Sunday, May 31, 2015

Kill the Balloons: Williamsburg in the Singles

Morrone, A.J. (2014). Kill the Balloons: Williamsburg in the Singles. Self-Published

Adult / Fiction / Realistic

I gave this book 4 out of 5 Stars.

In Kill the Balloons, the 2000s are under way, and it's a typical Saturday for a group of twenty-somethings, living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. These hipster friends share a common set of ambitions: getting high, getting drunk, and hooking-up, and while each has an occasional thought of a better life, none can be bothered to do anything about it, opting instead for the comfort of here and now. With a playlist of musical references and photos of places around Brooklyn, author Anthony Joseph Morrone paints an often dreary, aching picture of a generation with a markedly bleary identity.

Morrone provides a cast of eight or so primary characters, introducing the unique traits of each in order to create a distinct impression on readers. Morrone's strength is in his use of figurative language -- often extensive -- to provide vivid snapshots of his characters and their surroundings. For example, in describing the setting of a dismal Brooklyn neighborhood, Morrone writes:

A plastic garbage can rolled around in the wind, banging itself back and forth on the curb like a confused inmate, arms strapped behind her back in the corner of a padded room, rocking herself against the wall in an attempt to make sense of her surroundings.

Where the book suffers is in the lack of editing -- which bothered this reader but may not be an issue for others -- but more so in the narrow audience. A reader unfamiliar with Brooklyn will not appreciate the insider references; a reader unfamiliar with the music of "the singles," will not understand the soundtrack to these characters' lives; and a reader who was not a twenty-something during that decade will not understand the lack of ambition and choices made by the characters.  Quite honestly, I found very little to like in any of the characters and found the book terribly depressing.

Kill the Balloons is not a book where I could ever find a connection to or understand the characters; however, their dialogues are realistic and memorable. Anthony Joseph Morrone shows promise as a skilled writer, and I will not soon forget being along for this Saturday in Brooklyn where the cry of  “kill the balloons” hides many different stories. 

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, which provided me an eBook copy in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.  

PERSONAL NOTE: Yes, the book needs editing, and yes, the book is full of sex and profanity and excessive drinking and drug use and aimless young adults who need to grow the hell up and do something productive -- all things I don't enjoy reading about. This book was not for me, and I didn't like it, but that doesn't mean it's a bad book. If you read it, I'd love to know your thoughts.

Kill the Balloons is on FACEBOOK (lots more Brooklyn pics) and you can follow the author on TWITTER.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Call of the Wild Werewolf

London, J. and Waters, C. (2015). The Call of the Wild Werewolf. Atlanta: Bright Sons Media.

Young Adult / Fantasy Mash-up / Re-imagined Classic

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars


Author's Blurb:

Deciding to leave his easy life in Santa Clara Valley, Buck Miller, the son of a wealthy judge and raisin farmer, pursues gold riches in the Klondike. Before he reaches his destination, Buck is kidnapped by vampires, turned into a werewolf, and forced to work as the vampire's sled dog. Now, in an unfamiliar place and in an unfamiliar body, Buck must learn to survive more than just the brutal weather. With attacks from vicious animals and abuse from his masters, will Buck be able to regain his humanity or will he spend the rest of his days living as a wolf?

Think of this book like the meme that's going around that says "type the last thing you did and then add 'because I'm Batman' behind it."  It's Jack London's complete text of The Call of the Wild, but it's been appended. Very little of London's writing has been changed, but author Carl Waters has added enough that a paranormal spin has been placed on the story -- and it works.  

For those who are unfamiliar with the original story, The Call of the Wild, you will be impressed by Jack London's sophisticated writing and the depth of the storytelling.  Author Waters fairly seamlessly adds in his own wording and makes minor tweaks so that the story fits the new paranormal circumstances.  The opening of the story is the only place Wild and Wild Werewolf are significantly different, but it was necessary to establish that the main character in Wild Werewolf starts out as a man (not a dog) and is transformed into a werewolf.  The writing changes flow smoothly with London's, and readers will find it very interesting as they watch Buck's "retrogression" from a civilized gentleman into a beast living in a kill or be killed life. 

I found this a SUPER creative re-imagination of the original story that answers a lot of "what if" questions: What if Buck wasn't a husky but a werewolf? What if John Thornton was Joan Thornton? What if the Frenchmen were actually vampires? These were great twists, with my favorite being what ultimately triggered Buck's transformation from wolf to wolfman, paving the way for him to become the legendary Ghost Wolf (not Ghost Dog, as in the original).

