Review: Then Came the Evening: A Novel

Then Came the Evening: A NovelThen Came the Evening: A Novel by Brian Hart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The opening chapter for this book is a masterstroke of what I think of as "immersion fiction". The reader is dropped into the middle of a big scene with no introduction to the characters or the surroundings. A good writer is able to let you know just enough to make the scene interesting, but not too much so that you're compelled to go on with the book. The violent altercation that sets the wheels of Then Came the Evening does just that. A man is confronted by the police, people talk at each other rather than to them, and the world of Bandy Dorner changes drastically, all by his own hand (which in itself is unusual in most fiction these days). The story picks up almost 20 years later, Bandy has paid his price, and when he returns to his old life, some thing have changed drastically and unfortunately, some things have not changed at all. With a son he never met until he was grown and an exwife who is incapable of standing on her own, a half hearted attempt is made at starting a sort of family. The book loses a lot of steam when the exwife is center stage, Hart just doesn't write his female characters as active as his male characters. They're predictable and flat and drag down what would have been a more vivid story without them.

View all my reviews


Review: Captain Blood

Captain BloodCaptain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, it's almost 100% historically inaccurate. But it's a swashbuckler through and through and a heck of a fun read. Sabatini writes about revenge and loyalty and double crossing and triple crossing every bit as well as Alexandre Dumas and doesn't get near the credit for it, and that's just wrong. If you've seen the Errol Flynn movie that was adapted from this book, you've only seen about 2/3 the story, and not nearly enough of how Peter Blood became a better man as Captain Blood.

View all my reviews

Review: Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World

Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the WorldMauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World by Simon Garfield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting multipurpose nonfiction, written for the reader who wants a lot of practicality and history with their science lesson. The book is very disjointed in its lay out, with the author jamming the contemporary ramifications of Parson's work in to the middle of chapters where they don't really belong. As stated in another review, it's as if Garfield wrote the book in the order of his note-taking, rather than rearranging them into a logical or at least sensible narrative. Still, his research not only into the why and the how of the creation of mauve, but also the where is a quick and nearly painless look at one of those things we take for granted but really did change the world when it was invented.

View all my reviews


Review: Ride with the Devil

Ride with the DevilRide with the Devil by Daniel Woodrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

how I love a book that not only entertains, but also educates and enlightens. My knowledge of the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri was limited to what I was taught in high school US history, that is, that Congress didn't want to settle the volatile issue of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, so they passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and a few people from Missouri disagreed, kicked up a fuss because they were pro-slavery, and were then relocated away from the border. That's just sad, isn't it?

Woodrell takes on the incredibly violent confrontations between the Jawhawkers and the Border Ruffians from the side of the to show how the issue of states rights affected Southern homesteaders and immigrants that didn't own slaves. Jake Roedel, if first generation American born to German parents narrates his story of joining up with a group of Missouri irregulars. His motivation for joining goes beyond fighting against the Unionists who want Kansas to be a free state, he's also there because his best friend, near brother, and center of his world, Jack Bull Chiles has joined up after Chiles' father is killed by a band of Jayhawkers. Like any group that operates on the fringe, there are some men of varying degrees of quality and sanity in the unit they join. The fever to rebel reaches its peak when the group Roedel is with joins up with the (real) William Quantrill for what will be known as the Lawrence Massacre. Roedel takes an outsider's pov to that battle, which allows Woodrell to describe the atrocities that really happened without turning his flawed hero into an unredeamable villain.

View all my reviews


Review: Wild Spirit: The Story of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Wild Spirit: The Story of Percy Bysshe ShelleyWild Spirit: The Story of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Margaret Morley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm giving this two stars ONLY if you look at it as very young adult fiction, even though it's not listed as YA at any library or online book store that I could find. As incredibly shallow telling of the life of a very deep and complicated man, this is more travel journal (without any description of the places traveled) than narrative. When it's not doing a "and then he went to..." thing, we get some of the most unlikely dialog between some of the most literate people to have ever walked the earth. Was Mary Shelley really such a clueless nag? Was Byron such a self centered....okay, yeah, that one might be accurate. There are no author notes to say which part of the story is based on fact, or where Morley got her facts, and there's so little historical detail in this book that it's a joke to call it "The Story of Percy Bysshe Shelley". More like, "A brief history of Shelley and the people he knew".

View all my reviews


Review: Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories

Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories (Awp)Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories by Christine Sneed

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good set of short stories with a terribly incorrect description here on Goodreads. The idea of "romantic love" enters into a couple of the stories, but for the most part these stories are about attachments and attractions and the holes that people try to fill with other people's lives. There's a single line in the story "You're So Different Now" that pretty much sums up the subject of all the stories: ".....knowing there are countless ways to be a part of someone else's life...", and with relationships based on lust ("Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry", a need to escape ("Portraits Fully Developed"), and adventure gone sadly wrong "Quality of Life"), this book covers a lot more than romantic love. A few of the stories lack intensity ("Alex Cross, Inc." especially), but the character development is so strong in all of them that you'll be left wondering what happened next, and what's a short story without that sense of hit-and-run?

View all my reviews


Review: The Lake Effect

The Lake EffectThe Lake Effect by Blake Sebring

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Told almost as a series of stores, this first novel from journalist Blake Sebring reminded me quite a bit of Charles Baxter's "The Feast of Love", in that the narrator takes the reader along with them on not only a physical journey but an emotional one as well. We go along as he reconnects with a group of friends of college while trying to discover if an idea proposed by one of them, that every person has a moment that they can identify when they became what they perceive to be an adult, turned out to be true. Some of their moments are big, some are small, but to a man (and woman) it turns out the theory was correct. The book is front loaded with setting (you can almost feel the weight of that snow in the book's title) and back loaded with dialog, the latter so much so that it would be an easy screenplay adaptation.

View all my reviews