Book Review: High Tide by Tom Bruno


Author: Tom Bruno
Title: High Tide
Previously Read by the Same Author: Bambino
Publication Info: Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2012
Summary/Review:

In this novella, adventurer and writer for an outdoors magazine is sent on assignment to his childhood hometown in Cape May, NJ. His story: young surfers are deliberately chumming the water in order to surf alongside sharks. At this point, things get weirder, with the feel of a good Twilight Zone episode. This is a fun, quick read that’s a mix of mystery, horror, and “you never can go home again.”

Rating: ***1/2

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Podcasts of the Week Ending August 18


This is a particularly fruitful week for podcasts with a bumper crop of excellent episodes!

Afropop Worldwide :: Skippy White: A Vinyl Life

Checking in with a legendary soul & R&B record shop owner and entrepreneur, Skippy White.  His shop is located in Boston’s Egleston Square, not far from where I live, but this is the first I’ve heard of him!

Code Switch :: Behind the Lies My Teacher Told Me

An interview with James Loewen, author of the seminal critique of American history education, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

Hub History :: Folk Magic and Mysteries at the Fairbanks House

Daniel Neff, curator of the Fairbanks House museum in Dedham, talks about the house build by Puritan colonists that contains hidden charms and hex marks meant to ward off evil.

99% Invisible :: It’s Chinatown

The stories behind the origins of the distinctive architectural styles of American Chinatowns and the fortune cookie, neither of which actually originated in China.

Snap Judgment :: Talk of the Town

A local salesman, a fixture of his Oakland neighborhood, goes missing and is believed dead leading to an outpouring of remembrance in the community.  But one journalist digs deeper to find out what actually happened to the mystery man.

Tiny Desk Concerts :: Yo-Yo Ma

The famed cellist performs pieces of Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, and talks about learning to play the instrument.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Loop Groups

The work of the hidden actors who perform the background sounds of crowd scenes in movies.

 

Book Review: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson


Author: Joshilyn Jackson
TitleGods in Alabama
Narrator: Catherine Taber
Publication Info: Hachette Audio (2005)
Summary/Review:

This is a novel I saw highly recommended but didn’t know too much about going into it.  And since it jumps among many genres – romantic comedy, mystery, Southern gothic – it kept me guessing what would happen next (in a good way).  The narrator Arlene Fleet leaves her hometown in rural Alabama after a “miracle,” and promises God three things: never to lie, never to fornicate, and to never return to Possett, Alabama. 10 years later, an old classmate from Possett appears in Arlene’s life and forces her to make the decision to break all three promises.

Accompanying Arlene on her journey back to Alabama is her African-American boyfriend/potential fiance, setting up a confrontation with Arlene’s racist relatives. Arlene also has to contend with her strong-willed Aunt Florence, who raised her when her own mother suffered mental illness.  And she has to contend with the legacy of the popular high school quarterback, Jim Beverly.  There’s also an unsolved murder.  The murder is mentioned early in the book, so this is no spoiler, but the how and the why of the murder unfold over the narrative.

It’s an interesting and entertaining book that shifts from funny to dark on a dime.  I think it gets a bit too contrived toward the end, but by that time I was too invested in the characters to be bothered too much.  Of course, not knowing what exactly type of book this is helps in not anticipating its many twists.

Recommended books:

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote, Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price, The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann,  and Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Rating: ***

TV Review: Hunter Street (2018)


Title: Hunter Street
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 20
Summary/Review:

My son encouraged be to binge watch this Nickelodeon tv series about a family of foster children in Amsterdam who solve mysteries in Amsterdam.  As a child of the 80s, I can’t help be reminded of “The Bloodhound Gang.”  The mystery of “Hunter Street” is leavened by cornball comedy.  I think if you just read the script it wouldn’t really seem all to well written, but the kids in the cast of this show just ooze charm and are eminently lovable.  Plus every episode ends on a massive cliffhanger so you just have to keep watching.  We’re going to have to track down season one now that we’ve finished this binge.

I find it curious that although everyone involved in creating this show is from the Netherlands and the show is clearly set in Amsterdam, they went to a lot of effort to make the show for “export.”  The characters all speak English even when it would make sense for them to speak Dutch, the kids wear bike helmets, the police read a Miranda warning, and a thermostat shows the temperature in Fahrenheit.

“Hunter Street” is good family television.  Check it out.

Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley


AuthorDaniel O’Malley
TitleThe Rook
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Publication Info: Dreamscape Media, LLC , 2012
Summary/Review:

This book was recommended to me as being something I might enjoy as a fan of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.  While there are similar approaches to a detective novel with supernatural elements sprinkled with humor, I found this book darker and grimmer than anything Fforde has ever written.  The novel begins with a woman waking up in a park surrounded by dead bodies with no memory of who she is.  From letters she finds in her pockets and more letters found elsewhere, it is revealed that she is Myfanwy Thomas (or was Myfanwy Thomas, since the conceit of the book is that she is a new person born into an old body) and that she is part of a covert organization of people with superpowers who protect England from paranormal forces.  She holds the title of Rook in an organization based on chess pieces called the Checquy, hence the title of the book.

It turns out that the old Myfanwy was shy and obedient, but losing her memories has made her forget the traumas of her youth and more willing to explore using her powers to their full extent.  Thus, Myfanwy is set on finding the traitor in her organization who caused her amnesia while simultaneously dealing with the threat of the Grafters, a Belgian group that has learned how to augment and modify human bodies.

This is a very high-concept book, and I feel like at least the first third of the book is a slog because it’s mostly in the form of Myfanwy’s letter to herself that explain her past in a very tell, not show manner.  If you manage to  make it through that part of the book, though, the letters and Myfanwy’s present day adventures both get entertaining with a wry mix of humor, clever concepts, and gross outs.  There’s a sequel to the book I’ll check out, albeit I’m not rushing to get it right away.

Recommended books: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Portable Door by Tom Holt, A Soul to Steal by Rob Blackwell,  Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket and Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleThe Well of Lost Plots
Narrator: Emily Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2012)

Other Books Read by Same AuthorThe Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good BookShades of GrayThe Last DragonslayerThe Song of the QuarkbeastOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

I’m revisiting the Thursday Next series and struck by how Fforde can keep at least five plots going simultaneously, interweaving them, and somehow bringing them all together at the end.  First there’s Thursday’s apprenticeship with Miss Havisham at Jurisfiction and getting caught up in the Ultraword conspiracy.  Then there’s Aornis Hades’ memory worm, and Granny Next’s efforts to help Thursday remember Landen.  Then there’s the plot within the book Caversham Heights where Thursday gradually reshapes a derivative detective novel into the setting for Fforde’s Nursery Crime novels. And then there’s the the hysterical evolution of the generic characters Lola and Randolph. There are no plots lost here.  I was delighted to read this book again (in Emily Gray’s voice) and surprised to look back at my original review when I didn’t think too highly of this installment in the series.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson


AuthorTiffany D. Jackson
Title: Allegedly
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2017)
Summary/Review:

Mary is a teenager living in a group home in Brooklyn after several year of serving time for murdering a baby when she was 9-years-old. Allegedly, as is Mary’s frequent refrain.  When she falls in love with a man at the nursing home where she volunteers and becomes pregnant, she begins to reevaluate her past so that she can have a future with her baby and boyfriend.  The incidents of the night of the murder and her mother’s role in it as well as other facet’s of Mary’s past are slowly revealed while in the present time Mary has to deal with case workers, psychiatrists, and her hostile companions in the group home.  The book is good at showing the horrors of the modern day carceral state and Jackson does a great job at developing Mary’s voice.  However, the twists in the story seem unnaturally injected into the narrative to build suspense, especially the biggest twist at the end of the book, make it hard to recommend this book.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger


AuthorBruce Holsinger
TitleA Burnable Book
Narrator: Simon Vance
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2014)
Summary/Review:

This historical novel is set in post-plague London during the reign of Richard II.  The key character in this novel is John Gower, a real life poet who Holsinger has also earning his keep by trading in information and intrigue.  The events of the novel kick off when Gower’s friend Geoffrey Chaucer (Gower and Chaucer were friends in real life too) asks Gower to find a book that has prophecies of the deaths of English kings that would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.  Gower’s investigations take him into brothels and the criminal underworld of London which Holsinger describes in all their gritty details.  Too often Holsinger tells instead of shows, so the narrative gets paused while a character explains exactly what has happened. The plot gets too complicated as loose threads are tied off too soon and new contrivances are added to keep the narrative moving.  Holsinger is good at getting the feel of medieval London and has a few good ideas, but the book never lives up to its ambition.

Recommended booksCompany of Liars by Karen Maitland, The Plague Tales by Ann Benson, and Dr. Johnson’s London by Liza Picard
Rating: **

Book Review: Roll with the Punches by Amy Gettinger


Author: Amy Gettinger
TitleRoll with the Punches
Publication Info: Raucous Eucalyptus Press (2015)
Summary/Review:

I read this book as an attempt to read something I wouldn’t usually read after seeing it in a Kindle deals email and thinking “I’ve never read a romance novel based around roller derby.”  Turns out that this novel is actually about an aspiring author, Rhonda, who has discovered that her novel was stolen and published by a popular novelist and she is now being accused of plagiarism.  Also, her mother is in the hospital and she has to take care of her father who is suffering from dementia.  And there are two men in her life with whom she has romantic feelings: James, a handsome young tech geek from her writers’ group, and Dal, a former student of her fathers.  Also, Dal is Native American so there are a lot of uncomfortable Indian joke.  And there is a roller derby plot squished in there although it doesn’t seem to fit in with everything going especially since the roller derby team also doubles as another writer’s support group.  Whew!  I was curious about the mystery of who stole the manuscript so I read to the end, but ultimately was disappointed by the increasingly ludicrous situations, the two-dimensional nature of most of the supporting characters, and the unlikely way all these different things overlapped in Rhonda’s life.

Recommended booksFurther Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Rating: **

Book Review: Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt


Author: Samantha Hunt 
TitleMr. Splitfoot
Narrators: Cassandra Campbell and Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2016)
Summary/Review:

This gothic mystery tells two interwoven stories.  The first is about the young Ruth and Nat, foster children growing up in a group home under a strange Christian cult leader.  They begin to claim that they can talk with the dead, and with the help of a con man named Mr. Bell, they escape and begin traveling and hosting seances.

The second story is about a directionless young woman named Cora who becomes pregnant by her cruel boyfriend, who is married to another woman.  Her aunt Ruth, now unable to speak, arrives and takes Cora on a long journey across the state of New York.  There’s a lot of mystery and creepiness in this book, although the real horror is the cruelty of humankind.  {SPOILER} The biggest surprise of this book is that it manages a happy ending. {/SPOILER}
Favorite Passages:

“Forget God. Or don’t call it that. I’m talking about mystery, unsolvable mystery. Maybe it’s as simple as love. I say it is.”

Recommended booksChoke by Chuck Palahniuk and
The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clark
Rating: ***