Gables Court by Alan S. Kessler: A Character Looking for Love, a Novel Looking for a Plot

Gables CourtGables Court

by Alan S. Kessler

Kindle Edition, 268 pg.
Black Rose Writing, 2018
Read: May 8 – 9, 2018

Ugh. Just…ugh. Why? Why would anyone bother publishing this?

I like liking things. I want to enjoy books. But every now and then, too often lately, I come across a book that I can’t find a redeeming feature in. This is one of those.

It is impossible, simply impossible, for someone to get through Law School (and the requisite undergrad program) and come out as naive as Samuel Baas. I would think that’d be particularly true in the 1960’s. If, if Baas had been sheltered his entire life and escaped/was released at age 24, many of his conversations would have been appropriate. But for someone with his education? Nope. Conversations at any age, on personal or professional topics.

I use the word “conversation” loosely — primarily, his conversations are monologues with a little bit of interaction between those involved tagged on.

There are several attempts at plot lines, but Kessler doesn’t seem to commit to them wholly — or for long. The novel seems listless, bouncing around from idea to idea, trying out this thing and then another and another — like a college freshman deciding on a major. I’m not suggesting any of these ideas were interesting or well-executed, but there were a lot of them.

There’s no ending to this book, it just stops. Baas has learned nothing — any epiphanies he’s had or changes he’s made evaporate faster than dew in the desert. To say I was frustrated by the ending is an understatement.

There’s part of me that wants to go on and pick this apart — but why? No one wants to read that — maybe if I was more annoyed by it and mustered up some funny comments, but I just don’t care enough to. This book induced apathy and a general sense of ennui. Gables Court was aimless, listlessly written, dull and an utter waste of time.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author, clearly my opinion wasn’t influenced by that.

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1 Star

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Popo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to Bollywood by Samuel G. Sterling

Popo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to BollywoodPopo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to Bollywood

by Samuel G. Sterling

Kindle Edition, 596 pg.
Jolliwood Books, 2016

Read: March 31 – April 3, 2016


In circumstances difficult to explain, hard to believe, and probably meant to be comical — Popo Gigi and his twin brother, Ramyou, are born while their unwed mother emigrates from India to England. They spend years in poverty, gaining some sort of financial stability when their mother eventually marries. Ramyou is a troubled child with wild appetites (in just about every sense of the word — at least eventually), while Popo distinguishes himself academically. He eventually is admitted to, excels in and graduates from Oxbridge. Following graduation, he sets his mind to seeking some sort of understanding/closure regarding his father and his utter disregard for his twin sons. So Popo travels to India and begins a series of haphazard adventures as he attempts to meet and then bond with his father — hilarity ensues (theoretically), as does romance, a dash of danger, and more.

There is a charm to the writing that I can’t deny — even when the book seemed pointless — and even when the writing was muddled enough that I wasn’t sure what was going on (which happened a lot). Nevertheless, the it felt like sitting down and listening to a charming young man tell a long, rambling story. And, boy, do I mean rambling. Still, you can’t help but like the prose.

It’s the content of the prose that is problematic. It’s hard to believe a lot of the plot — and it’s not that easy to see the links between events that should follow each other, plot lines that are just abandoned (for chapters on end, when not totally). The “humor” is largely dependent on the kind of things I really haven’t found funny since I was in grade school — untimely erections, urine, excrement. I don’t care how many times they’re repeated, bathroom jokes just aren’t funny.

I wanted to like this, but I couldn’t. This was going to be a 2-star read for me, that I kinda felt guilty about, because of the spirit of the novel — I couldn’t help feeling affection for the style and writing, even if I didn’t like it. But the last few chapters killed that for me, it’s like they belonged to a different novel. There’s just no point to reading this book.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from Jolliwood Books in exchange for this post — I appreciate it, even if the book didn’t click for me.

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1 Star

Reread Project: Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Mostly HarmlessMostly Harmless

by Douglas Adams
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, #5

Hardcover, 278 pg.
Harmony Books, 1992

Read: July 7 – 12, 2016

1 Stars

I was dreading this one — typically, like X-Men: The Last Stand, or The Highlander sequels, I prefer to pretend this doesn’t exist. It’s the only one of the series that I haven’t bought my son, and I don’t plan on changing that. Which doesn’t mean I couldn’t be won over — after 4 or 5 tries, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency finally clicked with me, I keep hoping this will.

But it didn’t this time (I think my 5th reading).

