REVIEW: What Crazy Looks Like on an Ordinary Day

At the request of a dear friend, Pearl Cleage’s What Crazy Looks Like on an Ordinary Day was another last minute swap in for my 2017 list.  To be perfectly blunt, I was hesitant about taking it on – from the synopsis, it appears to be one of those novels where everything bad a person could possibly think of manages to happen: overloading the reader with all things depressing.
 
But, I was too quick to judge; What Crazy Looks Like… as well as the main character, Ava, were a true delight.
 
While, yes, What Crazy Looks Like has a bit of a formulaic feel and it’s easy to predict where certain plot lines will lead, the ride is enjoyable. Cleage doesn’t skimp on delivering fully developed characters with relatable relationships and behaviors. As “crazy” as things get for Ava and her sister, Joyce, the stretch stops short of being unrealistic.
 
What Crazy Looks Like on an Ordinary Day, is packed full of the drama, joy, romance, and laughter that makes for a quality vacation or rainy Sunday read.
 
Rating: 3 Sneaky Church Ladies
Advertisements

REVIEW: No Country for Old Men

In 2016 I reviewed Comrac McCarthy’s The Road and was left on the fence regarding his writing style (though I did admit the novel ended up staying with me and on reflection, he deserved a higher rating).  For 2017 I tackled McCarthy again with No Country for Old Men to see if I could come to a definitive conclusion on his style. I didn’t. But…
 
No Country for Old Men is a more enjoyable read, with a smoother flow than The Road, containing whip-smart dialogue making it obvious why the Coen Brother’s turned No Country into an award winning film. McCarthy’s writing in general is visual in nature, he has a graphic, pictorial flare, which combines nicely with the gritty characters. 
 
The only beef I have with Cormack regarding No Country for Old Men is the amount of backstory given for Sheriff Bell (you may be familiar with him as Tommy Lee Jones). Each chapter begins with an inner monologue of Bell’s, and while it probably provided decent info when translating the novel to screen, the monologues don’t do much to serve the story, as they interrupt the flow of the main action.
 
I am continuing my way through McCormack’s works, he keeps me on the hook. No Country for Old Men is worth checking out for the dialogue alone, and, of course, McCormack’s brilliant villain, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).
 
Rating: 3.5 Hideous Wigs

REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is one of the first pieces of literature I remember falling in love with as a child, and the first I’ve re-read for this blog.  It’s a wonder I don’t re-read books more often considering my inability to retain plot details for more than a minute, but it’s a situation I plan to correct since this was such a rewarding experience.
 
A Wrinkle in Time is fun. My editor will hate I used such an amateurish descriptor, but, it is fun with a capital F. L’Engle combines a variety of elements which appeal to the young adult mind so beautifully in A Wrinkle in Time. An underdog heroine, fantasy, adventure, family values, and hope.
 
The world L’Engle creates in A Wrinkle in Time is well established and detailed, and serves its objective by illustrating the struggle between light and dark, and the value of leading with love.
 
If you’ve yet to read this YA classic, I suggest you make time and room for the Murry family in your hearts.
 
Rating: 4 Tesseracts 

REVIEW: West

One of my favorite reads from 2016 was Carys Davies’ short story collection, The Redemption of Galen Pikea collection I have recommended to nearly everyone I know (why haven’t you read it yet?). Upon discovering Ms. Davies had a novella, West, hitting bookstores, I was excited and a little nervous – what if it didn’t live up to the brilliance of The Redemption of Galen Pike?

It did.

Carys Davies knows exactly how to tailor her work. In The Redemption… no story was too long or too short; each perfectly fit the tale. This strength of Davies’ is also evidenced in West. When the focus of any artistic endeavor is how to best relate the story, and not how to best show off, or be as experimental as possible, it raises the quality of everything involved – the skill, creativity, nuance, you name it. Carys Davies knows how to tell a story.

West is a perfect novella. Inspiring, and bittersweet – a story for dreamers and adventurers, a Don Quixote in a Coen Brother’s landscape. (Or, as my cousin describes it, Gatsby meets Cormac McCarthy). Carys Davies wins over, heart, mind, and soul, with her innate ability to seamlessly weave a tale.

