du beonjjae gihoe

It has been said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. After reading “The Korean Word for Butterfly” by James Zerndt, I would argue that this is not true.

After my inconsiderate review of “The Cloud Seeders,” (in which I’m now almost embarrassed to admit I suggested that had I paid for the book, I would have returned it for my money back, while still stating that I’d still like to read his other novel) Zerndt was kind enough to lend me a copy of “The Korean Word for Butterfly.”

Apparently, there was indeed something about Zerndt’s writing skill that kept me drawn into “The Cloud Seeders,” in spite of an overall distaste for the book. I suffered no similar disappointments regarding “The Korean Word for Butterfly.”

“The Korean Word for Butterfly” is a moving novel that addresses racial stereotypes, relationships, unplanned pregnancy and abortion. Each character is beautifully written and developed with clear motivations, ready to take wing from the page into the reader’s imagination.

The book follows the story of two young Americans, Billie and Joe, who falsely apply to teach English to Korean students, as well as several members of the Korean school system they meet along the way. Each individual character emerges fresh and new from their chrysalis, empathetically formed with a back-story that allows the reader to draw a deep connection. In the midst of Billie and Joe’s short tenure with the Korean school, tragedy strikes Korea when two young girls are run over by an American tank, and they find themselves struggling not only to maintain their charade but to learn how to cope with a new level of anti-American sentiment within this foreign country.

There are brilliant touches of classic irony interwoven into “The Korean Word for Butterfly.” Billie, who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and feeling alone in deciding how best to cope with this, unknowingly is drawn to try to befriend the school secretary, Yun-ji, who is also quietly deciding on her own how she will deal with an unexpected pregnancy from a brief fling with an American soldier.

Equally touching is the story of Moon, working at the school and clinging desperately to sobriety in an effort to regain his relationship with his ex-wife and his son.

As the novel reached its climax, and all too soon afterward conclusion, I found myself clinging to the characters, unwilling to watch them flit away.

I would highly recommend this book to those who enjoy classic fiction and are looking for fresh voices, as well as any readers who enjoy fiction on Asian culture. At $2.99, this book is a great buy for the Kindle.

According to Zerndt’s Amazon page, he is seeking a publisher for a third novel, “Where Cute and Crazy Meet at Midnight.” When available, this book will certainly be on my list to purchase. I hope that Zerndt has once again found the intoxicating voice with which he breathed life into the characters from “The Korean Word for Butterfly.”

(The title of this blog post is Korean for “second chances,” according to a Google translation.)


True Crime – Didn’t Pay

As a reader of many true crime novels in my youth, “Escaping the Arroyo” by Joyce Nance was quick to catch my eye in an e-mail offering free Kindle books. True crime is my father’s preferred genre for reading, and when I had finished the final page in my own personal or borrowed library, I could always be certain to find one of these books in his that I had not yet read.

Although it’s been a good many years since I’ve picked up a true crime novel, I found this one to be an outstanding representative of the genre, and one that went above and beyond in many ways.

“Escaping the Arroyo” is the story of New Mexico’s Michael Guzman, who abducted two University of New Mexico students, Julie Jackson and Colene Bush. Guzman raped and stabbed Jackson to death, and attempted to kill Bush in a vicious attack which she miraculously survived.

I feel like the narrative of this true crime novel displays a sincere empathy for both the criminal and the victim. Early in the book, heart-wrenching vignettes detail the type of abuse Guzman endured throughout his childhood and offers profound insight into what might have spurred him to commit such heinous acts. Details of the victims as youths provide insight into the fighting spirit that allowed Bush to survive her attack, only to learn later in life that surviving never meant she would get her life back.

As there was a surviving victim in the Guzman case, Nance is able to offer the reader a special insight that many true crime novelists are not into the permanent trauma that leaves a life-long impact on the survivor. She describes in detail several attempts by Bush to pursue goals she had set for her life before the attack, only to be turned away time and again. I found myself wishing that there were some explanation from those involved as to why Bush was first welcomed and later denied the opportunity for these pursuits, but I’m certain that it would have been impossible for an interviewer to find someone who would speak candidly about their reasons.

Regularly priced at $4.99, this is a book I would categorize as a #kindlesteal on Twitter. But even at full-price, I’d suggest this book as a must-read for any fan of the true crime genre. Nance’s second true-crime novel, “Reel to Real: The Video Store Murders” was released in July. Other offerings on Amazon include the children’s book “Crime Doesn’t Pay – Even for Cats” and an anthology of poetry with Kathy Teller, “Sharp as Stars.” Joyce Nance’s Web site can be found here.


Not Miraculous, but an OK Read

After the heart-heavy drama of “The Cloud Seeders,” I was ready for a little levity in my next book. So I selected one of my Kindle freebies that seemed to be a light-hearted romance, “Stardust Miracle,” by Edie Ramer.

I found this book to be an amusing diversion from my usual reading, but I found the fast pace left me wanting for a little more substance.

I had a hard time connecting with the main character, Becky, who seemingly goes from minister’s wife to promiscuous dating dynamo in the turn of a page. I found myself connecting more with the tragic sub-plot in the middle of the story rather than with Becky, when I was really looking for a fun and humorous read. And in the end, although it appears Becky will get the miracle she has hoped for, I felt as though I had been left a little high-and-dry in the romance department.

Ramer is a talented writer and has the ability to create life-like characters that draw the reader in. However, I felt that not all of her characters were so skillfully drawn, and, unfortunately, sometimes even the main character ended up feeling two-dimensional in a world of other delightful people that you’d love to get to know better.

Once again, this is a book that I feel that had I spent money on, I would have been sorely disappointed, but enjoyed as a free read. And, with multiple other free offerings, I’m likely to give Ramer’s books a second chance.

“Stardust Miracle” appears to be a somewhat permanent free offering, as an introduction to Ramer’s “A Miracle Interrupted” series (although it is the second book in the series). Some of Ramer’s other books, including “Hearts in Motion” (Book 1 of the “Rescued Hearts” series), “Dead People in Love” (a short story and Book 2 of the “Haunted Hearts” series) and “The Fat Cat” (a short story in the “Cattitude” series), are also available free to purchase for the Kindle. Her work is featured in multiple anthologies, including the free titles “Heart 2 Heart” (“Stardust Miracle” and “Hearts in Motion”) and “Light and Dark” (“Hearts in Motion” and Dale Mayer’s “Tuesday’s Child”).

Ramer’s book took me to a place I enjoyed visiting and wouldn’t mind going back to, even if it wasn’t someplace that I’m longing to return to soon. And, in a way, it’s nice to have a little light reading without a sense of commitment that you’re just dying to read the next in the series.

Slightly confused by my dystopian adventure

I generally don’t finish reading books that I don’t really like, and therefore, I don’t offer very many reviews on books that didn’t really take my breath away.

However, there was something about “The Cloud Seeders” by James Zerndt that kept me drawn into the story, even though I wasn’t “in love” with the book.

This science fiction/fantasy novel is the tale of two brothers who live in a dystopian America plagued by drought. “Water cops” run rampant, enforcing strict regulations on the conservation of water and energy. The story follows the two brothers’ journey to discover what has happened to their parents, accompanied by the older brother’s girlfriend.

From the beginning, I found myself feeling like the story, while compelling, was also a bit flawed in its logic. Near the beginning of the story, the reader is told that Jerusha (the girlfriend) and Thomas both know what has happened to the boys’ parents, which left me wondering for the entire remainder of the book what possible reason she had for accompanying them through these trials when Thomas said he was taking Dustin to find their parents.

There is a lot of profanity (this is noted in the description on Amazon), and there was one moment in the story that made me feel very uncomfortable and squeamish. I think that both of these situations were an attempt to portray the way Dustin had missed out on his childhood, and as such, were likely powerful literary devices to make that point, as they definitely evoked strong reactions.

Additionally, the book would benefit from some minor editing and proofreading. However, this doesn’t detract from the overall story.

Personally, if I had purchased this book for my own reading pleasure, I would likely have been disappointed and would possibly have returned it for my money back. However, as a free Kindle book, I felt like it was a powerful story and was definitely satisfied.

Although I didn’t feel like this story was “for me,” I find myself oddly interested in reading his other novel currently available through Amazon, “The Korean Word for Butterfly.”

