Book Reviews

A Kevin Review: The Talented John C. Laird



This week, I read three short stories by John C. Laird. The first is a completely beautiful kind of modernized fable, a tale of prophetic justice and the possible aftermath of living one’s life according to certain principles. Christian principles. While not supposing Mr. Laird is a Christian at all (because he may well not be one),these images and characters are free to be used by anyone. I am not a Christian, but I know them well, and I still found You Get What You Pay For (YGWYPF) fun to read and a totally imaginative, boldly written story and my little synopsis here will take little away from the fun and surprise of reading it. So, here we go:

…a completely beautiful kind of modernized fable, a tale of prophetic justice and the possible aftermath of living one’s life according to certain principles.


After two decades of marital well-being with his beloved high-school sweetheart/wife, Wendy, she is diagnosed with first one, then another, then another of various degenerative illnesses. After over a decade of accompanying, and caring for, his beloved mate down the path of gradual physical deterioration ending with her early “release”, we find Adam, facing an imminently fatal brain tumor, the effects of which were already becoming painfully apparent.

“Putting his affairs in order” included naming his divorced sister and her young daughter sole beneficiaries of the death benefit of a life insurance policy on himself. Then, between the fruits of prudent investments over the years, the death benefits from his wife’s life insurance policy, and the sale of the house, there is a small fortune to leave behind. With the end of his journey calmly in sight, the void from all those years of abstaining from sex/sexual contact altogether because there was no desire for it amid Wendy’s suffering, he decides to go out out with a bang, literally and figuratively. One day, he finally gives-in to the goading of one of his good buddies: Use the small fortune to go to Las Vegas and purchase the services a high-end “escort”/prostitute, the kind usually reserved for the big spending, high-profiling movie-stars, politicians, royalty, etc. He was going to die, after all, right after twelve years of celibacy. He could afford to do it, and suddenly it was a no brainer.

Upon hearing Adam’s story of honor; marital fidelity, non-abandonment, sacrifice, and suffering, the super fox of an escort promises him an experience which will surely be the best that money can buy. Well, it doesn’t end after only one night and not even two. Laird’s account of the dying man’s last ever intimate encounter with a highly skilled, professional sexual pleasurer whose “…knowledge was the sexual equivalent of the Library of Congress,…” is handled with tasteful analogies of the breadth of symphonic and artistic creation, in moments like brush-stokes of tensions, releases, textural syntheses on the canvases of their humanity, and just left me breathless.

Okay, fast-forward to Adam’s funeral where familial intrigue enters as the disinherited brother slithers in to pay his respects (…not) with his lawyer in tow and they proceed to challenge his/their misfortune. While very real characters, they’re also pretty funny and even referred to as a comedy duo. (from an early 1900s comic strip, which makes Gabby about the same age as Sarah Conventry from Redemption) They know all about the monies spent or “squandered” in Las Vegas and claim that Adam had obviously become mentally incompetent, the proof being the “Las Vegas fiasco” where he was taken advantage of by the hooker. In the meantime, the loving sister and niece are simply glad to have this friend of Uncle Adam’s from Nevada, who had brought him such happiness in his last days, in attendance at all.

Cutting to the chase, after being called a “two-bit whore” by the brother’s lawyer, the “escort” reveals she has uncovered enough embarrassing dope on the brother and his lawyer (pretty bad stuff too) to land them each either in jail or run out of town on a rail tarred and feathered and can probably find more, all of which she would make known to the appropriate legal institutions and would even come (all the way) back to do it unless they stop proceedings contesting Adam’s will and make themselves scarce. It’s pretty comical. Well, the surprise ending is huge. She then gives an envelope to Adam’s little niece, instructing her to give it to her mother, along with the explanation of what and why, once she’s gone.

