Literary Fiction Length:
180 pagesThe Rundown
What is the difference between a good book and a great book? People talk about a good book, perhaps recommend it to a friend or even rate it on Amazon. On the other hand, a great book connects in a very personal way. A great book is inherently honest, without a shred of manipulation. It gets inside you... tugs, digs, and performs reconstructive surgery on your heart and soul. A great book leaves you no place to hide and forever changes you to the day you die. Is The Watchman
by debut novelist Matt Langford such a book?
Adam is a mentally disabled teenager caught up in the everyday maelstrom we call life. He cannot speak beyond a few simple words. Most of his language is made up and known only to him. He possesses a very limited grasp of the past, with even less understanding of the future. Everything exists in the now, and revolves around him. Adam’s family, which is the same as saying his entire universe, is falling apart. His younger brother and sister are growing up and changing in ways he cannot comprehend. His parents’ marriage slowly grows cold under strain of a father’s joblessness and alcoholism. Adam is also changing, physically becoming a man, imposing more unrelenting demands and needs upon an already stressed family. The book begins with a short entry from an expecting mother’s journal, full of hope and love for the baby she carries inside. The Watchman
ends with a father’s touching connection with his oldest son. The Watchman
is an ambitious book by any standard, but Matt Langford took this challenge to a higher level.
The author tells this story exclusively through Adam’s perspective. In doing so, he forces the reader to actively participate and make their own translations of Adam’s world, their own conclusions about the motivations of the “normal” people surrounding him. Langford pulls this off masterfully. With short, simple and brutally effective prose, Langford creates more character development, more humanity
, in a few sentences than most authors can create in whole chapters. In only 180 pages Langford boils a family’s existence down to its raw essence.
This is the point in my review where I usually point out something I found wrong with the book. If there were editing problems with The Watchman
, I didn’t notice. I was too busy losing myself in the story. For two days it took over my life. A book hasn’t done that to me since I was a kid.
Is The Watchman
a Top Pick? Of course, but good books can be Top Picks. “Top Pick” seems like such a small kudo for such a profound novel. So, does The Watchman
qualify as a great book?
A few nights ago I attended my child’s school play. During the presentation loud, inappropriate laughter and other strange noises emanated from the back row. There, an obviously mentally disabled boy of perhaps thirteen squirmed next to his mother. He smiled, touched, flailed and spoke in a language known only to him. Tenderly, and with the utmost patience, his mother tried to simultaneously restrain her boy while watching her other child in the play. It could have been a scene right out of The Watchman
. Until the day I die I will never look at a mentally disabled person, or their family, again without thinking of Adam.
This great novel earns Five out of Five Stars. Matt Langford Links:Matt Langford’s Blog
and Amazon PageThe Watchman on Amazon
Matt Langford on Facebook
, and Goodreads.
TITLE: Tell a Thousand Lies
AUTHOR: Rasana Atreya
PUBLISHER: self-published through CreateSpace
GENRE: literary, women's fiction
If you’re looking for a peek into the lives and traditions of rural communities in India during the 1980’s and 90’s, Tell a Thousand Lies
will be an eye-opener. Pullamma, the main character, is a young girl brought up to believe that one of the worst things a woman can do is get a good education. All she wants to do is get married to the perfect husband and have beautiful children, but this proves nearly impossible when she is proclaimed a Goddess by the local oracle. In Tell a Thousand Lies
, author Rasanya Atrea juggles political corruption, superstition and deep-rooted traditions as she weaves a love story that could break your heart.
Not being familiar with Indian names or traditions, the first few chapters weren't a quick read. But as I kept going, I became familiar with terms and word usage that once seemed foreign, and the book picked up speed. Rasanya’s writing is smooth, but it was not her use of words that drew me in or kept me reading. I was intrigued by the setting and premise of the story.
