Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Man on the Roof

By Michael Stephenson

Amazon Digital     2018
639 pages     Thriller
The Shortlist

Michael Stephenson, the author of The Man on the Roof contacted me and asked me to look at his newest book. Stephenson is the author of several books across multiple genres. This is a self-published thriller, available through Amazon.

Here is the synopsis of the book from the author.
“Someone has been creeping in the dark while the others sleep, and they've done terrible, terrible things. 

“There was a man on your roof,” claims curmudgeonly lane-hermit Herbert McKinney. Then, he initiates an unprovoked fight with a local punk. Drama escalates when that punk's dead body is found hanging at mid-street one August morning—a boastful killer messaging their next prey. All fingers point to Herbert as the culprit. Soon, the five couples he calls neighbors come under suspicion, too. When lead detective Cady Lambert divines blackmail as the motive, eyes cross to find who hides the most shameful secret. Husband versus wife, friend versus friend, the shiny suburban veneer of innocence has been forever tarnished. As hidden deviousness boils from their pores, there lurks a thief, a pill addict and a sadist—secrets worth killing for. 

Now, as the man on the roof helps guide justice and watches devious neighbors slip in and out of sleepy houses, confusion and questions persist. Who dies next? What have they learned? Who is becoming a monster? Who already is one? And just how many secrets can a small group of multi-ethnic Ohioans have? Only one cemented truth exists: the killer will kill again. 

A tension-building psychological mystery-suspense thriller, The Man On The Roof propels the reader through a tangled, volatile and suspenseful thicket of deception, murder and friends, inviting the reader to discover the murderer and who hides which lie.

The concept of the book is intriguing, and the families that live on the suburban Ohio street are varied and interesting, although each family fills a stereotype role. Where I got bogged down was in Stephenson’s sentence structure. One Goodreads reviewer called it “clunky.” Additionally, the author needed a good strong editor to cut it down and tidy it up. Ultimately, it was the grammar mistakes and mix-ups over characters that caused me to put the book down.

On the other hand, Stephenson is the author of more than 15 books. He has a huge imagination and a tremendous tenacity. You have to give him credit for that.

The best thing about The Man on the Roof is that it is free if you are a member of Amazon Prime. If you like to read books primarily for plot, then this is a good book for you.

This is Michael Stephenson’s website.

Faith: A Journey for All

By Jimmy Carter

Simon and Schuster     2018
179 pages     Spiritual

This slim volume contains the spiritual pondering of the thirty-ninth President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.  Some of the chapters are culled from his many writings on the topic of faith as well as what he is thinking now in his 94th year.

The surprising thing to me is that Carter’s thoughts are well-researched, both biblically and theologically. It shouldn't have been a surprise. This is a man who has taught a Sunday School class all his adult life. He has researched and met many of the signature theologians of Protestantism, including Reinhold Niebuhr, William Sloane Coffin, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He quotes these (and other) theologians extensively as well as quoting many verses of scripture.

The goal of this book is to “explore the broader meaning of faith, its far-reaching effect on our lives, and its relationship to past, present, and future events in America and around the world.” He discusses faith in the context of religion, but he also discusses it in the broader dimension—in our communal lives, our individual lives, and our lives in government and secular affairs. He expresses how his faith has guided him in all his endeavors, including the political. One chapter is spent on the discussion of how he used his faith in his political life. My feeling about this chapter was that it may have been gleaned from some of his other writings. It is very interesting, although perhaps a bit out of context.

Carter believes that people must have a “foundation on which we can build a predictable and dependable existence.” He calls for people to have a central core of beliefs and standards. This, to him, is faith.

One of my favorite quotes in the book is "I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings." William Sloane Coffin. To this, Carter responds “I have always felt that my own faith has been made possible or strengthened by my sincere desire to have it, a personal blessing to me.”

He has harsh words to say to fundamentalists who say that they have the only answer. He says, “there are three words to characterize this brand of fundamentalism: pride, domination, and exclusion. In sharp contrast, Jesus espoused humility, servanthood of leaders, and breaking down walls between people.”

My church book club had a very meaningful discussion related to Faith: A Journey for All. It is written in a simple, engaging style. I recommend it for discussion groups.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Musical Road Kills

By Nevard Tellalian

Just Ain’t Write Books     2018
335 pages     Memoir
The Shortlist

Nevard Tellalian is another artist whose name I had never heard before her publicist sent me her memoir. However, I listened to some of her music and was wowed by her marvelous voice and then dipped into her memoir. What a gal! What a life! What love! What chaos!

She says, “Music has lived in every cell of my being since I was a toddler. I feel that it was a gift to be able to work at something I had an undying love for. I also feel lucky to have been plying my trade during a time when most of the pioneers of our nation’s home-grown music were still living and playing.” In that regard, Tellalian had a long relationship with Joey Ramone, but the love of her life was Jeremy John Dennis for whom she wrote the marvelous song, Stay With Me, which you can find here.