…my theory of Laird setting a trap for men. Between the three books his scenarios are using all the “objects of temptation” of which men are susceptible…

Going Home is powerfully written and in very few pages places you there…in harms way. It’s almost too good in it’s descriptions of catastrophe. Very cinematic. The implications at the end are thought provoking indeed. Who gets to go home? The pure? The virginal? The innocent? The story is a little gory and causes discomfort… A Catholic necessity? Laird is a very good writer and probably even an open minded sort (given the subject matter of YGWYPF). I got caught up with this pattern in Redemption just before the tense chess match after her sentence was brought to life. YGWYPF being the clincher in my theory of Laird setting a trap for men. Between the three books his scenarios are using all the “objects of temptation” of which men are susceptible, things men like and do at basketball games and chess matches, a new twist on the selling your soul game.

Now. I really enjoyed reading these and I figure there’s is no harm in my mentioning the “contractual loop-holes” in each story. Lessee… celibacy rewarded with a cornucopia of sexual indulgence? There seemed to be a warning at the end of going home about how few are allowed into heaven. Lastly, in Redemption, the Devil can be out-witted and instead of winning a soul he loses two. I liked it a lot in spite of the Souls – kind of a direct rewriting of the basic tenets of the Christianity we all know.

To wander a little, Sex. Traditionally, references to archangels are only in masculine or in other words genderless and only masculine to denote authority or importance. In YGWYPF there are both and they each exist at the same time. I mean, given there’s usually no sex at all concerning what we know about angels, why not? This is a perspective I (for one) have never heard of or even imagined. Angels in such roles doing such things. “My goodness!” The expressions “giving in to lust of or temptations of the (pleasures of the) flesh” come to mind. Also it seems there is no fee for bringing a little happiness to this deserving soul before he leaves behind his earth-bound existence. He has earned it. Hence the title. You find these two names (M & G) in Going Home too but in a completely different social role, although performing the same actual function – That of comforting.

With all that said, John C. Laird is a very powerful storyteller. I have to say I liked YGWYPF the best, second is Redemption, Going Home is good however unsettling. Powerfully spun yarn in each. Great storytelling.

-Kevin

(A Kevin Review is something special. Our team is filled with so many fun and charismatic characters, all vying for the chance to write a witty review. Lucky Kevin came out on top – always entertaining us with his offbeat, and sometimes eccentric, opinions and curious ideas.)

My Watch List: Authors You Should Be Reading




There are three things that I love most in life: Reading a good book, making a long “To Do” list, and trying a new flavor of potato chips (I’m a Chip-Connoisseur – I can often be found trying a new chip while reading a good book in a country recently checked off my “To Visit” list). Today, let’s focus on my first two loves: Reading and Lists. Everywhere I go, I see “Must Read” lists for 2013. I already feel like I’m falling behind. My lists just keeps growing and growing. Now, I know that everyone out there isn’t as obsessed with list making as I am, so I thought I’d share mine with you! This particular list is of authors I want to KEEP reading. If they want to share it, I want to read it!


Here is My Watch List Part One of BookRix authors you should be reading (and why).




1. Stanley Mcqueen

Just one of his many stories (free and for sale) found on BookRix!

Stanley’s stories are filled with humor, life lessons and the realities of back country life. They are just so darn charming that the charm often seeps off the pages of my Kobo and ends up all over me and I’m suddenly saying “Howdy” and “Y’reckin?”, calling my cowboy of a father up on the phone just to chat about car reconstruction and “the good ol’ days”. When you finish reading the first one you realize you’re holding an open-ended ticket to Muddy Fork, longing to return to the corn fields blowing in the breeze of a sunny afternoon and the wild country parties with moonshine smuggled in your britches. You can read ‘em all in The Folks of Muddy Fork, or try out one or two sold separately (he also has free books!). Here is a great quote from “A Kevin Review: The Folks of Muddy Fork“:

These are very diverse stories executed with wit, depth and sensitivity. I feel like I’ve known these people, their town, their concerns, for a long time. “Crazy” old codgers who’d survived a life of loneliness and isolation with the company of and caring for possums and a talking eagle who promised to fly the old boy “home”, when his time came to go, which reads like a tender Indian tale of the trip past the pain of physical existence and its suffering who was befriended, adopted and buried as family almost. Just plain beautiful.


2. Jess Wygle

Available in the eBook stores next week!