I don’t recommend this book at the $2.99 price tag, but if you enjoy dystopian science fiction/fantasy, I’d definitely suggest keeping an eye out to see if this book pops up as a free offering once again. This book, and Zerndt’s other works, is also available to read for free for Kindle Unlimited members.

Loved it to Death!

Reading time is still coming at a valuable premium in my household, but I’m thankful for being able to find some really enjoyable free reading, when I do manage to find some coveted time with my Kindle.

Sunday I managed to finish my latest read, “Graveyard Shift,” by Angela Roquet, described on the cover as a “A Lovingly Sacrilegious Journey Beyond the Grave.” As promised, it simply didn’t seem appropriate to review this novel on a Sunday afternoon.

Although it may have been a bit rough around the edges, I found this first novel in the “Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc.” novels to be an enjoyable introduction to a new fantasy realm I had never imagined before. Harvey is a reaper, one of a series created from soul material to assist “Grim” himself (who actually doesn’t do the dirty work himself, anymore). A familiar cast of characters appear in a new light throughout the novel, from the archangel Gabriel to the god Horus to Holly Spirit (no, that’s not a typo, rather a correction).

After three centuries as a reaper who has gotten by flying just under the radar, Harvey learns that perhaps she was created for a purpose just a little bit more unique than her counterparts. This first story in the series sets the scene for the series as she reluctantly accepts her new role and finds herself in a bit more trouble than she could have ever imagined.

At first, I found reading just a bit slow. But I still felt like I’d hit upon something of value in my free reading. I’m much more likely to continue a series that I feel would be of interest to both myself and my husband (two readers for the price of one!) than to simply buy a book for myself.

But as I got into the real meat of the book, those thoughts were forgotten. Roquet has artfully created a new paranormal fantasy realm re-purposing familiar characters in new and delightful roles. She skillfully wove a tale full of intelligent conflicts and following through with sometimes surprising resolutions. Roquet left just enough stones unturned to leave the reader eager for another romp through Limbo City without feeling actively manipulated to buy the next book in the series.

With that said, the ending of this first novel also felt a slight bit stilted.

I do look forward to reading more in the “Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc.” series; and hope that Roquet has found that storytelling voice which provided such an enjoyable read in the heart of this novel and carries it through from beginning to end in future installments in the series.

This book won’t appeal to a very religious reader, but those who enjoy science fiction and paranormal romance are likely to enjoy the series. Covers of the second and third books compare the series to the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels or the “Undead” series, but I would draw a larger comparison to Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” novels.

Now off to get the husband hooked, so I can better justify buying the next books!

Relationship Issues and Our Kindle

Apologies are due for the lapse in my blogging – life in our household has been especially hectic of late. Additionally, it seems my husband has finally discovered the joys of the Kindle (it was a joint Christmas gift to the both of us), and has been somewhat monopolizing it to play “Clash of Lords 2.” I’ve never played this game, but personally, I recommend avoiding it. Based on what I’ve heard about it, it seems that when you’re not actively playing the game, unless you’ve put up “shields” which will keep you from playing the game until they expire, you’re open to attack and losing everything you’ve worked for. This seems terribly frustrating to me (and frustrating to the hubby – we’ve had a few incidents where I “stole” the Kindle as he wasn’t directly playing, but he was trying to keep his game logged in during those times to avoid these attacks, and my time on the Kindle was enough to log him out, ergo, he lost what he was working toward). The games I play provide “bonuses” for the time you’re logged out (such as allowing other players to borrow your character and offering “pal points” to both the player who is using another character and the player whose character is used), so I find it quite petty for a game that offers only “threats” during the time a player is logged out.

But enough about games. This blog is about books.

I have actually read a few (or at least a couple), and we’re now working toward a more amenable schedule so that I can once again get a little screen time without fear of inspiring the hubby’s wrath.

One recent read, inspired by the relationship between my husband, myself and our Kindle, was “Men Fake Foreplay … And Other Lies That Are True” by Mike Dugan. I picked this book up as a free promotion a while back, it’s regularly priced at $3.99.

