Category Archives: Book reviews

Book Review: The Lost Secret of the Green Man

While I write up a nice apology for my two-month blog absence, read this review for a book I critiqued for The Boogle back in April. Be sure to check out The Boogle. My fellow co-worker and writing hero, Mark, has just enjoyed his blog’s 10,000th visit!

Tiffany Turner

Trafford Publishing, 2009

120 Pages/Children’s Fiction

4 out of 5 stars

Tiffany Turner’s second book in her The Crystal Keeper Chronicles series, The Lost Secret of the Green Man is engaging fantasy for children, although some children may get bogged down in the first half of the book until the action picks up. It took a while to gain speed but once it did, the story was charming and fun.

For the most part, the book is well-written, imaginative children’s fiction with an efficiently sketched cast of appealing characters designed to keep most children reading.

While a bit heavy handed on New Age imagery, practices and beliefs—magic crystals, ley lines, etc.—the story does offer some good, old-fashioned life lessons…and fun. (At times, the book felt a bit like a kiddy primer for New Age lifestyle, but maybe that’s just me.)

At times, the fantasy genre has a way of breeding clichés like no other genre, and Turner skillfully uses them to her advantage. After all, how many times can one read about fairies and the like without feeling trod upon by unicorn hooves? The author takes familiar children’s fantasy concepts and overused characters head on, leveraging the common annoyance for them and all the while poking fun. Turner uses this technique wisely (and sparingly) and just when you’re thinking, I feel another cliché coming on, the author gently ribs her own character and effectively disarms the cliché. Regarding Balkazaar, the evil sorcerer, Wanda remarks, “This time his smile was more akin to evil overlord in most movies. You know, the bad guy thinks he can always win type. He went back to twisting his mustache.” How honest! How can you have a story with a spunky, precocious (of course!) tweener battling the most grievous evil in the entire known universe, and not have some fun?

The Lost Secret of the Green Man is available from Amazon. Check out the author’s website.

Reviewed by David Stucki, April 2010

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Book Review (Part 2): Time to Write

Author: Kelly L. Stone

Adams Media, 2008

245 pages / Non-fiction

In my last review of this book, I summed up the first chapter of Kelly L. Stone’s book, Time to Write. Here’s the next chapter summary:

 Chapter Two: The Burning Desire to Write

Stone shows that successful writers have another common trait—besides Writing No Matter What. They all seem to have a Burning Desire to Write. Writers have to write. She’s right. If I don’t write, or plow through something in the creative process related to writing (i.e., thinking of new story ideas), I’m uneasy, sometimes depressed. Stone asks a great question: Do you like yourself better on the days that you write versus the days that you don’t? Yes. The fact is writers are meant to tell stories. That’s what we do. If we don’t do, we’re through.

Writers are also readers. We read because we love the written word, whether fiction or non-fiction. Writers are also creative high achievers. What is that? The author defines them this way: They, 1) seek out solitude to develop creativity, 2) have vivid imaginations, 3) are go-getters and take risks, 4) don’t follow the crowd, and, 5) set challenging goals.

Successful writers also believe they can write. I love these quotes from the book:

  • “I had to let go of the debilitating belief that mere mortals cannot write a book. Once I realized that, nothing could stop me, because I believe in my deepest heart that I was put on this earth to tell my stories and entertain readers” – bestselling author, Roxanne St. Claire.
  • “…I doubted I could write a novel because I’d never be Tolstoy. It finally dawned on me that the world already had a Tolstoy, and it didn’t need another one. Which is when I decided to tell my stories my way” – bestselling author, JoAnn Ross.

Reviewed by Electric Eclectic (David Stucki)

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Book Review: Time to Write

Author: Kelly L. Stone

Adams Media, 2008

245 pages / Non-fiction

As a writer, I often feel tinges of guilt when I’m reading instead of writing. (I like creating more than consuming.) This is especially evident when I’m reading books about writing. I should be writing, I scold myself. Yet, when embarking on any writing journey, for writers, reading is fuel—particularly books that help writers become better writers. For me, Kelly L. Stone’s Time to Write has been that fuel.

Reading this book about writing helps to destroy common myths that most writers believe to their detriment. The biggest myth Stone points out is the secret to becoming a successful writer is that there is no secret to writing.

One great benefit of this book is reading the interviews with 104 successful writers. You hear their experiences, their successes, their failures and their techniques for success. You find that the common denominator among all these writers is they write. The book cover makes it clear: “No excuses. No distractions. No more blank pages.”