Reading Musical Road Kills is a trip. It is like having a conversation with a very animated person. The reader comes to know Tellalian like you would if you were sitting beside her on a long train ride, and she just started talking. There are lots of words written in capital letters; there are lots of sentences emphasized in bold; there are lots of unfinished sentences, lots of . . . . (this). The reader has to be willing to negotiate the territory, but when you do, the stories are incredible and the music reverberates.

One thing I especially appreciated is her assertion that people make music because they can’t live without it. She says,

It’s the music.
It’s the soul mates in music we meet along the way.
It’s the love of it that we share with them.
It’s the Ones that instruct us.
It’s the circle that always takes us back to
The Music.
Like the learning that never stops.
Like a lover you never stop yearning for.
Like the Music.

Nevard Tellalian’s website 

Friday, June 22, 2018

News of the World

 By Paulette Jiles
William Morrow     2016
209 pages     Historical Fiction

It is the winter of 1870, and Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran and an itinerant news reader, is on the road in northern Texas heading toward his next news reading performance. He is stopped by two travelers who introduce him to a young girl that they have been commissioned to return to her family after having been captured by the Kiowa four years previously. Kidd agrees to take Johanna to her aunt and uncle in the San Antonio region for a $50 gold piece. He doesn’t quite understand why he decides to take this long perilous journey in a wagon and horses with this little girl, but he does. She seems to speak no English, but, boy, is she feisty. This unlikely pair bond as they make the journey, and the reader bonds with the characters, who are extremely well created.

The story itself is fascinating, but Jiles has also done meticulous historical research of post-Civil War Texas, native uprisings, loose-cannon war veterans, and the hard-working people who live in the small towns where Kidd rents space to read the newspaper to people hungry to find out what is going on in the world.  At the same time, Jiles inhabits her characters with a kind of metaphysical brilliance that transcends the stark surroundings. The reviewer in the Washington Post suggests that “The evil some people are capable of is never as important, in Jiles’s generous assessment, as the longing of many more people for peace, order, and love.”

Several things were important to me as I read News of the World. One is that I knew nothing about news readers—Captain Kidd’s retirement career. People were eager for him to come to their town and read the newspaper to them—the news of the world—and paid a dime to attend the reading. We are so inundated with news that we forget how little news people had in the past and how important it was to them. Jiles ties this in to the theme of her novel when Captain Kidd muses, “Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says: it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.” I love that thought, and I wonder what part of my message will be remembered when I am gone.

Then, I read this book in the midst of the crisis at the border of Texas over migrant and refugee children. My heart was already broken, and I couldn’t help but equate Johanna’s crisis with the current children and their trauma. Jiles even speaks to that trauma: "Perhaps it was something like this that changed the captive children forever; the violence they had endured when they were captured, their parents killed. Perhaps it sank down in their young minds and stayed there, invisible and unacknowledged but very powerful."

Finally, our family has just discovered a 4th great grandmother, Elizabeth Graham, who was captured by the Shawnee in West Virginia at age 7 and was found 8 years later by her father in Ohio. We plan to visit her home, which is a national historic monument, later in the summer.

News of the World was a great read and fostered a great discussion at book club last night. It was a National Book Award finalist and will be a movie. Tom Hanks bought the rights and he will play Captain Kidd. Wow!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Lagos Noir

Edited by Chris Abani

Akashic Books     2018
218 pages     Short Stories/Noir

Another three Noir short story collections came to me from Akashic Books, the publisher that has specialized in noir collections from places all over the world. Each collection is edited by a native of that area, and feature stories by authors from the region. They are: Lagos Noir, Santa Cruz Noir, and Sao Paulo Noir.

I picked Lagos Noir to read first from this new batch of books because I had never read anything from Nigeria, although I have an advanced readers copy of Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo, which I planned to read in conjunction with Lagos Noir. Haven’t gotten to it yet. Grandkids got in the way of reading time.

Here is what the editor, Chris Abani, has to say about the stories he chose. “The thirteen stories that comprise this volume stretch the boundaries of “noir” fiction, but each one of them fully captures the essence of noir, the unsettled darkness that continues to lurk in the city’s streets, alleys, and waterways.”

I would like to mention two stories. My favorite was Showlogo by Nnedi Okorafor. In this story, we meet Showlogo, the neighborhood bully, 6’4” of pure muscle with an attitude to match. He farms outside the city, but because farming isn’t making any money in Nigeria any more, Showlogo has just gotten a job as a baggage handler at the airport. At the same time, he continues to terrorize the neighborhood. When the shit hits the fan and Showlogo figures out he has to escape, he hides on a plane, heading for the U.S. What happens next leaves the reader going WHAT!

