Relief by Execution by Gint Aras: Reflections on Societal Woes from a Different Angle on the Holocaust

Relief by Execution

Relief by Execution: A Visit to Mauthausen

by Gint Aras

eARC, 94 pg.
Little Bound Books, 2019

Read: September 21, 2019


This is a short book (long essay), that to really get into would render the reading of the content pointless, so I’ve got to hold back some of what I want to say. The official blurb is a good starting point for a few thoughts I have in reaction to this essay:

Between the years of 1996-1999, Gint Aras lived a hapless bohemian’s life in Linz, Austria. Decades later, a random conversation with a Polish immigrant in a Chicago coffeehouse provokes a question: why didn’t Aras ever visit Mauthausen, or any of the other holocaust sites close to his former home? The answer compels him to visit the concentration camp in the winter of 2017, bringing with him the baggage of a childhood shaped by his family of Lithuanian WWII refugees.

Thus far, I’m on board with it—Aras blends recollections of the visit with glimpses of his past—the racism, the abuse, the ways of thinking that he was raised in, and then applying that to American society. I think this is a solid idea, but not terribly uncommon. What makes this better is the perspective Aras brings to it. Rather than identifying with the inmates, the victims of the holocaust; he puts himself in the shoes of the guards, of the soldiers carrying out the orders that those of us separated by a distance of miles, years and context can’t imagine.

Or, as the blurb concludes:

The result is this meditative inquiry, at once lyrical and piercing, on the nature of ethnic identity, the constructs of race and nation, and the lasting consequences of collective trauma.

It’s this part that I found wanting. The length of this essay didn’t work for me — Aras either spent too much time on things he didn’t properly develop, or he spent too much time talking about things that didn’t add enough value to the essay. Either fully developing things—which would probably take another 50 or so pages (just a guess)—or trimming about half the length to give a tighter, more controlled argument would have made this a stronger piece of writing.

I enjoyed the writing generally, but too often (not really frequently, but not rarely enough) his writing got in the way of what he was trying to do. His style was too elaborate, his vocabulary obfuscated, and he just got in his own way.

Lastly, I think the essay would’ve been better served with more about his actual time in Mauthausen.

In summary, I think this is a great concept, but I couldn’t get behind the execution—often overwritten, and either too short or too long. Still, this is worth your time. You’ll end up thinking about things in a different way, which is always beneficial. It’s a short read. It’s a compelling read. Sure, it’s a problematic read—but the positives outweigh that.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author via Lori @ TNBBC Publicity in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.


3 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

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Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers: An Unusually Realistic Thriller

Appetite for Risk

Appetite for Risk

by Jack Leavers
Series: John Pierce, #1

Kindle Edition, 352 pg.
Book Guild, 2019

Read: September 13-16, 2019

It’s 2004, Saddam Hussein is out of power and the focus is shifting to rebuilding Iraq (few have any idea of the insurgency just around the corner), which sounds great to John Pierce. He’s a former Royal Marine trying to support his wife and two kids. He’s done the typical security/investigations work, but that isn’t really satisfying to him. He does have a few good contacts in or related to Iraq and decides to try to build a business there.

I intended to provide consultancy services to international companies, using local support and knowledge to help them win a share of the reconstruction contracts. Iraq needed everything after the West had sanctioned and bombed it to a ruin over the previous decade.

It’s not a safe place to be at the moment, but it seems to all that stability is just around the corner, and even after an eventful first trip that might dissuade some from following that path, we’re told:

Despite the risks, there was never any real doubt I would go back. The siren call of adventure was drawing me inextricably to Baghdad. Now I’d started down this road, I remained determined to see where it would lead, hoping desperately that success would be quick to arrive.

The book follows Pierce’s endeavor to find that success from January 2004-December 2005. We travel with him to various locations in Iraq (and surrounding nations) and back home in England. As with most fledgling businesses, there’s a lot of ups and downs, signs of success and trouble alike—when you consider the risks involved in trying to start something in Iraq in 2004-05, the typical struggles of a new venture pale in comparison. Quite inadvertently, Pierce gets the attention of both British and American intelligence and they secure his aid with little regard to the effect that’ll have on his livelihood.

It’s hard to think of this as a novel—it really doesn’t read like one. It reads like a memoir. It may be fiction, but it reeks of authenticity and bears few of the marks of a thriller (or any other kind of novel). This is both a fantastic achievement and a frustration for a reader who expects certain kinds of things from a thriller.

