Review: All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes

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All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes
All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes by Elisha Hunt Rhodes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rhodes is a charming model citizen and soldier. He captures the war experience better than some literary figures with his modesty, faith, and writing ability. I can see why he featured so highly in PBS’ narrative research, and why this diary has become so important in the Civil War annals. One thing I didn’t get out of this book, that I was hoping to, was some exposition about the cause of the north. Rhodes uses phrases like “it is all for the Union” and “a belief that our cause will prevail” without ever detailing what their cause, or his, personally, actually was. I find it odd that a young, passionate man would feel the urge to enlist in a war effort without once in four years penning his exact motivations for enlisting. Four years’ worth of fighting, witnessing a tragic loss of life, interacting with civilians on both sides never moved him to express, from his point of view, what separated a Unionist from a Confederate. Perhaps an expression of emotion would have been seen as inappropriate or misplaced, or perhaps he saw himself as a recorder of events, an impartial observer. At any rate, I hope to read other books that shed light on what the war was all about from a personal, rather than political point of view. Rhodes’ best passages were toward the end, when the war was winding down and emotions of joy and gratitude and victory were running highest. I especially liked the pages he penned during his time in Winchester, VA. Here is where we saw a little more of Rhodes the gentleman and civic officer, less the muddy soldier.

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Review: The Man Who Remembered The Moon

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The Man Who Remembered The MoonThe Man Who Remembered The Moon by David Hull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The quintessence of science fiction. As a reader who has never placed a high value on space ships, aliens, futurology, and made-up words, I have a muddled relationship with science fiction. I choose to qualify my taste as “social” science fiction (think Atlas Shrugged, Fahrenheit 451, Flowers for Algernon), implying that a) all those elements are forgivable only if they advance a social commentary, and b) that at the opposite polar extreme are works of “cheap” or “formulaic” science fiction. David Hull accomplishes the feat of contributing to the body of work of the former. The Man Who Remembered The Moon is an exquisite piece of short social science fiction, answering the beautifully simple prompt of: imagine the moon disappeared tomorrow, but you were the only one who ever remembered it was there to begin with. He opens with a bang on page one, and takes the reader through many stages of frustration and insanity with a doctor-patient mental hospital plot. While I am sure there are no political intentions here, he does an excellent job placing the reader in the shoes of a mentally afflicted person. This superreal advancement of empathy immediately cries attention upon different forms of therapy. Can the patient be led out of the fog of delusion by logical argument? By appeal to family love? By letting the delusion “play out”? Etc. Hull is also a learned man, enriching his prose with references to astronomy, physics, medicine, and literature. I am very glad to have discovered this writer, and look forward to following his work.

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Review: Water Minute Mysteries

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Water Minute Mysteries, by P. Aaron Mitchell

I read a few of these stories, and honestly, did not feel drawn to them in any literary way. The author has an interesting concept, akin to a morning sudoku puzzle, to go online and read a cleverly crafted minute mystery, guess whodunnit, and check his solution with the author himself. Interesting, but not exactly my thing.

Review: Impromptu Scribe

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Impromptu Scribe
Impromptu Scribe by Alex Morritt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As he explains, this is a short (in page length) collection of over 30 stories, each between 500-2500 words. Some are too short to be sensible, others beg to be more fully developed. I have to admit, the form is off-putting. As part of a reading/writing circle, Alex writes supershort fiction in response to writing prompts. While this is an excellent way to produce ideas and hone the craft, I am reticent to condone rounding up enough of them to fill a book and bringing them straight to market. Having said that, Alex is an excellent writer. I enjoy his prose and the originality of his ideas. I have enormous respect for the “travelling writer” who brings foreign lands to vivid life. My favourites were “The Art of Conversation”, “Journey to Nowhere”, “Coyotes”, and my very favourite, “Poncho Man”. If the author wishes to make a name for himself in “flash” fiction, I wish him the best. But what I yearn for, as a reader, is for him to pick out some of the very best of these prompts, and develop them as full-fledged stories. It is not the writing or the premises that dilute my sensibilities, but the format. The stories, rather than following a typical exposition-conflict-resolution flow, consist of short exposition-danglers. While I am not in theory opposed to open endings, when reading this work, I felt myself vacillating between confusion at the impromptu cutoff, and a frustrated yearning for more.

