Book Review: Minimize Considered by Nina Murray

I devoured this poetry debut the morning after meeting the astute poet. Nina Murray has a gift of seeing beauty and metaphor in the mundane, the things we walk past every day and fail to notice; a chestnut, a cat, a bridge, a sparrow with a flake of bread. Murray’s words and images linger long after they are read. My favorite: the snow on the tall chestnuts in the park / appeared blue, as if already more in touch with water / than with itself. There are so many great lines that I won’t dare repeat them all here. Buy the collection and enjoy them in their natural state.

Follow Nina on Instagram, visit her website, and buy her books on Amazon.


Review: This One Will Hurt You by Paul Crenshaw

I recently decided to expand my reading list to include non-fiction and essays and poetry, and, generally things other than fiction. Not long after this decision, I came upon an essay by Paul Crenshaw. I clicked the link on my Twitter feed, I read the essay, and then a few minutes later I ordered his collection, “This One Will Hurt You.” I dove right in when it arrived, but I decided I would only read one essay every day or so. For some reason I thought that was the way to digest a collection of essays. Fiction is meant to be binged; I’ve been known to read an entire novel in a single sitting. But essays and poetry should be savored. My approach was flawed, and it failed after the first couple days. I could not stop turning the pages. I read the remainder of the collection in a single sitting.

Reading “This One Will Hurt You” has taught me some things. First, I didn’t think I knew how to read or review a collection of personal essays. I’m comfortable with fiction. I know how to analyze characters and plot. I understand the structure. I suspected the general connection between the two, fiction and non-fiction, would be the prose, the sensory elements, the words and sentences themselves. I was wrong. Stories are stories. Some are attempts at truth based on real events we have experienced, and some are complete lies based on real events we have experienced. As evidence of this truth, you can open directly to page 91 and read one of the best stories/personal essays/poems I have ever read, but I implore you to travel the way Crenshaw intended. To quote Ondaatje, “Meander if you want to get to town.”

The second thing I learned is that I should expand my own writing. As I read Crenshaw’s essays, they evoked memories of my own, things I have experienced that I never considered writing down. Perhaps it was because I grew up around the same time, or that I’ve chosen a similar path for my life. Either way, I connected with these essays more than I expected at the outset. When I came upon this sentence, it made sense: “If the girl is real, then we share the same past in the same place, with a similar hope for leaving it, and I can indulge the notion that we are all trapped by place and circumstance and random forces beyond our control, forever looking back with the sad silly sense that if we could just understand the tragic world we survived as children, we could somehow be better adults, and our lives would fall into the neat categories we have created for them.”

Bottom Line: When I first opened Crenshaw’s collection, I expected to read some good prose. I expected to experience a unique perspective on the world. And I expected to walk away with new insight to my own writing. “This One Will Hurt You” far exceeded those expectations.

Follow Paul on Twitter and order “This One Will Hurt You” on Amazon. While you’re there, you can pre-order his next collection, “This We’ll Defend: A Noncombat Veteran on War and Its Aftermath.”

Flash Review: The Rejected Writers’ Book Club by Suzanne Kelman

In the first book of the Southlea Bay series, a writer’s group that celebrates their failures is thrown into turmoil when their leader receives an acceptance letter. The quirky cast of characters takes a road trip to recover the manuscript from the publisher. Along the way, a mystery surrounding the manuscript is revealed. The stakes are raised, and the misadventures escalate.

Kelman does a fine job assembling an eclectic cast of characters. But more than that, Kelman subtly articulates the fear of rejection and the fear of being judged, two fears that are very real to many artists. Kelman also claims she can sing the first verse of “Puff, the Magic Dragon” backward; that alone should make you want to check out her books.

The Rejected Writers’ Book Club is full of intriguing characters and places, a portion of whimsy, some mystery, and a hint of romance. After reading the first book, there are two others waiting to be devoured.

Follow Suzanne on twitter, check out her website and podcasts, and buy her books on Amazon.

Flash Review: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

I’ve made a concerted effort to work through my reading list and I’ve prioritized debut novels by Indie authors. I received The Life We Bury as a gift, and after reading the first chapter, it ascended to the top of my list. I read some reviews for Eskens’ debut and they are filled with the words “compelling” and “suspenseful.” These are fair and deserved depictions. In short, The Life We Bury tells the story of an innocent class assignment gone awry; an interview with a paroled murderer sets off a sequence of events that are, well, compelling and suspenseful. Eskens does a fine job of developing a cast of characters that are flawed yet likable. The plot is expertly crafted, and the pace is brisk. The story builds momentum and keeps the pages turning until the very last. I wanted to turn the page for more, so I was pleased to discover that Eskens has penned a sequel that I have already added to my reading list.

Follow Allen on Twitter (@aeskens), check out his website, and buy his books on Amazon.

