Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reviewing a Short Story Collection

Well hello dear readers!  After spending the day with my son digging out from one snowstorm after another, recovering our front door access and attempting to find our cars buried under the enormous heaps of fluffy winter wonder, I am finally able to bring another book review to you.  Not that I'm complaining, mind you.  Snow always brings out the kid in me.  So let's get onto that review - better late than never, eh?

Book Summary:
Murders, Bikers, and a Meteor is a collection of four dark tales ranging in genre from crime drama to science fiction and horror.  Join a young couple in the 1950's as they investigate a mysterious meteor crash in Arizona's Sonora desert, and an extraterrestrial encounter leaves one of the kids with a whole different view of life and death.  Or take a ride with a notorious motorcycle gang as their path crosses with an unsuspecting small town sheriff on a hot and humid Ozark Mountain day.  See what happens when an innocent man answers his phone and finds himself thrust into the dysfunctional world of his drug addict roommate, and a prostitute.  Take a late night road trip under a full moon with a high school student down a desolate highway that his parents had warned him not to take ... He should have listened to his mom and dad.

My Review:
I have to say from the get-go that little in this collection of short stories interested me.  All four stories stories encompassed less than a hundred pages in PDF format and really jumped all over the place.

The first story is about Ronnie, a drug addicted kid from the 60's who likes nothing more than to spend his days smoking weed and getting high.  To avoid the cops after leaving work high one night, Ronnie takes a side road home - and has an encounter he will never forget. 

The second story shifts forward into modern times (without a hint until well into the story) and is about Kurt, a worthless excuse for a man.  Kurt gets himself involved with a prostitute who steals his car, only to return later in the morning to suffer at the hands of Kurt's murderous wrath.  Axl, Kurt's best friend, takes him too and fro when the car is stolen, only to internally whine about being taken advantage of by his supposed "friend" and then to be beaten about by this same so-called "friend" and left as an accomplice to a murder.

Shift back in time to the 50's for the third story about Glen and Sharon, two high-school teenagers making out in the Arizona desert one night and finding themselves witnesses to a strange meteor crash that leaves behind a trail of dripping molten fire.  Upon closer inspection, Glen is struck momentarily blind as he suffers through periodic seizures over the next hour or so.  During these spasms, he sees images of people he knows suffering through crashes, old age, and death.

The final story encompasses three guys from a gang leaving a bar after several days of swimming in alcohol and meth.  They carry a bag full of cash, possibly from a big drug sale (it's never really explained) and drive through a small Arkansas town, where Luther, the local sheriff, spends his days taking care of widows and their dogs.  Lives are lost by the arrival of Johnny and the gang to this small town.

Through all four stories, we find misspellings, punctuation errors, tense shifts, and a lot of point-of-view shifts.  The style and presentation were very stilted and rather adolescent - though I wouldn't recommend adolescents reading the stories because of the drug usage, prostitution, and murder references.  At no time did I feel empathy for or connections to the characters. 

About the only character that elicited any sympathy from me was Virgil-the-dog.  A couple of references were interesting, such as a character getting up off of the "man-eating couch".  Then also I felt a twinge of concern for Ronnie as the alien character was chasing him through the cornfield and rooted for him to escape.  Other than these, there was little here that would have kept me reading, subjectivity being what it is.  However, if you find anything in the descriptions that pique your interest, pick up a copy of K. J. Klimasz's Murders, Bikers, and a Meteor.

Author Bio:
K. J. Klimasz lives with his wife and their three kids in the same small town both he and his wife grew up in about thirty miles away from St. Paul, Minnesota.  K. J.'s favorite sport is hockey and he volunteers as a goalie coach for the youth hockey program in his hometown.  He also enjoys fly fishing.  Bass and Musky are his local favorites, but Bonefish and Tarpon off the coast of Belize are his all-time favorites.  Family vacations are important to K. J. and his wife, and they try to take family vacations twice a year but usually settle for one.

K. J. has worked as a machinist, a carpenter, and is currently working as a toolmaker building and repairing plastic injection molds.  Visit his website at

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Return to Germany for World War II

It's history week here at the blog.  Yesterday we visited the Civil War, and today we visit a very traumatic time in our not-too-distant history - World War II.  The Nazi era was rife with danger, intrigue, and just plain horror.  But we cannot forget the honor that the destruction of the Third Reich brought to our brave men, even though the price paid was far too high.  That's what we see today in the review of Echoes from the Infantry.

Book Summary:
Echoes From The Infantry is the tale of one Long Island World War II veteran, the misery of combat, and the powerful emotional bonds that brought him home to Rockaway Beach and the love of his life, Madeline Brandt. It is about a father and son, and their ultimately redeeming struggle to understand each other's worlds - one a world at war, the other shaped by its veterans. Nappi moves artfully between the present and past, weaving a fictionalized tale of this Long Islander's struggle to reconcile with the demons from long ago and his family's neverending battle with many of the intangible burdens caused by the private life of a man they never really knew. He touches our hearts with a story of courage and perseverance...a story of men who faced the greatest challenge of their generation.

My Review:
This novel was a powerful, yet emotionally painful read.  At times I teared up and other times got angry.  When a story draws out my emotions, I can usually look past the flaws and appreciate the depth of the tale.

John, Matthew, and Paul are the three sons of James and Madeline McCleary.  We open the prologue with the three sons gathering in their old family home to decide what to do with their father after their mother's passing.  There's a great deal of bitterness brewing under the surface, especially on the part of John, the oldest.  The three grown men had to put up with a distant, angry father all of their lives - none affected more than John.  As soon as John was old enough, he swept the dust of Rockaway Beach from his feet and moved all the way across the country to California.  Now he has a week to clear out the house, deal with his father, and sell the family home in order to get back to his own life.

But then, in the midst of cleaning out the packed, dusty attic, he finds the letters - and begins to read.

James and Madeline loved each other from the first moment they met at the A&P where James worked.  After James headed off to stop the Nazi advance in Europe, they wrote to one another every chance they had and dreamed of the day they would be reunited, married, and settle down to a life they'd planned.  But war has a way of changing everything - and everybody.

The story jumps back and forth in time.  For the most part, the transitions between the present and past were clearly delineated and didn't create a problem in reading.  The references to specific events James experienced as a young man at war were the most satisfying components of the story, the camaraderie between the soldiers, the scouting marches, the interactions with locals both in France and as the Battle of the Bulge took them into German territory, and when James was taken as a POW.  However, it was very difficult to read the recent past, the harshness with which James treated his oldest son, John, as he was growing up.  John wanted nothing more than to have his dad interact with him, to talk to him, play a game of catch, and simply to hug him.  But from John's point-of-view, none of this ever occurred.  Their emotional distance as adults is palpable.

But as John reads the letters between his mother and father, he begins to see a different man in his dad.  Something happened to James that made him a shell of the vibrant, young man he'd once been.  It is clear James still suffers from elements of PTSD.  In reading through these lines, John remembers back to several points in his own childhood where his interactions with his dad were both good and bad, such as when they vacationed as a family and then when John showed James his first grandchild.

However, there were times when the story spoke of the happy moments being set back just by John walking into the room - and it felt so illogical to read.  When James offered the old crib to John for their first child and John graciously refused because they had already purchased a crib, James clams up and gets mad.  We never find out if there is a back story to this crib and why it was so important to James.  Then when one of James' old battle buddies comes to visit and they are in the kitchen looking at pictures, laughing and reminiscing (much to John's surprise, since he's rarely heard his dad laugh, much less smile), John walks into the kitchen and James immediately glares at him and shuts down until John leaves the room.  The reasoning behind this treatment of his son is never explained either.

All along, I thought maybe John reminded James of someone from his past, perhaps an interaction with a young German soldier.  The story spoke many times of instances where someone reminded James of someone else throughout his travels in Europe as well as when he returned home and couldn't shake off the war.  This would have made sense, but by the time we get to the end of the story and find out what really happened to James, it is rushed through, not fully fleshed out, and then the story ends - very unsatisfying.  It made the lifetime of pain the two had experienced seem so calloused, not on John's part but James', and I don't think that was the intention.  It really felt like there was much more here to be said, but the way it ended left it too open, with too many loose ends, and too many unanswered questions.

Even so, I liked Echoes from the Infantry all the way up until the end.  It would be nice to see a revised edition with the ending drawn out just a bit and clarified to make it a truly satisfying read.

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Frank Nappi's Bio:
Frank Nappi has taught high school English and Creative Writing for over twenty years. His debut novel, Echoes From The Infantry, received national attention, including MWSA's silver medal for outstanding fiction. His follow-up novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, garnered rave reviews as well, including a movie adaptation of the touching story "A Mile in His Shoes" starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder. Frank continues to produce quality work, including Sophomore Campaign, the intriguing sequel to the much heralded original story and the just released thriller, Nobody Has to Know, which received an endorsement from #1 New York Times bestselling author Nelson DeMille. Frank is presently at work on a third installment of his Mickey Tussler series and his next thriller. He lives on Long Island with his wife Julia and their two sons, Nicholas and Anthony.  Visit his website at

Price/Format: $3.99, ebook
Pages: 256
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release: October 13, 2005

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Visit the Past to Save the Future with Robert G. Pielke

It's time to take a step back, travel through time to visit Gettysburg and the Civil War era in Robert G. Pielke's alternate-history, science-fiction novel, A New Birth of Freedom:  The Translator.  If you're a history buff like me, you need to hop on board the train as we leave the station.

Book Summary:
Noam Chomsky argues that communication with aliens would be impossible. Stephen Hawking argues that it would be extremely unwise even to try. What if it were absolutely necessary to do so? This question arises with extreme urgency at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, in this time-travel, alternate-history trilogy, A New Birth of Freedom.

My Review:
First off, I want to say that I enjoyed reading this second book in the trilogy.

