The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution, by Yuri Slezkine

Three stars

It is truly a rare time when I will admit defeat and label a book as DNF (did not finish). However, after completing 22% of this piece, I have decided that I cannot continue, lacking the ability to affix sufficient attention to the narration or glean much of the author’s message. Some of this surely lays at my own feet, but as many have said on Goodreads, life is too short to be burdened with a book that leaves you feeling miserable as you trudge along.

Being a lover of history and revolutionary events steeped in politics, I was intrigued when I came upon Yuri Slezkine’s book. It was said to depict the intricacies of the Russian Revolution and told a strong story about it. While I know some publishers choose to spice things up with an eye-catching blurb on the dust jacket summary, I was led into something I was not expecting, much like the Tsar and his family. Slezkine spent a great deal of time in the portion of the book I read depicting the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik takeover of the Soviet State as something akin to a new religion. Surely those familiar with the ideological underpinnings of the Bolsheviks and communist foundations will find some humour in this, but Slezkine does a decent job with the argument. While some may find it hard to find a comparison between Jesus, Moses, Joseph Smith, or Mohammed with the likes of Marx and Engels, the reader may see some interesting parallels found within the book. The struggle and clash of communism (youthful ideals) with well-established state ideologies (the old guard) shows how the Russian State was ready for a change and how easily it caught on with the masses. That said, much like the other major religious reformations over time, blood and violence preceded any change and it took a long time for the acceptance of this change. Slezkine reiterates his argument and pushes the reader to accept it through a form of inculcated repetition, much as the leaders of the Bolsheviks would have been able to instil this new means of thinking to the population. By this point of the book, I had tossed in the towel, as I was lost, both with the constant explosion of muddied facts, literary comparisons, and general circular arguments. While some who love Russian literature and writing style may love this piece, I cannot count myself as one of them.

I will be the first to admit that Russian literature is usually beyond my abilities. Be it the mindset or the dense style as thick as pea soup, I cannot be entirely sure, but I am sure that it is not simply something lost in translation. Slezkine does a masterful job at tying together history, politics, and literature, finding parallels between them all to sell his argument in favour of the revolutionary movement. I must applaud him there and can only hope that much of the remaining pages of this massive book continue to sell the details of the rise of the Bolsheviks. I could not find a thread to grasp as the narrative kept sinking deeper and deeper into a repetitive argument. The early religious parallels were truly interesting for me, but they lost their lustre quickly and I expected something more all-encompassing. For some reason, I entered this book thinking that it would be a piece of detailed fiction, whereby Slezkine would sell the idea of the Russian Revolution through his characters. Or perhaps a piece of non-fiction that would tie together some of the key happenings that led up to the fall of the Empire and arrival of Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks to take control of the House of Government, the heart of the Russian State. I do hope some find solace in his massive tome, educating themselves with the details and the literary references. I’ll stick to my biographical pieces and educate myself with pieces more in line with my personal likes.

Thanks for the chance to try this, Mr. Slezkine, but I will steer clear of your work for the time being.

Wholeheartedly attempting to read this book fulfils Topic #3 (Book Set During a Revolution) of the A Book for All Seasons (Equinox #2) Book Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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Diary of a Succubus, by James Patterson and Derek Nikitas

Four stars

Not all BookShots are created equal. Surely, with a huge cast of collaborative authors, James Patterson’s name will be attributed to numerous genres, which will appeal to different reader bases. While I steer clear of certain genres when perusing BookShots (namely, the ‘flames’ series of romances), on this binge month, I am trying to keep my options open and reading a great deal of Patterson’s collaborative efforts. Derek Nikitas crossed my path in this piece, which seems to have more of a supernatural/fantasy flavour to it. As the story opens, the reader learns that the female protagonist is trying to lure a rich and powerful man back to his home and into bed. However, it soon becomes obvious that both are trying to kill the other. After Mark Norman Harper falls to his death, the hunt is on to find the group who are out to kill this collective of succubi, the undead who have had their souls bartered to the other side. For the rest of this painfully confusing piece, Patterson and Nikitas try to hold the reader’s attention with a cat and mouse game between the succubi and the hunters that seek to banish them once and for all. I admit that I was lost early on and could not find myself as I flailed through the piece. Fantasy and supernatural BookShot lovers, unite. The rest of us will have to see if this pair did any better when they plotted the death of Stephen King in another piece of fiction.

