Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Bird Without Wings by Roberta Pearce - a review

A Bird Without WingsA Bird Without Wings by Roberta Pearce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Bird Without Wings by Roberta Pearce was my first-ever romance read. Hmm . . . no need to run for the hills, I'm not about to turn all romantic on you. Nevertheless, I read quite a few very intelligent comments by Ms. Pearce on Goodreads, and wanted to find out whether that intelligent writing can also be found in her novels. So, I bought a copy and started to read.

There is no doubt that Ms. Pearce can write, and write well. While I kept shaking my head in disagreement with the subject matter and the genre-typical choice of words, the writing more than made up for the head shaking. Expecting to sample a few pages and move on to something else, I'll admit that I was pulled into the story and read the entire book. That's how good the writing was.

The novel made me laugh, it made me care, and it made me interested in the final outcome. No, not whether the gal gets the guy--it's genre, so there has to be a happily-ever-after--but Ms. Pearce is quite apt at writing a story within a story, and that secondary plot kept me curious until the end. It was a mystery of sorts, well-developed and full of twists and turns, and it involved some hideous family heirloom art kept around for the sake of tradition. Quite clever, actually, and (to me) much more entertaining than the gal/guy thing.

The mystery aside, the book is full of wonderfully crafted characters I loved to hate and hated to love. The two main protagonists, Callie and Lucious (or Luscious, as Callie sometimes calls him) have everything a character needs and then some. They are both complete, backstory and all, which fits perfectly with their current behavior. A secondary cast of characters, also fully developed, plays some minor and some major roles along the way, adding to the realistic quality of the plot.

Since my usual reads are vastly different from this book, I would have liked to see certain traits and backgrounds take the front stage, but then this book would have been a psychological study of a damaging childhood rather than a romance novel, which was not Ms. Pearce's intention. Thus, my rating is mainly based on the quality of the writing, the character development, and how invested I became in the story.

Chances are, I will not read another romance novel any time soon, but I'm glad I read this one.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Reaching Kendra by Edward Wolfe - a review

Reaching KendraReaching Kendra by Edward M. Wolfe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year seems to be the year of reading books way outside of my usual interest, which is psychological realism and literary fiction. That being said, I was intrigued by the few interactions I had with the author on Goodreads . . . intrigued enough to grab a copy of Reaching Kendra.

While this books falls outside the spectrum of my interest, it is hard to classify.

After the first few pages, when an average, albeit a little quirky, guy Keith gets the hot adventurous reporter Kendra, I said to myself, "Oh no, please don't be a romance." Nevertheless, the plot quickly took a turn, and the romance was not to be. Well, not the in the cheesy, laughable way romance books tend to go, anyway.

The turn I mention was Kendra going on an assignment to Iraq, to cover the troops' withdrawal. Here, the author uses the story as a platform to offer a glimpse into the mind of a suicide bomber, and one very plausible scenario behind the bomber's decision to detonate himself. But there is much more - a museum visit serves as a short lesson in history of a region many Americans know only from the media reports and the spin news corporations put out to further their own agendas. Through Kendra's interactions the reader grasps a compelling visual of life in a war-torn country, while at the same time recognizing the detachment those back home feel for the region as a whole.

When Kendra is injured in the explosion, her spiritual life takes the center stage and drives the story forward. Keith and his corporate life are set aside, and an entire new dimension to his personality and experiences sets this novel in yet another direction. It becomes a painful love story, a story of two individuals worlds apart yet together all the same, each suffering in their own way.

A cast of secondary characters comes alive as the plot thickens, each playing their respective roles and further advancing the story. Kendra's parents view the situation from a religious angle, bringing in the questions of dogma and spirituality. Keith's mother serves as the embodiment of control and guilt, while the carefree coworker and greedy boss serve as a reminder of two cultures clashing in our contemporary corporate world.

Then there is the metaphysical element, a ghost angle, and the age-old question of spirituality versus organized religion. See, I did say that the book was hard to classify.

Overall, Reaching Kendra was not only entertaining but also educational. It is a well-written novel that, while hard to classify, was a pleasure to read. If you are looking for a cookie-cutter romance, then this book is not for you. However, if you are an adventurous reader who likes to be surprised, then Reaching Kendra may be just the right book to read next.

I have purchased this copy, and a review was never solicited by the author.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Scarecrows by Christine Hayton - a review

ScarecrowsScarecrows by Christine Hayton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer first: I have received an advance copy from Ms. Hayton as a gift. A review was neither stipulated nor requested. I occasionally interact with the author on Goodreads as we both belong to the same group, and came to know her through her reviewing some of my work, which she purchased on her own.

A second disclaimer: I'm a paper book kind of a guy, and have resisted the ebook format for years, rejecting every ebook offer that came my way. Recently, however, I bought a tablet/laptop thingy, and had a six-hour flight ahead of me. A novella seemed like a good way to test the Kindle app and my patience with ebooks.

I read this novella in one sitting, taking two coffee breaks along the way. Scarecrows is definitely not my usual read, but both the writing and the story kept me interested and engaged. The short novella packs a solid plot, and the writing is never boring. The use of tense shifts within the opening paragraphs of each chapter was an effective way to provide just enough background information to characters and events, without taking the reader down memory lane in separate chapters in order to explain the current events. It was an interesting technique, one I do not encounter often.

The novella is hard to characterize, as it plays on several planes. In a sense, it is a 'traditional horror', that is, one without the gore and explicit violence one finds in contemporary offerings. Yet, at the same time, it is a murder mystery, and a psychological exploration of two different individuals. One, a child confined to a mental institution; the other, an adult with brain trauma. Their 'illness' is completely different, yet related on multiple levels. I thought that was quite clever.

The plot was plausible, the police procedures reasonable, and the depictions of a mental health facility believable. Interactions among characters were well written, and added to the plot as it thickened. A well edited and formatted, this was an enjoyable read. I'm glad I gave it a chance.

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