About halfway through the book, though, I found myself disappointed. While the main character, Pullamma, is written to be a sweet young woman who only wants to do the right thing, she is often shallow and selfish. Even though I rooted for her and turned the pages to find out what happened next, I was never able to identify with her. I cheered for her as she became a more independent, confident character, but the stronger she became the less I could connect to her.
THE RECOMMENDATIONTell a Thousand Lies
is an exciting tale of love, deceit, family values and superstition. If you are interested in the traditions and culture of India, pick it up, but prepare yourself for a heroine who is an emotional wreck. The book is suitable for a young adult audience.
Find it on Amazon
Find it on Goodreads
Visit Rasana's website
Welcome back to Underground Book Reviews Summer Short Fiction Series. This month I'll bring you three very different short fiction pieces starting with Datafall by Rich Larson.
Datafall by Rich Larson
Datafall is a collection of seven science fiction short stories. Larson’s prose is short and efficient, not a word wasted. Each syllable is crafted for maximum effect to forge stories that are almost tight to a fault. I admire this style, but I think this approach slightly detracted from Larson’s first four tales.
Datafall’s first few stories are intriguing, but stiff. They’re written with machine-like efficiency, but border on cold and lack a certain degree of emotional depth. The themes are effectively executed, but are not especially original or memorable.
Thankfully, Larson’s prose warms in the last three stories and we get a glimpse of not a good writer, but an excellent writer. Back So Soon is somewhat humorous story about self-image and relationships in a not-so-distant future. Factory Man is a fresh take on the Frankenstein theme and a bleak, but powerful, commentary on human life. As for the final tale, Datafall, Larson was smart naming the compendium for this story. This little nugget is very short and beautifully written, a perfect piece of sci-fi gold.
The reader should consider the first four stories in Datafall as the warm-up for the final three. They make this inspired compendium a worthy read for any sci-fi fan and it earns it an 82 out of 99 cents.
TITLE: My Memories of a Future Life
AUTHOR: Roz Morris
GENRE: Literary Fiction
PUBLISHER: Self-Published through CreateSpace
THE RUNDOWNMy Memories of a Future Life
is a story about Carol: a pianist who has lost her ability to play due to a medical condition. When her best friend turns to a hypnotherapist to cure his panic attacks, Carol thinks he's delusional. That is, until she reunites with Gene, a childhood friend who is able to put her into a trance against her will. Her relationship with Gene is more of a power struggle than a friendship, a struggle which Carol consistently loses. Every time Gene hypnotizes Carol, she experiences her life as a future incarnation as herself... but even though Carol doesn't believe in the hoax, she finds herself addicted to the hypnotic sessions, longing for them against her better judgment.
The first half of My Memories of a Future Life
reads like a rainy Sunday. At first, I was spellbound by Roz's writing, but soon found myself drifting off, itching for something more. Carol spent too much time complaining about not being able to use her musical talent, and the plot meandered along in no discernible direction. At one point, I looked at the pages in front of me and wondered if I would be able to slog through the rest of the book.
However, about halfway through the book, the rain cleared and I was thrust into dazzling sunshine. The plot thickened and a brilliantly conceived, futuristic world was laid before me. I was alongside Carol, doubting the legitimacy of her futuristic visions, and yet spellbound. I wanted to push Carol away from her power struggle with Gene, who began showing dangerously sadistic tendencies... and yet, like Carol, I yearned for more. I read the second half of the book with urgency, unable to put it down. And the ending did not disappoint.
If you're willing to put the time into the beginning of the book, and you're ready to suspend your disbelief a little further than usual, My Memories of a Future Life
will be a worthwhile read. The novel has the feel of a modern-day witch-trial with a tense romance thrown in the mix. It has a mild amount of sexual and/or violent scenes suitable for ages 18 and up.
THE LINKSRoz Morris's blog, Nail Your NovelRoz Morris on TwitterBuy My Memories of a Future Life on Amazon.comIf you enjoyed this review, you can subscribe to the Underground or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Literary fiction novels can be pretentious. Sometimes, they are dark and self-absorbed. These days, they are often just plain bad. The Vagabond King
by James Conway is none of these. This novel is the masterpiece that almost was. It is like a comet that comes close to blazing glory, but then fades short of its true potential.
Through the eyes of teenage angst, The Vagabond King
wrestles with the grandest questions of all: life, death, love, and what it all means. Vagabond
is about being emotionally and spiritually lost and how we struggle throughout our lifetimes to find our place in the universe. If The Vagabond King
sounds deep, well, it is very deep. It is not light reading by any measure.
At the core of this novel is the teenager Christopher, a child of wealth and privilege. He struggles to come to grips with his mother’s death, his emotionally distant father, and his own self-identity. Angst-ridden, brooding, self-absorbed and often irritating, he is not a likable character. He suddenly leaves home and school and, through various circumstances, comes to live with Magda, a poor waitress, and her elderly Hungarian father.
Magda, a dark beauty approaching middle age, is a waitress with a Ph.D.’s knowledge of ancient mythology. She sets the undertone for the whole book. Christopher pines and lusts for her while she fills his head with tales of ancient gods and heroes.
Over the course of many months, Christopher spends a great deal of time with Magda’s father, whom Christopher dubs the “Vagabond King.” They drink beer and listen to the Blues while the old man recalls his youth growing up under communist oppression in Hungary.
Conway brilliantly uses Magda and her father to shape Christopher’s perspective on himself and the universe. But Magda and her father are more than characters; they are reflections of universal forces symbolized in ancient mythology. (I warned you it was going to get deep). If, however, the reader takes Conway’s characters strictly on face value they will come to the same conclusion I did - they are masterfully written and purely original.
I haven’t finished a book so quickly in a long time because these characters were so intriguing. There were times I had to put the book down and simply reflect on how talented this author is. Conway’s dialogue and narration are often mind-blowing. Unfortunately, this is as close to becoming a masterpiece as this book gets. There are several noteworthy flaws that rob this novel of its true potential.
Conway often gets lost while telling this tale. First, he is overly repetitive. Vagabond
could have easily been 100 pages shorter. Also, it had more than a fair share of simple mechanical errors a good editor could have easily fixed. These flaws, however, didn’t keep The Vagabond King
out of my Top Picks.
What kept this novel out of my top picks was how often Conway departs the narrative and ceases all character voice. It’s as if the story goes on pause and Conway himself begins to ramble. It felt like I was watching a play and one of the actors quit reciting his lines and began talking directly to the audience. It slowed the book down and often left me wondering whose perspective I was currently dealing with.
Overall, however, Vagabond
is beautifully written, often brilliant, and suitable for ages sixteen and up for mild sexual content. It is because of Conway’s astonishing characters that I recommend this book to anyone interested in literary fiction. However, as currently written, I can only give The Vagabond King
85 out of 99 cents. The good news is with further editing it could be so much more.
99 Cents worth of James Conway links:James Conway's website
The Vagabond King on Amazon If you enjoyed this review, you can subscribe to the Underground or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Rebecca Coleman Paper Back:
338 Pages Publisher:
Mira BooksGenre: Fiction
: The story begins in Sylvania, Maryland where Judy McFarland, wife and mother of two teenage children, teaches kindergarten. Unlike Ms. Coleman’s characters, the private Waldorf Schools where Judy is employed is not fictitious. Founded in l819 each child enrolled in a Waldorf school has their own unique lesson book created to inspire the individual gifts and talents of each student. One of the tenets of the school is to protect the child from any outside influence that would stifle personal creative growth from within. This, in itself, already sets the bar high for Judy McFarland.