The only place I found the story lacking was in Buck's lack of homesickness for the life and the people left behind. It was initially explained away by a "fog" in his memory, but then later Buck remembers specifics from his life as a man, and he doesn't even have a pang of regret or longing. This didn't ring true to me, though I know Buck in London's version felt very little homesickness.

I recommend this book to young adults and older and to both people who have read and not read The Call of the Wild. It's just a fun mash-up and as long as readers understand that Waters isn't ripping-off Jack London's material (that's why he has London's name in the credits), it's a great tangent story.  Be warned, the fights between the animals are pretty graphic, and the brutality of man against beast are not lightly glossed over. It's a brutal world in the original, and it's a brutal world in the mash-up.

Thank you to the author for providing me an eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Amazon Author Page

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Window Opens

Egan, E. (2015). A Window Opens. NY: Simon & Schuster.
This book is set to be released for publication August 25, 2015.

Adult / Realistic Fiction / Contemporary

I gave this book 4 of 5 Stars.

A Window Opens reads like a peek into your neighbor's or friend-of-a-friend's life. Alice is familiar. She's a does-it-all kind of woman, who is perfectly balancing her marriage, kids, volunteering, friendships, fitness, a part-time job, parents, and in-laws, too. And then the shake-ups come, and Alice has to find full time work -- and still balance all of the above. Add into the mix a high maintenance boss, a husband who is acting oddly, a friendship on the rocks, and an ailing parent, and Alice is at the end of her rope.

While there's nothing particularly surprising in what happens to Alice in this year of her life, author Elisabeth Egan writes a potent story that will have readers experiencing all of it -- heartbreak and humor, sorrow and joy, failure and success -- and rooting for Alice to make it through.

With the author's real-life experience as a magazine book editor, I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look into the publishing world, and of course -- all the bookish references. Also, the premise of the corporate giant moving into the book selling world is at the same time laughable and horrifyingly possible.

Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for providing me an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give.  


Monday, May 18, 2015

Fibles: Children's eBook

Everette, M.R. (2015). Fibles: Children's eBook. 2nd Edition. Mesa, AR: Cookietwist Publishing.

Children's Short Stories / Illustrated / Problem-Solving

I gave this book 3 of 5 stars

Fibles: Children’s eBook gives readers a collection of twelve modern day stories, each having a different young animal as the main character.  The stories present the characters in a wide range of human dilemmas that teach lessons on problem solving and show consequences for choices made.  Every story starts with an illustration of the main characters and their fun and funny names and is followed by two more colorful illustrations as each story moves along, all which make the stories more engaging for readers.  

The strength of these stories is in author M.R. Everette’s clever plays on words, which is one reason that these stories might best be enjoyed in a read-aloud format, with an adult reading to a child.  Otherwise, young readers who don’t yet have a grasp on reading and/or spelling might stumble right through and miss what makes the stories funny. For example, in “The Ewe Wee,” some of the best laughs come from the names of the Ewe family, but Ewe is a difficult word. With Everette’s extended word play, the book could also lend itself to teaching literary devices to kids. For example, in “The Erlee Riser,” literal versus figurative language and double-entendres could be taught with all the bird references in the story (tweeting, hopping online, etc.).   Additionally, Everette uses parallel formatting so that every kind of animal is introduced in the same way: Erlee the bird, Potter the otter, Ellie the elephant.  So, when readers come across an unfamiliar word (pika, guib, eider), the context clues will help them identify a word as an animal (Pikasso the pika, Dwib the guib, Slider the eider) and may pique the reader’s curiosity to learn more.

Though there were a few stories that ended without making a clear point or resolution, the stories in Fibles: Children’s eBook were clever and entertaining, and the illustrations were bright and fun. Where the book needs work is in editing; there are extensive comma use errors, agreement errors, and missing or incorrect punctuation (particularly with plurals and possessives).  A thorough, professional editing would definitely improve the flow, and most importantly, model proper writing to the children reading the book.  As the book stands, I would recommend it only as a read-aloud, so that the writing errors aren’t modeled, and hope that the author will take the necessary steps to take the quality of the writing to the next level.

This book was reviewed for BookPlex, who provided me an ebook copy in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

If I Only Had Thumbs: Polly Pig's Story

Gabany, S. ( ). If I Only Had Thumbs: Polly Pig's Story. Paducah, KY: NoName Publishing.

