Book Review: Rosetta by Stephen Patterson

Tony Palermo’s life has been one of long odds, hard knocks, and hard-earned expertise in lucrative fields of questionable ethics and legality. Still, he may have finally met his match when a simple misstep lands him in the broiling political landscape of a backwater planet, where the untold wealth of a few and the potential destruction of millions is ready to burst on the galactic scene in the form of a key to an alien language, long dead.

Can the resourceful, unflappable Tony apply his incomparable training and razor sharp wit to the most complicated challenge of his life and survive? More importantly, can he manage to rescue the collateral victims (including a young slave girl and her mysterious angel) AND thwart the deadly, self-serving intentions of any number of thugs, tycoons, super corps, and incorporeal malevolent entities? Only time and a breakneck series of plot twists will tell.

I enjoyed the rare privilege of reading Rosetta in one of its early forms, as part of a rigorous round of critiques. I’ve been inspired as I’ve watched it grow into a truly epic piece of quality science fiction. Don’t mistake my friendship with the formidable Stephen Patterson as bias in his favor, however. We met as aspiring authors and established a dialogue of candor and encouragement toward excellence from the start. As Rosetta makes its debut on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service, I can say with delighted conviction: this book rocks.

Book Review | When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

I’m always looking for book recommendations and this one had been passed my way already by a reader I respect. This review was the final push I needed to officially add the title to my list. It gives a great summary, a taste of the book’s style, and the reviewer’s own personal takeaway.

A great review!

brown books | green tea

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92aac483e96cd907f6b3732cf5654b44 Rating :  5 out of 5 stars
Short review: When Breath Becomes Air is as deep a look into death as one can have without actually experiencing it first hand. Introspective and philosophical, Kalanithi illustrates how being acutely aware of one’s mortality can simultaneously push them to have the most meaningful life possible.

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Checking In

I’d apologize for the hiatus, but any initiate to the Blogosphere knows very well how easy it is to slip out of the habit of online communication in favor of other occupations. I reassure you, dear reader, I’m still writing, I’m still reading, I’m still here.

In my bibliophilic escapades, I’ve recently read a little more non-fiction, working through some of the shorter titles on my ambitious yearly reading list. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion both knocked the wind from me. Coates punched me in the gut, unapologetic and ineluctable in his narration of recent American history. Didion drew me down to unknown depths of loneliness and grief, paving the way with vulnerable, sharply real anecdotes from her own life. Some of these anecdotes were foreign, belonging to a different echelon of American society than I have ever experienced, but most were simply human, universal.

I recommend them both.

In my efforts to write, I have struck gold in an exciting new development that I’ll keep under wraps for the moment. I will say only that I have found affirmation, coupled with insightful guidance, regarding Wake to Wander. I’m rewriting now, working on a deadline, and loving every minute of the experience as, once again, careful revision reveals an entirely different, entirely better book.

More to come.

TTFN! (Ta Ta For Now!)

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

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It’s fitting, I think, that the latest installment of one of my favorite TV/movie franchises should be the first movie review on this site. I’ve remembered recently how essential films, good and bad alike, are to my creative life. They tap into an entirely different facet of Story that’s got a hardline straight to my feelz . Movies are so different from books, with different strengths and weaknesses, but the common thread of Story remains. You won’t find detailed film critiques here. I don’t pretend to be an expert in what makes a good movie. I’ll give only my thoughts on Stories as they’re told on the big screen.

In fact, the story may be the greatest strength and most glaring weakness of Star Trek Beyond. You can never complain about the cast of this new series of Star Trek movies, either their commitment to the roles or their pretty, pretty faces. But frustratingly, the only characters here with truly compelling stories are the villains. JJ Abrams’ first run at the new franchise back in 2009 was perhaps the strongest on this point, setting up a whole new timeline, with all new motives and relationships for the well-known heroes. But, those characters have experienced little to no change ever since. Kirk is still tied in knots over his dead Dad. Spok is still torn between his love for the Enterprise and his duty to Vulcan. Bones and Sulu, Chekov and Ahuru, even Scotty are still two-dimensional excuses for clever exchanges with Kirk and Spok. In Star Trek Beyond, there’s practically no change, no development in the heroic characters. There’s hardly any real internal conflict at all. The good guys are just very, very good, and the bad guys are thoroughly, tragically bad. The villain this time around did have a great twist in his back story. He did convince us (because he’s Idris Elba, let’s be honest) that we may have been no different had we lived the same life. But even he was a bit too caricatured to be believed. Oh, did I forget to mention Jaylah? Not surprising, that. Powerful, independent female with daddy issues that put her in need of constant coddling and rescuing: check. Present and accounted for.

Did I enjoy it? Sure. The special effects were mind-blowing, the sarcastic quips made me giggle, the subtle homages to the original Star Trek cast were heart-warming (SO cool to see Lt. Sulu’s family for the first time!). And there are only a few actors out there who will get my money every time: Grand Master of the Powerfully Dark and Twisty, Mr. Idris Elba, is one. He did not disappoint.

Still, I did feel that these classic characters deserved the respect and freedom to get it wrong from time to time. Don’t they ever feel fearful, selfish, or just a touch too prideful? Don’t they ever make the absolutely wrong call, in ways that could send this openly pre-packaged plot careening off in a lively and dangerous direction?

In the end, it’s Star Trek.

Here’s my money.

Make more shiny pictures.

Please and thank you.

Just don’t get complacent hanging onto those awfully big coattails and forget to write a story.

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

51gKAVDyENL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_In a world where magic is ordinary, where witches and wizards live among florist and princes and bakers, Sophie Hatter is a plain, hard-working, sharp-tongued eldest of three sisters, convinced that her lot in life is one of drudgery and loneliness since she is, after all, the eldest. But then she meets Howl, the dashing young wizard who eats young girls’ hearts and hails from the mysterious and other worldly land of Wales. And then she meets the Witch of the Waste, an ancient woman of considerable beauty and power, whose penchant for nastiness will wreak havoc in more than one world, more than one life, but none more than that of Sophie Hatter.

I first encountered Howls’ Moving Castle in the film adaptation drawn by Hayao Miyazaki and his legendary Studio Ghibli. I’ve avoided the books ever since, convinced that either the book would be a bitter disappointment (it’s happened before) or – more likely – the book would so outshine the film as to overshadow and belittle my first love’s magic.

I am very happy to announce that the book is brilliant. It’s sarcastic and warm-hearted and full of beauty and horror. They two versions of this story are very, very different, of course. Apart from an opening scene which is mirrored almost perfectly between book and film, the two renditions part ways swiftly and completely on all the details, large and small alike. As he plotted the film, Miyazaki erased worlds, merged characters, and parsed in his own thematic overtones so that his imaginative creation stands quite independent of its muse. But the essence of the characters remained inviolable, as they always must. The clever, romantic spirit of the story shone through.

In short, they’re both good.

Fantastic, even.

I highly recommend book and film alike to young readers everywhere.

Book Review Times Two

 

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Ursula K. Le Guin

Mary Doria Russell
Mary Doria Russell c.1998
 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, Madames Russell and Le Guin, you’ve both done it again. I find that I must reiterate how baffled I am that these two Crazy Greats escaped my attention for all the formative years of my life. What lasting lessons could I have learned from these two women through their extraordinary stories! Of course, much of their genius would have likely left my narrow, tender mind much disturbed. Now that I’ve left at least some of my childish ways of thinking behind me, these books taste like graduating from milk to feasts fit for kings.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven wanders the dark and twisty path of dreams, asking the generally horrifying question: What if your most vivid, overpowering dreams all came true? Not just for you, but for all the world? Worse, what if an arrogant scientist, certain of his own unfailing rationality and good will, gained control of those dreams?

George Orr stumbles through this nightmarish series of worlds and disparate narratives with a demeanor just placid enough to permit us our own perspectives, just morally centered enough to keep us wholly on his side. Lathe of Heaven felt like a feminine love child of Stranger in a Strange Land and The Man Who Was Thursday, misanthropic and humanistic, speculative and practical, hopeful and despondent all at once. It was a quick read, but a deep one. And yet another example of Le Guin’s peculiar and powerful craft.

Children of God, on the other hand, is a work of poetry and music and ancient religion, all woven together in the lives of children and soaked in blood. A sequel to the already classic masterpiece which was The Sparrow, Children of God has very possibly surpassed its predecessor in power and prose. Mary Russell strikes me as an author with the utmost respect for her character’s personalities and histories. Emilio Sandoz would never willingly return to the planet of Rakhat, the site where his faith was first buoyed, fed, then brutally eradicated. So what does Russell do? Spoiler alert! She beats, drugs, and kidnaps the poor bastard to force his return! Brutal? Yes. Dedicated to the integrity of the character? Absolutely.

Children of God worked to redeem the irreparable tragedies and violations of The Sparrow, using faith, war, forgiveness, but most of all Time to harvest what was sown. And was it all redeemed? Read it for yourself. Just be warned, Russell is merciless. She cuts like a surgeon to those secret doubts and bastions of silent hate you thought no one knew about but you. Her work is not to be entered into lightly.

As for you, Mary Russell, I am once again in your debt. Each time I read, I am changed by your work.

And to each of you crazy great women, master storytellers, bold and faithful to the art: I cannot wait to read the rest of what you’ve created. Every single book.

Book Review: The Abundance by Annie Dillard

I’ve tried to write this review a dozen times now. But how do you summarize and evaluate a book that so thoroughly and immediately permeated your innermost thoughts that it is now one of the chorus of silent voices in your head? It’s a dilemma similar to the one I experience when living in Asia a few years ago. People want to know what it’s like, how your day to day is different from your life before, what you see and hear and smell, who you talk to… But it’s just your daily life. How do you explain it?

The Abundance, a collection of essays, is the work of my greatest inspirations, Annie Dillard. Abundance is curated by the author herself, some of the articles published in previous works, some brand new to the public eye. Every one of them seemed to echo or illuminate secret thoughts and experiences from my own life. And all she did was write openly, honestly, about life.

The two essays in particular which rocked the earth beneath my feet spoke of two experiences, a total lunar eclipse Ms. Dillard witnessed in the 70’s, and her experience with adolescence. The story of the eclipse transported me. The story of adolescence broke through decades of loneliness and secret shame and set me free.

Everyone should read Annie Dillard. Start with An American Childhood. Graduate next to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Sip and savor The Abundance.

Then call me.

We’ll meet for coffee.

We’ll chat.

About eclipses and pursuits on foot through deep winter snows and vicious waterbug attacks. We’ll talk about Abundance.