American Desperado by Jon Roberts and Evan Wright

American Desperado, Frank Jon Roberts and Evan Wright, Crown, 2011

4.5 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Very Evil Man

American Desperado is the story of Jon Roberts’ life as told to author Evan Wright. Just who was Jon Roberts?

He was an orphan, a kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, small-time hood, a Vietnam Veteran, a thief, a Mafia associate, a prominent NYC discotheque owner, a drug dealer, a racehorse aficionado and, most importantly, a prosperous businessman who was one of the most successful American importers of all time.

Of cocaine.

And by his own admission, a very evil man.

Reading this memoir of Roberts’ life, one might be fooled into thinking he’s not all that evil. He’s charming, funny, and a capable raconteur. His stories will either have you laughing, reeling in shock, or totally engrossed. His life story is entertaining as hell, having lived more in his 63 years on Earth than a dozen random people combined.

But don’t fall prey to his two-faced nature. Roberts was extravagantly generous to his many, many girlfriends, a cool-headed businessman (when he needed to be), and an absolute lover of animals, exceedingly kind to all creatures, whether feathered or four-legged (except alligators. Eff them.). However, all that pales in comparison to what Jon was truly about. He was a murderer, a rapist, a thief, a kidnapper, a blackmailer, a money launderer, an informant, and a criminal drug smuggler who, from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s brought in several billion dollars worth of cocaine into the US. He was one of several noted American “Cocaine Cowboys,” if not the most prominent.

Jon Roberts, Cocaine Cowboy

Jon’s father was a Sicilian-born Mafia soldier, who made Jon witness a grisly murder at an early age. After his father was deported, Jon turned to a life of crime, being pushed around from schools to juvenile detentions to reform schools. His first sexual experience was raping a young girl whose father considered Jon like a son. Stupidly naive of the man, of course, as Jon never hid his violent, antisocial ways. Though Jon did have an astonishing ability to charm people despite his wicked nature.

He became more entrenched in a criminal lifestyle, interrupted only by a violent four-year stint in Vietnam, which only made Jon more bloodthirsty. After the war he joined the mafia, first running small-time scores for them, then climbing up the ladder bringing in big bucks. Eventually, he became a major player in the night club scene, the owner of various big-named clubs like Salvation, where famous celebrities would turn up. Jon would often lace their drinks with LSD for laughs. Once, Jon spiked Ed Sullivan’s drink, driving the variety-show host to a mini-nervous breakdown after fondling a prostitute’s naked breasts while tripping out. Jon’s old-school mustachioed Mafia bosses were not pleased.

Jon eventually got involved in several murders which brought on too much heat for his mob contacts and was banished from New York. From there he moved to Florida, where in just a short while he became a major mover in the cocaine business, working this time for the Colombian cartels, and raking in millions.

All this before the age of thirty.

A Twisted Empire

I won’t summarize the rest of his life, as there are numerous articles, books, tv movies and documentaries about “The Cocaine Cowboys”’ exploits. If you’re unfamiliar with names such as Pablo Escobar, Griselda Blanco, La Familia Ochoa, the Medellin Cartel, Max Mermelstein, Barry Seale, Mickey Munday, or most shocking of all, the Bush-Clinton MENA connection, I suggest a brief internet search to inform yourself before reading this book. Although it’s doubtful readers who are interested in the biography of Jon Roberts’ life are unaware of most of the characters involved in the Golden Age of Cocaine.

This is a fascinating story, but one so disgusting you may feel the need to take several showers afterward. Whether exaggerated or not, if only one-tenth of what Jon Roberts revealed in American Desperado is true, the War on Drugs is just a big dog-and-pony show that is supported by criminals and politicians alike, not to be redundant.

It’s a horrifying and infuriating notion.

Sister Queens by Julia Fox

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile, Julia Fox, Ballantine, 2011

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Book – Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile

While Julia Fox’s attention to little details is meticulous, her book Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile is mistitled. It’s a lopsided historical account of Katherine of Aragon, with scant attention placed on her older sister, Juana of Castile.

