Monday, July 18, 2016

The Job Blower - Melinda de Ross - a good-natured mockery of chicklit and rom-com

Camilla Jackson is an ordinary young woman with an extraordinary knack for attracting disaster. When she is fired from her job as a secretary at a law firm, she realizes she has no idea what she wants to do next. Every job she does land ends up tragi-comically. But when she meets the drop-dead-gorgeous journalist, Carter Evans, her life seems to brighten. Until she discovers that he hides some very deep and painful scars. So will Camilla help him heal and, in the process, find her own way?

My thoughts:
I admit to feeling a sense of ethnic solidarity with the author. We're both fully bilingual, bicultural, A-type, sarcastic Eastern European authors who navigate between the first and the second worlds. Which means, one of our guilty politically incorrect pleasures is making fun of neurotic, pea-brained, thin-skinned American women who can start a nuclear war with one snap of fingernail clippers. (I can hear some of you saying "Don't like America? Go home, commie!") Okay, okay, I will go home where I belong in just a minute. As soon as finish writing my review.

A title like The Job Blower is sure to catch your attention. With a ditsy hair-twirling blonde on the cover? You can't go wrong. What makes the narrator/protagonist sympathetic is a certain degree of self-awareness and self-mockery. Even when plunging head first into romantic melodrama and self-pity, she acknowledges how vapid and trivial her problems are. The author mentions being a fan of Sophie Kinsella. Well, you can certainly feel Kinsella's influences in "The Job Blower". If this novel was ever to be turned into a movie, I can imagine Anna Farris playing the lead.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bridget's Story - an enticing introduction to the Keith R. Baker's bestselling Longshot series

 A few weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing the author of the bestselling Longshot series. I am passionate about Irish and Irish-American history, so the premise of the prequel captivated him. Bridget's story is very illustrative and typical in a sense that many first-generation Irish Americans were ambivalent about clinging to their Celtic roots at a time when integration into the Anglo-Dutch dominated mainstream afforded them certain privileges and opportunities. Even though Bridget's life started with a tragedy, with her short-lived first marriage ended abruptly when her young husband is killed in a mining accident (must be #1 on the list of potential causes of death for the Irish), she goes on to form a successful second marriage with Rob Finn. A young widow with a child from the first marriage would make an easy target for unscrupulous characters, yet Bridget was able to bounce back against the odds. She goes on to have a large family with her new husband. But their idyllic domestic life is interrupted by the Civil War. Despite the very real threat of becoming widowed again, now with multiple children, Bridget puts her husband's duty-motivated decision to enlist above her own fears. The novella is only 30 pages long, but the author manages to lay the foundation for his thrilling series. Bridget's Story ends with a cliffhanger. There are so many unanswered questions that will make you want to pick up the first book in the series. The author establishes Bridget as a sympathetic heroine and instantly wins the readers' solidarity.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Blizzard by Cindy Rinaman Marsch - a lyrical survival novalla

Blizzard is a gripping, lyrical, chilling novella from a fellow Historical Novel Society author, Cindy Rinaman Marsch. As we are preparing to celebrate 4th of July, I think it would be appropriate to post a review of a novella about a brave American family in face of a life-threatening storm.

A homesteading farmer, his pregnant wife, their daughter, and the grandmother wake to a beautiful winter morning on the prairie. And then it descends upon them - the infamous Children's Blizzard of 1888. Who will survive?

My thoughts:
Cindy Rinaman Marsch's "Blizzard" sets a new standard in survival stories. Experience the intimacy of a tight-knit family amidst a natural disaster, with all the lyricism and physicality interwoven. The gorgeous, detailed prose is worthy of Jack London or Hemingway and will evoke the same emotions as "To Build a Fire" and "Old Man and the Sea". This is the opposite of formulaic "survival" stories. This could also be turned into a short art-house film.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Widow's Walk by Kenneth Weene - a vignette in Irish-American experience

Greetings, commies!
Recently I have been on a journey of revisiting old books that moved me a few years ago. Some of them leave a different impression the second time around. You start seeings nuances that you missed the first time around. One of such books is Kenneth Weene's Widow's Walk, an exploration of Catholic guilt and sexual repression in the context of the Irish American experience, a contemplative social and spiritual etude.


Mary Flanagan, caught between her sense of religion and obligation on one hand, and her very human desire for love on the other, is in emotional limbo. When she meets Arnie Berger, who becomes both her lover and philosophic guide, Mary's world seems to be transformed.Changes also come for Mary's children, who have been trapped in their own dilemmas. Sean, a quadriplegic, is looking for a fulfilled life. Kathleen must cope with infertility and anger in her search for happiness. The lives of all three Flanagans are turned upside down by happiness and tragedy.

My thoughts:

The topics that Kenneth Weene explores in his novel "Widow's Walk" are challenging and perilous from a literary standpoint. In our increasingly secular world, the word "religious" is more and more frequently is followed by the word "fanatic". What once was regarded as mainstream behavior for a member of the Catholic faith is now frequently viewed as an archaic affectation. In light of current scandals, Catholicism often becomes material for sneers and criticism. It is very easy to turn a character who happens to be an observant Catholic into a caricature.

Kenneth Weene avoids falling into those inviting traps. His portrayal of Mary Flanagan is sympathetic and realistic. Weene's background in psychology is apparent throughout the novel, and his usage of the present tense in the narrative enhances the impression of the speaker being an objective yet sympathetic observer.

"Widow's Walk" is neither a feel-gooder or a tear-jerker, although it could have easily turned into one under the pen of a less skilled author. Infertile wives abandoned by their husbands, disabled Vietnam veterans - all those topics can be exploited and butchered by Lifetime Channel. The fact that Kenneth Weene can write about those issues without lapsing into sentimental genre testifies to his commendable literary skill. The book can be enjoyed by believers and unbelievers alike.