Book Review: The Company of Demons by Michael J. Jordan

A grisly murder opened old wounds for attorney John Coleman, the narrator and main character of Michael Jordan’s debut novel, The Company of Demons. The demons surrounding him were both literal and figurative. John’s subconscious motivation to find the psychopath and vindicate his father was compelling. I cared about John even though I didn’t always like him. I had genuine empathy for his circumstances, but I also wanted to slap him around at times for being such a stupid bastard. The complexity of that emotional connection made him very real to me. Sometimes the narrator was almost too honest, too revealing. All his sins and flaws were fully exposed for the reader, but to no one else. This was a narrator I trusted, but a character that probably shouldn’t be trusted.

The pacing in the early chapters was a little slow, but the story was enticing enough to keep me reading. It really starts to pick up about 100 pages in, and then it doesn’t let off. Jordan’s control of time was skillful and disciplined. The story unfolds linearly, almost in real-time, with very few gaps, and even fewer lengthy flashbacks. The time compression before and during the trial was a little jarring at first, but ultimately necessary.

I initially had some concerns about the limitations of a first-person narrator, but Jordan was adept at putting the narrator in the right place at the right time without being heavy-handed. Jordan also created a strong supporting cast to provide alternate perspectives through dialogue, without relying solely on exposition. The portrayal of the wife and sister-in-law was a little one-dimensional and tiring at times, but given the circumstances of the interactions, perhaps that was deliberate and justified realism.

Jordan’s story is packed with suspense and plot twists. You know it’s a good story when you start reading slower toward the end, knowing there are only a few pages to go, and still wanting the story to continue. It’s always bittersweet to say farewell to characters you have started to really know and understand.

The Company of Demons is really two books in one: A serial killer thriller and a Grisham-esque courtroom drama. If you like either of those, you can’t go wrong with Jordan’s debut. I’ve been shying away from my Kindle; I realized I missed holding an actual book in my hand. The print version of the novel did not disappoint. The simplicity of the cover is what originally caught my attention on Twitter; it is even better in person. The overall design and printing are quite nice as well.

Follow Michael Jordan on Twitter @mjordanauthor and check out his website.

Flash Reviews Volume VI: Veterans’ Month

Veterans deserve more than a day. This month is dedicated to Veteran Authors. Buy their books! Post reviews! Support veterans!

Rajani Chronicles I: Stone Soldiers, Brian S. Converse

“The day was gray as the rain fell softly in downtown Detroit. It was a spring rain, meant to wash away the snow, blackened from passing cars, which still clogged the gutters and sidewalks; yet it only succeeded in giving the day a feeling a melancholy for all those who bore witness to the tragic scene laid out before them.”

To be fair, I typically cringe at descriptions of weather in the opening line, but I enjoyed the way the scene was set in the second line and the way it gradually transitioned me into some ominous present action. I enjoy a good tragedy. I also like the word “melancholy.”


Secrets Revealed, Willis Bullard

“My last official act while still in the military was working under assumed identity trying to retrieve information from a usually friendly country on a group of terrorists that were planning to conduct an attack against a significant embassy in Germany. I was working with the State Department in conjunction with agents from the CIA conducting an investigation on possible espionage activity within the embassy.”

This sounds like the plot for the next season of Homeland, so it scares me just a little that this is non-fiction. Non-fiction as in, this shit is real. I love the last line of the prologue, “Buckle up… this gets bumpy.”


The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

This is one of my all-time favorite opening lines. Salinger was drafted into the Army, landed on Utah Beach, and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. Oh, and he met Hemingway while he was over there. Hemingway said he had “a helluva talent.” I tend to agree.


Flash Reviews Volume V: Veterans’ Month

Veterans deserve more than a day. They also deserve more than one sentence.  This month is dedicated to Veteran Authors. Buy their books! Post reviews! Support veterans!


Bishop’s War (Bishop Series Book 1), Rafael Hines

“Hours before the deadly desert sun rose above the low hills in the east, Clayton Unser walked over to one of the Valdez prison guard to ask a few questions. The moon had been full, bright enough to cast shadows, and the guard wore NVG’s (Night Vision Goggles), but Clayton made sure the man heard him coming. No reason to startle anyone in the dark when they’re holding an AR-15 assault rifle and wearing a .45 Colt Commander in a hip-holster. Clayton raised his hands palms up as a sign of reassurance, not surrender, and to make it an easy reach for the 9mm Glock 17 in his shoulder rig in case things got dicey.”

I immediately sense that Clayton is a bad-ass. If I ever need a bodyguard, I will look for someone exactly like Clayton. I may even pay him more if he will let me call him Clayton. Clayton has some skills that you can’t learn in books. Clayton is cool. Clayton is also someone I don’t ever want to anger.