The level of detail is intense—I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever learn anything about how one goes about finding contacts or establishing working relationships in the middle of a war, relying largely on translators and practical strangers to help navigate through the city/populace. On the one hand, it was intriguing and I quite enjoyed being exposed to this kind of thing. On the other hand, there were large stretches where it seemed like nothing was happening—like the dominoes were being set up and instead of knocking them down, the line kept getting longer and more twisty.

I never got bored, but I spent a lot of time wondering “where is this going?” While not every detail or anecdote ended up paying off, enough did to justify reading it and again, the level of detail made it really seem like you were reading the recollection of someone who’d been there. And while the initial 50-60% of the book could be called slow (after the initial chapters, anyway, which dropped the reader into a tense situation before backtracking a few months to establish things), once things picked up, they really picked up.

I don’t know that I ever really made any emotional connection to Pierce—I was pretty unmoved by his marital or financial woes or triumphs. I still wanted to keep reading about what he was going through, but any trouble or danger he encountered didn’t grab me (other than as an obstacle to whatever he was trying to accomplish). I don’t know if this is something Leavers was trying to accomplish, or if it’s the sign of a new author—I tend to think it’s due to the non-fiction-y feel of the work, and I rarely get that connected to actual people I’m reading about.

I think I’m safe when I say that you haven’t read a thriller like this before—it’s a slow burn, but it’s consistently interesting and you certainly feel the imminent threat constantly around Pierce. Once the action kicks into a higher gear, it’s a pretty fast read, but you’ve got to work a little before then. It’s a satisfying read, and one that will reward the time you put in. I recommend it for someone open to an atypical read where the suspense comes from sources you’re not used to encountering (and a few that everyone is used to).


3 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

Irony in the Soul: Nobody Listens Like the Dying by Pete Adams: Jack Austin’s crusade continues

Irony in the Soul

Irony in the Soul: Nobody Listens Like the Dying

by Pete AdamsSeries: Kind Hearts and Martinets, #2

Kindle Edition, 540 pg.
Next Chapter Publishing, 2019

Read: September 5 – 9, 2019

I’m going to be quick, because it’s late and I’m bushed—also, the more I talk about this, the less I seem to like the book. Which isn’t fair—I do like it—but I have issues with it, too. You ever see the memes or jokes online about someone saying they have 6-pack abs, but they’re just hiding/protecting them under a layer of fat? That’s precisely how this book seems to be constructed.

Picking up some weeks after Cause and Effect: Vice Plagues the City, Jack “Jane” Austen is prepared to come back to work, when something happens to compel him to come back. A priest and an imam are violently murdered, with clear indications that the same people behind these attacks were those responsible for the conspiracy uncovered in Cause and Effect, to cause unrest (at least) between the stagnant Christians and the local Muslims, and hopefully spilling over into a large-scale societal unrest.

You’d think this would be enough to bring Jack back early, so he could try to prevent things from getting worse—and he does. He just has to be eccentric for a while in front of his staff, purposely getting himself in trouble and provoking his new Chief. Because that’s what the situation calls for, I guess. I’m glad we’re told over and over again how brilliant he is, and what a good cop, too—because you might miss it otherwise.

It’s a shame we spend so much time with Jack and Mandy off doing all sorts of non-police things (read: sex, talking about sex, and mooning over each other), because the rest of Jack’s team are some truly interesting characters, and it’d be great to see them work. We catch little glimpses of them at work (and some brief idea about their off-duty life), and I think this novel told about them instead of Jack and Mandy would be a much more interesting work.

The word that kept coming to mind (and my notes) as I read this was “self-indulgent.” Adams clearly enjoys talking about some things and making the same jokes—he made one 3 times in the first 4% of the book (and countless times in the other 96%). We get pages and pages of Jack and Mandy romancing each other (and at least one of their subordinates makes a pointed remark about their priorities), of Jack going out of his way to be obnoxious, and other assorted things that seem to actually hinder the investigation. Now Adams is far from the first to be this way—Robert Galbraith’s latest could use a good trim (of about 150-200 pages), as did many of Robert P. Parker’s later works. So the fact that I want to cut about 300 pages from this book puts him in some okay company. In those 300 pages, little happens t advance the plot and we don’t deepen our understanding of the characters, because it covers the same ground over and over and over (again, see later Parker).

All that said, the last 25%± of the novel is really good. Almost all of the weaknesses of the book that had been bugging me faded into the background and the crime story came to the forefront (finally). This is the kind of thing I’d been waiting for. If the book was this part, plus another 50 or so pages to set the scene, create a tone, and whatnot—this would be a much more enthusiastic post. As it is, this last chunk of the book redeems the rest and almost makes it worth the effort to get your hands on the book.