Which is not to say there aren’t some parts that don’t deserve to be celebrated — almost everything Ford does (for example) is great. There’s a little bit with Trillian, a bit of Tricia McMillan (no, really, I meant to list those separately) and a smidgen of the Arthur material that’s okay. But not much. Don’t get me started on Random.

There’s some really clever bits here and there, some great lines — and some bits that are clearly attempts to recapture the spirit/zaniness of the earlier books, but without the heart. The narrative as a whole (after such a huge leap forward with So Long) was worthless, the story didn’t work. And the ending? Flummery. It was like Adams was just trying to get away from the series and put it in his rearview mirror. Which I get, I absolutely understand, he wanted to do something other than just crank out another Hitchhiker’s after another after another. But this was not the way to do it.

Just avoid this one, don’t bother. But if you think I’m wrong — tell me why! I’d love to be convinced that Adams couldn’t write a bad book.

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1 Star

Trumped! by Peter Davidson

Trumped!TRUMPED! Beyond Politically Correct: What You Would Say if You Had the Guts

by Peter Davidson

Kindle Edition, 116 pg.
Sweet Memories Publishing, 2016

Read: July 12, 2016


Let’s get this straight: this is not about being politically incorrect, it’s an instructional guide to being a boor, a lout, a cad . . .

I kept thinking: if I read on, I’ll get the joke, I’ll see the satire. But nope. Didn’t happen. It’s a shoddily written, cliché-ridden situational guide to being “brutally honest.”

I typically try to be thorough with these posts (especially if I’m not crazy about the book, if only to justify my problems and the time I spent reading it), but I’m not going to bother with this one. The only reason I didn’t toss this in a corner is that I didn’t think my Kindle could take it. Every second I spent reading it was a waste, it ruined my day plowing through this. I if read something as bad as this again in 2016, I may just shut this site down.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post.

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1 Star

United States of Books – Songs In Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris

I somehow managed to make 3 references to The Simpsons in my original draft of these — and almost made one more before I decided to knock it off. I only left one, it seemed apt. The major difference between this book and The Simpsons, of course, is that one brings happiness, smiles and joy to people; the other one has no yellow people and everyone has 5 fingers on each hand.

Songs In Ordinary TimeSongs In Ordinary Time

by Mary McGarry Morris

Paperback, 740 pg.
Penguin Books, 1996

Read: April 6 – 13, 2016


There’s a stereotype about Oscar-bait movies the come out late in the year, super-serious movies with super-serious actors about families in crisis, social unrest, a woman standing on her own, and so on. Nothing anyone really wants to see, but we all take it seriously. Yes, that’s a stereotype, an over-generalization, blah blah blah — but we all know that kind of movie. This book is like that — deadly serious, grim, full of people with no capacity for joy or to make a wise decision — or any action that involves a lack of melodrama.

I just couldn’t force myself to care about this one — not one bit.

The book centers on a divorced mother of three, Marie Fermoyle, and her children: Alice, Norm and Benjy. Marie’s barely scraping by, teeters between despondency and angry outbursts. Until Omar Duvall comes to town. The best thing that could possibly be said about Omar is that he’s a two-bit hustler and womanizer. Much worse could be said about him. Marie is so desperate for a way out of her life, that she falls for his flummery. Sam, Marie’s ex, is the town drunkard — a hopeless alcoholic, surviving on crumbs his sister gives him to get by, the children go out of their way to avoid him — as does pretty much everyone. The new priest in town, and Sam’s brother-in-law are pretty much the only exceptions to that. The priest is, well — he has problems, and the brother-in-law is henpecked and an obscene phone-caller. There are other characters — several, in fact — but let’s limit this to these characters. I could go on and on. Not unlike Morris.

A couple of months back, I caught a little flack because I didn’t buy a Roman Catholic priest character in crisis — I bought this one. I didn’t like him as a person or a character, but I could absolutely buy him. Just a point of personal privilege there, back to this book.

This collection of characters are the greatest conglomeration of self-centered, self-pitying, self-deceived (often), self-justifying, and miserable people I can imagine. And everything they do (well, 99% of the things they do, anyway) make their lives worse (and half of that other 1% is ruined almost immediately). On page 508, I jotted down in my notes, “Please, someone, stop this book — just put these people out of their misery! Mine, too!”