The Vampire of Rome, Lincoln Farish

“Waking up on the scratchy, bare concrete floor of an underground cell beneath the Vatican in a puddle of my own saliva wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to me that day. Father Guillermo was the nicest torturer one could ever imagine.”

What could possibly be worse than waking up in a cell? In the Vatican? In a puddle of spit? Oh… torture. Got it. This is book four of the Inquisitor Series. If you haven’t already met Brother Sebastian, you need to fix that. Check out my full review of Book One.


The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

“First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack.”

I couldn’t resist including the quintessential veteran story here. I expect that most people have read it, at least the first chapter. If you have not read it, or if you have only read the first chapter, then you should probably fix that too.


Flash Reviews Volume IV

Welcome to Flash Reviews, Friday edition. I could promise to post reviews every Friday, but that would be a lie. I am not that organized. If you still have no idea what I am doing, read about it here. As always, if you would like to request a review of something you wrote, or something you wish you wrote, send me a message on twitter. I am an equal opportunity flasher.

Shoot ‘em Up (A Maisie McGrane Mystery), Janey Mack

“A siren bawled as Lee Sharpe, eyes flashing, grinning like a demon, loomed over my gurney. “Who stabbed you, Maisie?””

Ok. That’s technically two lines, but how can you possibly stop reading after the grinning-demon-over-the-gurney image? Besides, the dialogue is just an extension of the first line. And I make the rules anyway, so deal with it. Of course, you read the second line only to discover the main character has been stabbed. There is something about the calmness of the situation that is unsettling. Lee is suddenly a sympathetic demon. Do I want to find out why Maisie is so calm about being stabbed? Do I want to know who stabbed her? Hell yeah! You should definitely check out Janey’s website.

Spoils, Brian Van Reet

“She is the most dangerous thing around.”

I stumbled upon this and was immediately consumed. Such simplicity and intrigue. How can you not keep reading? I actually didn’t stop reading this one. Check out my full review.

In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje

“This is a story a young girl gathers in a car during the early hours of the morning.”

The girl is Hana. You probably know her from The English Patient. But this is where she started. The English Patient was a sequel of sorts. This is my all-time favorite novel, and I highly recommend you read it. Just read the next few lines of the prologue. Stunning. I am excited he has a new novel coming in May.


Flash Reviews Volume III

Welcome to the third installment of Flash Reviews. If you still don’t know what I am doing, read about it here. If you would like to request a review of something you wrote, or something you think is really awesome, send me a message on twitter.

The Name of the World, Denis Johnson

“Since my early teens I’ve associated everything to do with college, the “academic life,” with certain images borne toward me, I suppose, from the TV screen, in particular from the films of the 1930s they used to broadcast relentlessly when I was a boy, and especially from a single scene: Fresh-faced young people come in from an autumn night to stand around the fireplace in the home of a beloved professor.”

Wow. 71 words in that sentence, at least according to Word. I didn’t bother to count them. Some things I just believe. And I believe that Denis Johnson was an amazing writer that was taken from us far too soon. As much as I love his language and style, I truly hope that his estate doesn’t release some lost and forgotten and incomplete manuscript. Those are always lost and forgotten and incomplete for a reason. I have a few. May they never see the light of day.


Stillhouse Lake, Rachel Caine

“Gina never asked about the garage.”

Not very exciting, but intriguing enough for me to read the second and third lines. Somehow this garage destroyed Gina. Now that has my attention. I’ve never known garages to attack.


The Bull, Cycle 2 of the Blood Zodiac, Erica Crockett

“She can’t get the blood out of her blond wig.”

Now that’s a first line that gets attention. Yes, I kept reading, and yes, you should too. Check out Erica’s first novel, Chemicals, while you are at it. You won’t be disappointed. This girl can write.


Flash Reviews Volume II

If you are unsure about what the hell I am doing, check out the first installment.

The Witch’s Lair, Lincoln Farish
“By noon, there had been three attempts to murder me.”

How could you possibly stop reading after that intro? Talk about a bad day. That’s the kind of day that should make you just go hide somewhere and hope that tomorrow will be better. This dude is not an accountant or a mechanic. Unless of course he is very very bad at either. I also highly doubt he is going to take my advice and hide.

Alpha Beta Poetry, Nicole Pierman
“Admire adamant affections, amity among allegiance, admit an admirer against all actions, and amour always, absolve.”

That’s a lot of fucking a’s. I was tempted to write an alliterative review but I gave up after “Pondering poetry, potent, portend, properly pure.” I was exhausted. Hats off to Nicole for her vision and discipline.

Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks
“You’ll probably think I’m making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I really am or smarter or even luckier but I’m not.”

I picked this up at Riverrun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a few years ago. I immediately sensed a flavor of Catcher in the Rye, so I kept reading. I am usually wary of first-person child narratives written in dialect, but this one kept my attention. I spent the remainder of that afternoon reading beside the actual river.

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