Amanda Wakes Up
Amanda Gallo is a talented broadcast journalist who is offered what she thinks is the job of her dreams. She becomes a morning anchor at FAIR News, a news station with philosophies that are suspiciously similar to those of Fox News. Amanda works on a show called “Wake Up, USA!” FAIR News’ motto is “True and Equal,” and the producers work tirelessly to ensure every issue, from global warming to abortion, receives coverage from multiple sides, no matter how ridiculous arguments from “the opposite side” are. Amanda must grapple with her personal set of values and those of her employer.
Author Alisyn Camerota has worked at CNN and Fox News. The story depicted unsatisfying interviews with politicians who don’t answer questions and campaign rally stops that include a healthy dose of violence. While at work, Amanda experiences online harassment from ignorant viewers, and at home she’s pressured to explain her network’s decisions to her left-leaning boyfriend.
As a journalist, this fictional story was eerily true-to-life. It was tough to become fully immersed in an experience that was so similar to my own and so equally, screamingly frustrating. This novel is an opportunity to get into a journalist’s head and realize how difficult the job is behind the scenes. I would recommend it to anyone who regularly mocks the media for being biased.
Hot Box in the Pizza District
At the beginning of Hot Box in the Pizza District, we encounter Tim, a weight-lifting, insecure young community college student who has received a box — presumably a birthday gift — from his estranged father. Tim needs someone to return the box, unopened, to his father. He encounters the beautiful Eileen. Eileen is older than Tim, she’s visiting from the state college, and it’s clear that she’s out of his league. Hot Box, thus, presents the reader with a two-prong story: what will happen in terms of Tim’s relationship with his father, and does he have any chance of developing a relationship with Eileen?
Thomas Keech can write, and he often reflects the type of personal perspective seen in women’s fiction:
“My mother loved to chat up any new person who came to her house. Soft-spoken and gracious, she allowed them to believe they were interesting, the things they were doing (or even thinking of doing) fascinating. She talked about books, current events, politics. You could tell she had strong opinions, but would never explicitly say what they were. Nothing could be said in her house that might possibly offend anyone. You could talk to her for an hour – or a lifetime – and still not have a clear picture of what she really liked, what she really regretted, and what she really feared.”
Tim is a bright guy, a straight A student, but he’s an awkward fish swimming in a small pond: “I used to be self-conscious around any group other than my old friends, thinking I would screw things up somehow, spill a drink, insult someone by accident, throw up on a rug.” Tim never actually matures, and he reminded me more than a bit of the character Pookie (played by Liza Minelli) in the film The Sterile Cuckoo. He has big needs and little capacity to fill them.
“All 8,746 women on (the state college) campus could intuitively sense there was something wrong with me.”
Hot Box is interesting and engaging, and generally portrays people in a realistic way (except, no spoiler, at its conclusion). There’s some confusion as to when the events take place. People use cell phones, but, at one point, Tim makes a call from a pay phone at a gas station. The biggest issue with this novel is that it could have run through a few more gears. I felt the story began in first gear, slowly shifted into second, and remained there until the last 50 or so pages. A few additional tone and rhythm changes would have enhanced the story. There is a good amount of action and a few surprising occurrences as the story reaches its conclusion.
Hot Box is recommended for those readers who do not demand that their protagonists constitute perfect and perfectly strong characters. Tim may be a reflection of more people in the world than the usual main figure.
Jamie Kurtzs life has fallen apart. After graduating top of his class from a prestigious university, hes gotten a rotten job, his girlfriend has left him for a frat boy, and his rich father has just cut off his rent money. Homeless and jobless, Jamie goes to the coastal town of Kestrel Cove in search of a new life, where he finds an unusual fishing community and manages to secure a job on a lobster boat. What he doesnt know is that the community of Kestrel Cove is entirely convinced that a Russian satellitea leftover from the Cold Warrecords surveillance photos of the town while it passes over every evening.
As Jamie begins to explore his new community, he finds surprises around every corner: an ill-tempered wharf master, a mysterious millionaire who lives on a nearby mountain, an auto mechanic who never gets any work done, and a fight-crazy, motorbike-riding deck hand, to name a few. Jamie begins to find his place among these strange individuals and begins to gain a deeper appreciation of their way of life as he progresses on his own journey of starting fresh.
The narrative contains quite a few instances that seem like mere male wish-fulfillment: winning a fight in the lobstermens meeting, dating the prettiest girl in town, winning the respect of some of the wharfs gruffest men. But the fact that Jamie is reconciling his former identity as a well-educated pushover with his new role as a member of a town with an entirely different social structure makes certain that his development remains three-dimensional. Some of the characters are little more than tropes on legs, but others show an unexpected amount of depth. One particularly enjoyable element is Jamies undying devotion to the study of the Civil War, which he relates back to many of his seemingly unrelated experiences in Kestrel Cove.
The narrative takes a few unexpected turns, including a few point of view changes, that keep the story fresh and interesting. The subject matter is, at first, presented as the amusing stuff of summer beach reads, but the story goes through a few darker turns as it progresses. At 475 pages, the book sometimes seems as though it is stretching on longer than it should, but Bridgford creates a fitting ending for this wild and wayward narrative. Altogether, Bridgford has created a diverting and entertaining story in Hauling Through.
It was a stroke of luck that Dr. Danny Tilson was present at a college basketball game when his daughters boyfriend fell and got a concussion. David seemed to be okay, but Danny still warned him away from being active for awhile until his brain was fully healed. Unfortunately, David didnt listen and got a second knock to the head, which put him into a coma and left him with epileptic seizures. Spurred on by his daughter, Danny is determined to come up with a new, innovative way of determining which part of Davids brain is responsible for the seizures. But can he get past the drama in his personal life to accomplish it?