Reading should never be painful, nor should be it a chore that pushes the reader into areas of discomfort. Libraries, bookstores, Goodreads, and the internet are all places where the curious reader can take a plunge into most anything they find to their liking and run with it. Not everything will appeal to every reader. I have to remind myself of that sometimes, particularly when my reviewing can cut a little deep to those who have thin skin. However, Nikitas and Patterson surely have a following and for those people, this piece was surely just what they needed. Odd characters with backstories over three hundred years in the making, with both modern and antiquated perspectives to build solid characters. The story, while a dud for me, surely would have met the interest of those who enjoy supernatural phenomena and spirit haunting. I do, but this was just too odd for me and I could not find any literary handholds to keep me from sliding into an abyss of confusion. I cannot hold my nose and score it high for those who loved it, for it is the honest balance of YAH and NAY that makes a review stronger.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Nikitas, for doing your best with this. I’ll try another of your joint pieces (perhaps the aforementioned King murder) before passing final judgement. This was not my thing and I cannot sugarcoat it, but I am sure some will love it. To them, a hearty, ENJOY!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Tiger’s Prey (Courtney Saga #16), by Wilbur Smith and Tom Harper

Three stars

Wilbur Smith brings Tom Harper along with him to create the latest in the Courtney saga, returning to the high seas of the 18th century. Tom Courtney is the son of the master seafarer, Sir Hal Courtney. The entire Courtney clan are well known for having control of the seas and have planted many deep roots, especially along the African continent. Tom is rumoured to have turned on members of his family to save his own honour and is rumoured dead. This is the narrative that young Francis Courtney holds close to his heart. When the last remnants of his family are killed, young Francis goes in search of Tom, hoping to discover if he truly has been killed. If not, he will undertake to complete the task and ensure his own father did not die in vain. Francis discovers Tom is alive and well, though has been keeping a low profile in South Africa. Francis lets his bluster get the better of him and Tom is prepared to turn the tables on this young Courtney. Instead, they agree to work together and set sail for the East Indies, sure to find adventure during the journey. What follows is a collection of storms on the high seas and interactions with other swashbucklers as Tom and his crew seek assistance when they arrive on shore. With Francis at his side, Tom engages the locals in more adventure than any man could handle… any man but a Courtney. Limping through to the end, the reader will be lucky to keep their bearings in this addition to what might be the weakest of the three sagas, that of the seas. Many pardons to readers of the review, as I will be the first to admit, my summary of the story is poor, hampered by not being able to connect with the piece, as discussed below.

I have long had an issue when an author passes away or ‘retires’ and another takes over the reins of a series. Many a collection of books have gone down the drain when the original creator no longer has control of their master work. Wilbur Smith’s turning the Courtney series over to others has been a recipe for disaster and yet books continue to be published. Having devoured all of Smith’s past Courtney saga novels (attributed solely to him) and loving them, this was yet another let down for me. One must be careful where to point fingers. It might be Harper trying to slide into the massive literary footprint or the fact that I am not a fan of the ‘Courtneys on the seas’ branch, but this book grabbed me as effectively as marble tossed on a Velcro wall. There was obviously some character development and action peppered throughout, but I just could not find myself grasping onto what was going on. It may also have been that the story was not adequately divided into chapters, choosing instead to be a single blob of writing that continued to flow from page to page (or for us audio listeners, minute to minute). I felt myself lost and without any form of help as I tried to push through this book. The sole redeeming beacon ended up being that the book ended and I could move on to something else. Alas, I feel that my reading the saga may finally have come to an end. I have little interest in continuing if Wilbur Smith feels that he must allow others to trifle with his work. Surely, he has lost that burning desire to create high-caliber work and only seeks the royalties for something that has his name plastered to the cover.