Jess writes a thriller that you can’t put down because you’re too worried what might happen if you do. After I finished Evol, I was looking behind me everywhere I went and checking the corners of my apartment for at least a week, until I had to finally convince myself that it was “just a book”. I’m not the only one who thinks Jess writes a good thriller, here is an excerpt from “A Kevin Review: Keep It Safe” from last week:

This “shortie” reads fast and tense, punctuated by a few short breaths and some panting… In a flash Parker’s life switches from routine boredom to blinking, open-mouthed amazement and she ponders what might’ve happened had she left just a minute or three later, “…I would still be so naive and oblivious to the evils and wrong-doings in this world.” According to Jess Wygle this is the first book she’s finished yet her ability to grab the shirt collar and sweep us along through Parker’s wide-eyed, naïve bumbling discoveries is impressive.

And it’s not just that she writes a good thriller, she also writes non-fiction and romance. If you’re looking for a heartwrenching short story, check out her free book Indelible.

3. Patrick Sean Lee (felixthecat)

Like nothing you've read before - this book has it all!

He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere. As a BookRix member, if you don’t already know felixthecat then you don’t really know BookRix. He’s a reader and a writer, stopping by to encourage fellow members on their latest work of creative genius, all the while writing non-stop pages of brilliance himself. Amazing! His book Valeriya recently won second place in the Flash Fiction contest and is absolutely worth a read. If you’re into nostalgia mixed with humor and adventure, visit some of my favorite recurring BookRix characters, Skip and Jimmy, in Frankensnake.  I never tire of reading about their crazy antics and it makes me wish I could be a kid again, getting in trouble without any real life repercussions. Those were the days! Also, make sure you check out his most recent book, that he’s sharing on the site one wondrous chapter at a time, Closer to Heaven.
Don’t take my word for it – check out one of his many rave reviews from a fellow BookRix member:

“Angels, vagrants, anti-ageing, teen romance, unrequited love. – This book has it all! The title of the book led me to believe its contents would be a blend of intrigue, excitement, passion, romance and enchantment. It was a pleasure to find the pages within contained this and more. My only regret is that I have taken so long to read this remarkable story.” -chrisc



Stay tuned for My Watch List Part Two – coming soon!

A Kevin Review: Grasping at Shadows (and looking under the bed…)



As you probably know by now, BookRix has recently decided to invite a couple of our more entertaining and insightful team members into the blogging inner circle to write some book reviews. Here is the fourth one, written by Kevin: The dark and thrilling Grasping at Shadows: A Collection of Dark Shorts by Laurie Paulsen (lauriemariepea).

Not for the kiddies.

Not for the kiddies.

These are not tales for children. However, IF you like having what I call “the pattooties” scared out of you – and delight in images so frightening they linger and wait for you in that short-cut through the cemetery in the wee hours, epitomizing our worst fears from childhood not yet convinced there is nothing really out there, or under the bed or in the closet or the basement or in the mind of the person standing before you, to be afraid of or at least a little concerned about – you’ll really enjoy this one.

Ever read something so disturbing you keep stopping to look up, scan around the room, you feel vulnerable, feeling the people around you, on the subway, bus or in the laundry, can sense your…discomfort, “Hahaha, this is…sure is scary…”, wet armpits, nervous laugh?

There is something about the way women write about the hardships of life, abuse, retribution, justice, love in chains, children, etc., in art. For me, these were obviously penned by a woman. They are all startlingly original, with an eye peeled for our sometimes twisted “humanity” (whatever that is) in the most bizarre of circumstances and an acceptance of it.

Laurie Paulsen obviously sees the world a little differently than most of us, but after a peek at her list of favorite books/writers it all made sense immediately. She’s raised on the milk of the wild, mad, great ones. S.M Stirling, Stephen King, and Alice Walker to name just a few from her list (some of my favs too).

Lessee, I will here sidestep my inclination to want to allude to each story. They’re so different, it’s impossible to have an absolute favorite so I’ll just say this; “Killing Chickens” and old Egg….the love of Egg…wow, where did that come from?

An exciting, fast, chilling read you won’t want to end. Remember, not for the kiddies.

Buy it now:

amazon logo

A Kevin Review: Keep It Safe



The BookRix Team is filled with fun and interesting characters, so we decided to invite a few into the blogging inner circle to write some book reviews. Here is the third one, written by Kevin: Keep It Safe by Jess Wygle (jesswygle)

This “shortie” reads fast and tense, punctuated by a few short breaths and some panting. I imagine our heroine, Parker, is aged probably mid to late 20s. She’s been recently orphaned and widowed. (in the last 3-4 years perhaps?) After another incredibly exciting day at work…not, she swings her Malibu onto the highway, engages the auto pilot and just zones-out / heads to her small town, Iowa abode and the company of the only family she has left, her aging doggie. Then in the pitch darkness she glimpses something in the air for a mili-second before it bounces heavily off the hood of her car. Upon examination she finds the bouncer is human, very broken and handing her a small object along with the request that she hides it, keeps it safe, and that it be given to no one, and then, he exhales his last. It’s on.

In a flash Parker’s life switches from routine boredom to blinking, open-mouthed amazement and she ponders what might’ve happened had she left just a minute or three later, “…I would still be so naive and oblivious to the evils and wrong-doings in this world.” According to Jess Wygle this is the first book she’s finished yet her ability to grab the shirt collar and sweep us along through Parker’s wide-eyed, naïve bumbling discoveries is impressive.

Even the introduction of the Witness Protection Program and the mob which seem like ‘filler matter’ in the context, (…end of Goodfellas..does that apparatus still exist?) is kept relevant with the dreaded ‘instantaneous localization’ and murderous thugs who are also highly skilled hackers and appear with quick shock and surprise. Way cool.

I’m missing the development of the romance which keeps almost happening but then it’s probably just like Parker to misread the cues and awaken in bed at 3:34AM and suddenly realize the missed opportunity and exclaim: “Oh!” LOL! I like this character a lot.

All the background information coloring and defining characters usually served-up straight at the beginning of a lot of novels I’ve read, which is usually awkwardly bludgeoned into the first few pages, is not there and frankly, not missed. Funny. Whether left out purposely or not we’re left with more wiggle room for the imagination, like different people looking at the same painting, and what’s wrong with that? I think there’s more to be developed in there, with or without Parker. We can go out and talk about it later, I have her number. I’m looking forward to reading more from Jess Wygle. Congrats Jess!

-Kevin

Want a taste of Jess Wygle’s writing? Come and check out some of her free short stories HERE!
(Also, for those of you having trouble with cover design – take a look at Jess’ covers because they are simple, and yet fantastic.)

A Kevin Review: Almost “Betrayed By A Vampire”



The BookRix Team is filled with fun and interesting characters, so we decided to invite a few into the blogging inner circle to write some book reviews. Here is the second one, written by Kevin: Betrayed By A Vampire by AnnaRose Vittoria (annarosemydarling).

Well, of all the books I ever read…. The protagonist, a teen-aged Goth girl named Emily, happens to be in a relationship with a real, daylight shunning, no reflection having, non-photogenic, neck-biting, sustaining himself entirely on blood, young vampire named Jagger. (Yes, as in Mick.) She inadvertently revolutionizes the social norms at her high school (in which she is a relative new-comer).

While there’s no concrete, documented philosophical doctrine to be found anywhere on the present Goth culture that I could find, the best I can figure is: it exists in contradistinction to lots of things perceived as defining or symbolic of the “status quo”. Goths are into the darker side of life; vampires, cute little bats and fashion trends involving colors which are deliberately too dark or too bright or in odd combinations, taking them way off the beaten paths of most runways. Fashion originality and invention (within the dark theme) is favored and opposed to the “holding the fort” stance of the preppy / popular kids and their penchants for all that is established and traditional, (“normal”?) wearing Hollister® (Polo® type clothing tuned for high school kids – had to look it up) fashions which our Goth see as “overpriced garbage”. Probably is, I dunno.