Set in l998, just after
Mary Kay Letourneau was found guilty of having a sexual affair with a 13 year old student, and during
the time Bill Clinton confessed to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, 40 something year old Judy McFarland and l6 year old Zach Patterson begin a sexual liaison. Both have issues. Zach has just moved to Sylvania leaving familiar friends and surroundings behind. He is also aware that his mother, pregnant with her second child, had an affair with a much younger man. Judy is married to an overbearing husband addicted to prescription drugs rarely acknowledges her presence. Their daughter, in her first year of college, begins to rebel against every Waldorf principle she has ever been taught. And then there's Judy’s l6 year old son, who just happens to be friends with her new lover.
The story weaves back and forth between both Judy’s present life and as a child growing up in Germany. As a young girl, soon after Judy's mentally ill mother was institutionalized, she discovers her father is having an affair with the young woman hired to be their housekeeper. We also learn that adolescent Judy feels a warm and sometimes lustful attraction towards a young German man named Rudi. As we read Zach's perspective, he seems well rooted in his knowledge of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ which creates recognizable, uneasy tension throughout the book.
The conflict escalates when Judy tries to dominate Zach, wanting to be more of a girlfriend than a ‘Mrs. Robinson’ type of sexual escapade. Zach shows signs of sexual physical abuse as he wrestles inwardly with his lust for Judy physically, losing respect for her as a teacher and role model, as his desire grows be with a girl his own age.
Long before Zach tells his mother’s mid-wife he is having an affair with Mrs. McFarland, the novel takes an even darker turn. By this time, however, it is much too late for Judy McFarland to redeem herself. Quote
:“I picked up a thread tangled in the wool near the center of the hat and thought about what I had been in my mother’s life – a lumpy little defect in the middle of a regimentally ordered pattern -- and that my children would never be made to feel that way. They were the center. They were the pattern.”
This is the quote in the book where I began to feel sorry for Judy McFarland – then later realize she wasn’t being honest with herself -- or anyone else. Reaction
: Rebecca Coleman’s debut book is seamlessly written taking the reader on an unforgettable journey into a taboo subject. As much as I wanted to be open to the topic of a middle-aged woman lusting after an l6 year old boy, I found myself judging Judy. The writing pulled me back in as I took breaks from reading and thought of the addicts who are told that if they continue to use, they will die, yet the urge to use overpowers any reality of death; about those addicted to gambling who lose every dime over and over again, in spite of the fact the mortgage is due and they have lost their children’s lunch money. At every turn of the page, I tried to find something to respect
about Judy McFarland, but couldn’t. She irritated me. She made me angry. I wanted to confront her face-to-face. And that’s what good writing is all about, bringing out emotions. On the other hand, Zach was likeable and had a sense of decency that made him question himself more than the morals of a lover who is older than his own mother.
Although the entire novel was well written, my opinion is that Coleman’s best writing is
right smack dab in the middle of the book, where she creates the tension that makes readers more than just a little uncomfortable. Rating
: The Kingdom of Childhood
is a Top Pick with 4.5 out of 5 stars. Recommendation
: I recommend The Kingdom of Childhood
for those over l8 years old who enjoy reading a ‘gutsy’ debut novel by a writer I believe will soon be a best-selling novelist. If you enjoyed this review subscribe to Underground Book Reviews and follow us on Facebook.
TITLE: The Colony
AUTHOR: Jillian Weise
PUBLISHER: Soft Skull Press
GENRE: Literary Fiction
THE RUNDOWN The Colony
follows Anne Hatley, a one-legged English teacher who volunteers to live at an institution called the Colony for three months. There, she is told that her genetics will be studied and her leg will be regenerated. The premise is intriguing: a group of people with varying genetic defects are stuck together for three months while scientists perform tests on them and the media prods them. Jillian’s writing is at times beautiful, quirky and funny. The Colony
was touted as a dystopian novel, a look into the morality of genetic research. And yet, with so much promise, the book managed to completely miss its mark.
To begin with, Anne Hatley is one of the most self-centered, needy people I’ve ever read about. She cheats on her boyfriend and is disgusted with him for not saying anything when he finds out. She hates the world for noticing her leg, but doesn’t want to grow it back. I kept reading, entertained, for the same reason I continue to watch Sex and the City: What will this self-absorbed nymphomaniac do next?
