“Is Anything Ever Random?”
Review by Joey Madia
Arthur Conan Doyle. Agatha Christie. Edgar Allan Poe. Peter Straub. The Mystery genre is certainly daunting. With such a rich heritage built over so many decades, one has to applaud any new writer breaking into the genre. How do you honor the well-known (and often well-worn) tropes that make the genre what it is while also bringing something new?
Let’s face it—not bringing anything new to a pillar of a genre such as Mystery is like playing a song note for note as originally arranged and expecting your cover to be remembered.
With this skeptical opening in mind, I have to congratulate Tom Kies on not only honoring what makes a good mystery a good mystery—twists and turns, richly detailed locations, lots of likely suspects, an overall moral depravity and subtle condemnation of society, and of course a compelling detective—he manages to bring something new and attention-getting to the genre: the main character’s private life literally and figuratively competes with the mystery all the way through. Continue reading
“Not Your Grandma’s Tao”
Review by Joey Madia
“You’re not cool, you’re chilly. And chilly ain’t never been cool.” [George Carlin, from one of his HBO specials]
You best get ready—this isn’t your (normal? regular?) traditional review. I am not even sure, after reading The Tao of Cool, that a review is even a COOL thing to do, nontraditional or not. Nothing about this book, which is [loosely] (as in, shares a common word in the title and the same number of chapter-poems) based on the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu is presented in an expected way. For instance, the subtitle is on the back of the book, and reads: “Deconstructing the Tao Te Ching [:] from the Notebooks of Snafu Trismegistus [,] Bodhisattva of Universal Cool.”
Now, (normally) I would question such a statement. In one of my other lives as an academic editor, at least once a year I edit papers from a writer who promotes himself as a “thought leader.” That always makes me cringe. But, in this case, Bodhisattva of Universal Cool sort of elegantly, exactly sums it up. Continue reading
“How to Manage the Void”
I am going to be up front here. I love this book, which is in large part due to its main character, Fleur Robins, daughter of an ultra-Conservative US Senator from Pennsylvania and an alcoholic mother who had Fleur as a teenager. Fleur is one of the most delightful, complex, and often contradictory child characters since Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Sheila Tubman in Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great—two characters that had a profound impact on my childhood and, subsequently, my life.
Perhaps it is my own growing fascination with Complexity and Chaos Theory, but I have been noticing a recent trend in storytelling—be it novels, television, or (to a lesser extent) film—that comes into play with Sharon Heath’s approach. It began with the male anti-hero in television shows like The Leftovers and Walking Dead, who is flawed, isolated, and oftentimes just plain Wrong. That trend has now broadened and extended to not only female characters, but to entire families. I just finished watching the debut season of Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. Not only are the relationships between spouses, parents and children, bosses and co-workers, neighbors, and so on incredibly Complex and always on the verge of or in the midst of Chaos, but these multi-level flaws create a much richer, deeper view of Life as We Know It than I think was ever possible before. Continue reading
A Debt of Survival
Every now and then you come across a story that creeps up on you, and before you know it you’re gripped, furiously turning the pages to reach the end. Then the end arrives, and you release a breath of air you didn’t know you were holding in. With the book closed, you smile and wonder how you’re going to come to terms with the depth you’ve just encountered. My experience with L. F. Falconer’s latest offering was that; it kept me up long past my bedtime.
“A Debt of Survival” is one of those books that speaks to you as you read it. Layered and complicated and yet a breeze to read, this supernatural suspense is complexly human. Falconer is a writer who knows not only how to layer a story, but also to layer her characters. Don Lattimore is a hero in every sense of the word. He’s a war veteran, a stand-up friend, a law-abiding sheriff, a devoted father, and a committed husband, despite his wife’s frigidity. But he is also flawed, steeped in trauma, and imperfect. Characters are Falconer’s specialty. She’ll make you fall in love with hers, and you’ll have a hard time letting them go. Don, with all his defects, is the quiet hero we all carry around inside of us. You’ll root for him from beginning to end. Continue reading
Of Redemption and Forgiveness
Review by Joey Madia
Some writers have a gift that sets them well above the rest. Being a teacher of writing as well as an author, Zeidel deftly augments her natural talent for storytelling with sharply drawn characters, tight plots, seamlessly woven research, and a high level of symmetry and macro/micro structure.
I was first introduced to her work several years ago, when I received The Storyteller’s Bracelet for review. I was very taken with the mythological nature of the Native American–based tale she told, so it was with great pleasure that I received this special release.
Engaging the dogmatic/religious more than the mythological, Redeeming Grace centers on a family’s ongoing struggles following the separate deaths of two children and their mother in late 1920s rural Maryland.
The title character, the oldest daughter of a hardcore minister named Luther, marries a somewhat older man, Otto Singer, to get her and her sister away from Luther’s physically and emotionally abusive ways. His grief has poisoned his mind and instead of being the kind-hearted family man and well-respected religious figure of years passed he has become an abusive mis-interpreter of the Bible. Continue reading