Divan of Shah Book Review

Full disclosure: I was given a free PDF copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Since April is National Poetry Month, I wanted to try my hand reading and reviewing poetry. I oversee the poetry collection at the one of the libraries I work at, so it makes sense to get to know that specific genre even more. Luckily, Divan of Shah by Shah Asah Rizvi – a collection of 106 poems that mainly tackle the topics of love and dance – is a good gateway into this category.

I don’t know a whole lot in what makes good poetry from a technical standpoint (like the rhythm), so a lot of this review is going to focus on its format, how comprehensible it is, and how much it held my interest. The collection consists not only of poems, but also of quotes. The quotes are usually inspirational and relate to the poems in one way or another. I say that because some are pretty obvious like how the quote “Life has meaning until the weight of moments is carried by the protection, encouragement, nurturing, presence and love of a mother” leads into an ode about mothers, yet some are a little more tricky to connect like “Dance to inspire, dance to freedom, life is about experiences so, dance and let yourself become free” to a poem about wondering where someone has gone. It is up to the reader to make those correlations.

In addition, it would have been nice for the poems to have sections that indicated the theme because it seems to jump all over the place. While this does make the collection more interesting because one wouldn’t know what the poem will discuss, organizing them by topic would have been better structure wise.

A lot of the language that Asah Rizvi uses is simple and non-rhyming. These poems are like pop songs in their lyrical simplicity, but with the tone of a sonnet. In other words, they are easy to understand, but they are also elegant. This kind of language makes it clear of what emotion or topic each of the poems convey without being excruciatingly obvious. Additionally, the non-rhyming aspect allows the author to say what he wants more outright. I bet he did it those ways, so people, including those who don’t usually read poetry like me, could appreciate the effort that he put into the work. And, it shows.

As I mentioned earlier, these poems were about love and dance, and at first, they seem to be about different aspects of the former like longing and sensations as well as about the feelings related to the latter. Some of my favorites were “Foreplay”, “Mother”, “Let Us Dance”, and “Disappear”. However, as I read on, I noticed that a lot of the poems became more about the same aspects but said differently. This lessened my interest, but not by much. I really like the illustrations that accompany each of the poems like “Limitless Love” has the infinity symbol and the “Venom Passion” has a burning heart icon.

All in all, Divan of Shah by Shah Asad Rizvi is a very accessible poetry collection that centers on the topics of love and dance. He definitely has the passion, which undoubtedly fuels his drive to write poems. Even though I had some minor complaints about it, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking to get into poetry as well as to those who have loved the genre for a long time. I look forward to how he expands his horizons, and ventures into other topics.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: The Flight Attendant

A television series based on The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian is in the process of being filmed, and it will air on HBO Max. However, the production has been halted because of COVID-19. Have no fear, I have a review of the novel here, and despite some flaws, it is worth the adaptation.

I have never read anything by Chris Bohjalian up until this point. Apparently, he has authored twenty books including Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and Secrets of Eden. Even the ladies from the book club that I facilitate enjoy his work (I swear one of them has a crush on him). As a result, I decided that I needed to get to know this author, and I am doing so with his latest novel, The Flight Attendant.

The Flight Attendant circles around an air hostess named Cassandra (Cassie) Bowden. Cassie is a 38-year-old self-loathing binge drinker. One day, she wakes up in a Dubai hotel room that is not hers and with a man named Alex Sokolov whom she had spent the night with. It turns out that he is dead. I wish it was an April Fool’s Day prank, but alas, it is not. She tries to piece together what happened the night before, but instead of calling the police, she returns to her flight attendant duties and lies about what happened. She lies to pretty much everybody like the other flight attendants, the men whom she would have one-night stands with, and the FBI agents. Eventually, it becomes too late for her to face what actually happened.

Bohjalian wastes no time getting into the story as it literally begins with Cassie waking up and discovering Alex’s dead body right next to her. I will not lie; that immediately grabbed my attention. However, soon after, the novel becomes more slow-paced as not much happens elsewhere until the second half. I did not have much of a problem with this as the book itself focuses more on its protagonist, specifically how she attempts to clear her name.

