Category Archives: review

Review: Food For Thought by J.L. Baumann

Food for Thought“It was after listening to Maurice tells his stories that I had become a firm believer that if anyone who wanted to know anything at all about humanity, all they needed to do was work a while in a restaurant.”

An intriguing short-story collection, J.L. Baumann’s Food for Thought offers up seven different regulars at Bo’s restaurant from The Deacon who works in construction, hails from Louisiana and thinks that everything is better back home to Pete the car salesman who comes in daily to break up the “droll monotony” of his existence. Bo’s interactions with his clients, staff and other members of the community drive each of these stories. Baumann expertly creates a world of unique, recognizable characters, all of whom are driven not only by their need to feed their physical hunger but find sustenance of another kind in Bo’s booths, tables and counter.

In many ways, Bo’s will remind you of the television show Cheers with a cast of quirky, endearing characters. Baumann finds motivations for each of person we encounter and we, along with Bo, learn a few interesting things about humanity. Whether it’s the determination of Didi to cook for Bo or the health inspector who used world class white gloves to ensure everything is up to code, Baumann has crafted a restaurant that makes you feel at home. There are even a few interesting surprises along the way to help keep things interesting and the characters and stories authentic.

I feel like after spending these seven stories in this world that I’d had a full, complete meal. I wouldn’t be averse to having another meal at Bo’s, though.

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Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly GuiltyThree couples got together for a barbecue one sunny afternoon. But instead of a delightful, fun social event, the barbecue ended up a turning point for all six people involved and the fallout still ripples through each person and their various relationships.

I’d read several of Liane Moriarity’s previous novels before diving into Truly Madly Guilty and found them all to be page-turning stories of “small scale” crimes. Like many of her other contemporary mystery writers, Moriarity’s work dwell less on the actual crime itself and more on the impact it has on the characters involved.

And while circling around the crucial event, jumping between before and after the pivotal moment, worked in the other novels I’ve read by Moriarity, the pieces never quite came together here. Instead of being riveted by the hints being dropped about something monumental happening that fateful afternoon, I was left feeling like the story and the characters are all treading water as we wait for some of the revelations to start coming out.

Once we finally get to what happened that afternoon, I had pretty much checked out of the novel and only really staying around to see if my assumptions about what happened were correct. After really enjoying several other novels by Moriarty, I have to admit I came away from this one feeling a bit disappointed. It’s not enough to keep me from reading more of her works or trying her next novel. But it is enough for me to chalk this one up as one of the more disappointing books I’ve read this year.

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Review: The American Girl by Kate Horsley

The American GirlIt seem like a lot of the mystery novels I’m drawn to these days feature an unreliable narrator (or narrators in the case of The American Girl). Whether this is due to the success of novels like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train has encouraged publishers to jump on the unreliable narrator bandwagon or that it’s just that I’ve become more aware of this particular narrative hook, I’m not sure.

What I do know is that, at this point, it takes a lot to make an unreliable narrator story stand out to me.

Kate Horsley’s The American Girl was able to do that. Well, at least it was able to do that for the first hundred or so pages. Continue reading

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Review: The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore

The Big RewindLibby Cudmore’s debut novel The Big Rewind features a cover blurb comparing it to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. And while it’s true the two novels share first-person narrators who love music and sprinkle in more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at, I’m not sure the comparison between the two extends far beyond that.

Taking over her grandmother’s rent controlled New York apartment, Jett Bennett has grand visions of becoming a music journalist in the Big Apple. But the reality of her situation is that she’s scraping by taking temp jobs and spending a lot of time at Trader Joe’s (if this was a movie, the sheer number of mentions of Trader Joe’s would feel like product placement). Living among bohemian artists, Jett is finding her way in the world when a mix-up in the mail has her stumble across the murder of her neighbor. Continue reading

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Audio Review: Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos: A 3rd Doctor novelisation

While some of my peers were reading the Sweet Valley High or R.L. Stine’s novels, I spent my teenage years reading Stephen King and Target adaptations of classic Doctor Who stories. One of the most prolific authors of the Who range was former script-editor Terrance Dicks. If you take a step back and look at the sheer volume of novels published by Dicks during this era, it’s staggering — to the point that I had an image of poor Terrance chained to a desk, fed only bread and water and forced to hammer out adaptation after adaptation on his typewriter.

Visiting some of Dicks’ output again thanks to BBC Audio has only underlined again just what Dicks was able to do for an entire generation of Doctor Who fans — keep the series alive and fresh in our imaginations when we couldn’t see all the stories we wanted to again, much less collect them to sit our shelves. The fact that these novels are still readable and enjoyable today is a testament to just how good Dicks was.

“The Claws of Axos” comes from an era when Dicks wasn’t given as much time to adapt serials as he had in the bookends of his Doctor Who adapting career. “Claws” is pretty much a straight-forward adaptation of the original script with some nifty descriptions and one or two embellishments thrown in for good measure (for example, at the end when the serial ends with the Doctor’s chagrin at being “a galactic yo-yo,” Dicks allows the action to continue onward with everyone saying their farewells and the Doctor rushing out to ensure the UNIT guys don’t jostle the TARDIS). Continue reading

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Review: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me OnceIn the literary world, Harlan Coben’s novels are the equivalent of a summer popcorn thriller — fun in the moment but not necessarily having much replay value or holding up well to much (if any) deep scrutiny.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that mind you. There’s always room for that fun, don’t think too much about it, bubble-gum for the mind type of novel that serves as an escape for a few pages.

Veteran special-ops pilot Maya Stern suffers from PTSD from her time in combat. She’s also haunted by a decision that she made during that time that went viral thanks to the power of social media. She returns home to try and begin a normal life with her husband, but that plan hits a few stumbling blocks when her husband is killed in an apparent mugging attempt.

But in the midst of Maya’s grief, her new nanny-cam makes a shocking discovery — her husband comes home to visit their toddler and is caught on tape. Could he still be alive and why would he fake his own death? Answers aren’t easy to come by from his rich, insular family nor will they come easily from the people in Maya’s life she”s come to rely on and trust.

The set-up Fool Me Once is a solid one even if the pay-off isn’t necessarily the best. The more Maya digs into the conspiracy (and starts to appear crazier to her friends and family), the more Coben asks the reader to take a huge leap of faith in suspending our disbelief. By the end of the novel, the leaps become so eye-rolling that the novel loses any crediblity or momentum it had in the early goings. It’s the type of story that the more you just turn off your brain and go with it, the more fun you’re likely to have.

It’s a good escapist thrill ride, but not necessarily anything more.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though.  You can find get other reviews over at GoodReads.
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Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of GhostsWhen Stephen King tweets out that a book scared him, it immediately rockets to the top of my to-be-read pile. I love a good scare — and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts is just that.

The Barrett family seem like the typical, all-American family. That is until their fourteen year-old-daughter begins exhibiting signs of a potential possession. As questions of whether or not this is a mental-illness or a possession by a demon begin to mount, the family resorts to desperate measures — not only conducting an exorcism but also allowing cameras into the house to record the events leading up to it and the exorcism itself.

The only survivor of these events is Merry, who years later reflects on the events and her role in them with a series of interviews.

From the beginning, we know there is some horrible secret hanging over the Barrett family. And Tremblay builds a palpable sense of dread as the story continues to unfold, all the while making us question the nature of reality — from reality television shows that are edited to tell the best story to just what exactly is going on with the Barrett family. There were times that the sense of dread at what was going to happen on the next page reminded me of my first reading of Stephen King’s Cujo in my teenage years.

And yet for all the building dread and horror, A Head Full of Ghosts is keenly aware of its place within the horror pantheon. Referencing multiple horror movies and tropes, the novel breaks them down and builds them up again to give the reader a bit of gallows humor all while ratcheting the feeling of dread up a few points higher.

It all leads to a final act that is among the more memorable and unsettling I’ve read in quite a while. I can see why this novel scared Stephen King because it certainly left me feeling scared and unsettled.

And yet it’s a book that I wholeheartedly recommend — as long as you’re not faint of heart. It’s compelling, horrifying and utterly readable. Simply put — one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

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