Oh, Messrs. Smith and Harper, how you have disappointed Courtney series fans with this. I hope many readers will not use this book as a benchmark for the entire series, which has had moments of brilliance.

Godforsaken, by Tarryl Janik

Two fizzled-out stars

First and foremost, thank you to Tarryl Janik (through a friend) for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

With a few independent books that have been offered to me by authors through Goodreads, I wanted to take some time and read them, before posting reviews. They may not get the publicity of other writers, but deserve some recognition. Jack Warren has little in life about which to be happy, explaining why he has a revolver pressed to his temple as the book begins. A deputy in the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department, Jack breaks from his suicidal thought processes to investigate the disappearance of Jessica Mills, a local teenage girl. With only a few clues, Jack must assess the scene and try to piece together her last moments with others. On a tangential narrative, an archeological expedition in Guyana uncovers some highly troubling discoveries with sacrificial elements of the most graphic nature, which seems out of place at the time, but finds its place as the story progresses. The narrative returns to offer the reader a glimpse into the last night of Jessica Mills’ freedom, full of sexual exploration and disappointment, before eventually leading to her capture by a silhouetted individual. When Jack comes across a friend he hopes will be able to offer some insight into Jessica’s disappearance, he is attacked by a mysterious woman in the shadows, maimed to the point of requiring medical attention. It is here that the story takes a turn, when a nondescript room tucked in the corner of the hospital reveals added alter sacrifices and medicinal reincarnations that perpetuate a zombie state. If the review reader is grasping at straws to collect some form of narrative thread, reading this piece is like blindly hanging from said threads in a torrential downpour. A troubled publication, the reader must take a gamble as they sacrifice their sanity, time, and mood to finish.

I have always been taught not to say anything if there is nothing good to be added to the discussion. With that in mind, let me dig and find something positive worth exploring in this book. The text is organised in coherent paragraphs and pages (lacking horribly inane columns), which is worth one star. One would presume this is a freebie star, but in some of the recent books I have come across, traditional text presentation is never a foregone conclusion. The second star is surely worthy for great use of the English language, showing that Janik has a grasp of how to weave the words together in any effective and comprehensive fashion that makes sense to the adult audience. With these two stars in the book’s quiver, we embark on what might be the miraculous search for a third star, or how we cannot lose the two previously ascertained praiseworthy traits this book possesses. Moving forward, things take a turn for the worse or at least inch towards literary disaster. While the words are clear, the story begs for an editor. If one was used, said person should immediately return the funds they were paid and march through the town as they are shamed for horrible work. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are haphazardly used and, on occasion, their disappearance ruin what might have been a passable plot. One might turn to me and ask that I cast the first stone if I am so perfect. I do not seek perfection, though I should expect some degree of clarity on the parts of both the author and editor to clean up the draft and show honour and respect in the published work. This is not Harper Lee’s resurrected second manuscript from a few years ago, whereby the world accepted it without a red pen touching the page. It is an insult to the reader to seek their money and time while not putting in the conscious effort to produce one’s best work. Janik seeks to provide that flashy distraction to the aforementioned abyss by opening a medical terminology text or thesaurus and peppering the narrative with fancy words, as if to beg for the literary equivalent of a golf clap. ‘Well done, sir!’ If the characters worked in the medical profession or counselled those with numerous philias, phobias, or isms, the reader might accept these words as useful, but it does little to distract the intelligent reader from what is going on. The gratuitous and seemingly inexplicable use of sex in all its forms to fill pages and bestow forms of orgasmic delight for the minor characters leaves the reader wondering if there will be some epiphany in the narrative that pulls all this ejaculatory blather to a head (pardon the pun). It occurs in almost every chapters and adds nothing to the larger story, save to promote disgust and ‘strokes’ (again, sorry for the pun) the author’s ego to have devised every euphemistic penile reference that a second-tier romance novelist would veto. Janik shows only that his academic success (discussed on the author blurb) is surely diluted as he remains trapped in the mentality of a sixteen year-old boy, giggling with the ways he can under-impress the reader. I am not Freud, so I will not draw cigar parallels. What began as a mystery quickly slips away and turns into something without a genre, though seeks to introduce sex to distract from its dissolving plot. Might this distraction attempt be a theme all its own in the book? The reader may prepare to celebrate the end of this short novel, only to be greeted with a TO BE CONTINUED final page. As if there is need to contemplate the next move. Most will rush for the closest door and run into the hills. Then again, might there be those with literary masochistic leanings?

