The Space Opera That Just Sort of Spaced Out


Book Review



The Space Opera That Just Sort of Spaced Out

Everything was there for Armada. A great set-up, a semi-likable (albeit flawed) hero, and something not quite right on a quest that would change not only this hero’s journey, but also, the world, forever.

Only, when put into practice, Armada is painfully dull. The characters are flimsy and soggy as wet cardboard. The action sequences read like instruction manuals. The pop-culture references that made Ernest Cline’s first novel a hit are leaned heavily upon, and, more often than not, fail to connect. Because of these things, all the novel’s signature moves and climactic revelations take a steep nosedive, crash, and burn.

Armada had a high bar to clear to begin with. Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, was brilliant. Easily holding a place in my top 10 favorite book list, the novel has intelligence, humor, and a cleverness that sets it apart. Yet, Ready Player One does have shortcomings. The most notable is the lack of realness, depth, and interest in his characters that is needed. This flaw came out big time in Armada with the main character Zack, and extended throughout. Zack’s mentor shows up in the beginning, offers some sage wisdom, and departs the book almost entirely. The rest of the characters function in a similar manner where they do what is predictable and cliche, and spin the machine of deus ex machina that the story revolves upon.

Because of this, a lot of the book is description of battles and how the larger arc of the alien invaders society and the Earth Defense Alliance (EDA) work. Without characters to make these things relevant, it’s hard to focus on caring about these things. This made the book extremely tedious to finish. Armada calls itself a “space opera” when it comes to genre, but it didn’t deliver in the tradition of the most famous space opera that it references repeatedly: Star Wars.

The redeeming point of Armada is that the ideas are solid and fresh. The aliens that are the villains in this book are intelligent and formidably foes. The ties to present day society and the cultural landmarks as well as nerdom history are thoughtfully incorporated. I appreciate them even though I feel like I only recognized about 90% of them.

Overall, Armada feels like it was rushed to publication. A revision with some support for the characters and some paring down of the history behind all the workings of the forces behind the forces in the book would have greatly benefited the work. I’m still very much a fan of what Ernest Cline does. He also seems like just a really cool guy. I hope the theatrical version of Ready Player One will be only the beginning of his rise in popular fiction. I hope that Armada sails under the radar and flies far….far away.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Blogging for Books. This, in no way, influenced my review of above work.


obliqueERNEST CLINE is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists, and is set to be adapted into a motion picture by Warner Bros. and director Steven Spielberg. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.



I was about 18 or 19, and working at scaring people at a local haunted house. It was a turbulent time for me. I’d tried working at the high end coffee shop in our local tourist trap location called affectionately “the art district;” called less affectionately a place for coffee snobs with more money than manners.

I didn’t fit in, and after dresscode debacles and an unfortunate incident involving a case or Orangina and a flight of stairs, I called and desperately informed the manager that I “simply couldn’t come to work today…or rather ever.” I was also trying in vane to be a chemistry major, I recall. It was a rocky time.

And so I applied to be a ghoul at the “Haunted Cavern,” because maybe I wouldn’t find purpose in my work, but hell…scaring people for money sounded like something I could at least try my hand at. (It was closer to my eventual profession as teacher than I’d realize)

With a couple of years of local theater productions under my belt, I landed a main character role in the scaring show. I was one of two women chosen to be the “dead mother” in a background story of deranged family members eating people or something similar. The lady who was my partner in the ride was very in character. I seem to remember that there was a lot of dead-eye staring at all hours.

There was always an abundance of time before the haunted house opened each night. We would get on-site before dark, dress in 10 minutes, and then wait two hours for darkness to fall, the lines to queue up, the monies to be exchanged and our first group to be let through (followed without pause by group after group until hours later: feast or famine) But in the interim of dressing and waiting, there was a lot of time. I filled it with paperbacks, but also with watching our resident horror makeup artist transform us from relatively normal faced into open wound bearing, black puss dripping baddies.