Rating: 4.5 

Special thank you to R for introducing me to Carys Davies’ work.

 

REVIEW: Uncommon Type

Tom Hanks is quite possibly my favorite human being.

You may now proceed.

Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type contains 17 short stories, told over 416 pages. It is too much. To compare: Carys Davies’ The Redemption of Galen Pike is 17 short stories told over 144 pages. Hanks would have benefited from an editor who had him save a few stories for the next book, or, whittle down the ones in the collection. None of Hanks’ ideas, characters, or style are of poor quality or painful to read, it is simply too much in one container. While none of the stories in Uncommon Type are lacking interest, there is an inconsistency in the quality, making the weaker stories stand out.

As for the positives…there are a lot. Reading Tom Hanks reminded me of my experiences reading Steve Martin (who, interestingly enough, was the person whose encouragement helped get Tom’s writing career started), you smile through the entirety of the work. Perhaps this is in part because you are reading the work of someone you know, due to our connection with their public personas. Like their public personas, Hanks and Martin create a sense of comfort and ease in their writing. There is a homespun quality to the storytelling -that comfortable cozy feeling.

Hanks delves deep into character studies through much of his stories, understandable considering his main profession. He explores humans of various points in time, stations in life, ages, relationships, etc; digging down to the heart of all of them. if he so choses to continue down this path, Hanks certainly has a future as a writer.

Uncommon Type is the kind of collection to return to over time, whenever you need a dose of warmth.

One note: there are a couple of recurring characters; so reading the collection in order is highly recommended.

Personal favorites:

Welcome to Mars

A Month on Greene Street

The Past Is Important to Us

Stay with Us

These Are the Meditations of My Heart

 

Rating: 4 Used Typewriters

 

REVIEW: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Agatha Christie is the queen of British mystery for good reason; her writing is specific. She never over indulges in back story, or “clues” unless they serve a purpose and her pacing is impeccable. All of Christie’s works are enjoyable, but, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a cut above, it is devourable (okay, that’s not a word, but it should be). 

Alas, the problem with reviewing mysteries, is they are mysteries. Anything one could praise about Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (and there is A LOT to praise), would ruin the experience and give things away.

So, what do I do guys? I’m not sure what to tell you other than I loved The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I LOVED it. Loved. It. So. Just. Read it. Read it, devour it, love it, pass it along. Trust me on this one.

Rating: 5 Suspects

 

REVIEW: The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes

My 2nd venture into the world of graphic literature for 2017 was, regrettably, not as successful as my first (which you can conveniently read about here). Never having read Neil Gaiman’s work, I was determined and enthusiastically ready to explore what he had to offer. Although it is arguable that Mr. Gaiman deserves a lot of the credit he is given by my generation, I wish I had started with something other than The Sandman.

The entirety of The Sandman series in contained within 10 books, I only tackled the first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes. For transparency, I have never been a prodigious comic book reader (The Sandman is a comic book series not a graphic novel). While I am in fact a fan of many characters created via the comic book world, I never gained much pleasure from actually reading comic books – something about the form, and the way my brain interprets things has never made for a fluid experience. Since I know this about myself, I have not deducted marks because of my pre-existing issue.

My issue (ha, non-intentional pun) with The Sandman is the set-up.

The first 20 pages or so spark a constant inner-monologue of, “Wait, what, am I supposed to understand this? Did I miss something? Am I dumb? Let me go back a few pages…nope, I don’t seem to have missed anything…” –then The Sandman picks up and keeps up an engaging pace with a very compelling main character. But, one can’t simply ignore the beginning, the section that should be the hook, is an unnecessary mess. One could easily, and understandably, give up 5 pages in and then miss out on what becomes a very solid comic book. So. Points taken off, and Neil is put in the time out chair for the time being.

I may dip into Gaiman’s work in the future. In the meantime, I recommend The Sandman to comic book fans with stamina. But, I am disappointed with my introduction to his work.

Rating: 3.5 Unending Dreams