Good luck, Mr. Janik. I do not pull punches and set the bar high for authors. You have a sequel and seem to have some followers, but do not fold up the tent on your academic endeavours just yet. 

Ford Nation: Two Brothers, One Vision- The Story of the People’s Mayor, by Doug Ford

Two generous stars

As I continue the forty days of biography reading, I was pleased to get my hands on this piece by Doug Ford, exploring the life and times of infamous Toronto mayor, Rob Ford. I hoped that this book would allow the elder brother to take the reader through the peaks and valleys he saw in his brother, offering a sobering exploration of all things Rob Ford. Deemed a memoir by the publisher, I was hoping that it would live up to the hype and fit nicely amongst other political figures about whom I will learn between now and early April. How effective was this book in laying a stable foundation? Let’s examine that now, though I will warn the reader that I pull no punches. 

Born into a humble household, Rob Ford was surrounded by a work ethic that both parents instilled in him from an early age. Doug Ford, Sr. ran a decal business and sought to teach his children the importance of customer service, which echoes throughout this piece as the younger Doug tries to place it into the narrative whenever an opening exists. While both Rob and Doug, Jr. watched their father succeed, they felt that he had too many passionate ideas to keep him out of the political arena. After signing him up to run in the 1995 Ontario provincial election, Doug, Sr. won and became part of the Progressive Conservative Class of ’95, which saw the beginning of Premier Mike Harris’ “Common Sense Revolution”. That appeared to plant the seed in young Rob’s mind and he looked to tackle the job of running as a municipal councillor. Rob failed in his first election, as many politicians are wont to, but with renewed vigour three years down the road, a new and better prepared Rob Ford was able to win a seat, representing the people of Etobicoke by 2000. With a seat on Toronto City Council, Rob Ford sought to uncover some of the fiscal mismanagement and excessive spending that was not readily apparent to the Toronto electorate, choosing to speak out against colleagues rather than close ranks. This theme echoes throughout the narrative, as Rob Ford remained the people’s representative and did not shy away from bucking the trend, perhaps his greatest asset. Rob Ford also used his father’s customer service mantra of always calling the customer (or constituent) back and placing greater importance in face to face interaction than dismissing issues to an assistant or voicemail, which helped him build strong ties with people across the political and socio-economic spectrum. The author glosses over these years as councillor, choosing only to offer very brief snippets in paragraphs relating to years of Council service, making it hard for the reader to really grasp the depth to which Rob Ford advocated on any specific issue, which is troublesome and shall be addressed below. After running for mayor in 2010, Rob Ford sought to end the proverbial gravy train and succeeded in earning the title of Your Worship in the October election. Power firmly in his hands, it is here that Ford’s issues began. While he did advocate hard for tighter spending limits and budget cuts, as well as much needed transportation infrastructure, these pluses are obviously overshadowed by some of the curious and troublesome revelations that came to pass by 2013. Rob Ford, the People’s Mayor, seems to have taken this title a little too literally as he was caught in photos, and eventually videos, in an intoxicated state and apparently smoking crack. Whirlwinds of media interest and commentary on the matter only fuelled the Fords to deflect this and offer ideological monikers and sentiments similar to Bush 43’s “with us or against us” mantra. The author scrambles through the latter part of the book to offer up excuses and vilification of media outlets to counter the actions of his errant brother. Again glossing over any responsibility a politician has to the people he represents, the term ‘addict’ and ‘treatment’ come out, as if that can negate the proof that is being aired around the world. By the end of the book, Rob Ford has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and the entire Ford clan rally behind him. The author seeks to pull at the reader’s heartstrings and hopes that this medical death sentence can be used to erase his idiotic actions. The attentive reader who is wary of having wool covering their eyes will see through this and is left with sappy drivel as the final pages close this off-balance piece. Peppered with interesting journal-like sentiments made by various members of the Ford family, the author obviously sought to release this book soon after his brother’s death to try and sweeten the image of a man so out of touch with the responsibilities of a political figure who was felled by the one thing he could not defeat. Less a memoir than a chance to offer a soapbox speech to offset what media outlets discovered and presented to the level-headed public. Actions speak louder than words, something that all the Fords have yet to learn.

