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Book Reviews

Wednesday
Aug152018

Book Review: The Hope Store

The Hope Store. Dwight Okita. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, August 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 256 pages.

Reviewed by Kelly Fumiko Weiss.

The Hope Storetells two interwoven stories, both espousing the message that we are more than the sum of our parts. One story is of a lost but determined woman named Jada who has been without hope her entire life. Jada says the wrong things, makes mistakes, and attempts suicide because she just can’t see the point of it all. Still, she has an inner fire that can’t be denied. The other story is of Luke and Kazu—partners in both love and business. Their determination to provide hope to the hopeless manifests when they open a store that will offer hope installation treatments. 

The book jumps back and forth between the two storylines, giving you insights into the buyers and the sellers, and the ethical conversations that take place when marketing something as ephemeral as hope. As Jada decides to try the hope treatments, and Luke and Kazu are taken along on the roller coaster of her responses to them, the reader gets to see all sides of the implications of selling hope as a commodity. The conceit of the book alone makes it worth the read. It was a simple yet original concept that I loved diving deeper into. 

Okita is clearly a talented creative with a prolific writing background. I look forward to reading more of his work. I struggled a little bit with his use of repetition as a writing technique, but that style choice did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I found the diversity of the characters refreshing. As an Asian American, I am always happy to see a realistic depiction of Asian Americans in books and storytelling. And the rest of the cast of characters was an equally diverse reflection of the people you can and do find in Chicago. 

What I liked the most about the book was the ultimate moral of the story—that even if you have hope installed in you, you still have to do something with it. That along the way we each make a million choices every day that will lead us in either a destructive or constructive direction. Okita does a wonderful job of keeping the reader in a suspended sense of hope as the story unfolds. Readers hope that Luke and Kazu will succeed in their relationship and their store, but, more importantly, that Jada will eventually find the peace and happiness she is looking for. The book forces the reader to reflect on the idea of “what is hope?” and that inherently makes one feel hopeful. No store needed.

 

Monday
Aug132018

Book Review: The Perihelion: Complete Duology

The Perihelion: Complete DuologyD.M. Wozniak. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 9, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 748 pages.

Reviewed by T.L. Needham.

D.M. Wozniak’s The Perihelion: Complete Duology opens with the novella, “The Rue Cler Decommission," which sets the stage for his two fantastic main novels: The Perihelion and An Obliquity. The opening events reveal a stunning assassination of a hybrid 99er that induces death by desire, initiating the two-book series.

The Perihelion (the perihelion is the point in an orbit of a celestial body that is nearest the sun*explores a highly symbolic event that aptly describes the theme driving this dystopian tale. Then, the author seamlessly brings us to the sequel, An Obliquity (a deviation from moral rectitude and or sound thinking*). Each book is equally exciting, engaging, and compelling—yet, it always makes sense to start at the beginning.

As the story unfolds, a mystery emerges as certain 99ers are killed off by exposure to deadly desire. Those hunting for answers to this mystery become the hunted. At the same time, one 99er with unique abilities plots to bring down the entire high-tech structure holding the Bluecore 1C society together. The fast-paced drama pulls six main characters together as their stories spiral on a collision course to a deadly and dramatic final outcome. The pace quickens brilliantly to a conclusion that is stunning, profound, disturbing, and thought-provoking.  

The Perihelion: Complete Duology is a complex, creative, and brilliant achievement by the author. You will be craving another sequel to learn what happens next to those engaging characters who survive.

* Merriam Webster Dictionary


Thursday
Aug092018

Book Review: Cry Baby Cry

Cry Baby Cry. Debra R. Borys. Chicago, IL: Red Door Press, June 14, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 256 pages.

Reviewed by Starza Thompson. 

As the fourth novel in Debra Borys’ Street Stories series, Cry Baby Cryis a suspenseful tale of a trio of LGBT women who go missing in central Illinois. Perhaps one of her best stories yet, Cry Baby Cry addresses some hard-to-discuss issues surrounding religion, LGBT youth, prostitution, and homelessness, all within the context of a mystery that series main character Jo Sullivan is trying to solve. 

Sullivan is a reporter for a Chicago newspaper. She receives a call from a transgender prostitute named Avril who recently helped deliver a baby from a homeless youth. The baby happens to be named after Avril’s friend who has been missing for a year, so Jo questions the baby’s mother, Lily. Jo quickly finds out that there are multiple people in the LGBT community missing, and they all have the new mother in common. As Lily’s story unfolds, the reader discovers a tangled mess of prejudice, bigotry, kidnapping, and possibly murder. 

Borys spent 12 years volunteering at various charities and programs that help the homeless, both in Chicago and Seattle. She has a deep passion for writing about homeless youth and what they need to do to survive. 

Cry Baby Cryis very plot-driven, with more people coming up missing at every page turn, violence lurking in every corner, and none of the characters really feeling safe until the end. The book gives the reader a taste of what it’s like to be homeless, with a baby, and with serious and life-threatening danger constantly threatening you and the lives of the people you care about. While the story arc is interesting, the novel lacks character development. 

Borys often writes stereotypes and caricatures rather than real people. Avril, the transgender prostitute, is an extreme stereotype of a drag queen. It felt as if Borys not only had never met anyone in the transgender community but also didn’t do any research about what transgender prostitutes are like outside of how the media portrays them. Furthermore, Avril had the habit of saying, “girl” after most sentences within the first couple of pages of the book, but then dropped that affectation for the rest of the story. Not only was Avril a caricature of a drag queen, but she was also an inconsistent caricature. The same could be said for the religious sect that raped women as a part of their conversion “therapy.” While I don’t doubt that there are religious fanatics who rape women, and transgender people who say “girl” to punctuate their sentences, I encourage Borys to dive a little deeper and try to develop more complete and unique characters. 

