Mr. Wonderful – Daniel Smith

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Brian Fenton’s life is not easy. His father, Doc Fenton is suffering from dementia. His own son is loopy and keeps trying to get cash from him.

Events take an interesting turn when Doc passes away. At this time the truth comes out, revealing a great deal for this Texas family.

The conflict between family life and drama is what this book focuses on. “Mr. Wonderful” is in fact Doc Fenton and he’s quite a character.

This book is well written, utilizing vivid description from the first narrative. The pace of the story is steady and I believe anyone interested in family sagas will enjoy it. Family dynamics and emphasis on diverse characters is what makes a novel work well. The author is successful in making this happen.

I particularly enjoyed the cover design, using two blackbirds and the moon. I could identify with the thought process that had gone in to creating it and felt that it definitely represented the content inside.

Attempt to read this story with the back thought of being thoroughly entertained. You won’t be disappointed.

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An UnderratedRead revisited: A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America’s Favorite Game – Mark Oristano

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

It’s my favorite time of year: football season. Now that we’re in the middle of NFL playoffs, some of you may  be wondering what all the fuss is about.

Maybe you’re not from the United States and this obsession seams totally strange to you. Maybe you are American but just not interested.

The problem is that you’re sick of being an outsider. You love spending Sunday afternoons with your friends, but they’re partying as they watch the NFL games. They’re  screaming for the local team at a sports bar, but all you can do is sit there looking dumb because you know nothing about the sport. In fact, you’re embarrassed even to open your mouth, since you have no clue as to what the rules are.

Don’t worry, there’s help on the way. Former football anchor Mark Oristano will teach you everything you need to know and help you feel like a part of the action in A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America’s Favorite Game.

Oristano, a former sportscaster for the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers, feels for the football-challenged spectator. In this book, he starts by explaining the basics, such as the roles of offense, defense, and special teams, as well as the positions within each—and how a team gets points on the board. He also includes strategy and clock management. For instance, when does the quarterback pass—and what makes a good running game? Also, should a fan focus on the ball at the start of a play?

Oristano explains all of this through humor and anecdotes. He even includes sections entitled “Cool Thing to Say During the Game.” Yes, some are rather corny, but it’s all in good fun. He even includes a comprehensive glossary of terms with thorough explanations. It’s all accomplished in fewer than 150 pages—and it’s anything but dull.

If your goal is to find a guide to help you pick the ultimate winning fantasy team or to learn strategies for choosing which players to play each week, then this book will be of no use to you. However, if you enjoy watching football and you really want to learn more about the game, then A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football is the perfect source.

Go Saints!

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The Body Image Blueprint: Your Go-To Guide for Radical Self-Reverence -Jenny Eden Berk

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Exceptional

The Body Image Blueprint is a self-help book written about body image. It discusses the challenges women face in the world today and covers a broad and unique perspective on our culture obsessed with dieting.

Besides the fact that author Jenny Berk is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, body image mentor, and an international speaker, she also has had her own struggle with the issue and therefore her book has a more personal approach.

The book contains conversations, discussions, interviews, techniques, and much more information regarding this serious matter.

I particularly liked the fact that Jenny specializes on binge eating and discusses techniques on how to be mindful of your eating practices. I believe with all the diets and methods out there these days, it is very hard to figure out which one is going to work for you personally. However, Jenny makes sure that no matter what your trouble is, you can still benefit from this book.

Another special thing about this book is that it also provides stories and journeys of others just to make sure that the reader knows that they aren’t alone in this.

I found the literature to be easy to understand. The layout and structure of the book were pleasantly organized in a way that there was nothing confusing about it. The psychological facts and demeanour of the subject matter were also included in the content of the book making it suitable for any professional wishing to add it to their reading list. I believe the author has taken a decent amount of time creating this book and her hard work has paid off.

I recommend The Body Image Blueprint to anyone who wishes to read more on body image and is struggling to deal with the issue.

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Stone Baby: Stories – Michelle Sacks

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“… the rest of the continent kept pouring in, sure of nothing but the fact that this pitiful life, this half-life with no jobs, no home, no money, would still be better than before, better than the life they left behind in whatever godforsaken place they’d come from.”

That would not be the case for a man known as “Kingdom” who crossed into South Africa, realizing that one could be reborn simply by crossing a border. This opening story featuring an enigmatic hitman grabbed me so fiercely that I was sure that the rest of the stories would be a letdown. I’m happy to say that I was wrong.

Another favorite story features a young Irishman with a sexual deformity to seek out acceptance in Berlin where “The stranger, the more perverse, the more outside the realm of so-called normal, the better.”

There is even a story that takes place in the future where Europeans desperately escape their famine-ridden continent for Africa where they are the unwelcome immigrants. There are just too many exceptional stories to mention, so I will stop here.

Stone Baby (the title of one of the stories) finds both the accepted and the marginalized facing varied situations challenging their secrets and personal character. These raw and emotional stories take place from Ireland to India to South Africa and beyond with protagonists from multiple generations. Many seemingly insignificant characters in one story play an important role in another.

It is difficult to create complex characters with sufficient backstory and satisfying conclusions in the short story format, but South African born author Michelle Sacks not only succeeds but excels with this.

The gritty and unforgiving Stone Baby is one of the best collections of short stories that I have read. A “must read now”!

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The Grand – Dennis Wilson

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

The Grand begins with Dean Wister, a federal agent who has lost his wife, Sara, to cancer. Before she passes away, she asks Dean if they could go to their favorite place, the meadow, once she is feeling better. Unfortunately, she passes away and does not make it. Dean takes time off and goes to the meadow (located in Teton), in her loving memory.

Dan Cody is the Teton County Sheriff. He is investigating a death due to a car crash. However, since the guy passing away in the crash is a hit man, someone notoriously investigated by the Chicago Police, they send Dean to just go over the details and make sure there is nothing suspicious going on.

Dean is going through the seven stages of grief. His mind, emotional state and judgment can be affected by his investigation. Although he finds it hard to focus and to deal with his personal loss, Dean does a good job covering up his emotions. He talks to his wife’s ghost as a coping mechanism.

About the same time, the body of Jordy, a real estate agent is found dead, and another person named Hayden (Jordy’s Cousin) goes missing.

This twisted and intriguing tale of a thriller mystery increases your senses of wonder right up to the end. The plot and character building were superbly done. Dean is a highly likable character. The build-up and backstory at the beginning provide the exact dosage of information needed to bond with him. I loved the added story where he saves a dog from being abused by his owner. When you lose a loved one, animals can always assist you in the healing process, as they feel your pain.

The story is explained in several perspective angles and then brought together for the final reveal.

The book does reference sensitive topics such as human trafficking, death, loss, animal abuse and does have strong language throughout.

Dean is no James Bond; he uses basic instincts and common sense. He has no flashy car, and things don’t just magically fall on his path of discovery, which I liked very much. The story finishes with a bang, and there are some loose ends that can provide enough potential for a sequel.

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The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle – J. D. Dixon

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“Before, when he labored, he slept and he ate, and his mama took care of him. There wasn’t room for much of anything else. Now he has too much time. Now he has a lot to worry about. His life is a maze, he runs through it every day. Will he eat, will anybody be kind to him? Will he find somewhere to wash today?…The public toilets are an option but they are not clean. They are not safe.”

Willem Gyle was satisfied with his life. Though he was mentally “slow” from birth, he found satisfaction going to work every day as s laborer, and coming home to his dog and mother. However, the shop closes and all of the workers are laid off. His alcoholic mother then suddenly dies and his life totally unravels.

Mama was behind on the rent, so the apartment was cleared out and he can’t go back home. He now has no home and nowhere to go. He can’t receive public assistance since he doesn’t have an address. He can’t find another job, because the entire city of Edinburgh is going through an economic depression and his mental disability hinders him even more.

Willem wonders and rambles through the Scottish highlands. We find out the people he encounters and the situations he faces. Unfortunately, we learn the horrors of what a person will do simply to survive.

“An innocent man can’t take what they threw at me. An innocent man can’t take any of it. So I had to be guilty to keep my head screwed on.”

Willem is quite observant of human and animal behavior, and even though the novel is written in the third person, the story is from Willem’s sensitive perspective. We can’t help but feel for him, no matter what he does. We are also reminded of our flawed government bureaucracies and learn to detest them even more.

The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle will keep you engrossed at every turn, often with a shocking event followed with a bitter dose of reality. Since the story occurs in current-day society, the problems can’t be ignored.

This gut-wrenching novel forces us to look at the condition of homelessness. It not only affects the poor individuals involved, but the welfare of society as a whole. Though the book doesn’t provide solutions, it reminds us of the consequences of ignoring these problems. This book is a must-read for everyone.

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Our Best Finds of 2017

We at UnderratedReads wish you the best in the New Year!

We don’t want to forget all of the exceptional books that we discovered in 2017, though.  To insure that these don’t just gather dust, please check out our best “5 bookmark” reads according to our reviewers.

There’s something for everybody here:  crime and suspense,  science fiction, world literature, historical fiction, sports history, self-help, politics and more.

Please note that they are in no particular order, just separated by fiction and non-fiction.

Enjoy!

Fiction

Fall  by Candice Fox  (reviewed by JD Jung)

Interpretation: (An Artificial Intelligence Dystopian Nightmare) by Dylan Callens (reviewed by Jeyran Main)

What Lies Within  by Clare de Lune (reviewed by JD )

Dreams of Heaven  by Elizabeth M. Herrera (reviewed by Pat Luboff)

Adua by Igiaba Scego ,Translated from the Italian by Jamie Richards (reviewed by JD)

After You’re Dead: A Jake Roberts Novel, Book 5   by Cary Allen Stone (reviewed by Cathy Carey)

The Helper  by M. N. Snow (reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Pearl, MD: The Way West  by Marie Bartlett (reviewed by Jeyran Main)

 

Non-fiction

The Butcher’s Daughter: A Memoir  byFlorence Grende (reviewed by Judy Deutsch)

Obama’s Legacy: What He Accomplished as President  by Michael I. Days (reviewed by JD)

Love is the Power: Moving Humanity from Fear to Love  by Robert Odus Williams (reviewed by Jeyran Main)

The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema  by Michael Vaughn (reviewed by JD Jung)

How to be a Gentleman: What Every Modern Man Needs to Know about Manners and Behaviors to Attract Women Now  by Niel Schreiber  (reviewed by JD Jung)

The Fix Is in: The Deutsche Bank Building Fire Conspiracy    by J A Graffagnino (reviewed by Ishita RC)

The Least Among Us: Waging the Battle for the Vulnerable by Rosa DeLauro (reviewed by JD)

Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd  by Kyle Keiderling (reviewed by Ishita RC)

Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing  by Jerry Izenberg (reviewed by JD)

Have a wonderful 2018 and many discoveries of great literature!

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Scouse Gothic: The Pool of Life… and Death – Ian McKinney

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“They romanticized the sex and violence but failed to appreciate the overwhelming boredom of being a vampire.”

Lee Melville is depressed as he just arrived in Liverpool but has actually been alive a couple of centuries. He laments lost loves and knows that he can’t be attached for long. Then he meets Sheryl Malone , who is a lot younger as she was killed in the 1960s.

Contract killer/antique dealer Robert Lathom has an interest in artifacts from Melville’s past. As you can imagine, he has made a lot of enemies over the years. Catherine, a released mental patient, is out to avenge the death of her son. Her neighbor, Michelle, cleans Melville’s apartment and is caring for her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. All of these characters (and more) have fascinating stories of their own, together and separate from each another.

