Book Reviews

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Book: The Ledger
Author: Lloyd Holm
Reviewed By: Donna Morrissey, Sparkin Arkie
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: Novel

Lloyd Holm is an OB/GYN and author whose latest work, The Ledger, deals with love and friendship that endures through the absolute worst of times, World War I and World War II. We are introduced immediately to Andre Ferrand, our host and WWI veteran, who recounts for his granddaughter and her fiancée the history of her family, German and French-Jew, and the trials that her parents and grandparents went through to keep each other safe during Hitler’s devastating regime.

The friendship begins when two enemy soldiers meet on Christmas Eve during the famous Christmas Truce of WWI. On the battlefield, as they bury their dead, Konrad Krüger and Andre Ferrand vow to remain close friends after the war, and to do everything within their power to ensure their countries never enter into another such conflict. The two men fulfill their pledge of friendship, writing faithfully to each other over a span of several years. But, of course, they are unable to stop the tumultuous chain of events that push their countries into the next world war.

It is during WWII, that Konrad’s son, Hans, now a decorated officer in the German army, is finally able to meet his father’s dearest friend. And, while feelings grow between Hans and Andre’s daughter, Aimee, Andre’s wife is not so smitten. Having been adopted as an infant, Andre’s wife keeps the secret of her Jewish heritage well-guarded. And, she’s not willing to gamble her life or the life of her family on Hans’ rejection of the SS attitude toward Jews. Not until Hans risks his own life to save Aimee and her family from arrest and deportation, does Andre’s wife begin to trust and accept the undeniable bond of love between her daughter and the son of her husband’s closest friend.

With his story-telling skills and his command of dialogue, Holm keeps the plot moving along nicely at a slow and methodical pace. Using correspondence to tell the stories of Konrad and Andre is an effective way to connect the reader to the main characters. His method lends credibility and intimacy to the story, and allows him to develop characters who are well-rounded, multi-dimensional, and believable. In the end, I found myself rooting for Hans and hoping that Aimee’s mother would soften in her feelings toward him.

Like everyone else, my time is precious to me. But, I have to say that I don’t begrudge one minute of the time I gave this book. I enjoyed Holm’s story, and I thought it provided a unique glimpse into the lives of these families who were pushed into the madness of WWII against their will. I was almost sad when I turned the last page, feeling as though I had to leave new friends. This is the feeling I look for whenever I finish a book.

Rating: It gives me great pleasure to present Holm’s The Ledger with a rating of Arkenstar, 5.0 on the numerical scale, and the highest Sparkin Arkie rating I can bestow. I highly recommend The Ledger to anyone looking for an easy, worthwhile read that is both intelligent and entertaining.

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Book: Broken Glass
Author: Rob D. Young
Reviewed By: Donna Morrissey, Sparkin Arkie
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: Short Novel

About the Author

Rob is a search engine, SEO, and net technology enthusiast. His work as a webmaster (since 2002), in the web development industry (since 2005), as an SEO specialist (since 2008), and as a dedicated writer in the internet technologies field (since 2009) have given him a rounded perspective on the workings of the web.

Rob hard-codes in notepad, his favorite TV show is Firefly, and he loves writing fiction.

[From Search Engine Watch]

Description

What makes someone commit murder for apparently no particular reason? Broken Glass attempts to reveal the history and the logic of a man who decides to kill his best friend under just these circumstances, no particular reason. A peek into the past of this murderer reveals many secrets, and portrays a very thoughtful young man who wrestles with age-old questions that have been asked by many philosophers over the years: Why are we here? Is any of this really ‘real’ anyway?

Reviewer’s Comments

I finished this book several days ago, and, I have to confess, have been dragging my feet on writing this review. Perhaps it’s my upbringing, as I was always taught that if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all. Or, maybe it’s just my Southern heritage of politeness and good manners that made this review difficult. Whatever the reason, I had to take a few days to think this through and find some good in this book.

Let’s see… something good. As the dust settles, I can truthfully say that I like the fact that the killer’s name is Socrates, even though it’s a bit too obvious. I also like that his parents took so long to decide on his name. I actually know people who put off naming their child for a week after their baby was born because they could not agree on what to call him. So, to me, this speaks volumes about Socrates’ parents without my even having to read much more detail about them.

Also, I had always wondered why people cut on themselves. I mean, sure, I know the medical explanations. But, seriously, what goes through someone’s mind when they are doing this? The book did offer a little insight for me on this confusing subject. Although, I was a bit surprised that as a cutter, he was able to look around and identify other cutters so nonchalantly (part of that intricate human connection, I guess). But, it’s like saying one vegetarian can identify another vegetarian at a shopping mall.

Glimpsing the killer in high school, during his pre–intellectual days, I had to wonder if there were any normal people in this guy’s life. Was there even one teacher or one objective influence around this man who may not have spent the majority of his or her time pondering the complexities of life? Did this guy ever struggle with decisions that weren’t primarily related to the mysteries of the universe? Every day I face a thousand smaller, less weighty decisions, such as do I want chocolate or peanut butter? Do I want to wear jeans or sweat pants? And, not once yesterday did I wonder if I was real or not.

Getting past the meandering philosophical ideologies, I also struggled understanding much of the story itself. For instance, what did Jake do to that girl that was so horrible he felt he had to spend the rest of his life making amends through unbridled philanthropy? Or, who was the guy that pulled the gun to shoot Jake in the first place? As I reflect, I’m also not clear on how Socrates got the invitation to Jennifer’s wedding, or whether he actually spoke with Jennifer’s husband or not while he was there. And, for that matter, I’m not sure of Jennifer’s reasoning for wanting Socrates at her wedding, if, in fact, she was the one who invited him.

And, here we are. Once the evil deed was done and Jake was dead, after I had hung on throughout the entire book, I am still baffled by the ending. He’s sorry? He’s not sorry? He’s looking for another philanthropist to latch onto? I don’t know the answer to these questions, and I’m not sure I’m meant to. But, I must have some sense of closure or I’m left feeling cheated once again.

Understanding that people read for many different reasons, I personally pick up books for my own enjoyment. Unfortunately, reading Broken Glass did not bring me much of that. In fact, it felt more like work. Hard work. And, while Broken Glass did not appeal to me, it may appeal to readers who want to spend a few dark, dry, introspective hours curled up with a good bottle of painkillers and a copy of Aristotle’s greatest hits.

Ranking

I give Broken Glass a rank of 2 on the Sparkin Arkie scale, and I am probably being generous.

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Book Underground Nest
Author: Kathleen Maher
Reviewed By: Donna Morrissey, Sparkin Arkie
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 23160 Words/Novella

About the Author

Kathleen Maher’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals including Ascent, Black Warrior Review, Confrontation, Cottonwood, Descant (TCU), Gargoyle, Passages North, and The View From Here. Her work has reached short-list status in numerous contests, including The William Faulkner Society Novel Competition, Iowa School of Letters Award, and Drue Heinz Literature Prize. While raising two children, she began writing longer-form stories and experimenting with online serialized fiction. The original draft of Underground Nest appeared in serial form on her website Diary of a Heretic (www.diaryofaheretic.com).

Description

Zach Severins is only concerned about two things in life, Zach Severins and what other people think about Zach Severins. His entire life is a series of milestones, each leading to his ultimate goal of wealth and success. From the outside, Zach’s life appears to be a pristine reflection of the Scout Code of Conduct. On the inside, it’s anything but that.

The only thing that outweighs Zach’s conceit is his narcissism. An elite snob and avid philanderer, Zach finally meets his female equivalent in Vida Korbett. There’s something about Vida, who is every bit as cool and calculating as he is, that causes Zach’s confidence to waver. Still, unable, or unwilling, to resist her, they end up having a long-term affair until, finally, he is no longer able to bear his own hypocrisy. When Zach’s attack of conscious prompts him to confess his misdeeds to his trophy wife, Beth, his world begins to crumble.

With a divorce now pending, and his dirty laundry hung out for all the masses to see, he loses everything. His wife files for divorce and his children abandon any respect they may have had left for him. His former friends want nothing to do with him, and he now realizes that their friendship was as fake as he was. Stripped of his tenure and his pride, he crawls back to Vida, who is pregnant with his twins. But, even she rejects the new, vulnerable Zach, now that he’s lost the power and prestige that she once found so attractive.

With his dreams totally obliterated and his whole life crashing down around him, he finally finds redemption, embracing humility and humanity. It takes losing everything for Zach to see what is really important in life. But, not everyone believes in second chances, and his epiphany may be too late.

Reviewer’s Comments

Underground Nest is a decent read. But, I have to confess, sparks did not fly for this Arkie. First, let me say that Kathleen Maher is an excellent writer. I knew this before I got through the first chapter. Unfortunately, I think the novella falls short in a couple of critical areas, namely character development and dialogue. Even Zach, who was the primary focus of the story, seemed a bit one-dimensional.

I couldn’t quite wrap my arms around any of the women in Zach’s life. His wife, Beth, was a total mystery to me, as I rarely knew what she was really thinking or why. And, I never fully understood what Vida wanted, or why she was even with Zach in the first place. The children were also hard to figure out. I get that the daughter was somewhat rebellious, but was never given a clue as to why. It could have been due to neglect by her obviously apathetic father, who was more concerned with his son’s Scouting accomplishments than with his daughter’s poor grades. Or, perhaps she just inherited a rebellious streak from her mother (which I kept hoping to see, but never really did).

Similarly, if I put myself in the place of Beth, the unfortunate wife, I couldn’t imagine things actually playing out the way they did in the final marital showdown. I am in the moment, watching as a contrite husband confesses to his beloved wife that he is scum, and that their entire marriage has been a lie, when suddenly he socks her in the jaw…literally. Just when I think he’s turned the corner, I’m shown that he hasn’t. I didn’t even see any true remorse for it that surely a changed man would have felt. And, believe me, I know a woman scorned. I doubt that she would have been so quick in this scenario to protect him.

As for romance, I like hate-sex as much as the next person. But, I can’t see the animal-attraction taking them over the way it did one second, and then Beth flipping him off the next, before she even had her pants zipped up. I also couldn’t fancy him one step short of vomiting each time he ravaged her, given the deep-rooted love we are asked to believe he actually had for her.

Again, I know what I’m expected to believe is the reason for Rosalind’s turn of affection for her father. But, I don’t think the story related this very well. I didn’t have a profound “aha” moment that happened naturally through the course of the story. Same thing for the son’s assumed disdain toward his father, since we never really explored his thoughts or feelings of betrayal. Bottom line, I was unable, at most times during the story, to willingly suspend my disbelief and accept the characters for who they were intended to be or what feelings they were intended to portray.

Written in the third person, and given the obvious story-telling talents of the author, there was ample opportunity to flesh-out a bit more of the central characters’ thoughts and personalities. Ultimately, I felt a bit cheated in this respect. And, If I looked to the characters’ actions or words to clear up any confusion, I was also disappointed. I even tried reciting some of the dialogue aloud to see if it flowed better or sounded more like something someone would actually say. But, I couldn’t swallow a lot of it.

In the end, I think the story had some definite potential, and I certainly didn’t feel any dumber for having read it. Kathleen Maher’s writing skills and her command of the English language is admirable. I just wish she would have used these skills to focus more on character and story development. And, while I do believe that readers should be trusted to conclude any lessons or morals a story is intended to deliver, they must have something to work with. I don’t think I had enough to work with here. To remain engaged, I have to believe what I am reading (at least while I’m reading it). Forced or unrealistic dialogue has a tendency to break my flow, snapping me back to reality and breaking that state of disbelief that I’m temporarily willing to give (which should be the ultimate goal of any work of fiction).

Rating

All things considered, I give Underground Nest a Diet Mountain Dew, or a 3 if you’re not familiar with Arkie ratings. It was good, but I think it could have been much better.

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