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

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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

Wild Thing (Audiobook) by Josh Bazell, Robert Petkoff

Wild ThingWild Thing

by Josh Bazell, Robert Petkoff (Narrator)
Series: Dr. Peter Brown, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs and 40 mins
Hachette Audio, 2012

Read: May 5 – 10, 2017


If you don’t think of this as a sequel to Beat the Reaper, this is a tolerable thriller. If you think of this as a sequel to Beat the Reaper, it’s a tragedy.

The plot was okay, the but outside of that, it’s unnecessarily preachy — the screeds about global climate change and evolution/religion were a big turn-off. They were too long (frequently distracting from the point), and were directed at straw-man opponents. Speaking of straw-men, I’m not a fan of Sarah Palin, really. But she (or anyone else) shouldn’t be treated like this — it’s okay if an author has a problem with her politics or religious views and expresses it in fiction. But to invent nutty religious views and put ’em in her mouth that’s just wrong and off-putting.

There are some good action scenes, and I enjoyed the paleontologist that Peter was hired to travel with (not enough to remember her name, mind you . . . ), and there’s no denying that Bazell can spin a story. So I’m not saying it’s a bad book. It just doesn’t belong in the same conversation as its predecessor.

I’ve got absolutely no complaints about Petkoff’s work — he does everything he can with the material.

Save your time — re-read or re-listen to Beat the Reaper — or try Shane Kuhn or Hart Hanson. This isn’t worth it.

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2 Stars

Devil in the Countryside by Cory Barclay

Devil in the CountrysideDevil in the Countryside

by Cory Barclay

Kindle Edition, 348 pg.
2017

Read: June 10 – 13, 2017


I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — I prefer liking books, I like liking things. I do not enjoy giving anything other than recommendations — but sometimes, I just can’t do anything else. This is one of those times.

This is a historical fiction but the history is bad. Before we even get to the first chapter — in an introductory note we’re told “By the early 1500’s,” Europe was in a time called the Protestant Reformation. The traditional starting point for the Protestant Reformation was October 31, 1517 — but things didn’t really get moving for a few years. So “by” the early 1500’s is not really accurate. The same paragraph says, “while across the ocean in North America witch-hunts were gaining traction.” Now, I guess it’s possible that some of the Spanish colonies or Native American tribes were conducting these hunts, but I’m pretty sure Barclay intends us to think of the Salem Witch Trials, which started more than a century after the events of this novel. We’re not even to chapter 1 and we’ve got a paragraph with two glaring historical flubs — it’d be difficult (but not impossible) to recover from this. Barclay doesn’t.

With historical fiction, you have to decide on the character’s vocabulary — will you attempt to get it chronologically-appropriate, or will you take some liberties and use contemporary language and ask your readers to suspend disbelief to allow for everyone’s ease? Most take the latter, and most audiences play along. It is difficult to get period-dialogue correct if you’re not immersed in it, and many readers find it difficult or boring to read. While it’s understandable to use contemporary phrasing, I’m not sure I’m willing to buy 16th century people talking about “teenage angst.” Nor should we get people drinking coffee, wearing high heels (at least not among the peasant class), or making references to zippers. These kind of anachronisms are just lazy, sloppy — and it takes the reader out of the moment.

If you’re going to set something during the 3rd generation of the Reformation, and make the conflict between Lutherans, the Reformed and Roman Catholics (and the state powers that use those groups to mask their machinations) core plot points — you should, get the theology right. Which is just the same point as above, I realize — but man . . . when it’s such a major component of the book, you owe it to your readers to put in the effort. (also, Barclay suggested I’d like the book as a “theology nerd,” so I should be expected to look at it as one). We shouldn’t have Roman Catholic priests consulting German translations of the New Testament, nor should we have Lutheran ministers conducting baptism by immersion — particularly not of someone already baptized. Martin Luther, like all the Protestant Reformers, had very harsh things to say about that practice. In general, every religious sentiment (at least those expressed by the devout) was in conflict with the point of view it was supposed to be espousing — most of them not sounding like 16th Century Lutheran, Reformed or Roman Catholic believers but some sort of vague 21st Century theism.

