Friday, July 21, 2017

A Review of "The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong"

 “Every employee rises to his level of incompetence.” This is the principle introduced in this classic work of humorous but often true insight into the hierarchies of business. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Review of Raymond L. Atkins’s Sweetwater Blues

“Sloppy luck.” It’s when fortune saves an individual from a terrible fate, only to make surviving it almost as bad. Like a young man emerging alive from an almost certainly fatal auto accident, only to find his closest friend dead at the scene, and himself facing a prison sentence for his negligence. Palmer Cray believes he and his family are doomed and blessed by sloppy luck. He accepts it and perhaps embraces it. Raymond L. Atkins’s novel Sweetwater Blues follows Palmer through ten penitent years of his young life in the town and prison of Sweetwater, Georgia.

Sweetwater Blues (Mercer University Press, 2014, 340 pages, $18.00 paperback) is Atkins’s fourth novel. Raymond L. Atkins is a professor of English at Georgia Northwestern Technical College and member of the Creative Writing faculty at Reinhardt University.

Something about this novel spoke to me. Reading it was like meeting a stranger and finding out we grew up just miles from each other and knew all the same places, or passed through some significant shared experience, like being in the military or working at the same place, even if separated by time. It’s a kinship almost. Possibly it is Atkins’s slow description of life in Sweetwater, even through the thoughts of an inmate remembering the town. It takes me back to my own youth in a small Southern town, where everybody knew me and my whole family, and years passed around us all like water flowing around rocks in a creek bed.

There is a charming humor about the voice of Atkins’s writing that brings to mind Twain or Faulkner. But there is a pace to it that makes it enjoyable in a different way. It’s a walk through the scenery, not hurried or even brisk. It’s more of a saunter or a mosey. It’s not belly-laughing humor, but a chuckling look at what just is and maybe always was. Like this description of funeral arrangements for one of Palmer’s friends:

Otis Lee had gone to visit Genuine Owen not long after receiving his diagnosis and prognosis, and over a quart jar of corn liquor and a pair of Swisher Sweets they had hammered out the pertinent details of his eternal sleep. He had wanted to be buried at the junkyard, under The Death Car with his father, but Genuine had informed him that, lamentably, due to town ordinances that had been passed almost immediately after that original automotive interment, this would not be possible (308).
Otis Lee and his demented wife are two of the key characters that bring out the medicinal qualities of humor in this book. Another is Cheddar, Palmer’s cousin and cell mate, a life-long professional prisoner whose main problem is his wife “Bay-Annette”. As readers we laugh, even if we feel a little guilty about it, and that makes it easier to deal with the heavy issues of prison, betrayal, and the end of life.

Sweetwater Blues is a sweet read whose literary value sneaks up on the reader, taps him on the shoulder, and introduces itself with a friendly smile. I shall read more of Mr. Atkins’s work and I look forward to his next novel with great anticipation.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Cloudosaurus Haiku

Jaws dripping with steam
Stalking prey in the open sky
Time is running thin

More Haiku

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Review of Lee Child’s Gone Tomorrow

When a drifting veteran finds a nervous woman sharing his subway car, he can see that something is wrong with her. Why? Because he is trained to see things like that. But when she takes her own life, he has no idea that she is the key to a mystery involving politics, terrorism, and very dangerous women. Jack Reacher once again finds himself in the middle of troubleville, and as usual, he’ll have to fight his way out, both mentally and physically. There’s no way he’d rather do it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Forward . . . March! A Review of Living Forward, by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

Life Planning is not just about finances. It is a purposeful look at where you are, where you’re going, and how to get there. Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want (Baker, 2016, $21.99 hardback) is a guide to writing a life plan with specific instructions and more. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bad Choices, Bad Usage: A Review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am

Presence is the theme of Jonathan Safran Foer’s new novel Here I Am. It is the story of a family’s journey through birth, growth, school, marriage, divorce, war, and death. It is a more or less complete life of the Bloch family, saturated with their Jewish culture and their self-obsession, and dominated by particularly self-obsessed son, father, cousin, and husband Jacob Bloch, whose journey in this story is from nowhere to nowhere.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Janet Evanovich’s New Quirky Master Detective: A Review of Janet Evanovich’s Curious Minds

A detective, especially a master detective, should be full of personality. Such is the case with Emerson Knight, a sort of geeky, less refined version of Sherlock Holmes. And such an 
extraordinary intellect is bound to need a foil to keep his feet on the earth. Thus Riley Moon, an eager young banker from Texas who gets herself tangled in Emerson’s world and cannot seem to get out.

Curious Minds (Bantam, 2016, 336 pages, $28.00 hardback) is the first in a new series of detective novels co-written with Phoef Sutton. It chronicles the adventures of eccentric billionaire Emerson Knight and his young banker sidekick Riley Moon. Evanovich is the best-selling author of over thirty novels including the Lizzie and Diesel series, also co-written with Sutton.

Emerson Knight has some papers to sign and does not care a whit. He has inherited more money than he can ever imagine spending, and a little more or less matters far less than whatever intriguing experiment or adventure he is obsessed with at any one time. It matters to Riley Moon, however, a not-so-rich fresh graduate of scholarship-funded law and business schools trying to stake her claim in the prestigious investment bank of Blane-Grunwald, which “made Goldman Sachs look like a mom-and-pop savings and loan.”  She has been assigned to their strange client since her boss, Günter Grunwald, has gone missing. Knight is suspicious, and takes Riley on a wild ride to find Günter. Along the way they team up with UFO hunters, Mauritian gold guards, and an archbishop, to track down a conspiracy of theft and murder that could reach to the highest levels in the U.S. government and affect the entire world.

It takes real artistic skill to create and bring to life characters like the quirky Emerson, the sensible Riley, Emerson’s homey Aunt Myra and Cousin Vernon, and the other characters that look to become the familiar framework for this new series. The sexual energy between Riley and Emerson add a 
spicy tension without being vulgar or titillating. I for one was pleasantly surprised that Evanovich, a confirmed yankee born in New Jersey, and Phoef Sutton, from Washington, D.C., were able to weave an authentic Southern flavor into the story. The humor from minor characters as well as the banter between the main characters keeps the story moving swiftly along. This is an enjoyable light adult read.