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Friday
May182018

Book Review: The Cube

The Cube. Kelly Fumiko Weiss. Rolling Meadows, IL: Windy City Publishers, March 20, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 253 pages.

Reviewed by Marssie Mencotti.

The Cube takes place in the near future where game interaction as entertainment is carried out publicly in a series of carefully designed, culturally and geographically correct theme parks constructed throughout the U.S. and the world. The Cube is not only a revenue-producing game and theme park, but a privatized mechanism of charitable giving, which uses its revenue to fund many public causes, including infrastructure, aid to the disabled, major construction projects, and environmental outreach. It is generally shaping the world to its philosophy of sharing, while also enriching the upper class. Even with such a benign “Cubist” philosophy, there are some characters who chafe at the Cube’s power over their lives. It is also a “discovery of love” story, escalated by a strong undercurrent of mutual respect and trust.

The Cube is a fascinating read because its technology straddles our time and a future we can easily imagine. But where the fascination in this work lies is in mirroring the almost uncomfortable area we are undergoing right now. Amazon asks us about our giving preferences, the grocery store asks us to add a dollar for various charities, and of course, large corporations decide who is worthy of their tax-free largesse and want our brand loyalty in exchange for donations to their favorite charities. The future extension of that sort of donation determination is clearly moving toward corporate control, and the Cube furthers that dilemma. Will, theprotagonist, is okay with that, while his love interest, Molly, is not. They are old friends on the verge of rediscovery of their affection for one another, but they have a significant disagreement regarding the power and control of Cube culture. This is science fiction with a brain and a heart.

Will and Molly embark on a quest to discover why there are unexplained bronze symbols at certain Cube locations. This becomes an irresistible bonding exercise for them, their friends, Max and Sam, and Will’s brother, Chris. This band of friends has us rooting for them all the way. They encounter sinister resistance from a worthy tech villain, which makes their quest even more urgent. 

The Cube is a fast-paced read with intelligent, hard-working, deeply loyal characters you cheer for all the way. I found certain areas of the work to be particularly compelling, such as the structure of the actual public Cube play that Will undertakes—from his “suiting up” preparation to the levels of play, their timing, and design. Equally exciting is the enthusiasm embodied in the genuine curiosity that binds these friends into full participation in breaking the code of the Cube’s embedded symbols. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book for its energy, believability, and convincing honesty. It made me stop and think about the future of giving, friends supporting friends, and true, committed love as values that may remain at least into our near future. I think this book is an excellent choice for readers who like a good code-breaking chase and who like to think about what powers may rule their interactive gaming in the future decade or two. The Cube also includes some counter arguments of groups that oppose the Cube’s paternalistic philosophy, making this an excellent book club choice for its discussion possibilities. 

 

Wednesday
May162018

Book Review: Everything Solid Has a Shadow

Everything Solid Has a ShadowMichael Antman. Northfield, IL: Amika Press, August 9, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 284 pages.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Melvin

Everything Solid Has a Shadowis a satisfying, introspective, great-for-a-weekend read when Catcher in the Ryeis just too much. Though existential crisis and self-exploration may be a heavy theme, the book is incredibly accessible and a quick read. The main character finds a way to reengage with his past and break free from it to find new life. The story is beautifully rendered. The author, Michael Antman, stays close to his main character Charlie, whose internal struggle is buoyed by dynamic scenes and a cast of vibrant characters. 

We first meet Charlie as he recalls a pivotal life event. At eight years old, he and his friend Willa went off to play, leaving her infant sister Elizabeth to accidentally die. The blame fell squarely on his shoulders, so his parents whisked him back to Buenos Aires for a few more years. This event starts a fracture in childhood that bends his self-perception for life and he is now only able to straighten it out through his current relationships and vivid dreams. In his present-day adulthood, Charlie is a successful marketing clerk and part-time musician. He is fascinated by Marie Angela, who also performs part time at the club. She gets under his skin and into his dreams. Several times in the book, Antman crafts dream sequences that are both clear and abstract. In the waking world, Charlie must confront his ambivalent relationship with his girlfriend, Alisa. She belittles Charlie but not enough to delay thoughts of marriage. An unexpected trip to Maui causes the final strain with Alisa and brings him into a chance encounter with Willa. They connect quickly although they haven’t seen each other in decades. They are each seeking closure over the loss of Elizabeth, and Willa reveals a significant bit of information that helps Charlie to release the dam he’s built within himself. 

