Fiction Review: Michael E. Glasscock III’s “The Trial of Dr. Kate”

At just over 200 pages, everything about this book is fast. The characters, their conflicts and resolutions, the relationships that intertwine throughout the book – all of them carry forward at a rapid pace. On the other hand, however, this is also a book that lingers, it takes a while to digest once finished.

Dr. Kate may be in the title, and on the front cover, but she is only a backdrop to a fascinating and thorough character study of her friend Shenandoah Coleman. This is an amusing twist, as Kate’s trial is to determine her true nature and character. We learn much about Shenandoah, from her childhood living outside of Round Rock, all the way through her time as a pilot in the war  and college education, to her current position as a reporter for the Memphis Express. The exposition of her life is done in a mixture of flashbacks and conversations with residents of the town. I felt it was done well, and naturally blended into the overarching plot so as to enhance the flavor. As she is going around town interviewing people, we are able to see varying walks of life and the stories that come with them, without it coming across as contrived.

I appreciated the character creation as well. Each person we meet is distinctive, making this tale stand apart from the generic “grocer, banker, millwright, schoolteacher, doctor” one finds in other stories set in rural towns. A lady doctor, a young man with developmental handicaps, a smuggler who drives a tricked-out car – these are not characters you normally come across in a period piece such as this.

Even so, this is a period piece that is done well, and carries some surprises with it.

In keeping with the unconventional characters, the author made some interesting choices with plot. Every single thread of the story ends in an unexpected twist. A bold choice, which when done right, as Mr. Glasscock has, can be good, and original. But is also quite a shock to any reader who is expecting a certain “Point A to Point B” ride through the story.

Even with the atypical slant to the work, it stays true to itself, and the reader can believe it all. A nice, quick read that I would recommend to those looking for something that breaks the mold.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Fiction Review: Nancy J. Price’s “Dream of Time”

This book brings to mind that great line from “The King and I”: “It is a puzzlement!”

Truly, where to begin. This was an interesting premise, played out in a fascinating way.

I love the author’s voice. This is her first novel, and yet there is no hesitation – the reader listens eagerly as Nancy spins her tale. You can tell the amount of research and detail that went into creating the work, as the reader slips seamlessly into the words, never once pausing over a frayed or gnarled plot device. And yet, the author does not overwhelm, or go overboard in her excitement to tell us the tale, feeding us just enough to paint the scene, to continue to deepen the mystery step by step.

Which bring me to my next item of note: the underlying mystery. Our intrepid author wasn’t satisfied with creating a story about a dream-portal time traveler, and the adventures of life in both worlds. We also get a murder mystery to solve! Don’t misunderstand me – this is not an “everything and the kitchen sink” work, where there is too much going on to understand or believe. Instead, we have a well-baked oatmeal raisin cookie of a tale, consistently enjoyable, with the occasional extra surprise. 

Unfortunately, towards the end, I bit down on something hard, and couldn’t quite work myself around to accepting how the tale resolved itself. I liked the unexpected way the dream-side of the main character’s story came to an end, that was a nice touch. Yet, the letter explaining parts of the villain’s motive was kind of anticlimactic, and lessened the impact of everything that had just happened.

Also, we don’t get an answer to the identity of a major character throughout the entire book – the one that’s causing the time travel. We get the when: 1900. The where: San Francisco.  The what:  stop the murderer. But, we never learn WHO it is that causes this transport through time, HOW it is they do so, or WHY they do it. The main character questions this herself, and is influenced by them several times, but it is never brought to light.

I hear there may be a sequel, perhaps even a series in the works, and maybe the readers will get all of the answers then. If there is a follow-up book, I will be sure to pick it up – and hope it is the same fun, if puzzling, type of story the author brings us in this work.

I received  a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

Fiction Review: Alison Gaylin’s “Reality Ends Here”

This work was a fun read, perfect for a lazy afternoon or to pass a long ride.

However, don’t misunderstand me,  this is no candy-coated tween novella – the author shares a few darker moments with the reader, dealing with some of the heavier concepts about adolescence and family. The death of a parent, the pressures of perfection and identity from within and externally that young people, especially those in the spotlight must deal with, manipulation and violence – these are all covered in this work. Yet, they are woven so well into the plot that it is almost sneaky, you don’t realized you are having this discussion with the author until later, when you find yourself mulling over the book once you have set it down.

I enjoyed the quick pace of the work as well, not rushed, but kept you turning the pages. And the plot is compelling – I couldn’t pause, I wanted to know what happened next!

Framing the engaging plot were well-crafted setting and tone. All the little nuances were spot on – in this era of reality tv, the reader has a broad knowledge base that the author builds on, but there are small touches and details without which, I feel the story would have not held the same power. Even for such a short story, the characters were real, and pulled you in, made you care, which I thought was well done.

The story is an interesting premise, and the ending had a few details that surprised me, and made me admire the author’s touch. It would be easy to follow the whole “TV show” framework to the “30-minute conclusion” – the one everyone sees coming and makes everyone happy. The author walks that line, makes you feel comfortable, and then steps off into her own plot deviation at the very end, and it is done skillfully.

I definitely recommend this story – it makes for great conversation starters about the deeper parts of life.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley

Non-Fiction Review: Kaiser Fung’s Numbersense”

“the discontent of being averaged”- pg 130

I absolutely love this line. In five words, Mr. Fung compresses all the wisdom in his book and drills you with a fast-ball right between the eyes.

Numbersense is impressive. It does exactly what it promises to do – to “clear the fog of ‘Big Data’.” I am quite proficient with numbers and data on a personal scale, house budgets and the like. However, I recently have begun some work in areas that deal with the vast accumulation of data that Mr. Fung is addressing here, in which I have always felt a little out of my depth. That is what initially led me to pick up this book.  Now, 160 pages later, I have new confidence and a new insight on how to approach not only my work, but every aspect of life around me.

First and foremost, this was straightforward read, enjoyable even. Mr. Fung strikes the perfect balance between technical terms and explanations, rewording and illustrating concepts in such a way that I actually felt like I was understanding and absorbing the points he put forth. The reader isn’t talked down or pandered to, which really made me respect the book and its author. Mr. Fung talks to the reader directly, calling them out. By asking questions, making the reader think, and bringing forth examples from the everyday world, Mr. Fung guides the reader in the same manner as any of the other great teachers I have had in my life.

At its core, Numbersense seeks to instill in consumers a healthy “flake-factor” filter for all of the marketing, hype, and “statistics” that are fed to us each day. Wherever we look, we are told to trust certain ratings, to put faith in certain statistics, and value certain “deals”. Numbersense hits the pause button on all of the cacophony trying to get our attention and tells us to ask one question: Why?

Why do we believe them? And should we?

Data, especially “Big Data”, is a good thing, it is how we run the world today. Yet, it is the interpretation of the data that we pay too little attention too, and that is putting us at a disadvantage. In eight chapters, Mr. Fung walks his readers through a new understanding of data interpretation, and gives them tools to go forth into practical application.

I truly believe this book needs to be a staple at the beginning of any business major’s education. My brother is currently in school to become a CFP, and I will be making sure he gets a copy!

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.