This book is a ride and a half! Like a corkscrew rollercoaster at an amusement park, this book forces you to put your head on a swivel, so you don’t miss anything. I would not have imagined that the worlds of fine art, environmental science, and commercial espionage would work so well together, but Ms. Falgoust is a seasoned chef, blending the tastes and aromas of each as we become gluttons to her tale.
The pacing of this book is brilliant. The author uses short chapters that change locations, characters, and POV while still maintaining a tight story arc and delivering impressive dividends for our emotional investment in both the hero and the villain. In the beginning of the book, these short introductions give you exactly the information you need to get to know the cast, but not so much that you’re left with useless information dumps. These small bits of intrigue, romance, action, and snark compliment the story and keep it moving… always moving. This book is wonderfully fast paced, so hold on tight.
The conversations that Ms. Falgoust creates between her characters, whether spoken aloud or not, lend great depth to the story. Once we hear their words, we find ourselves agreeing or challenging them in exactly the same way. We find ourselves on a team before we realize that we’re supposed to choose an allegiance. The sprinkles of dialect and exotic language adds credibility to the character’s backstories without leaving the reader thirsting for subtitles. The gentle way the author defines character by utilizing these moments of difference, puts you right in the middle of the action without becoming lost in translation.
As the story progresses, the tension builds, and the connections between each group of characters begin to commingle in surprising ways. Like melting three different cheeses to make a delectable fondue, this book gently tosses in subtle details of emotional spice and adventurous expectation that delivers pages of decadence you didn’t know you craved.
I hope that this is the beginning of a series because I want more!
Even though the title of this book implies that it is a story about a gangster… and part of it certainly is… I think that the real story is about the small town to which he comes and goes. Snapshots of life. That’s as close as I can come to accurately describing what it felt like to read this book.
The story spans the lifetime of several characters. As each chapter unfolds, we are immediately welcomed into their experiences of small-town life. Just as the people change over time, so does the town. There is a curious maturity that we are privileged to watch unfold. But more than that, we are invited to take a walk down Main Street and be a part of it all. It’s an emotional journey that is completely unexpected… and wonderful. Over the course of the story, we are invited to examine the connections that bind a place to its people, and the people to their home.
When I began to read, I thought this would be a book about the inside workings of the titular gangster. Eagerly I read, hoping to get the skinny on him and his outfit. I was hoping to watch his crimes from the inside and watch the how the community endured under his influence. What I got was better. Reading this story, I was able to see inside the gangster himself. I was a witness to his thoughts as a “regular” person who loves his wife, supports his community, and delights in being an “average” person away from his “job”. Ms. Passick skillfully uses individually distinctive dialect styles and vocabulary to help us enjoy a sensation of really getting to know the characters as people, as if we were sitting at the same table, riding in the same car, or standing near the same hunting blind while conversations float in and out of our ears.
Reading this book gave me the sensation of watching the town pull out a photo book. I listened to it tell the story of the years it remembered, and the secrets it kept about the interesting, and sometimes unconventional people who lived there. As time marched on, the town reflected the distinct experiences of each soul and how living side-by-side impacted each of them in very different ways. The story was brisk and unpredictable, making it a genuinely enjoyable read.
I’m so happy to have read this book! Although it is written with middle-grade and early young adult readers in mind, I truly believe that like the Harry Potter series, adults everywhere will enjoy this book, too. I’m also happy to report that this is the first in a series. I know, that’s unusual, coming from me, but it’s true.
This book is about all the things I love in the literary world… books, storytelling, the magic of words, and strong relationships between characters. Somehow, this author has found a way to write an engaging, fictional tale so similar to my Philosophy of Sacred Text, and he’s improved upon my thoughts… even though we came to these ideas quite independently. Writing a story around this concept is something I’ve dreamed of doing for quite some time, and now I don’t have to, because it has already been done extraordinarily well.
The story speaks to the wonderment of storytelling, and how it can be a formidable opponent in the war against shadows and doubt. This book is not just a bunch of pages, it is a reading experience that draws you in and engages you in the adventure… which is extremely interesting, because it does the same thing for the characters in the book. Mr. Bastian drops clues and hints along the way, and although I picked up some of them. I am sure there are other clues I missed. I’m not worried, though. Surely, I’ll learn more as the series continues. This is exactly what is supposed to happen when you discover the first book in a series. I am now compelled to buy the next book, and the next…
If that’s not enough to get you hooked, the artwork in this book is stunning. It begins with a cover that immediately calls to the reader. Then, with each chapter, more fantastic art is woven in between the pages of beautifully crafted paragraphs… which describe the scenes, people, settings and “other things” with such finesse that I could easily imagine it all. This author has mastered the art of giving the reader enough information to put themselves inside the story, but not so much that there is nothing left to the imagination. Mr. Bastian does an extraordinary job of allowing the reader to add padding to the story while leading us on a magical journey.
I’m sending a copy of this book to my eight-year-old niece for her birthday. I’m also sending along a note that encourages her to read it aloud to her younger sister because it was just that good! I am hoping that they both get hooked on the story, as I have, and at some point, we can have lunch and talk all about it! This is a series I will most certainly collect, and probably re-read, too.
This was difficult for me. It is extremely rare that I don't finish a book once I begin reading. I think it's happened perhaps a dozen times in my lifetime. I've always been an equal opportunity reader. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I read carefully and take my time. I try to give each author a fair shake, each book on its own merits… genre, theme, topic, story, character, setting, purpose… you get the picture. My encounter with this book is one of those rare exceptions. I couldn't finish it.
From a craft perspective, the author uses a fictional persona, "Mudflap," to help illustrate his story in third person narrative. Unfortunately, this device is inconsistent. The author frequently switches between personal pronouns (I, me) and back to third person (he, Mudflap), sometimes in alternating paragraphs in the same section or chapter. This inconsistency of narration was very frustrating to read. In addition, I found several grammar, spelling, and formatting mistakes (at least in my ebook version). Also, the "real-time post scripts" at the end of the sections or chapters are enigmatic. Their purpose and function was unclear, aside from acting perhaps as an extension of the author's frustration. This book would have benefited tremendously from professional editing.
The synopsis on the back of the book promises "…a philosophical and satirical humor… with solutions for our rapidly changing world." Unfortunately, I found none of these in the 172 pages I read (about half the book). The marketing for this book indicates it to be anti-bullying, but that's not what I read. Instead, I found a victim who decided that the only way to fight back against the bullies he encountered was to write an angry "tell-all" book. By my read, the author's goal was not to relate experiences so readers could learn and grow. But instead, to shame and blame with retaliation, all while hiding his true intent behind fictitious character names (I'm guessing to avoid a lawsuit or several).
One particular passage that stood out for me relates Mudflap's [the author's] frustration with Mudflap's business clients refusing to buy his book. He called it a "lack of support". He further explains that he "fired" them as clients because they didn't buy his book. In the following passage, he writes about taking great pleasure in this action, actually laughing about it with his crew of helpers afterward. In my opinion, this behavior manifested as bullying his clients into buying the book, and then "getting back at them" when they didn't. This seems to be an inverse of the purpose of the book. It was confusing.
In another passage, he writes about not receiving the treatment he wanted from a town librarian based on his status as a local author. He felt slighted and even angry when the librarian afforded more attention to a more experienced and "not local" author. Later, he engages in a conversation with the other author, belittling his work. In my view, this was bullying the author for his success. Yet, again, this incident seemed counter-productive to what I thought was the book's focus.
Perhaps I misinterpreted the book. Perhaps I don't understand the author's brand of humor. Perhaps all the positive stuff was in the first book, and I made a mistake by reading them out of sequence. Perhaps all is redeemed at the end of the book, and I'll never know because I never got to the last page. Perhaps I'm overly sensitive. But perhaps not.
My opinion of this book is that it is a memoir of the author's life, his frustrations with his community, and his neighbors. He writes about the many bullies Mudflap [the author] encounters with a degree of acrimony I could not continue to read. It was too painful. I found only two instances of positivity in this book, and because of that, I had to stop reading.
It is possible that I'm not giving the work a fair shake by not finishing it. I can allow for that possibility. Perhaps I should have forced myself to suffer through to the last page. Perhaps not.
I believe that reading should be something we enjoy, something we can learn from, something that enriches us emotionally and intellectually. Unfortunately, this book served me in none of these ways, so I put it aside.
This book may have an audience, but I am not it. And that's okay. Not every book is for every reader.
All that having been said, I think it is important to take note that this author's writing is courageous. He emptied a good part of himself onto the page, and for that, he should be commended. All writing should be viewed as Sacred Text. Although this book was not in alignment with my personal reflection of life, that does not retract the Sacred value I place on the words and his effort in recording them. For clarification, please read my Philosophy on Sacred Text HERE.
Witness Testimony was an interesting and engaging collection of short stories. When I first began reading, I found it difficult to ease into a reading rhythm because I had expectations, based on the title and cover. I opened this book preparing for the intrigue of courtroom drama, legal thrills, and witness interactions. However, that’s not what I found, so starting out was slow going for me.
By the time I reached the second half of the book, I let go of my preconceived notions. Once I accepted that these stories, though not bound legally together, were indeed witness accounts of life, it then became easier for me to relax into the absence of pattern and enjoy the journey. Actually, the author allowed the reader to be the witness to a cross section of humanity with all its solaces, uneasiness, and eccentricities. Taken from that interpretation, the collection made sense. My strongest critique would be that the title and cover art set me up for a predisposition against that experience, initially.