Also implicit is the suggestion that one’s allegiance with either Goths or the Preps might be influenced by which side of “the tracks” one hails from, along with a thick thread of “moral / fairness codes / protocols” woven through-out a refreshing ‘live and let live’ mind-set, which is (at least implicitly) another distinction between Goths and Preps, with Goths having particular emphasis on being and “keeping it real” without pretenses. (i.e. Illusions of grandeur / superiority)

The setting: The high school social battlefield and the lines are already drawn. The new Goth girl in town moved in with her Rock musician father, a member of the band, “Vampires Walk Naked”, from whom she’s also “inherited” a taste for vintage Metallica, etc, (easy house-mates).

Before going further into the book, the title’s suggestion of a “betrayal” by a vampire, never actually happens. Having an idea of performing an act which hasn’t been agreed upon by the parties involved isn’t an actual betrayal. It’s nothing but talk until it happens, or is it? (Who asked me right?) Look: In the book, a common expectation of at least the immortal in the relationship of a human and a vampire is the eventuality of “the bite”, which would transform the mortal’s lifestyle along with her/his eating habits rather completely, thenceforth. If there is a deep, soul-mate type love connection between the two, this can be taken up a notch by performing the biting ceremony on sacred ground (cemeteries, churches) rendering this joining an eternal bond. Our heroine overheard her boyfriend bragging to other vampires that he’d soon have his true eternal mate and she would move-in with him, when she hadn’t actually definitely consented to doing it at all and especially not soon. This is the extent of the betrayal. Now, perhaps I’m revealing my gender by wondering where the betrayal is here. Huh? I don’t pretend to know everything.

So while the above “technicality” could’ve brought the title into question…”Almost Betrayed…Could’ve Been Betrayed..”?, the book is actually very enjoyable and an easy read for young adults (YA). The characters are solidly created, and very real and colorful. Without giving away too much, it concludes with a reconciliation between previously warring parties which, while highly unlikely if not impossible in the real world, is still a very desirable scenario. Why not? In some schools the “social friction” of this spontaneous xenophobia (?), mixed with dining table taught ethnic and the social prejudices of misguided missiles of misunderstandings, becomes hard daily manifestations for some, sometimes with dire consequences. The “just harmless teasing” that is bullying / mobbing. Some kids just lose focus of why they are really there anyway. Validation by condemnation or at least making sure one is “better” than somebody. Ferchristsake! The added pressures on top of the workload. Even the author recognizes the Utopia she’s created, rendering the happy ending almost euphoric, but perhaps, or I’m just too cynical? It would be revolutionary indeed for a Goth girl to become the home-coming queen in any school I can think of. Imagine, people having reasons to confront their own prejudices that way. There are lots of surprises in there.

Interesting stuff. Kudos to ARV [AnnaRose Vittoria].

-Kevin

Buy it now:
AMAZON
KOBO
BARNES & NOBLE

Also, make sure you check out the first book in the series (It’s FREE!): To Love A Vampire

A Kevin Review: The Folks of Muddy Fork



The BookRix Team is filled with fun and interesting characters, so we decided to invite a few into the blogging inner circle to write some book reviews. Here is the first one, written by Kevin:
november cover art 3
First the long of it. While there’s a lot of humor in the book, tagging the genre “humor” alone doesn’t seem accurate. Most of the stories don’t invoke any “knee-slapping” at all. The reference to hillbillies in the blurb is like a throw away given that most of what we think we know about hillbillies comes from Hollywood’s (The Beverly Hillbillies sitcom) portrayal of a simple, unspoiled, unpolished, rough, gritty, back-woods, god-fearing, wizened, modest, uncultured type of people who were “out of it” and certainly not “hip” with regards to pop culture nor the normal thought patterns of the post-war, consumer society they were in. In the sitcom the comedic foil, a slick, opportunistic banker who encouraged the hillbillies to spend the interests of their oil fortune on things they neither knew, wanted nor understood.

