September 19, 2011 · 11:08 am
The Stuff That Never Happened: A Novel by Maddie Dawson (Broadway; $14.00; 336 pages)
The Stuff That Never Happened, written by Maddie Dawson, is a fascinating story that presents a realistic view of the challenges and trials of love, passion, and loyalty within a long-term, modern-day marriage.
The truth is much more complicated. The truth is that I’m actually in love with another man.
Annabelle shares the story of her lovely life raising her children in New Hampshire amongst her loyal, dedicated husband Grant, while building lifelong memories with family and friends. Yet now that the children are grown and gone and Grant is distracted and distant as he dedicates all of his time to writing a novel, she consumes her times dreaming of a man from her past. Then, by chance, she comes across her former lover and has to make the decision of whether to stay with the man she married, or take a chance with the one she desires.
Maybe we’re all dreaming of a person from the tantalizing past who sits there, uninvited, watching from the edge of our consciousness, somebody you find packing up and moving out of your head just as you’re waking in the morning, and whose essence clings to you all day as though you have spent the night with him, wandering off together somewhere among the stars…
Joseph’s Reviews recently interviewed the author and after reading her responses, I found her to be down to earth, warm and fun. Her story is told in a similar light-hearted tone with elements of humor and wit intertwined with enjoyable eclectic characters and flowing dialogue. I felt the same connectedness reading about Maddie Dawson as I did with her main character, Annabelle.
The deep characterization of this novel highlights the themes of passion, love, dedication and forgiveness that bring the characters to life and challenge the reader to wonder if the grass is truly greener on the other side and whether the consequences are worth the grazing.
I look forward to reading future novels from Maddie Dawson.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as 7 questions, a novel, book review, Broadway Books, chick lit, choices, consequences, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, fascinating story, fiction, forgiveness, Goin' Back, humor, Joseph's Reviews, Kelly Monson, Kindle Edition, life's lessons, love story, Maddie Dawson, Nook Book, nostalgia, passion, popular fiction, recommended books, The Author's Perspective, The Stuff That Never Happened, the truth, truth, Upside Down, women's literature
April 10, 2011 · 9:47 pm
I used to work with a program that trained local prosecutors (deputy district attorneys) and public defenders. One aspect often covered at these trainings was the importance of opening and closing arguments in a criminal trial, and the point was usually made that these arguments needed to be “tight” rather than rambling and lengthy. I often see a parallel with book reviews…
To me, book reviews are both opening and closing arguments. They are an opening argument when it comes to introducing a reader to a book that he/she is considering purchasing. The review says, “Here is what this book is about, and why it may be of interest to you.” But it should also warn, “I don’t know about your own tastes, so I’m going to provide you with my perspective on this novel/nonfiction book.”
The same review is a closing argument when it attempts to convince the prospective reader that this is either something worth reading or passing by. “I think this novel is great because…” or “I really tried to read this survey book about _____ but I just couldn’t grab on to it…” The key, though, is that the closing argument is not about TRUTH in capital letters – a review is an opinion piece, and the opinion is only as good as the structure of the argument it holds.
What I love about reading book reviews is not the bottom line – did this reader/reviewer love or hate the book – but the validity of the argument that takes us to the buy/don’t buy recommendation. Is it logical, is it well structured, is it internally consistent (not a review that praises the author’s writing style at one point while attacking it somewhere else), is it honest? If I write a review indicating that I love a book, I’m just as interested in other reviews that praise or condemn the book. Why? Because I’m not looking to win an argument, I’m looking to see how each and every reviewer made their arguments.
Is there a difference between positive and negative reviews? Yes, I think so. It’s much easier to convince the average reader that you, the reviewer, love a book because (as has been said so many times before) everyone loves good news. If I pick up an interesting-looking new novel at Borders and then use my BlackBerry to find reviews, I’m quite pleased to see 4-and 5-star reviews and flat-out recommendations. I’m much less pleased to do a digital search only to read that this book is a disaster. But, wait, maybe it isn’t – maybe I need to see how good a case is made by those who are criticizing it.
Decades ago, I used to read music reviews in every major publication of the time. There were a number of reviewers that I really admired, including one in particular who never liked the same things I did. But that reviewer always made a great case for his position, an enlightened and entertaining case. He wrote a brilliant negative review of one classic album in a single sentence!
So, yes, it’s not the length of the argument that counts. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the amount of fight in the dog. And the next time you read a book review, you may want to ask yourself, “Did this reviewer deliver both an opening and closing argument this time around?” Don’t forget that you are the juror in the court of public opinion, and it’s your vote that counts each and every time.