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Preview of Upcoming Story: The Flying Kite

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Below is an excerpt from an upcoming short story, “The Flying Kite.” The inspiration came to me as a novel. I envisioned a man out to set a record for an Out of Eden style walk. Failing in his progress but determined to the point of obsession, he loses his family, then his sanity, then disappears. I have never written a novel before, so I mulled the idea over for a while until I came up with a way to present it as a short story. A young man walks into a bar, introduces himself as a photojournalist, then tells a tall tale about finding the star-crossed traveler out in the wilderness, still dead set on completing his goal, decades after its completion would have meant anything to the rest of the world.

full post…

Review: The Woman Inside: Sara

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The Woman Inside: Sara
The Woman Inside: Sara by S.C. Alban
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was very impressed with this story. The author deals with very deep emotions without proselytizing or lecturing. As a reader, I long for the darker themes, in this case regret, self-judgment, shame as a weapon. She treats her subject and her characters with respect and reserve. I am excited to read future stories in this collection dealing with women’s issues in contemporary society. I am a strong believer in the power of the pen. I believe that short, heartfelt, measured vignettes like this one contribute far more to the evolving sensibilities of reading citizens than public heated debates ever will. Thank you, Sara.

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Review: The Last Lecture

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The Last Lecture
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not at all what I was expecting. I personally found the author to be arrogant to the point of clouding the message. Every “lesson” chapter was an anecdote about himself imparting a pearl of wisdom to somebody else. He spends very little time (although some, to be fair) paying tribute to the people who influenced him. What I thought, honestly, as a fellow IT professional, was “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t go into academia, because I could have turned out like this guy.” That is, a pompous, quirky, elitist, hyper-intelligent, no-nonsense, efficiency-obsessed, playful, socialite jerk. Most of his advice is perfectly sound, so barring comment on notions I’ve already heard elsewhere, here are the two most prescient moments I experienced in his book:

(1) On communitarianism: “If you deeply believe in your right to a jury trial, don’t try to get out of jury duty.”
(2) On acceptance: “You have to accept the whole me. If you like the part of me that didn’t get angry [at your wrecking the car], then you have to accept the frugal part of me that would find it imprudent to get it fixed.”

The ending of the book touched me far more than the better part of its bulk, in that it dealt more with his personal story and his resolution with his family and confronting death. I am sure he didn’t intend for this to be a book “about dying” by “a dying man” since there are doubtless plenty of those, but that section outshone the rest.

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Review of No Matter What

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No Matter What a short story by Ruth Erskine

Despite its unconventional structure, I really liked this story. It’s charming. The story consists of approximately 20 short brother-sister dialogues, spread across 20 years. Despite the appeal of symmetry, there’s no definitive explanation as to why they don’t see each other that often. I was expecting some kind of reveal at the end, but there was no exposition-drama-resolution arc here. What impresses me is the author’s ability to create a touching and compelling relationship using nothing but dialogue. That is unique. Typically, stories require some kind of conflict, crisis, and context to really be engaging, but this story felt like a stroll along a beach. My last criticism is an over-reliance on stereotypes, namely a tattooed, motorcycle-driving, leather-jacket-wearing (&tc) career criminal, and a “goody” college girl raised in a “goody” household. The one-dimensionality of the characters subtracts (though only very slightly) from the story. Other than that, I appreciate a refreshing read from a refreshing author.

Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People

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How to Win Friends and Influence People How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been a very long time since I’ve read this book. I didn’t realize how deeply it affected me until reading it a second time and thinking, “Wow, I’m really living all this.” In hindsight, I’m glad I read it at an impressionable young age. There is a certain expectation in young males to value things like competitiveness, aloofness, precision. Dale Carnegie slashes through such ideas with a philosophy bent on sympathy, courtesy, and compromise. He is quite sexist, but considering the time period, I won’t judge the message by the messenger. The meat of his message seems to be “if you are a selfish person, try selflessness as a tool to get what you want.” He does stress the necessity of being genuine, which tempers the “go get ’em” attitude. Regardless of its flaws, it is an important work for anyone looking to shore up their interpersonal communication skills.

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Review of Darkness Lay Ahead

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Darkness Lay AheadDarkness Lay Ahead by Baheya Zeitoun
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Baheya Zeitoun writes with a lyrical ear, like poetry or song. The story itself seems unstructured, as if the author took a few diary entries and transformed them from first into third person. There is no “real time” action or dialog. The prose simply dances along, well-crafted and simple. At first, the lack of specificity struck me as odd, had me thinking, “when is the story going to start?” In reading, I relaxed a bit and enjoyed the deep emotional wanderings of this unknown and unexplained heroine. There is one section break in the work, seeming to separate a vague problem from a vague solution, but it is unnecessary. The whole story, from start to finish, is a character sketch, or at most, an origin story. What gets me is the voice, the word choice, and its air of melancholy. She has a mellow voice, despite a story which is at its heart is quite despairing.

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