Reviews of Books We Liked (or Didn’t)


As a writer, editor and publisher I am still a reader. So here’s a small sample of reviews you will find from my Goodreads author page, with very slight editorial revisions. You can’t be much of a writer if you aren’t also a reader. Politics, religion, classic works–you name it, I have read it. So here’s an eclectic mix of books I think you should know about. You may or may not agree with my take on all of them, but they all have contributed in one way or another to how I look at the world and how I myself write.


The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean by Philip Caputo

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 I loved it. It’s a great narrative, with entertaining and interesting conversations with people all along the route from Key West to Deadhorse. The political observations were spot on. The running commentary on Fred (the Tundra) and Ethel (the Airstream) were funny, especially for someone like myself who has had the experience of once being a newbie at traveling with an RV–not exactly the same as a trailer but most of the same issues with refrigerators, hookups, etc. We also have had the experience of traveling with dogs and the challenges that poses, when going to new and out of the way places. Having lived in big cities for years and now living in a small town in the Southwest, the friendliness and openness of the latter is something Caputo captured. Probably most of all, I liked the style, the feel of this book. This is what Caputo does best; it’s his journalistic background. The mystifying thing is the ostensible “expert” Vine reviewers on Amazon–one calling it a biography (?!) and another saying Caputo has ventured into the “travel genre.” I would suppose, but maybe I am ignorant of current genre parlance, that “travel” would mean a guide to locales to visit. That’s NOT what this book is. Nor is it anyone’s biography. What this tells me is that Amazon doesn’t do a great job of vetting its Vine reviewers. What it is, is a very intriguing look at the question Caputo tried to pose to everyone–what holds America together (if anything) across the very disparate cultural enclaves from the furthest south to the furthest north. 

Necromancer Awakening (The Mukhtaar Chronicles #1)
  by Nat Russo

21953833637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg I liked this book very much. Why? Relatively fast paced, develops interesting cultural artifacts in the realms in which Nicholas, the main character moves. He is the familiar (but well done) reluctant hero, at first bewildered but eventually growing into his magical powers. Russo does a good job of sketching the mental gyrations of someone developing magic that requires interactions with forces both living and dead within the world he is unexpectedly transported to. The only improvement that could be asked for is some additional development of secondary characters. But as this is basically an action-oriented thriller within the speculative fiction genre that is not something to be expected. I assume we will see more development of the other characters in the following books in the series, which I will be reading soon. 


Have Bags, Will Travel by D.G. Kaye

26631952637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg In reviewing Have Bags, Will Travel I must first confess that I have never been a woman, at least in this lifetime. That, not to put too much of  a sexist spin on it, means I don’t have the shopping gene. Still, having watched countless movies and TV shows over a lifetime—and read a few books as well, I am familiar with the whole shopping zeitgeist. Then too, I have had the experience of traveling hither and yon. Not having the shopping gene has saved me from some of the travel travails that D.G. Kaye humorously recounts. The need for a travel scale to weigh suitcases. Customs enforcers frequently finding fault, or at least doubt, with her attention to limits on the value of goods brought into the country.

Whether you’re a shopper or not, there’s no doubt that flying is not as much fun as it once might have been for many. The seats get smaller, the aisles narrower, the allowable luggage more compact and of course the security checks have become over the top. Ms Kaye covers it all in a breezy book, reminiscing on her adventures around the globe with friends and fellow shoppers. It’s a fast and funny read.


Shadow Fires by Dean Koontz under the pseudonym Leigh Nichols (overpriced on Kindle at $7.99)

32428637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg Better than some Koontz. Moves along. Like most of his stuff, it’s a contrast of good vs. evil. As other big name reviewers of his books have said, he does tend to belabor the obvious. Sets up the book well, defining the lead villain as a very flaming rectum for whom one can find absolutely no sympathy. That’s part of the problem with the book–too black and white. Another villain is very similar–to the point of identical perversions, ruthless ambitions, etc. For those familiar with the Buddhist concept of the Ten Worlds, the villains vacillate between the worlds of Anger (aggressive, despising others, pretending to virtue but not genuine) or Animality–(amoral and driven to dominate those weaker than themselves but yielding to those stronger). The protagonists, on the other hand, are more bland, genuinely virtuous though they may be. Although it is a foregone conclusion how it would all turn out, I kept turning the pages. If you are very into righteous violence, as many movies and mass market books depict the good versus evil battle, you will likely enjoy it. Cute little feature, an Hispanic detective named Verdad (true/truth in Spanish) with a relatively smaller part, who might well serve as an allegorical stand-in for Koontz himself in his perspective.


The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3) by Dan Brown

6411961637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg Dan Brown really writes circles around Dean Koontz (in my opinion). Tight pacing and a major twist which only the most observant would expect. All the esoterica will intrigue some, but you can (I have) gloss over arcane stuff without losing too much. If you don’t like all the symbology stuff that is part and parcel of the Robert Langdon character, then it could be off-putting to you. Doesn’t bother me. I like Brown’s style. Here’s a quote that will spoil nothing, coming as early (page 10) in the book as it does:

“The act of tattooing one’s skin was a tranformative declaration of power, an announcement to the world: I am in control of my own flesh. The intoxicating feeling of control derived from physical transformation had addicted millions to flesh-altering practices . . . cosmetic surgery, body-piercing, body-building, and steroids . . . even bulimia and transgendering.The human spirit craves mastery over its carnal shell.

The only letdown is the end of the book; a little lame in my estimation after all that has gone before. Would have preferred leaving something hanging rather than coming up with what he did. Still, a good read. 


Living an Uncommon Life: Essential Lessons from 21 Extraordinary People by John St. Augustine

25676637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg637px Five Pointed Star Solid.svg Unlike most other self-help/inspirational books, this is a compendium of anecdotal commentaries about and from guests on the author’s radio show or otherwise an influence on him. Along the way, John St. Augustine (now a motivational speaker and a producer for Oprah radio) offers his own history of making the best of bad situations that people encounter in life. I found the book and many of the examples from his “extraordinary people” encouraging.





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