It read to me like Fox intended to write a biography on Katherine and maybe came up a few pages short, so she crammed in some facts about Juana. They were sisters, both queens, treated cruelly by their husbands and then cast aside in vicious games of politics.

I figure 2/3 of the book pertains to Katherine, 1/6 to notes and pictures and the other 1/6 to Juana’s life. It’s understandable to an extent, as Fox is an accredited expert on Tudor history, and there is so much known about Katherine and her marriage to Henry VII of England, a marriage that ended up fragmenting the Catholic Church and changing the face of Europe forever.

Juana the Who?

Sections pertaining to Juana’s childhood and her marriage to Philp Hapsburg are frustratingly truncated. It’s understandable as Juana spent most of her life—well over 40 years—locked away at Tordesillas, kept prisoner by her beloved Father, then later her son. Not much happens when a person is shut off from the rest of the world.

Fox maintains the now commonly held position that Juana was never insane, and backs this up with accounts from respectable people who came in contact with the supposed Mad Queen.

While I agree that Juana would not be considered legally insane by modern standards, she did exhibit such emotional mood swings which could be diagnosed as bipolar or manic depression. Juana’s documented strange, erratic behavior is downplayed by Fox. Certainly Juana’s treatment was unjust and callous, but there is evidence that, for a while, at least after Philip’s death and then giving birth to her sixth child, Juana was not mentally capable or willing to fulfill her functions as Sovereign Queen. Worse, Fox speculates so often about what Juana felt or did and how we will never know certain truths as hard proof is lacking, that she rarely comes to any definitive conclusion about Juana. We’ll never know anything for sure, Fox frequently states, so then why write about it?

Katherine the Great

In contrast, the parts on Katherine were painstakingly detailed. From Katherine’s grand entrance into London, her marriage to Arthur, then to his younger brother, Henry, each of her pregnancies and miscarriages, the death of her son, how she prudently ruled England while Henry was away at war with France, and then how valiantly she fought to save her marriage from divorce, these facts are all described in a well-annotated, scholarly manner, so replete with minute details of clothing, food and castles that G.R.R. Martin and Bertrice Small would be proud.

Katherine’s letters and actions are documented facts. Her character is fully analyzed, so Katherine becomes a fleshed-out human being before our eyes. There may be a few mysteries about her motives, but there is never a doubt about who she is.

A Lopsided Account

Were this a book just about Katherine, I would have appreciated it much more, rating this at least a 4. I’d like to consider myself an amateur historian when it comes to the Trastamaras & Hapsburg Spaniards and I found the sections on Juana disappointingly sparse in comparison to Katherine’s. The only information new to me about Juana was the number of visits her grandchildren made to her while she was imprisoned (18 in 20 years).

It’s unfortunate that this book is so uneven with much more written about Katherine than Juana. The parallel themes Fox attempts to draw about the sister queens’ fates are not thoroughly convincing. If she had framed her book on a point by point basis, rather than writing this chronologically, perhaps she would have made a more definitive case. As it was, I’m not sure what her ultimate thesis was besides pointing out the obvious tragedies.

4 stars for the Katharine sections + 1.5 stars for Juana’s = 2.75, rounded up to 3 stars overall.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (A Short Novel and Three Stories), Truman Capote, Modern Library, 1958

“She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.”

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Book – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (A Short Novel and Three Stories)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is actually Truman Capote’s collection of one novella and three short stories. As such, the book should be rated for all tales included, which were underwhelming. Over the years, I’ve lost my tolerance for pretentious writing, and despite Capote’s earthiness, never once did I shake that feeling of pretentiousness.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Here, a young writer looks back on the year or so when he lived near and loved a girl named Holly Golightly. Holly’s a beauty who runs around with wealthy men so they can take proper care of her.

The unnamed narrator whom Holly refers to as “Fred” (that’s her brother’s name, so Holly has clearly defined what kind of relationship they have, whatever his ambiguous sexuality may be) admits to loving Holly numerous times, but it’s not so much an erotic love as one filled with worship. “Fred” thinks to himself: “As I read each glimpse I stole of Holly made my heart contract.” Holly bathes naked in front of him, calls him “Maude” (I suppose “Nellie” would have been rude?). and the narrator readily admits to having been in love with women, men, and once an entire family. Here everyone’s sexuality is fluid; it’s all a matter of price.