As a result, the big selling point of this book is its main character, Cassie. Bohjalian develops her with so much backstory and insight that readers will quickly empathize with her. This is especially true when it is revealed that Cassie’s father was an alcoholic and that he had caused a lot of heartache and burden in her family. She vowed not to drink until she had some alcohol at age 23. Right then, she realized how it could smooth out her rough edges and even make her look prettier. She struggles with her self-esteem and who exactly she wants to be. At the same time, Cassie is so flawed that readers will also be testing their patience with how much sympathy they can express towards her, especially as she continues to lie and dig herself into a deeper hole. I can see why Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory wanted to adapt this book into a limited series and star in it: https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/10/28/big-bang-kaley-cuoco-flight-attendant/

If there is one complaint that I had with this novel, it would be the ending. I will not spoil it. All I will say are two things: 1. Even though part of it effectively surprised me, parts of it left me confused to the point that I had to ponder the logistics and if that was even discussed earlier. 2. I also think that it was rushed and contrived to a certain degree. I have a feeling that this is the reason why Bohjalian fans say that this book is not one of his best, but still good regardless.

I listened to the audiobook, which contains three narrators: Erin Spencer, Grace Experience, and Mark Deakins. Spencer is an actress known from shows like Prison Break, True Detective, and the Broadway tour of Chicago; she voices Cassie. She does a great job of handling Cassie’s character, whether she is professional, self-loathing, or downright scared, as well as other characters like Cassie’s teetotaler sister Rosemary and Cassie’s lawyer Ani. Experience is an audiobook narrator, who has previously recorded many of Bohjalian’s novels because she is his daughter! Nevertheless, in this book, she effectively voices the missing woman, who was in the same room as Cassie and Alex the night that he died, with competence and doubt at the same time. Deakins – known for his appearances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Voyager – reads the FBI transcripts with a nice mixture of neutrality and formality without spoiling anything.

The Flight Attendant is an interesting read, yet it may not be for everybody. Some readers might get bored with its slowness, and others might bark at its ending.  But, if readers are interested in deeply flawed characters and how they deal with literally life or death situations, they will be pleased. Although it may not in my top 10, it is certainly a book that I will not forget.

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Tesla: Inventor of the Modern Book Review

It has occurred to me that I have never reviewed a biography on this website. I am going to remedy this with analyzing Tesla: Inventor of the Modern by Richard Munson – a great level-headed biography of the inventor Nikola Tesla.

What makes a great biography? I will tell you. Since a biography is a detailed description of one’s life not written by that person, it requires the author to look at a variety of sources to piece together a complete (or almost complete) and unbiased image of the person in focus. Munson does just that with his subject Nikola Tesla.

Munson provides a whole load of sources like newspapers; Tesla’s diary entries; and correspondence with friends, family, and various businessmen. He likes those resources so much that he would even quote the more mundane aspects of Tesla’s life like dinner parties at his friends Robert and Catherine Johnson’s home in the book. While others might see this as unnecessary, I don’t mind it a whole lot because it shows that the Serbian inventor was more charming than what we are usually led to believe and had more friends than just his pigeons. In addition, Munson cites his sources! Normally, I would not make a big deal out of this, but after reading The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly, I have a newfound appreciation for citing sources, especially if one wants to know how credible the author is.

In addition, Munson keeps his head leveled as he writes about Tesla and the people that he interacted with. With the main subject, Munson proclaims that Tesla was a man ahead of his time, for he was born at midnight in the midst of a thunderstorm. At the same time, he acknowledges that Tesla could be quite stubborn and was not business savvy. For instance, Tesla turned down lucrative offers from various companies in order to focus on inventing stuff that he wanted to create. Unfortunately, this eventually led to him becoming almost penniless even though he still lived in a luxurious manner. He was so desperate that he wrote letters to people like J.P. Morgan, asking for money for his projects, but they turned him down. 

The best example of Munson’s neutrality towards his characters was when he addressed the bitter rivalry between Tesla and Thomas Edison. Because of the War of the Currents, people have always seen these two inventors as polar opposites. Munson acknowledges this as he points out that Edison worked best in teams, was an entrepreneur, invented various items mainly to make money (even if it meant taking other people’s patents and calling it his own), and “could be downright crass” (p. 50-53). 

However, the author asserts similarities between the two inventors. These include thriving on work, only needing a little rest, attracting skeptics, battling legal challenges with competitors, and “their capacity for showmanship and boastfulness” (p.51-52). 

Consider that when thinking about the War of the Currents.

