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Book Reviews

Thursday
Feb142019

Book Review: A Tribute to Tulipia

A Tribute to Tulipia. Chiara Talluto. Self-Published, December 2, 2018, Paperback and E-book, 28 pages.

Reviewed by Bibi Belford

Tulipia is an orphaned tulip with extraordinary powers who lives in a harsh environment oddly called “Oasis.” Adding to her difficulties are her beauty, height, and intelligence, which breed jealousy in the surrounding foliage. Rather than be daunted by her lack of friends and unforgiving environment, Tulipia continues to bloom, confident that someday her goodness will triumph.

When a prowling wolf threatens, Tulipia comes to the rescue, using her powers to influence her neighbors, who in turn save a defenseless bunny. The bunny repays Tulipia by counseling the rest of the foliage to respect and honor her. Tulipia lives on, through winter and a changing environment, until one day another flower, named Rishonich, is planted nearby. They propagate and raise their sprout, Nevanobry, to live honorably and survive in the Oasis. 

Books that help children cope with being ostracized and bullied will always find a place on the parental bookshelf. Talluto wrote this allegory for adults and children, but her use of challenging vocabulary may prevent younger readers from obtaining the full meaning and message of the story on their own. Fortunately, she includes a list of vocabulary words for further study and page of names with their meanings.

Talluto was inspired to write this short work after spotting a lone tulip amid overgrown brush on a forest trail. The imagery and symbolism of a single flower in an austere environment are indeed compelling, and the photographs of nature that illustrate the cover and each page are effective companions to the text. 

The author could easily adapt the story into a picture book for younger readers by scaling down the vocabulary and limiting the story to Tulipia and the foliage, wolf, and bunny. For now, adults and children can follow the exploits of some very smart flowers in this entertaining story.

 

Thursday
Feb142019

Book Review: The Patch of Green

The Patch of Green. Greg Kaup. Elk Park Press, October 17, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 289 pages.

Reviewed by Hallie Koontz.

The title of Greg Kaup’s slice-of-life, coming-of-age tale, The Patch of Green, serves as setting for a story in which the protagonist, Greg Garrity, undergoes a lifelong quest to repay his two best childhood friends for saving his life one stormy afternoon on Lake Michigan. The “patch of green” refers to a section of Rogers Park belonging to the parish of St. Ignatius Church, where Greg’s life journey begins.

The Patch of Green is perhaps too ambitious as a slice-of-life novel. The author describes some conversations and actions that seem unnecessary; detailed descriptions, that don't communicate any new information or character personality, often hinder the otherwise compelling narrative energy. Also, a bit too much effort is concentrated on creating emotional energy, often leading to the opposite result. For example, some dialogue is capitalized to communicate shouting, a technique that can overshadow any emotional intensity that might otherwise have shown through. The novel feels like a story told by an acquaintance at a party rather than a slice-of-life work of literary fiction, and it seems the facts of the protagonist’s life are dropped in one at a time rather than novelized. 

I felt that some facts about Greg’s life were worthy of further description and exploration but were pushed to the wayside. The author details how Greg breaks up with a girl he had seen for about a year before leaving for college. Later, the protagonist cheats on his significant other, but this event is never fully described. Although a longstanding affair later in the book is given attention, it is heavily implied but never acknowledged that this was a regular occurrence. Although we often get "hello, how are you" types of exchanges written out, many more valuable and interesting conversations are summarized instead. It is not that Kaup’s stories are not worth telling—they are; but it seems the focus of the writer’s craft is not honed on the right things. 

The story has a heartwarming conclusion, and Greg’s feeling that he must repay his best friends is a predicament that lends itself well to the slice-of-life genre. The friendship between the three characters is genuine—the beating heart of the novel—and this thread carries through the entire narrative, culminating in a pay-off that completes the story in a neat and effective manner. Kaup's story is sincere, and he conveys his energy and passion with emotionally poignant moments.

The Patch of Green is for readers who enjoy stories of personal growth and development and will interest Chicago natives who will enjoy reading about the city neighborhoods and local sites.