On to the story. Really, there’s very little of it. Holly gets paid for her company, wears sunglasses indoors, and speaks French to impress. The players include an array of millionaires, models, wealthy diplomats, and mobsters. What a bunch of poser and phonies they all are. Oh, but Holly is a special type of phony, as one character says: “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.”

Holly Golightly is the forbear of the women of reality TV, fake, pretentious, and avaricious. She’s a good-time girl who insinuates she might dole out intimate favors for some cash, but most of the time pats her man on the cheek with a platonic “Goodnight, darling.” Capote himself wrote that Holly was “a modern-day Geisha.” No need to wrap it up in fancy euphemisms. I’d prefer a “prostitute” who’s honest with herself about who she is and what she does. Contrary to what Capote wrote, Holly is never honest with herself.

I don’t care if Hollywood toned down the story and made it into a sappy romance; at least that movie was charming.

Also, there’s a lot of rough talk that could be viewed in the modern perspective as hateful and loathsome. I can imagine shocked readers of “The New Yorker” (where the novella was originally published) being titillated by the sexual and racial references. I personally do not view 60-year-old works through a modern lens so I didn’t give a crap. The vulgar flavor bored me. Overlook the vulgarity and there’s not much else there.

2.5 stars, but I’ll be generous and add an extra half star for Cat who’s the best character in the whole novella and deserved better than that phony’s phony, Holly Golightly.

House of Flowers

This was notable for its Haitian setting, but not much else. A beautiful prostitute in Port-Au-Prince named Ottilie ditches her lifestyle after she meets her “one true love,” a handsome country boy. Capote really had an obsession with “hookers” didn’t he?

Ottilie moves in with him and his mother, who watches them have sex at night, brings Ottilie little gifts like a severed cat’s head in a box. Ottilie pays her mother-in-law back by serving those gifts as meals until mom-in-law suddenly drops dead.

The ending is odd because you don’t know if the mother’s ghost gets her revenge or if everybody in this story is mentally deranged.

Either way, 2 stars.

A Diamond Guitar

The most pointless tale in a book filled with pointless tales. An old man spending life in prison for murder laments the loss of his one true friend: a young, blond Cuban boy who was allowed to enter prison with diamond guitar. Mr. Schaeffer, the protagonist, is a decent enough sort–for a murderer—while the boy, Tico Feo, just uses his looks to get the old guy to do his bidding and fall for him. “Except that they did not combine their bodies or think to do so, though such things were not unknown at the farm, they were as lovers.

Tico Feo convinces Mr. Schaeffer to try to escape. Tico Feo gets away, but the old man doesn’t. He spends his remaining years caring for the guitar and feeling lots of pain and yearning.

Oh, the pain…and the yearning…the yearning…

Some yearn, others constantly crave.

1 star for this dud.

A Christmas Memory

This was just as plotless as all the other stories, but at least it’s the sweetest.

A 7-year-old boy bonds with his elderly cousin whom he refers to as his friend. Every Christmas, they make an elaborate fruit cake they send to only special recipients, like the President, or some missionaries, or a nice couple whose car once broke down near their home. Though they are very poor they work hard to make 30 exotic fruit cakes. They collect fallen pecans; kill flies for cash, barter with illegal alcohol vendors. Their time spent together is a magical one. Then the young boy is sent off to military school and the halcyon days come to an end.

3 stars just because it was so sweet.

Final Opinion

I found this compilation of short stories to be unimpressive. I understand modern literary writers are fond of character studies, not plot-driven tales, but if the characters are uninteresting then who cares? I didn’t.

I’m making myself read more literature, modern and classic, but this short anthology did not make me gaga for Capote. I’m hoping In Cold Blood is a better reflection of his talent.

2 stars overall for the entire collection.

The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Serpent Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt,

“My darling Lucy.” He panted against her ear, and then his teeth scraped her earlobe. “I love you,” he whispered. “Don’t ever leave me.”

THE SERPENT PRINCE

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – The Serpent Prince

I’ve only read the first seven of Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances, but The Serpent Prince is far and away my favorite. And it’s all due to Viscount Simon Iddesleigh. This is third and final installment in her “Princes” trilogy, and what a way to end the series!

A Great Hero and Heroine

A dandy’s dandy, Simon dresses like a Georgian fop in full wig, red heeled-shoes and lots of lace. He falls madly for Lucy, a commoner with an over-protective father. Lucy saves Simon’s life after he’s found seemingly lifeless in the river and nurses him back to health.

Simon and Lucy are instantly attracted to one another, but they have social and emotional differences that are obstacles for them being together. Love wins out, though, and against Lucy’s father’s judgment, they get married. However, it’s not easy sailing for Lucy and Simon, as Simon has secrets that haunt him. He’s such a multi-faceted hero, and Lucy is a strong heroine with fortitude and dignity.

Simon’s foppish ways hide a tortured soul; he’s a deadly swordsman who seeks revenge against those who killed his brother. Only Lucy’s love and a decent friend are his only salvation.

When I thought of Simon looking like this:

 photo 1259916696_paul-bettany-20060103-95212.jpg
Jennifer Connelly is one lucky gal!

(SIGH!)

…It really hit all my right buttons!

Also a plus in this historical romance is that the relationship is consummated AFTER the wedding. In contemporaries I don’t care when it takes place, but in a historical I like that old-fashioned type of stuff.

A Favorite Romance

Many reader prefer the first two book in the series, The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince to this one. As always, I’m a contrarian. They were good, however in my eyes they never reached the emotional highs of The Serpent Prince, which takes a spot on my all-time-favorite-romances list.

April Fool’s Day by Jeff Rovin

April Fool’s Day, Jeff Rovin, Pocket Books, 1986

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Book – April Fool’s Day

Jeff Rovin’s April Fool’s Day is an adaptation of the 1986 slasher pic that was loosely based on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None. But while Christie was a master of characterization and suspense, April Fool’s Day —the book—just doesn’t compare, not to Christie’s book nor the ’86 film, starring Scream Queen Amy Steele and many other young B-movie actors from that era.

Mind you, it’s not a bad book; it’s one I’m happy to have read, but if I had to choose, I’d favor watching the movie again as opposed to re-reading the novel.

If you enjoy references to 1980’s pop culture like soaps like “Search for Tomorrow,” Heavy Metal cassette tapes, and tongue-in-cheek references to Ed Grimley, I must say, this might be an interesting trip down memory lane. It’s also noteworthy that despite rose-colored nostalgia goggles, it was not a simpler time, as some “kids” were doing the same things back then that they’re doing today.

The setting is an isolated island filled with hard-drinking, pot-smoking, partner-swapping, rich, young college students named Muffy, Evelyn (Skip), Arch, Harvey (Hal), Nichelle (Nikki), Chaz, Nan, Kit and working-class outsider, Rob, and each character has a unique role in this deadly tale.

April Fool’s Day Movie Poster

Opinion of April Fool’s Day

As the title is April Fool’s Day and it’s part of the horror/slasher genre, expect some violent murders and outlandish twists. Personally, as a horror film buff, I hated the movie the first time I saw it. But then upon a couple of re-watches, I realized how funny and dark it was. However there were missing pieces that never quite made sense. Those missing pieces were either never filmed or left on the cutting room floor. Reading the novelization filled in those missing pieces (especially about Nan and Skip), yet it took away much of the delight and silliness of the original premise.

SPOILER ALERT:

If I hadn’t seen the movie and had read this book when I was younger, I would have enjoyed it very much. But I’m old and judgmental, and you can’t create a crew of awful, rotten kids without (SPOILER) killing all of them off one by one in truly gory fashion like you would in a real slasher film (/SPOILER)

I’m glad I read this, but into the eBay box it goes to find a new home.

Seven Noble Knights by J.K. Knauss

Seven Noble Knights, J.K. Knauss, Amazon Kindle, 2016

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wow, what an amazing, emotional ride! I love when my personal tastes synch so well with a novel.