Then Darwin appears (yes, the
Charles Darwin) and it’s never explained if he’s a ghost or if he’s a figment of her imagination. Then flowers start sneezing and people start floating in mid-air. It’s not that I’m against fantasy, but when I’m reading about the morality of genetic research in a modern-day setting, I’m a little surprised when a girl who has the ‘obesity gene’ starts floating because of the side-effects of her treatment. The fantastic elements of the story were well beyond explanation. The scientific elements were grossly lacking.
I hoped for redemption at the end of the book, but found none. Neither the main character nor the plot took a surprising turn. I was left with a book that started out trying to be smart, and ended up sounding pretentious and uneducated.
I would not recommend this book to anyone looking for dystopian fiction or deep, conceptual plots. If you’re looking for a humorous voice and a sexy romance novel, you might give it a shot. But I still wouldn’t suggest putting it at the top of your summer reading list.
STILL WANT TO BUY IT? Visit Jillian Weise’s website Buy it on Amazon
: The TakerBy
: Alma KatsuHardcover
: 448 pagesPublisher:
Late one night, Dr. Luke Findley is summoned to the emergency room in the quaint town of St. Andrews, Maine. Findley is a divorced, lonely, middle-aged physician stuck practicing in the small town where he was born. But, when the local sheriff brings Lanore (Lanny) McIlvrae, a suspect in a murder case, into the hospital to be evaluated, Luke’s life takes a drastic turn.
Luke is strangely taken by the young, mysterious woman. She tells him she was born and raised St. Andrews . . . in the early l800’s. After proving signs of immortality, the physician agrees to help her escape. This is when Lanny’s dark story begins to unfold.
Lanny McIlvea’s account begins as a teenager with her obsessive desire for Jonathan, the son of the St. Andrews founder. When she becomes pregnant with his child, Lanny’s is sent to Boston where she is to give birth, give the child up for adoption, and then return to her Pilgrimage home.
A strange twist of fate, however, leads her to the home of Adair, a wealthy European. When she is forced to take a potion stolen from a physic some 200 years ago, she becomes eternally bound to the destructive, twisted and depraved Adair.
The well-crafted story interweaves historical fiction with the supernatural. THE TAKER explores an age-old question. At what price is someone willing to not only pay for eternal life, but to covet another person . . . . forever. Quote from The Taker:
“We sleep and wake, eat and drink, go through our day like anyone else. The only difference is that another person might ponder, from time to time, which day will be his last. But you and I, our days, will never end.”Reaction:
I will say I was a bit apprehensive when I chose to review this book. I am pragmatic. I want to know how something happens and why. However, Katsu took me by surprise when I found myself totally captivated. Her free and easy writing style captured every moment and brought each character to life. Katsu doesn’t just take us there, we are there. The scenes move easily and fluently from present day back to the l800’s and then to Romania in the l600’s.
It is not only Katzu’s vivid descriptions that hooked me, but the story line. The story was so believable that I found myself shaking my head to remind myself I was reading fiction. Recommendation:
This is a captivating read for anyone open who wants to read a great book. A reader needs to be open-minded, however, about the dark side of our human nature. If you are absolutely opposed to reading about sex, abuse, or witchcraft, this is not your book. However, I wasn't that interested in stories with such overtones, but couldn’t put the book down.
Just as The Scarlet Letter
became a classic, I predict Katsu’s trilogy will also live on to become classics.
**Not recommended for anyone under l8 years old.
Stay tuned for The Reckoning
, the second book in Katsu’s trilogy is due to be released in June of 2012.
