Book Reviews

Monday
Jun262017

Book Review: The Bricklayer of Albany Park

The Bricklayer of Albany Park (advance reading copy). Terry John Malik. St. Louis, MO: Blank Slate Press, August 22, 2017, Trade Paperback, 342 pages. 

Reviewed by Florence Osmund.

Terry John Malik’s The Bricklayer of Albany Park is the story of Chicago detective Frank Vincenti, charged with apprehending a uniquely disturbed serial killer. In his well-structured and well-written debut novel, Malik deftly paints an interesting, complex, true-to-life cast of characters.

While in college and during his early years as a detective, Vincenti learns from the best—retired Chicago detective Thomas Foster. While Foster’s unconventional teaching methods annoy some people, they enable Vincenti to become one of Chicago’s go-to detectives for solving the City’s bizarre murders. When a serial killer—who the press nicknames The Bricklayer—comes onto the scene, Vincenti finds himself turning to Foster for help to gain insight into the killer’s psyche. With his sanity and marriage at risk, Vincenti lives and breathes a relentless pursuit of the killer to put the horrendous killings to an end.

Alternating between two character points of views—Vincenti’s and The Bricklayer’s—the action builds in short snappy chapters populated by three-dimensional characters and artful, descriptive writing that makes for a compelling read.

The evening’s rain had turned the pavement from light grey to shiny black and brought with it a chill typical of a Chicago November night.

Malik’s skill in layering the elements of the story, dropping hints that deepen the reader’s anticipation of what lies ahead, and embedding subliminal clues will keep readers spellbound throughout this book. Skillful changes in pacing also contribute to a dramatic effect that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

There was no satisfaction in this kill, no muffled screaming, no wide-eyed look of terror in his eyes. No desperate pleas for mercy.

Despite the gruesomeness (which I generally steer away from in the books I read), there wasn’t much I didn’t like about this book. I was able to overlook the few technical errors I found knowing it was an uncorrected review copy that I was reading.

I found this book intriguing, memorable, and engaging. Malik’s fluid writing style makes it flow well and a relatively easy read. I can recommend it to eighteen and older readers who love a good mystery and aren’t faint of heart.

 

Wednesday
Jun142017

Book Review: When Postpartum Packs a Punch

When Postpartum Packs a Punch: Fighting Back and Finding Joy. Kristina Cowan. Praeclarus Press, April 27, 2017, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 274 pages.

Reviewed by Sue Merrell.

When my colicky son was two months old, I heard a report on the radio about a woman who drowned her two-month-old in a diaper pail. I laughed. In my weary state, her response sounded perfectly logical.

Forty years later, I was recently reminded of my feelings of maternal melancholy while reading When Postpartum Packs a Punch: Fighting Back and Finding Joy.

Written by Chicago-area journalist and mother, Kristina Cowan, this concise volume covers a spectrum of postpartum mental health disorders from the common Baby Blues to headline-grabbing postpartum psychosis. Each disorder is explained carefully with a lot of information from medical experts on symptoms and treatments. The book also includes interviews with mothers who have dealt with the more severe symptoms of postpartum mental health disorders, including hearing voices and losing touch with reality. 

Cowan was inspired to write the book after dealing with the difficult birth of her son, Noah, which left her injured enough to require a return trip to the emergency room. This was followed by a deep depression requiring medication and counseling.

Cowan’s Christian faith shines through her own experiences, and that of many of the women she interviewed. Though she advises prayer and seeking the support of a faith family, Cowan doesn’t pretend that postpartum depression can be cured by faith alone. The book is packed with common sense solutions, which include getting plenty of rest, seeking well-informed medical advice, going through counseling, and if necessary, taking medication.

Cowan provides interesting information about the mother-baby units in the United Kingdom. These units are medical facilities where mothers who require postpartum treatment are hospitalized with their babies. There is also a healthy appendix of recommended reading and descriptions of organizations to contact for more information about postpartum mental health.

