Book Review: An American Story

Title: An American Story
Author: Mark Lages
Genre: Fiction, Literary, Memoir
Year Published: 2020

An American Story by Mark Lages is a fictional memoir about a man named Huey Baker. Huey tells us stories and experiences from his life and within it, he includes some satire, war stories, alcohol abuse stories, family dynamics, and many other facets of his life. It is a story that some might find relatable, interesting—even amusing, maybe depressing, and possibly enlightening.

Huey Baker is your ordinary American, and his life is…pretty ordinary. However, there are things in life that he can’t control. Even the demons within himself are hard to keep at bay. Huey seems a bit rough on the outside, mostly in the way he thinks and in what he believes, but on a deeper level, he’s got a good heart. Huey also likes to tell stories so not everything in the book is about him. He shares quite a few life experiences from observation or from hearing it from someone else.

Lages writes with ease and flow and the story just spills out so smoothly that it’s easy to feel as though you are listening to a friend talk. The style is like comedy. If you listen to good comedy, you’ll find that the comedian will deviate from the main story and return to it here and there, finishing it off with the main point of the story. Speaking of comedy, there were some really funny stuff that had me laughing. I’d have to say, the joke about the names of the sons had me for a bit, but I did figure it out and it was an LOL moment. There were also a lot of sad stuff that broke my heart, like the kid and the toy. An American Story is the true essence of what it’s like to be an American, and the title fits it perfectly.

I enjoyed the read. It’s one of those stories that makes you think and wonder about life and being human. It’s made me more aware that we’re not perfect and that we should do our best to be kind and forgiving.

NOTE: This book was given to me to read and review, but the opinion is purely my own.

Book Review: Jesus and Magdalene

Title: Jesus and Magdalene
Author: João Cerqueira
Genre: Fiction, Literary, Satire, Contemporary
Year Published: 2015, 2016

Jesus and Magdalene by João Cerqueira is a contemporary fiction with satire and thought-provoking points. The story follows Jesus and Mary Magdalene as they try to figure out how to stop environmental damage, greed, and racism.

In the story, Magdalene is an environmental activist working for a group known as Green Are the Fields. This group consists of the apostles and Jesus’s mother, Mary. Judas is the leader of the group and while everyone goes along with his plans, Magdalene somewhat begins to listen to Jesus on a different approach. Jesus isn’t part of the group. He comes into the picture a little later, appearing from thin air. Magdalene brings him along to where the group was camping near the farm where genetically modified (GM) corn was being grown. They were planning to destroy the crops, but Jesus told them it was better to teach the farmer about the effects of GM rather than destroy his property.

The story jumps from GM crops to a town where a resort was going up. The labor and services provided from the resort would in turn provide money to the townspeople and boost their economy. However, greed from the engineers led to a terribly built hotel and thus nothing came of that town.

Then, the story jumps to a future Europe where gypsies, blacks, and whites live among each other. Things were peaceful until one group began blaming the other and things ended badly for everyone, including Jesus and Magdalene.

This was a very interesting story. I found myself enjoying it. I’d have to agree that in our world today, if Jesus suddenly appeared, he would actually be like the Jesus described in the book. However, if he was born and raised from birth in our world today, I believe he would have found a way to do what he could to make the world a better place. It’s not that he wasn’t trying in the book, he just wasn’t given the momentum as he was given in the New Testament. With that said, what if Jesus is actually in our world today and doing just that (making a difference) and we just don’t realize it like the characters in the book?

There were a couple things I found lacking. One was that the three chapters had no real ending or resolution. The third chapter also ended very quickly with little explanation. And two, none of the chapters came together to form one cohesive story. That aside, I didn’t find either of these points to impede the message and the sarcasm of it all.

The book is a great conversation starter and worth the read. I didn’t get the feel that the author was forcing anything onto me. It was satire at its finest. If you are faithfully religious, I’d recommend reading it with an open mind.

NOTE: This book was given to me to read and review, but the opinion is purely my own.

Book Review: Robinson’s Dream

Robinson’s Dream is about a couple who thought they did everything right raising their teenage son only to find out that their efforts really didn’t pay off as expected. Their son found himself in a mess and they weren’t sure how to approach the situation. The husband (Robinson) and wife decide to sleep on it, and while doing so, Robinson falls into a dream and dreams within dreams of strange events having to do with his fears, anxieties, his son, family members, friends, and a kaleidoscope of other things.

Like Lages’s other book, King Clown, this book has a similar style, however, the pacing was much better in this one. From start to finish, I was immersed. There’s really not a huge plot or rising actions. It is a story of situations that take place without an obvious climax but still gets the message across. The humor is excellent. A lot of it is dark but well done. I laughed my heart out. The story itself is not very serious but the messages are. It’s just a wonderful read and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to laugh and cry and think deep about life.

