The Kennedy Imperative (Book One of a Trilogy: Berlin, 1961), by Leon Berger

Author Leon Berger’s “The Kennedy Imperative” throws the reader right into Cold War Berlin, where fledgling agent Phillip Marsden is given what seems to be a simple mission–to accompany Major Hank Leland to an international conference in East Berlin. East-West tensions were running high, and this conference was designed to clear up boundary issues. This was good. Phillip–who spoke Russian like a native–was trained to sound like a poorly trained American lackey, just to put the Russians at ease, just so they wouldn’t know he was well-trained CIA.

The problem is, Phillip never arrived at the conference. He was taken from the Jeep, and driven to a desolate prison. There, he was kept in a stark cell with nothing to do except wait. He had conversations with the seemingly jovial prison director, but that was the extent of his communication.

Until one day, Phillip was marched through Checkpoint Charlie to freedom in West Berlin, while a Communist agent was marched from West to East.

When Phillip Marsden realized who that agent was–and what it meant for his life–he knew he had to get back to East Berlin and perform a rescue.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., we delve into the machinations of the JFK administration, watching as they quarrel amongst themselves, work out solutions, and ultimately, have to put their trust in bombastic former General Lucius Clay in Berlin. The way the Kennedy White House transfers on-site control to Clay–and the way Clay goes eyeball to eyeball with his East Berlin counterparts–could make a novel in itself.

Meanwhile, Phillip finds an unlikely ally in his rescue mission, a mission which seems to unravel almost from the beginning. He’s in a foreign land, and he doesn’t know who he can trust, if anyone, or even whether he’ll ever make it out alive.

There are so many beautifully set-up, beautifully realized scenes in “The Kennedy Imperative,” that it makes for a fast, rewarding read. The problem is, to mention them here would be tantamount to spoiling the novel, so I can’t really describe much more.

I can tell you that author Leon Berger has written one hell of a book, a sort of hybrid between Tom Clancy and James Ellroy. Like Clancy, Berger deals with all manner of political and military intrigue, and he has obviously done extensive research into both fields.

Like James Ellroy, Berger seamlessly mixes actual historical figures–JFK, RFK, General Clay–with equally believable (sometimes more so) fictional characters.

The main story in this book–Phillip Marsden and his missions–are fiction. The backdrop happened. It takes a great author to weave them together, and Leon Berger is that author.

I can’t wait to read volumes two and three in the trilogy. I suspect, having read “The Kennedy Imperative,” that they will be equally intriguing.

Highly Recommended

(nb: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley)

Posted in Books, Books Read in 2014, History, Literary or Genre Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers, series | Leave a comment

Empty, Not Hollow: And Other Stories, by A.C. Adams (2014)

A.C. Adams’s “Empty, Not Hollow: And other stories” is the perfect book for a Sunday afternoon.

It’s not long–92 pages on the Kindle–but it’s ideal for sitting back with a big glass of red wine (The book is dedicated to red wine, so that should tip you off), and reading.

In a normal book review, I’d give a long summary of the plot, then my personal reactions and analysis, blah-cubed.

With this book, this is impossible, as there are so many different short stories–some are very short–that the review would be longer than the book.

Suffice to say that A.C. Adams is a very talented, eccentric soul. These stories range from zombies, to armed robbery, to dystopian horror, to a household appliance run completely amok.

What makes “Empty, Not Hollow” so much fun to read is the author’s tone. You can sense the fun she’s having creating these stories. The stories are well crafted, too–don’t get me wrong–but most of them have a certain background joy to them.

There are also some last sentence surprise endings, perfect for the short story format.

All-in-all, this is not a Joyce Carol Oates collection–and she’s one of my favorite short story writers. It’s a quick, fun read, one that will make you double check your vacuum cleaner (read the book, and you’ll know why).

Highly Recommended

Posted in Books, Books Read in 2014, Dystopian, Fantasy or Sci-Fi, Humorous, Short Stories/Novella | Leave a comment

TTYL; TTFN; L8TR,G8TR; YOLO, by Lauren Myracle (various pub.)

I hadn’t originally intended to read this book (or this series), and I’m writing one review for the whole series. You’ll see why.

What happened was I read an article on banned books, and this was mentioned. I went to Amazon to read a synopsis, and somehow my finger hit the “Buy With One-Click” or whatever button, and there it was, on my Kindle.

The Internet Girls series follows the lives of three Atlanta girls who are BFF’s: wild-child Maddie, relatively normal Angela, and the quiet, bookish Zoe.

The books are written all in text message form, which–as a Lit major–should have taken me awhile to get used to. Here’s the odd part: I got it immediately. I’m sitting here, writing this review, and I have text open on my phone, chats on Facebook going, and I check Twitter every few minutes.

I don’t know that this series’ intention was to point out the Facebookisation of the world, but it spotlighted it brilliantly. The girls text, check Facebook pages of friends and enemies alike, get into Twitter to spy on a former nemesis–it’s a slice of 2014 life.

Ms. Myracle does an admirable job of showing how this technology has inculcated itself into our lives, especially those young enough never to have lived without a smartphone.

I won’t go into each of the stories individually, for they basically form one seamless tale, despite covering different blocks of time.

TTYL is tenth grade; TTFN is junior year; L8TR G8TR is senior year, and the latest release–YOLO–is the “Winsome Threesome’s” first year at college, and the first time they’re all scattered about the country.

I liked the characters–enigmatic good-girl Zoe, especially–and the three truly have some adventures. The books are all good (though I thought TTFN was the least of the three, but still worth reading), and I can see why they were banned.

They were banned for being honest about how teenagers behave. No, there weren’t sexual references on every page, nor was each book a 225 page orgy. But teenagers explore. They talk about sex. They HAVE sex. This sex thing–GASP–has been going on for years. Maybe decades or centuries. Who knows? I would suspect that as long as our species has reproduced the way we do, people have talked about it.

These four books just take it to a new level by making it CASUAL. It’s not a big deal. When one character asks another about a…um, BJ, the question is answered, then they plan to go get Starbuck’s. When a character decides she’s ready to have sex with her boyfriend (Yikes!), she sagely goes to Planned Parenthood, gets on The Pill, and waits till she’s “safe.” Yes, she has sex after that, but she did so with somebody she deeply loved, and she did so responsibly.

There are other conversations that might ruffle a feather here or there, but nothing overtly awful. I don’t think I’d want my Tween reading these books, but for the books’ target audience–probably ninth or tenth grade and up–I can’t see any real problem.

I find it highly unlikely that any girl would read these books, then run out of her convent school to become a wanton hussy.

As far as the characters, I liked the three unique personae that make up “The Winsome Threesome” (their name for themselves). They deal with high school problems–bullying, sex, homework, wanting to get their driver’s licenses–as I imagine teens today do: texting, Facebook messaging, etc.

One thing I found disconcerting–but interesting–is that there is no narrative point of view. In most books, you have third-person, where we can see what everyone is doing. In others, we find first-person omniscient, where we see the story through one character’s eyes, experiences, and thoughts. (We’ll skip second-person). There isn’t really a narrative slant here: we’re just reading communications between people. There’s no sense of setting. I’ve just read all four books, and I couldn’t tell you what any of the schools, houses, streets, etc, look like. That’s assumed by the three girls, because they live there.

In other words, we’re not invited into their world, just into their communications. Some writers describe every lid on every trashcan on every driveway on every street. Here, there’s none of that, except when it’s communicated via text (what kind of clothing one or another should wear, e.g.).

“Internet Girls” is an interesting experiment, and I was drawn into it, even though I’m not usually a YA reader. If there’s a fault here, some of the texts seem a bit wordy for text messages from a phone (as the character states), though not for an Instant Message on a laptop.

Were I to choose, I think YOLO would be my favorite, followed by L8RG8R, with ttfn as my least (it’s fine, but there’s one plot thread that felt wrong to me). Mainly, though, I <3 the Internet Girl Series

(I’m writing one review for the series, because they’re all so similar in the way they’re told, that I don’t see the need to detail each book individually, except to say this: THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN BANNED!!!)

Posted in Books, Books Read in 2014, General Fiction, Young Adult | Leave a comment

Illogical Atheism: A Comprehensive Response to the Contemporary Freethinker from a Lapsed Agnostic, by Bo Jinn

“Illogical Atheism” is not a book of evangelism and preaching. Rather, it serves as a repudiation of Atheist movements from Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens–the modern Atheist triad–back through history.

Author Bo Jinn does not attempt to convert the reader to any particular faith. Simply, he points out the flawed logic in many Atheists’ claims.

The specific example I’ll refer to–to cover them all would be to rewrite the entire book–is World War 2. Many Atheists criticized the Vatican for not doing more to stop the rise of fascism. Jinn points out, quite astutely, that Mussolini (an avowed Atheist) was preaching his fascist hatred only a few blocks from the Vatican gates.

Adolf Hitler used Christianity in many of his early speeches, claiming–among other things–that Jesus Christ was a warrior who hated Jews, and that’s why he tore apart the temple, and drove out the awful lot of them.