I will be the first to admit, Rob Ford did things for Toronto and his constituents. His advocacy to limit spending and curtail inflated budgets cannot be ignored and this is readily apparent throughout the book’s numerous chapters. It is very unfortunate that the author chose not to pull the reader into these battles when his brother was a councillor and fighting for the little guy in debates and actions. It would have made for a stronger build-up as Rob Ford gained momentum in his search for the mayoralty. Glossing over years in a few paragraphs does nothing to support the hard work with proof, but the reader cannot expect much from an author whose interest lies solely in praise for his younger brother, than to offer an academic or at least level approach. Interestingly enough, as soon as Rob rose to the mayoralty, the author could not have more to say, going on and on, with details on many of the initiatives. This transparent attempt to rejuvenate his brother by extolling all the things that Toronto (and Etobicoke) owes him for advocating is not lost on the attentive reader and only goes to show the gaping holes in the foundation of this piece. When things soured and Rob could be seen intoxicated and apparently smoking crack, Doug sought not to hold his brother accountable, either in person or through this book’s narrative, but instead to coddle him with being ‘overworked’ and ‘a closet addict’ poses a great problem for me. It only goes to support the jaded nature of this book and does not permit the reader to get the full story, but one has to wonder, why would any member of the Ford family want to truth to come out as their black sheep left the pen. Additionally, Ford openly uses monikers to denote the ideological nature of anyone who disagrees with his family, as if this were some form of defence. “Oh, they are ‘lefties’, Doug? That explains it and I can see, as the reader, that you are only trying to swim against those who espouse a belief other than yours. Of course they are wrong and your family is complete in the right!” The author presents his brother as the mouthpiece for the common person, though forgets that with political notoriety comes a higher expectation of maturity and an increased spotlight placed firmly around him. This is not a new concept, though the author makes it seem as if ‘leftist media’ only came out of hiding when Rob Ford emerged on the scene. Is anyone drinking this Kool-Aid? Loosely paralleling Ford to Donald Trump throughout, it is clear that Doug Ford misses the mark yet again; for while both men say they speak for the people, only Ford is dumb enough to think that he can act like one and media will turn the other way. Again, in this day of 24 hour media, could anyone expect dalliances with drug dealers and public intoxication would not be streamed? Is the author as ignorant as he seems here? If the reader wants a warm and fuzzy piece that makes Rob Ford look like a saint who had small blemishes on his robe, this is your book. Those wanting a memoir or biography that seeks to balance ideas both good and bad about a man who made a mockery of Toronto on the world stage, look elsewhere. Fair warning to the reader, read the book on loan from the library and do not line the pockets of the Ford family by purchasing it. For a book that started out with such potential, it all went up in (crack) smoke towards the end!

Shameful, Mr. Ford, that you would think you can ram this piece down the throats of the intelligent reader and make us forget the stupidity that your brother brought forward and you sanction so willingly. 