Since I’ve already established that I love this book, I’m approaching this review from a different angle: Briefly summarize and highlight key elements of a chapter each week (or whenever I get around to it). There’s such great, inspirational material here for writers, I can’t help but share it. If you think I’ll leave little of the book’s secrets for you, don’t worry, there are plenty surprises I won’t have time to share. Besides, there are no secrets. Remember?

Chapter One: No Matter How Busy You Are, You Can Find Time to Write

The chapter’s title sums it up well. Successful writers write. Period. No secrets to success. No special connections with agents, publishers or other writers. They write even when they think they don’t have time. Most of the 100+ writers interviewed for the book did not write full time—they had jobs like you and me—before they became successful. Not a single writer interviewed got a “lucky break.” Write. Write. Write.   

Reviewed by Electric Eclectic (David Stucki)

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Book Review: Born to Return the Gift

Author:  Catherine E. Johnson

Onyz Productions, 2009

356 pages/ Fiction

3-1/2 out of 5 stars

When I read the first page of Born to Return the Gift, which includes both a sincere acknowledgement to God with a list of twenty scripture references and a “Respectful Warning,” I knew I was in for an interesting literary outing. The warning goes on to state, “This novel deals with adult issues. Explicit sexual content and profane language keep it real.” Ah, yeah, no kidding. While not full of sexual content, the book has some sections that rival Penthouse Forum material. That alone isn’t odd, but the intermingling of those two very divergent topics—explicit sex and God—you don’t often find in the “Religion” section of the bookstore. I loved the honesty and visceral nature of the book.  Keep it real, indeed.

The book chronicles the adult life of hard-luck, fictional Nyima Chante Robbins, an African American woman in her fifties living a series of failed attempts to secure a somewhat normal lifestyle in a world of dysfunction—including her own. She journeys to California where she hopes to find normalcy in the areas of life many of us take for granted: keeping and securing long-lasting and meaningful employment, long-lasting and meaningful friendships, and long-lasting and meaningful love relationships. Her failure rate for these three areas of her life is heartbreaking, but the story of her quest is usually very engaging and interesting. As the reader watching her struggles, you see where Nyima goes wrong time after time, and the temptation is to confront the dysfunction and shout, “Stop!” However, that temptation lessens when you know to do so would unfairly judge Nyima—and anyone else in that situation. Moreover, isn’t that part of the problem? People like Nyima are judged as failures or losers by those unfamiliar with her world.

The author, Catherine E. Johnson, tells Nyima’s story through a number of flashbacks during the last two weeks of her failed experiment of living in California looking for a new life. Unfortunately, the author waits toward the end of the book to divulge the character’s early life, as well as Nyima’s bizarre spiritual experience of being trapped in a hell-like world. (What was that? Was it hell?) Disappointingly, the author does little to explain the experience fully. I would have loved to see the book intersperse these more interesting elements throughout the story to create better pacing and increase interest in the plot. Waiting for the last 45 pages of a 345-page book to reveal so much is so unfair to the reader.

There are too many basic grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, and word choice errors in the book to mention here, and they often distract from the content. Sadly, this number of errors only helps to solidify that this is a self-published book—those regrettable errors that create the reputation that the self-publishing world is still in need of polish, finesse and the experienced eye of an editor.  It’s a shame that this kind of final product sidetracks us from the skills and creativity of an author.    

Overall, it’s a promising, inspiring and uplifting book by a very promising author. Johnson has potential to be a gifted writer but needs to work on a few basic things—namely, finding a decent editor— before we can take her seriously as a published author.

Reviewed by David Stucki (Electric Eclectic)

Born to Return the Gift is available on amazon . You can check out the author’s website here.

You may also read this and other book reviews on Mark McGinty’s blog, The Boogle.

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Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

Author: Ray Bradbury

Bantam Nonfiction, 1992

158 pages / nonfiction

This might not be your typical book review because I’m going to slide past all the formalities and say, I LOVE THIS BOOK. There. I feel better. While I understand that Ray Bradbury will most likely far surpass any writing skills I ever hope to possess, he has given me hope plucked from his mind, the queer mind of a fellow writer, artist, time traveler, seeker of truth.