The makeup guy was named Begunich, and my sheltered adolescence had never encountered anything quite like him. He had long hair, winding down his back, and a grisly almost foot long beard. He was covered in tattoos, had huge gauges, and always wore a back turned cap. He also did not give a fuck about any of us or anything but making the makeup on all of us look absolutely awful, impressive and resume worthy. At which attempts he was flawless.

Obviously, he was totally my type.

If my vision had been a little clearer, perhaps I could have steered clear of making myself such a fool, but what can I say? I was hooked in by the sideshow and its disdain for critical review. Perhaps, I wished to be so untouchable from judgement while simultaneously so effortlessly talented. I was sure that Begunich would show me how.

I was kidding myself. From the moment I sat in the makeup chair and he put his rough hands on my flushed girl cheeks, it was a fool’s errand. I was dismal in hiding my intrigue with him and his skills, asking questions non-stop about the make-up process. He showed me a few basics, enough to get me by with Halloween costumes, but he was also openly abrasive, rough with my face in application and makeup removal and more often than not “Mean” with a capital letter.

My thoughts were not worth hearing to him except for comedic purposes. I was frequently dismissed, cursed at, and ignored. Perhaps my obvious crush disconcerted him, but the behavioral response was on par with bullying. Like all misunderstood, angry men, he wrote verse that he was proud enough to reveal when encountering other self-proclaimed “writers. 18, mind you, and I was writing poetry for a creative fiction class. I was stupid enough to reveal this and Begunich surprised me by asking to read a sample.

The day I brought it in, my heart was hammering. ‘Go big or go home’ as some kind of deathwish mantra, I’d written an exceedingly awful poem about him and how he used make-up to make us actors into different identities each night. Think SYMBOLISM all over the place. I don’t remember reading it aloud to him. I can’t see myself being that brave. In memory, I handed him a notebook and his eyes flicked across the page, back and froth, his mouth a tight, thin line, his eyes unreadable.

This part of memory is painful, and so I’ve dulled its edges with forgetting. I’m not sure if he scrawled the words immediately after the read in my own notebook of shame (this seems true) or he handed me the rebuttal in folded paper note form the next day. Either way, the result was the same.

He wrote a poem in response to my awful emotional sharage. It was short. It was a hip thing to do. And it was the cruelest piece of writing to assault me.

I’m no stranger to men seeking to un-empower me, wound me, and shoo me away with their written words though. In my high school geography class, the boy I had a major first crush on had his friend write me a Dear Jane letter. It went to the short sweet tune of: “Arthur doesn’t like you. He wishes you’d leave him alone.” And Arthur said he didn’t ask Michael to write the note, but, either way, I never blamed him for doing so.

High school boys generally have the emotional depth of the common thimble, and so perhaps my crush’s mouthpiece had no way of knowing how words would wound. The problem is that these “boys” never learn that compassion thing and grow into men who sling words carelessly.

Turning to tears of humiliation and a fall into the lap of hope are hardly a solution. Tears no longer move compassion like they used to.

I’ve also had a good heart beating at the hands of technology one too many times. With innovations in communications, it has been that much easier to be cowardly when it comes to truth telling in relationships. It’s so much easier to break a heart via text or email rather than to look into an actual person’s face and tell her they’d be better placed elsewhere from your life. I call it the “Backlit Screen Divide.” Because it’s hard to show your heart aching in 140 characters or less.

I’ve been broken up via text twice, and in ambiguity both times. The latter even hinted he’d knocked up some “other woman” in order to slink away from my clutches. All fabricated. It left me wondering, is it easier to lie about cheating than to honestly decline? It seems so. The ole one’two, it’s not me, it’s you.

Back to Begunich. He wrote me a very nasty little poem to divert my amorous affections towards him. I’d include it below if I still had it in my possession,  but the general gist was that: I couldn’t write well, my thoughts and writer were bland, insipid and devoid of emotion, and I should probably stop writing all together. Between the lines though, the obvious assertion was that I was all of these things; unworthy of this male’s gaze. He attacked not my writing, but my personality via a written diatribe instead of being compassionate and “man enough” to say simple: I’m just not that into you.

The trouble, heart blood, and waste that could be saved if men would just say that from time to time. No body wants to be a dick, but you really turn into something much worse when you hedge around it. What a kinder, brighter, safer place it would be if the charade to preserve how good we perceive ourselves to be was abandoned for truth and honest handling of our fellows.

The story of my time as a subhuman for hire ended shortly after Begunich delivered the killing blow. Scaring people in a damp, dark room in an early winter chill was not as amusing as it sounds. After a long, cold raining night where Begunich pinched my face before I took my spot on the conveyor belt of scares, I clocked out, stole the time card labelled “M. Begunich” from the rack where they were stored and I haven’t returned to that haunted place of memory until now.

I keep the punch card and his poetry in my mind to remind me of whatever lesson he thought he was imparting when he hastily scrawled his message to me.

Beautifully Written, Painfully Tragic


Beautifully Written, Painfully Tragic

A Book Review of “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” by Eimear McBride

Everyone will agree that terminal illness and the care of loved ones under its duress, is a terrible, helpless time. Yet, how to convey the emotional pain and never before contemplated situations of care giving within the literature realm? What do you do when your brother can’t go to the bathroom on his own anymore? How do you respond when a loved one abuses you simply because you are family? The task is ambitious to say the least. Yet, using the unpredictable and slippery style of stream of consciousness writing and a decade of dedication in seeing the work into published status, Eimear McBride has captured elements of truth and a demand that you will feel something upon completion of reading “A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing.”

To me, it’s no surprise that McBride searched so long to find a publisher for this work. The method of writing takes patience to read, and coupled with a painful subject matter, the work is an endurance test. Half-way through “A Girl” I felt that I was warming to the book, and the reading was actually easier now that I had found the flow. (Note: A feeling I never quite got in reading Joyce or Woolf, struggling to the end against their puzzle of words.) Yet, towards the latter half of “A Girl” I lost a lot of my steam, feeling punished by the further butchering of sentences, and the unending stream of unhappiness and hopelessness that the small cast of characters was enduring.

“A Girl” is a hard book. Hard on the reader, hard on the characters, hard all around. Yet, it’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck. I felt compelled to follow along to the end with our main character (only ever identified as a less than perfect younger sister) in her interactions of love, resentment, and anguish for her older brother who had a terminal brain tumor in remission for an unknown span of time and their conservative Christian mentally/physically abusive mother.

“A Girl” has won so very many awards, and is rightly lauded. In college classrooms, this could be a useful paring with other stream of consciousness novels as a more accessible example of the form. As a book club selection, this would be a wonderful one to discuss in a group setting. For my part, I reason I read is to escape to more hopeful and fantastic places and neither is to be found here. The ending is what mainly influenced my review to give this work three stars. I’m not so soppy an American to demand a happy ending for each and every novel out there, but the end felt much like a cop-out and loose ends just left to hang.

I received this book free of charge from Blogging For Books.

Here’s a list of the awards “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” has received:

Winner of 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize
Winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award
Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize
Winner of 2013 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
Shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize
Shortlisted for the Folio Prize
Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014
One of Time Out New York’s Ten Best Books of 2014
Selected as one of NPR‘s 2014 Great Reads
A New York Magazine Best Book of 2014
A Boston Globe Best Book of 2014

Chicago Tribune Printers Row Journal Best Books of 2014
Star Tribune 
Best Fiction of 2014
Electric Literature 25 Best Novels of 2014 
Largehearted Boy
 Favorite Novels of 2014
The New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2014
Vanity Fair 11 Best Books of 2014

McCarthy finds the art within the process of “practicing” medicine

The Real Doctor Will See Your Shortly by Matt McCarthy

the-real-doctor-will-see-you-shortly-jacket I’m not sure about other people’s parents, but for my own experience, my parents were always sure (even years after I graduated college) that I’d missed my calling to go into medicine. My father still thinks that it would be merely a matter of time put into the years of medical school that stands between me and the Dr. before my name.

McCarthy makes it very clear that it takes a lot more than ambitions to make it in medicine. His memoir of his first year of residency at Columbia Hospital is a poignant and honest look at the grueling days, nights, weekends, and holidays that medical professionas devote to trying to save human lives. The connections they make, the pressure they are under, the unthinkable decisions they commit to are all indescribable, but McCarthy does a good job in trying to convey some of the weight.

Why does this book matter? Simply because McCarthy is who he is and is honest about the experience. McCarthy is not some George Clooney from ER type. He’s anxious, self-preoccupied, unsure, middle-aged and socially amiss. He is a real character you feel you can relate to, empathize with, and ultimately want to hear his story.

The takeaway from this book is all in the title. When Mccarthy started his first year of residency, he was not a real doctor. Through the relationships he forged and the blood, sweat and tears he put into his work, he became the real doctor in question. Informative, interesting, and shyly funny “The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly” is just what the doctor ordered.

Spinster’s Beautiful Cover Design Draws More Interest Than Content

spinsterSpinster’s Beautiful Cover Design Draws More Interest Than Content

a book review by

Erica Tuggle

If we were judging Spinster by its book cover, this one would be a home run. The attractive, young looking woman on the front, proclaiming spinster-hood seems like a battle cry feminists can rally behind. Not to mention that this design is coupled with the well-written book blurb within the inside flap of the book, promising us insight into why over 100 million women (and growing) are electing to forgo marriage in favor of more freedom; ignoring the choice set before all females from the earliest playtime imaginings, who to marry and when?

With such a high bar to clear, a bar of such intrigue, it was highly disappointing to find that this book missed the mark. Spinster promised to include Kate Bolick’s story of electing to remain single and embrace all the opportunities it affords, but in actuality, the book leans heavily on the memoir aspect and lightly on pertinent interesting information.

Bolick, 45, (pictured on the cover, and looking all of about 28) details her life thus far through her relationships with men referred to in an alphabet soup of single letters, and also through her “awakeners”: Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton. The factoids about the women who influenced Bolick’s decision to remain unattached are interesting, but not penetrating. Bolick’s own story of relationship interactions reads like a polished and fussy journal entry of hindsight revelations. I was desperately seeking interesting reasons why women would choose to buck tradition and go their own way, but Bolick’s window is small and extends no further than Victorian era ladies and her own privileged upbringing and opportunities.

Bolick failed to get an emotional or intellectual response from me with Spinster. The only moment I found myself wanting to hear her story was when she related her last days with her mother with the reader. Perhaps, like Bolick opines of other literary works, Spinster is akin to some books find you when you need them, and I’m not the demographic she was searching for. At least I can offer kudos to her for her choice in “spinsterhood” and for sharing her story.

I received a copy of “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own” through the site Blogging for Books.

Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction


Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction

a book review on

Red Queen By Victoria Aveyard 

Teen literature has always tended to err on the angsty side. And I love that. Sometimes you just need a good, miserable wallow in things being not what they should.

Back in my day, growing up with Potter and Bella Swan, things would get dark and lives would be in danger, but the landscape was fairly navigable from deep trauma until you were too far in the series to care about saving yourself heartache when these characters disappeared. Now…welcome to a brave new world, where every other teen fiction book is part of a series and the first book usually hits hard with death, destruction, family massacre and dystopian visions of how much our future is going to suck.

A book like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard doesn’t stand out in the current world of teen fiction because it follows the formula they’ve all come to mimic (and to great success). There’s a teen heroine (sometimes a male, but less and less common) and she’s different. She loves her family and best male friend, and will do whatever it takes to save them from evil government/monarchy/monster mayhem. Also, it’s the future and the world is way messed up…kinda unlivable, a totally changed landscape. The differences to make the work unique with Red Queen are best summed up with an analysis  from GoodReads reviewer Rachel Carver who writes: “Red Queen is Game of Thrones with Katniss as the Mockingjay with X-Men…”

So nothing is new.