Scouse Gothic takes you through an intriguing world of vampires and suspense, shadowed with  dark humor. Initially I  got confused with all of the characters and had to write them down to keep track of them all. Usually that would detract from the story, but in this case, it added to it and rounded out the novel well.

Liverpool’s history acts as a character as well. Did you know that the city was involved in the American Civil War? I also had to look up the 1960’s singer Billy Fury.

Though the ending is satisfying, it is open-ended enough with all of the fascinating characters that I will definitely read the next in the series. At only 200 pages, it kept me on the edge the entire time.

I have to admit that I haven’t read vampire fiction before so I can’t say whether it is typical or not. What I did learn was that you can’t run away from your past, especially if you’re a vampire.

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A revisited Underrated Read – Christmas Eve Can Kill You – William Marantz

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

For many of us, ushering in the New Year serves as a letdown, following the joyous Christmas season. For Izzy Miller (aka Muddy Rivers, aka Val Virgo), the season represents the low points of his life. Not only did he feel like an outsider looking in as a Jewish kid, but it was also during this season that the disillusioned country singer Rivers gave up his dreams and returned to his hometown of Winnipeg to eventually become Val Virgo, a voice in the world of talk radio. But this particular holiday season will prove to be the worst, as he receives a death threat from a caller on his radio show.

Should the threat be taken seriously? I think so. Just a few weeks ago, packaged bombs went off, killing two people. The “North American Aboriginal Peoples Army of Liberation” (NAAPALM) has taken credit for the murders, but most doubt that the organization even exists. What Val does know is that justice isn’t blind. He also knows that his past has come back to haunt him, but when he tries to “paint a picture of the past, the colors bleed together.” The really problem is that he’s not the only victim.

Christmas Eve Can Kill You is a page-turner that you won’t be able to put down. Along the way, there are numerous players and lots of twists and turns, but not so many that you’ll lose track of the story. In fact, at the end, I smacked myself upside the head, wondering how I didn’t figure it out. I guess I just enjoyed the ride way too much.

It’s not just the plot that makes this an exceptional novel. Author William Marantz makes use of alluring characters and the bleak city itself—or should I say “railroad crossing,” as he refers to Winnipeg—to move the story.

The story also isn’t simply good versus evil. You’ll feel for old Failik Finkelman, a Holocaust survivor who has led a life of crime in his new country. In other words, the characters are actually human (except for Nuisance, whom you’ll learn about later). Among others, you’ll chuckle at Val’s producer, whom he calls the “girl wonder,” since one wonders if she’s a girl. And it’s all told using Val’s cynical voice. The entire novel is written in sardonic style, always with a wry sense of humor.

I first read Christmas Eve Can Kill You in 2010 when it was released. You’ll find it a great way to escape and start the New Year.

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Proof of Virtue – Leila Snow

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Exceptional

Proof of Virtue is a romance novel written about Emma, a beautiful woman who is left with her brother and sister after her parents pass away. The story is set in the Victorian era where Emma has to work in order to survive and take care of her siblings. What then transpires is the hardship she suffers as she finds work in a workhouse and has to battle the interest of Edward, the owner of the textile mill.

What I found most interesting about the story-line was that pure love spikes between a special someone and both prospects have to oversee the circumstances in order to learn the truth and to love. Shakespeare’s quote of “In struggling with misfortune lies the true proof of virtue.” was much justified in this tale and since the classical style of writing almost resembled the good old-fashioned Pride & Prejudice, I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

Imagine being left alone with two other children at a young age, and having the responsibility of taking care of them in sickness and health while you fight the social norms of the old days. Emma’s character and personality were created with much care, and it was effortless to feel for the young women. The world setting was dark and cruel. I would have preferred a much stronger hero for the story; however, what did exist was a true tale of various emotions and the darker side of life.

The literature was beautiful to read, and I believe the author has potential to create great work. I would recommend this book with the slight notification of the fact that it does contain strong material.

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