It's July, 1863, and Edwin Blair is writing in his journal with a pale, pink fluid, unusual compared to a standard dark inkwell.  Mr. Blair has taken up residence in Gettysburg alongside key participants in President Lincoln's entourage.  Though his memories are mucked up and unclear, Mr. Blair has successfully convinced Lincoln that he is a time-traveler from three hundred years in the future.

His presence in the past?  Key to saving his future and the future of the entire earth from invading alien "Pests".  If only he could remember what he sent himself here to accomplish - and why he brought some of the hateful, murdering Pests with him.

Blair constantly suffers from horrific headaches and nightmares, clashing like a thunderbolt in his brain as changes to the past conflict with what he knows should be future events.  By all means, he knows he must avoid creating a cataclysmic paradox, thus endangering his own future existence.  Plus he cannot risk providing too much information about future events to Lincoln and his team - especially about one particular actor.  The minor clues he attempts to leave himself for future reference create chaos and suspicion from the Civil War participants, not to mention the ten-foot tall gathering of insectoids under close guard. 

More than anything, Blair wants to kill off the murdering invaders, but knows he cannot avoid a future that has already occurred.  Thus some must survive.  His best bet is to attempt communication with his prisoners via Indian sign language and drum signals.  However, communication is exhausting with little tangible information - until the right men show up for the job.

Again, overall A New Birth of Freedom:  The Translator  was an intriguing and enjoyable read for a history buff like me.  I enjoyed Mr. Pielke's portrayal of Lincoln, Pinkerton, and the rest of the historical characters, their quirks and mannerisms that made them very human instead of merely stiff caricatures.

However, I would have loved seeing more activity involving the historical events that were only referenced in the novel.  There was little action of any sort, only battles and skirmishes skimmed over in discussion among the characters after said events had reportedly occurred.  There was even a reference near the end of the book when Blair took Lincoln forward in time, but we didn't get to experience the build-up to it, merely a back discussion between Blair and Lincoln after the event. 

The majority of the story surrounded the constant headaches experienced by Blair and his internal musings about why he couldn't remember certain things.  I felt the novel could have been tightened up and a good portion of these repetitive musings deleted.  They just didn't propel the story forward but more bogged it down.

Also, not having read the first book in this series, there was no description of the Pests until about halfway through the book.  I suspected here and there that they were some sort of insect-type creature along the lines of a grasshopper about a third of the way through, but it would have helped tremendously to have had a description of them up front in this second book. 

Lastly, there was nothing that brought the events from the first book forward into the second book, the reasoning behind the trip back in time, why the Pests needed to accompany Blair to Gettysburg (or if they did so or that it was more that Blair followed them), etc.  This left me with a considerable lack of purpose to the fictional events that transpired.  I understand the ambiguity of Blair having trouble remembering certain things between his two-plus realms of consciousness, but it would have given more meaning to the story to at least have had him spend some of his musings trying to establish a semblance of purpose to this particular visit other than just the overarching idea of saving the world in his time.

My copy also contained numerous grammatical, transposition and punctuation errors, but this may have been cleaned up prior to the published work.  This isn't your standard science-fiction or thriller fare of battles and against-all-odds stakes, but it ended up being a nice read in relation to the history and the ramifications of time-travel paradoxes.  A read of the first book may clear up many of the questions and concerns contained herein.  Then "seeing" the historical characters portrayed as living, breathing human beings was quite enjoyable.  Therefore, I still recommend A New Birth of Freedom:  The Translator.

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Robert G. Pielke's Bio:
Robert Pielke, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, now lives in Claremont, California. He earned a B.A. in History at the University of Maryland, an M. Div. in Systematic Theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the Claremont Graduate School.

He taught on ground and online for countless years at George Mason University in Virginia, El Camino College in California and online for the University of Phoenix. Now happily retired from “the job,” he is doing what he always wanted to do since he wrote his first novel at ten in elementary school. It was one paragraph, three pages long and, although he didn’t know it at the time, it was alternate history.

His academic writings have been in the area of ethics, including a boring academic treatise called Critiquing Moral Arguments, logic, and popular culture. Included in the latter is an analysis of rock music entitled You Say You Want a Revolution: Rock Music in American Culture. He has also published short stories, feature articles, film and restaurant reviews. His novels include a savagely satirical novel on America and its foibles, proclivities and propensities, Hitler the Cat Goes West, and an alternate history, science fiction novel, The Mission.

Most recently, he has updated and revised his book on rock music, which is being republished by McFarland & Co.

He swims daily, skis occasionally, cooks as an avocation, watches innumerable movies, collects rock and roll concert films, is an avid devotee of Maryland crabs and maintains a rarely visited blog filled with his social and political ravings. His favorite film is the original Hairspray; his favorite song is “A Day in the Life”; his favorite pizza is from the original Ledo Restaurant in College Park, MD; and he is a firm believer in the efficacy of “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Somehow his family and friends put up with him.  Visit his website at

Prices/Formats: $16.95 paperback, $4.99 ebook
Pages: 394
ISBN: 9781611605426
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Release: November 1, 2012

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