While totally fun to read, The Folks of Muddy Fork (TFOMF) offers a glimpse of some of the realities people have in an isolated culture in the backwoods of the Bible Belt, before the mechanization of agriculture uproots the whole shebang…before they even know it. This is a view of life from that time, those values, ethics and the hilarity of the hill folk. It seems well researched and the reader can easily imagine the author having first-hand knowledge and experience of the smell of the earth, the houses, the foods, not to mention the use of hillbilly words we know already like “varmints”, “vittles”, and the hot tempers and prudish social norms and courtship rituals of small town living.

Muddy Fork, where nearly every house is referred to as a “shack” because…they were. No electricity, no plumbing. Wall and a roof. It seems lots of people made their shacks themselves or they were made by neighbors who were also not skilled house builders; where most people grew corn and tobacco to get by and kept a few animals for subsistence and never escaped being quite poor. Share-cropping or giving the lion’s share from the crops to the owners of the land one cultivated as rent.

These are very diverse stories executed with wit, depth and sensitivity. I feel like I’ve known these people, their town, their concerns, for a long time. “Crazy” old codgers who’d survived a life of loneliness and isolation with the company of and caring for possums and a talking eagle who promised to fly the old boy “home”, when his time came to go, which reads like a tender Indian tale of the trip past the pain of physical existence and its suffering who was befriended, adopted and buried as family almost. Just plain beautiful.

A forty-something year old farmer wasting away from “consumption” decides to throw himself a wake to say goodbye to his friends and neighbors before he dies. These stories depict a devout and caring small township and traditional “standup”, farming values.

The perspectives of these characters aren’t always so humorous. The story of how a huge, giant, “big” overweight character, who refers to himself as “bulky”, discovers a mate of the same proportions is another gem. Transported far from our world and with our concerns as life gets condensed; boiled down to the essentials.

Now, while not spoken of directly, I realized that most of the people in Muddy Fork have the name Bishop as a family name (as in the Bishop)…so, while it’s alluded to…we won’t start-in on inbreeding issues here.

Another is the old widower Grandpa who misses his wife/accomplice-in-life so much he forgets to live while he can. Told through the eyes of his grandson.

Hard-earned wisdom. People being “taken” and cheated, seen through the eyes of “let the buyer beware”. Examine the goods, investigate, “if you don’t ask why would I tell you?” There’s a law against such misrepresentation nowadays (which isn’t to say it therefore never happens anymore) Hillbilly proverbs.

A contest for which the person judged the laziest wins a cash prize. The other lazy guy story has ‘the laze’ blocked from his routine of living in the warm jail-house in the cold winter months and is given a badge to go after the “moonshiners” who are all his friends.

Where does Mcqueen get this stuff?

Country pranks, county-fairs, jealous-type wife beaters. Here’s one: “He was shaking like a dog pooping a peach seed.” LOL! The handling of marital betrayals and a thousand other rules of thumb.

The perspectives. “Morals”. “Appearances”. Things I have to reckon with when I visit my family who are now living in the Bible Belt. It all rings true to me. The story about a parish’s treatment of a land-owner so stingy that he threatened to shoot whomsoever might tread on his land even if it’s the quickest way to the church in a blizzard had me in tears. Might make a devout atheist consider joining the church…almost.

Even Satan himself makes a comical appearance.

A town meeting changes life as they know it when a wild woman with 12 kids and one on the way all from 12 or 13 different men brings the town to the consensus of immediate action upon this kind of immorality along the men responsible for all them father-less kids. Y’know, run them out of town or into church service, until she starts to point out the town’s respected husbands, fathers and gentlemen she’s come to “know” in the biblical sense. S’hilarious.

A village get-together meal becomes a public food fight. Great stories. I love this book.

I know this review is a lot longer than it should be, but I couldn’t see how to give an idea outlining just a couple of them as they’re so different. They seem to work better together as a collage of life in ol’ Muddy Fork. Apparently there’s a Muddy Fork out in Oregon. Probably very different though.

Ol’ Mcqueen is “cut loose”. I’d rate it at 9.9.9!

-Kevin

Looking to try out some Stanley Mcqueen? Try one of his short stories, which are also being sold individually.

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