The Book – Seven Noble Knights

Seven Noble Knights by J.K. Knauss is historical fiction done right. Based on an old Spanish legend, this book takes the reader back to 10th-century Hispania, a land divided among different cultures, Christians to the North and a Muslim Empire to the South. Much bloodshed and calamity occur and many years later, a hero arises to avenge family honor.

In the County of Castile, the seven sons of Gonzalez Gustioz are known as the bravest, strongest, most noble knights in all of Christendom. The story begins as the knights fight under their uncle Ruy Blasquez to capture enemy territory. We are introduced to Gonzalo, the youngest of the brothers, impetuous, yet honorable. Although an omniscient narrator takes us inside the heads of multiple characters throughout the book, it’s from his perspective that much of the first portion of the story is told.

As a reward for taking the castle, the older, grizzled Ruy is gifted with a beautiful, young noblewoman, Dona Lambra, to marry. Lambra, however, resents this union, as she had wanted to marry her handsome and arrogant cousin. She is a cunning, spiteful creature and although the reader is never placed directly in Lambra’s head, it’s plain to see her evil personality behind the beautiful face.

A violent tragedy ensues at the wedding due to Gonzalo’s hotheadedness and Lambra calls for justice, which is promptly given by the Count. However, it’s not enough for Lambra, who plots all-out revenge against the Gonzalez family and their seven sons.

As I read the book, I was kept anxious, knowing what was going to happen, but hoping, in vain, that it wouldn’t. My eyes were glued to the pages and I kept blowing off my responsibilities so I could finish each chapter. “Just one more chapter,” I’d tell myself, ignoring the growing piles of laundry I had to fold and dishes in the sink.

The story is set in both the dusty, plains of Castile and the beautiful paradise that was Al-Andalus. Both people of those lands have their codes of honor that they value greatly. From the Muslim caliphate, there will come a champion to enact vengeance against the ones who harmed the Gonzalez family.

Here, in the second portion of the book, we meet Mudarra, nephew of the great chamberlain of Cordoba. Mudarra is youthful and lives an idyllic life. Is he up to the great challenge before him? Can he commit to his plan when so many roadblocks seem to fall in his way? Does destiny await?

My Opinion

A few times when reading historical fiction, I get the notion that some authors don’t like nor respect the people or the time period they’re writing about. Or, they infuse their contemporary beliefs into what or whom they write. Not here in Seven Noble Knights. These characters felt wholly authentic, a people of their times. Yes, the story does have some fantastical elements in it and reads like an ancient fairytale, but the individuals feel like real people. The villains are villains, but we can understand why. The heroes are imperfect, yet are committed to doing what they must. The side characters are more than just placeholders, they’re people with wants and desires beyond the plot.

If you enjoy historical books that actually transport you back to previous times, with genuine characters that make you believe you are living their story, I heartily recommend Seven Noble Knights. It’s a shame this book has just a few reviews and ratings because it really is a fantastic work of historical fiction.

The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku by Landry Q. Walker

The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku, Landry Q. Walker, Disney Lucasfilm Press, 2015

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku was a fun joyride about treasure-seeking pirates who compete in a deadly race against the natural elements, each other, and time. 

This fast-paced, very short read was part of a series of books tangentially related to the film The Force Awakens. Although readers of almost any age can delight in this action-packed adventure, it’s written with an eye for Star Wars fans who know their lore. Be sure to familiarize yourself with aliens such as Gamorreans, Twi’leks, Weequays, and more. Author Landry Q. Walker places neat easter eggs to many details in the Star Wars universe, whether it be the ubiquitous phrase: “I have a bad feeling about this,” to more humorous references, like yet another planet covered in that stuff that’s coarse and rough and gets everywhere:

“Ponemah was not known for its hospitable climate. Nor was it renowned for its incredible wealth of goods and resources. It did, however, have a vast overabundance of one thing: sand.”

The Sith and Jedi conflict is, for me, the most compelling aspect of the SW universe, but I love me some bounty hunters, smugglers, and pirates!

In this little episode, the Crimson Corsair, a mysterious captain who wears a red Kaleesh mask, leads his crew across the hostile desert as they fight off other pirates who seek to find riches among the ruins of a crashed CIS ship from the long-ago Clone Wars.

The mystery behind Count Dooku’s secret stash is revealed after most of the treasure-hunters are dispatched via violent methods. Only the strongest will survive to be victorious. There’s a neat twist surrounding the precious cargo the winners find, one which should have had greater ramifications in the Disney sequel trilogy, but, alas, was another missed opportunity.

The current state of Star Wars is a mixed one and I wish the political drama surrounding this IP didn’t exist. This stuff is supposed to be a campy fantasy that provides joy to your inner child, no matter what age you are. I’m grateful that there are little nuggets of gold like this that can be found. And best of all, it was free to borrow on Kindle, so why not read it?

Transcendence by Shay Savage

Transcendence, Shay Savage, Shay Savage LLC, 2014

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4.5 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

First Impressions

Seriously? I loved this book. I can’t believe it, though! This is Twilight fan-fiction about a time traveling teen finding love with a caveman who acts like a protective puppy dog. I cried like a baby reading it. Must have been my time of the month.

My Frankensteinian Review Patched Together From Reading Notes

Shay Savage’s Transcendence is no great work of literature. It’s one of those pulled-to-pub Fan-fiction stories loosely based on Twilight. I have never read any of the Twilight books, nor read a sample, nor seen the films. I’ve never had a desire to do so, yet despite that, I know more about the series than I care to. If the names weren’t Ehd = Edward and Beh = Bella, I never would have caught on. Other than the hair colors and the fact that the hero is *OMG* so possessive, I don’t see any similarity between the series. There are no feuding groups, no love triangles, no baseball games, no battles.

80% of the book is just Beh and Ehd alone, dealing with the harsh environment with almost zero spoken dialogue throughout. It’s a primal love story between a young, frightened girl and a young, frightened male both trying to survive in a brutal world.

Although I’m not proud, I truly adored this book. It was written on a sixth grade reading level with the terms baby, mate or put a baby in my mate showing up on every single page! Transcendence was incredibly repetitive, simplistic, with a minimal plot, but it had its charms. I suppose it appealed to my inner 12-year-old, a being a I did not know was still in existence. Or, more likely, it reminded me of the film that I consider to be the most romantic movie with a happy ending: “Quest for Fire.”

In a caveman romance it makes sense that the hero is all “You my woman. I am your man. We are mated. I protect you and throw you over my shoulder so we make lots of babies.” That usually doesn’t work for me in contemporary romance or whatever genre. But here it works; it makes sense.

I’m seeing that many readers labeled Ehd an alpha male, but he came off totally beta to me. Maybe my definition of alpha male isn’t jiving with the accepted definition of the word. He wasn’t an independent type, he was always wanting to be with Beh. Ehd’s constantly thinking: “I want to protect my mate. I can never let my mate out of my sight. I will growl at anyone who comes at my mate. My penis is hard.”

He reminded me of my dearly loved and long departed American Eskimo dog. He was poofy, insanely loyal, hated being alone, loved to cuddle, barked at all strangers, and had constant erections when he was happy.

 photo 100_0575.jpg
My old American Eskimo doggie, standing by, ready to defend his pack, from all sources of danger, be it squirrel, bird, or UPS delivery man.

Some readers have assumed that Ehd is a Neanderthal, with a sloping forehead, and mouth full of huge teeth. But in her introduction to her book, Shay Savage states he is part of the early “Homo-Sapien” species, it’s just that he lacks the ability to speak. Artistic license and all that.

So rather than looking like this:

 photo quest4a.jpg
Handsome fellow, eh?

Ehd looks more like this:

 photo robert_pattinson_beard.jpeg
He’s cleans up nice for a caveman.

Transcendence was a rare experience for me as it was told from the male 1st person POV, which worked to add a sense of confusion. A young girl is propelled back in time and we have to put the pieces together to figure out what’s going on.

As much as I loved this book, I hope there is no sequel or one of those alternate POV sequels. The story finishes rather definitively. There are some hanging questions, but for me the ending was an ending. It was both a sad and happy ending, and one of the best endings I’ve read in a long time.