Overall, Tesla: Inventor of the Modern by Richard Munson is a fabulous biography of Nikola Tesla. Although the research can be a bit mundane and dry at times, it is extensive and varied. It is definitely clear that Munson admires Tesla, but he is also very much aware of the Serbian inventor’s faults, thus making the biography a great level-headed one. Recommending this to people interested in the inventor ‘s life goes without saying, but I would also suggest it to anyone who likes science and inventors in general to read it. One will definitely learn a lot about a man who was indeed ahead of his time.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: The Vampire of Maple Town

Fairy tales are some of the most timeless stories that we hear in our lifetimes. This explains why various media still revamp them into modern adaptations. The Vampire of Maple Town by Kane McLoughlin continues this tribute, but does it stand out? Let’s find out!

Full disclosure: The author of the book that I am about to review is someone that I knew from college. All of the opinions stated in this review are solely mine.

One of the first set of stories that readers are exposed to are fairy tales. These stories are usually set in faraway lands, are full of magic, and offer ways to survive in order to obtain that happily ever after. Various media still pay homage to these timeless tales through their modern adaptations. The Vampire of Maple Town by Kane McLoughlin continues this ever-lengthy tribute to these yarns, but it stands out by combining elements of both western and Japanese fairy tales and containing in-depth characters.

The Vampire of Maple Town tells the story of a 15-year vampire named Charlie. He is raised by the doctor and vampire widower, Vincent Prowl. After Charlie becomes a vampire, he is forced to sign a contact, stating that he has killed someone in their provincial home of Maple Town. Vincent keeps Charlie inside his mansion on Chiaroscuro Lane all day, yet when Charlie escapes one day, Vincent realizes that he will do anything to save him, even if that means destroying the entire town. McLoughlin has stated that this book is the first in a trilogy.

One thing that readers will notice while reading this book is that it gives nods to a lot of fairy tales. One can easily find elements of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and most notably, Alice in Wonderland (I realize that that is technically not a fairytale, but for the sake of this story, it is). I cannot tell how many times that I found elements of that tale in it like the Mad Hatter Festival and stay with me, one of the main characters is named Alice! In addition, McLoughlin makes allusions to Japanese folk tales since he himself is half Japanese. These include Momotaro, or the Story of the Son of a Peach (the protagonists of both stories are 15-year old boys), The Goblin of Adachigahara (the protagonists are forbidden to go somewhere, but do so and experience consequences), The Mirror of Matsuyama (magical mirrors that reflect the past are involved in both stories), and The Story of the Man Who Did Not Wish to Die (both stories contain characters trying to avoid death and paper cranes that come to life) (Ozaki, 2019). I am sure that they are more tributes, but these are the ones that came up while I was doing my research. Both incorporations add more varied flavors to the story.

Another strong point of this novel is that the characters are well-developed. When reading, I knew exactly the motivations of the characters even if their actions can be reprehensible. For example, Vincent can come off as strict and violent at times (he even aggressively grabs Charlie’s neck at one point). On the other hand, he keeps Charlie in the mansion to protect him from the hate that the townspeople will express once they find out that the boy is a vampire. This allows the story to have more depth than the average fairytale.

The only thing that I would complain about is that I found the ending to be predictable. I will not spoil it, but it falls under the Cinema Sins quote, “’Character says he’s not going to do something before immediately doing that thing’ cliché” (2018).

Overall, The Vampire of Maple Town is a good debut. I would recommend this book to people who like vampires and in-depth characters as well as to the fairytale lovers. Readers will definitely get a kick out of the fairytale references and find themselves understanding characters even if they do not agree with their actions. I personally look forward to seeing what happens with Charlie in the subsequent novels.

References

CinemaSins. (2018, September 25). Everything Wrong With Shrek The Third In 16

Minutes Or Less [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ONNEvjH6iA

Ozaki, Yei Theodora. (2019). Retrieved from

https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/72/japanese-fairy-tales/

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The Great Alone Book Review

I rarely watch soap operas on a voluntary basis because they rely on over-the-top dramatics, dialogue, and acting, and there is only so much that I can take. This excessiveness can also be seen in books like the Twilight series. However, since novels allow extensive insight into the characters’ mindsets as they deal with the chaos thrown at them, they permit more depth than the average soap opera. Having soap-opera related devices in books is not bad as long as one uses them to serve the story well. An effective example of this is The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah.