Book Review: King Clown

King Clown by Mark Lages is a literary fiction written in the form of a memoir. It is about a man named Adam Stern who has pneumonia and who ends up staying in the hospital for a few days. His time in the hospital is when we get to learn almost everything about who he is, from his childhood, to how he met his wife, to learning about his children, his friends, and so forth.

Reading this book was like listening to a stranger tell you his life, a stranger with humor and an unusual outlook on life. A lot of things/topics/situations Adam touched on were thought provoking. At times, I found myself putting the book down to ponder.

What I enjoyed about this book:

  1. Mostly the humor. Adam seems really laid back. His experience in the hospital was spot on (except, I’ve always liked hospital food). He has a way with his imagination. The ins and outs of sleeping and waking, and not knowing if he was dreaming or awake was interesting. His dreams really cracked me up.
  2. Loved how Adam talked about his children and siblings, especially his sister. She reminded me of someone in my family.
  3. The joke near the end had me in tears…about the trash truck. I tried to tell my husband about it but started laughing so hard, it took forever.

What I didn’t enjoy so much:

  1. Parts dragged on and on, mostly at the beginning. I think that’s why it took me longer than normal to finish.
  2. There was a moment in there where I felt the author was coming out, trying to throw his spiritual beliefs at me. I get it. Adam isn’t young. He’s probably scared about the afterlife or the lack of an afterlife, but it felt less of the character feeling his fears and more of the author proving that believers are odd people. I think that could have been worked out a little differently.
  3.  The title. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to make fun of Adam or someone else. References were made to both, so I guess I’m still a little unsure there.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The style of this book reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and I loved that book. This is a great read if you’d like something calm and humorous with very low rising actions (is that even possible?), no climax (unless leaving the hospital was the climax), and no resolution…yeah, pretty much the style of Slaughterhouse Five.

Book Review: American Dirt

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a fiction modern story about a mother named Lydia who loses everything in a cartel shootout at her home. She and the only other survivor of her family, her son Luca, flee Mexico into the U.S. to escape the cartel leader who could potentially kill them both if they remain in Mexico. **There are spoilers in this review so if you haven’t read it and plan to, I would recommend not reading this review.**

This story is tense, a bit gory, and mature. It begins with action (the shootout) to grip the reader. It then leads into ups and downs of Lydia and Luca finding their way out of town and out of Mexico. About halfway in, the story begins to drag going into the backstory of two teenage sisters they meet. It continues to drag for the most part until near the end when the story picks up again.

What I enjoyed about the book:

  1. Luca’s strength. I think his character could have been done better, but this isn’t to say it wasn’t done well. It was just okay. He was only eight and having to go through seeing his whole family murdered made him grow up real fast. Not only that, he had to endure seeing the things done to his mother and the sisters and many other things an eight-year-old shouldn’t have to see.
  2. Soledad’s character. She was way too shy and afraid at first but when she went crazy, I felt that. I wanted her to be more crazy. I wanted her strength to really show.
  3. The tension early on in the story, in the mountain/hills, and at the border was great. They were well written and had me eager to keep reading.
  4. Loved Cummins’ writing style. The words flowed and created a story that, if it weren’t for the lack of research, would have truly captivated me.

Initially, I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads.com. However, I thought more on it and decided to give it 3 stars for the following reasons.

  1. Lydia didn’t feel real. It could be that because I grew up in a highly populated Mexican community, had Mexican friends, and worked with them as well, I know their strengths and weaknesses somewhat and Lydia felt more Asian (shy, quiet, keep to themselves, etc.) in her demeanor. She seemed very clueless and surprised at how the cartels operated, how sneaking on the trains worked, etc. Her character felt more like a tourist in a country she didn’t know very well, not a native.
  2. All the Mexican males were either wanting to rape the three females or they were older and fatherly. Or, they were with one cartel or another. I wanted to see a good-hearted man who neither wanted to rape nor was part of a cartel. I don’t believe they are all bad.
  3. Cummins wrote in the book that ALL Mexican illegal immigrants come to the U.S. because of some dealings with the drug cartels. This isn’t true and I hope others who read it don’t take this as a truth. I get the feeling Cummins is trying to make the reader sympathize with why Mexicans need to be in the U.S. illegally. She also mentioned something about more journalists were being murdered in Mexico during Trumps administration in 2017. I personally wish she’d left the political stuff and party favoritism out. It puts a sour taste in my mouth when an author favors any party and tries to shove it down the reader’s throat.
  4. Lydia and Luca wanted to come to Denver where a distant uncle lived but the uncle and Denver weren’t mentioned again at the end. Also, Denver is a big city and there is a large Mexican population there and not all are illegals. Luca would have made lots of friends easily. If all the illegals were escaping the cartels, it would mean they’d all share a common story and help each other to survive in a foreign country, but that’s not so. There is a huge gap between Lydia and Lucas’s story and the reality of what’s really out there. I don’t claim to know everything and am open to learning facts, but this story was hinting at facts that wasn’t. I felt like it was a bit of propaganda because of the election coming, and it’s unfortunate because I really wanted to love this book.
  5. If the cartel really wanted to go after Lydia and Luca, they’d find them in the U.S. or any country for that matter. Borders won’t stop them from getting what they want in a different country.

What I truly enjoyed about the story was the action and suspense. If the setting was in a post-apocalyptic world, the story and style would fit perfectly.

Books Read In 2015 And Top 3 Favs

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This year, my goal was to read 25 books.  I ended up reading 51 books.  I thought reading 101 books in 2014 was going to burn me out this year but it didn’t.  Here are my top 3 favorite reads this year:

  1. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  I read all 5 books but the first book was finished in 2014 so really I read 4 of the books this year.  The series is simply fantastic.  I liked them all very much but my most favorite is book 3 because Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen were fabulous in this book.  In brief (throughout all the books), Jon Snow comes across quiet and brave and wants to learn everything he can to be the best on the Wall.  He is also very good with his sword.  His life was an unfortunate one because he was born to a lord but his mother was a peasant or commoner (or maybe a whore) so that makes him a bastard.  His father’s wife (his step-mother), Catelyn Stark, hates him.  I believe all bastards are given the surname Snow so that they don’t get mistaken for royalty.  Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf who’s father detests him.  The Lannister’s are the sneakiest and most powerful people in power and they make sure everyone knows it.  Tyrion on the other hand doesn’t come across like the rest of the Lannister’s. He is cool with a sense of humor and kindness and he’s humble too, but because he is a Lannister, and they have a history of doing harm to others for their own greed, he is automatically seen just as greedy and cruel even though he has never partaken in any of those things.  He does a lot of good things and it all gets overlooked because he’s a Lannister.  Plus, because his father hates him, he doesn’t get any special treatment as his twin siblings and grand kids do.  Daenerys Targaryen and her brother were the only two dragon people who survived the destruction of their people, allegedly.  Her brother forced her to marry a horse lord at a very young age so that he (her brother) could somehow become king.  Her story is heartbreaking and she won my heart with her intelligent tactics and bravery.  Those are my favorite characters but there are so many different characters who’s stories come to life in the chapters.  I’m not sure I can explain exactly what this series is about (there is no main story) because it is complex with many characters and many stories intertwining.  Some stories and characters never cross paths like the one between Jon Snow and Daenerys.  Tyrion crosses paths with both Jon Snow and Daenerys but when he is with Daenerys he is on the opposite end of the hierarchy, meaning, he was taken as a slave and ended up in an act/show with another slave dwarf as entertainment for Daenerys and her people.  Daenerys does not like the Lannisters and wants to take back Westeros (the seven kingdoms) because the Lannisters took Westeros away from her ancestors.  Tyrion wants to meet Daenerys because gossip/news flies fast but he didn’t want to meet her in the way he did.  And, he has no idea that she does not like the Lannisters nor does he know she wants to take back Westeros.
  2. The Maze Runner by James Dashner.  This book was intense.  It’s set in post-apocalyptic United States and is about testing a cure for a pandemic called the flare.  The story wraps around the main character, Thomas.  Thomas can’t remember anything when he ends up in the maze and has to figure out who he is, why he’s there, and how to get out.  The story is a trilogy but I didn’t think the other two books were very good.
  3. Alice Adams by Tooth Tarkington.  This is one great classic.  The story takes place in the early 1920’s and is about a young girl named Alice who tries hard to fit in/remain with her high society friends but eventually learns and accepts that things have changed.  Her family was middle class and she grew up with her middle class friends and neighbors, but when they began to make a lot more money, her family didn’t.  They remained unmoving financially.  These were the people she knew and went to school with and played with as kids. As her family became poorer and poorer, her friends began to turn their backs on her, whispered/gossiped, and just simply ignored her because she was no longer at their status.  It was also difficult for her to find a bachelor because in those days, the men (wealthy and non-wealthy-with-status) only dated and married young ladies who had wealthy parents.  Women in those days were looked down upon if they worked and Alice did just that.  She went against the grain.  This is an amazingly well written book that embodies the culture of that era.