Charlie is an interesting character but he is far from the only one. We first meet Marie Angela as Charlie crawls through a dream and reveals a mysterious diagnosis. As we meet her face to face further on in the book she is vibrant, confident, and has little time for Charlie’s waffling attention. The story moves away from her to introduce Alisa, a vibrant foil to the self-possessed Marie Angela. Alisa becomes jealous of Charlie’s connection with Marie Angela through his prophetic dreams. Without the upsets of adventure, Alisa and Charlie would have fallen into a sad marriage. While Alisa remains sympathetic, we understand Charlie’s transition to Willa. Though he begins as a fickle man, Charlie’s conviction strengthens as he tears away the blockages of his past, and his close relationship to Marie Angela is a natural emotional progression. 

Even the secondary characters are impactful. One of the most memorable is Dr. Donte Nemerov, the recommended therapist. From Charlie’s perspective, the doctor is one of a kind and his advice is timely, poignant, and precise. He accepts Charlie’s presentation but he, like the reader, can call out some inconsistencies. His guiding voice appears only twice in the book, but he is still a crucial element of the story. Antman doesn’t waste a word or appearance throughout the book, keeping us involved and attentive throughout Charlie’s struggle. 

Throughout the book, Antman displays his strength of characterization. His characters bring to life internal stories of emotion and growth. The strong characterizations combine with moments of exceptional magical realism and intriguing storytelling, using beautiful details and strong imagery. The deft transitions allow the reader to follow almost effortlessly through Charlie’s search for truth.

Anyone who enjoys exploring the mind, the impact of proximity and understanding on creating our sense of self, and the complexity of romance, will find a great read in Everything Solid Has a Shadow.

 

Friday
May112018

Book Review: Force of Nature

Force of Nature. Arthur Melville Pearson. University of Wisconsin Press, April 18, 2017, Hardcover, 216 pages.

Reviewed by Gerry Souter.

For the reader searching for a definition of the word “indomitable,” Force of Natureby Arthur Melville Pearson should prove to be a good read. In a slim volume, Pearson has captured this “force” in George Fell, founder of the Natural Areas Movement. If this organization is unknown to the reader, or Fell’s name does not evoke the image of a naturalist with the street cred of a John Muir, John Burroughs, or Rachel Carson, Fell’s contribution to the preservation of natural spaces is still remarkable. 

All of us have encountered patches of woods, streambeds, and stretches of wild prairie grass adjoining suburban housing, bordering industrial parks, or stretching untamed along the edges of plowed fields. Some of these mini-wildernesses come with an unfamiliar name—a local war hero, beloved crusader, or Civil War battleground emblazoned in weather-proof gilt at a gravel-road entrance. Often, we are crunching past another mini-monument to George Fell.

Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, Sequoia and their like rise to the top when American National Parks are mentioned. George Fell embraced the smaller, scattered, and most endangered natural areas. Housing developments, industrial parks, suburban sprawl, agribusiness farms—all important to the economy—are chewing away at the green soul of America’s natural inheritance. Today, after Fell’s often lonely battle for preservation of these wild places, they are now fighting the effects of climate change, living growths dueling greenhouse gasses for the air we breathe.

George Fell’s life began in the 1920s, but his education sparked to life when he discovered natural conservation where “conservation means harmony between men and the land,” as voiced in Aldo Leopold’s 1939 book, The Farmer as Conservationist. When the wartime draft began, Fell had already committed his efforts to nature preservation and signed up as a Conscientious Objector, working in a Civilian Public Service Camp in Germfask, Michigan. Even there, he felt constrained with work he felt had little national importance. During the years following World War II, a victorious America struggled to regain its peacetime economy while shaken to its social, political, and cultural roots. We had won the war, and winning the peace meant expansion and development. Mining, planting, and building took advantage of our greatest heritage, open land for the taking. Land conservation had a low priority.

Pearson’s narrative follows Fell’s struggle to raise national awareness of the need for open land beyond the spectacle of our federally managed national parks. In Illinois, he found traction with the state government as the Illinois Department of Conservation anointed projects such as the Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. During the start-up of the Nature Conservancy, he and his wife spread out their preservation efforts nationally. They traveled across the country, searching for green spaces and wild land patches to protect. 