Jinn’s thesis is that Atheism has fought battles for years, but that they’re in essence only tilting at windmills. For the author, atheism misuses Biblical references, as well as historical events, and warps theme into what they consider incontrovertible proof that Atheism is the only option for a free-thinking person.

I really liked Bo Jinn’s writing. He has a certain panache, and a flair for occasional sarcasm that helps elevate the book’s often serious arguments.

No matter where you fall on the issue of Atheism, “Illogical Atheism” is a worthy read, whether to convince you you’re right or to give you reason to question.

Recommended.

Posted in Books, Books Read in 2014, History, Non Fiction and/or Commentary, Religion/Spirituality | Leave a comment

Kissing Kate, by Lauren Myracle (2003)

Once at a party, Lissa and her friend Kate find themselves alone in a gazebo. Drunk, Kate leans over and kisses Lissa–seriously kisses her.

Lissa falls in love, and Kate tries to downplay it as meaning nothing.

The entire crux of “Kissing Kate” is that Lissa feels truly in love with her longtime best friend, while Kate pushes away.

Lissa feels alone in the world, until she meets Ariel, one of the most unusual girls in school, somebody she’d never hang out with, except they work the same part-time job.

Gradually, their friendship grows, and Lissa is able to let go of Kate.

The worst way to end this book would’ve been to have Lissa and Ariel fall in love. That’s not what happens, thank the Book Gods.

What does happen is that Ariel and Lissa develop a friendship, and Lissa realizes that it’s not so bad to be different.

Throughout the book, there’s a subtext of “lucid dreaming,” kind of like the film “Inception,” sorta, in that the dreamer knows he or she is dreaming, and can influence its outcome. Lucid dreaming is considered legitimate in many circles, and Lissa’s experiments with it lead her slowly to a place of peace.

“Kissing Kate” ends sort of abruptly, but I like the resolution. It fits the story. Also, there’s a lack of sappiness throughout the novel, which would have been too easy to write. Author Lauren Myracle does an excellent job avoiding many cliches that would have been too easy to use. Yes, there are jerky football players, but what high school novel doesn’t have those? It’s like a YA fiction requirement.

The writing is sharp, and I believed in Lissa and Ariel–as well as a cast of supporting characters.

There’s no sappy ending, no fireworks or saccharine goop. Life isn’t like that, not even in high school.

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Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks, by Lauren Myracle (2009)

This one just didn’t work for me. The narrator–elder sister, Carly–starts off deep, then becomes incredibly shallow; she’s kind and loving and protective of her younger sister, Anna, then she’s suddenly spiteful, all because Anna is the prettier of the two.

Also, the story felt kind of cliche to me in parts. Carly tries to be a free spirit, her own person, comfortable in her own skin, and she ends up being shallower than her own, “hot” sister ever was. There are other analogies, too, that struck a false chord with me–shots that were too easy compared to Lauren Myracle’s other, excellent books.

Maybe it’s that this story was centered entirely around standard high school behavior, without anything really unusual to make it stand out. Typically, Ms. Myracle’s work has stronger characters, or at least characters that stay true to themselves, or even whose changes are gradual. In “Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks”–a great, apropos title, btw–it was just as if switches were flipped, and people changed overnight.

It was especially obvious in Carly, who started off being so unapologetically unique, then almost overnight became as predatory as many teen girls are.

The boy figures in the book also felt cliche to me. The new hot guy all the girls go crazy for, and Carly’s steadfast friend-boy, Roger. You could predict from early on what would happen. It just seemed to take so long to get there.

There’s nothing horribly wrong with the book–except that Anna’s huge breasts are mentioned about every other page. There’s just not a whole lot that was especially right, either.

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Holy Bible – Best God Damned Version – Genesis, by Steve Ebling (2013)

Warning: If you are one who takes the Bible as being absolute Gospel (pardon the pun), this book will most likely offend you.

However, if you are willing to embrace the various quirks and foibles of the Book of Genesis–and you’re not afraid of a little satire and profanity–you’ll probably laugh. A lot.

This book has an infectious, storytelling tone and rhythm that had me laughing out loud, a lot more than a commentary on Genesis normally would.

Author Steve Ebling admits to being an Atheist, which doesn’t mean he can’t study scripture. He makes some valid points, but mainly he has a ball with his analysis of Genesis, and the joy was infectious. In the preface, he talks of his plan to do continue until he’s aimed his contradiction-finding, fun-making guns at the entire Bible.

I hope he does. That would be a fun and interesting read.

Posted in Books, Humorous, Non Fiction and/or Commentary, Religion/Spirituality, series | Leave a comment