This book is also a mystery. As such, um, it wasn’t really a success. There wasn’t real effort put into finding answers, just finding good candidates to pin something on. At least officially — those who actually looked for answers were stopped by one way or another. If we were talking about a novel about 16th Century politics and the ways they impacted lives of individuals — including crime victims and survivors — this might have worked.

I’m just piling on now, and I really don’t want to do that. So, I’ll ignore the grammatical errors, typos, a handful of words that basically demand Inigo Montoya to tap the author on the shoulder to say ” I do not think it means what you think it means.” Nor will I get into the lazy plots revolving around Roman Catholic clergy sexually molestation or father forcing a daughter to marry a horrible person for his own financial gain.

Barclay can probably produce a decent book — there were some good moments in this book, but not enough of them. This is just not worth the time and trouble.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — I do appreciate it, even if the book didn’t work for me.

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2 Stars

Coffee in Christian Ethics by Danielle Pollock & Joshua Torrey

Coffee in Christian EthicsCoffee in Christian Ethics: A Guide to Not Being a Drip

by Danielle Pollock & Joshua Torrey

Kindle Edition, 74 pg.
Torrey Gazette Publishing, 2017

Read: April 2, 2016


I know almost nothing about these authors, or their Twitter account of the same name — I bought this because a couple of people I follow on Twitter recommended the book during a pre-order blitz and because it sounded interesting. Score 1 for Social Media Marketing.

Here’s the official blurb:

The need for clear communication of God’s grace in the realm of coffee is great. Because we have been forgiven, we are to forgive. Because we have been given this foretaste, we must pass on this foretaste. It is the job of Christian ethics to pass on this small foretaste. If not in coffee quality, then at least through loving our neighbor with our coffee ethics. We must think of others and their coffee consumption before ourselves. We must consider their need for coffee as greater than our own. This requires us to have a thorough understanding of coffee and how to prepare it. We must rethink the importance of coffee in everyday activities as we focus on others.

Written by Danielle Pollock and Joshua Torrey, Coffee in Christian Ethics is a short introduction to the world of coffee. Filled with bad theology jokes, some snark, and real life stories, the goal of Coffee in Christian Ethics is to encourage Christians to use coffee in the various spheres of life as a way to love our neighbor.

At least of the introductions or prefaces or other filler at the beginning of the book used the word “satirical” — I think I missed that. Probably too subtle for my bourgeois brain and taste. This is a frequently condescending (although it goes to great pains to say it’s not) guide to coffee — beans, roasting, drinks, accessories, etc. — with a thin layer of Christianish language and application on top. Honestly, given the satirical nature of the work, I wasn’t sure how seriously I was to take that.

I found the use of “adult language” (to borrow a term from TV/Movie ratings) and casual attitude towards those things “whereby [God] makes himself known” (Third Commandment issues) enough to make me uncomfortable — if not more — to be found in a book on applied Christian Ethics.

Maybe I just didn’t get it — maybe I’m too dense for the humor, too uptight, too old-fashioned, too whatever. This could be the cleverest thing to come off the press since Fran Lebowitz’ Social Studies, but I just don’t think so. I’m going to give this 2 Stars out of charity and because it made me grin twice (also, some of the information about coffee was helpful) — but I wouldn’t recommend spending time on this one to anyone.

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2 Stars

The Sense Of Humor by Max Elliot Anderson

The Sense Of HumorThe Sense Of Humor: Let Humor Fast Track You to Healthier, Happier Living

by Max Elliot Anderson

Paperback, 330 pg.
Elk Lake Publishing, 2016

Read: February 15 – 22, 2017


E. B. White famously said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” And I’ve found no exceptions to this in the couple of decades I’ve looked. Nevertheless, when Anderson asked if I’d read the book, I said yes. Sadly, White’s quip contains more meat than Anderson’s 330 pages.

The central thesis of the book is that humor and laughter are good mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. I’m pretty sure most people know that (at least with most of these things) without Anderson’s help. That doesn’t stop him from saying it over and over again — almost every time, it’s like he hasn’t said it before. As it’s such a benefit, he argues, we need to increase our use of it in our family, relationships, professional life, etc. A time or two, he adds a vaguely Christian-ish gloss to this to add some weight to his argument, but those attempts are pretty weak and best ignored for the author’s sake.