Dugan points out straight-away that the intention of his book isn’t to bash men (a sentiment that I found a slight bit disappointing as I started my reading, as I was in a particularly pessimistic mood regarding “mankind” at the moment). But he launched into his subject matter with such wit and humor that I soon found my mood lightening regardless, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book without even realizing that there was some pretty serious and thoughtful relationship advice.

Not to say that this isn’t an enjoyable read after the first half, but there’s a definite change of tone in the second half, and I found myself missing the zany zingers peppered with almost subliminal relationship advice as I moved into the more serious subject matter toward the end.

At $3.99, I feel that this is a great book for those who might be seeking a little light-hearted relationship advice which might help others have a little better understanding of their other half. Those seeking only a light-humorous read (the comedic antics that have earned Dugan an Emmy for his writing for television) may wish to wait for another book.

Either way, if you happen to stumble across this book as a free promotion, as I did, I’d definitely recommend adding it to your Kindle library.

Finding what you’re looking for

While I found an enjoyable read (albeit not quite what I was looking for) for my Saturday shorts, I also finished another e-book Saturday which was exactly what I was looking for.

A Winter Dandelion” by Amy Steiner was a delightful journey of recovery and learning to “let go and let God.” I’d highly recommend this book to anyone dealing with the struggles of being a caretaker to an older parent or loved-one. Full of poignant humor, this book is a journey that leads the reader through dementia and past abuse, past raising your own children, and ends in letting go and realizing that you have to let everyone make their own decisions and mistakes.

I found this book during a search, sorted by price, for “recovery fiction.” I had been looking over a couple of free books given to me by an author on the subject of stroke and missionary discipleship, and they just didn’t pique my interest the way I had hoped they might (I will return to finish these books at some point). What those two books did do for me was cause me to realize the hang-ups on my current writing project — the fear that a memoir dealing with stroke recovery may be too private and the fear that no one will find the work interesting.

And then I began to wonder, what about a work of fiction (perhaps even a series focusing on different scenarios, if successful), loosely based on my experience? Could it work? Would it be interesting?

I’ve read medical thrillers and medical romance, but I couldn’t recall any simple “medical fiction,” something that specifically dealt with the day-to-day details of dealing with a medical situation. I suppose there’s probably a lot of generic fiction that does deal with these issues, but I didn’t know how to find it specifically.

However, my search worked. “A Winter Dandelion” was exactly the sort of book I was looking for to tell me that a simple fiction dealing lightly with medical issues and recovery in the context of literature can, and does, work.

Published in 2011, “A Winter Dandelion” is Steiner’s only work available for the Kindle. I hope to see more from her in the future. Regularly priced at $2.99, I feel like this is a nice read for the price, and Steiner does periodically offer a free promotional period for the book.

What you find is not always what you’re looking for

Another busy week around my house had me searching again for a humorous short story for my Saturday review.

That wasn’t really what I found in the book I selected, but I came away satisfied with a good read, anyway.

After a searching the Kindle store for short humor, I finally settled on “Six Impossible Things” by Renee Carter Hall for today’s reading. The cover art reminds me of a CD cover for the band Cake, which I really enjoy and can be quirky and off-beat in their humor, so I had really high hopes for a little laugh-out-loud comedy to lighten my mood.

According to the description on Amazon, this book includes, “A new father is visited by his childhood imaginary friend. A woman falls in love with a cartoon character. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse show up at a big-box retail chain. Sometimes humorous, often poignant, and always memorable, the six short stories in this collection may just make you believe impossible things.”

Although I didn’t find the light-hearted comedy that I was searching for, I did find a beautifully written, moving set of short stories. They mostly left a smile on my face, although I came closer to crying than I did to laughing in reading these short stories. Hall’s stories had a magical sense of nostalgia about them; they truly embraced the spirit of childhood dreams.

This is definitely a great free book for any fan of short fiction. I’d have even been satisfied with a purchase at the regular digital list price of $.99. I find it unfortunate that Hall doesn’t seem to have made more use of Kindle Direct Publishing or other easy sources to make her work available on digital format, as it seems only around half of the works on her Amazon page (which also includes a number of anthologies with other authors) are available in digital format. I hope she’ll consider releasing more short story anthologies in the future, because I found myself capitvated by this one.