Curse of the Coloring Book by Howard L. Hibbard

Curse of the Coloring BookCurse of the Coloring Book: A Novel Inspired by a True Story

by Howard L. Hibbard

Kindle Edition, 335 pg.
Ghost Dog Enterprises, Inc., 2017

Read: November 21 – 24, 2017


Herald Lloyd is an attorney whose life is falling apart — he’s drinking to excess regularly, his wife/business partner is continually threatening to leave, and he’s committed a pretty obvious bit of malpractice while being uninsured — which will pretty much ruin his practice and family. All of this can be traced back to his drinking, he’s self-medicating to deal with recurring nightmares, flashbacks and stress related to his time serving in Vietnam (all of which are probably exacerbated by the drinking in a wonderful loop). We know that because he tells everyone that he’s dealing with his symptoms just fine on his own in just about every conversation he has. Because what says “dealing with” better than constantly talking about how you’re dealing with it?

The novel focuses on the actions that take place in 1988, where Lloyd deals with crisis around his malpractice and his efforts to dodge the repercussions of it. The characterization of everyone is shallow, the writing is stiff, the dialogue is cringe-worthy, the plot is predictable (yeah, it’s based to some degree on actual events, but the presentation of the plot is predictable).

The book’s saving grace (and, at times, the only thing that kept me reading) were the flashbacks to Lloyd’s time in Vietnam. They (by my entirely unscientific reckoning) make up about sixty percentage of the book They were still too-frequently sloppy and self-indulgent with cringe-worthy dialogue. However, there was a life to them, something you could build a novel on (thankfully, because that’s just what Hibbard was trying to do). Seriously, give me a novel based on this material alone, and my take will be much more encouraging. There’s a great mix of types of material — comic, dark comic, horror, slice of life, friendship, loyalty — just about everything you could ask for when Lloyd thinks about (willingly or not) his friends, subordinates, commanders, antagonists from his years in Asia.

There’s quite a lot of material featuring flashbacks to a week of R&R Lloyd spent with a prostitute. His wife, Thea, didn’t enjoy him reliving that so often — and who can blame her? — and I didn’t either. Calling them “gratuitous” feels like a tautology, honestly. I’m going to stop there because this threatens to take over this post, and no one wants that.

I’m going to give this a 3 Star rating because the Vietnam material was so strong (minus the stuff with the prostitute), the 1988 material on its own wouldn’t even get 2 from me. A good editorial pass or two would’ve helped things tremendously — I appreciate what it seems that Hibbard was going for here, but good intentions don’t make good books. Good writing does, and there just wasn’t much of that here.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

3 Stars

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Meddling Kids (Audiobook) by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia

Meddling KidsMeddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs and 53 mins
Random House Audio, 2017

Read: October 27 – November 11. 2017


Going to be brief here, this is one of those books that’s all about the concept, if it’s up your alley, you’ll like the book.

The Blyton Summer Detective Club was a group of kids who met up on school breaks in a small Oregon town from their various homes/schools who solved mysteries à la the Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Nancy Drew and most importantly, Scooby and the gang. Time after time, they’d uncover the solution to a mystery plaguing the community — usually resulting in finding a man in a rubber suit, explaining everything. Meddling Kids asks the question: what if the solution to the mystery wasn’t (just) a man in a rubber suit? What if the kids stumbled on to something actually mystical, real monsters, etc.?

Following their last case, the gang’s lives went in separate ways — mostly downhill. Incarceration, mental health treatment, academic struggles, addiction, and so on. Finally, more than a decade later, the Detective Club reunites to return to the scene of their last triumph to see just what they missed (or suppressed).

Cantero’s execution of this premise was spot-on, early on he left the satirical component/pop culture commentary behind (pretty much), and just told the story, using that as a foundation. Really not much more to say then that.

Kyla Garcia’s narration was pretty good. A time or two I had a little trouble following it, but I think that’s reflective of the text — which doesn’t seem like the easiest to translate to this medium (not a slight on Cantero or Garcia’s talents there). On the whole, though, she did a fine job bringing this book to life and I’d enjoy hearing another book she narrated.

An entertaining celebration of the genre, a rousing adventure, and a pretty creepy story. Pretty much all you could ask for.

—–

3 Stars

The Rat Tunnels of Isfahan by Alejandro de Gutierre

The Rat Tunnels of IsfahanThe Rat Tunnels of Isfahan

by Alejandro de Gutierre
Series: Scorpions and Silk, #1

Kindle Edition, 75 pg.
De Gutierre, 2017

Read: November 9, 2017

I wasn’t crazy. Not like most of the tortured souls I shared the prison with. Some wandered, muttering and bumping into walls. Some sat unmoving for hours, staring into a darkness even the desert sun couldn’t penetrate, their eyes seeing but not seeing, ears hearing but not listening. And a sad few would break; they would weep, and rock, and cry out. These were the broken: shuffling from place to place, barely eating, barely drinking, numbly watching the flesh drip from their bones, oblivious to the blood slowing in their veins.

We know very little about the central (practically only) character in this novella — he’s a prisoner, somewhere in Persia, sometime long ago. That’s about all that we know — for that matter, that’s about all he knows. His imprisonment has left him so psychologically shattered that he can’t remember anything about himself. He has children somewhere, he thinks.

We see him struggle to survive, struggle to get free, struggle to convince himself that he’s not crazy, and return to/rebuild his life. I don’t know much about him, but I like him, and I want to see the best for him.

I don’t think it’s possible for the word “visceral” to show up more in my notes for a 75-page novella than it did here. You feel this story as much as you read it — the almost-alien creepiness of a scorpion, the isolation, the fear, the rat chewing on a toe — all of it, de Gutierre puts you right in the mind of his amnesiac (his having no name helps there).

Until this story spools out a bit more — maybe volume 2, maybe until the end — I’m not sure what I think of the story, plot or characters. I can tell you that I want to know these characters better, I want to find out what happens to them, but that’s as far as I can say on that front. So, I’m left with de Guiterre’s writing — which is just what this story needs. He knows what he’s doing, and has got me hooked, even if I don’t have a clue about what he’s doing. This atmospheric, visceral read will leave you demanding more, soon.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novella from the author in exchange for my honest opinion — and I’m glad he gave it to me, because I wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise.

—–

3 Stars

Planet Grim by Alex Behr

Planet GrimPlanet Grim

by Alex Behr

eARC, 222 pg.
7.13 Books, 2017

I’ve been dreading the day when I had to write about this book for a month or so now — I just don’t know that I’m up to it. While I can’t say that I enjoyed every story, there was something in each of them that impressed me. I’d do better discussing this book over a beverage with someone who’s read the stories rather than in the abstract.

In a few sentences — at most a couple of paragraphs — Behr gets you into a world with fully realized characters, completely different situations — many of which you’ve never even thought about before. You will be disturbed, moved, saddened, surprised, fascinated, and occasionally, struck by a darkly comic moment.

I want to stress the “dark,” — Planet Grim is probably underselling it. There’s not a lot o flight to be found in these pages. I’m not suggesting that you’ll end up depressed at the end of every story, but you won’t be chuckling or uplifted. These are real people going through some pretty real problems and situations. It’s hard to slap a genre tag on these — there’s the barest hint of SF (but not really, you’ll see); these would all nicely fit in with a noir novel (without the knight errant); technically a lot would fit in “Women’s Fiction” (but . . . no); so I guess you stick it in the “General Fiction” section, but hopefully that doesn’t mean you overlook it.

A piece of advice: do not read more than two or three of these stories in one sitting. Actually, I think the volume of stories in this collection is the biggest problem with it. If there were seven of these stories in one volume, I’d probably be raving about it and demanding more. As it is, I was a little overwhelmed — there’s just too much to deal with (which is why it took me 5 weeks to get through it).

I’ve said it before here, and I’ll probably say it again, I”m not a huge short story guy. A few more collections like this could change me. There’s not a dud in the batch — there are a couple that I think I didn’t fully appreciate (or even “get”) for one reason or another — but there’s not one that’s not worth a second or third read. Alex Behr can write, period. If you give her a chance, she’ll convince you of that. I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, I don’t know if I liked it, but man, I was impressed with it, I’m glad that I got to read it, and I know it’s some of the best writing I’ve come across this year.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Appointment with Yesterday by Christopher Stratakis

Book Giveaway:
Prize: One winner will receive a print copy of Appointment with Yesterday and a $25 Amazon gift card (Open to USA only)

Ends Oct 28

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BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Appointment with Yesterday by Christopher Stratakis

Book Details:

Book Title: Appointment with Yesterday: A Novel in Four Parts with a Prologue and an Epilogue
Author: Christopher Stratakis
Category: Adult Fiction, 334 pages
Genre: coming-of-age / WWII / immigrant experience
Publisher: IndieReader
Release date: January 2017
Tour dates: Oct 2 to 20, 2017
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (There is no bad language or violence, but there are references to sex and sexual situations (including between a pre-teen and teen)

Book Description:

A poignant and compelling first novel, Appointment with Yesterday tells the story of Yanni, a cheeky and delightful Greek boy growing up in a small town on an island in the eastern Aegean.

Left in the care of his loving grandparents, Yanni endures the deprivation and terror of the German occupation during World War II and finally leaves his beloved homeland and family to rejoin the parents who had left him behind to make a better life for themselves in America.

Filled with heartbreaking and heartwarming stories of love, devotion, disenchantment, and dashed dreams, Appointment with Yesterday is, ultimately, the story of hardships overcome and a determined boy’s journey toward finding his destiny.

Buy the Book:

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author:

 

Christopher Stratakis was born and raised in Greece. After moving to America, he graduated from Drexel University in 1951 and New York University School of Law in 1955. Shortly after joining the law firm of Poles, Tublin & Patestides in 1960, he became a partner, specializing in admiralty and corporate law.

He has written and published several articles, lectured on professional and historical subjects, served as Legal Advisor to several non-profits (pro bono), and was an arbitrator in maritime disputes. He is the author of Mnimes “Memories” (2010), a book of essays, short stories, and poems that he wrote as a teenager. In 2015, he co-edited Chains on Parallel Roads, a book published by Panchiaki “Korais” Society of New York. In recognition of his extensive community involvement, he has been the recipient of several awards from religious, governmental, and educational institutions.

Mr. Stratakis lives with his wife in New York City. He is the proud father of three and grandfather of three. This is his first novel.

Enter the Giveaway!
Ends Oct 28

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Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Two years ago, I read Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, loved it, and spent 5 months trying to figure out how to talk about it. Last year, I listened to the audiobook, loved it, and spent 6 months trying to figure out how to write about it. I failed both times — and I’m not sure that I figured out how to talk about this book, but at least I got something posted. Short version: if you see a book by Robin Sloan somewhere, read it.

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
Hardcover, 259 pg.
MCD Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017

Read: September 27 – 28, 2017

There’s a version of this where all I do is talk about how this is similar to/different from Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore — but I don’t want to do that. Let me just say up front that if you liked Mr. Penumbra’s, you’ll dig this. If you didn’t like it, you will dig this — and you probably were having a bad day or weren’t paying attention when you read Mr. Penumbra’s (or you were created by the Tyrell Corporation). So let me sum up: you will dig this book.

This is the story of Lois Clary, a computer programmer working on ways to help robots redefine the concept of work for the future. It sounds like a dreadful place to work — intellectually rewarding, maybe; challenging, yes; but between the hours, the pay and the culture? No thanks. The work is demanding enough that they don’t have time to eat/prepare food, many using Slurry, “a liquid meal replacement,” for several meals each week.

Slurry was a nutritive gel manufactured by an eponymous company even newer than [the company Lois works for]. Dispensed in waxy green Tetra Packs, it had the consistency of a thick milkshake. It was nutritionally complete and rich with probiotics. It was fully dystopian.

Into her overworked and nutritive gel-sustained existence comes a menu for a small cafe that delivers. Their specialty is a spicy soup and a spicy sandwich. The sandwich is made on sourdough bread, and you get an extra slab with the spicy soup. This sourdough is a special thing (you may have guessed that based on the title). This becomes her new favorite food, and what she eats when she’s not consuming the gel.

She develops a semi-relationship with the brothers behind the soup/sandwich, and when they have to leave the country, they give her a part of their sourdoughs starter and a lesson on bread preparation (Lois doesn’t cook, and doesn’t come from a family that did). The starter has specific instructions that reminded me of what’s given when someone buys a mogwai — and just as important. Before she knows it, Lois is baking for herself, to give to others, and even to sell. She’s building a brick oven and really branching out socially (and keeping up with her work, too) — in this, Lois starts to enjoy life and work. I’m pretty sure this is the first time since school (if not ever) that this is true for her.

As she gets more involved with bread making, Lois makes friends, she travels a bit, meets new people — discovering three strange little subcultures along the. She also carries out an email correspondence with one of the brothers as he pursues his dream. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot — there is more to it than I said, but not much.

There’s something like magical realism at work throughout this, but I wouldn’t call it that. Mostly because, it’s weird science, not magic. But it’s probably not real science, just science the way we’d like it to work. Not so much so that this is Fantasy or Science Fiction, just… I don’t know what to call it. Whimsical science? 

It’s the way that Sloan tells the story that makes it worth it — there’s a spark to his writing that makes you want to read it. Lois’ world is our world, only better (and maybe a little worse), filled with interesting people doing interesting things. There’s a humanity in the narration, in the action that I can’t get enough of (ditto for his other work). There’s a humor throughout, but it’s not a funny book. But man, it’ll make you happy just to read it. I loved being in this world — it almost didn’t matter what happened to Lois and her starter (not that I didn’t enjoy it), just reading Robin Sloan’s prose is good enough for me. I’ve got a list of 10 quotations I wanted to use here that I couldn’t come up with a way to force into this post, and I think I could’ve easily let the size of that list double.

A book that will make you think, that may inspire, that will make you smile — that will make you want carbs (no joke — it required Herculean effort on my part each time I read a chapter or two not to call my son to tell him to bring home a fresh loaf from the bakery he works at), Sourdough is a gem.

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4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge