Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan Review

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan (paperback)
I wanted to read a western, but didn’t know which one to go with. That’s when I decided to check out “The Ploughmen” by Kim Zupan. This is a book that is set in Montana, and it’s something new. This book was released in 2014, I believe, and I didn’t pick it up until this past week. It’s a 256 page hardcover that you can pick up from the library, unless you find the paperback, which works too. I’m not familiar with Kim Zupan’s work, so I walked into this book without knowing anything but the setting, and since I lived in the Palouse of Idaho, I wanted to read this because of the setting, more than anything else. So away we go, into the land of westerns, with a modern, dark twist.

Two Men From Opposite Sides Connect

The plot line of this book is about a sheriff’s deputy that has to watch a killer named John Gload. Thet wo go through a lot of conversations together, and Gload starts to reveal some information about the dead bodies that the deputy has been finding through his latest ventures in law enforcement. The two go through a great variety of conversations, juxtaposed by Millimaki (deputy) and his life outside of the jail and law enforcement gig. The prose is amazing, and the two bring you to your knees in terms of conversation that seems so real, and yet removed from what you experience on a regular basis. It’s a nice trip into a psychological area of the mind, from the law enforcement side to the killer’s side, and the humanity that the two share in common.

A Western That Is Not A Western

I mentioned that I wanted to read a western, but this is not the same kind of western that you’re going to think about in other arenas. This is not a gun slinging solution, and it’s not something that is going to appeal to you if you want an action based western novel. It’s not that action packed. Instead, it’s more akin to “Silence of the Lambs” in a way, although there’s a lot more modern and less frenetic. It’s like a Robert Altman western akin to “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”. This is something that is quite good overall, and the pacing is a bit the same as the former award-winning movie. This is very much a western in setting, and in character design, but honestly, it’s more of a noir piece, than a focused western like John Wayne’s classics.

The Drama of Humanity and The Tragedy of Truth

“The Ploughmen” by Kim Zupan pushes you through the most difficult of times between two different arenas of life, from the law to the criminal lifestyle. A lawman that has insomnia and is losing his marriage, a career criminal with no family and a checkered past, the two discuss the ins and outs of their lives, and find that they aren’t so different after all. It’s a dramatic novel that is hard to read at times because Zupan’s prose is so compelling and artistic, not just straight one liners and sentences. She has found a way to make poetry into drama and movements that speak to the heart and the brain at the same time. It’s a slow burning fire that comes to an end that you may not expect, and one that is kind of funny.

Star Rating For “The Ploughmen” by Kim Zupan

This book took me some time to finish. It’s not a long novel, but it’s dense. It’s for that reason that I’m going to give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. It’s not action packed, but there’s enough density and darkness to make this a very dramatic, and real western, that is more akin to what real life on the Palouse was like, even in the modernism of today. I liked it a lot.

You can purchase “The Ploughmen” by Kim Zupan online by clicking here.

Did you read, “The Ploughmen” by Kim Zupan? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini Review

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Well, here we go, the book that continually made me cry. “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini was a book that I didn’t get to read when it came out. Instead, I watched the movie in 2007, and was crying the whole way through the second and third act. But it’s in this book that I really started to cry, because the book had a lot of hard hitting elements. It’s a book that pulls your “kite strings” so hard, it may very well cut them, and pull your heart out. It’s a heavy 372 page novel, that I don’t know how well I can review it.

The Cowardly Child

There is a father-son dynamic here. You get a son that is spoiled by his father, and he tries to get his approval throughout his life. But along the way, he grows bitter and doesn’t stay thankful for his position. Through the kite flying and contests, he finds the approval of his father, but there is a second dynamic at play. He has a servant, who happens to be his best friend, and that turns into a seriously bad situation when he is bullied, and the main character Hassan witnesses it, and doesn’t do anything. I won’t mention how bad this is, but I’ll just say it’s one that will make you cry. From that point, he doesn’t want anything to do with his friend, and servant. He forces the family (servants) to go away, and it’s all a lie.

Three Parts To Pull Your Heart

With every turn there’s a new turn. There’s a father and son dynamic, but also the haunting of the original disregard for friendship, and family. There’s so many layers to this, that I cannot hope to review it and explain it all. But you have to really invest in the story because it showcases a lot of themes of friendship, father-son, religious studies, foreign culture, war, and death. The second and third part were not as friendly as the first, and by the time you get to part three, you’re going to be dying a little inside, before there’s any sort of redemption.

A Redemption Song

In order to get to the glory of this novel, you have to go through a lot of pain and anguish. There’s so much of it, that you’re going to end up wanting to not read this at times. It’s that hard of a story at times. There is a redemption to this whole novel, but you have to invest a lot of time reading it before you finally see it. It’s a rough one. I appreciated Baba, Hassan, Amir, and so much of this book’s tale.

Star Rating For “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini

I give “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini a 5 out of 5. It is a compelling read with a lot of heart, and it hurts at times, but it also picks you up to finish things off. It buries you with a lot of information, and then pummels your heart, before giving you a new one in the end. It ends with a nice little wrap up, but to get there, you have to go through hell.

You can purchase “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini by clicking here.

Have you read “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini? If so, drop me a line.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan Review

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan Paperback 
After reading a bit of non fiction, I stepped forward to read “The Perfect Girl” by Gilly Macmillan. This is a book that is listed as a thriller, but it definitely didn’t “thrill” me. I had a hard time reading through this book, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. The story just seemed a bit hard to gather since it was formatted in a journal, or letter writing element. It’s not too unlike Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, but it’s definitely not the same gothic horror that made me love that book. This one all ties up well, but it gets a bit long to get to the end.

Mystery Starts

The main character Zoe serves time in prison over an event that caused the death of her classmates. She’s a music prodigy, and is now going to try and reignite her life, thanks to her mother. But by the time she finishes her performance, her mother is dead. And there are a lot of suspects, including her. As the detectives ask questions, and you get lined up with several different characters, you start to read into the psyche of each one, through journals and letters, and writing that is very interesting, albeit a bit odd considering this novel progresses through firsthand accounts more than anything else. It’s interesting, don’t get me wrong, but I’d prefer a different narration style.

A Slow Winding Tale

“The Perfect Girl” by Gilly Macmillan felt like a mini-series. It didn’t feel like a full book or novel in the traditional sense. I liked that there’s a bit of creativity thrown into the way this was written, but unraveling the plot without force was tough. I had to spend a lot of time closely guarding the character names, and figuring out the motives, and tracking back to understand the story. Given the amount of work that I had to put in as a reader, I don’t think a lot of people would like this one. However, I found that the closing moments were satisfying, with an ending that left me both pleased and upset. I know, the dichotomy is hard to understand but as a writer, I understood what Macmillan was going for. But at the same time, I didn’t like how it turned out. It’s like “Match Point” to me in some ways, and yet it’s a completely different narrative style and story.

Star Rating For “The Perfect Girl” by Gilly Macmillan

What do you give a book that is non-traditional, and yet still holds your attention? I’m going to give “The Perfect Girl” by Gilly Macmillan a 3 out of 5. It’s a good book, but it’s lacking something that I can’t really put my finger on. I liked it enough to finish it, but it was taxing at times. I’m not going to recommend it to everyone, but there are some people that may like it. It’s not quite as “thrilling” or “suspenseful” as some may say, that’s for certain.

You can buy “The Perfect Girl” by Gilly Macmillan by clicking here, and reading it for yourself.
Did you read “The Perfect Girl” by Gilly Macmillan? If so, leave me a comment below.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia by Chris Blatchford Review

The Black Hand by Chris Blatchford Paperback Cover
Adding to the many true crime books that I have read this year, I have now finished “The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia” by Chris Blatchford. This is a book that I bought my sister a few years ago, and thought that she would be interested in reading some history about the Mexican Mafia. I doubt she ever read it. She’s not much of a reader. But I finally finished it, and I was blown away by a lot of the details about gang life, and the Mexican Mafia in general. This is a very fascinating read, and one that many people will love as it is a no-holds-barred look at the inner workings of La Eme, aka The Mexican Mafia.

The Gang Life

The gang life is not one for the weak of heart. This book details don’t pull any punches. Chris Blatchford adds editorial elements to the book’s otherwise biographical presentation of Rene Enriquez. Enriquez helps tell his story straight up and doesn’t hide anything, while Blatchford adds to the bigger picture. You are treated to a number of elements here, including information about what goes on inside the prison world as well as the gang world. I found it to be a fascinating blue print about the gang world that you may or may not know about. There’s just a lot to work with here, and it is not soft, or PG-13 in any way. It discusses things like an episode of “Oz” only more brutal and real.

Gore and Violence

One of the monikers of true crime novels is that there’s lots of blood and lots of violence. Well, when you read “The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia” by Chris Blatchford, you’re going to get that in spades. There’s nothing held back at all. No punches are left on the table, and every element of violence, gore, and focus is here. There’s a specific reason for that, and Enriquez comments about it. He wanted to ensure that nothing is washed over, and nothing becomes something that is glorified, but rather showcases the realities of just how brutal it is to take a life. It’s not just a matter of physical violence, it’s one of psychological violence, and it is very much not sanitized for the reader. Enriquez robs, kills, steals, and his crew does the same. There's drug, violence, sex, and more involved in his life, before he gets locked up for 20 years to life. There's redemption, but first, you're treated to gang life in an uncensored manner. This includes getting jumped in, sexual escapades, drug abuse, and more.

Regrets Upon Regrets

The book ends with a regretful tale. Enriquez leaves the Mexican Mafia, he turns informant, and he wants out. He gets out and cooperates with law enforcement for over a decade and is given a chance to get paroled. However, it’s blocked by the governor, and his story continues to unfold as this book reaches new eyes all the time. Enriquez is absolutely regretful of what he has done. But that can be said about a lot of prisoners that are serving life in prison. I cannot vouch for any validity to the claims, but this book is an impactful read with a lot of detail about how the inner workings of the Mexican Mafia works, and how it’s insanely powerful within the confines of the prison system, and even in street gangs. It’s not for the weak of heart, or stomach.

Star Rating For “The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia” by Chris Blatchford

I give this book a 4 out of 5. It was released in 2009, and there are some new developments that have come through in the past 8 years since this book was last published. It’s a good read, but it’s very “history” based and more like a textbook at times. I found that the narrative was good, and well written, but the back and forth between Enriquez and Blatchford kind of takes you out of the story sometimes. That’s not bad, but it’s just something that caused me to stall in reading. This is not sensationalized like Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, but it’s still worth checking out if you like true crime novels, and you are interested in the Mexican Mafia.

You can purchase “The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia” by Chris Blatchford by clicking here.

Did you read “The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia” by Chris Blatchford? If so, drop me a line below.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Barbarian Way by Erwin Raphael McManus Review

The Barbarian Way - Paperback - McManus
“The Barbarian Way” has been on my reading list ever since I first heard about Mosaic in Los Angeles. McManus is a different kind of pastor, one that focuses on the simplest forms of Christianity and turns them into a premise for evangelism in the arts, music, and more. With this book, he details the rawest form of Christianity that you can push through, and he basis the novelty on John The Baptist and Jesus Christ. I’ve been around the church for a long time, and this book reaches deep into the annals of what it’s like to sit in a pew, and then rebel, into a new way of following Christ, but I say that lightly, because it’s not new, it’s classic.

Not For The Church-ified

First and foremost, you’re going to find that “The Barbarian Way” is not for the traditional Christian. If you want to go to church 3 times a week, and sit in a pew, you’re going to hate this book. Some people even said that this book was aimed at destroying Christendom. But in all honesty, if you read the book, you will see that the parallels of John The Baptist and a rogue behavior that calls all Christians is the true highlight. We live in a time where Christianity has been homogenized, and turned into a “do this and do that” type of faith. That’s turned a lot of people off, especially for those that have seen the hypocrisy of the pulpit and beyond. This book aims to show that there’s another way.

Eating The Mushroom

The most poignant example that McManus discusses is in regards to innovation. He discusses the insanity of being the first person to eat a poisonous mushroom, and dying. He strives to be that guy, the taste tester, the innovator, the person that is going to discover something that will forever change the future. There’s a raw sense of discovery that comes with faith, and he doesn’t push you to disbelieve anything, but rather to focus on the barbarian path of unconventional faith, leading to new things. In fact, he discusses the fact that not all Christians will be in a church, they will not be organized, they will not look like you think ,and will not wear suits. He highlights this by the example set by John The Baptist, whom led the way for the coming of Christ, and in jail doubted his own faith and was executed, beheaded for the pleasure of the leadership in Rome.

McManus is a immigrant from El Salvador, went to seminary, and challenged faith through various lenses. He has a sensible approach to faith that is not like anything you're probably hearing from mainstream religion. His work is outside of the mainstream, and is accessible in a whole new way, creating an "insane" look at faith that you may not get from nearly any other pastor or writer of Christendom today. Guaranteed.

Star Rating For “The Barbarian Way” by Erwin Raphael McManus

This is not a long book. But the ideas are profound. It’s not an anarchist’s view of Jesus, and it’s not a tough guy stance Jesus either, it’s a focused example of how one can live a spiritual life without the compartmentalization of Christendom. It’s beyond ritual and goes to the mystical, because of course, God is “spiritual”. It’s a good read for those that are seeking Christendom from a different lens, and it works. I give this book a 4 out of 5. It’s not perfect, as it’s too short in my view, but it’s a blessing to read, and a nice change of pace for me.

You can buy “The Barbarian Way” by Erwin Raphael McManus by clicking here.

Did you read “The Barbarian Way”? Did you like it? Drop me a comment below, and let me know what you think.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle Review

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle 
Well, I couldn’t finish “It” before I had to return it to the library, so I turned my attention to another book. “The Ballad of Black Tom” which is a book that has been getting a lot of attention for author Victor Lavalle. Upon first glance, this book seemed to be an interesting one, and while I got stuck somewhere in the middle, I managed to finish it off today, and while it is still fresh in my mind, I’ll give you 3 readers my thoughts on this release from LaValle.

Race In The Jazz Age

I was sitting at the Hard Rock Café yesterday and a lot of videos came through of live performances. They were from the early rock and roll television showcases, and many of the artists were black. It made me reflect on the racism of the past, and made me question why anyone would be racist considering how amazingly talented the singers, songwriters, and jazz artists of the era were. Granted, I know a lot more of the answers, but that set the tone for this book, as LaValle drops you into New York City, Brooklyn to be exact, and introduces you to Black Tom. You are immediately thrown into a world of racist cops, fine jazz music, and hustlers that are just trying to get by with their music, and be left alone. Black Tom initially seems like a sympathetic figure, but the more you read, the deeper the layers of this book gets, and the horrors that come juxtaposed with racial unrest, magic, and pure evil.

A Stunning Turn

When I got to chapter sixteen, I wasn’t sure what could possibly be waiting around the proverbial bend. The story went from race, to a noir, horror piece where LaValle sets you up for one hell of a punch. It was the same kind of momentum that carries “Silence of The Lambs” and “True Detective” to a climax that you may or may not have caught onto mid-way through the story. That’s where “The Ballad of Black Tom” really comes full circle. The juxtaposition of musical themes, racism, jazz, and a nod to Lovecraft comes through with every sentence leading up to the sixteenth chapter, and then blows up like a powder keg in the final moments of this book.

LaValle Throws You Into The Fire

The finale got me. I didn’t see it coming, and I didn’t see the entirety of this book until I finished the last chapter, and last paragraph. “The Ballad of Black Tom” leaves you wanting more. LaValle’s writing is succinct, just enough to get you to see what’s going on, with atmosphere and without wasted words. I appreciated the brevity, and even the action and tense moments that lead to horrors are done so succinctly, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to “It”. That’s not a swipe at Stephen King, but after reading such heavy descriptions, it was nice to read something that let me toy with my own imagination. LaValle turns the lights down low with every chapter, and eventually blacks them out so you are in the darkness, before he flashes a small candle and reveals the face of the book’s horrors. This is not just a single set piece of genre fiction, it’s a very well wrapped up mix of several genres, but in the end, it leaves you with a clarity that takes all of your attention to figure out.

Star Rating For “The Ballad of Black Tom” by Victor LaValle

This book wasn’t an epic read. It didn’t take me long to finish it. That doesn’t mean it was bad, mind you, it just was a nice escape from the long novels I had been plowing through recently. I give “The Ballad of Black Tom” a 4 out of 5 stars. It left me wanting a little more, but you know what, it’s so solid, that it didn’t matter. Ratings are dumb anyways, so why not give it 5? Fine, I give it a 5! This is one hell of a story, and LaValle really knows how to turn your guts, but gently, not in a frenetically paced manner. I like that.

You can purchase “The Ballad of Black Tom” by Victor LaValle by clicking here.

Did you read “The Ballad of Black Tom” by Victor LaValle? Drop me a comment below and let me know.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen Review

Paperback Edition of This Book
For the sake of this review, I’ll be using the full title, even though I condensed it above. The full title of this book is, “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema” by Anne Hellen Petersen. I just got back from a trip to Spokane and Las Vegas, and could polish off this book with my down time. I initially wanted to get some filler content in, since I was in the middle of reading “It”, but am nowhere near finished with that one. So, here’s a review of something I did manage to finish, because it’s not nearly as long as Stephen King’s epic story of horror. Anne Helen Petersen isn’t a gossip writer, she plays historian in this book that chronicles stories of old Hollywood, and does so with a breath of fresh air. Playing on the tropes that you already know, she goes through the past, with a nod to the present, without ever feeling like you’re reading “gossip”.

Taking The Hood Off The Past

The main thing that I found with this book was simple, the golden age of Hollywood was full of scandal. Just like today, you’re going to find a lot of different problems associated with people. The most fascinating of characters are not so prim and proper after all. Some stories are a matter of media manipulation, while others are just a glimpse into how bad the past was. For instance, one of the lasting impressions that “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema” by Anne Hellen Petersen gave me was the story of Fatty Arbuckle. A guy who plummeted from popularity because he was accused of drunken sex orgies, that led to the death of a young woman. He never recovered. The media tore him apart, and even though there was more to the story, it didn’t matter. Today, that would all be under the rug within a few years, just think of R. Kelly for instance.

Historically Accurate and Fascinating

What makes “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema” by Anne Hellen Petersen different is that it reads like a history book. Petersen finds a way of weaving the tales of the past, with contrasting news clips, media manipulations, and historical citations that help this become more than just another gossip book. It’s interesting to see how tales of the past mirror the present, and how the media buried so many stares. From Clara Bow to Mae West, the media had a lot to stay about all of these stars, and most of it, were lies. But that didn’t stop the publishing, and public opinion of people’s lives. It’s a fascinating look at the past, that’s for sure. This is a book for fans of classic Hollywood stars, and history alike. It’s a nice picture of the past, and how media and popular opinion has changed the scope of what people’s lives were and are today. I liked it a lot.

Star Rating For “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema” by Anne Hellen Petersen

I give “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema” by Anne Hellen Petersen a 4 out of 5.

You can order “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema” by Anne Hellen Petersen by clicking here.

Did you read “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema” by Anne Hellen Petersen? If so, drop me a comment below.
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