions these days. Yelp reviews for a restaurant they went to or a hotel they stayed at are commonplace undertakings. People routinely hop on facebook or Twitter to praise or vent about one thing or another, not because anyone asked, but because the internet has provided us with an infinite Comments box to express how we feel about everything under the sun. So please don't be shy when it comes to telling the world how you felt about the latest book you read. Word of mouth is lifeblood for authors. If enough good things are said about their last book, they just may muster up what it takes to write another. Regardless of where you choose to do it (my favorite places for exhibiting book reviews in addition to this blog are Amazon and goodreads and most recently - my Instagram page), most especially when you loved a book, broadcast it to everyone who happens to stumble upon your words of praise. It won't cost you a penny, but trust me, what you have to say is invaluable.





















There is A LOT going on in this novel that I admittedly found to be a challenging read. Much of it takes place in Jamaica where perhaps you have visited on vacation, but this is certainly no "beach read". It is told from the vantage point of multiple characters, each of them telling their own story, each of the stories related to the build up to a failed attempt on the life of Bob Marley and the aftermath. It took quite a while for me to get through this book, and I confess to considering stopping once or twice. The use of Jamaican dialect for many of the characters was a small part of the challenge. A bigger part were the chapters (fortunately not too many of them) written in stream of consciousness never ending sentence format. Yet even as I struggled to keep my reading momentum going, there was something gripping about the narrative that had me hooked. The book eventually leaves Jamaica behind and moves to New York during the enchanting crack epidemic years. I found the latter portion easier reading, perhaps because I grew up in the Bronx and have familiarity with the setting. Before coming to the Bronx I lived on a Caribbean island, not Jamaica but St. Thomas. And of course I'm a huge Bob Marley fan because I can't understand how anyone could not be. So there are quite a few elements to this story that had me looking forward to reading it, and even though it was a tougher than anticipated read, I'm glad I stuck with it because Marlon James' talent is undeniable. Every one of the characters rings true during their moments as the focus of the story. The style in which it is written, feeling like a long series of somewhat connected scenes, almost like a short story collection rather than a novel, was an author choice that I know impressed some people (since it won a Booker Award) but probably put off a fair number of readers as well. This is not a book that you casually invest some time in. It's a major literary commitment with a generous pay off. Reading much of it while listening to Bob Marley's music is not a requirement, just my personal recommendation. #bookreview #bookstagram #blackauthors #bibliophile
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I love John Irving. I kept waiting for this novel to get better and less odd as it went along. Not that odd is bad, and Mr. Irving is the master of making readers fall in love with peculiar characters, even kids who seem overly obsessed with statues of legendary religious virgins such as Mary rather than normal kid interests. But as I read this novel (which has a wonderful title) I got the feeling that he simply felt like writing about writing, and aging, and dying, and religion/Catholicism, and homophobia, and sex. All things he has written profoundly about before, but in more intriguing and plot driven ways. He delves into miracles and ghosts/angels to a greater extent in Avenue of Mysteries than most of his earlier novels, though miracles are also nothing new to the prose of John Irving. The fact of the matter is, there are many familiar elements recognizable to readers of his earlier work in this book, and the author's easy to read and digest style is as John Irvingesque as ever, more or less. But at his best John Irving writes novels that I fall madly in love with, and that simply wasn't the case with this one. Something was missing, or perhaps too much of something usually restrained was present. He is still and always will be one of my literary heroes and favorite authors, but if you've never read a John Irving novel, I do not advise starting with this one. #bookreview #bookstagram #bibliophile
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Water for Elephants is the story of a man in his nineties living in a nursing home who thinks back on his days spent working as a veterinarian in a traveling circus. The setting jumps back and forth from Jacob being a young man on a train with a bunch of circus folk to being an old man dealing with the erosion of his body and mind. Most of the book is dedicated to his circus days and how he ends up with the woman who would become his wife. These sections are where most of the action takes place. In the present it doesn't get more dramatic than Jacob being cranky about nursing home life, him becoming disoriented sometimes, and family members forgetting to visit him on the one day when a circus happens to be nearby. Yet I found the writing to be more engaging in quiet scenes set in the present where nothing much took place than the portions dealing with circus life. Plenty of elements are in place for intriguing storytelling. We have a circus owner with a complex over not being the Ringling Brothers Circus who is willing to cut losses of human lives if that's what it takes to keep the show going on. There is the paranoid schizophrenic boss who switches from charming to psychotic on a dime. His beautiful headline act wife whom Jacob can not stop thinking about. Also aboard the train are performers, some more freakish than others, and animals, some more dangerous than others, that are in Jacob's care. The scenes taking place during Jacob's youth felt rushed to me. It was as if the author wanted to include as many eventful happenings during this period as could be crammed in, but she dwells on none of them for long because it's already time to move on to the next one. Everybody seemed to be a character sketch of a personality type rather than a fully fleshed out human being. The lone exception is Jacob, but only because the book focuses on him in his senior years along with his adventurous youthful days, giving us a little more time to learn what makes him tick. Water for Elephants is an easy read that covers some interesting territory, but it fell short of being the greatest show on earth. I wouldn't be surprised if I enjoy the movie more. #bookreview #bookstagram