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 www.almakatsu.comalmakatsu.blogspot.com'Alma Katsu, author' on Facebook @almakatsu on Twitter
TITLE: The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors
AUTHOR: Michele Young-Stone
PUBLISHER: Braodway Paperbacks
AGENT: Michelle Brower
GENRE: Literary fiction
THE RUNDOWN The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors
is a novel about people. Duh, you say, all novels are about people. But really, I say, this novel is about people
. It’s about a little girl who gets struck by lightning, a little boy who wishes he got struck by lightning, an alcoholic with a cheating husband, a husband with an alcoholic for a wife… the list goes on. Don’t let the title fool you, it’s not about lightning.
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten halfway through a book and found myself unable to put it down until I finished it four hours later, having forgotten all previous obligations. But that’s what I did when I read The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors
by Michele Young-Stone.
I honestly don’t know. When I started reading it, I was thrown off by seemingly needless tense changes, which flipped the narration from past to present between chapters. I found myself frustrated by the intermittent use of first names, last names and nicknames, which forced my feeble mind to remember three times as many characters as I needed to. I was surprised when she started speaking to me in the second person, and sometimes confused by her constant point-of-view changes.
And yet, I quickly got used to her unusual style and read on, enthralled by the clash of beautiful and grotesque that was so elegantly laid out before me. Michele Young-Stone is a poet.
And while a poet must obviously have a handle on words, in my opinion that’s not what’s most important. A good poet is an observer, someone who quietly takes in their surroundings, who empathizes with their enemies, who sees the whole picture. If the poet doesn’t see the whole picture, neither will I when I read their work.
When I finished reading The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors
, I might as well have been at a gallery opening. I didn’t just see one picture, I saw many. I saw the young and the old with their faults and their strengths, laid out before me and framed with dovetail joints.
I don’t know what you’ll get out of The Handbook for Lightning Survivors
, but I found forgiveness. For myself and others.
If you’re looking for an action-packed page turner, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a book that spins a tale so vivid that you can’t put it down, look no further. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, or The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. WANT TO BUY IT?Michele Young-Stone's website!
Get in on Amazon
Every page of Alice LaPlante’s Turn Of Mind is filled with rich visual images of prose that melts together harmonically. LaPlante takes us on a vivid and emotional journey into the mind of a 65 year old Dr. Jennifer White who was once an esteemed surgeon and now suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. In my opinion, the story lacks credibility.
Dr. White’s best friend was found murdered, with two of her fingers amputated. She becomes a suspect not only because of her surgical expertise, but because on the day of the murder, Jennifer White had been missing for several hours.
Having worked with Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, I challenge the vivid recollections Dr. Jennifer White has given the stage of her disease. The physician recalls more about her childhood, her marriage, her children, her past love life, specific dates, places, and faces than those of us who do not suffer from a debilitating brain disease. A Houdini-like escape artist, she manages on several occasions to escape the live-in caretaker and, when moved to a care facility, Dr. White again escapes a lock down facility and wanders aimlessly around the city for over 30 hours.
Dr. White’s two children sadistically needle their mother for money and secrets of her past in spite of her declining health. Detectives ruthlessly interrogate someone who can’t tell the difference between a tube of toothpaste and a fork, let alone recall if she murdered her best friend. The physician’s now deceased husband cheated on her, her two adult children are incorrigible and unappreciative; her best friend blackmails her and was murdered. And now she has Alzheimer’s. How much more can this poor woman take?
As we become aware of Dr. White’s anti-social behavior, get to know her cold, unemotional heart, we pray that somehow she redeems herself before it’s too late. Her only redemption is that she has volunteered at a clinic for the uninsured, but given what we already know about her, the motives for even doing this are questionable.
Quotation marks are not used throughout the novel. What Dr. White says is in italics, what she feels or thinks is not italicized and what other people say is not italicized. This slows down the flow as the reader has to stop and think whether we are in present or past tense and who is actually speaking.
If you’re looking for a book that is eloquently written I would recommend you read Turn of Mind. If you’re looking for a book to educate or prepare you for Alzheimer’s disease it is not your book.
More research or possibly using the adult child’s POV would have given this book more credibility. I give this book a three out of five star rating.