 

Monday
Feb112019

Book Review: Demon Zero

Demon Zero: An Urban Fantasy Adventure (Dark Matter Book One). Randall Pine. Dapper Press, December 17, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 198 pages. 

Reviewed by Ukaisha A. Hall.

Simon Dark and Virgil Matter have been best friends since they were children. They are in their mid-twenties, but everything about their demeanor and personality screams teenage boys. They live in the town of Templar at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. Templar is a typical town except for the occasional supernatural event or incident. Their favorite hangout spot is the Squeezy Cheez, a throwback pizza arcade from the eighties. Virgil has the great idea that he and Simon should become town heroes who investigate the weird occurrences and fight evil. Simon, who is more levelheaded, ignores Virgil’s foolishness until he is forced into action while visiting his sister’s grave. A zombie, fresh from crawling out of a grave, attacks the young men. Despite a stumbling success fending off the zombie, they decide they’re ready rid the town of the demon in Mrs. Grunberg’s basement. 

Simon and Virgil’s relationship is the main focus in this silly, slightly scary, PG-13 buddy comedy. The banter between Simon and Virgil is never-ending. At times, the voices of the characters merge, twist, and reassemble themselves as the story moves forward. Virgil should be the comedic relief, while Simon should be the more serious character, since he has a more depressing backstory, but having been friends for so long, they can often understand each other with just a look, and even say in unison, “Templar needs heroes!” It is easy to lose track of who is saying what. This is a useful plot device that may validate the characters, confirming the solidity of their long friendship, or cover up poor character dialogue development. 

The two other main characters are Abby, an empath, and Llewyn, a wizard. Abby is witty and acts as a springboard for sarcasm. On the road to vanquishing the demon in the basement and learning about how magic works in their world, they provide continuous silly moments, awkwardness, and doubt.

In Demon Zero, the characters recognize that their world is different but are pushed further into the supernatural aspect with the realization they are amongst the few people who carry magic. This means the plot follows the progress of the young men as they learn about new powers, other dimensions, and creatures. Therefore, the reader is learning along with the characters. The main drawback of this approach is that when a character doubts how the world is built, the reader does too. Once again, the author employs a device that either makes the characters seem more real or attempts to cover up any questions about the world building and potential plot holes.

The author writes description that is so very carefully laid out, especially when it comes to the demon in Mrs. Grunberg’s basement, and creates vivid imagery that helps establish scenes, which works in contrast to the witty banter that continues even when the young men are fighting for their lives. It will be interesting to see how the characters develop throughout the series and whether they will become iconic characters or just annoying.

Randall Pine has created a fun, quick read that begins a new series that will delight fans of The Iron Trial (Magisterium) by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan, and Magyk by Angie Sage.

 

Friday
Jan252019

Book Review: Pro Patria: The Story of an American Who Fought for Italy in World War I

Pro Patria: The Story of an American Who Fought for Italy in World War I Marcella Bernard. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, October 11, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 768 pages.

Reviewed by T. L. Needham.

When I was asked to read and review Pro Patria and learned it was about World War I, I realized how little I knew about this war. What I did know was based mainly on reading Ernest Hemingway’s book, A Farewell to Arms. However, I read that book fifty years ago. So, this was new material for me to explore. 

I was struck by the irony that this book was released during the 100th anniversary of World War I, which lasted from 1914 to 1918. Thus, I was eager to “time-travel” back 100 years to delve into this important global conflict that would shape what followed in the 20th Century.

My first impression when the book arrived: BIG! The book is a hefty 751 pages, is based on the wartime journals kept by Bernardino Bernardini, and includes his 250-page memoir of his military service in the Italian army from 1915 to 1919. He wrote My Military Life two years after returning to his home in Chicago from his service as an Italian Army infantryman.

The author, Marcella Bernard, is the niece of Bernardino Bernardini. She included family history, historic facts, and events, combined with her imaginative enhancement of the story. She describes her Uncle Bernardino as a man whose national identity vacillates between his American citizenship and Italian heritage.