Overall, this was an enjoyable book. Here are a few of my favorite stories from this collection:
The Bullfighter’s Waltz was a curiosity. A story that connects emotionally in a setting where emotion is not the expectation, was a pleasant surprise. I felt that I could easily relate to these characters, even though their day-to-day is very distant from my own. The humanity of this story was felt, rather than read. That was nice.
The Matchmaker’s Reward entertained with a bit of fantasy. This is one story that left me wanting more. For me, it read perhaps as a last chapter for a larger novel… and perhaps it is… I hope it is. A bunch of questions were left unanswered, and I wanted to know more about the character’s history and their future. I wanted to know more about the magic and the rules behind how it is used, or how it isn’t. I enjoyed this story very much. It felt a little like a “Pat The Bunny” book for adults… a few words gave the reader so many tactile experiences, it left me wanting to learn more.
The Sending was tremendously poignant for me. Everything about this story, the why behind it, and the minute details of spirituality, evoked something akin to a universal understanding. This story was delicate and powerful simultaneously. It offered just enough to allow for emotional transference, but not quite enough to lose the intellectual intensity of the moment. That duality, for me, made it a great read.
I recommend this book to readers who enjoy the sensation of being a fly on the wall. These are tales experienced through the expression of the temperature of the room, rather than the cold distance of reporting.
If you're looking for something completely innovative, exciting, and really smart, you'll enjoy this book.
This is a suspense story that could also be a police procedural, a mystery, and... or... an alternative creation myth. There are so many enticing passages in this book that honestly, I find it nearly impossible to choose a favorite.
Andrew is a master storyteller, and he has combined all his strengths in world building, encouraging empathy between the reader and the characters, as well as solid scene set up to bring us an evocative tale that could be as old as time... and yet, it is so contemporary that we wonder if it hasn't been hiding in plain sight, right around the corner. To all of this, he has added delightful snark and deep passion to the page, and it will not let you go.
If that isn't enough, there is a serious morality question he provokes, yet doesn't demand that the reader agree. Some will, some won't. This is a tremendous testament to Andrew's skill. A reader's agreement or disagreement with the choices the characters make doesn't negate the rush of the story he is sharing. The adventure is high stakes, physically and intellectually... but more interesting than all of these is the risks Andrew takes to invite readers down a hidden passage, the walls oozing with fear, love, greed, and the premonition of possibility.
When I asked, Andrew told me that this book was the first in a new series... and I can assure you, I'll be nagging him to be first in line when the next one is ready to read!
I was overwhelmed reading this book... not because it was difficult material (which it was), and not because the complexity of the relationships and internal dialogue of the characters was so intensely emotional (which it also was), but because everything written in this story is REAL LIFE. Confronting that can sometimes be overwhelming... and I've never been happier for the experience.
D.A. Reed has created a masterpiece of Young Adult fiction with this story. From the complexity of teenage angst to the thoughts, speech patterns, and body language of teenagers, to the adult interactions... this author got it all right. As a person who has been touched by teen suicide in both my generation and my son's generation, I cannot endorse this book enough. It is poignant, it is accurate, it is raw, it is unsettling, it is tender, it is difficult, and it is necessary.
This story channels the day-to-day experiences of teenagers in a way that feels a little like voyeurism; and if that thought doesn't frighten you just a little bit, it should. The bravery these characters show reminds us that everything is worth healing when we take the time to talk and listen. The resources and discussion questions in the back of the book encourage this dialogue between friends, families, and teachers.
This is a book that should be on a bookshelf in a central part of every family home, and in every classroom. It should be a part of every educator's and religious leader's continuing education program. I am certain that all who read it will be touched and motivated to help others in some empathetic way.
When you are given the gift of seeing teen suicide from the inside, you can't help but become changed. Thank you, D.A. Reed, for giving us this profound insight into a world we must not ignore.
I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to find when I opened the pages to this book. I've read Ken MacGregor a bit in the past... but the cover for this one had me wondering how far he would go.
I know Ken, he's a very nice man, with wonderful children. A kind man. A thoughtful man. And after reading this, I can now also say that he is a man who has an imagination that goes to places - almost without effort - that I wish I could go more often. It's odd to say that, considering that scary stuff and the like have never really been my thing. But this... this is different.
In each of these short stories, Ken takes your brain to some strange and beyond interesting places.
When you get the book, and you really should, here are a few you'll not want to read too slowly...
Tom's Personal Demons has got to be my favorite of the lot. If you've ever been a kid, or known a child, who has been afraid of the dark, this story will resonate with you. Here's the thing I liked best about it: I felt emotionally connected to these people and the darkness. It sounds strange - even stranger after you read the story - but I felt like I completely understood what poor Tom was experiencing, but more, the way Carla was accepting, and the way she helped Stephanie to connect to her father. It's difficult to explain without spoilers, but suffice to say that the gentleness of parenting here, except when it wasn't, caught me in an uncomfortably familiar place. That, and I've never experienced the dark as a living entity before... and now, I feel it a little differently.
Bad Squirrel was especially fun for me, because, growing up with a father who did all he can to defeat them, and me cheering for the squirrels every time, this one made me happy in a place I'm not necessarily proud of acknowledging.
In Karen Gets Her Man, I was again reminded why storytellers and those who indulge in hours of vicarious living through the written word are the luckiest people on the planet. Storytellers and their readers get to do, be, and say things that would get most humans sent to solitary confinement forever. Fiction is our get out of jail free card, and we know it. This is the story every woman secretly plans for, at the same time she plans her wedding... but most never talk about it.
I waited far too long to read this short story collection by the hugely talented Ken MacGregor. You shouldn't!
This book was a complete delight to read! In this age when so many people are complaining about the foibles in life... or worse... D.A. Reed steps up and shares her less-than-perfect self with us proudly. This book is part memoir, part stand up comedy, part intimate reflection. This is a study in courage presented in a way that will not only make you think of fearlessness as a delicate thing, but as a vigorous thing, too. The author is so brave... and her family even more so for allowing themselves to be shared on the page in her soul-bearing self-giggle.
I loved reading this book as a diversion while exercising... to help me get through the stuff I didn't want to do. I loved reading this book on the couch with the dog at night, to lend me comfort after a long day. I loved reading this book during a few lunch breaks now and then, to give me the light-hearted break from a complicated day.
What this incredibly passionate woman has done with her life, and continues to do, inspires me and helps me to see that all is not lost to those who stumble. The simplicity of how she spilled her life out on the page to remind me of my worth and strength through her missteps, is a gift I will hold dear for many years to come. My respect for my friend, this amazing author, this incredible human, has grown tremendously because of these simple, inspiring, elegant, hysterical 136 pages.
Also, the amazing artwork on the cover was designed by Malerie Zupin, an eighth-great student who will surely make a name for herself in the art world... and she's a wonderful person, in her own right! Keep at it Malerie!!
Admittedly, the closest I’ve come to indulging in Asian literary influences were Sidhartha from a Far Eastern Literature class in High School, a Folklore course in college, and a bit of Manga, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon from my son’s affiliations when he was young. It’s sad, I know. I’ve been living under multiple rocks for far too long. Yet in my own defense, there is so much spectacular literature in the world… I can’t possibly be expected to understand it all intimately. So, with this read, I’ve been introduced to a new escapade in storytelling… at least for me… and I’m delighted.
I can’t tell you what I expected when I began reading this novel. I heard the author, Xander Cross, read during a few Virtual Book Festivals, and so I had a bit of a taste… but I was walking in largely unaware of what I might find. I love picking up books this way… first introductions are incredibly seductive.
What I can tell you now is that not one page of this book was tedious or indiscriminate. Every moment of conflict or repose was crafted for a reason. Every word of dialogue is spoken with the goal of revealing a personal connection you didn’t think you’d find. The cadence of the story feels natural, and the breadcrumbs of anticipation are impossible to neglect. The author knows his way around the playground of Asian folklore. His devotion to research adds depth to his writing as he crafts a respectful homage inside the allure of dystopian possibility.
Each of the characters in this story are full and rich in their creation. They fight, speak, dream, and strategize exactly as they should… none of it is out of place, nor dropped in simply for shock value. As the main character and the others follow through their individual story goals, we watch loyalties unfold and we discover relatable characters where we least expect them. Rather than trite, magic is natural. Battle is an honored tradition; a currency to earn respect.
The most interesting aspect of this book for me, was the way the author crafted the evolution of his main character. We’re taught in creative writing class that a protagonist should evolve, grow, and change toward a positive arc as the story tracks from chapter one to the end. Xander has, quite skillfully, flipped this notion inside out. The protagonist, Hayate, moves through the story from a place of near serenity and focused spiritual purpose, toward a place of emotional and spiritual degradation, but he retains a hard-won respectful dignity. It feels perfectly right that he does not deserve our disdain. We cheer for him at every step. Why? Because as our eyes inhale the story, we share in his frustration as he recognizes his fall from grace. We acknowledge that he’s making the change out of self-preservation and within the very same traditions that enlightenment demands.
Throughout this story, subtlety lives well in the shadows with assertive posturing, vibrant word choice, and emotional manipulation. This author has done nothing by happenstance. It’s all a beautifully choreographed dance revealing the underbelly of survival without giving in to the trope of sacrifice.
This is the first book of a series I am eagerly looking forward to devouring. Thank you, Xander Cross; you’ve set the bar very high for my next Asian folklore reading experience.
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