The first few pages of Cowan’s book act as the directory of acronyms, like PMAD, PPA, PPND, and PPOCD. Because she uses these acronyms liberally throughout the text, I suggest you print it out and have it on hand as a reference. Sometimes the alphabet soup of acronyms can get confusing when Cowan compares the symptoms of various disorders

Cowan is clear that the book was not written to scare mothers—and fathers—about what might go wrong postpartum, but rather she wants to offer hope and solutions to families who are suffering. A smiling photo of Cowan, with her husband and two children, emblemizes the book’s premise: Joy and a rewarding parenting experience can be found at the end of the tunnel of postpartum depression. 

 

Tuesday
Jun132017

Book Review: White Sox (and other baseball worth mentioning) for Women

White Sox (and other baseball worth mentioning) for Women. JoAnn Fastoff. Perfect Paperback, 2017, glossy trade paperback, 109 pages.

Reviewed by Dennis Hetzel.

“Baseball is an example in its purest form of nine individuals making a team effort,” JoAnn Fastoff writes in the opening pages of White Sox (and other baseball worth mentioning) for Women. Her love of America’s game shines through, and you can be any gender to enjoy it. 

To some extent, the organization and premise of the book—helping female fans learn more about baseball in general and the White Sox in particular—do not do justice to the richness of the content.

For example, Fastoff goes beyond the White Sox to introduce readers to female and Negro League ball players with fascinating stories to tell. She has used her passion for the White Sox and America’s game to bring some important and interesting players in the nation’s social history to life.

Effa Louise Manley was the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She co-owned the Negro League Newark Eagles. Raised by a black stepfather and white mother, she also was active in the civil rights movement and a social activist. We also meet the first woman to play professionally in a man’s league. Tonie “Tomboy” Stone played second base for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns. She had to deal with insults as both a woman and an African-American.

For Sox fans, the book is a treasure trove. The author doesn’t just write about the stars either, introducing players who would make great trivia questions, such as Dwayne Wise. As Fastoff writes, Wise “entered the White Sox game in the top of the ninth inning against Tampa Bay on July 23, 2009, and saved Mark Buehrle’s perfect game by leaping over the wall to make a spectacular catch.”

Among the greats, consider Ted Lyons, who pitched all 21 seasons of his career with the White Sox, from the 1920s through the 1940s. Any baseball fan loves trivia like the following tidbit: “Manager Jimmy Dykes realized Lyons was a crowd pleaser and started using him only on Sundays, hence the moniker ‘Sunday Teddy’.” In his last full season, Lyons had 2.10 earned run average and completed each of his 20 starts, something unimaginable in baseball today.

Fastoff even takes a brief tour of White Sox logos over the year, noting the Sox have changed their logo 18 times, reminding us just how ugly the disco-era Sox logo and uniforms were. It would have been fun to see all 18 logos instead of just three.

Fastoff also looks back on broadcasters who shouldn’t be forgotten, including Harry Caray. Those who weren’t in Chicago when Caray was broadcasting Sox games missed hearing him at his most outrageous. As Fastoff writes, “He quickly became popular with the South Side faithful, even though he wasn’t always so popular with the players.”

Somewhat surprising was only a single, passing reference to Bill Veeck, surely the most colorful and interesting team owner in baseball history. Still, baseball is about the players, and Sox fans will read about everyone from Shoeless Joe Jackson to Luis Aparicio to “The Big Hurt” Frank Thomas and many more.

The book has some scattered editing and organization issues. The opening chapters function as a “baseball for dummies” primer on the rules of the game aimed at a female audience. This material is so basic that any reader with a deeper understanding of the game will skip those sections and perhaps dismiss the book entirely. A table of contents detailing specific chapters would help readers understand that there is a lot more to the book than that.

The book also lacks photo credits and attribution of information. The author may have taken many of the photos herself, but others obviously are from other sources. Direct quotes and historical references also are unattributed. An appendix listing credits and sources would provide acknowledgment where it’s due. It also would help readers and researchers who want to delve deeper into the lives of the many interesting people who populate the pages of this entertaining book.