The Great Alone focuses on the Albright family, particularly on the daughter Leni. In 1974, after the dad and former Vietnam Prisoner of War Ernt loses another job, he impulsively decides that the family should move up to Cognac, Alaska to live off the fat of the land in the nation’s last frontier. Leni hopes that the move will be the final one as she strides for a place to belong. At first, things are great as the sun is up until midnight, and the community full of colorful characters provides them with the resources needed to survive the oncoming winter. However, as winter and darkness approach, Ernt’s mental state deteriorates with frequent nightmares, and it tears the family apart. The danger outside of the cabin is nothing compared to one growing inside as Leni and her mother Cora realize that they are on their own, and they can only save themselves.

What makes the soap opera elements work in the novel is that danger is already present in 1970s Alaska. Hannah acknowledges the beauty and peril of Alaska constantly through rich and detailed descriptions as well as through the mouths of the locals. Anything can happen, like Geneva Walker – an Alaskan all her life – falling through thin ice and drowning. This deeply impacts Matthew – Geneva’s son – so much that he moves to Anchorage to live with his aunt. Up until that point, Matthew and Leni were becoming friends, and afterwards, they maintained their relationship through letters. This eventually led to them becoming lovers, a source of comfort for Leni.

Hannah also reminds readers of the events that occurred in the 1970s like plane hijackings, political unrest, and kidnapping of girls Leni’s age. Ernt continually reminds Leni that there is danger everywhere one looks because of those events. At first, this makes Leni be extra careful. However, she later realizes that the real peril is inside her home.

This leads into the book’s main topic: domestic abuse. Throughout the novel, Ernt becomes more dominant and threatening as winter prevails. He even tries to build a wall around the cabin to keep those who disagree with him out. Readers find out that Ernt suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at a time when it was not called that, yet this only occurs at the end of the novel. In fact, readers never find out what goes on in the nightmares that Ernt suffers from. This could have been better handled if readers knew, so this could show what kind of trauma he suffered during the war. This is not much of a problem since the 1970s were a time when nobody really knew what to do with PTSD-inflicted soldiers, so it makes sense that his family and friends would not understand what he went through. Even though people will not agree with Ernt’s actions, they can at least see somewhat where he is coming from. 

In the meantime, Cora – Leni’s mother – claims that she loves him so much that she will never leave him, yet the truth is that she does not have a strong sense of self because she got pregnant and married at 16. The book also asserts that the law did not do much for battered women in the 1970s even if they fought back. In addition, Cora is afraid to leave Ernt because he may find and possibly kill her. This all hugely impacts Leni as she has to be the caretaker and deals with her parents’ toxic relationship. As a result, this allows readers to root for her as she tries to get away from all of that to live her own life with Matthew.

Julia Whelan narrates the audiobook. She has recorded the audiobook for Gone Girl and for novels written by Nora Roberts, and she has won awards for her narration of Educated. For a voiceover artist who has gotten accolades, her performance in this one was ok. She voices the female characters with enough differences among them. My personal favorite is Large Marge as Whelan performs her with a lot of sass and no nonsense. My problem was with her vocal performances of the male characters. A lot of them have a gruffness to their voices. This can work with characters like Ernt, but it doesn’t quite work with ones like Matthew, who can be sweet and adventurous as he deals with his own demons. I had a similar problem with the narration of Midnight at the Bright Idea Bookstore. Voicing different characters, especially of the opposite gender of the narrator, can be tough, but for someone who had received a lot of awards for her work, I expected more from Whelan.

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah is a well-written book that takes readers on one heck of a rollercoaster ride. It incorporates soap opera elements efficiently as it permits characters’ complicated reactions to various overly dramatic events. However, this book is not for the faint-hearted. One must be prepared to take breaks while reading it and be patient, for it is absolutely worth it in the end.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: The Atomic City Girls

I had a lot of mixed reactions while reading The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard. Find out what elements made me feel this way.

Once in a blue moon, there comes a book that is misleading. It directs readers on a different path that the one it promises to go on. However, if the book is written well, readers can easily look pass that flaw. We will examine this notion with The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard.