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Extraordinary. This book won a Pulitzer Prize for good reason. The plot is deceptively simple, though the narrative is laid out in intricate and inventive fashion. A young German orphan boy is handy at mechanical fidgeting, including the self taught ability to fix just about any radio and pick up whatever transmissions are able to reach him. One such transmission that gets to Werner and his sister Jutta comes from France, sent by the great uncle of a blind girl that it is his destiny to one day meet. A great deal takes place between Werner hearing the broadcasts of Marie-Laure's great uncle and finally crossing paths with her. That great deal is World War II. Due to his talent, Werner lands in an academy that trains German boys to become German soldiers. Since the alternative is working in the mines, and since the school is a much more likely place for his abilities to be expanded and lead him to a better life than would unthinking manual labor, the school seems to be a superior path for Werner, allowing him to escape the standard trajectory for someone raised in an orphanage. Even though it means leaving his sister behind. But when your country is waging a war against the world that it is destined to lose, there is no straightforward path to success and happiness, only orders to put on a uniform, pick up a weapon, and fight for Hitler's warped vision. As for Marie-Laure, who is taught to handle herself in perpetual darkness as well as can be done by her doting father, she ends up in the home of her great uncle and his top secret radio transmitter in a small French town on the sea. Eventually she is separated from her father when he is taken prisoner, but left behind with her is an invaluable gift, a rare gem removed from the museum he worked in to keep it safe from treasure seeking Nazis. There is one in particular who is determined to find it, though not so much for its monetary worth as for its rumored magical properties. It is a gift that Marie-Laure is unaware is in her possession until finally figuring out clues sent by her father that lead to its discovery. The book's point of view jumps back and forth... (Read full #bookreview at GoodReads) #bookstagram
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Brilliant satire or biting social commentary delivered with excessively over the top weirdness? After reading this book I learned that the author started out as a spoken word poet who launched his career by killing it at Nuyorican Poets Cafe. No surprise given the style of Beatty's prose. Nearly every sentence is a rambling, poetic, rapid fire joke with multiple punch lines delivered. The Sellout is definitely a novel that seems written to be listened to as much if not more than it was written to be read silently to yourself. The plot involves a black man who was home schooled by his social scientist father, with every lesson being about racial identity. After his father is murdered by cops, the son inherits the family farm along with acquiring settlement money. He resides in a California town that has literally been erased from the map. So in addition to providing his neighbors with incredible fruit, stellar weed, and crisis counseling in times of mental emergencies, the narrator is also on a mission to earn back recognition that his hometown is still there. A man named Hominy (who happens to be the last living cast member of the Little Rascals) insists on being the narrator's slave. Yes you read that right, and no I don't have an explanation for motive beyond this book is satirical with every line meant to be taken with a grain, or perhaps a boulder, of salt. The narrator attempts to bring racial segregation back to his town, starting with a city bus. Bizarre stuff indeed. Beatty hits readers with every cultural reference under the sun along the way as he examines obsession with race. I enjoyed this book, yet reached a point where I was mainly reading to accomplish the feat of finishing what had been started. I suppose I prefer my satire in shorter doses. I suppose that as much as I love expertly delivered, thought provoking spoken word poetry, I look forward to a different form of artistic experience when reading a novel. Regardless of whether or not I read another Paul Beatty book, I'd love to listen to him read his work or just talk about whatever comes to mind. #bookreview #bookstagram #booknerd #bookworm #bibliophile #reader #IGbooks
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Exceptional novel. Brit Bennett writes with a steady hand as she immerses us into the minds and lives of three people. Nadia and Aubrey are the best of friends. Luke is the man they both love, at different times as well as simultaneously. He is the man who would have made a mother out of Nadia had they chosen to parent, and the one who eventually makes a wife and mother of Aubrey. He is the first love of both of them, but choices of course need to be made and not everybody can get a happily ever after out of such a situation. Or maybe not anyone. Luke's mother is the first lady of the church that plays a prominent role in the lives of all characters in this book. To varying degrees, her son and the women who love him succeed and fail at obtaining her approval. Nadia and Aubrey are both abandoned and motherless. Aubrey's mother chooses an awful man over being in the lives of her daughters. Yet Aubrey proves to be the character who is the best at maintaining loyalty, possessing an innocence that remains untouched no matter how ill she is treated. Nadia's mother chooses the release of death, and in so doing fills her daughter with undeserved guilt and a restless soul, forever on the look-out for whatever clues and remembrances may have been left behind. Both girls are haunted to womanhood by maternal abandonment. Nadia at least still has a father willing to be there for her, but the hurt caused by her mother's unexplained suicide pushes her away from those who love her. And so she is not a particularly dutiful daughter. And after both her child and relationship with Luke are aborted, relationships with the men who follow are destined to fail. But it is Nadia's betrayal of Aubrey that is at the heart of this novel. The mothers in Bennett's novel do the best they can, are hurt and betrayed by callous men and by each other, and some of them manage to persevere while others do not. I was very much absorbed by this book, in part because it examines central themes that I dive into in my novel Matters of Convenience, in much larger part because it is a wonderfully written book by an author who is off to an
