It's obvious Tricia McDonald loves her miniature bull terrier, Sally: who else but a devoted dog mom would drive three hours just to take their pup toIt's obvious Tricia McDonald loves her miniature bull terrier, Sally: who else but a devoted dog mom would drive three hours just to take their pup to an ice cream shop for dogs? Or devote an entire essay to how much she missed her companion during a weeklong writing retreat? Or treat their beloved to a doggy massage? However, even though McDonald's adoration of Sally is never in question, the same can't be said for her prose -- it's clunky and cliche-riddled. What's presented as humor come across like flat soda. For instance, at a time when adopting shelter dogs is widely encouraged, her first essay about buying Sally via the interwebs -- and writing a three-figure check to an airline for her transport -- is astonishingly tone-deaf.
This slim small-press tome illustrates one of the today's biggest publishing problems: it's easier than ever to self-publish, be it on the Net or through a local printer, and as a result many hacks find their wooden way into the light. McDonald fancies herself an auteur, but she's just a mediocre scribe whose work falls so short not even Esther Newberg could save it.
The muddy black & white photos undermine any last shred of credibility for this collection....more
Dan Baum follows the lives of nine disparate New Orleanians -- from a bedraggled ex-convict to a high society white lawyer -- over four decades and brDan Baum follows the lives of nine disparate New Orleanians -- from a bedraggled ex-convict to a high society white lawyer -- over four decades and bracketed by two spectacular hurricanes to demonstrate how life was fundamentally changed, if not completely destroyed, by Hurricane Katrina. While many books have covered the storm and its effects on the Big Easy, none have focused as sharply on the individuals injured, killed and left homeless by the hurricane that leveled the Gulf Coast -- and how they rose again, no matter how hopeless it may have seemed, to resurrect the only city they could ever call home....more
Five years after giving up her daughter for adoption, Bernice is determined to reclaim the girl from David and Tessa, the conservative Christian couplFive years after giving up her daughter for adoption, Bernice is determined to reclaim the girl from David and Tessa, the conservative Christian couple who became her parents. However, as she rushes headlong into action without a plan, she not only finds herself unprepared for parenthood, but bewildered that no one comes to her defense. As Bernice flees Colorado for her native Baltimore, their daughter's kidnapping exposes the deep flaws in David and Tessa's marriage, especially as a woman named Robin exposes David's many secrets and flaws ... none of which fit with his professed faith.
While the story sounds promising, the delivery is not. Geoffrey Becker delivers an uneven tale with little plot and no real plan, just like Bernice. Not even Emily, the little girl ostensibly at the heart of the action, is interesting. Many of the characters -- especially the adoptive father, David -- are dusty stereotypes and never emerge as real people. Even what are supposed to be revelations, such as the identity of man who impregnated Bernice all those years ago, fall flat.
Apparently Mr. Becker is capable of much better work -- his story collection, Black Elvis, won the 2008 Flannery O'Connor Prize for fiction -- but it's not evident in Hot Springs....more
Serge A. Storms and Dexter Morgan have a lot in common. Both are Florida-based serial killers who only target those who deserve their fate, and each hSerge A. Storms and Dexter Morgan have a lot in common. Both are Florida-based serial killers who only target those who deserve their fate, and each has a wicked sense of humor. But Dexter – in print, if not onscreen – has been hampered by his increasingly barren creator, Jeff Lindsay, while Serge’s inventor, Tim Dorsey, continues his character’s breakneck momentum into his 12th novel, juggling a complicated and intense story with antics that can only be attributed to the Sunshine State’s greatest maniac.
Gator a-Go-Go reunites all the Dorsey characters that have survived so far: Coleman, City and Country, the G-Unit, the Davenports (in the form of their son Melvin), Johnny Vegas and, of course, Agent Mahoney. (Lenny and the lone surviving Diaz brother appear as drive-by references, as does the not-so-dearly-departed Sharon). The story revolves around Patrick McKenna and his son Andy, who have just been unmasked after fifteen years in the Witness Protection Program. The question running through the novel is: who will get to them first, the Miami-based drug dealers or the FBI? And just who, in that equation, are the bad guys?
The action takes place during spring break, progressing from Panama City Beach to Fort Lauderdale, as Serge films a documentary on the annual event and Coleman becomes the guru of a band of faithful collegians that includes Andy McKenna. He’s not only fleeing his frigid New Hampshire campus, but a quartet of killers intent on erasing him, and any companions, as revenge for his father’s testimony a decade and a half earlier. As the assassins unerringly track Serge and his merry band throughout their journey, they realize a good guy has turned informant, and Serge, naturally, becomes Andy’s protector … but he isn’t sure he trusts Florida’s pre-eminent psycho trickster, especially as the mayhem reaches record levels (along with spot-on references to Flat Stanley and inspired use of Bacardi 151).
While the usual band of spring break participants are trotted out – drunk & crazy kids, Girls Gone Haywire, bikers, hookers, preachers, pawn brokers and reality TV -- Dorsey keeps the story fresh by injecting the regular crew, along with a troop of newcomers, in consistently interesting sidelines that eventually, and seamlessly, meld with the main story. He never drops a character or incident, and he maintains a level of suspense Lindsay’s Dexter tales have never managed – all in the service of Serge A. Storms. May his freak flag bravely, and forever, wave. ...more
I’ve read most of Larry McMurtry’s non-Western novels, which is habit more than enjoyment, because every time I finish one, I wonder not only why he’sI’ve read most of Larry McMurtry’s non-Western novels, which is habit more than enjoyment, because every time I finish one, I wonder not only why he’s lauded, but why I spent time chasing his words. More than any other “literary” novelist, he seems to make stories out of nothing at all … the page-turning equivalent of Seinfeld. And of all the characters he’s chronicled, he’s made the most out of the nothing that is Duane Moore, most recently sighted in Rhino Ranch.