The other story, Killer Ape, is by the editor Chris Abani. It is about a murder case in 1987 Lagos. When the police detective arrives on the scene, it seems apparent that the pet chimp killed the homeowner. It seems bizarre, at best, but the poignant reason for the killing is heart wrenching. I was very touched by the “unsettled darkness” of the story.

 Each story is skillfully chosen and placed in the anthology. I highly recommend this addition to the Akashic series.

I have another posting about Akashic noir books. You can find it here. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

You Lucky Dog

By Debra Finerman

Stewart’s Grove Press     2018
226 pages     Fiction

Is You Lucky Dog a love story or is it a dog story, or is it both? I began with the question as I brought the car to the shop to be serviced, book in hand. After about two hours, I had the answer to my question—and a totally serviced car. It is both—a love story and a dog story. And it’s all a bit dopey!

Emma is married to a man named Jake. She also owned a Westie named Jake when she met the human Jake. The couple and the dog have recently moved to Los Angeles, where human Jake is in a car accident with the Westie Jake on his lap. In the midst of the accident Jake feels his brain synapses sparking and sputtering, A chemicalization spreads through his body and his DNA unravels. The two Jakes fuse. Human Jake has merged into Westie Jake. Or so it seems.

The book cover says, ”a hilarious and heartwarming tale of misplaced identity. You Lucky Dog explores the mysteries of life and death, and the enduring power of love, in a heartwarming story for animal lovers and all lovers.

Yes, it’s cute—as cute as a talking dog. Of course it will please dog lovers particularly, although I think it might please people on the beach or teenage girls. It definitely was the perfect read for the auto service center.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Noir: A Novel

By Christopher Moore

William Morrow    2018
352 pages     Noir/Humor

Oh my goodness! What a hoot!  Noir: A Novel is a send-up of every pretentious noir or hard-boiled detective novel ever written.

As many of you know, I have been studying noir over the past several months, ever since I read Deadbomb Bingo Ray last year. Then Akashic Books sent me three volumes of noir and neo-noir short stories which I reviewed. Which led me to try to discover the difference between noir and neo-noir. Then, just recently, a literature professor told me that our local author Bonnie Jo Campbell’s books could be classified as “country noir.” Now that was a term I had never heard of and will be another addition to my reading agenda.

Well, anyway, let’s talk about Noir: A Novel, the humorist Christopher Moore’s newest effort. Frankly, I had never read anything by Christopher Moore, but if all his books are as funny as this one, I have got to tune in to him more frequently.

 The book takes place in 1947 as the US is getting resettled following the war. The protagonist—the main protagonist, at least—is Sam, a bartender at a grimy San Francisco saloon. The other protagonist is a snake! We meet both in the first chapter when Sam arrives at work and finds his boss dead on the floor, killed by snake venom. The bar owner, Sal, was killed by the snake that Sam had delivered to the bar because he has plans to go into the “snake whiz” business. Apparently many Asian men are eager to buy snake pee as a cure for erectile dysfunction. 

Of course there is a girl; in this case a gorgeous dime store waitress named Stilton. Sam calls her “Cheese.” He falls instantly in love with her after she walks into the bar one night. Sam says that Stilton has “the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes.”  Much of the plot hinges on Sam saving Cheese from a gathering of powerful, rich men that she has been hired to entertain at a camp in the woods outside the city.

Oh, and I almost forgot, there is an alien—a little green moon man. And a group of men—maybe government agents—out to find the little guy. At this point, any resemblance to any classical noir goes completely off the rails, and the reader just can’t stop laughing. One reviewer says: “In keeping with the noir style, there are many divergent plotlines that ultimately have to be tied up, and Moore’s solution—no spoilers here—is unique to the genre.  

The riffs on “noir speak” are incredibly funny. I found myself underlining something silly on nearly every page. For example:
·         “The fog lay spread across the city like a drowned whore—damp, cold, smelling of salt and diesel—a sea-sodden streetwalker who’d just bonked a tugboat.”
·         “If you’re planning a caper, that’s the flatfoot you want flapping after you. That mug couldn’t catch a cough in a tire fire.”
·         “he looked like a black-and-white character that had stumbled into a Technicolor movie.”

Well, I could go on and on. Those three quotes were on just 3 pages. Dashell Hammet and Raymond Chandler are probably turning over in their graves. A couple of the major reviewers, including Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly didn’t particularly like Noir: A Novel, but most likely they weren’t in the proper frame of mind. I read it over the Memorial Day weekend when the temperatures were in the 90s and my brain was as frizzled as the garden I had just planted. It all made perfect sense to me.

Christopher Moore’s website.