When hearing the title, The Atomic City Girls, one can assume that it is about everyday women working in Atomic City (aka Oak Ridge, Tennessee) during World War II, right? Well, it is true that the story takes place in Atomic City, but it focuses on TWO WOMEN and TWO MEN – the women being June Walker – an 18-year-old country girl – and Cici Roberts – June’s roommate who tries to find a wealthy husband. The men are Sam Cantor – an alcoholic Brooklyn Jewish physicist who oversees the lab that June works at – and Joe Brewer – an African-American construction worker. June and Sam have a turbulent affair, and there is also a security breach.

In addition, when readers think of Atomic City, they would think of the atomic bomb and the debate about its justification as discussed in beginning philosophy classes. Well, this novel barely does that. In fact, it barely shows the women working on the parts that would make up the bomb. I get that Beard was trying to emphasis the social aspects of working in Atomic City, yet it would have made more sense to have the characters question their work more so than they actually do. Characters also barely talk about the bomb’s moral implications. Whenever they do, it is mainly black or white. Even Glass Houses by Louise Penny had far more interesting discussions on the notion of sacrificing people as a way to save more lives with the Coventry Blitz conspiracy. Beard could have had the characters discuss the complex implications about the bomb, yet she decided to show most of them have soap-opera-like drama.

Moreover, some other characters can be interpreted as shallow. Here is an indicator of how flat and insipid they could be. Throughout the novel, Sam bonds with a minor character named Max about their dissonance with dropping the atomic bomb. However, during the novel’s second half, Sam is shocked to find out that Max, despite his stance against the bomb, believes that it was always inevitable that the United States would still drop it on Japan. Sam is so furious to hear about this that he calls Max a liar! What? I think Sam was drunk, but why does the book have to treat grey area as appalling? Most debates are hardly black or white.

There was also an overemphasis on some characters, specifically Joe. I completely understand why Beard created Joe. She wanted to demonstrate the differences in class and race treatment at Oak Ridge. The book hypes up Joe as an important part of the story, for its summary says this:

“Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.”

If one actually decides to read it, they will find that Joe’s story only overlaps with the others towards the last third, and that lasts about 5-10 pages tops. I comprehend that it was the author’s intention to deliberately segregate Joe from the rest of the main characters. I honestly wanted to care about Joe’s subplot, yet his story felt like it belonged in a different book. It also did not help that I barely cared for the characters involved with his story because I only wanted to see how he interacted with June, Sam, and Cici, and that barely happened.

Despite the misguiding, this novel had some interesting characters, especially June and Cici. June starts off as a naïve country girl who initially presses a button as part of her work and later becomes a secretary to Sam. Overtime, she learns the purpose of her work and becomes more confident about herself, and she even expresses conflicting thoughts about the bomb. Cici is probably the most developed character out of the main four. She acts like a Southern Belle, but she is really a sharecropper’s daughter trying to marry into money, and she will stop at nothing. Even though her actions can easily be interpreted as villainess, readers will know exactly what her motivations and circumstances are. Spoiler alert: she does get her comeuppance in the epilogue.

In addition, I enjoyed the research. I liked the effort that Beard put into making Atomic City and the people accurate. This is especially true in the beginning of the book when June is first introduced to the lab that she would be working in, its dress codes, and the security clearances that she has to go through. The book also contains photographs taken in Atomic City while the Manhattan Project was still going on as well as a timeline of the project that coincides with the story’s events. Too bad I did not read the physical copy.

I listened to the audiobook, which was voiced by award winning audiobook narrator Xe Sands. Sands does a great job at giving distinctive voices to June and Cici. With June, she gives a whispering kind of voice that grows confident over the course of the book and enough twang that is not stereotypical. With Cici, Sands provides true Southern Belle charm with her sophisticated husky vocalization, which sucked me into her despite her evil ways. While Sands does a good job at voicing Sam, I did not find much distinction with Joe. Joe almost sounded like every other male character besides Sam. Maybe that is the reason why I could not connect with his story.

Overall, The Atomic City Girls is not the worst historical fiction novel that I have ever read, yet it is not the best. I admire the research that Beard put into it and the developed characters, but those are the real distractions from the 1940s soap opera that plays out with most of them. It also does not help that I felt misled while listening to it and that some characters and plot points were overemphasized. If I were to recommend this book, I would suggest it to people who are interested in World War II, specifically the involvement of everyday women and the making of the atomic bomb. Preferably, I would advise people to read The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan. At least, that book actually focuses on the WOMEN and THEIR WORK in Atomic City.