His use of sources is laughable — there are no footnotes/endnotes, many of his citations come in the form of “one entertainer said, . . . “, his history is easily demonstrably wrong. In short, the writing is shoddy and in dire need of a capable editing — which would make the whole thing a lot shorter.

The humor used to tell his point? Well, it’s mildly amusing at best. His chapter “Humor that is No Laughing Matter” is basically a narrow-minded nag-fest about sticking to types of humor that Anderson has arbitrarily decided is appropriate and avoiding humor that he doesn’t like. Everything else is just dull. Overall, the tone and content of the book don’t match up to the subject matter.

This would have made a fairly benign and marginally interesting magazine article, or TL;DR blog post — but as a book? Nope, it just doesn’t work — it ends up spreading what material there is too thin to be any good. It’s too filled with what everyone already knows (and repeats it) and shoddy writing to waste your time with.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest thoughts, I think it’s pretty clear that it didn’t bias me toward the book.

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2 Stars

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2017

Read: February 21 – 22, 2017


David and Adele have just moved to London to try to get a fresh start — she’s a stay-at-home wife, gorgeous, and seemingly frail — most of all, she’s deeply devoted to her husband. David’s a psychiatrist who might be a bit too fond of his drink, and doesn’t seem to be as devoted to Adele as she is to him. From the get-go we know there’s a few things really wrong with their marriage, and you can tell that finding out just what they are (and if the drinking is really as bad as it seems) is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Louise is a single mom who needs something fun in her life — things are going well for her ex and his girlfriend, and her son is going away for a month with them. Louise doesn’t have a lot going on in here life other than her son — she has pretty much one friend, a part-time job, and a social life that mainly consists of Netflix, cigarettes and wine. She’s our point-of-entry character, the reason we care about anyone else in the book — she’s relatable, she’s fun, she’s real. On a rare night out, Louise meets and kisses a man (David) who later confesses to be married and leaves.

Naturally, the next day Louise meets her new boss — David. They pledge to forget that night and move on professionally. Soon afterwards, Adele runs into Louise and a friendship develops between them — Louise carefully never admitting that she knows Adele’s husband.

Yeah, up to this point, this could be the fodder for a comedy — something that Jennifer Weiner might write, but with a little more edge, and involving people in London. So maybe it’s a dark Helen Fielding feel. Anyhow, Louise’s relationships with each get deeper. And as that happens, the tone gets darker and darker — everyone involved has secrets, and at least two of the people in this triangle aren’t who we think they are. And before you know it, you’ve left Women’s Commercial Fiction and turned the genre corner into Crime Fiction. There is evil or madness — maybe both — at the core of this story, and it’s dark. But the book never goes as far as it could into the darkness — it’s careful about showing it. Just lets it out every now and then, so you know it’s lurking out there.

The story is told from Adele’s and Louise’s perspective — with flashbacks to earlier in Adele’s life. Adele clearly has some problems, but it’s unclear what they really are. It’s tough to know whose perspective on things is more realistic — particularly their competing ideas about David. Eventually, we start to see that one of these women is manipulating the other two in the triangle and their plans are pretty serious.

Pinborough does a masterful job of drawing you into the story, the characters, their destinies — you can’t help but care, and even before things become a psychological thriller, you’ll find yourself very invested into what’s going on with these people and what will happen. Once things become perilous . . . forget it, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from this book. I loved the tone, the character development — Louise is one of my favorite characters of 2017.

Now, for the first 290 pages I was enthralled and was about ready to call this the best thriller I’ve read in months — maybe years. You can understand the hype about this book — why Two Crime Writers and a Microphone devoted an episode to this book, etc. But the last 16 pages . . . I just don’t know. It’s impossible to really discuss these pages without defying my “no spoiler” policy. Let me put it this way, if you can swallow X — you’ll dig the last 16 pages, and your jaw just might drop in the final 6. Me? I choked on X, and was fed up with the last 6. Since I finished it, I can understand what Pinborough was trying to do — and can even make a decent argument defending it. But I don’t like it — and think that even the best argument in her defense is codswallop.

Behind Her Eyes is a really strong book that will grab you, keep you entertained and will give you a conclusion that you’ll talk about for days (at least).

What I want to give it after the last 16 pages:

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2 Stars

Buuuut. . . . I think it really deserves this:

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4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge