Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People by Walter Kerr

Sir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big PeopleSir Blunder: A Bedtime Story for Big People

by William Kerr

Kindle Edition, 268 pg.
2017
Read: April 9 – 10, 2018

Where to start . . . where to start . . .

Let’s start with all the disclaimers and warnings on this book — just because something says it’s a fairy tale, that doesn’t mean it’s for kids. I don’t know why people don’t know this. See also: animation, comic books, and Not Your Father’s Root Beer. Throw in Hans Christian Andersen’s writing and the original Grimm’s Tales, while we’re at it. But, I’ve gotta say, on the whole, this novel doesn’t need all the warnings. Anyone old enough for Suzanne Collins is quite old enough for this.

So, you’ve got your basics: a couple cursed by evil magic, doomed to appear as other than they are until the curse is broken; an evil dragon; a kind and wise princess; stupid and evil royalty (okay, that’s more Shrek than Cinderella); a poor, orphan destined for greatness; noble warriors; corrupt churchmen; wicked/incredibly selfish stepmothers, and so on. Throw in a strange sense of humor, some probably satiric elements, an author who is clearly trying very hard to be whimsical and amusing — maybe trying too hard — and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an amusing read.

Kerr clearly wants to be S. Morgenstern (or maybe William Goldman), and doesn’t quite make it. But he’s not the first to try, nor the first to fail. But he’s good enough to justify reading this, and many people would have a good time doing so.

That’s what I was going to say for the first 60% of the book. But at that point, the curse is broken (minor spoiler…but c’mon, it had to happen), people are happy, the kingdoms are prosperous . . . and I figured we had just a couple of chapters of epilogue and resolution. But, no. From there Kerr goes on to fill this with some sort of pseudo-Christian nonsense (very strange morality, no redemption). I honestly have no clue what he was trying to do in the last chapters — it was a mess.

Remember that scene in Tommy Boy where Tommy tells the waitress, Helen, “why I suck as a salesperson”? He goes on to stroke and pet a roll like a pet and then gets excited and destroys the roll? That’s pretty much what Kerr did here — he has a nice little book and then kills it, reducing it to mangled crumbs.

Save yourself some time and avoid this one. Or, read the first 60% and stop, adding a mental “…and they lived happily ever after.”

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

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2 Stars

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Secular Jewish Culture by Yaakov Malkin, Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel

Secular Jewish CultureSecular Jewish Culture

by Yaakov Malkin (Editor), Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel (Translator)

Kindle Edition, 520 pg.
Library of Secular Judaism, 2017
Read: February 5 – March 30, 2018

I don’t know where the person who offered me this book found me, nor why they thought I’d like the book. Nor do I even remember what it was about this book that I thought sounded like it could be my cup of tea — but man, were we both wrong.

Which is not to say that this is a bad book, or an uninteresting book. But this is not the kind of thing I usually read or blog about — the typical secular Jewish writing around here is Jennifer Weiner or Hagit R. Oron. And the academically-oriented reading I usually do is definitely not the secular variety.

This is essentially a manifesto and apologetic for the study of Secular Jewish Culture as an academic discipline. The various authors definitively state what it is that Secular Jews believe, think, and cherish — which is far less diverse than say, CNN on-air talent, or members of my household. White largely set positively, on the whole much of this book defines Secular Jewish Culture by what it isn’t, and given that most people have a hard time separating the ethnicity from some form of the religion, that makes sense. But it doesn’t make for good reading.

Granted, it’s obvious from the outset that I’m not going to approach the Hebrew Scriptures from the same perspective as these authors, so it’s not surprising that I’d characterize almost all of their reactions to those scriptures as misreading the text — I can handle that, really. But some of the misreadings are so bad, and seemingly deliberately so, that I was frequently angered as I read them.

I had a long list of things I wanted to talk about, but I really can’t muster the interest — and I can’t imagine anyone reading this post will be able to, either — so I’ll just wrap things up.. It was generally a slog to read — but I can’t fault it for that, it’s not supposed to be a page-turner. It definitely set out to accomplish a few tasks, and on the whole, it succeeded. Except for making me want to read anything else from any of these authors. Did I like it? No. Is it a good book? Maybe? Probably? Are there many people that will think this book is a treasure? Yup, but I’m not one of them.

I honestly think this book deserves more stars than this, it’s a good book. But, I didn’t like it and this is my blog, so . . .

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, I appreciate the opportunity.

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2 Stars

The Meifod Claw by JW Bowe

The Meifod ClawThe Meifod Claw

by JW Bowe

Kindle Edition, 384 pg.
Serious Biscuits, 2017

Read: February 14 – 16, 2018


I’m going to keep the synopsis-y part of this vague because the blurbs for this book are pretty vague, and to a great extent, so is the book. This takes place in Wales, it involves a former sailor now confined to a wheelchair and a mostly abandoned farm-house (it fills up after a chapter or so), his niece, his nephew (who pretty much owns the house and funds everything in the book) and his nephew’s friend — who dropped out of a master’s level physics program to take part in the hi-jinks that occur. Oh, at some point a dog is introduced — he doesn’t seem to add much to anything, only serves to derail the progress of the plot for a bit, but he seems like a cool dog, and I’m a sucker for cool dogs.

The guys have assembled at this abandoned farm to work on a project and the niece/sister drops in every now and then to “tsk” at them and examine the books. When they’re not working on the project — and frequently as an aid to working on the project — the uncle, nephew and friend get high, drunk, stoned, and wasted, at the same time. There are probably a few other nearly synonymous terms I could throw in there, too.

I’m honestly not sure if the project is supernatural in nature (there’s a salt circle involved, but it doesn’t seem to do anything, and I’m not sure anyone believes it ought to), based in some sort of physics/”fringe” science (there’s a lot of talk that indicated that), or some sort of combination thereof. Frankly, I’m not convinced that the novel is all that certain of the nature of the project. I know a whole lot more of the drinking and drug habits of the characters than of the reason they’re together. The nephew is the Visionary, the friend is the brains behind things (although there’s very little time that I can tell you that he’s doing anything), and the uncle is the guy who lives in the house.

I do know that one of the side effects of this project is that it is some sort of miracle-grow product for plants — which means that the marijuana they use and sell to finance this project is larger, higher quality, etc. than one should expect. There is some contact with supernatural/spiritual entities, some with alien life (or they’re all three), a government agency and someone who’d done the same kind of work as these three earlier (and hints that they’re not alone).

I got frustrated with this novel quickly, but stuck with it hoping it’d change my mind (or that I’d at least figure it out), but the way that the story was told got in my way. Every time someone makes a decision, or gets a new piece of information, relaying that information/acting on the decision is put off for a day and a half (at least) for alcohol and recreation pharmaceutical use. During that day and a half any number of things can be said/happen that delays the relaying/acting. It is so infuriating. Maybe it’d have been better if the results of the binge-drinking, acid use, cocaine snorting, etc. were amusing or interesting, but I doubt it.

There was every reason in the world for me to get into this book, and I just couldn’t. Maybe it was my mood (I don’t think so, I wanted a book just like this at the time), maybe it was something else outside the book, so that I should recommend this to you all. But I’m pretty sure it was the book this time — if you’ve read this and disagree with me? I’d love to hear why. I wouldn’t mind changing my mind.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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2 Stars

Laughing Eyes by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem Peli

Laughing EyesLaughing Eyes

by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem-Peli (Illustrator)
Kindle Edition, 27 pg.
Tzameret Books Ltd, 2017

Read: January 8, 2018

I . . . I don’t know what to say here. This is a collection of poems for young children — they are clearly earnest, carefully composed, and intended to uplift the spirits of young readers.

And I just didn’t get it, at least most of it. Seriously, I don’t know why, but I didn’t understand most of these poems. As this is a book intended for 2-7 year olds, that bothers me. I’m hoping, hoping it’s a cultural thing and that readers from Israel get what she’s saying.

The illustrations, though? Leshem Peli’s artwork is warm, inviting and eye-catching. It’s exactly what these kind of books should be full of.

I feel pretty bad about this, but I just didn’t like the book. Hopefully most of Magner’s audience are smarter than me.

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

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2 Stars

The Flying Frog and the Kidnappers by David Yair, ilana Graf, Natalie Jackson

The Flying Frog and the KidnappersThe Flying Frog and the Kidnappers

by David Yair, ilana Graf (Illustrator), Natalie Jackson (Illustrator)
Series: The Flying Frog, #4

Kindle Edition, 34 pg.
Simple Story, 2017

Read: October 3, 2017


I don’t like not liking books, but not liking a kid’s book (and putting that online!) makes me feel like I kicked a puppy.

But . . .

This was just a mess — the grammar was inconsistent (I think this says more about the translator), there wasn’t even a paragraph to help new readers to the series (like me) orient themselves into the nature of a talking frog (in a world that not every frog talks), why the frog is wrapped up in balloon strings when we first get to him, etc.

And then the story itself just made no sense — not in a good way, either. I really don’t want to say that the characters are flat, because they’re not really characters — they’re names and genders, and that’s about it. The kidnappers make Jasper and Horace seem like Ocean’s Eleven.

This is supposed to be for readers 9-14 years of age. I can’t imagine any self-respecting 6 year old liking this, much less a 14 year-old. Sure, I know we all read, and learn how to read, at our own pace. I don’t want to say that it’s bad for a 9 year-old to enjoy a book written at this level, but generally, at this age, readers should be reading about the Kings and Queens at Cair Paravel, the unlikely thief who went There and Back Again, or The Boy Who Lived, not this kind of thing.

If I came into this series at Book 1, would I like it better? Possibly. It could happen, it’s possible that with more context this’d work. But I have a hard time believing it. I didn’t dislike this book, I guess I pitied it, more than anything, really.

You and your kids can find better.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, sorry it didn’t work out better for him.

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2 Stars

Jamarr’s Promise by Kristin I. Morris & Joseph J. Zielinski, Ph.D

Jamarr's PromiseJamarr’s Promise: A True Story of Corruption, Courage, and Child Welfare

by Kristin I. Morris, Joseph J. Zielinski, Ph.D.

ePUB, 160 pg.
Wisdom House Books, 2017

Read: August 31, 2017


Here’s a book that should apply to a wide variety of people — others who believe that Child Protection Services (using that as a generic term for all sorts of states’ services); those who are convinced that the system will work if we trust it and have the right people in it; those who are convinced that New Jersey’s state government is impossibly corrupt; those who like True Crime; and many others. Sadly, what all these different potential readers get is a poor book.

Jammarr Cruz was a nine-year-old whose Division of Youth and Family Services case worker was unable to keep his mother and her boyfriend from exercising their legal right to take the boy home. She fought it as hard as she could, but ultimately she was thwarted by those over her — the boy went home and died a few months later. Kristin Morris, the caseworker, despite a total lack of evidence of her culpability, lost her job because of it. The book details her efforts to clear her name, get her job back, and make changes to prevent this from happening again. Meanwhile her family suffers, her finances suffer, as does her health (mental and otherwise).

Now, I’m supposed to be talking about the book, not about the events in it. Which is a shame, because I’d much rather talk about that.

The book is told in the present tense — which is a choice that I do not understand. I rarely understand that as a choice in fiction, but in a book that is detailing past events in an actual person’s life? It just makes no sense.

The biggest problem with this book is the length — 160 pages is not enough space to do it justice. 260 may have worked, 350 would’ve been better — I’m guessing on page length, but I know that 160 just didn’t do it. Too much of the book has to be told in summary form, where things had to be compressed and details had to be discarded. Sometimes, it made it hard to follow the sequence, sometimes it made it hard to sympathize with her because months would be brushed aside in a line or two. If they’d taken the time to fully explain how things happened, the reader would have a better sense of the chronology after Jamarr’s death, would better be able to understand what she went through, and how this all had a horrible impact on her family.