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The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America Book Review

Imagine waking up on a spring morning. What is the first thing you hear besides your alarm? It will probably be a bird chirping or trilling. At first, it sounds pretty pleasant, maybe even lovely, but sometimes, the bird’s calls will become so annoying that you would want to send your cat outside just to shut it up. This is the feeling that I got when I read The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America by Matt Kracht – a parody of bird identification guides. This love-hate relationship rubbed off on me in a very good way as he provides information on and relates to the birds that he mocks.

The book is divided up into seven sections: how to use this book, the birds, tips for watching birds, four seasons of bird watching, extinct species, bird feeders, and keep your own bird journal. Each part is pretty informative, which balances out the belittling Kracht does against these flying creatures. 

The biggest and funniest section is the one about the birds themselves. Kracht devotes two pages to each bird. These contain a funny name, a description, and a wonderfully rough sketched illustration of the bird done by the author himself. The love-hate relationship shines the most in the names that the author gives to them. Kracht states in the first section that he identifies the birds not based on physical traits, but on who they are on the inside. The best example of this is for the crows, in which he labels them as “Damn Crows”, and the description is mainly how they just go caw caw caw all day.

Another hilarious section of the book is the four seasons of bird watching. This features maps of North America during spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each map shows the reader where the birds reside. For instance, the stuck-up coastal birds will stay in the eastern United States, while those dangerous and evil loons mainly reside in Canada.

If I have to nitpick on one thing, it would be how the names that Kracht gives to the birds can become predictable pretty quickly. A lot of them involve butt, sh*t, and stupid, yet some of them are justified like with the Eastern and Western Kingbutts (Kingbirds) because of how they always have their backs straightened like a king looking down on his people. 

All in all, The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America by Matt Kracht is a love-hate letter to bird watching. It is clear that the author is extremely knowledgeable with the subject and genuinely wants to help other bird watchers (or birders if you want to be specific). At the same time, he knows that these animals can be extremely annoying in one way or another, so what better way to make fun of them than a parody on bird guides! I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy bird watching, those who would like to go into that hobby, and to those who have a lot of birds in their backyard. 

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Book Reviews From the Vault: Richville, Another Tale of Travail and Treachery

This novel was a challenge in a way that I never would have expected. When I work on reviews, I usually look at what other people have said on Goodreads and Amazon. However, no one has evaluated this book, and this remains true to this very day. So enjoy the very first review of Richville, Another Tale of Travail and Treachery by Robert C. Jones.

Full disclosure: The author of the book that I am about to review is a patron at the library that I work at. All of the opinions stated in this review are solely mine.

For all of my book reviews up until this point, I read what other people have posted to gather up and solidify up what I think of them. However, this review will be unique since no other person has discussed the book Richville, Another Tale of Travail and Treachery by Robert C. Jones online. In other words, I will be the first to review this Hallmark-movie-for-older-people book.

The plot revolves around a group of people in the town of Richville as they try to find the culprit who has assaulted some of its members and has stolen valuable items, especially America’s first silver dollar coin and a teapot engraved by Paul Revere. This book is the second installment in a trilogy. The first book is titled Birth of a Tradition: Tales and Travails From Rural Richville. This is not the first time that I read the second novel in a series before the first (to be fair I had no idea that The Daughters of Ireland by Santa Montefiore was part of a trilogy until I did some research).

This is the best that I can summarize the story since the plot is slightly hard to follow, for it focuses more on the characters. However, I can easily look pass that because there are so many colorful characters. Most of the them are given a backstory even if they are not all that important to the story itself. Some of their backstories even take up an entire chapter.

The characters that stood out to me were Petey Snodgrass Jr, Malcomb Baldridge, and the members of Thank Goodness I’m Alive and Kicking Club. Petey is the main protagonist. He is a complete history nerd (shy and awkward in all) as well as the town scholar who believes that the past should be revered and that traditions should be maintained. Outside of those traits and beliefs, he is sort of bland and sometimes gets lost in the character shuffle. On the other hand, he was probably written that way to allow readers to put themselves into his shoes. In that sense, I can relate to Petey since I am a history nerd myself.