Pictured: The Good Daughters: A Novel by Joyce Maynard.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as a novel, argument, Blackberry, BlackBerry smartphone, book reviewers, book reviews, Borders Books, closing argument, court of law, criminal trials, Don Henley, Joseph Arellano, Joseph's Reviews, Joyce Maynard, jurors, Labor Day, Literary Criticism, music reviews, negative book reviews, nonfiction books, novels, opening arguments, opinion piece, opinions, positive book reviews, prosecutors, public defenders, public opinion, survey books, The End of the Innocence, The Good Daughters, The Heart of the Matter, The Whole Truth and Nothing But..., truth
March 21, 2011 · 8:36 pm
A look at a contemporary classic, The Help: A Novel by Kathryn Stockett, soon to be released in trade paperback form.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as 1960's, African-American women, American history, audio book, Berkley Trade, book review, civil rights, Civil Rights Movement, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, hardbound book, historical fiction, human dignity, Jackson, Joseph's Reviews, Jr., Kelly Monson, Kindle Edition, Martin Luther King, Mississippi, modern classics, New York Times Bestseller, Penguin Group, popular fiction, re-release, segregation, The Help, the right thing, trade paperback, truth, USA Today's Book of the Year
February 8, 2011 · 9:07 am
Mothers & Other Liars: A Novel by Amy Bourret (St. Martin’s Griffin; $13.99; 320 pages)
The street is empty, but she can feel it out there, the past, the truth, hurtling toward them, a boulder crashing down her mountainside, snapping trees, devastating everything in its path.
Ruby Leander is an orphan and a runaway nineteen-year-old traveling to find her life’s purpose when her journey takes a drastic turn… she comes upon a baby thrown away at a rest stop. Remembering the feeling of loss and abandonment in her own childhood, Ruby raises this baby girl as her own. Ruby creates a life for her daughter with a family of close friends and for nine years raises her daughter Lark in the only home she has ever known.
During this time, Ruby falls in love and now pregnant, is prepared to create a family with her boyfriend and police officer, Chaz, who knows nothing about Lark’s story or the true details of her own past. Then, by chance, Ruby learns the truth behind the story of Lark’s abandonment and is faced with the biggest decision of her life. She is challenged to determine what the right path is and which sacrifices are worth making to preserve the life of the child she has raised.
With that memory searing in her scalp and baby fingers gripping her hand, only one thought was possible: save this child, protect her.
Although the story line becomes somewhat predictable, Bourret interwines circumstances of love and loss among her characters that makes the outcome a joy to read. You may find yourself reevaluating your own code of ethics and redefining the true definition of family as you consider what you would be willing to sacrifice for the benefit of your own children.
Written in detailed poetic prose, Bourret describes the bond that exists between mother and child and the internal struggles one faces when trying to protect her child and provide her with the best possible life. This novel is a beautiful read and is Well Recommended.
This review was written by Kelly Monson. A review copy was provided by the publisher. “An unpredictable, gripping story of love and sacrifice.” Jacqueline Sheehan, New York Times bestselling author of Lost and Found and Now & Then.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as a novel, abandonment, Amy Bourret, beautiful story, Bernie Taupin, book review, childhood, Elton John, family, family novel, female protagonist, fiction, internal struggles, Jacqueline Sheehan, Joseph's Reviews, Kelly Monson, life lessons, life's purpose, loss, Lost & Found, Love, moral dilemma, Mothers & Other Liars, novels, Now & Then, orphan, personal ethics, personal sacrifices, poetic prose, recommended books, Ruby Leander, runaway, Sacrifice, St. Martin's Griffin, trade paperback, truth
October 22, 2010 · 3:57 pm
A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron (Tor Forge; $22.00; 320 pages)
“And the people who hide themselves/ Behind a wall of illusion/ Never Glimpse the truth/ Then it’s far too late/ When they pass away.” George Harrison (“Within You Without You”)
A Dog’s Purpose is a 320-page novel targeted for adults. This is a story of a dog named Toby who dies and is reborn as Bailey, then becomes the female Ellie and finally Buddy. It is a novel on the subject of reincarnation that will not convince anyone that it actually happens, but it’s told in a charming voice. The dog’s voice, no matter which of the four dogs is being portrayed (and regardless of age) is that of a non-threatening and generally naive pup which is why children will identify with it.
Had this been truly written for adults, it would have been better structured as a novella. It goes on too long to make the rather simple point that love between humans and their pets is always reciprocated. Any child who has loved stories like My Dog Spot will likely be enchanted with this one, but the adult reading it to a child is best advised to break it into 40 or so digestible bites.
Any they lived happily ever after, and were reborn again and again and again. Woof!
Take Away: This novel, sold as a childlike story for adults, is actually a long children’s story that might be read to children by adults. There are, however, dozens and dozens of great children’s books currently available, any one of which might be a better choice.
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, A Dog's Purpose, A Novel for Humans, adult novels, book review, books, canines, charming, children, children's books, cruelty, Dave Berry, death, dogs, fiction, George Harrison, hardbound release, Joseph Arellano, Joseph's Reviews, Kindle Edition, Love, Love You To, music, My Dog Spot, novellas, pets, reincarnation, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's, The Beatles, Tor Forge, truth, W. Bruce Cameron, Within You Without You
October 18, 2010 · 5:39 pm
Book of Nathan: A Novel by Curt Weeden and Richard Marek (Oceanview Publishing; $25.95; 264 pages)
“Dan Brown meets Janet Evanovich…” Roxanne Black
Co-authors Curt Weeden and Richard Marek have teamed up to create a fascinating novel that is part mystery and part life lesson. Their main character is Rick Bullock, formerly a successful Madison Avenue advertising man who turned agnostic soul saver when his beloved wife, Anne, died from a brain tumor. Rick has refocused his life and manages a shelter for men in the inner city. He knows his clients and when one of them named Zeus is accused of a high-profile murder, Rick makes it his task to prove the accusers wrong.
The first person narrative is an excellent vehicle for combining the disparate elements of the tale. Rick’s thoughts and actions are consistent with a man of high moral principles. Fortunately, the authors have resisted portraying him as a saintly type. He is capable of trickery and a little arm twisting to obtain the resources needed to travel to Florida where Zeus is incarcerated. Lacking funds for the journey, Rick calls in a favor from a buddy in his advertising past, Doug Kool, who is a fundraiser par excellence for a big nonprofit.
The team Rick takes to Florida is a rag-tag group. Some of them are helpful for the mission (Doc Waters and Maurice) and one is a genuine bundle of precocious trouble (Twyla Tharp – no, not that one). This reviewer was reminded of The Wizard of Oz and the pilgrimage that Dorothy made with her band of seekers. Amazingly, the story line manages to stay reasonably tight and manageable regardless of the wide variety of characters. Oh, did I mention that an extremely wealthy man also plays a part? Indeed, the reader will discover more than the identity of the killer by the story’s end.
The values and moral judgements presented are all too real and not off the scale of everyday issues we all face. Kudos to Weeden and Marek for delivering their message in such an entertaining way. Highly recommended.
This review was written by Ruta Arellano. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as a novel, accusers, advertising, agnostics, an innocent man, Bernie Taupin, bizarre group, Book of Nathan, book review, books, co-authors, comedy, crime, Curt Weeden, Dan Brown, Dorothy, eccentric characters, Elton John, entertainment, fiction, Florida, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, hardbound release, high moral principles, human values, humor, investigation, Janet Evanovich, Joseph's Reviews, journeys, Kindle Edition, lawyers, life lesson, lighthearted, Madison Avenue, male protagonist, morality, murder, music, mystery, New York City, novels, Oceanview Publishing, petty crooks, pilgrimages, rag-tag group, recommended books, religion, Richard Marek, Rick Bullock, Roxanne Black, Ruta Arellano, seekers, snappy dialogue, the super-rich, The Wizard of Oz, trickery, truth, Twyla Tharp, whodunits
October 15, 2010 · 10:39 am
The Vaults by Toby Ball
If The Vaults by Toby Ball is made into a movie, it will have to be shot in black and white. A film noir mood permeates the City, from the desolate squatter camps in abandoned factories to City Hall, where heavyweight-boxer-turned-mayor Red Henry rules with a predator’s innate understanding of his opponents’ weaknesses. It’s big-city America in the 1930s, the heyday of the newspaper, when deeply flawed men can become heroes by exposing corruption. That’s where we meet Francis Frings, the Gazette’s star reporter, who’s working on a story that implicates the entire criminal justice system and threatens to topple Red Henry.
The hardboiled characters who populate Frings’ world – his lover, a sultry jazz singer; his hootch-swilling editor – are richly drawn. Frings’ investigation, alone, would make a compelling crime thriller. But his investigation is just one of three that threaten the mayor’s kingdom, and therein lies the genius of Ball’s novel: Three “heroes” with vastly different motivations – and no knowledge of one another – simultaneously begin tugging on the threads of the central mystery. Ethan Poole is a private eye with socialist leanings who’s not above blackmail. Arthur Puskis is the rigidly methodical archivist of the City’s criminal files. Mayor Henry lashes out at all who threaten his kingdom, his brutality kept in check only by the pragmatic consideration of public relations.
Ball’s writing is fast-paced and terse. He rotates the action from one investigation to the next, and in the process, fleshes out a world of ingenious criminality, unionizing, strike-breaking, smoky nightclubs, and insane asylums. The characters’ quests are provocative and timeless: Truth, Justice and The Purpose of Life. The book’s one weakness is the implausibility of the operation that Mayor Henry kills to protect. But The Vaults is such a good read that it hardly matters.
The Vaults (St. Martin’s Press) is Ball’s first novel. It’s a winner, and anyone who reads it will be standing in line to get his second.
Review by Kimberly Caldwell Steffen. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as 1930s, America, archivist, Arthur Puskis, big city America, black and while, blackmail, book review, books, City Hall, complex storyline, corruption, crime, crime thriller, criminal justice system, criminal records, criminality, debut novel, Dirty Old Town, Ewan MacColl, fast-paced, fiction, film noir, films, hardboiled characters, heavyweight boxer, heroes, historical fiction, insane asylums, investigation, investigative reporter, jazz singer, Joseph's Reviews, justice, Kimberly Caldwell Steffen, Kindle Edition, labor unions, Mayor Red Henry, multiple protagonists, music, mystery novel, new author, newspapers, novels, original work, P. I. thriller, politics, predator, Private Investigator, recommended books, Rod Stewart, socialists, St. Martin's Press, terse, the City, The Dubliners, the Navajo Project, The Pogues, The Rod Stewart Album, The Vaults, Toby Ball, truth
October 4, 2010 · 7:27 pm
The False Friend: A Novel by Myla Goldberg (Doubleday; 272 pages; $25.95)
There’s a saying that has been going around for years in the fields of entertainment and sports, “When the legend conflicts with the truth, always choose the legend.” The distinction between the public story and actual events is what preoccupies Celia, the female protagonist of The False Friend. Celia, an Illinois State Auditor, lives in Chicago but she’s returned to her small hometown in the formerly forested wilds of New York State to make a confession. It seems that twenty years earlier Celia and her best friend Djuna and three other girls walked into a dense forest; only four of them walked out. Djuna was never seen again.
The official story of Djuna’s disappearance is that she was picked up by a man driving a car – a man who stopped on the road by the edge of the forest and convinced her to get into the car. That man was her killer. This is the public story that the four girls told to the police and to their parents. It was never questioned. But Celia was the girl walking closest to Djuna on that fateful day and she’s now willing to disclose what factually happened… Or, what she believes in her mind’s eye actually happened.
Celia has a somewhat naive faith in the premise that once she tells her version of the truth everything will be made better. She also thinks that her former classmates will readily accept her version of the truth. She’s seeking absolution and is excited that it’s about to be granted to her belatedly. But the funny thing is that once she meets with the other girls (those willing to communicate with her), they don’t buy into her story. Each one is absolutely certain that she saw Djuna being lured into the stranger’s automobile.
Author Myla Goldberg does a fascinating job of translating what is essentially a small story into a larger one about our roles and responsibilities in society. If all of those around us wish to accept one version of events, of facts, what right do we have to say they’re wrong? Sometimes there’s far more comfort to be had in the public story, the legend, than in simpler frail human events.
When reading this novel, each reader will come to think of certain events in his/her own childhood. We may be sure that things happened a certain way on a certain date, only to find that our family members are wedded to an entirely different version. Telling those around you that they’re wrong only makes them feel uncomfortable, if not angry. (Thus, we all have sometimes accepted the group’s story instead of our own.)
Goldberg has created a fascinating and extremely engaging novel in Friend. Her calm, deliberate style will call to mind Catherine Flynn (The News Where You Are) or Anne Tyler (Noah’s Compass). The uncertainty over an event that happened decades earlier is also a bit similar in storyline to Lisa Unger’s recent novel Fragile.
Goldberg’s talented prose will cause the reader to read and re-read several lines such as these:
“The school building itself was utterly unchanged… The opposite edge of the walk displayed a gray boulder the size of a crouching child. On it were carved the words JENSENVILLE HIGH, Gift of 1993… The rock reminded Celia of a marker designating the future resting place of herself and her former classmates, all of them to be interred beneath in eternal, obligatory return.” (Whew)
At the conclusion of The False Friend, Celia must make a critical choice – Will she continue to dispute the perceived history of a local tragedy or will she come to side with the community’s accepted version of events? You will need to read this intelligently told tale to find out what decision she makes. You will then wonder if you would have made the same choice.
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. A review copy was provided by the publisher. The False Friend will be released by Doubleday on Tuesday, October 5, 2010.
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as abduction, absolution, Anne Tyler, Bee Season, best writers, book preview, book review, books, Catherine Flynn, Celia Durst, childhood, community, confessions, crime, crime mystery, crime witnesses, deliberate writing, Doubleday, false memories, female protagonist, fiction, forgiveness, Fragile, Guilty of the Crime, intelligently told, Joseph Arellano, Joseph's Reviews, kidnapping, Kindle Edition, Lisa Unger, literature, Long Road Out of Eden, making amends, music, new release, New York State, Noah's Compass, novel, popular fiction, recommended books, the Eagles, The False Friend, the individual, The News Where You Are, Time's Magpie, tragedy, truth, Wickett's Remedy, women's literature