Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review::The Good Soldier Svejk by Jarolsav Hasek

The Good Soldier SvejkThe Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav HaĊĦek

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek.

Translated by Cecil Parrott.

This book was recommended by a friend of mine who come from Russia and had previously read a translation in Russian, which I can only guess might be closer to the native language. The recommendation came in part because my family originates from the same country as the author.

The Hard book volume I have contains the full volume in 4 parts and 800 pages that ends incomplete because of the authors death. Even though incomplete the work still stands well as it is and doesn't disappoint. It may well have inspired me to go on and read Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt 1725-1798 which also is incomplete for a number of reasons, although it's much much much longer when you find the entire set.

When I searched it out I found this volume translated by Cecil Parrott it promised to have the entire volume as written by Jaroslav Hasek up to his untimely death. Cecil Parrott's credentials seem quite impressive and I felt that the closest translation I might get, that I could read, might well be this one.

I believe Parrott does well in that the best recollections I can obtain from my friend as I read through seem to be as narrowly close to what he remembers. The reason for the need for a clear translation is that this is a darkly satirical work that pokes fun not so much at the first world war as it does at the political structure that brought it about and then goes on to poke at the intelligence structure of the military that seems at most times to bumble through the entire mess at the expense of the foot soldiers who seem to be considered of less value and worth to them than their counterparts in the enemies advancing columns.

Even so Cecil Parrott himself admits there are some parts that are difficult at best to translate that may often take the bite out of the humor. Much of this seems to be in the translation of many of the couched insults that are passed between the various languages that are showcased from the ethnic backgrounds of the surrounding theater of war. These are things that may not even travel that well between the original and the Russian translation and require extensive discussion to begin to get the feel of them.

What does translate through though is the irreverence for the church and clergy and perhaps this stands well as one of those works that best describes the disparity between piety in like religions on both side of a war. Religions that seem to collude in treating foot-soldiers as though they are the worst of heathens leading to the ridiculousness of trying to reconcile how they can believe they will win the war with gods help while employing heathens. Their reasoning only becomes clear as I understand that it's because the the true heathens are the ones giving the troops gods blessing.

There have been comparisons of this work to Joseph Heller's Catch 22 that I might differ with. I will admit that there seems to be some credibility to the claim that Joseph Heller was inspired by this book. Where The Good Soldier Svejk might be a dark satire of the first world war it does not seem to endeavor to shock as much as Heller's Catch 22. And I did not feel as close a touch with the culture and world of world war 2 in Catch 22 as I felt viewing the landscape of world war 1 in The Good Soldier Svejk.

I felt the satire of Catch 22 was more in line with contemporaries such as the film Dr. Strangelove in its darkness but less absurd than Dr. Strangelove. The satire of The Good Soldier Svejk is a different animal that though dark it seems more lighthearted than Catch 22 and though in many cases it showcases the ridiculous it is not quite as absurd as Dr. Strangelove. I can attribute that in part to the nature of the character Svejk.

Svejk is a simple man who is somehow complex while being considered an imbecile by those around him. What is the most interesting in his character is that as he goes through life he seems to just float around with tides of events that shape his life as though he has few cares in the world. But, it's the stories that he feels so free about telling that make this man understandable to me. He is full of analogues and honestly some of them I didn't quite always catch the point or at least how that point was supposed to be highlighting the subject matter that brought it on. In his forward Cecil Parrott does admit that while translating the book he felt that the authors narrative often digressed and that might be attributed to his heavy drinking while writing. If there is merit to that I would suggest that there might be a number of the analogues that grew out of that as much as they came from necessity of Svejk to make a point.

The one troublesome thing to me was that for some reason I felt the analogues belonged to Svejk and unfortunately there are a few other characters who were allowed to go off on a tangent now and then.

Svejk's story begins when he is in a public establishment expressing his view that the assassination of Ferdinand was going to lead to war- this declaration along with other too free speech leads to his arrest. Along with several others who are similarly awaiting conviction for crimes against the monarchy.

Eventually, and even though he physically is unsound, he's inducted into the army. This takes a circuitous route through the medical community of the times, whose job seems to be to uncover every fraudulent illness in all the shirkers at whatever means possible including various forms of torture.

Svejk doesn't seem at most times to care where he ends up in the system and he seems more interested in consoling himself with his own analogies. For this he is considered an idiot and an imbecile. But, clearly all of the people around him seem to be comedic caricatures that might mirror some of the people that Hasek has run across in his own life. Their absurdness is drawn out to a point of the ridiculous to demonstrate how that contributes to the inefficiency of the command staff in charge of the army.

I found the first part and the last part the most interesting, which in a way contained the disappointment that the last part is incomplete. The middle two parts are mostly the long route taken to get to the front where the battle is. There is a lot of detail about the conditions of the country at that time and the accessibility of provisions for the troops and the problem of morale and morals within the ranks. Svejk a few times uses the phrase six of one half dozen of another, which prompted me to look up the etymology of the phrase and find it's possible it was an exact translation. The reason I mention this is because often in the story the people caught between the troops in the war may have thought of each sides presence in their province in that six of one half a dozen of the other way. Conditions were poor and often it seemed to be in part because of the incompetence of the military and though I only saw the military of one side it might be easy to translate this assessment over to the other side in this tale.

I enjoyed this book and much if not all of the humor made it through; even through my thick self. Anyone who enjoys historical novels and loves satires and can enjoy dark humor which to some may not seem like humor at all then this book will entertain. If the reader is like myself it will take a few days to a week or two to trudge through. There was a possibility that some of the flavor of the humor was seasoned by contact with the British humor of the translator so perhaps someone of that ilk might be able to steer through the murky water a bit more quickly. All in all I'd recommend this translation to all who are forced by necessity and perhaps their own laziness to read it in English. You won't be forced to read it as it does entertain.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review:: Timekeeper (Timepeice series) by Heather Albano

TimekeeperTimekeeper by Heather Albano

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Timekeeper (Timepiece series) by Heather Albano

I love a book that makes me work and this one did that.

Well not just this one, there's the stack of historical romance novels that all boast the name Trevelyan on them somewhere and then there's the previous series of Steampunk I've read with a Lady Trevelyan and now this with one with minor major characters of the same name. So of course being a neophyte of both Steampunk and Historical Romance and possibly even History itself, I needed to explore to find out about the obsession here.

Were talking Victorian era and that's usually most likely associated some how or another with the UK and others of the EU. There really is a family of that name that seems to have quite a colorful history with the UK and some show up nicely in this time frame. I would hope or imagine this is more in reference to G. M. Trevelyan who was a noted historian after whom was named a college. As an aside to that I noted that Trevelyan College of Durham University ( named after the historian G. M. Trevelyan) presently boasts a professor Trevelyan of mechanics in the school of engineering and that Cardiff University boasts a Dr. who obtained his PhD under the supervision of same said Trevelyan. So there may even be relevance today for the engineering skills of this Trevelyan character.

That said I loved this story as much as the previous but felt in a way that as far as the real plot of this one it was encapsulated within only a small portion of this book and probably could have been inserted into the end of the previous novel. That's just an observation and not a judgement. Surely had it been condensed into the part that seemed appropriate to the plot if we were to continue from the plot of the previous book then we would have missed out on the gem that showcases the authors skills in writing. Since I really enjoyed the story and a prevailing theme is about people making informed choices I can't possibly complain since this sets these people up for an informed choice.

We have here, largely, the story of Gavin Trevelyan and Brenda Evens; Katerina Rasmirovna and Frederick Kent. All of these we have met or heard mention of previously in another reality. This is mostly the story of what they must decide to sacrifice or not in order that our time travelers, Maxwell, William and Elizabeth can move on and attempt to muddle up history again. I can't say that I'm totally happy that it seemed they were almost forced (by events) into the decision in the long run, but at the very least it thrusts our characters back into the main plot-line, which is the important part.

I could almost envision William and Elizabeth as two authors who are writing and rewriting the story of these people. They should try to realize that the more they rewrite the less they may want to actually get to know these people, especially since introductions seem to include having at some time to reveal that they could inadvertently be the architects of these peoples lives. I suppose Maxwell had escaped that by trying in most cases to not reveal too much of who he was.

There is one more time traveler in this one; but you will simply have to read it to find out who it is.

This book brings us to a satisfactory conclusion while leaving the door open for more novels in this set. I can honestly say by the time it finished I almost felt I had spent more time at Waterloo than Napoleon and Wellington. Thankfully Heather keeps every visit there visually entertaining and somewhat modified: each time.

If you've read the previous book you will enjoy this one as much. If not you should: it should interest anyone interested in alternate history and SFF and SteamPunk ; although this one seems more Victorian Romance than Steampunk. In that respect it did lose a bit of... Steam.

I might slowly be coming to be a fan of Steampunk and even some limited-ly so of Victorian Romance. I'm definitely becoming a fan of Heather Albano.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review:: Timepiece by Heather Albano

TimepieceTimepiece by Heather Albano

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Timepiece by Heather Albano

As I've protested before, Steampunk is not my genre. Nor am I a fan of history although I'm not entirely bereft of some grasp of historical events. So, when the book begins at Waterloo in the midst of battle I'm pretty sure I have a grasp of where we are and what the outcome should be. Although I must admit that as I often do before giving a review I paused at some point to recite aloud to Virginia a few items I enjoyed about the book with a brief synopsis of the book itself. So when I started to mention Waterloo and came stuck upon the name of the British duke, Virginia was quick to fill in the blanks with a confident: Wellington. You see it pays to be a reader of romance novels now doesn't it. Virginia's genre is Romance.

I thus felt it fell upon me to check what I could. You see the book hinges entirely on being in a world where there are monsters much like Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. These monstrosities were created, by the British, prior to this battle and are now being held in reserve. The biggest puzzle would seem to be the why, to Wellington using them. Was there a change in the original battle that made matters worse for Wellington's troops or are we to believe that Wellington's confidence in his green troops is so low that the change mostly comes from having such a thing in reserve as these monsters as enough to tempt Wellington. It's a difficult puzzle even so because it would seem that Wellington is not happy about his own decision which leads on into history by placing his name upon the whole thing by calling these creatures Wellingtons monsters. Giving them the glory for the victory and taking it away from his troops.

If I see things correctly this leads to the Steampunk nature of the story revolving around the events that follow this great battle.

But we don't get there directly since the main characters are still within this same time sphere which is what makes this primarily a time travel novel over Steampunk. Elizabeth Barton is anything but a prim an proper young lady. Perhaps she'd be best described as a tomboy despite the efforts of her parents and her aunt. Let me say her aunt is singularly cruel above and beyond the call of duty as regards molding Elizabeth into a fine young marriageable woman. At the age of seventeen Elizabeth is hardly ready to settle down with any suitor. She receives on this day in the mail a strange watch that not only has multiple dials but also a strange movable picture. (Definitely something not of this time.)

Next is William Carrington, a former military man who was wounded seriously and has lost the function of one arm. Rather despondent that he is unable to accompany his brother in law back into battle, when Napoleon escapes from prison to begin his 100 day reign. Now unable to join the battle and feeling quite crippled and maimed he has serious doubts of his ability to make a show as a husband in his present condition. It is while getting away from everything that reminds him of his inadequacy that he takes a stroll that leads him to the same place that Elizabeth has gone to escape the mechanization's of her family in trying to match her with anything of flesh and blood and breeding that will tolerate her.

She has also gone to examine her watch more closely.

William finds her with the watch and confronts her about it. When he opens it to look at it he's mesmerized equally as much as she has been, but because he has some familiarity outside of the cloistered community that oppresses Elizabeth he has a better chance of recognizing that this is something that does not come from anywhere near or far from here. Because of the strange features within the watch there are a number of dials moved and an accidental pushing in of the stem. They both sense that something has happened. When Elizabeth takes possession of the watch and begins to fiddle with the stem William starts to caution her. Too late she presses the stem and they are thrust into immediate darkness.

And the adventure begins.

They first meet Max-an apparent fellow time traveler who will be able to fill in some gaps and give us the laws of time travel for these stories. Max helps them to find a place to lie low in this world where they are out past curfew and in danger of running afoul of the mechanical monstrosities that were created to put down the Frankenstein like monsters who rebelled against their creators. Those in charge of the mechanical wonders took the advantage after saving everyone and now have control of the empire.

The notion is that the creation of the monsters put emphasis on their saving the day in the battle at Waterloo and ensuring that the confidence level of the British foot soldier is lowered enough to change all of their history to a complete reliance upon the monsters to do battle for them. Thus the changes in history that lead to this society of steam and metal are all tightly bound with the first anachronistic event in history.

One major law of time travel seems to be that the time traveler is only allowed one attempt to change specific events in specific times and the traveler gets blocked out from those timelines once his presence in that timeline has occurred. (Explained here as not being able to be in the same place at the same time.) We get the sense that Max has already tried several things to zero in on the event that most strikingly determined the outcome, which is, to his unknown timeline, apparently history. Max mentions that his parents were time travelers and he sort of inherited the whole business from them. He possess a watch similar to the one Elizabeth has.

This is really a fascinating time travel story. We see mostly that the time travelers are quick to learn that even the most dramatic changes in some of the important or even less important events are not enough to stem the tide of time and history. Now with the three of them working on it perhaps they will have an impact, but will they be able to reconcile the consequences of the outcome of meddling.

This is a great book for history fans who aren't too particular about maintaining accuracy or overthinking the fact that there were so many things happening those days at Waterloo that it's difficult to say what would have occurred had any part gone differently. This novel has good solid world building for a Time Travel and Steampunk novel so there is lots here for the Sci-Fi and SFF group to love.

This is also a love story that's building slow but believable with the relationship between Elizabeth and William and there's a bit of mystery about Max's over concern at getting those two back to their time line and I think it has something to do with that locket around his neck which Max guards possessively.

A fun and fascinating romp through time and altered history.

Although I don't need to say it; I will be reading the next novel soon.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review:: Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

Lady of Devices (Magnificent Devices, #1)Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lady of Devices (Magnificent Devices) By Shelley Adina

I purchased this and it's been in my kindle for a while and I'm not sure when I really planned to read it. I don't read a lot of steampunk so I won't claim expertise in that field. I do follow Genius Girl and I've read a handful of books touted as steampunk. This book seems to qualify neatly into that genre. Anyway, I just received my copy of The Good Soldier Svejk and His Fortunes in the World War by Jaroslav Hasek and I'm about 150 pages into the 800 page dark comedy and satire of world war I. I've decided I needed a break and pulled out the Kindle and I'm glad I did because this was just the thing I needed; as a break from the kind of novel that requires my full attention and meticulous careful reading.

I was almost afraid this was going to be a bit too light, but I was delightfully surprised by the engaging story and mostly the engaging and energetic main character Lady Claire Trevelyan (The lady of devices). Many of today's novels would like to jump in and grab the reader and thrust me into the story with the jarring end of a fish hook; an experience every good reader should thoroughly enjoy. This one does not so much. It does start with a bang- the explosion Lady Trevelyan causes when trying to obtain the answer to a question her tutor saw fit not to give. After that we become acquainted with the society she lives in which is the typical Victorian type with the flowing skirts, laced corsets and bustles. The prim and proper young ladies who know their station in society. And, the ever dominating men who are expected to drive society forward into the next era.

The perfect world, where Lady Trevelyan could only feel over protected, stifled, and ignored while she's trying to assert herself and further her education towards a career. The earliest part of the novel is her constant attempt to stop the flow of a powerful river of social behavior that flows by itself carrying those around her down a predictable path. For some I suppose this could be considered a rather boring and mundane story. For me; I found it difficult to stop reading as I was caught in a similar flow of words and description that somehow had me reading this to myself in a rather stiff stoggy voice that may or may not have matched the mood the author intended.

Getting carried away that way would mark for me that this author is a grand story teller and I was never once disappointed by the flow and pace of the story as I made my way from cover to cover. Like some I was a bit perplexed by the perpetual motion being wasted on a cleaning robot but I could hardly mark this as strikingly anachronistic to a storyline that is in effect out of a genre that's expected to be anachronistic in nature. What is important is that the author's world is setting up rules for the technology that is dominant and that she is sticking to those rules and being consistent. And, frankly, from the none steampunk expert point of view, I'm not at all sure that steampunk lends itself easily to being pure science- fiction. So I'm not a stickler about being that pure here.

As to the romance it's here with the recognition that there will be several more novels in which to watch it grow. I'll grant that it is a bit short on romance but I'd be lost to reading this had the Lady gone in the shortness of a few hundred pages into the arms of just any man since it seems to be a bit outside of her character.

I will be the first to complain about the seeming flagrant mercantile use of ebooks to sell bits and pieces of serial at any price and I've never been afraid to mention it. I don't feel that this qualifies as that type of abuse because it is a novel length and what has in the past annoyed me the most is those shorter than short story segments that sell for 99 cents that lead to many more sold at anywhere up to and beyond 2.99 each. This book is well written and developed and the ending is quite satisfying while leaving me with the desire to know more about this character and I might add quite happy because there is more.

After the unfortunate events that lead to the end of their family fortune and her fathers death Lady Trevelyan is almost squashed by the gears of society. If not for a series of unfortunate yet somewhat fortunate events that occur as the the story takes off, she would have been left in that boring life from pages gone by. We next jump into a sort of twist on the Oliver Twist story that takes our character from high society to the dregs of society from which she musters the force of her character and forges into a new life. I honestly can't praise this book enough in some respects.

I've purchased the 4 pack of this which amounts to over 800 pages so it looks like I'll have something to act as a companion to Jaroslav's work and both authors couldn't be in better company. (That's purely my own wistful opinion.)

I'm certain most steampunk fans will enjoy these novels. Possibly romance novel lovers will enjoy them and some of the usual Sci-Fi Fantasy crowd would not be disappointed. I would say keep writing them Shelley, but I'll wait until I've gotten through the lions share and it looks like there's a fifth novel anyway.

Thanks for the good-read.
Magnificent story telling-with a satisfying though somewhat incomplete end.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review:: The Warden Threat(Defying Fate) by D.L. Morrese

The Warden ThreatThe Warden Threat by D.L. Morrese

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Warden Threat(Defying Fate) by D.L. Morrese

I don't judge a book by its cover and rarely by the little blurb on the back or some times an inner page, which is thankfully a good thing because the cover of this book wasn't helpful for me, although it does somewhat serve to show elements from the story. It just that the dark figure in the background would have to be ten times or more larger to be accurate.

I really enjoyed this book for what it was, which is why I'm a bit disappointed that it really doesn't live up to what it's billed as since it's cover proclaims Book One of the Humorous Science Fiction Epic. First I have to admit that humor can be subjective and I might just be too thick for the humor in this book. But at the point that this book leaves us it can't be billed as well as science fiction as it can as being a fantasy. The science fiction part of this story is there- like some extra appendage that intersects because of a sort of six degree of separation from the main characters in the story. I'm sure as the series progresses that will improve, sadly my skewed sense of humor might not be able to help that other half of the bill.

Again this is not saying I didn't enjoy it, just that it wasn't what I expected. There are plenty of novels out there that deal with magic that ends up being a side effect of some technology that exceeds the imaginative scope of most of the fantasized characters. This one is not unusual in that respect. There are also equal numbers of books that have dystopic themes that blast mankind back into the dark ages into a fantasy world that remembers the magic of technology so this is also nothing extra ordinary or out the norm so to speak. Some of these have actually demonstrated some tongue and cheekiness to entertain.

What drives these types of stories is the characters and I think they do a good job though I had some issues with the consistency of a few characters. None of these were enough to overshadow the entire work. I believe the humor in the story is supposed to be satirical. And the very first chapter sets a pace that might come to rival some not so recent movies I have seen. That pace doesn't sustain itself well though and I'm not sure exactly why. We start with Prince Donald out among the common folk to get a feel for how the other half live. With him is his trusted adviser/guide Kwestor whom Donald has hired although at the beginning for some reason this wasn't quite that clear to me. Donald is a dreamer, Kwestor is his foil or perhaps the realist. I almost obtained an image of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza , although I was hard pressed to make that image stick. In the onset they run across Muce the notso (There's a whole thrill of waiting for the punchline to this that never quite gets there.) They meet through a comedy of errors which set a high bar that they never reach again. I often had this tickle that reminded me of some of Swifts writing, in particular Gulliver's Travels but perhaps without the proper era and history to point to I couldn't get the real feel.

The story revolves around the heads of the three characters most of the time but there are occasions when were reeled around into the head of some of the supporting cast and I think possibly these are some of the expected humorous parts. Perhaps its the long bits of tell that fall into this area that leave it a bit flat. One particular telling instance is when Muce is confronted by a fortuneteller who takes advantage of him. We can see what is happening easily from Muce's point of view, but for some reason we end up in the woman's head getting all of her 'intell' on the subject and perhaps that's what made the humor fall flat for me. It doesn't look like tell as much as some exposition but what happens is we get into a characters head and begin to get a description from their thoughts that helps us understand their motivation which perhaps tries to explain why we should see the humor. I've no problem with telling but those who are sensitive should realize that it's here even when disguised as something else. I've personally always thought, when telling a story there will be times you will have to, well, tell, which is why I don't downgrade stars for telling.

What's more important here is the development of the characters and the interaction between them. There is a whole bit that goes on about Muce and food that we really never have totally explained or told to us, one of those instances of showing. But the real nub of the problem falls flat because the other characters always cut him short at the beginning so we rarely get a true picture of what he's capable of doing that annoys them so much. I for one would mostly be getting hungry every time he started into some story about food.

The pace of the story is pretty steady and kept me going most of the way to the middle but something happened there where I fell out of the magic and I think it might be this:

Donald and company run afoul- well at least Donald does- of a messenger who is left unnamed until later where we learn she is Trixie. The messenger almost confronts the prince for his clumsiness but is dissuaded by companions whom Kwestor recognizes as being from the kings court. She's important to the story- I'm sure future volumes will tell us this. Yet she is mostly an appendage here who meets the mysterious storyteller, Grandpa Nash, who defies Trixie's attempts at categorizing his ethnicity. This will lead to the eventual reveal that shows us that this is truly a science fiction novel. Unfortunately this part never intersects with our heroes and remains yet a mystery that we might not have needed just yet ( Except to try to turn this into science fiction). As it is I found Trixie somewhat engaging and her story at this point was more interesting than our three travelers. So, I think I was more anxious to see more of her story than the rest of Donald and company.

This now becomes two stories; the story of Trixie and Grandpa Nash and the story of Donald, Kwestor and Muce.

The rest of the story for Donald and company seemed mostly predictable yet necessary to develop Donald and demonstrate that neither Kwestor or Muce seem to be as they seem to be. If one can excuse my use of passivity here. It all seems like a cautionary fable. It is quite interesting that Kwestor comes off as a sort of Jekyll Hyde or at least dual personality. One the acerbic skeptic who has no delight in life and is not afraid to inflict his mood upon the prince who seems too chipper most of the time. The other is almost a wise sophist thinker who can't seem to get the other personality to live life the way he sees things.Even though Kwestor's skeptic side seems the loser its more so for the sophist side that feels the the pain that he's found himself unable to convince his other half. Muse seems to be a dullard and brute at time but seems also to possess more than the average intellect when one can wade through his culinary inspired dialogue. He's always coming up with some gems I'm hoping will come up later but, not so far.

This is a great book for fantasy lovers and some sci-fi fans not so much for Science Fictionados- maybe the next book. I can't recommend it as a humorous volume where it seemed there were more serious tones than satirical ones. Perhaps the names of characters were supposed to help push the satire, I'm just not certain. If there is satire here its mired down in a thick morass of molasses and honey, which mired my senses. Maybe the discerning reader will trudge through it all better off than I.

It's a thoroughly entertaining book without the need to laugh myself silly and I'll be looking to the next volume with the hope that these two stories are truly going to meet.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review:: To Catch a Bad Guy by Marie Astor

To Catch a Bad Guy (Janet Maple, #1)To Catch a Bad Guy by Marie Astor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To Catch a Bad Guy by Marie Astor

So, I like to look at the reviews before I decide on a book. It really helps when there are more than a handful of bad reviews. I suppose there must be some thing odd about admitting that I took a closer look at this book because it had such bad reviews. But, really, I'm not sure I would have read the sample without that bit of discouragement. It didn't work out poorly either. I liked the bit that was there and I picked it up for my kindle. Besides the bad reviews were only 25% of the whole.

Usually I recall seeing people start out with, I picked this up because with all the good reviews I thought I'd have to love it. Then there's at least one more sentence to explain how horrible it was.

I usually don't pick up a book by its cover but this is what caught my eye. Who can't resist the terrier with the pencil in its mouth.

So, like everyone else I was disappointed by being misled. Oh, there is a dog, and it plays some small part but really I was hoping it was going to help solve the case. But, that's the other problem. Hmm, The case.

Okay, I must agree with some others this is not a romance and this is not a mystery. It's almost a white collar crime novel. There is just a hint of romance but it just doesn't quite take off. So, that would qualify, at best as a tease.

Let's get to what it is:

It is good writing with solid editing and consistent plot and characters. The characters have flaws, yes, don't we all. Maybe this could be considered satire if you consider the complaints about the characters being wrong for their perceived intellectual level. If I were to complain my one complaint would be that the portrayal of women in this book, professional women, seems a few years backwards yet. I'm wishfully hoping that the educated women are not so shallow as to be using that education just to land a good husband so they can kick up their heels. But, that's just one character. The other just seems to have this blind-spot toward, well a lot of things including the man who might really be interested in her.

Dennis Walker aka Dean Snider seems your regular guy who's been caught up into the white collar intrigue by his own accidental venture into the criminal end. He's fully aware of he possibility of being innocent while yet nearly being proven guilty and should have some sympathy for some of the people he has to set up.

This is where the major conflict for this story comes from and this white collar crime thing goes deeper than the surface area that this novel touches so it's almost understandable that it comes off as just a bit blase at the end. The reason that Janet has ended up in the situations she is in has something that remotely intersects with the matter at hand and her own expertise in the field is what brings her and Dennis together and create those teasing little sparks that I suspect will go on into the next novel.

So, while this is not a satisfying romance nor a deep convoluted mystery to thrill the reader it is an entertaining read about a couple of people trying to stay within the law and catch the ones who have stepped over the line while trying to clear their own names and reputations.

It's more than that though because this type of crime seems conducive to creation of characters that have stepped over the line who are otherwise likable and who you almost might feel sorry for.


This is a great read for anyone looking for light entertainment. The crime is mostly out there to see without a lot of deduction so it's mostly a matter of how are we going to sink our teeth into these guys kind of story. I look forward to reading more and hope the terrier has a bigger part next time. Hmm, maybe he's just the 'cover' story.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review::Sara Dwells & the Book of Answers by Paul Waters

Sara Dwells & the Book of Answers. by Paul Waters

I've only found a small number of reviews for this book and they sum it up while falling short of the mark by offering no explanation for the short expressions of praise they dish out.

I really enjoyed this book even though at times it frustrated and confused me, but I'm an easily frustrated and confused person. The book starts out rich with the depth of emotion in a story that could have been quite sustainable within itself. The author chose to take it into several divergent directions that mostly confused me because it quickly switched the genre at almost the turn of a few sentences. What follows that clearly reminded me of a weird blend of several of my favorite authors works.

This is why I need more explanation when someone claims its a book unlike any novel ever written.

And of course I've never been a fan of the short review with one extended sentence praising the book as a page turner and the author as a master without offering up the proof in the pudding, so to speak.

This book deserves more than that.

Mysteriously it also deserves more than what time Paul Water spent to publish it electronically-- unless of course the poor formatting was actually a style choice, and that's something I would surely hope was not the case. So as usual I will caution any reader who gets agitated by the serious malformation and destruction of the paragraph--this book will annoy you. There are entire sections that start new paragraphs in the middle of a sentence and a thought. Then there are other spots where it becomes difficult to separate paragraphs as they lose their indentation. This might be more easily avoided by reading through the Style Guide by Mark Coker, which is available here on Amazon (free). Many of these problems are a result of poor interaction between the document and the interface that constructs the e-book. So, although they are annoying, I don't attempt to penalize the author.(That does not mean we shouldn't check to make sure these conditions are minimized.)

I found this book because I was searching out a copy of The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslov Hasek--a black comedy about the first world war. This book was listed as related somehow or another. Sara Dwells & the Book of Answers does take place between the two world wars so there is that connection.

The story starts on stormy winters night in the village of Whipper Wheel-- you will have to read to find out how it gets its name. Mary Dwells is giving birth to a healthy baby she will name Anna. The whole village is there including the doctor the pastor and the oldest living resident. I liked this beginning because it has some flare to it that remind me a bit of George Elliot's Silas Marner. There was even some potential for it to build strongly in this but the author took a different direction.

After giving birth and everyone has gone home, Mary has complications that end up being Anna's twin who appears to die at birth. The doctor and the pastor have made it out in time to deliver the baby but it dies. The doctor and pastor brave a storm to take the baby's body to prepare for a funeral. Caught in the storm with both men and their horses nearly freezing they are able to make it to the church and make themselves comfortable to ride out the blizzard. Over night a miracle happens and Sara, the yet to be named child, revives. After much drama about being trapped in the church the doctor is able to take the baby to the hospital (his home) and tend to her while others notify the parents.

There is a side story that occurs with the death of a family friend of the Dwells and this is part of what confused me in that I'm not sure just how relevant to the story this part is. It is expanded upon in later portions and its possible that the conflict therein is resolved, but it has no true intersection to the story of Sara. Again it bears reading to see what I mean. This is not a poorly written story and it has many compelling aspects so I encourage those who might be inclined to test the waters, so to speak.

Now some few years later when Sara is twelve it is evident that she has not gone unscathed by the traumatic birth and she is not popular though she is quite bright and talented. She is a troubled preteen. And this is where the story takes a sort of 90 degree turn into another dimension similar to what some of Robert Heinlein's characters did in several of his later works.

What happens next felt to me like a blend of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Baum's Wizard of Oz(Dorthy), and any number of classic fantastic adventures such as Vernes' Journey to the Center of the Earth, Doyle's The Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar series. Squeeze into that some of the odd descriptions in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce or even some scenes from Dante's Inferno. And perhaps its this mix of various notions that make it unique that someone has tried to mash all these into one story.

The thing is that it's all done quite well, but it leaves me hanging as to putting an age related genre recommendation onto it. It reads mostly like a young adult and could survive that were it not for some bits and pieces that would make it more a Mature Young Adult at best. There is also a strong thread of philosophical religious thought-- that runs through the whole piece.

Again I'll have to encourage everyone-of a certain age- to read this. At least try the sample, which contains minor examples of the formatting difficulties. After reading that much you might be hard pressed to avoid reading the rest. It really can be a page turner if you can get into the story.

A five star effort with caveat's for pernickety (persnickety) readers.

J.L. Dobias