Malcomb is the 90-ish man who lives on the outskirts of the town and comes from a family that steals various valuable items. He stood out to me because after getting caught stealing and sent to jail for two years, he tries to redeem himself in the eyes of the community by returning some of the stolen goods. At the same time, he also wants to restore and renew the family’s reputation with his three great-granddaughters. Through all of this, Malcomb goes back and forth on the decisions he has made in the past, especially if he could have been the one to end that streak.

Then there are the members of the Thank Goodness I’m Alive and Kicking Club, who are essentially the seven dwarves from Snow White. Each are defined by a trait like one is grumpy, another one is romantic, and there is one who farts a lot. Yep, farting is a character trait in this book! To be fair, there are some people that I know who have uncontrollable gas, so it checks out. I like seeing these members interact with each other whenever they show up because I know that they are going to clash one way or another with hilarious results.

There are two reasons why I said the book was essentially a Hallmark movie for older people. One is that like many Hallmark movies, especially the holiday ones, the book contains lot of melodrama, favors idealism, and has a rose-tinted narrative. The latter two are exemplified by the novel’s love of anything pertaining to Richville’s past like the festival that has gone on for over fifty years. The other reason is that most of the older people (50 or older) are more traditional in their thinking, particularly when it comes to the past, and are do-gooders. Basically, they are the heroes. Even Petey, who is supposed to be 40, has a worldview similar to the elders of the town. On the other hand, most of the younger people are categorized as rambunctious, mischievous, and intending to do harm onto the community. In other words, they are the villains. This is especially true with Malcomb’s great-granddaughters, yet they do bicker amongst each other on how to get the information regarding certain objects. It always amuses me whenever the villains get into arguments with one another. However, Malcomb is in his 90s, and he is just as mischievous as his great-granddaughters. For the most part, the book idealizes old people and their values and stereotypes the young people as threats to said values.

Overall, I would recommend this book to older readers, especially those who value the preservation of the past. I feel that younger readers might not like the book as much because there is a lot of exposition, not a whole lot of action, and has portrayals of young characters in a mainly negative light. However, I will not discourage young people from reading it. Keep in mind that is the second book in a trilogy. I hope to see how the next book Richville: A Chance For Redemption In a Town Without Pity unfolds and to take a look at the first one to provide more context.

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Once Upon A River Book Review

Every now and then, I will read a book that is good in every way but one. That aspect will bug me so much that it makes me like the overall book less. This is a dear shame, yet I cannot excuse that element. This is the case of Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield.

Once Upon a River begins on Winter Solstice in 1870s-1880s England. On that day, as people tell stories at an ancient inn near the river Thames, a wounded man holding a still little girl bursts into the building. After some time, the girl miraculously comes back to life, but no one knows who she is, where she came from, and who she belongs to. Three families believe that she is theirs. They are a wealthy family whose daughter was kidnapped two years ago, a farming family who recently found out about their eldest son’s liaison and believe the girl is their granddaughter, and the parson’s housekeeper, who believes she is her sister. Heartbreak occurs as the girl cannot be everyone’s. Secrets among the families are revealed before the identity of the girl is known.

Let me start with what I adore about this novel. I enjoy that it is a fairy tale. In a lot of those stories, the impossible happens, and there is always a happy ending. Once Upon A River has the girl who is brought back to life, and it has several happy endings, but they are not what you think. It is disappointing that some reviewers had to warn others that it is a fairy tale like it is a bad thing. Fairy tales are not just for children. They touch everybody regardless of age.

I also liked how Setterfield effectively weaves all the stories into one common thread. This is especially true as it is revealed that one character actually brings all of the families together, and it is not the girl. Reviewers are also correct that it jumps from one character to another, but I was able to follow it all like how a river meanders and flows into one way.

Now here is the part that rubbed me the wrong way. Setterfield likes to be verbose. There were plenty of instances, in which something that could easily be described with one sentence was detailed with at least one paragraph. It was as if she liked to hear the sound of her own voice. This really irked me because as she would go on, I would think, “Ok, get on with the story!”

It did not help that my frustration with this digression occurred at the beginning, in which Setterfield would mainly talk about the power of stories and storytelling. The beginning is often where many readers form their opinions about the book, whether they are doing it consciously or not. All in all, Setterfield’s habit of doing this was the lone aspect of Once Upon A River that prevented me from voting for it for Best Historical Fiction in the 2019 Goodreads Awards.