Fell’s single-mindedness pressed forward his goals, even as political and economic forces objected. A quietly relentless warrior, Fell’s presence on land development boards sucked the air from the room as he built his arguments, based on passion and bulwarked by logical common sense. In 1991, George Fell presided at the dedication of the Sentinel Nature Preserve, the 200th such result of his lifetime struggle. In 2001, after Fell’s passing, his wife and partner, Barbara, presided over the 300th dedicated nature preserve in Illinois’ White Pines Forest State Park, where they had spent their honeymoon. Fell’s name may be a footnote in history, but his relentless preservation of America’s small spaces—walking trails, treasured outlooks, small wildlife sanctuaries, oxygen-releasing greenspaces, and places framed in our memories—continues to live. Pearson’s book, Force of Nature, is aptly titled and lives up to its steadfast premise. 

 

Tuesday
May082018

Book Review: The Search for FTL 

The Search for FTL (Mission to the Stars Book One)Ted Iverson. Self-published, January 21, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 406 pages.

Reviewed by T. L. Needham.

In the prologue of The Search for FTL by Ted Iverson, we join Jeff Bendl and his wife, Jennifer, who are strapped into The StarDancer on her maiden voyage in the quest for FTL—the first manned flight to achieve faster-than-light speed. Instantly, I found myself recalling the classic sequence in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey—the surreal swirl and drama of speeding lights leading to a trans-dimensional reality beyond light speed. Clearly, we are travelers on a journey of the author’s imagination, and it is thrilling. That is, until the energy shield fails, and the Bendls are killed.

What we now have is a mystery. Did The StarDancerexperience a technical failure? Or was the ship sabotaged? If so, then we have a murder mystery within a technical puzzle. It’s an enigma that will challenge their four sons who survive and inherit the family business along with its wealth, power, technical supremacy, loyal friends, and dreadfully determined enemies. As the story progresses, the pace seems to slow, as, one-by-one, we meet each of the Bendl sons—Alec, Ty, Orion, and Zack. 

Each of the sons brings unique and intriguing traits, talents, and personal quirks to the story. They are each likeable, and the reader becomes fully engaged in their success and survival. The pace continues to edge forward slowly until a shocking revelation stirs the reader. Then another and another, as the story begins to surge forward with each revelation, and desperation becomes a constant imperative to not only resolve a tragic mystery but to survive the quest for answers.

I found myself fully engaged in the story and admired the author, whose keen mind could conceive such a futuristic world—a world of high technology that stretches the imagination to the limit. Yet, it is a world of political ambition, greed, intrigue, and treachery. And, in the end, the smallest device takes down the greatest evil. Nicely done, Mr. Iverson.

I felt relieved, happy, and satisfied when I completed this wonderful story. I even craved a sequel and found my imagination pondering so many possibilities about what happens next. Then, I found myself recalling another iconic scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey—HAL-9000: “What is going to happen?” Dave: “Something wonderful.” 

 

Tuesday
May082018

Book Review: The Worried Man

The Worried Man. Lisa M. Lilly. The Spiny Woman Press, March 30, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 374 pages.

Reviewed by Janet Cole.

The style in which The Worried Man was written is energetic and snappy. The author elected to use short sentences and short paragraphs, a technique which presents the story in a dynamic manner.

The heroine is a young attorney and a former actress who sings harmony with two of her closest friends and associates. During one of their engagements in the upscale Lincoln Square area of Chicago, she attracts the attention of a reserved but attractive man, Marco, who captivates her interest. He has recognized her from one of her previous stage performances and they become engrossed in conversation. 

Over the course of a few weeks, they begin to date and he partially divulges his mysterious and somewhat turbulent past. Their relationship develops to the point where they decide to move in together. But, on the eve of that exciting event, our heroine, Quille, or “Q”, finds Marco dead in his apartment amidst the boxes he was packing in preparation for the move.  

The police rule it a suicide because of the evidence found next to his body. The distraught Q finds their ruling preposterous. She knew that on the surface, the “evidence” was damning, but she also knew how excited and happy Marco was to take the next step in their relationship. How could she accept his death as a suicide?

Marco's teenage son, Eric, agrees with Q. Despite his parent’s divorce, Eric and his father had a close relationship. He admitted that his father was happier than he had been in years. For Eric’s sake, as well as her own, Q becomes determined to resolve the mystery. Besides, there was an insurance policy at stake. If ruled a suicide, the money invested for Eric’s education would be forfeited.

The action that ensues as the determined Q delves into Marco’s past relationships and his recent investigations is compelling and fast moving. The story’s twist and turns will keep the reader riveted and unable to abandon the script before reaching its explosive conclusion.