Am I still curious about where things are going, and how Adams plans to get there? Absolutely. I will keep reading—and I did enjoy these books, I just wish they’d be put on a diet so I don’t have to trudge through all the excess material.


3 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

Bloodline by Pamela Murray: Entertaining and complex

Bloodline

Bloodline

by Pamela Murray

eARC, 202 pg.
Bloodhound Books, 2019

Read: September 4, 2019


After sitting in a doorway unnoticed for a couple of days, someone finally sees that the homeless man isn’t huddled there for a safe place to sleep, but because he’s been killed. The police begin investigating, determining quickly that he wasn’t killed where he was found—so they know this isn’t going to be a quick case, but things quickly escalate beyond that to make this even more complicated.

Two things happen when they ascertain the identity of the man. First, they learn that he’s a police detective working undercover far from home. Later, when his DNA is checked, they discover a shocking tie between the deceased detective and a cold case murder. The squad investigating the murder is split in direction then—two go undercover themselves to attempt to complete his investigation. The rest follow-up on his murder as well as this cold case, hoping to find a connection.

The undercover operation’s target and the way it’s set up if pretty clever, and not that common, I don’t think, among Crime Fiction (I don’t know, it might be run-of-the-mill in reality). It’s pretty easy for the two new detectives to pick up where their fallen comrade left off—but it’s hard to tell where he was, and how they should proceed in tying their target to this murder. The cold case is even more intricate, and complicated by the space and history between the original crime and the present—this is the highlight of the book, if you ask me—I really enjoyed it. The present-day murder is far less complex once they determine who he is, everything from that point is straightforward (which is not a criticism, even police procedurals need some straightforward cases.

But everything seems too compressed, too easy for the undercover officers to infiltrate enough to get into a trusted position necessary to bring the group down and the murder cases come together pretty easily, too. Everything about the novel—all three cases and the inter-personal character development—seems rushed (and therefore the prose is a little clunky). The characters, also, seemed sketchy and ill-defined (which is a shame, at least 3-4 would be well worth fleshing out). There was a lot of telling, rather than trusting the readers to pick up on subtle showing about them. If the book was another 25-40% longer, I think it would’ve helped tremendously

This book had all the makings of a great read—but it missed. It’s a decent way to spend a few hours, and it’s worth paying for it. I liked it, but I think if Murray had explored things a little, built in some more suspense, and just made all the various officers work a little harder before getting to the closings of the cases, it could’ve been great, not simply good.


3 Stars

My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the novel) they provided.

Life of Christ by J. Gresham Machen: Short, Helpful, to the Point

Life of ChristLife of Christ

J. Gresham Machen

Kindle Edition, 50 pg.
Monergism Books, 2015
Read: August 18, 2019

This short work is extracted from the 1922 work A Brief Bible History: A Survey of the Old and New Testaments by Machen and James Oscar Boyd, and it felt similar to portions of Machen’s New Testament Introduction: An Introduction to its Literature and History. I think I’ve heard of the former, I’ve read the latter a couple of times. So, that took a little bit away from the experience for me.

But that doesn’t take away from the value of it—a concise summary of the Life of Christ (harmonized) and the beginnings of the Church in Jerusalem. I’m guessing this was some of the Sunday School curriculum material written by Machen while teaching at Princeton Seminary, and it includes study questions. There’s not a lot of interpretation or application (except in the questions), it’s largely just a boiled down run-through of the gospel accounts.

Machen’s possibly my favorite twentieth-century theologian — he’s definitely the clearest and crispest (with the possible exception of R. C. Sproul). All the things people like to say about C. S. Lewis’ popular apologetics apply to Machen (without the stumbling into troublesome weirdness), and his more academic apologetic work still holds up. This isn’t Machen at his best, but it still displays his style and approach (even if only a little).

Really not much to say about this, so I’ll just recommend it for a nice refresher.

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3 Stars
2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs: Essays to Inspire Devotion

Finding God in the OrdinaryFinding God in the Ordinary

by Pierce Taylor Hibbs
Paperback, 73 pg.
Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2018

Read: August 25, 2019

In the greatness of God, the smallest of things is given tremendous weight.