The Best Awful (Suzanne Vale #2), by Carrie Fisher

Three stars

In her follow-up ‘novel’, Fisher continues this quasi-biographical story about Suzanne Vale. In this piece, Vale seems to have come to the horrible realisation that the man who got her pregnant has since had the sexual epiphany that he is gay. Struggling with this, Vale tries to put it all into perspective while bemoaning the offspring of a dual-celebrity relationship and the issues that are sure to be bestowed on her daughter, Honey. While Vale tries to come to terms with these new realities, she begins a carefree life that sees her trying to better understand this major change. What follows is a series of events that leave the reader with ringside tickets to the slow and constant spiral of an addict still incapable of handling the hard pitches that life seems to throw. Fisher still seems happy to amass a scattering of thoughts in veiled fiction form, with strong parallels to her own life. While a decent wordsmith, Fisher may have wanted to move away from the smarmy life she lived and choose a new avenue.

I respect that everyone has their life and that an author ought to write about what they know best. That said, writing quality is a major factor in producing a decent piece of fiction (and one would hope non-fiction as well). This remained more of a train wreck than the first ‘novel’ in the series and I can only be thankful that there will be no others. The difficulties of a Hollywood star bleed through the pages of this book, though it is as though Fisher wants to excuse the behaviour that comes with the pressure of life under the microscope. I am not prepared to give her a pass, even as she has passed on, and blow rainbows into this review for something that was less than mediocre. Vale proves to be even more vapid than the first story and offers little of insight or entertainment for the reader, save her running off the rails when things get a little difficult. Another story with few characters of interest and where most were lacklustre. Again the search for a plot turns up less than the manner Jabba the Hutt might have shown on a good day. Fisher again tries to tell a monologue of her life, though does not stick with the short memoirs that she has released. This is by no means the best of anything, but it was awful.

Shameful, Madam Fisher that you would continue to offer up such fictional drivel. Thank god you know how to write or this would have been the hottest mess I have come across in a long time. 

Postcards From the Edge (Suzann Vale #1), by Carrie Fisher

Four stars

In her first piece of fiction, Fisher seeks to relay some sentiments through this quasi-biographical story. Suzanne Vale is an actress who has succumbed to the horrors of addiction and finds herself in a treatment facility. While there, she recounts some of her views on fellow addicts and the trials of life on the inside. Released back into her real world, Vale begins the slow process of re-establishing herself, securing a new agent while trying to return to the life she knows so well. However, as seems to be the yoke of all those who have tasted fame, she finds herself in a form of purgatory, unsure where she fits in and how others will see her. By the end of this short piece, she has found a form of amorous connection, though it is unclear if it will be long-lasting. Truly a scattering of thoughts that tries to relate back to her own life, Fisher may have work her side-buns too tightly if this is supposed to be high quality writing.

I respect that everyone has their life and ideas that shape them. I also am sure that it is difficult to be a Hollywood actress and face the rigours of the bright lights and paparazzi on a daily basis. However, like all people, actors are people and have to face the everyday world. Fisher seeks, I think, to portray a form of herself in the Vale character, but it comes across more as a justification for acts and serves as a trivial and superficial approach to life. A few characters who were lacklustre and a plot… was there one? At times I was unsure what I was reading, wondering if this might be some form of monologue that sought to tell stories and anecdotes. This was not a story as much as it was a means to express herself without using her own name and experiences. If only to honour her recent passing, I will likely try the second Vale piece and see what comes of this, but I am certain to list RETURN TO SENDER on this particular postcard.

Thank you Madam Fisher for your insights. Perhaps stick to recounting stories about yourself and not using a straw man in the form of Suzanne Vale. 

Ill Will, by Dan Chaon

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dan Chaon, and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In my first attempt to decipher the writing (ramblings?) of Dan Chaon, I was left with a bitter taste I am unable to mask. This novel, set in both the early 1980s and 2012-14 tells of two sets of unsolved murders, which sounds interesting enough. The first centres around a young Dustin Tillman, who spends much of his time with his cousins and adopted older brother, Rusty. Being much younger than the other three, Dustin is not privy to their drinking, drug-addled states, or promiscuity as they explore one another. He is, however, able to see an odd nature in Rusty, whose previous foster placement ended when the house caught on fire and the entire family died. Recounting events that include Satanic Worship (an apparent buzz word in the early 80s), Dustin lays the groundwork for horrific possibilities. On the morning before a family trip, the youths discover that their parents have all been murdered, though the killer is not immediately apparent. Chaon has the reader meander through the story to learn that Dustin did, eventually, testify against Rusty, who was sentenced to thirty years in jail for the crime. Fast-forwarding to a more present time, Dustin is now a psychotherapist who has done some work with Satanic worship, but was eventually drummed out of that and now does some run-of-the-mill hypnosis and projection exercises. When a patient brings an elaborate theory about a serial killer who chooses young men as his victims, Dustin cannot help but scoff. But, the more they talk, the more the idea germinates and soon Dustin is out on the road trying to piece it all together. Dustin’s wife and two sons are left to wonder and go through their own tribulations, as the reader witnesses the evaporation of the family unit due to illness and drugs. With these two narratives running parallel, the reader is forced to make sense of what is going on, though there is little of a sensical nature. The premise is there, but the delivery, as strong as an over-boiled noodle. Beware readers who get caught up in the dust jacket summary, as I did. You are in for a flop!

I have always found author first impressions to be very important. If I cannot find a groove with an author after reading one of their books, I am usually leery to give them a second chance. This book has left me so confused with its lacklustre delivery that I am forced to question if Chaon’s past literary awards were delivered in error. As I mentioned above, the premise is sound, or at least it could be. Two narratives telling of two sets of crimes; a protagonist who lives through both sets of crimes at different points in his life; the struggle to determine if that past accusation was an error and who might have committed the crime. All in all, Chaon is sitting on a potential thriller goldmine. He creates some interesting characters and surrounds them with a few plausible scenarios. But then, he pulls out all the stops to ruin a good thing. Paragraphs and chapters that end in the middle of a sen (note: purposefully done to prove a point), chapters that appear as columns on the page with each stretching over four or five flips (in which the reader must then return back the pages to begin the next column), transition between 1983 and 2012-14 between parts of the book, but not flowing seamlessly. One might presume that Chaon used his past acolytes to publish this, knowing that his reputation would allow sales to skyrocket (the James Patterson Syndrome). Some who loved it may troll on this review and comment that if I could do better, why don’t I write a book. Alas, I am not being paid to write a book (or for this unbiased review), so I can hold those who do make a living of this to a higher standard. All around, a literary train wreck with toxicity spewing from all sides. Fair warning with flashing lights, bells, and blaring horns. Steer clear and find a better pick!

Oh, Mr. Chaon, one can only hope this was an one-off gaffe. That said, you surely did some literary bed defecation with this one.

The Tumor: A Non-Legal Thriller, by John Grisham

Three stars

In a break from his usually thrilling legal novels, Grisham dusts off his soap box and presents this piece on cancer and focused ultrasound treatment. The reader is introduced to Paul, a father of three living the idyllic life until he suffers a seizure, which ends up being the early indicator of a brain tumour, a glioblastoma. Paul undergoes the best available treatment in 2015, has the invasive tumour removed, but it recurs and he is eventually forced to come to terms with the end of life. Paul dies and Grisham presents the cost of treatment while stressing that the agony of his family cannot be priced. Grisham postulates that Paul’s outcome could have been much different, had he been born and diagnosed ten years later, in 2025. In that time period, a procedure called focused ultrasound treatment would be the mainstream accepted means by which tumours, both benign and malignant, are treated. With this technique, sound and various other waves are used to permeate the tumour and surrounding areas, thereby reducing the intrusive nature of surgery and helping to limit recovery time. Repetitive use of the treatment, for recurring tumours, can be done with ease and Paul would live at least another 50 years to see his children grow. Plain and simple…life is good and the reader can see the benefits of this treatment that remains new and effective. Grisham spends the latter portion of the book arguing that medical and technological logjams are keeping the procedure from reaching those who need it most, at this time, so everyone ought to learn more about it and push the discussion into the mainstream forums, so we can all utilise this procedure with ease. A happy story all around on which everyone can pride themselves for doing their part.

When I stumbled upon this book when perusing Amazon, I was unclear what this was all about. I took the time to access it, for free, and chose to read it in a single sitting. It reads easily and is fairly clear. It is, however, not a Grisham type book. By that, I mean that it does not develop characters or use a strong narrative with nuances that pulls the reader in and makes them feel at one with the topic. Where Grisham has shown readers the troubles with capital punishment, segregation, the falsely accused, and class-action lawsuits, this book fails to do so in a strong fictional (or non-fictional) manner. It reads like a middle school book, complete with hokey photos and diagrams, using easy to comprehend jargon and short explanations. At times, I pined for a subtler approach by Grisham, who could have used a booklet like this as a primer for a wonderful short story and offered the same end result, with the writing flair for which he is so well known. Even if Grisham had ghost written this for the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, I would have had little issue. However, this is not Grisham at his best or even his worst. This is him standing atop a soap box and being preachy without the filter of a well-crafted story to veil the force-feeding approach.

Before I submit this review, I would like to clarify one thing. The poor star allocation that I have offered this piece should not denote my disinterest in cancer treatment or recovery. I must use the quality of Grisham’s past work as my threshold, which forces me to allocate so low a mark for this piece. I fully support technological advancements in medicine, especially those who alleviate pain, suffering, and the chance of death. However, writing pamphlets should be left to those who have something to peddle, not New York Times bestselling authors. This is a case of James Patterson Syndrome, where something will sell not for its content, but because a famous author has put his or her name to it. It dishearten me to see that neither the Focused Ultrasound Foundation nor John Grisham himself would have remained truthful and kept this technique from sullying the message.

For shame, Mr. Grisham for using your name to advance something in such a deceptive manner. The cover peddles your celebrity nature and you choose to denote that this is “the most important book I’ve ever written”. While that may be, it was by no means the one with the greatest impact.

Love is For Tomorrow: Réunion (a short story), by Michael Karner and Isaac Newton Acquah

One star

When asked by Karner and Acquah to read their short story (and novel), I took the opportunity to try the former to whet my appetite. The idea sounded interesting, based on the Goodreads blurb, and I had a few half hour to devour this short piece of writing. Kerrie was a happy woman, ensconced in her painting one afternoon, with her son, Dwayne Jr., playing in the other room. A rap at the door alerts her that her husband, Dwayne, had been killed while on a mission overseas. From here, the story catapults to France, where Kerrie is attending an art event in Paris. When she is contacted by Nigel, apparently a British investigative journalist, to meet at a café, she agrees in the hopes that she can gain some insight into what happened to Dwayne. Little to either Kerrie or Nigel’s knowledge, two hitman await to infiltrate their meeting, in order to stop any information sharing. With Nigel taken out of the equation before he arrives at the rendezvous and a plant sitting at the café, Kerrie is kept from learning anything regarding her husband and is no better off than before she arrived in Paris. 

If this review seems somewhat unplugged and scattered, I must say that I learned more from the Goodreads blurb than I did reading this short story. Perhaps the best part of the story was its brevity and writing style. While the story was flaccid, at least it was written in such a way that there is potential. However, potential does nothing when trying to lure fans or interest them in future writing. Karner and Acquah may have something they want to transmit, but fail to hook the reader from the get-go. If you cannot transmit a general idea in 24 pages, you’ve lost the reader. I cannot applaud or suggest this story to anyone, really, as it has little momentum or apparent impetus. Perhaps the publisher had a little money set aside and could publish this electronically, leaving Amazon to offer it up for free. Thankfully these 30 minutes helped fill a gap in my day and no more!

Messrs. Karner and Acquah, I am unsure if your full novel deserves my attention or interest. Perhaps I will have to read this again one day before diving in to sway my currently soured opinion.