Children's Picture Book / Rhyming / Problem Solving

I gave this book 5 of 5 stars

In If I Only Had Thumbs: Polly Pig's Story, Steve Gabany and illustrator Arlene Berry have teamed up again to give readers a fun, funny, and thoughtful story. This time it's Polly Pig and her son, Piglet, who are going to Camp Laz-About but must get cleaned-up before they can join the other pigs on the bus.  Unfortunately, the shower faucet isn't designed for hooves, and as Polly struggles to get the water turned-on, she begins to worry that the bus is going to leave without them! What can she do? 

Through rich, gorgeous illustrations and playful rhyming, readers will enjoy seeing how Polly's dilemma is resolved. As with Chickee Chicken's story, help comes from a surprising source -- one who just happens to have thumbs -- who teaches Polly that despite the limitations of her own body, solutions and friendships are to be found if she just asks for help.  

"A friend is a very good thing for us all,
They'll help when we need them; we just have to call."

What's really wonderful about this book is that it's loads of fun to read. Arlene Berry's spectacular mixed-media artwork provides a bright and stimulating canvas covered with adorable characters. Steve Gabany's rhymes have a wonderful cadence and rhythm that move the story along and are sure to provide plenty of giggles. This is guaranteed to be a book kids will want to read again and again. 

I highly recommend this book for young ones up to first or second grade and further recommend purchasing the print version for the best experience - the pages are best viewed in full spread, so two pages are viewed seamlessly, side-by-side.  

Thank you to the author for providing me an eBook copy in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.
To learn more, follow author Steve Gabany on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads!


Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Deception Artist

Fox, F. (2015). The Deception Artist. Berkeley, CA: Roaring Forties Press.

Adult / Realistic Fiction / Fantasy (? Reader must decide)

I gave this book 5 of 5 Stars

It’s California in the 80s, and for eight-year-old Ivy, it seems like everyone – and everything – in her world is changing. Her big brother doesn’t want to play make-believe any more, she gains a stay-at-home dad in exchange for a working mom, and her forever best friend has decided Ivy is babyish and has moved on from their friendship.  As her world becomes more complicated, Ivy clings to her creativity and imagination for escape and sometimes finds the lines between what’s real and imagined are quite blurry.  In “The Deception Artist,” author Fayette Fox takes adult readers into the mind of a child whose keen observations and honest interpretations make for an engaging and often humorous story.

One aspect of “The Deception Artist” that is different from typical fiction is that rather than following a distinct plot line, readers experience a chunk of time in the life of Ivy – and it works. Though the title of the book might imply otherwise, Ivy is not the only one practicing deception; truly, she’s surrounded by models of deception ranging from people who tell little white lies to whoppers.  Insightful Ivy reminds readers that we are all playing pretend in one way or another, and she becomes fairly adept at evaluating when, why, and how she and others use lies.

Ivy’s impromptu alternative scenarios are clever, and humor is found not only in her playing make-believe, but in young Ivy’s naivete. She’s seen things on TV, after all, but not enough to be able to properly fill-in all the blanks, which allows for some real laugh out loud moments. At the same time, readers will find it painful to watch as Ivy’s friends and her brother outgrow Ivy’s imagination and force her to grow-up sooner than she wants.

The writing is very well done and author Fox manages to perfectly convey the tone of an eight-year-old without the book reading like a book for kids.  Ivy’s observations are keen, and readers will pick-up on the nuances of what is happening between the adults. Fox’s characters are richly written, with each being memorable and unique, but where Fox really shines is in the use of figurative language. To begin, Ivy assesses people and then associates them with a bug sharing the same characteristics, so in her internal dialogue, she talks about Stink Bug Tommy, Caleb the Moth, Caterpillar Christa, etc. The use of numerous stylistic devices gives readers very specific snapshots of Ivy’s life.  For example, when the bell rings signaling the end of recess, Ivy thinks, “Across the playground, kids stop playing and flow toward the classrooms like a dandelion puff in reverse.” Or when Ivy is fighting her orneriness, she says, “Staying good is like trying to stay full. It’s just a matter of time before you get hungry again.”

The only part of the book that left something to be desired was the side story of “The Artist.” Ivy’s escape into her own future is one of the most intriguing tangents of the book and will definitely pique readers’ curiosities, but the unclear direction it takes towards the end will likely frustrate them as well.  Despite this, I highly recommend “The Deception Artist” because the writing is beautiful and Ivy is hands-down one of the most memorable characters readers will experience in fiction.

This book was reviewed for Reader Views, which provided me a print ARC in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.