rogue rhetoric

random musings by michael d. durkota

Category: .: Book Reviews (page 1 of 2)

Flash Reviews Volume IV

Welcome to Flash Reviews, Friday edition. I could promise to post reviews every Friday, but that would be a lie. I am not that organized. If you still have no idea what I am doing, read about it here. As always, if you would like to request a review of something you wrote, or something you wish you wrote, send me a message on twitter. I am an equal opportunity flasher.

Shoot ‘em Up (A Maisie McGrane Mystery), Janey Mack

“A siren bawled as Lee Sharpe, eyes flashing, grinning like a demon, loomed over my gurney. “Who stabbed you, Maisie?””

Ok. That’s technically two lines, but how can you possibly stop reading after the grinning-demon-over-the-gurney image? Besides, the dialogue is just an extension of the first line. And I make the rules anyway, so deal with it. Of course, you read the second line only to discover the main character has been stabbed. There is something about the calmness of the situation that is unsettling. Lee is suddenly a sympathetic demon. Do I want to find out why Maisie is so calm about being stabbed? Do I want to know who stabbed her? Hell yeah! You should definitely check out Janey’s website.

Spoils, Brian Van Reet

“She is the most dangerous thing around.”

I stumbled upon this and was immediately consumed. Such simplicity and intrigue. How can you not keep reading? I actually didn’t stop reading this one. Check out my full review.

In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje

“This is a story a young girl gathers in a car during the early hours of the morning.”

The girl is Hana. You probably know her from The English Patient. But this is where she started. The English Patient was a sequel of sorts. This is my all-time favorite novel, and I highly recommend you read it. Just read the next few lines of the prologue. Stunning. I am excited he has a new novel coming in May.


Flash Reviews Volume III

Welcome to the third installment of Flash Reviews. If you still don’t know what I am doing, read about it here. If you would like to request a review of something you wrote, or something you think is really awesome, send me a message on twitter.

The Name of the World, Denis Johnson

“Since my early teens I’ve associated everything to do with college, the “academic life,” with certain images borne toward me, I suppose, from the TV screen, in particular from the films of the 1930s they used to broadcast relentlessly when I was a boy, and especially from a single scene: Fresh-faced young people come in from an autumn night to stand around the fireplace in the home of a beloved professor.”

Wow. 71 words in that sentence, at least according to Word. I didn’t bother to count them. Some things I just believe. And I believe that Denis Johnson was an amazing writer that was taken from us far too soon. As much as I love his language and style, I truly hope that his estate doesn’t release some lost and forgotten and incomplete manuscript. Those are always lost and forgotten and incomplete for a reason. I have a few. May they never see the light of day.


Stillhouse Lake, Rachel Caine

“Gina never asked about the garage.”

Not very exciting, but intriguing enough for me to read the second and third lines. Somehow this garage destroyed Gina. Now that has my attention. I’ve never known garages to attack.


The Bull, Cycle 2 of the Blood Zodiac, Erica Crockett

“She can’t get the blood out of her blond wig.”

Now that’s a first line that gets attention. Yes, I kept reading, and yes, you should too. Check out Erica’s first novel, Chemicals, while you are at it. You won’t be disappointed. This girl can write.


Flash Reviews Volume II

If you are unsure about what the hell I am doing, check out the first installment.

The Witch’s Lair, Lincoln Farish
“By noon, there had been three attempts to murder me.”

How could you possibly stop reading after that intro? Talk about a bad day. That’s the kind of day that should make you just go hide somewhere and hope that tomorrow will be better. This dude is not an accountant or a mechanic. Unless of course he is very very bad at either. I also highly doubt he is going to take my advice and hide.

Alpha Beta Poetry, Nicole Pierman
“Admire adamant affections, amity among allegiance, admit an admirer against all actions, and amour always, absolve.”

That’s a lot of fucking a’s. I was tempted to write an alliterative review but I gave up after “Pondering poetry, potent, portend, properly pure.” I was exhausted. Hats off to Nicole for her vision and discipline.

Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks
“You’ll probably think I’m making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I really am or smarter or even luckier but I’m not.”

I picked this up at Riverrun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a few years ago. I immediately sensed a flavor of Catcher in the Rye, so I kept reading. I am usually wary of first-person child narratives written in dialect, but this one kept my attention. I spent the remainder of that afternoon reading beside the actual river.

We have flash fiction, why can’t we have flash reviews?

I love novels. I love first lines of novels. I also love bookstores. My dream is to be locked in a bookstore overnight. If I were, I would read the first line of every single book in the fiction section. Since I can’t reason through a series of events that would find me incarcerated at Barnes & Noble, I decided to exercise the fantasy (over time) on Amazon.

The rules: I will occasionally choose a novel from the Kindle bestsellers page or a random Indie novel from my Twitter feed. For each one I will record the first line and then provide my first impressions. I reserve the right to choose the first line from either the prologue or the first chapter. I like a little chaos.

Here’s three to get me started:

Rejected Writers Take the Stage, Suzanne Kelman

“Karen, the Southlea Bay library manager, approached the door with her key and stopped short before announcing through a clenched smile, “Doris alert.”

I don’t know if Karen is just a bitch or if Doris is really irritating. I am curious though. I also can’t avoid staring at the chapter title with wild anticipation: “Frozen Yetis & Scotch Tape Shenanigans.” In the history of the written word, never before have those words appeared even roughly in that order. Well Played, Suzanne. Well played.

 Unmasked, EM Kaplan
“The beast grabbed Mel with a gray-skinned hand and dragged her across the rutted dirt road.”

I just wish I had a better sense of the conflict here. Kidding. Seriously, there is a lot packed into these 16 words. I’m obviously worried about Mel. And I am equally intrigued by a world that has beasts with gray skin.

 All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
“At dusk they pour from the sky.”

The chapter is titled ‘Leaflets,’ so really, the first sentence is a continuation. I don’t know if ‘pour’ is the best word to describe leaflets falling from the sky, but he won a fucking Pulitzer for this. Who am I to judge?

Book Review: Spoils by Brian Van Reet

Spoils tells the story of Cassandra, a US soldier assigned as a gunner in Iraq. I was hooked from the opening line: “She is the most dangerous thing around.” Author Brian Van Reet tells Cassandra’s story through multiple perspectives that become gradually, and tragically intertwined. The details of war are vivid and brutal, though measured; Van Reet avoids falling into sheer melodrama, but doesn’t shy away from graphic realities. This is a psychological take on war, the action resides more in the minds of the characters than on the battlefield. The narrative is unconventional, mixing first and third person perspectives; it feels like a recorded testimony at times: part apology, part confession. Van Reet does a superb job of pulling these dissimilar threads together to create a balanced story. This was great read with many memorable lines and images; I certainly appreciated when Cassandra compared the interior of a Humvee to an unsound submarine.

Driven by unique characters and layered with irony, Spoils is a complex and philosophical treatise on war.

Review: Being Indie by Eeva Lancaster

A quick read and a candid view of Indie publishing. Every aspiring author should immediately add this to their reading list. I wish I had this years ago when I started; it would have saved me a lot of pain and suffering.

Follow Eeva on twitter and download Being Indie on Amazon.

Book Review: The Bull by Erica Crockett

Anyone who knows me, probably knows I’m a fan of anything Ms. Crockett pens. Her complex characters are a joy to follow and her apocalyptic sense of adventure is enthralling. Her third outing was equally satisfying.

Cycle 2 of The Blood Zodiac series begins with a chilling and intriguing line: “She can’t get the blood out of her blond wig.” If you want to know how the blood got there, you need to immediately start reading The Ram. If you know how the blood got there, you should be pleased to learn that The Bull begins where The Ram ended.

There is no rest for Peach. Her mission continues; she is driven even further (literally and figuratively) from her seemingly humble life. And there is perhaps too much rest for Riley; being idle seems to attract more problems for him. Gravity continues to pull the orbits of Peach and Riley closer together. Their lives must certainly intersect. But when? And, even better, why?

Some of my favorite lines:

  • “Logic and fear should partner in this moment, act to push him toward the exit of this unknown home and away from his dastardly doings.”
  • “A familiar and welcome friend arrives. Anger.”
  • “You’ve had some low points recently, but after you lost your toes, these past few weeks have been epically strange.”
  • “The finger in the air begs all other people in the room to shut up and pause so that thinking can smoothly and succinctly remedy the situation.”
  • “Riley is determined to figure out why distant stars are sending him strange cards in the mail.”
  • “Riley tosses the card back on the table, as if it could burn him or possess him or stab him.”
  • “Her eyes water and she convinces herself it’s because of the stark power of the light and not because she knows Lars is good and nice and will still have to die.”
  • “He considers calling Walker but he’s sure his friend would just make more demands about seeing the police or doing something logical.”

Bottom line: If you like thrillers, or anti-heroes, or psychological suspense, you should be reading The Blood Zodiac. After just two books, the series is already an intricate web of characters and stories. It is hard to imagine that this adventure is just beginning. I hear from a good source that book three is on its way, so you better get started.

Follow Erica on twitter, check out her website, and buy her books on Amazon. And if you haven’t read Chemicals (Erica’s first novel) yet, you need to fix that.

Book Review: New Hope by Steve Hobbs

I have a confession: I have never read any of the Twilight books and I have only seen about 1.39 of the movies. That said, I can’t imagine any of those stories are as entertaining and well written as New Hope by Steve Hobbs. Hobbs invites us to a small town in Maine and introduces us to a group of teens in way over their collective heads. The story is full of action and adventure, and includes a unique twist on traditional vampire mythologies. As a fan of The Lost Boys, Stephen King, and all things eighties, I was hooked from the first page. I was even able to overlook the snub on Sammy Hagar (who I very much prefer over Roth).

I was immediately drawn to Miri, a fearless young girl with a new-hopedangerous sense of curiosity. As an ardent fan of The X-Files, I couldn’t help imagining that this is what Dana Scully must have been like as a teenager. Miri provided Hobbs an intriguing main character and he developed her well; she is equally confident and vulnerable. Hobbs adeptly captures the burgeoning investigative skills of the tenacious girl and provides just enough poignant moments to remind everyone she is still daddy’s little girl.

Although Miri is the star, the rest of the cast, including the adults, were equally compelling. Chris provided boyish charm with a dash of humor and sarcasm. Chris also provided some reflections on writing that I particularly enjoyed: “Chris wondered if one of his books would one day be lost in the rubble of some seedy little shop like this. That would be enough he thought, if he wrote just one book that hardly anybody read and it finally got lost in a barn full of similar books written by other people that nobody ever heard of.”

Here are just a few of my favorite moments/lines:

  • “Her mind turned to thoughts of friends, and to boys that she knew or would like to know.”
  • “We better go find our friends before mine starts a fistfight or yours burns down the church.”
  • “They generally don’t enter houses uninvited for the same reason that most people don’t: they don’t want to get shot.”
  • “None of us are exactly what everybody else thinks we are.”
  • “Maybe he’s an alien,” Bobby said.
    “Let’s deal with real world problems like vampires and werewolves, Bobby.”

If you are looking for an inspirational coming-of-age story with a strong female lead (and a little supernatural adventure), look no further. New Hope is highly recommended. With so many rich characters and story possibilities, I can only assume that Hobbs is penning a sequel. Check out Steve on Twitter or Facebook, and visit his website at

Book Review: The Ram by Erica Crockett

I was eagerly anticipating the next offering from Erica Crockett from the moment I finished her stunning debut, Chemicals. Her latest novel, The Ram, is the first volume of The Blood Zodiac series. The series will span twelve books to cover each of the zodiac signs. A series of that magnitude is a daunting challenge that Erica is certainly equipped to meet.ram

The Ram follows the perspectives of two main characters, Peach and Riley. The intertwining of their perspectives is exhilarating and rewarding. Peach is a troubled counselor at a crossroads in her life. By choice, or by natural force, she is propelled to make changes. The internal struggle is poignant and real. The fear and apprehension is captured wonderfully in Crockett’s precise prose and imagery. Riley, an ex-attorney, is forced to make changes in his life as well. Although his change begins out of necessity, but he embraces it.

Developing characters is truly Erica’s superpower. She crafts them honestly. She doesn’t judge them or sympathize with them or make excuses for them. She delivers them with clarity, their flaws revealed. The supporting cast is equally intriguing. One of my favorites was Sev, a surly bouncer with the heart of a poet. He spends his time watching his girlfriend dance and penning poems on bar napkins. The juxtaposition is sometimes ironic, sometimes comical, but always entertaining.

Erica once again delivers a plot that is packed with delicious mysteries. Lambs released in the city. Symbols painted on the road. Ominous greeting cards. The birthing of a ram. A partial tattoo. A dangerous patient who mouths a cigarette, but never smokes. A stripper and her poet boyfriend. All of these are intertwined. By chance? By design? Destiny? So much to ponder.

Erica also continues to deliver beautifully crafted prose that could make any writer jealous:

  • “Riley lies back on the concrete floor and watches the chains sway overhead, a solitary link bent and open, jangling and dancing, apart from all the rest.”
  • “She hopes the process will be invigorating, completed with aplomb, and then she will take her time getting home, simmering in the spectacular events of the evening.”
  • “Peach is speechless and not just metaphorically.”
  • “It is fate, meaningful in its synchronicity. Peach does not believe in coincidence anyway. Her world is one of omens and relationships, energy and connections. Causes will always have effects, but those two things can be separated by vast amounts of time and space.”
  • “You never know when you’ll get trampled by misplaced sheep or incinerated in a vehicle.”
  • “He shoots his arms straight into the air, clenches his fists at nothing but holds on tightly, until his nails put little crescent moons into his flesh.”

Bottom line: The Blood Zodiac is an enigma wrought with suspense; it begins in spectacular fashion with The Ram. This thriller is most highly recommended.

Follow Erica on twitter (@EricaCrockett), check out her website (, and buy her books on amazon. And if you haven’t read Chemicals yet, what the hell are you waiting for?

Book Review: The Bride Wore Dead by EM Kaplan

I was engrossed within the first few pages. The story, the character, the dialogue, and Kaplan’s balanced and witty prose were quickly addictive. I am rarely guilty of binge reading; I generally read slowly and I stick to a fairly strict regime of reading for thirty minutes to an hour each day. That said, The Bride Wore Dead wrecked my daily routine. I didn’t want to wrap presents anyway, so it was a joyful distraction.bride-wore-dead

Josie Tucker is a quintessential protagonist. She is cynical and savvy. She is flawed but self-aware. She is highly skilled in many ways, yet humble. Taken out of her quiet, reclusive comfort-zone she stumbles and makes mistakes, but manages to find her way. The unplanned desert expedition is allegorical; I read it so fast and feverishly the first time through that I had to go back and re-read it after I caught my breath. There is so much depth to the character and her story that I may have to go back and re-read from page one. When you see references to Immanuel Kant, Holden Caulfield, and bodhisattvas it’s difficult to resist digging deeper.

I delighted in several moments, character descriptions, and subtle ironies, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • “The Latin incantations reminded her of a horror movie…” [Passage describing a wedding]
  • “Greta Williams seemed like a person who rarely, if ever, was pleased about how things were going.”
  • “Josie brimmed with fermented good wishes.”
  • “A few drops of red wine stained the place in front of her, the red liquid spreading through the cloth so that she could see the crisscross pattern of the fibers.”
  • “You paged me this morning at 4:30. You said you were dying and you told me to bring a priest.”
  • “His silver crew cut hinted at a former police or military career or the desire to have had one.”
  • “The pleated skirt and tight sweater might still fit, but there was something indecent about her world outlook.”
  • “He shot her a look that made her feel like she’d forgotten some of her clothing. Like her shirt.”
  • “Other than the beatings, and the anxiety, I enjoyed myself. For the most part.”

Bottom line: The Bride Wore Dead is an enthralling mystery fueled by an extraordinary heroine. I’m looking forward to the second in the series, Dim Sum, Dead Some.

Follow EM Kaplan on twitter and check out her blog, Just The EM Words.

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