How’s this little polished gem? “The children guessed, if they didn’t whisper it, that all science fiction [all fiction?] is an attempt to solve problems by pretending to look the other way.” He goes on to say, “Indirection is everything. Metaphor is medicine.” Okay, maybe you need a little more context for those quotes, but isn’t he saying that parables heal, poetry digs deep, and story feeds when everything else starves and fails to find the answers? Writers, isn’t this why we write? And if we write for any other reason, can we sustain the effort? 

I haven’t finished the book. I’m borrowing this book from a friend, but for as low as $1.14 at Amazon, I might have to buy, keep and frame. Before that, there will be more blogging to be done about my borrowed and yellowed, dog-eared 1992 edition!

Electric Ecletic

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Book Review: The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal


Sean Dixon

4 out of 5 stars

Other Press, 2009

304 pages, Fiction

The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal by Canadian author Sean Dixon is often a fun, irreverent, quirky, and wonderful stream-of-consciousness novel that lends itself to readers who like to invest themselves deeply into a story full of amusing—and often annoying—characters and their unusual, high-concept exploits. Other times, it holds on and won’t let go—even if you’d like it to.

Dixon’s novel, in the simplest terms—if that is at all possible!—is the story of a group of women (and a few men) who belong to the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Women’s Book Club. Their book club is no ordinary book club in that they choose to re-enact the books they read. Narrated in third person by two former members of the book club, we join the club as they begin, somewhat reluctantly, to read and live out the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest known pieces of literature in history. Yet one of their members, Runner Coghill, convinces the club to work from ancient clay tablets rather than a modern translation. This creates interesting challenges for the group as they question the authenticity of Runner’s interpretation of the text and the ultimate purpose of the club’s existence. The club begins to fall apart for various reasons, including the death of a very influential member, but the Epic re-enactment continues with strange results.

Dixon does a nice job of creating and displaying his characters for the reader: all hopelessly flawed but not beyond repair—definitely human, quirky and, yet sadly, not very sympathetic or likeable most of the time. In some ways, it felt that a few of the characters seemed so similar they were difficult to keep straight at times. That could be the reason Dixon introduced his characters at the beginning of the book with their names in boldface type as a way to quickly reference each character later (“…the reader can flip back and refer to them from time to time”).

Often I find myself melancholy as books end because I’ve just begun to find the characters engrossing and engaging (i.e., I develop a love for them?), but I can’t say that about Dixon’s characters or story. That’s not necessarily wrong. Dixon may have desired to leave you feeling that way. If so, he succeeded.

While Dixon paints his characters with various colors, they all seemed to have oddly the same…sameness. Like picking out colors for your master bedroom from Disney paint samples: no matter how many colors there are to choose from, it all comes down to pink, and that’s just wrong, isn’t it? Unfortunately, my favorite character died halfway through the book and left me with sympathizing with the robot (Yes, a robot. Didn’t I mention the robot?).

Overall, the book is an expressive bit of narrative, but there were many times I couldn’t help but say, “Can this book please end now,” only to be confronted with a remaining 200, 100, or 50 pages left to read. At times, Dixon swept me along with his tale but other times it would drag along waiting for the action or even the dialog to get more interesting.

Dixon is an incredibly talented writer whose imagination takes the reader to places few authors can or wish to travel. My mistake was to judge the book too early on and this only serves to hinder the reader of this “damaged masterpiece” to borrow the author’s own words.

Read it, but it may be an acquired taste.

Reviewed by David Stucki (Electric Eclectic)

The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal is available on amazon . You can check out the author’s blog here.

You may also read this and other book reviews on Mark McGinty’s blog, The Boogle.

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Book Review – Lord of the Rams

Here’s an example of the occasional book review I promised. I reviewed the book in December. My friend Mark McGinty posted it on his book review blog – The Boogle.

If you love boyish anecdotes of widespread vomiting, fart jokes, cow “shite” and other forms of “shite,” brutal fights, infantile wrestling, arbitrary vandalism, heavy drinking, and all manner of theft and dishonesty—all experienced by the author and his real-life cronies—then you’ll love this sophomoric chronicle from Ronan Smith.

Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told invites us to “join one man for the adventure of his life…growing up in rural 1980s Ireland.” It “provides an insightful account of life in Ireland over a 25-year period, which many—regardless of nationality—will be able to identify with.” I found myself often drawn to the raw energy, passion, and living-life-to–the-fullest attitude of the author (a.k.a. “The Rams”) and his friends, but, along with the relatively innocent juvenile adventures, Smith adds layer after layer of “shite” such as alcohol abuse, fraud and common thievery. While certainly human, the book’s protagonists don’t give anything promising to the reader hoping for greater depth of character and humanity.

I may be a bit hard on Smith, however. Perhaps I’m writing from the point of view of the emasculated American male who—along with his fellow American males—has lost touch with his once wild and undomesticated self. Okay, so before I get all Robert Bly in your face, maybe Smith wasn’t trying to accomplish anything of significance except a simple look into his early and very wild life. After all, boys will be boys. Maybe he simply needed to express the experience of being a young male. Perhaps, but do we need 222 pages of boys doing what boys will do?

Although the immature subject matter becomes tedious—especially after page 60 or so—Smith weaves a tale that is quite engaging at times. My guess is that if Smith were to take up the profession of technical writer, he could easily create page-turners for even the most mundane topics. I would love to see a revised edition of this book with new chapters interspersed describing childhood disappointments, joys and loves.

The success of this book ultimately depends upon a very narrow intended audience. If you’re a college-aged young man, this book will fulfill your Fast Times at Ridgemont High juvenile longings, desires and addictions. Being that the second half of book is nothing but a perpetual frat party, I can’t imagine, ladies, how this book would be of interest to you with the childish behaviors and actions of the author and his friends.

While Smith’s story is often funny and entertaining, where is the meaning, significance, importance or even redemption? Why don’t we discover more of what makes Rams tick besides having fun and causing trouble? Where was the balance? I would have loved to discover more about his family relationships, but we learn of only the most inane, base motivations of Rams, his likes and dislikes, and nothing about his emotional and spiritual state beyond his crazy antics. Maybe that wasn’t Smith’s intension. But why should I be interested?” It’s the “so what” factor. (How much do we really need to know about college-aged boys and their fart contests?) Like the author’s own words about his life, I hoped for the “cessation of the infantile messing” that had become the book.

Smith talked only briefly about his life successes and failures in academia, his relationships with women, and his family life., I would love to know more about Irish culture beyond his family watching professional wrestling together. In Chapter 25, Smith gives us a rare glimpse into his heart for his family and treats us to his experience fishing with his dad, giving the book a much-needed diversion, but it‘s disappointingly short-lived. At some point, the juvenile escapades lose their edge making the reader the true victim and recipient of his childish behavior.

While his memoir is self-centered and self-absorbed, I give him credit for the courage to express himself so openly and honestly. Where Smith succeeds is when he writes about the person most of us want to be–or are; the dual personalities within us vying for control of the “true self”—the one shy and well mannered, the other fun loving and free spirited. Who wouldn’t want friends with names like Rams, Stano, Finger Jo, Boo Boo, Goosey, Slug, Spade, Jockey, or Tritchy?

Remarkably—and here’s where I do agree with the book’s promo—I found myself identifying with some of the same childhood and young adult experiences Smith had, such as our love of English and writing, and our struggles with the sciences (mine Chemistry, his Biology). I delighted in the reminders of all the crazy stuff we jumped into as youngsters in suburban Michigan, and Smith’s experience in Chapter 6 of “The Gauntlet” was nearly identical to my high school experience. That’s my story, not Smith’s!

Overall, Lord of the Rams is a smart-assed, quirky, approachable, deranged and tight autobiography, full of ill-advised antics. Smith succeeds with what he intended: a harmless (to the reader, at least), entertaining romp of his first 25 years. Ultimately, Smith’s strength is his writing. Free of cliché, his writing effectively brings us into the journey of his early years. With short, approachable chapters, Smith’s story keeps the pages turning–. Yet, I went back and forth with this book. At times, couldn’t wait to read what was on the next page, other times I just wanted it to end.

Interestingly, the last page of the book ends on a strangely philosophical note. Perhaps as catharsis for his 200+ page promotional rant on the joys of ill behavior. Although difficult to decipher from only one page, in a sad way, Smith ends his memoir with a rather repentant and guilty tone. Maybe he felt the way I did and asked the same question I asked of the book: After all that, is that all there is?

Strengths: Strong writing, inventive, imaginative, witty, fun and funny (at times), wonderfully descriptive

Opportunities: Laced with crude and empty humor, lacking emotional depth

Reviewed by David Stucki (Electric Eclectic)

Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told is available directly from the author (which really helps the author) and amazon (which really helps amazon), and a lot of other places…

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