Review: The Passion of Jazz and Other Short Stories

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The Passion of Jazz and Other Short Stories
The Passion of Jazz and Other Short Stories by Nicholas Bridgman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the title story the best. “The Passion of Jazz” does an excellent job mixing classic novel themes: musical prodigies, art & love, and bittersweet goodbyes. Many of the stories are short and simple, with perfectly descriptive titles. Creepiest was probably “Sleep,” a disturbed man’s POV description of his crimes & punishment.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

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Review: A Smattering of Darkness

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A Smattering of Darkness
A Smattering of Darkness by Alisha “Priti” Kirpalani
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This author has definitely shown great potential with this work, but I fear she has not yet fully grown into that potential. The book is divided into three sections, “short,” “shorter,” and “shortest.” The “shortest” were merely snippets, beautiful phrases like unfinished poetry. The “short” stories seemed underdeveloped, overwritten, yet very good and original ideas. My favorite section was the “shorter” stories. Although they were hardly developed at all, they struck me as extraordinarily dark and original. This author has a bright future, and I hope she finds her voice and gives full reign to the dark little nuggets, presented in this book in raw form.

* I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. *

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Review: Beyond The Rainbow’s End

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Beyond The Rainbow's End
Beyond The Rainbow’s End by James Pitter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This charming little book consists of sweet, short, simple stories. My favourites were Morris Winthrop and Opposite Directions. In the former, a tabloid reporter watches a fashion event unfold with obvious disdain in a hilarious parody on celebrity and status. In the latter, men ride around in a minibus fervently discussing their route, their better alternatives, their inept driver. It is, again, a funny little jaunt that reminds me a bit of Doerr’s July Fourth. While there is no deep dive into the human condition, it is a short collection that makes for a very entertaining afternoon or before-bedtime read.

* I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. *

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Review: The Gingerbread Collection

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The Gingerbread Collection
The Gingerbread Collection by Victor A. Davis
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Wow, so incredibly humbled by and proud of my first public review. Thank you Joel R. Dennstedt of Reader’s Favorite! https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/the-gingerbread-collection

Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers’ Favorite

The Gingerbread Collection: Short Stories by Victor A. Davis immediately reveals the efforts of a master craftsman hard at work creating what appears to be an effortlessly produced, highly polished, perfectly edited, exquisitely written, fine tuned set of finished tales. Upon opening the book to partake in these delights, the reader immediately relaxes, knowing that he or she is in the hands of a professional writer and master storyteller. The style of writing is impeccable, exhibiting a perfect balance of necessary information, descriptive detail, and allocated momentum uniquely relevant to the action immediately at hand, with finely measured doses of anxious tension to make one hesitate before recklessly plunging on ahead. All for the purpose of entertaining the avid reader with intriguing, helplessly engaging plots.

The title story, called simply Gingerbread, retells the story of Hansel and Gretel in a totally modern setting with more anticipatory involvement than the original, and with a decidedly more gripping – and perhaps more morally demanding – finale to the tale. You will be deeply touched, affected, and morally offended … that is guaranteed. You will also have been deeply involved and entertained … that too is guaranteed. This holds true with all of the stories in The Gingerbread Collection (especially one really horrifying tale), in which each tale – so completely unique unto itself that choosing a favorite is not only impossible but somehow inappropriate – seduces the reader into a new and different spot to be, watching with a kind of participatory gaze the events of life so particular to that specific tale. I am attempting to convey here the incredibly lucid sense of reality that permeates each story, immersing the reader quite helplessly as he becomes a participant in the telling. That is what a great storyteller does, and make no mistake, Victor A. Davis is a great storyteller.

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Review: Around the World in 80 Tales

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Around the World in 80 Tales
Around the World in 80 Tales by Dave Tomlinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a great little book for those who love travel but have not been “around the world” like they probably wish. The author shares short journaled adventures from exotic places, from Malaysian island beaches, to Javanese volcanoes, to Cambodian temples to Himalayan base camps. It is not told in any kind of narrative form, so it lacks the kind of magical wistfulness you might get from Bruce Chatwin or Peter Matthiessen. In fact, the author even states that he randomized the chapter order to avoid the inevitable “trip” narratives. However, I enjoyed visiting these many exotic places vicariously. Also note that the book includes gorgeous photographs from these locales, so it is best when read on a full-color kindle (or physical copy, if available).

* I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. *

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Review: Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War

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Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War
Co. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War by Samuel Rush Watkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an amazing man this was. What I thought would basically be a war journal, akin to All for the Union or Red Badge of Courage was so much more. Sam Watkins was an extraordinarily intelligent, well-spoken, nuanced man. He balances a tone of whimsical despair with fierce patriotism. He speaks of his soldierly duty without lecturing on the divisive issues of the day. The Civil War is often called “a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.” To exemplify this, read The Cause of the South, followed by this. You will be disgusted with the lofty rationalizations of slavery and states’ rights by the former, written by aristocrats from their high castle. Then when you read from humble Sam the life of the ordinary private soldier, you will come to respect the “poor men” fighting only to defend their homes. I think part of what makes this a great read is that Sam wrote it twenty years after the war, as a middle-aged family man. Doubtless the intervening years matured him, compared to how he would have written a journal as a 21-year-old soldier in the moment.

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The Rights Revolutions

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Review of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, Chapter 7

(Credit: All block quotes are excerpts from the book.)

Chapter 7: The Rights Revolutions

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

A long time ago, I remember watching a documentary about cave people. There was a scene in which a family sat in a cave with a blizzard raging outside. They looked cold, hungry, and destitute. A mother tried to comfort a screaming baby. The father gathered his dignity, took the baby gently from its mother’s arms and carried it outside to smother it. This winter was too harsh to be caring for an infant. I remember thinking at the time what a horrible world they found themselves in, not what horrible people they were. As it turns out, the killing of newborns is fairly common in mammals and primates. Mothers must hedge a biological bet, taking stock in their situation before determining whether the child has a reasonable chance to reach adulthood or if the potential leech must be killed before it dies anyway and squanders all their effort.

As it turns out, this has been the rule rather than the shocking exception for most of human history. Myths and fairy tales abound in which infants are left for dead, but grow up to become heroes, like Romulus and Remus. Myths give us a dramatized record of ancients’ actual practices. Sparta was not the only civilization that discarded weak or sickly babies. In 1527 a French priest wrote that “the latrines resound with the cries of children who have been plunged into them.” Enter Oliver Twist, the 19th century English exposé about an orphan growing up in a workhouse. When we think of the evil conditions of orphanages of times past we forget that they were a moral improvement upon infanticide. That is to say, at some point, the killing of unwanted children became unpalatable to our ancestors so social movements cropped up calling for institutions that could take them in. Our concern for children has continued to grow so much that the workinghouses of Dickens’ day, with their near ninety-nine percent casualty rate, seem repugnant to us.

The historical increase in the valuation of children has entered its decadent phase. Now that children are safe from being smothered on the day they are born, starved in foundling homes, poisoned by wet nurses, beaten to death by fathers, cooked in pies by stepmothers, worked to death in mines and mills, felled by infectious diseases, and beaten up by bullies, experts have racked their brains for ways to eke infinitesimal increments of safety from a curve of diminishing or even reversing returns. Children are not allowed to be outside in the middle of the day (skin cancer), to play in the grass (deer ticks), to buy lemonade from a stand (bacteria on lemon peel), or to lick cake batter off spoons (salmonella from uncooked eggs).

What’s going on here? If the long historical arc from infanticide to orphanages to child labor to public education to children’s rights to political correctness is real, then is this just one more instance of the overall decline in violence? Yes. In 1693 Locke coined the phrase “tabula rasa,” or “blank slate,” in describing for the first time in history the concept of a child’s brain being an “empty” version of an adult’s, that must be filled with wholesome knowledge in order to become a responsible adult. Neglect a child’s education and he/she will grow up to become a bandit, a fiend, a godless peasant. People picked up this Enlightenment call for public education. But what had they picked it up from? What Locke was arguing against was the age-old medieval idea that all children were possessed of demons, inherent from their sinful creation, and that child-rearing consisted of “beating the devil out of them” and replacing Satan’s stranglehold with scriptural knowledge and grace. (Note how modern expressions stick around long after the practice that coined them have disappeared.)

The subject of children’s rights is just one instance of a slew of rights revolutions that have blossomed, most notably in Enlightenment Europe and the 1960s and 70s. Civil Rights, Animal Rights, Children’s Rights, Women’s Rights, Homosexuals’ Rights, and (a bit further back in time) Laborers’ Rights have all become familiar by now. It is not difficult to conjure up images of the terrible violence that must have provoked them. The UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights seems to have marked an historical turning point, a reawakening of some of the Enlightenment ideals of freedom and equality for all.

When we look back in time, it is difficult to imagine how any rational person could justify an act we would today call a hate crime or a hate killing. But that just goes to show how our cultures have changed over time. People used to exist who really believed Jews had horns on their heads under their hair, or that negroes were physically unsuited for education. Discrimination, and worse, ethnic violence, starts with things like dehumanization. Even that very word is telling, for it implies that today we consider every 46-chromosomed person a real, fully whole and deserving human, and that our ancestors (or unfortunately, contemporaries) have de-humanized them, have stripped them of their inherent humanity in order to demonize them. But for them, it’s the other way around. A pervasive ignorance and an upbringing within a cultural norm that has never considered a class of people human in the first place cannot be guilty of de-humanizing them, only of ignorance. That is why the rights revolutions have always been driven by information, education, engagement, and in short, the spread of knowledge.

If I were to put my money on the single most important exogenous cause of the Rights Revolutions, it would be the technologies that made ideas and people increasingly mobile. The decades of the Rights Revolutions were the decades of the electronics revolutions: television, transistor radios, cable, satellite, long-distance telephones, photocopiers, fax machines, the Internet, cell phones, text messaging, Web video. They were the decades of the interstate highway, high-speed rail, and the jet airplane. They were the decades of the unprecedented growth in higher education and in the endless frontier of scientific research. Less well known is that they were also the decades of an explosion in book publishing. From 1960 to 2000, the annual number of books published in the United States increased almost fivefold.

If all of this sounds intriguing, even counter-intuitive, watch Pinker’s TED Talk for a wonderful summary of the book.