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.

Suffer the Children, by Robert Earle

Two stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Earle, and Vook Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In a novel whose content is ripped from the headlines, Earle seeks to address the issue of school shootings and how they could be alleviated. Budge Kleeforth and Pru Malveaux are deeply moved when news of another shooting at a small-town America school. They begin working together on a concept that could alleviate said shootings by arming teachers and administrators with a non-lethal concept weapon meant to disable any would-be shooters. With this weapon comes a complete school training package, which would show children how to react in the event that a shooter appeared on the premises. The sell is hard and has blowback all the way into the White House, but they move forward in a small pilot project. However, the fallout from the school shooting is far-reaching and Earle examines a host of characters and how they feel about events, as well as this newly hatched plan to ‘arm the classrooms of America’. Working through a sordid past together, Kleeforth and Malveaux begin their project and the idea gains momentum, as well as the panicked attention of the gun lobby. Earle utilises a multi-layered technique to tell the single story from a variety of angles, as well as bringing things home in an ending that puts the entire project to the test. An interesting concept by Earle, seeking to address an issue with which many readers will be aware.

The novel’s title is perhaps a little misrepresentative. As I trudged through this piece, I felt it was better named “Suffer the Reader”, as the story dragged and the characters remained distant and free of depth. The concept for the novel is wonderful, though the angle of approach leaves readers unsure where to look. To say that it is the political aspect of shoot shootings and guns in America is also misleading, as the book does not have a single and direct focus. Earle presents his soapbox issue clearly, that school shootings need to end in a way that does not beget more, but he skims over things and pushes the reader into situations that fog the issue and keeps his characters from grounding themselves or reaching out to the reader. I had hoped for a high-impact novel about the politics and the emotional reaction to a shooting, but received more of a technical analysis of the problem and two characters trying to change the system, while remaining behind the proverbial curtain and peeking out only when necessary. Earle has much potential with which he can work, but failed to shape this into the explosive novel it should have been.

Interesting concept, Mr. Earle, but it failed to pull me in or keep my rapt attention. 

The Reincarnation of Annie Brown, by W. Scott Mitchell

Three stars (of five)

When asked by the author to read and honestly review this novel, I did so with as little trepidation. I knew nothing of the man, his style, or even his capabilities. Having come through the journey, I am satisfied Mitchell knows how to captivate an audience with his prose and forces the reader to think, rather than permit mental neutrality. Eric is a recent university graduate in economics and philosophy, content with his studies, but unsure what his next step might be. Having developed a system of predicting market fluctuations, he becomes highly interesting to some of his professors, as well as to a secret organisation the A Priori Group. Eric finds himself in a new relationship with a dark poet, Erin, but it is placed on hold over the summer while she completes an internship, leaving Eric spends a great deal of time with his friend, Jill, who’s entered his life through her own relationship with Eric’s roommate, Gary. The time he spends with Jill allows Eric to see things in her that he had not seen before, and sense feelings that were long left dormant. In a period of discovering an romantic analysis, Jill and Eric begin to push down the walls of their friendship, exploring their deeper emotions, shelving the realities of their respective relationship. When Eric learns that the three people with whom he is closest are all A Priori recruits and that they are housed together for a period of time, he begins to wonder who he fits in and if anything is real. As Eric begins to pull away from Erin and moves towards Jill, things take turns neither of them expect, placing Eric in an emotional and philosophical game of tug-of-war, unsure where to turn. It is only when he is able to reflect back on his time with Annie Brown, lost to him years before, that Eric realises his pull towards both Jill and Erin, knowing he cannot have them both. Powerfully written with poignant themes and curious analyses of events most people take for granted, Mitchell can speak to the reader through his characters in a way I have not seen for a long time.

I was not sure how to approach this novel, nor what I would get out of it, but knew there was something worth exploring. I took away much from the story and even the development of the characters. Eric spoke to me, personally, in his struggles to handle love and mourn the loss of a past relationship. As the story progressed and Eric was faced with the battles both Erin and Jill brought to the table, I could see myself in the struggle as well, wondering how to handle it. Mitchell does not only instil empathy in the reader, but can truly tap into their lives and pull out poignant events, forcing an inner philosophical discussion. The A Priori discussion was less involved to me, but its presence cannot be discounted, as it is the thread that brought these four individuals together. While I cannot be sure Eric made the choice I might have, I can rest assured that I am left to wonder as I place his story against the framework of my own, and move forward from here.

I cannot leave this review without bringing up a significant flaw, one that any potential reader should be aware of ahead of time. When Mitchell presented this book to me, he admitted that ” I am far more interested in telling the story than I am in editing.” This should have been foreboding for me, as the novel is full of typographical errors, grammatical assassinations, and punctuation disasters. While I am a fairly lenient reader, if I pick up on multiple (we’re talking scores here, not a handful) issues, I find the flow the book is lost. Published work should have that refined feel to it, which this does not. I cringed and shook my head well into the night as I forged on, convinced it would be an early chapter anomaly. I suspect Mitchell either did superficial proofing himself or his editorial team forged their credentials. Highly annoying and problematic, this issue cost Mitchell the stellar rating and review this novel’s content deserves. Then again, you can’t always get what you want!

Kudos, Mr. Mitchell for this piece of work. I am curious to read some more of your work, but please do not approach me until after this reckless editorial error has been solved.

Maximum Ride Forever (Maximum Ride #9), by James Patterson

Two stars (of five)

In the promised final chapter of the Maximum Ride series, Patterson keeps the reader’s curiosity on a sloe boil. Living on a post-apocalyptic earth, Max and her Flock seek to determine if there is anything salvageable. Devastation is rampant and the last documented images from the world’s largest cities stream in through a poorly defined 5G network. In order to properly ascertain the answers they seek, the Flock divides and promises to report in as soon as they can. Meanwhile, the Doomsday Cult, cloned bird children, lurks in the shadows to snuff out the Flock alongside most of humankind, leaving each Flock member to dodge attempts on their lives with every turn, some with less than successful results. The more Max learns of the situation on earth, the less she seems motivated to trudge on, but she must, as pockets of life emerges throughout her discoveries. The question remains, is the end inevitable, or is there a shimmering ray of light in this overly bleak world? In a fitting ending to the series, Patterson offers his young adult readers a glimpse of the world to come and the way those who witness it react to the final days. Now, can we be sure that Patterson will actually end it here? Let’s hope!

I got interested in the series years ago, when it was in its early stages. While I am not a ‘Young Adult’, my dedication to this series offers me some insight to comment on its content, which has unfortunately (but predictably) suffered from PATTERSON SYNDROME. Those familiar with my reviews of James Patterson will know this refers to his desire to churn out drivel, using his name to sell books rather than solid content. The series had some great potential, but lost its lustre and moved into a world of utter cheesiness. Are young adult readers expected to subject themselves to this? I know John Grisham and Kathy Reichs (both having carved out greatness in their adult genre books) have been able to successfully transition without getting too silly. Alas, Patterson lauds himself as an expert, but fails. Also, interesting to see how Patterson climbs up on his soap box and points the finger at Russia, but stops short at referring to Putin when making his case for those who are to blame for the apocalyptic world in which the story takes place. Well played, Mr. P., as you indoctrinate the next generation.

Tepid, Mr. Patterson. You seem to want your young readers to stifle their reading abilities and comprehension with this sub-par piece of work.

Private Vegas, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Two and a half stars (of five)

Patterson takes a real gamble in shifting his Private series to the city of gaudy lights and glamour, hoping it’s not a bust. Jack Morgan is back with his original Private team, working their cases in Los Angeles (no, this is no typo). Two men with diplomatic immunity have been killing women and getting away with it, while Morgan and the LAPD can only look on in awe. In a case closer to home, a serial arsonist is blowing up high-end cars, including Morgan’s own, leaving Private to find the person behind the fires, especially after a body turns up in the wreckage. Meanwhile, one of the Private team is on trial for assault and things are not looking good. Could Private be on its last legs and what does Morgan’s brother have to do with recent goings-on? Remembering that the title speaks of Vegas, Patterson weaves a loose storyline where Morgan’s assistant investigates a man who lures women to Las Vegas to partake in a high-intensity (and costly) course aimed at marrying filthy-rich octogenarians, helping them along to their respective mansions in the sky, and cashing in on a substantial ‘cut’ in the action. A mislabelled novel with interesting ideas, but totally misses the mark on the Vegas nightlight and excitement. Drab and a tease that flops for Patterson and Private fans.

After a string of decent novels, Patterson is back to his old tricks, writing sub-par stories that use the author’s name to sell copies. This book is more aptly called Private L.A., The Second for its geographic sedentary nature in the City of Angels. Where are the craps tables, the Cirque shows, and the countless street vendors? Where are the lights and the wonderful hotel settings that could really sell the city and the storylines? Missing, like many of the other domestic Private books. It is almost as though Patterson’s only successes come from using authors off the North American continent to spice up the stories. And here I pined for a Private: Canada. Now, I am almost happy he has not gone that route (yet, at least). Patterson had better learn when to fold ’em, as he is on a losing streak that even Kenny Rogers cannot turn around.

For shame, Mr. Patterson on another silly attempt to line your pockets and leave your fans rolling snake-eyes.

Secret of the Templars (Templar #9), by Paul Christopher

Two stars (of five)

Christopher returns with a ninth novel in his Templar series that remains on perma-tepid, if not drifting towards cool. Lieutenant Colonel John “Doc” Holliday vows to find a long-lost Dead Sea Scroll that could have great implications for Christianity as a whole. During his search, Holliday also discovers a link between the Catholic Church and a number of art forgeries directly tied to the Nazis, putting these two unlikely groups in bed together. With this highly controversial information, Holliday embarks on his journey, teaming up with Interpol agent Peter Lazarus, to solve both mysteries and live to tell about his harrowing tale. With curious intensity, Christopher tells a story that has long-divorced itself from the Templar theme, but still rocks Christianity’s foundation.

As I have written of past Templar series novels penned by Paul Christopher, the wind has surely left the author’s sails and he is seeking only to propel himself forward with mediocre publications. The story, while sound, lacks depth or content to push it towards being a great novel. Christopher has left Templar queries behind in the dust and while he continues to push new and exciting mysteries, his dedication to the plot and thorough development of characters leaves the larger product lacking the needed content to make it worth the reader’s time. Should a reader wish to embark on this Templar journey, I can only recommend binge reading the entire series, so as to remember content from one novel to the next, as they become less memorable as the novels pile up.

As you did with your last series, Mr. Christopher, you left these books to wander out to pasture. For that, I can only ask why you do not stop writing them and begin something new, where you might find new inspiration and not tasteless drivel.