BOOK REVIEW: The Art Of Caring: Zen Stories By Dan Glover

A GREAT EXPOSURE TO WHAT IS ZEN!

 

Generally, I don’t read short story anthologies. I guess my attention span needs a more consistent focus, but Dan Glover has changed that aspect of appreciation for literature. Glover’s The Art of Caring: Zen Stories is many things; boring is not one of them!

When you see the cover, you know what you can expect beyond the Table of Contents. Twenty-two stories that, to a lesser or greater degree, reflect Glover’s interest and experience with Zen Buddhism. My assumption is that Mr. Glover is a practitioner and/or knowledgeable student of the faith. Zen emphasizes the attainment of Enlightenment and Glover delivers, particularly in Ghost, Nowhere to Go, and The Coldest Winter.

Dan Glover’s characters are well drawn, an accomplishment with a high degree of difficulty in the restrictions of a short story. Several of the different characters have attributes in common. They all seem to be broke, or down on their luck, or in some other way, they find themselves in a desperate state. While struggling to overcome the status quo, success is measured through the precepts of Buddhism. Interspersed among the other stories are several “sectionals” of a few paragraphs that contribute to the readers understanding of this Asian originated philosophy.

In spite of the darkness, and often oppressive, stories, Glover’s talent for the right prose never disappoints as he paints visuals clearly for his audience. One might wonder who that audience is. My best guess is that his intended listener is Dan Glover. The stories entertain. The writing is professional and inspired. Beyond amusing the reader, you will come away with a small grasp of the ancient way of life.

Mr. Glover provided this reviewer with a Kindle edition of his book at no cost in exchange for an honest review of his work. It is with no small amount of candor that I recommend The Art of Caring: Zen Stories and award it five stars.

BOOK REVIEWS: Sky Warriors By Paul Hansen

LEARNING TO LOVE ALIENS

 

Paul Hansen has created a cleaver and inventive story. As an experienced private pilot, Hansen knows his airplanes. In fact, this novel is very much in the Tom Clancy style and the hardware is one of the major characters in this visionary tale. When Joe Star, a 17 year old Ute reservation Indian, finds himself aboard an alien spaceship and learns that he is their progeny –a half breed in the truest sense-he is the Sky Warrior.

The novel is skillfully executed and the backstories are woven through character recollections. Hansen describes in detail, mostly through flash-backs, the extensive flight training Joe is subjected to as a recruit for the Army Air Corps at the start of the Second World War. As a former student pilot, this reviewer can attest to Hansen’s thorough syllabus. Thoughts of renewing my pilot license briefly flourished.

The style is primarily narrative with limited dialog in the first half of the book. Those scenes with dialog are believable and move the story forward effectively. The scene of a grieving Nelson family, following the funeral service of wife and mother BJ, was particularly emotionally charged. Another well written sensitive scene when Sally and Brian confess their mutual attraction is memorable.

The Kindle edition, which the author kindly provided to this reviewer, would be more “user friendly” if it had a Table of Contents linked to the individual chapters. The reader’s movement around the story is inhibited without this feature. Speaking of negative reactions to the SKY WARRIORS, there were few, but a five-star award was squandered by repetitive references to so many flying/piloting minutia. Sometimes less is more. But the debut novel from author Paul Hansen earns a strong four-star rating in this reviewer’s opinion. I offer a hearty recommendation to all thriller/sci-fi/fantasy readers in addition to flying enthusiast.

BOOK REVIEW: Oath Of The Brother Blades By Samuel R. Choy

9-12 year olds into Quest Fantasy will love it!

 

Samuel Choy does a marvelous job in creating his fantasy world and the Kingdom of Theris. Therein lives the fatherless young peasant, Thomas, our protagonist. In the next forty-seven chapters, Thomas will confront all of the presumed fears of a twelve year old; facing dragons, fairies, trolls, and the plots against his King.

It is not until thirty percent of the story has been told that we encounter the main plot. This dastardly deed is being hatched by an evil sorceress with the power to enslave. Soon, we meet Thomas’ co-defenders of the plot, Sir Fedrick, one to King Aaron’s Twelve Great Knights who rule the empire, Lis, a Fairy Princess with magical powers and worldly wise old monk, Gildas.

Choy writes for a Young Adult audience and does so with care. Opportunities to exploit violent confrontations are subdued. While this appropriate prose is fitting for his intended reader, the scenes present insipid rather than exciting. Although the writing is very well done, the passive nature of it soon begins to bore.