But does that mean that Red Queen is a “bad” book; not worth reading? Thankfully, no. Red Queen was a page-turner, written well, made intriguing with fun and terrifying characters, and told with a strong, admirable female narrator at the helm. I didn’t mind that it fused a lot of popular themes and story lines into one narrative. It was fun. It was also pretty traumatic.

Red Queen doesn’t pull any punches. Our main character, Mare Barrow, lives in a gritty future world on the bottom of the social totem pole, and when she’s given the chance to ascend into the ranks of hierarchy things get bloody and vicious. I’m not one to censure literature, and so if a teen has the capability to read this book and wants to, then go for it. But it reads like an adult work to me. I’m a Tarantino fan, and I was cringing at some of the blood lust.

Mayhaps, we should blame it on the changing society and violence you see just in a local newscast. Either way, Red Queen may be a captivating book, but it’s not a “nice” read.

I’ll be very interested to see what Aveyard does for the rest of the books in this series. Keeping up the momentum of this first book is going to be tricky, but she’s paved a good ground to establishing mystery and doubtful loyalties. Total kudos for making the romance that is so frequent in teen fiction more of a backdrop here, and not letting it dominate story-line or character action. Plus(!), Aveyard is just 23 years old. A work of this quality is accomplishment for any age, but that youthful element is nice to see.

Personally, I’d recommend it…but with my own “Parental Advisory” sticker in the description.


The Disease of Addiction Told Through the Eyes of the Father


“The Disease of Addiction Told Through the Eyes of the Father.”

a book reivew of

“Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” by David Scheff

Beautiful Boy tells the story that no parent wants to consider, let alone recount in painful detail: your child’s addiction and descent into the world of substance abuse. This bestseller by Scheff recounts David’s beginning life as a father to Nick, “his darling boy,” (the title’s reference to a John Lennon song of the same name) all the way up until the publication of this work in 2007, the time in-between his son’s childhood and adulthood holding an ongoing gut-wrenching battle against meth addiction.

This is the work that made Scheff a household name in novel writing, although his journalism background may have made his name familiar to some before this. This is the second work of Scheff’s that I have read. The first was a non-fiction work called “Clean” that detailed what recovery means in this day and age and the options available to loved ones of an addict. The work was highly-informative and helped me to understand more about addiction in a time when I was lost in the beginings of my own loved one’s recovery efforts.

Beautiful Boy is similar in nature to Clean in that it contains research and statistics on drug abuse and addiction. Beautiful Boy differs however in that its primary focus is on meth addiction, his son Nick’s drug of choice. In addition to the science of addiction and its effect on behavior and brain function, Beautiful Boy’s main purpose is to take the reader on the journey from pre-addiction, initial love affair with the substance(s), addiction and descent, and recovery. In this, what becomes clear is that the recovery process is not the final stage as the addict often relapses into the substance behavior, tries for recovery, relapses, and repeats.

The story of Nick and his father’s struggle to cope with the pain and ripping apart of his world is tragically and beautifully told. The tale does often seem repetitive as Nick tries at recovery, relapses and tries and relapses again and again. But this is a common story for addicts, and is used to illustrate David’s acceptance that Nick will have to struggle with his disease of addiction all his life. The work also gets sentimental often and much, which is also understandable for the material and David’s struggle to realize his role to his son in the fight. These two elements weaken the work, while simultaneously strengthening the messages in addiction that muddle in the emotional warfare of standing beside your lying, destructive, uncontrollable addict.

For those who seek to know more about the addiction process, and especially those who are struggling to support their own addict in recovery or pre-recovery, this work is a solid reference in feeling less alone and finding options to help your addict and yourself.