January 27, 2016

Book Review: Safe Inside the Violence

Book Review: Safe Inside the Violence

Safe Inside the Violence is 13 short stories about the everyday conflicts that push the common man to act in ways he never thought he would. I must admit, this is the kind of writing that I personally enjoy the most. First off, it is character-driven. Irvin knows the importance of building well-defined, realistic characters, as his stories all share this trait. Second, the situations are right out of everyday life: a man walking to the grocery store in a snow storm, a confrontation with noisy neighbors, a garbage man finding something valuable in the trash. Irvin digs through modern-day life to uncover an engaging story each time. Now, I enjoy a spell-casting adventure as much as the next person, but for me it doesn’t get any better than when a writer really captures the…

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July 24, 2015

Randy Cade’s New Thriller is a Western

Editor’s note: We published an excerpt from “Call Me Harry,” from the the prolific Mr. Cade, in May, 2014. His new novella is a Western. The trick question in the title, “At the Request of James Dougle,” may keep you wondering for a while, but wait – it’s a zinger. This is an old-fashioned Western, and I love the genre. Maybe because I grew up wearing cowboy boots, but more likely because in many ways the Western was the progenitor of the mystery and suspense genre, in which I dearly love to read and to write. The tales James Fenimore Cooper told of Matty Bumppo [aka “Leatherstocking”] were thrillers set in an untamed America, which translated forward into the wild-in-the-streets American cities where cops and private eyes fought crime. Race, it seems, has always been…

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July 4, 2015

Film Review: “Ex Machina”

Film Review: “Ex Machina”

  The box-office success of “Mad Max: Fury Road” [reviewed by Jason] and “Ex Machina” is the quintessential personification of lowbrow versus highbrow films. We Americans – indeed, most of the world, civilized or no – love both types. I have come to pick up Jason’s gauntlet and praise the latter film, but not at the expense of the former, for I, too, loved them both. And as writers and artists and students of the craft of storytelling, so should you. “Ex Machina” begins by celebrating the brilliance of the creative lions of Silicon Valley, in this case Nathan [Oscar Isaac], and the wonders of technology, like the Google-like empire he has built. Yet Nathan is now, not unlike Thoreau, retired to the woods to contemplate his next brilliant move, for nothing less than topping his earlier triumph will satisfy this…

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June 29, 2015

Film Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Film Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

When I saw the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road last summer, it gave me a massive, throbbing anticiboner. I love Mad Max. I love Tom Hardy. The initial images looked like they were doing it the right way, instead of throwing a modernized and weak-sauce reboot at us. Turns out it was that and much, much more. Fury Road is the best movie I’ve seen this year, with nothing else coming anywhere close. It’s so damn good we can use it as a guide for how to improve our fiction. That’s right: we can learn about our craft from a postapocalyptic chase scene full of flamethrowers and electric guitars. This is true even if you’re writing cozy mysteries on the moor, or hilarious chicklit about designer jeans and eating disorders. For example: Fury Road Crushed the Cinematography…

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June 19, 2015

Book Review: The Angel Esmeralda (Part 1 of 2)

Book Review: The Angel Esmeralda (Part 1 of 2)

The Angel Esmeralda spans 30-plus years of writing from Don DeLillo over nine short stories. In typical DeLillo form, The Angel Esmeralda harnesses the fundamental humanity of his characters – whether the situation is monotonous everyday life or spectacularly distant moments in time and space – to create a vivid patchwork of submission, heartache and paranoia. These are not feel-good stories, but cautionary tales told by a writer with the gift of seeing the world as it really is and who is deeply disturbed by these visions. The collection begins, fittingly, with “Creation,” a story about those dark endeavors that occur when love has left a relationship. The narrator and his wife, Jill, are on vacation on a tiny Caribbean island near St. Vincent. We instantly see that things are not right because even though…

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April 25, 2015

Book Review: A Hoarse Half-Human Cheer

It was Peter Dexter who wrote, “Keep in mind that a book that entertains without enlightening can still be a guilty pleasure, but a book that enlightens without entertaining is algebra.” Joseph [X.J.] Kennedy’s delightful A Hoarse Half-Human Cheer is, admittedly, intended to entertain, yet it enlightens in being a period piece – après-guerre America, circa 1946 – foreshadowing the sprawling modern era in this country with wit, humor and irony. After you finish re-reading Heller’s “Catch-22,” this is the novel you should begin. Young Moon Gogarty is the book’s Candide, trying to deal with his stultified feelings after having lost his first love to his mortician grandmother, just as he’s about to begin his studies at the infamous College of Saint Cassian of Imola. He’s thrust into a community of 4,500 older men who’ve…

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December 6, 2014

“War and Peace” Reading Group is Now Reading!

On October 27, we posted a message about starting a Goodreads group to read a book few, if any, would undertake without some external motivation: War and Peace  by Leo Tolstoy [The Louise and Aylmer Maude translation]. My friend David Bond suggested creating a Goodreads group to read it together, and I heartily joined in sponsorship and the read. [I think my copy has been sitting on my bookshelves for about 40 years.] We’re proud to announce our group of eight people officially began reading December 1. One of us was so excited he finished in 24 days, in November. You can be sure we’re going to have questions for him! Few would dispute this is a masterpiece, and many believe it to be the greatest novel ever written. Others suggest it represented a major shift in…

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November 3, 2014

Early Twain by Michael Mavilia

Early Twain by Michael Mavilia

  Buried beneath alternate praise and censure of his “Great American Novel,” Huckleberry Finn, lies a wealth of widely unheralded work by Mark Twain: his short stories. Twain’s penchant for writing in the vernacular translates magnificently to his tall tales, overheard while mining for silver in Nevada. His characters run the gamut from rugged and folksy to clever and charismatic, creating a circus troupe of dusty allure. In his 1880 short story “Jim Baker’s Blue-jay Yarn,” Twain retells a tale about “a middle-aged, simple-hearted miner who lived in a lonely corner of California,” who claims he can understand the language of animals. What follows is a short but tall tale of what he overhears a blue jay saying one day in the woods. As is the case with many of Twain’s yarns, the joy is…

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