One of several delightful aspects of Choy’s story is his inclusion of poetry. The author’s inclusion of his original rhymes scent the storyline as an expensive perfume enhances the allure of a beautiful woman. But that is not all that this reviewer discovered as pleasantly redeeming in Samuel’s fantasy quest novel.

Oath of the Brother Blades, uses the inspiration of Christian values as the basis of good overcoming evil. It is handled in much the same manner as is the violence; passively. There is no confrontational proselytization, which would be unnecessary to the storyline, but between the poetry, the dialog from old Gildas and the turn of events, the influence of Christian beliefs are expressed in an appropriate way. The romance between Thomas and Lis also reflects on this philosophy to a degree.

The main characters of this fantasy, including the evil sorceress, are well developed, without the use of flash-backs, and should appeal to the target audience. One small irritant for this reviewer was the language of the dialog. Choy provided the characters with modern language for dialog. This was out-of-character and took away some believability The language choice seemed to be for the benefit of the young reader. Medieval language skills, as used by Ken Follett in his Pillars of the World epic, while appropriate to the time, might also lose Choy’s intended readership. We will call this “literary license” and accept the author’s intent.

The pace of the story was slow. Since the action scenes were, as reported above, bland, the pace might have improved the reading had some of the dialog been more succinct. Much of it is “filler” and does not move the story forward.

Notwithstanding the offered criticisms, the novel was satisfying, taken in the whole. This reviewer has not been a young adult reader for a very long time; therefore I am not part of Mr. Choy’s audience. Given that fact of reality, the story ends well, if as expected, and the entertainment value is appreciated. I recommend this novel to readers in the nine to twelve year old range and for that readership, give the Oath of the Brother Blades a four star of five star rating.

This reviewer received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

BOOK REVIEW: Cold Truth By Joel Goldman

A Thrilling Ride!

Joel Goldman has written fourteen novels, with Cold Truth being third in the Lou Mason series. I came late to Goldman’s party, not a crasher, but invited when I listened to Joel interviewed by fellow crime-mystery writer, Paul Levine. My interest in the interview was to learn how Goldman became one of Amazon’s bestselling authors. Goldman’s responses to Levine’s questions intensified my writer’s curiosity about this highly successful author. So I bought Cold Truth to find out.

Lou Mason is hired to represent twenty-one year old Jordan by her adopted parents, Arthur and Carol Hackett. Jordan is the only person suspected by police when her psychotherapist dies when thrown out of her eighth floor office window. Will this be a typical courtroom drama? Not on your Martindale-Hubbell. Goldman’s trial lawyer mind complicates the case by introducing several other characters (too many characters to keep track of, in my view) with competing motives and more complex plot twist. But Goldman makes it all work to the delight of the reader.

The prose are joyfully absent of lawyerly legalese. Unlike another lawyer-turned-author, Goldman writes for his audience, like me, not legal eagles. The pace and rhythm of Goldman’s writing benefits from his choice of phrases. My only other criticism for this well done work is Goldman’s portrayal of Lou Mason’s love interest, Abby Lieberman. Mason falls deeply in love – way to quickly – without bringing the reader into the romance. It left this reader flat. I wondered if Abby would turn out to be the real killer. I understand that Cold Truth is a murder mystery, not a romance novel, but the love affair between Mason and Lieberman is a motivating factor in several scenes central to the story. I just did not buy Mason’s dissipated devotion to the aloof Abby.

My criticism obviously was not shared by the many readers who enjoyed Cold Truth, as did I. This evidence is represented by the many five-star and four-star rating reviews. A brilliant story, extremely well told and paced to entertain and enthrall the reader, I happily share my five-star rating in this review of a great read from a talented writer.

BOOK REVIEW: The Goldfinch: A Deleciously Absorbig Read By Donna Tartt

THE GOLDFINCH is the intriguing story of Theo’s life experiences – from his early teens through adulthood – and how these mold the young man he grows to be. With the loss of his mother in a tragic explosion at the art museum, he is plagued all his life with feelings of abandonment. In the chaos following the explosion, he steals the priceless antique painting of the Goldfinch from the gallery as he escapes the devastation. Guilt joins abandonment and these emotions lead him to extreme self-destructive behavior and life-altering relationships with people he clings to throughout his young life.

Donna Tartt has written a compelling portrait (no pun intended) of a justifiably troubled person who seems to just miss the turn in life that will lead him to happiness and peace. She details, with authority, such arcane activities as street drugs, their preparation and usage, woodworking techniques, antique hand tools, exotic woods and their specific advantages, characteristics, including the smell of the wood shavings. The research required to acquire this knowledge is mind-blowing. One would assume that, in addition to being a talented author, she must also be a very gifted druggie woodworker.

Following her descriptive details of architecture, craft techniques, and geographical depictions of New York City’s upper Eastside, Greenwich Village, and recession devastated Las Vegas subdivisions, the author treats the reader to fully developed characters. It is so well done that the reader is moved as much by her own emotions as those of the characters experiencing them.

Tartt is unconstrained by brief passages in this 755 page tome; she gives each scene, each sentence, exactly the time and prose required to fully paint the elements she wants her reader to have. And the reader will respond with full-blown emotional reactions. I highly recommend this work as a five star entertainment that will leave the reader feeling emotionally and intellectually satisfied.

BOOK REVIEW: Hog Heaven By Ben Rehder

Ben Rehder’s latest installment in the Blanco County Mystery series is just as masterly written as all the others in this series, maybe better. His characters are fully developed; from the sincerely serious County Game Warden protagonist to the two bumbling redneck jerks, Red O’Brien and Billy Don Craddock, with a loving touch of someone who knows them intimately. With a touch of country humor, and much moving around Blanco County Texas back roads and highways, Rehder weaves a web of mystery sure to please any fan of the genre.

In telling the tale the author offers two distinct life lessons; the sad results of homosexual intolerance by a few bigoted unaware rubes, and the behind the curtain crimes of big-time college football recruiting. Learning the lessons is half the fun of reading Hog Heaven.

Rehder never disappoints his readers. With a dry humor and clever plotting, he delivers a five-star entertainment that will have you smiling while page turning with delight.

BARNES & NOBLE PUT THE TIPPING POINT IN IT’S AD!

Walter’s blog is about the joys and frustrations experienced in becoming a full-time fiction writer, and some observations of people and life along the way.

 

…and just look at the company I keep;

Doris Kearns Goodwin, & Dean Koontz!

Can’t get any better than this?

HGTV ran this ad on television, Barns & Noble chose the books and my dear friend and fellow author, Donalie Beltran brought it to my attention! Oh, Happy Day…

BOOK REVIEW: Murder Is A Family Affair By Donalie Beltran

EVIL CAN BE INHERITED, AND IT WILL BE MUCH MORE VICIOUS!

A grisly tale told with love in the tender prose of debut author, Donalie Beltran, is an anomaly I did not expect as I read Murder is a Family Affair, but that is what this talented and original author delivers. I highly recommend this novel which has earned Five Stars.

The story spans three generations of the Tuxhorn clan, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century with Henry Tuxhorn’s funeral in Prussia, his son, August fleeing the corrupt Prussian government, and the oppressive Catholic Church, August brought his angry violent nature to the new land and made it a tool to his success and subsequent suicide. Henry’s grandson, Charles is the primary focus of this mystery. He is the final inheritor of the evil hatred and brutal Tuxhorn curse.

The Tuxhorn’s are psychopathic killers and thieves, devoid of the love they never received in childhood. Totally amoral and deliberately cruel, they leave a trail of viciousness across the mid-west and into the twentieth century. The wicked Tuxhorn crimes are shocking, but Beltran’s writing unfolds the evil actions with an understanding worthy of a Freudian scholar.

Beltran has accumulated extensively researched facts about the Tuxhorn family as well as their victims, family members, neighbors, and townsfolk. She describes the houses architecture, furnishings, and buildings in the towns from her research efforts. Beltran knits her found facts together with a bridge of narrative and intelligent dialog that create images in the readers mind like a faded sepia daguerreotype.

The author develops her characters thoroughly so that the reader feels that she is reading about a person known well. Good writing demands that the pace of the story keeps the reader “hooked” throughout, and Murder is a Family Affair does not disappoint. From the opening paragraph through to page 308, a reader will turn each page, eager to see what comes next! The author has left us a clue to the content on the back cover of the book. I received an Advance Review Copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for this honest review. The Beltran clue that grabbed me when I read it is;

THE STORY IS TRUE.

THE FAMILY IS REAL.

THE FAMILY IS MINE.

IF MAN EVOLVED FROM MONKEYS AND APES, WHY DO WE STILL HAVE MONKEYS AND APES?

The October issue of Texas Monthly has a terrific article by Erica Grieder titled Money Makes the World Go Round. It is a very well written biographical piece about the President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard W. Fisher. Why, you might ask, is this important to me? Well, you’d be right to ask that question; however, if you read the last blog here, you might assume that it has something to do with Texas ATTITUDE. Right, you would be!