 

Tuesday
Jun132017

Book Review: Defiance

DefianceLance Erlick. Finlee Augare Books, April 27, 2015, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 290 pages.

Reviewed by Serena Wadhwa.

In the third of a four-part series, the growing tension among the Federation’s highest leaders bring additional excitement and questions to this action-packed sequel. As the legend of a rebellion becomes more of a threat, and the GODs’ (Grand Old Dames’) fears drive reactions that divide some of the key players’ loyalities, Regina is even more determined to find her sister and make peace with her mother. Knowing that the Federation needs her, Regina wants to make sure it is on her terms. 

“Regina’s DNA was vital to reversing a worldwide fertility collapse, but only if she was alive.”

The discovery of a seed vault increases the tension and defiance, as Regina wants to negotiate the release of her sister with precious seeds from a variety of plants, animals, and humans. She ensures there are enough for those that helped her in this discovery and when tragic news hits, she is aware it is now up to her to see if other vaults like this exist. And Regina’s mother returns to the scene. We are not sure in what capacity; as in the previous volumes, we are led to believe there is allegiance with the Federation. Regina also struggles with her own sense of abandonment from her mother.

In this volume, we see a lot more action than in the previous two. As Regina makes her way to her sister’s location, we witness many occurrences of running into Federation agencies and other people that cannot be trusted. We witness the loyal Marginals, Working Stiffs, and other women who believe in the legacy and have found hope in it. Many of these women are willing to risk their life to get Regina where she needs to go, believing she is the key. And we witness a flourishing relationship Regina develops with Ester, her partner in navigating the terrain to Alaska.

Erlick does not disappoint as we read about Regina’s travels and narrow escapes to find her sister. I like the consistency in Regina’s character and the moments of vulnerability the author allows her to have. We see how valuable family is to Regina, how it’s hard to trust others, and how that process occurs in her relationship with Ester. I think the story provides a good example of how trust builds slowly. I was torn between following the adventures of Regina and the sub-plots relating to the women of the Federation, yet felt there was a good enough balance between the two. 

I am looking forward to reading how this all ends as the book continued to hold my curiosity and attention.

 

Tuesday
Jun132017

Book Review: Vigilance

Vigilance. VigilanceLance Erlick. Finlee Augare Books, March 30, 2015, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 249 pages. 

Reviewed by Serena Wadhwa.

In the second of a four-part series, it is not only the adventures of Regina Shen that continue, but also the growing despair of the Federation to maintain harmony while figuring out the key to ensure the population’s survival. We begin to learn of the growing interest the Federation has in Regina and what makes her so special. We begin to see the struggle Regina has with this new found attention and her ambivalence with this “specialness.” Regina harbors unique DNA the GODs (Grand Old Dames) believe will ensure the survival of the female population. When Regina finds out this is the reason the Federation is hunting her and kidnapped her sister, she realizes she has leverage. Her focus, however, is in finding her sister as she wrestles with older sibling guilt about not being able to protect her younger sister from the Federation.

Regina doesn’t understand her growing popularity. We are introduced to a legend, through Mo-Mere (a woman who teaches Regina about the world that once was), and Regina slowly learns about a prophecy of a rebellion. Who will lead it? Regina finds herself adjusting to her modified appearance, hoping to throw off those that pursue her. Living up to parental expectations is one thing; living up to a legend is another. “Everyone’s confidence in me was both a comfort and a burden.” Giving hope to other Marginals that a different life may be possible, Regina finds herself at the University as she moves closer to finding her sister and the truth about her mother and her existence. As Regina’s vigilance to elude the Federation grows, the Federation is desperate to capture her, particularly the Inspectors who both have their own agenda and reasons.

If you like action, this book provides that. The plot focuses on Regina finding her family and on her growing awareness of the discrepancies within the castes. Subplots compliment the main storyline and the character descriptions paint a picture of what these individuals are like and how the world they live in shape most of that. Erlick maintains his artistic ability to move the reader through the story, offer unexpected twists, and has the reader rooting for the heroine.