Secondary Impact is the fourth novel in author Barbara Ebels Dr. Danny Tilson series. While readers would benefit from reading the books in order, its not necessary to have read the other three in order to understand and enjoy this new offering; enough of Dannys backstory, and that of his family, is provided for readers to quickly become thoroughly engrossed. Ebel writes in a manner that is engaging and exciting, and her background in medicine clearly shines through as she details secondary impact syndrome, various surgeries, and more. Danny Tilson himself is a very likeable character, smart and funny and with a generally good relationship with his kids, his ex-wife, his sister, and his best friend. The situation with ex-mistress Rachel adds a flair of drama; readers will love to hate her as she manipulates the court system and conspires to take away Dannys youngest daughter, and theyll cheer when shes ordered to pay Casey additional money after his accident. Secondary Impact is a fantastic novel that will leave readers looking forward to the next installment in the series.
A near-death experience causes Allan “Vic” Vickery to reassess what’s going on in his life. When he’s hit in the head with a golf ball that causes him to go into a coma for a month, Vic travels to a place in his mind where he plays a round of golf with others who are in a vegetative state. When he awakens, the book chronicles the antihero’s midlife crisis in having an affair, leaving his wife and playing high-stakes golf with a syndicate.
Before his accident, Vic is making an effort to patch up his failing marriage with his wife, Angie. After he wakes up, and Angie hasn’t made an effort to fawn over him and “realize what she almost lost,” Vic doesn’t bother. His behavior with Angie, the affair with his neighbor Roxanne, and the negligence he shows in his stable career as an art teacher makes Vic a difficult main character to like. His near-death experience just enhances his greed, entitlement and selfishness.
Sometimes selfishness isn’t a bad thing. It is important to look inward and take steps toward better self-care. But Vic’s selfishness went a step beyond a life overhaul. When he begins his affair with Roxanne and floats the idea of leaving Angie by her, he makes it clear that his leaving Angie has everything to do with his attempts at his own happiness and nothing to do with Roxanne. Roxanne makes it clear that she does not want to leave her husband. However, triumphant from his first golf winnings, he asks Roxanne to move into his cramped, dirty one-bedroom apartment with him. When she refuses, he becomes angry, accusing her of not wanting to leave her husband because of her secure lifestyle and possessions. While Roxanne doesn’t refute his accusations, she doesn’t confirm them either. Her reasons for staying with her drunk husband were her own, and instead of respecting her choices and her agency, Vic lashes out. He does the same thing with Angie, selfishly projecting his own assumptions about her feelings onto her to justify his affair and him leaving her. Then he becomes sullen when she moves on with someone else. If anything could have taught Vic the value of his own life and that others’ actions were beyond his control, it would have been a near-death experience. But it didn’t. Vic’s story is rife with similar scenarios, and the “difficult lies” in the book point to not only his farcical behavior while he’s still married and cheating on his wife, but to the lies he tells his mother when the marriage ends, the lies about his coma experience he tells his doctor to get out of the hospital, and most importantly, the lies he tells himself to convince himself that his chosen life path makes him truly happy.
Vic is the perfect antihero, and while readers might not like him, they’ll find his story interesting. Anyone who plays golf will get a thrill out of the high-stakes golf games. Contrary to other brush-with-death scenarios, Difficult Lies depicts the story of a man who doesn’t do good with his second chance at life. Instead, Vic makes a mess of his life, and the ending is a patched-up laundry list of things he wants to accomplish to be a better person. But like his cleaning lady, Olivia, and her inability to quit smoking, I didn’t have much faith in Vic to break his cycle of midlife-crisis-level behavior.
Sighing Woman Tea
Sighing Woman Tea opens as Thomas Figas Burke is returning to his mystical island home of Viridis or Green Island off of Canton after he left to pursue his education in mathematics. Figas is a descendent of Thomas Burke, one of the passengers on a trading ship which discovered and inhabited the island in the 12th century. Over time, that small, muticultural band learned to live in harmony with each other and the island and to carefully cultivate the Sighing Woman Tea, which is currently more expensive per ounce than gold in the international tea markets. Now, Figas returns home with a warning: multinational corporations will sweep in and destroy their idyllic paradise to wrest away control of the tea. The aunties and uncles who lead the Green Islanders seem right to ignore Figas concerns as he reintegrates into this close-knit society, until the 125th Expeditionary Force sails into port, occupies the island, and attempts to impose military law on the islanders. Can this traditional, peaceful society survive this invasion? Are the Green Islanders as simple as some of the occupying forces believe? Can the islanders find a way to live the values their ancestors learned from the island, repel their invaders, and save their tea?
Mark Daniel Seiler has written a wonderful novel. He takes his readers halfway around the globe on a trading ship traveling from Sicily to a fictional Green Island and then across several centuries. Despite its breadth of scope, the novel had real depth that makes it hard to put aside. The main characters are multidimensional. From the 12th century crusader Burke, who loves learning and refuses to kill innocent Muslim women and children, to his descendant, Figas, who understands numbers better than emotions and must face an almost paralyzing childhood trauma in addition to an occupying force, Seiler gives each of his main characters a unique persona. Furthermore, Seiler writes excellent dialogue with wit and insight. In particular, he demonstrates a real understanding of Eastern culture and its ability to obscure with the obvious. Finally, this novels plot is refreshingly new and unpredictable, especially in the islanders tactics, but closes in a wholly satisfying way. A Pacific Rim Book Festival winner, Sighing Woman Tea is an excellent debut novel and a delight to read.