As Ms. Grieder reports, Mr. Fisher has a background that is Texas all the way, but that is not what I wanted to talk about. Read the piece in the October 2013 issue of Texas Monthly. There are a few things that Grieder says which reflect directly on the Attitude of Texans. First, she points out, that The Dallas Fed is one of twelve regional Federal Reserve System for the United States. The Dallas Fed, of which Mr. Fisher has presided since 2005, “It is the only Fed bank with a district that’s basically just a single state, and since that state is Texas, the Dallas Fed has a long tradition of being a pain in the ass. Historically, the president of the Dallas Fed tends to be one of the more maverick figures in the country’s financial system, given to plain talk and fiscally hawkish views.” Now, I ask you, is that a t t I t u d e? At the Federal Reserve? Yes, it is!

While the policies of the Dallas Fed are securely in the capable hands of Richard Fisher, the fact that under his leadership together with polices of the Texas legislature, Texas’ economic picture is the most effective in the Union. That probably adds to the attitude formula, don’t ya think?

In the article, Ms. Grieder mentions that among Fisher’s pals is the former President of the USA, George W. Bush. Okay, a President from Texas. As you may recall, we’ve had 3; Lyndon B. Johnson – 36, George H. W. Bush – 41, and Fisher’s pal, George W. Bush – 43. Pretty impressive when you consider that only Massachusetts with 4 Presidents, Virginia with 5, (George Washington – 1, Thomas Jefferson – 3, James Madison – 4, James Monroe – 5, and John Tyler – 10 – Wow!), and Ohio (Ohio?) had 6 Presidents, oh, and that Northeast Liberal Hippy Enclave, New York, has had the same number as Ohio (Ohio?)

Alright, so Texas doesn’t rank all that high with leaders of the free world, but we beat California with only three! And, except for President Reagan, we lead the pack in conservative legislators, and that may be the point of the article; conservative, fiscally responsible law makers can make the machinery of government and commerce work for the good of the people.

Grieder said something else in the article. She quoted Mr. Fisher; “Here’s the way I’d put it,” said Fisher. “I’d rather see the Texification of the United State than the Californification. California’s a beautiful place. I was born there, and I go out there often. It’s a stunningly physically beautiful place. But it’s an unhappy place. It sort of went past whatever that point is of balance.”

Now it is not my intent to put down the Golden State. I love California, as do so many other millions. This blog subject is to compare those things I grew up with in California to the things I’ve come to appreciate and care for, different that they may be, in Texas, my new home. If there are any Texans or displaced Texans that would like to comment on this subject, then, “Come on down!”

IS THERE ANOTHER WORD FOR SYNONYM?

In my last blog post, I mentioned that Texans have an attitude, and mused where that might have come from. Of course, I don’t know the answer, but I have my suspicions. So, I go to the dictionary for a clue. Attitude is defined as meaning manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing. Interesting to note that the word Attitude has a French origin, coined around 1670, a few years before Spain ran the French out of Texas. Ummm!

Oh, I almost forgot; the Synonym for Attitude is Position, meaning a condition with reference to place; location; situation. So, I think we have it. A Texas attitude is a reflection of thinking, or feeling (and showing through actions) just how different a Texan is from everyone else. Superior? Not necessarily, (but it sometimes comes out that way).

I will bet that the six flags, which have flown over Texas in the past 494 years, have been an influence on that attitude. Your average Texan – by my observation – is proud of his history and is generally aware of the impact antiquity plays. Another word for it might be Culture. The average citizen of Southern California would not be as informed.

Aware of French colonization efforts, Spain reestablished its territorial claims in 1690 and the French abandoned their five years of occupation. The Spain left a deep impact on Texas. Spanish language provided the names for many of the rivers, towns, and counties that currently exist, and Spanish architectural concepts still thrive in buildings like the Alamo. Having a revered historical landmark in the center of the second largest city in the state makes the remembering easier for residents of San Antonio, but then every Texan, statewide, knows the importance of that 1836 heroic battle. The old mission chapel is an official Texas State Shrine. Certainly, that must be a factor in the Texan attitude.

So, Spain lost Texas in the 1821 War of Independence to Mexico, who lost Texas to The Republic of Texas in 1836. Because of Sam Houston’s efforts, Texas was admitted into the Union as the 28th state in 1845. Then came the Civil War in 1861 and Texas declared its session and joined the Confederate States of America. We all know how well that went. The Texas holiday Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 when Federal troops arrived in Texas. The Stars and Stripes were raised over Austin a few days later.

Did you see it: One of the elements of attitude? With the exception of Houston’s salesmanship, each of the flags was changed by a war. I’m told by some of the “older guys” that war does change people: those on the front-lines, families whose home is overrun by the opposition troops, or loved ones, lonely and sick with fear and grief. War changes you.

Next time; where a new Texan sees attitude in daily life.