Moore is, as previously titled, depressed: his second wife has dumped him for another man, he’s being pursued by a teenaged porn star, and is intrigued by a globe-trotting billionaire with the urge to rescue the endangered black rhinoceros on a dusty Texas preserve. He also uses a lot of phone minutes chatting with his former therapist, Honor Carmichael, who now lives in New England with her latest lover. Duane engages in all sorts of silly behavior – the most egregious being a vasectomy – basically giving McMurtry 278 pages to document his drinking, spending and sexual escapades, as well as fulfilling whatever remains of his contract with Simon & Schuster.
If you need a forgettable book to read on an airplane or sitting by the hospital bedside of a loved one, Rhino Ranch is a good choice. Otherwise, to quote the author himself … horseman, pass by. ...more
While I came to Julia Child’s My Life in France on the crest of her resurgent popularity, based on Meryl Streep’s turn in Julie & Julia, her storyWhile I came to Julia Child’s My Life in France on the crest of her resurgent popularity, based on Meryl Streep’s turn in Julie & Julia, her story is always fresh for those aspiring to follow her gastronomic path to success. In this lovely book, co-authored with her husband’s grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, she details not only her discovery of food, cooking and the domestic life, but her relationship with the love of her life – and the man she credits for making her the household name she became – Paul Child. Covering their years in France – from Paul’s USIS assignment in 1948 to when she closed their home in Provence in 1992 – she not only covers her stint at Le Cordon Bleu, the lengthy and arduous co-production of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and her enchantment with everything francais, but her long and loyal partnership with the man who devoted his life to helping her succeed in bringing European dishes to American kitchens. Filled with Paul Child’s marvelous photos and Julia’s familiar, witty and unpretentious banter, this is the model for the perfect memoir....more
Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) has spent his life living by the rules of the military and English society. But after his brother dies, he finds himsMajor Ernest Pettigrew (retired) has spent his life living by the rules of the military and English society. But after his brother dies, he finds himself bonding with the local shopkeeper, Mrs. Jasmina Ali, and starts to see the conventions -- and their keepers -- as the snobs they are. As he steps out of the routines that have guided him all his life, Major Pettigrew finds himself in positions he never imagined -- and faces them with dignity and dash. A thoroughly delightful debut novel....more
A novel of four stories linked together by a single organ -- obviously, the liver -- Self not only creates original tales, but brings Greek mythologyA novel of four stories linked together by a single organ -- obviously, the liver -- Self not only creates original tales, but brings Greek mythology into the 21st media-driven century. While the stories are entertaining, no real connective thread (other than the organ) exists, and the most compelling tale is that of a dying British matron, Joyce Beddoes. I enjoyed Liver thoroughly and am honored to have been chosen as an Early Reviewer, but rank it with another British novel I loved but never really understood: Martin Amis's London Fields....more
Tomato Girl has all the elements of a good novel: a mentally ill mother, a tempted father and a little girl trying to hold everything together as herTomato Girl has all the elements of a good novel: a mentally ill mother, a tempted father and a little girl trying to hold everything together as her world is shattered, saved only by a wise old black woman. But first-time novelist Jayne Pupek fails to build an adequate story, randomly splashing out cardboard characters in clichéd situations and failing to provide even the most rudimentary conclusion. Other novelists – Kaye Gibbons, Jill McCorkle, Elizabeth Berg – have visited this basic premise with far more fruitful results. Pupek obviously hoped to ride their coattails – a wish surely shared by her editors at Algonquin – but she fails in every respect. ...more
Matt Prior's life is falling apart: he left the world of business journalism to start a website combining financial advice with poetry, but is quicklyMatt Prior's life is falling apart: he left the world of business journalism to start a website combining financial advice with poetry, but is quickly running out of money. He's behind on the mortgage, and his Alzheimer's-disabled father lives with him. Oh, and his wife is having an affair with her high-school sweetheart. But in this darkness, he finds an unlikely bright spot: becoming the town's marijuana dealer.
This novel's hilarious pathos reminded me of Wonder Boys. Grady Tripp and Matt Prior are the twin sons of different mothers, long may they reign ...more
One of the best things about an Elizabeth Berg novel is that while her characters always find good endings, they're not necessarily what storybook wriOne of the best things about an Elizabeth Berg novel is that while her characters always find good endings, they're not necessarily what storybook writers would consider "happy." As in, no one's rescued by a dashing knight riding to the rescue on a white stallion. Helen's good ending means learning to embrace life as a widow, even when it means shaking up a once-comfortable life of dependency. As always, Berg shines and relays the lives of everyday men and women with decency, compassion and humor....more
Brett and Layla Foster have been a couple since high school, so Brett’s decision to separate not only shocks everyone, but strains their family – becaBrett and Layla Foster have been a couple since high school, so Brett’s decision to separate not only shocks everyone, but strains their family – because the Fosters are the only relations the parentless Layla has. What happens when a clan prefers an in-law to blood kin? And what happens to an extended family when its bedrock crumbles? Using alternating narrators, Caprice Crane deftly illustrates a tribe in crisis, and how they handle the hardest problems life dishes out. ...more