Oddly, even given space limitation, there’d be a conversation that would recap the narrative we’d just read (or vice versa). Something else that didn’t make sense to me.

Given the lack of details, the who so much is summed up and the reader is left to fill in many of the blanks themselves, this frequently comes across as a series of Facebook statuses from that friend who is always going on about how difficult their life is — not the reasoned defense of actions made my a competent and caring professional — which is what i think the book was intended to be, and I do think that’s what she is. Also, much of what she says seems more open to criticism and doubt since we’re just given a brief glimpse from a pretty biased source.

This book could’ve been so much better. The tragedy it describes, the injustices it describes deserve something more than this. Morris herself should’ve had a better representation to the world at large than this. But all we’re given is this synopsis of a book, not the book itself (or at least what should be the synopsis of the book).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel in exchange for this post, my participation in a book tour and my honest opinion. I think it’s clear that my opinion wasn’t swayed by that.

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2 Stars

The Blue Curtain by L. G. Metcalf

The Blue CurtainThe Blue Curtain

by L. G. Metcalf
Series: The Well of Many Worlds, #1

Kindle Edition, 314 pg.
Moleyco Press, 2017

Read: September 1 – 4, 2017


I really want to say something nice about this book — I don’t like to just knock books. I don’t mind saying what I think didn’t work, but I try to find something to commend in a book. I’m just not sure what positive things I can say about The Blue Curtain.

We’ve got Mitchell, the heir of a British nobleman in 16th Century England, who begins a revolt against am improbable despot who is being manipulated by a mysterious man. One thing leads to another, and this manipulator turns Mitchell into a vampire. Almost instantly, another vampire, Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez — I mean, Fionn, shows up to instruct him in the ways of vampires. He really reminded me of Ramirez from Highlander — not only does he teach him to use and understand his new abilities, but he tells him about the history of vampires and the differing and strange factions within the race. Why his maker, who is the leader of the evil cult didn’t stick around to initiate Mitchell himself, we’re only told at the end. Mitchell doesn’t join the crusade against the cult with Fionn, but does share the same goal and works with Fionn throughout his training. Time goes by, things happen, and eventually Mitchell finds himself in present day Portland, ME.

While we’ve been learning about this, we’ve also been learning about Emily — a high schooler in Portland, whose father was recently murdered. She’s not having a good time adjusting to this new reality, and like all teens in novels, she decides that she’ll find the murderer herself. Through dumb luck and recklessness, she finds the killer — but has no way to prove it to the police. She also discovers that she’s descended from necromancers and has a magical imp to train her. Sure, he’s evil and bent on destruction and death, but hey, you take whatever help you can get, right? There’s also a lot of High School Drama — where a certified Mean Girl is causing all sorts of trouble for Emily because out-of-the-blue the hunky, rich, sensitive guy is paying attention to her.

Naturally, Emily’s and Mitchell’s paths cross and it becomes clear that their goals intersect, so they team up to solve the murder, stop the evil vampires and more.

It’d be great if there was any emotional depth to these characters — the crazed, hedonist vampire who is a model of emotional shallowness is just as deep as the Emily, who can’t seem to hold on to one overriding emotion for more than a few seconds. Emily — yes, she’s under great stress, but if I’m supposed to be rooting for a character, I’d like the character to hold on to an emotional state for more than two pages.

The book could’ve used a continuity edit — there are so many hiccups throughout Mitchell’s story and vampire history in general that could’ve been cleaned up with little trouble. There wasn’t a strong authorial voice, the dialogue was frequently painful, the characters were poorly drawn and shallow.

I want to say something positive, to find the silver lining, but I can’t think of anything. Your mileage may vary, but I can’t recommend this to anyone.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Sorry about that, Mr. Metcalf.

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2 Stars