This is such a shame because Juliet Stevenson – an English actress from films like “Truly, Madly, Deeply”, “Emma”, and “Bend it Like Beckham” – narrates the book, and she does a wonderful job! Even though there are some male characters that that sounded very similar, most characters are fully realized voice-wise. Stevenson really shines when she is voicing characters with truly distinct personalities like Lily White, the timid housekeeper; her cruel and controlling step-brother Victor; the noble Robert Armstrong, a biracial farmer who has managed to make a living despite the prejudice he has encountered; and Jonathan, the innocent son of the innkeeper who has Down’s Syndrome (even though it is not referred to that way).

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield moves like a gently flowing river. For every tributary it encounters, the story immediately blends it in with the main theme with both ultimately following one path. However, it is too impressed with its storytelling abilities, which made me enjoy it less. If I were to recommend it, I would do so for readers who like fairy tales and gothic fiction as well as to people who have read Setterfield’s previous books like The Thirteenth Tale. However, I would give this warning when referring unfamiliar readers to this novel, and that is to be patient. It likes to meander up its own source, especially at the beginning. If you are able to go with the flow, then you might like it more than I did.

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Book Reviews From the Vault: Buy My Book, Not Because You Should, But Because I’d Like Some Money

I get a lot of requests to review books by various authors. Buy My Book: Not Because You Should, But Because I’d Like Some Money by John Marszalkowski was my favorite because it was the very first inquiry I got. It also helped me to open more doors in the book reviewing industry, and I could not be more thankful. It brings me a great pleasure to say these words again: and now for something completely different: a memoir written by an average person with an average life so far with a non-linear structure.

When one reads a memoir, it is usually written by a celebrity or a person who’s had an extraordinary life, and it has a beginning, middle, and end. But has anyone read a memoir written by an average person with an average life so far with a non-linear structure? Has one ever thought that this was possible? John Edward Marszalkowski has successfully filled that gap with his humorous, self-deprecating debut book Buy My Book, Not Because You Should, But Because I’d Like Some Money.

As a father with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and co-host of the podcast “Who Are We to Podcast?”, Marszalkowski describes his experiences with and opinions about work, life, politics, finance, the fifth dimensions, etc. But don’t expect that he wrote this book for the readers (well he did that to a certain degree). He mainly wrote it to get his life story out there.

I did not know what to expect when I first received this book. In fact, when I found out about this book, my fiancé thought that it was about finance. And boy, we were wrong to a certain degree.

While reading it, I never knew what to expect from each page, yet the more I read it, the more I was excited to see what was going to unfold. I mean, there is an entire chapter written in German; I tried to decipher some of it thanks to my four years of German in high school. Furthermore, there is an entire chapter written by Steve Keiller – one of Marszalkowski’s dearest friends and the other co-host of “Who Are We to Podcast?” – because he wanted to. It was as if Marszalkowski imagined himself as the announcer from Monty Python’s Flying Circus saying, “And now for something completely different” before each chapter started, or maybe in the case of the German chapter, “Und jetzt für etwas völlig verscheiden”. Additionally, most of the chapters end with a worksheet that reflects on what was discussed. I could not have asked for a more engaging book than this.

This all works because the non-linear structure allows Marszalkowski’s ADHD to ramble all over the place. As another reviewer mentioned, each chapter is its own standalone segment. This permits readers to jump around as much as they want to or to read it in a more conventional way. There is no preference.

Another aspect that works is that Marszalkowski pours out his heart onto every page. He gives his honest opinions on various topics regardless of what anyone else think despite that some of what he said flew over my head (*cough the fifth dimensions). Moreover, he offers the sincerest thanks to the people that have helped him throughout the years. I thought the chapter about him finding a sense of community with the help of Anna Van Deusen – a youth church choir director – in spite of him on the verge of losing his religion as a teen was very poignant. Throughout high school, I went to my church’s youth group because of that sense of community although I was not all that religious.

In spite of all the praise that I give, I will admit that Buy My Book, Not Because You Should, But Because I’d Like Some Money might not be for everyone. Some readers might be confused and/or taken aback by the memoir’s structure and would want to read a more conventional autobiography. However, if readers are willing to give this memoir a chance, they will not be disappointed as it is something completely and wonderfully different.

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