With that said, I do appreciate Borys’ ability to write about LGBT characters and make them a focus of her book in a respectful and interesting manner. Her ability to create characters that are LGBT without having that be their only characteristic is refreshing. 

All in all, Cry Baby Cryis a plot-driven suspense novel that tackles tough issues, kidnapping, and possible murder in a way that keeps the reader engaged and interested. If you’re looking for a suspenseful thriller that will keep you entertained, Cry Baby Cryis the perfect read.

 

Wednesday
Aug082018

Book Review: Original Syn

Original Syn. Beth Kander. Owl House Books, September 25, 2018, Trade paperback and E-Book, 463 pages. 

Reviewed by Ukaisha A. Hall.

The year is 2065, decades after The Singularity, and humankind has dwindled down to tribes while enhanced humans—synthetic citizens—who are synched with technology, rule. They are not only responsible for maintaining and sustaining Syns, but also making laws that govern the people. The leader of the Syn movement is Dr. Felix Hess. Even though he is the eleventh member of the Syn Council, his word prevails because he is the first fully successfully synched human and lead scientist in cyber organics. Dr. Hess is both savior and villain. His logic, demands, and actions spur the story forward. Marilyn, his wife and mother of Ever, follows his every order, even when it means hurting others. Her compliance is matched by Dr. Hess’s two assistants: Jorge, a Vost and second-class citizen, and Kennedy, a more-privileged Syn. While others respect and fear Hess, his daughter, Ever, despises her father’s control. 

As the Syns build great cities and hoard resources, Originals—humans that couldn’t afford to synch or refused to synch—are pushed to the outskirts of Syn society. Tribes of Originals migrate to safe places until the land is commandeered by Syns and they are forced to move on. Ruth Fell is a leader in her tribe and highly respected. Though she can be harsh, she is a protector, so it is her job to keep the tribe safe. Ere Fell loves his mother, but just wants to meet a girl his age that will like him instead of his tall, muscled, and responsible cousin, Cal. 

This science fiction story centers round the lives of Ever Hess, a Syn perpetually stuck at 17 and Ere Fell, a 17-year-old original boy. Ever Hess is bored and longs for authentic experience in her perfect, metallic world. In a fit of exasperation, she runs away. She learns riveting truths about how Originals live, and she also discovers startling and dangerous truths about her father. Ere is also blindsided by the truths his mother withheld from him. Both have to navigate dual worlds while trying to figure out their own hearts and where their allegiances fall.

In Original Syn,Kander introduces a host of characters, each with their own chapters, creating perspective and urgency as some characters discover secrets while others are left in the dark. The story is told from a third-person, present-tense point of view. This approach, in itself, is a very unexpected aspect of the story and at times can actually take the reader out of the moment instead of bringing the reader closer to the action. This feeling of losing connection with the characters could also be the result of a very lengthy back story that seems to culminate in ways that do not always add to the character development. On the other hand, as a first book of a series, the reader is taught how to understand the world of Ever and Ere. Hopefully, with the back-stories out of the way, the second book will leave room for more plot advancement and better character development. 

It will be interesting to see how the war between the Syns and the Originals plays out and what role Ever and Ere will play. Readers will also be interested in supporting characters, who may be putting even more at risk than the main characters as they step up through the ranks.

All in all, Kander tells a story woven with secrets, love, danger, as well as ethical and philosophical questions as old as time. What makes us human? Why are we here? Is there a God? Does love conquer all?

 

Monday
Aug062018

Book Review: Duck and Cover

Duck and Cover: Eleven Short Stories. Rich Elliott. Rich Elliott Productions, October 1, 2018, Trade Paperback, 152 pages.

Reviewed by Florence Osmund.

Duck and Coveris a delightful book of eleven short stories that take place in the sixties in the small town of Milford, Illinois, told through the eyes of adolescents. The title of the book—stemming from the drills school children were trained to do in case of an atomic bomb threat—is also the title of one of the stories told by a sixth-grade boy who reaches out to a girl who doesn’t fit in with the other classmates and who comes from a dysfunctional family. The tale ends in tragedy when the girl’s father makes a fateful decision that affects his whole family as well as the young boy who is narrating the story.

Other stories depict an eccentric grammar school teacher obsessed with diagramming sentences; a boy who is accused of causing bad luck for those who are close to him; a 1959 White Sox baseball card’s effect on a boy, a sports memorabilia shop owner, and his girlfriend; a girl’s crush on George Harrison; and a precocious boy interested in space, missiles, and foreign affairs, who later joins the Army and goes to war in Vietnam.

One story I think many of us can relate to is titled “First Base,” the story of a boy in his senior year of high school who hadn’t had much luck with girls. His friends set him up with a girl who happens to have a large, unsightly birthmark on her face. They go to Riverview Park where they go into the tunnel of love and he has his first kiss. Later that school year, she gets the birthmark removed and dumps the boy for the school’s star quarterback. A sad but too often tale of reality for the young at heart. 

I believe many readers—young and old—will be able to relate to one or more of these engaging slices of life. The author includes stories about the lighthearted aspect of survival in the sixties in mid-America but doesn’t ignore the darker side—the threat of an atomic bomb, the spread of communism, mobsters, creepy adults, and death. The mix, while sometimes frightening and not appropriate reading for young children, is a true depiction of life in that era.