As I began to read this book, I soon realized it is not a “page-turner.” Rather, the author slowly develops the family history, background, and nature of each family member and reveals the growing conflict within the young protagonist over his sense of self and blended loyalties. When he decides to travel to Italy and join the Italian Infantry, and relinquish his American citizenship, the story begins a daily account of his activities. There is a military adage common to all armies that the daily imperative is to: “Hurry up and wait . . .”

Thus, this story proceeds, day-by-day; we follow the movement of his unit marching from one town to another. Day by day, week-by-week, little or nothing happens except constant marching, rumors, and reversal of orders. Yet, as always in war, the infantry will end up in the trenches, at the frontline, or in the fifth-line at the rear. Wherever positioned, the soldier is subject to sudden death or injury from poison gas attack, artillery barrage, machine gun fire, snipers, bayonet wielding enemy infantry charges, and so much more. Plus, even in the rear, deserters are commonplace and exposed to death by firing squad. Bernardino is captured and endures risk of death from starvation, illness, and infection of his injuries. Even death by suicide stalks these miserable men.

If one can find a more positive side to this war story, it is found in the travels across northern Italy, as Bernardino’s unit marches from one town to the next. The historic features and architecture of each town captivate him. A fascinating travel-log emerges to keep the reader engaged and offsets the horrific war scenes.

As the reader travels along with Bernardino, another engaging feature emerges in this story: the fellowship and close friendships he makes with fellow soldiers. His relatives in many towns emerge too. In this way, the reader comes to know and appreciate the various Italian provinces and their unique history, art, and culture. The reader also learns the customs, traits, and nature of the people in the provinces.

Since this book is peppered with statements in Italian, it would have been helpful to a reader like myself, who does not speak or read Italian, to have a translation. Without a translation, the statements work like a “speed-bump” to slow, or stop, the reader as one tries to discern from context or inference what the Italian words mean.

I find this book to be a historic and extraordinary achievement. It will be of great interest to historians, especially in the study of early 20th Century war and culture. It is also an important study of Italian and American cultures and the merger of the two for immigrants in that era. While not exactly a “page-turner,” it is still an epic story of great historic and cultural importance.

As a native of Kansas City, which is home of the National World War I Memorial and Museum, I plan to take my copy of this book to the director of the museum on my next visit. This book should be an important addition to their archives and be offered in their bookstore.

 

Thursday
Jan242019

Book Review: Desperate Paths

Desperate Paths. E. C. Diskin. Thomas & Mercer/Amazon Publishing, March 19, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 340 pages.

Reviewed by Renee James

E. C. Diskin’s fourth thriller takes readers on a breathless thrill ride, replete with characters we care about who are living on the edge and a plot that soars up hills, over cliffs, and down unseen alleys with manic, page-turning abandon.

Set in a rural, southern Illinois county, Desperate Paths is the story of Brooklyn Anderson, a young, mixed-race woman, coming home from New York City to see her father, who has been hospitalized after a serious fall. Her return opens many old wounds for Brooklyn, who never felt accepted by the community, or by her much older sister, Ginny, a beautiful, middle-aged woman with her own family and a deep resentment of Brooklyn. 

At the same time the Anderson family’s tensions are coming to boil, the community of Eden is stressed over the shooting of Darius Woods, a local man who made it big in Hollywood. Woods had written a screenplay revealing long-hidden crimes and scandals that festered in Eden when he was in high school, and the community is buzzing with rumors that the script will ruin lives and shatter dreams. 

Conflicts, fears, and doubts arise in every chapter of Desperate Paths as the secrets of the Anderson family and the community are methodically peeled away.

Author Diskin manages this large cast of characters and ever-shifting plot with impressive mastery. The characters are complex and intriguing, starting with Ginny and Brooklyn, but also including several secondary characters, including Sheriff Wilson and Brooklyn’s father, John. We are constantly trying to decide if they are good or evil, and how they will figure in the final resolution of the story. Similarly, the plot twists occur seamlessly, never feeling contrived, and they keep us on the edge of our seats from the opening pages to the final chapter.

Desperate Paths has the kind of charisma and readability that will make it a starred read for a broad range of commercial fiction fans. For those of us who love character-driven thrillers, it’s a must-read for its original, fast-moving plot, and its deep, textured character studies.