These people are so miserable, so self-pitying that I laughed out loud when I read Marie thinking, “Hope . . . there was more of that in her veins than blood.” Really? I couldn’t believe that for a second. About 200 pages later, we read, “She was so very, very tired. All this, she thought, biting her lip, all this because once, a long time ago, she had made a fatal mistake. She had fallen in love too young with the wrong man. Imagine, it was as simple as that and now she would never catch up. She would never be happy.” That I could believe. That’s one of the most honest sentences in the book.

Each male character (I think without exception — two children, are probably exempt) is able to talk a good game, able to spin a tale about something to make the people around him believe in him — and typically even fools himself. It happens at least once for every character — each time I disliked them more and more for it.

The main plot centers around Marie falling for Omar’s line and risking everything while underwriting a pyramid scheme that he’s peddling (as does a whole lot of the town), while alienating her two older children along the way. Her youngest knows better than the others suspect how terrible Omar is, but he suppresses that information and knowledge so his mother can hopefully be happy. There are crimes not associated with Omar, people dying, people suffering, people trying (and generally failing) to escape their pasts and improve their life. There are two characters out of this that might succeed in improving their lot in life, but we’re not given enough information to know for sure — a couple of others that seem to have turned a corner, but if the 700 previous pages are any indication these latter characters are 5 pages away from running back around that corner the other way.

So why did Entertainment Weekly put this one on their list for Vermont? I’m only guessing here — there aren’t that many novels set in the Green Mountain State. There was nothing distinctly Vermont about this book, as far as I could tell. It was Anytown, USA — there was a lake nearby, a university not too far away (but far enough), a Roman Catholic Church in town (maybe a Protestant one, too — but I’m not sure), one drive in, and a few small towns within an hour or two by car. That’s really all we learn about the geography. The state name is invoked a few times, but otherwise, it could literally be anywhere — like The Simpsons‘ Springfield. I learned nothing about that state, its people, or anything beyond another lesson in endurance in the face of overwhelming tedium.

Plot(s), character, setting — this book failed on all three. It was well-written, I guess, but there was nothing special about even that. I really have nothing positive to say about this one, if you haven’t noticed.

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1 Star

Murder Boy by Bryon Quertermous

Murder BoyMurder Boy

by Bryon Quertermous
Series: Dominick Price, #1

Kindle Edition, 256 pg.

Polis Books, 2015

Read: July 11 – 14, 2015File this one under “There’s no accounting for taste.” And by that, I mean mine. By all accounts, this is one that should’ve appealed to me. The premise promises something like The Wonder Boys meets Fargo and Koryta’s endorsement (among others) makes it seem like that promise is fulfilled.

But nope. Just didn’t do anything for me at all. Didn’t find it funny. Didn’t buy any of the characters. I wanted the protagonist/narrator to get smacked around and dumped in the trunk of the car for everything after chapter 4 (and I wouldn’t have been incredibly concerned with the state of his health while in the trunk). Really, nothing about it (apart from the premise) appealed to me.

Quertermous mingles in some thoughts (maybe insights?) about narrative — both what we read and what we construct for ourselves. There’s actually a lot of metanarrative fodder for thought sprinkled throughout. And if I liked this book — even a little — I think I’d have found it insightful and entertaining. But as things were, it just came across as pretentious and annoying.

I might — might — give this another shot when the sequel comes out. Or I just might try the sequel, to see if it was my mood, the kind of books I’m reading at the moment, or something else that shows my problem with the book was internal. But right now? Just humbug.

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1 Star

Dusted Off: How It All Began by Penelope Lively

How It All BeganHow It All Began by Penelope Lively
Hardcover, 240 pg.
Viking Adult, 2012
Read: May 2-3, 2012

Humbug. What a poorly-written, pretentious little thought-experiment disguised as a novel. In case you haven’t been beaten over the head with it in books, TV and film there’s this thing called Chaos Theory–usually explained by the Butterfly Effect; Lively starts off with one event and then examines how the butterfly of an elderly woman’s mugging effects the lives of 20 or so others.

As far as that goes…a decent setup. But we have to keep revisiting the conceit, every few chapters we have to have a recap that all of the things going on are because of this mugging. Over and over again. And about halfway through (minor spoiler), we get this big lecture about Chaos Theory. Juuuust in case we haven’t got it yet.

When she’s not browbeating us with that, Lively tells some okay stories. With the stress on “tells”, rarely, if ever, showing.

The best thing I can say is that at least Lively doesn’t interrupt really appealing characters in the middle of fun, compelling stories with this application of Chaos Theory.

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1 Star