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Interesting book that made for a quick read. It is filled with Mat Johson's trademark humor regardless of the seriousness of topic at hand. The plot revolves around a recently fired African American Literature professor. Why was he fired? Because his primary focus was on examining a novel by Edgar Allan Poe, the only full length novel written by the brilliant but definitely not African American author. The name of the book is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I had never heard of Poe's lone novel before reading Johnson's Pym. The narrator studies and teaches this book to his detriment because he believes it holds the key to understanding White-Black race relations. After being fired, the professor and his also unemployed best friend (who has his own obsession with a painter of landscapes, specifically, with finding the precise physical vantage point that each of his paintings are based on) end up on a quest that takes them along with the narrator's cousin and ex-girlfriend and her current husband among others to Antarctica. It is on this frozen terrain that they discover a lost race of creatures representing Whiteness. This means its opposite, a tropical island representing Blackness that Poe also wrote about in his novel, is possibly out there as well. When the world as we know it seemingly comes to an end, the narrator and his motley crew perhaps being the lone survivors of Armageddon only to have become slaves of the primitive creatures in Antarctica, the search is on for whatever paradises (whether man-made or otherwise) may still exist. That's about as well as I can describe Pym's quirky plot. Best to read this enjoyable book for yourself.
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Audrey has everything going for her. She has a great job, good friends and impeccable taste. She’s been unlucky in love, but that’s okay because she’s focused on her career and a possible promotion. Her best friend, Marshall, provides the male shoulder she needs to lean on occasionally, so she has male company, it’s just platonic. It’s undeniable that Marshall is in love with Audrey. They tried dating years ago, but where he felt flames, she barely felt a flicker. Marshall has comfortably settled into the friend zone while he watches Audrey date other men, believing that one day she’ll realize that he’s the only constant in her life and should be the man in her life. James has played the fields for years. As his friends move into steady relationships, marriage and kids, he’s content to date several women. A BMW (black man working) in New York certainly has his pick of women and he takes full advantage of it. When James meets Audrey, he’s immediately taken with her and theirs is almost a story book romance, but almost doesn’t count. Pickering could have taken the easy route and given readers their happily ever after and wrapped the story up with a nice bow, but nope. He explores what happens if there’s no happily ever after and it’s a bumpy but enjoyable ride. Pickering’s characters are interesting and he uses them well. I found myself rooting for James and Audrey, of course, but I also wanted Marshall, Sarah and others to find their happy endings. A true sign of a good book and characters is that they stay with you after you’ve finished the book and these characters did. #bookreview excerpt for #MattersOfConvenience by Read in Colour. #bookstagram
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Pickering’s talent is astonishing and ignores every precedent. – Alvah’s Books Pickering’s love for his characters makes us empathize with all of their plights. – Five Borough Books Pickering’s writing style will cause readers to empathize with the characters’ actions, no matter how wrong. – RAWSISTAZ Reviewers The plot kept smashing my soul into pieces. – Books and Wine Pickering’s writing is beautiful and poignant, causing the reader to become one with the characters, feeling their pain, their anger, and their hurt. – A Book Vacation "Patches of Grey” is a deeply complex tale with authentic characters whose personalities are strong and well developed. Mr. Pickering writes with a voice strong enough to one day propel him into the category with the likes of other great Novelists such as: Richard Wright [Native Son, Black Boy], Ralph Ellison [Invisible Man], and John A. Williams [The Man Who Cried I AM]. - Dianne Rosena Jones Roy L. Pickering, Jr. deftly weaves a coming of age tale. – Reads for Pleasure Patches of Grey is a story that will appeal to all audiences and make for great discussion between parents and their young adults, students and book clubs. – Precision Reviews Pickering’s talent is fluid and crisp. There’s a certain clarity to the prose that’s considered and well judged – just enough to paint the picture and more than enough to drive along the narrative. – Unheard Words ...a must read! This recently honored B.R.A.G.Medallion book is one you will be glad you picked! - IndieBrag #bookreview #bookstagram #PatchesOfGrey #RoyPickering #authorsofinstagram ##BookAndBarbecue
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Oh by the way, while I haven't technically started writing it yet I have finally mapped out the plot of novel #3 in my head. I'll need to sit with it a while longer before putting pen to paper, but fast forward to post publication and I'm pretty sure it will win a Pulitzer, Nobel Prize for Literature, be named The Great American Novel, and earn me both knighthood and sainthood. Don't ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they're crazy enough.

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