Review of Liar, Dreamer, Thief by Maria Dong

Told in first person present tense. 

A dysfunctional protagonist leads us through her obsession with a coworker. The main character self-consciously sabotages herself through ritual superstitions and coping mechanisms. The list of her disorders is not delineated but the reader may observe tell-tale signs of nearly every social issue a person can contain within one body.

The writing is fluid, way more commercial than literary fiction, a page-turner trick or two implemented at the end of most chapters. This is a quick read, but patience is required to put up with the protag’s deplorable decision-making paralysis, her awful judgment constantly triggering the next disaster. The only tension or conflict present in the book is the direct result of Katrina’s ill-adapted actions. It was frustrating, and I did not sympathize with her. I have met many who have dug their own graves while living lives they always complain about, but few of them matched Katrina’s level of unbelievably broken.

It was a harrowing experience in the same way riding along for a train wreck is. But there is little complexity, and not much literature to a train wreck. It is simply a sad and destructive force barreling toward doom. Misery loves company. Anyone who has worked for a staffing company or as a recruiter will sense the seething hate for the industry felt by our anti-heroine. But how else would you expect corporate America, let alone the healthcare system, to function? Hate it all you will, but she is the one to blame for her deplorable job, her circumstances, etc. She did not work hard and had the gall to complain about how her workplace treated her. The worst employees get treated the worst. Sorry not sorry.

The problem with reading a very intimate and close perspective is that you can easily hate the person you are keeping company with. I do not believe this was the author’s intention.

The better parts of the book are related to a slapped-together mystery and the disparate fascinations of the protagonist’s secret world intersecting. Overall, I was extremely unimpressed, but it is the kind of book you have to finish.

Review of Critical Hit: A Gaming Mystery by W.M. Akers

Critical Hit promises a hybrid of adventure and mystery. And it delivers on its promise.

First off, I was intrigued by the well-designed maps in the front pages, which seemed to promise a dual setting.
The first is Tennessee in 2003 and the second is the fantasy locale created for sport, but which is often real enough to convince most players of table-top RPGs.

What follows is a fast-paced novel with first-person narration that makes for an immersive reading experience. It pokes fun with cultural references and contains an endearing intimacy with its characters, sustained through effective scenes of ups and downs, where our narrator must face challenges we can all relate to.

The medieval feel of the fantasy atmospheric backdrop makes way for a modern set-up in which the griffons and weaponry are secondary to the real events, until the reality of Callie’s life shifts gameward.

After the initial set up, we are treated to a well-described action and adventure, with signature touches of humor on every page. While the modern-America sections contrasted the fantasy setting, they were no less interesting.

The impressive character description and realistic dialogue kept me turning pages. The D & D-esque play by play clued me into the sub-culture I was only mildly familiar with, while revealing satirical character traits. There were moments reminiscent of Stranger Things for their pseudo-retro nostalgic feel. Plenty of pop culture references to engage my inner trivia buff. The author gets into the intricacies of gaming, arts and crafts, and world building with aplomb.

I am guilty of taking an escapist approach to life when troubles rear their head – which could be a side effect of the media suffusing our culture. When uncontrollables shatter the status quo, it is tempting to seal ourselves inside worlds of our own creation. Amid the moving familial backstory, school situation, or gaming description I was at home in the author’s always engrossing prose style, which I would describe as consummately approachable.

Tragedy tests the main character, but love for fantasy persists, pushing Callie deeper into the game. So too, will each development tempt you deeper into the microcosm of this novel.

GoodReads Giveaway

Undertones is now available for a limited time as a Goodreads Giveaway. Enter for your chance to win a copy. Click Here:

Dane was a reliable guitarist until he got addicted to ants. Now he’s just a giant anteater with an abysmal grade point average. On a date with lead singer, Serena, they witness a gruesome incident. Waking up in the hospital, Dane realizes Serena’s missing. Going to the police only gets him a felony for possession of ants. Now, forced to lick the habit while he tracks down Serena, he’s going to need a little help from the band.

Investigating familiar watering holes (while stopping for one or two drinks) leads him to an underground criminal organization. Is it a coincidence that a feline fatale attempts to recruit him for the mob? Should he expose the dirty underbelly of their society, putting Serena and his band on the line, or try to take them down from the inside? Either way, it’s going to take more than the Komodo dragon on clarinet.