These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Father of the Rain

Father of the Rain
By Lily King
(4/5 stars)

One thing I've mused about in a couple of different reviews is that sometimes it takes a while for a book to get going. In those instances, being patient can really pay off as by sticking it out the end makes up for the slow beginning. "Father of the Rain" doesn't quite fall into this category, but almost.

The story starts off in Massachusetts in '73 or '74, during the Watergate scandal. This is used as a backdrop to the dissolution of Daley Amory's parents' marriage. Daley is 11 at the time and her father is like Archie Bunker, only with more alcohol. He's not (usually) physically abusive, but his recklessness and insensitivity emotionally abuse Daley, her older brother Garvey, and in particular their mom.

Mom finally moves across town with Daley while Daley's father shacks up with another woman named Catherine. She too is recently divorced, has three kids, and likes to drink. It's a match made in Heaven...or somewhere a lot hotter.

This first part of the story bored me. It all seemed so cliche, like something taken out of a Judy Blume novel or an After School special about coping with divorce and drinking. Even the idea of using Watergate as a backdrop is a cliche. (For instance, I used this in a short story 5 years ago--if you have a Kindle you can read it as part of my collection "The Carnival Papers." It also took place in Massachusetts.)

The second part of the story picks up more momentum. In that, Daley is 29 and an aspiring professor at Berkeley. She's dating a black philosophy professor named Jonathan. But then she gets an urgent call that brings her back home, where her father has lost another wife.

Daley attempts--quixotically everyone thinks--to get her father on the wagon. She hopes to not only get him sober, but in the process to repair the shattered bond between them.

I'm not sure why exactly the first part of the book didn't work for me and the second part did. It might have to do that as an adult I can relate a lot easier to Daley's struggles as an adult than as a child. Especially since unlike 50% of people my parents didn't divorce--and didn't drink either--so none of that really hits home for me. Whereas an adult trying to reconnect with a parent is something I can understand better.

The writing is sound. I don't really see any benefit from using present tense instead of the more traditional past tense, but it doesn't really hurt the story either. It's solid literary writing, but nothing beautiful or particularly memorable.

Anyway, I enjoyed the last 2/3 of this book and other people will probably enjoy 3/3 of it. Then others will enjoy 0/3 too. Still, it's worth a look.

That is all.

(PS: The author also lost points with me for making Michigan outside of Ann Arbor sound like Mississippi in the '50s. We ain't all a bunch of slack-jawed yokels out here in the sticks.)

Monday, August 16, 2010


By Mark Ellis
(5/5 stars)

A perennial hot button issue in science and religion is on the origin of life. Were humans created by God--in which case, whose God?--or by evolution or by something else entirely? In "Cryptozoica," Mark Ellis adds fuel to the fire by offering another theory on the origin of man that involves dinosaurs and some very special goo.

Like "The Da Vinci Code," the story also involves secret societies. In this case it's the School of Night, an ultra-secret club of scholars that included Charles Darwin himself. In the book's prologue, we learn that Darwin and the crew of the Beagle ran across the Tamtung islands, which were home to some very weird creatures. They didn't really know what to call them since the word "dinosaur" hadn't been invented yet.

Skip forward to the present. "Tombstone" Jack Kavanaugh is living on Little Tamtung along with his friend Crowe. They, along with an eccentric billionaire, tried to start a sort of Jurassic Park/dinosaur safari on Big Tamtung, but the venture was shut down after three people died. Now the School of Night is getting involved, along with some Asian gangsters who helped bankroll the original venture. This means that Jack, Crowe, and some new and old friends all have to return to Big Tamtung and unlock its secrets.

What secrets are those? You'll just have to read to find out.

"Cryptozoica" is a taut and engaging pulp adventure. If I have one complaint, it's that there wasn't enough of a body count. I wanted the dinos to munch a few more people. Still, this is a fun, exciting read with some great illustrations too that should bring to mind old school adventure stories like "The Lost World" while adding a little modern science and conspiracy theory to the mix to freshen it up.

That is all.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Koko Be Good

By Jen Wang
(4/5 stars)

I got this because I thought I should read some graphic novels and it was free, so what the heck.  This is just a bit different from the Batman graphic novels I'd read previously.  There's no one wearing a cape and tights, though there is some overlap in that "Koko Be Good" concerns itself with heroism and what it means to be "good."  There's also a Nick Hornby novel called "How to Be Good" that similarly considers what it means to be a good person.

Most of the story revolves around a young man named Jon, who is about to follow his girlfriend to Peru to work at an orphanage.  One night while he's out and about, Jon meets Koko, who's a real wild child with no home, no family, and no job.  Koko winds up with Jon's tape recorder, which has a tape from his girlfriend on it.  He tracks Koko down to get it back and after hearing about what he's doing, Koko decides that she'll try to be a good person.

Her efforts to be good backfire for the most part.  When she works at a rest home she winds up being terrorized by the old people.  Working at a soup kitchen, day care center, and so forth mostly leave Koko feeling tired and still unfulfilled.  Meanwhile, Jon is having second thoughts about going to Peru.

There's also some kid named Faron.  I couldn't really follow his story or what exactly his relationship was to Koko.  Makes me think at some point I should read it again; despite being 300 pages it only took me about 90 minutes to read through it.

As for the artwork, it's pretty cartoony with a muted color palette.  Sometimes it was difficult to decipher what was going on, especially in action sequences.  But I'm not really an expert on art design so my judgment means nothing on that subject.

Anyway, about the best I can come up with for a moral is that maybe you should just relax and not worry so much about trying to be "good."  Certainly being "good" didn't make Koko or Jon much happier.  That was actually about the same thing in the Hornby novel too.  And, well, Batman's not exactly a happy camper either.

That is all.