Hibbs, the associate director of the Theological English Department at Westminster Theological Seminary, has given us a great collection of thirteen essays (semi-inspired by an interview Hibbs heard with Karl Ove Knausgard on NPR but from a very different perspective) based on that idea. As you can guess from the title, Hibbs looks at the minutiae of life and sees how it testifies to the Triune God of the Christian Scriptures.

Some of the everyday, ordinary, common things that he muses on include:

  • dust particles
  • his son’s laugh
  • swirling coffee
  • light
  • wind
  • shadows
  • falling snow

Not your everyday subjects for short essays—particularly not from a theologian, are they? From these everyday things, Hibbs goes on to mediate and wax lyrically on God’s nature, being, truth, care, light, providence, and grace (and other things). These are not theological treatises, but musings on small things around him. Yes, they are theologically-inclined and theologically-informed (and he slips in enough nuggets to make me want to check out his other work). I can’t think of anything else to compare it to, which annoys me, because it’d help explain the volume.

I wondered from time to time if he was going to dance close to pantheism, but he never got that close, really. But he was clearly aware of the hazard, and addressed it in his Epilogue.

The prose is frequently poetic (and there are the occasional bits of actual verse), and gorgeously written. It’s not often that you read theologically-inclined books that possess beautiful language—the ideas are often wonderful, sure, but the language typically fails to live up to it. Not Hibbs—he knows how to phrase things to make an impression, not just impart ideas.

Not only are these essays well-written and thought-provoking, they ought to train the reader to start to find God in the ordinary around them—which is probably the best use of the book. It’s a little on the thin side, honestly, but I don’t know if you could read more than this in a sitting (if you manage to only do one sitting of it) without it losing some power. An interview I heard with him seemed to suggest there might be further collections like this, if there are, I will jump on them. Recommended.

—–

3 Stars

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth by John Moe

I’ve been poking away at a couple of posts about new books for a few days, and am just not getting far enough to post with them, and it’s time for me to fire up the CPAP, so we’re doing some more reruns this week with a couple of posts from 5 years ago this week. I’d actually forgotten about this one, and am now annoyed with myself.

Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture CorrespondencesDear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture Correspondences

by John Moe

ebook, 288 pages
Published June 10th 2014 by Three Rivers Press
Read: August 14, 2014

This is an incredibly amusing collection of pop culture-based humor pieces — I’m tempted to call them columns, but that’s not exactly it.

So these are correspondence (in various forms) associated with gems from Pop Culture — the titular notes from Darth Vader to his son; the entire list of Jay Z’s 99 problems (4. Don’t really enjoy rap music; 55. Shamrock Shake only available once a year.; 84. Worry someone will discover that I’m secretly a member of Bon Iver.); internal e-mails when E.T.’s shipmates discover he was left behind; and so on. I cracked up a lot. I made my wife read bits and pieces, but I resisted reading portions/the entire book aloud. Some of the pieces I wanted to read aloud included: The editorial notes on Guns ‘n Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” (“Redundant. You either have a memory or you’re reminded of something. You’re not reminded of a memory. Your heavy-metal supporters won’t stand for such writing”); a note from the bar manager to Billy “The Piano Man” Joel; the development of the lyrics to the “Batman” show theme; Dora the Explorer’s mother’s letter to CPS (“I know that imaginary friends are a perfectly normal part of childhood, but this was different. Dora would speak to an entire group of people, almost like an audience. And she would demand things of them: “Say map! Say map!’ It was like super-bossy, group-oriented schizophrenia”); a list of changes the Hotel California instituted after being visited by Don Henley (“Acquire steelier knives and/or less resolute beast”).

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but your appreciation of a piece will be directly correlated to your appreciation of the pop culture basis. For example, I don’t like The Walking Dead (yeah, I’m the one guy in the U.S.), so Message Board posts by the Walkers didn’t do anything for me, ditto for the Engineer’s Notes from Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” sessions. But I’m willing to bet that fans of either would get a few chuckles.

There are several pieces (perhaps the majority?) that go on too long — maybe two that aren’t long enough. But even with those that do wear out the joke, carry on, More makes persistence worth it.

My only warning is — do not try to read this cover to cover. Read a piece or two. Put the book down. Come back in a day or so. More than that and you’ll stop chuckling, maybe even build up an intolerance. Just sip at this one, no chugging.

I enjoyed it — I laughed, I chuckled, I grinned, I wished I’d thought of that joke first — this is a great coffee table kind of book. I’d buy another volume or three of this just to have around. Give it a shot.

Note:I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Which was generous and cool of them, but didn’t impact what I said about the book.

—–

3 Stars