What can I say? Sometimes a story appeals beyond all rationalization and reason. I loved this one.

Spoiler Alert: Do NOT Read This Unless You Really, Truly Want To

After many years, children and grandchildren together, Beh dies of old-age and illness while Ehd holds her in his arms, lets the fire in the cave burn out and dies heartbroken. Just like a loyal doggie would.

Drive by James Sallis

Drive, James Sallis, Poisoned Pen Press, 1995

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The Book – Drive

When the best thing about a book is that at least I can say I’ve read it, that’s sort of like saying: “Oh, chicken pox, I had that once! Root canal with Novocain wearing off, yup, I know the feeling! Hemorrhoids and explosive diarrhea, I hear you!”

Well, you get my drift…

Writer James Sallis’ so-called neo-noir crime-thriller novella, Drive, reads like something that would be assigned in a freshman English college course. It’s a terrible, post-modern action tale with tons of characters, ever-changing POVs, and a time-line all skewed so that important events happen in the middle instead of at the end, therefore losing any impact on the reader, and you don’t care when the story’s over.

It’s also one of the most boring books I’ve read. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has directed three of the most boring movies I’ve seen: “Valhalla Rising,” “Bronson,” and “Only God Forgives.” So how did these two artists combine together to make a movie I loved?

The film and book are so different; this is one of those rare cases where the movie excelled and the novella fell flat. Ryan Gosling played Driver as a man of few words who forms intense attachments to a select few. The Driver of this book is verbose and has lots of friends. It had to be the retro 80’s style and awesome soundtrack that fooled me into thinking the book would be just as slick and enjoyable as the film.

This book belongs in the ninth level of literary Hell, consigned to those who commit treachery, as I was duped into thinking this would be a masterpiece. I purchased this book thinking it was going to be an intense crime-noir; instead it ended being a crime that made me snore.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

© Sourced from the British Newspaper Archive

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Book – Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is an exquisite work of art by Thomas Hardy. When it comes to media consumption, my tastes are hardly that of a cultural elitist. As far as novels go, I am more likely to favor lurid-covered pulp-fiction rather than the socially approved literature that marks one a reader of serious status. All the same, I am not a complete hairy-knuckled Philistine. There are classic works that have touched me intensely so that I rejoice in their splendid perfection.

“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang, and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.

She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly—the thought of the world’s concern at her situation—was found on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.”

The Beauty and Sadness

Thomas Hardy was a maestro of prose, not overly purple, using his descriptors with care, each clause an effective addition to what words had come before. Like most Victorian authors, he is moralistic, but his morals differed quite a bit from the accepted norms. His themes were not as simplistic as “Be kind to the poor lest ye suffer for all eternity,” but much deeper ideas. What is love? What is marriage? What defines an honorable man or a virtuous woman? Has man set up impossible ideals that can never be obtained? Is the guiding hand of social norms more like a chokehold upon the innocent? And so much more.

To a people in an era defined by a rigid structure, Hardy’s works were blasphemous.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles tells the doomed tale of Teresa Durbeyfield, a possible descendant of the Norman raiders of old. But Tess is no noble lady, just a poor girl from an ignoble family, her father a drunkard, her siblings numerous. There is nothing particularly special about Tess, except for a rough, sensual type of beauty. Indeed, the “hero” of the story overlooks her the first time he sees her.

From Angel Clare’s decision to ask the wrong girl to dance with him, to Alec d’Urberville’s pursuit of Tess as she walked past his carriage in the dimming light, to the scene where Tess, all alone, baptizes her dying child, to humble domesticity with Angel and Tess, to the blood dripping from the ceiling in the hotel, to Tess’s fated, tragic end, all these visions together create a mesmerizing, yet, quite frankly, depressing, saga.

My Final Opinion

Why did this book stick with me? I’ve seen it in several forms, movies, miniseries, etc., so it must resonate with a lot of others. It is a heartrending book about a nobody who was never meant for anything more than a meager existence and yet her heart ached for so much more. It’s a story filled with “If onlys.”

As Tess says before her doom: 

“This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much.”