October 20, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 20 October 2011

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Discontents, by James Wallace Birch

By James Wallace Birch

As I've said here before, although in general I'm proud of CCLaP's policy to review any book that any person takes the trouble to actually send, it sometimes leads to me having to do some pretty harsh critiques of titles that clearly don't deserve that harshness, titles that in fact are clearly not even ready for a wide general audience to see them, but that got sent anyway because of the (often self-publishing) authors not knowing better; and unfortunately, a perfect example of that would be James Wallace Birch's Discontents, obviously written with a lot of heart but so much of a mess to be almost unreadable. The supposed true story of an accidental political genius who sparks a national populist revolution, the book wallows in some of the worst cliches even known to the literary world -- the Chomsky-regurgitating undergraduate blogger who inexplicably has corporate CEOs and Congress members hanging onto his every word, the Shakespeare-quoting "noble street trash," the Manic Pixie Dream Girl who exists only to justify weak plot turns -- the storyline itself mostly hinging around a shadowy John Galtian figure who seems to be a left-leaning amalgam of a thousand pieces of Ayn Rand fan-fiction rolled together, who ironically spends most of his time delivering ridiculously portentous ten-page monologues about such subjects as '60s radicalism, just to end each one with, "...But please, I don't wish to bore you." (Too late, Fletcher; too late.) I always feel guilty writing reviews like these, because obviously the more prudent thing would be for someone to simply sit Birch down and tell him of all these problems in a much more private setting, to encourage him to simply ditch this book altogether and to take a few creative writing courses before starting again; but that's a side-effect of the kind of the world we now live in, where technology allows people to nationally release a professional-looking artistic project long before they've gathered the kind of trusted feedback that helps them determine whether they should actually do so or not. An 'A' for effort, certainly, but I can't in good conscience recommend this to a general audience.

Out of 10: 1.8

Ghosts of War, by George Mann

Ghosts of War
By George Mann

Regular readers will remember last year's Ghosts of Manhattan, from genre veteran and Doctor Who scriptwriter George Mann, and how I found it only so-so when originally reviewing it myself; and now its sequel is out, Ghosts of War, which I decided to go ahead and read as well, partly because a copy was nicely sent to me by our buddies at Pyr and partly because I've always suspected that I didn't give the first volume a fair shake. And indeed, the good news is that this "Art Deco Steampunk" actioner came off this time as much better than the original, I suspect partly because both Mann and myself have grown more into these characters and setting; for those who don't know, it's set in an alt-history 1920s New York, in which a Shadow/Batman-style crimefighter is assisted by lots of fanciful tech gear, while facing complications not from German spies but ones from a still-strong and now antagonistic British Empire, who has been locked into a cold war of sorts with the US for decades on end by now. Of course, in my defense, it's also clear that this sequel is simply better than the original as well, and very specifically addresses some of the problems that I mentioned about the first book; for example, while I found what Mann actually did with this milieu in the original to be rather uninspiring, this time he comes up with a real corker of a dilemma, one I'll let remain a surprise but let's say ties in nicely with the work of HP Lovecraft, who in real life was writing his best-known stories right in these same years. Essentially more of the same but now just a little sharper, a little brighter and a little smarter, it comes recommended to both traditional steampunk fans and aficionados of Early Modernist noir serials, a rousing thriller that stands strongly against the Victorian setting where most of these types of novels are usually placed.

Out of 10: 8.4

Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid, by Lawrence Fisher

Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid: The Tanya Nicole Kach Story
By Lawrence Fisher
Tate Publishing

Although I'm glad for the existence of books like Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid: The Tanya Nicole Kach Story, written with her participation by her former attorney, Lawrence Fisher, I feel the need to admit my biases right away -- that I find stories about girls who are kidnapped and sexually abused within suburban-home dungeons for years and years to be just so upsetting, most often I won't even pick such books up, and I have to confess that even here all I could manage to do was sort of skip around and give the manuscript a light scanning. I mean, I did definitely read enough to have an opinion, because I wanted to be able to say with authority that I found it competently written, which it absolutely is; but if like me you're one of those people who can't even have tabloid news shows running in the background of a room without succumbing to tears, this is not the book for you, but rather one for all you more steel-hearted Nancy Grace fans and the like. I'm glad that Kach was finally able to escape her situation, and without a doubt I recommend this title to fans of true-crime books and "To Catch a Predator" type shows; but in this case I unfortunately cannot give you too much more detailed a review than that, in that I was barely able to even read more than a few pages at a time without wincing and putting the book back down. It comes recommended but with that caution in mind.

Out of 10: 8.0

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:25 AM, October 20, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |