Sunday, September 25, 2022

September 2022's Burgoine Reviews & Pearl Rule Reviews

Author 'Nathan Burgoine posted this simple, direct method of not getting paralyzed by the prospect of having to write reviews. The Three-Sentence Review is, as he notes, very helpful and also simple to achieve. I get completely unmanned at the idea of saying something trenchant about each book I read, when there often just isn't that much to I can use this structure to say what I think is the most important idea I took away from the read and not try to dig for more.

Think about using it yourselves!


Husband Material (London Calling, #2) by Alexis Hall

Rating: 2.5* of five, rounded up because I'm soft-headed

The Publisher Says: Wanted:

One (very real) husband

Nowhere near perfect but desperately trying his best

In BOYFRIEND MATERIAL, Luc and Oliver met, pretended to fall in love, fell in love for real, dealt with heartbreak and disappointment and family and friends…and somehow figured out a way to make it work. Now it seems like everyone around them is getting married, and Luc’s feeling the social pressure to propose. But it’ll take more than four weddings, a funeral, and a bowl full of special curry to get these two from I don’t know what I’m doing to I do.

Good thing Oliver is such perfect HUSBAND MATERIAL.

This Summer 2022, you’re invited to the event(s) of the season.


My Review
: Mean-spirited instead of snarky; cruel instead of incisively observed; slightly distasteful because the men aren't even in the same language family, let alone on the same page of the same book. (The Moomin references and the jigsaw scene probably got both whole stars.)

It had a tough act to follow, it's true. I expected much more from Boyfriend Material's sequel. But the only scene that had the same touch as that book was when Luc and Bridget talk through his options before the last chapter.

Saddens me to find the heart of Luc and Oliver's strange brew missing.


David and Goliath: Fantasy M/M Spider Erotic Romance by Edie Montreux

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: This story was originally written for a defunct submission call. This is your chance to read the story for free! Please join my newsletter, confirm your email address, and on the follow-up email, select the fantasy romance option as your reward when signing up for my newsletter!


My Review
: Spider sex? What I knew about the topic was 1) I'm SOOOOO glad I'm not a spider 2) Charlotte's Web.

I know more now.


Well, what I *can* say is that my w-bomb aversion has reached capable-of-detonation heat. I can deal with a spider fucking a man. I can even see what that could do for someone's libidinous lexile activity, though not mine.

But FOUR EYES W-VERBING is an image that will give me nightmares for months!

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A Dance of Cranes (Birder Murder Mystery #6) by Steve Burrows

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A trail of murder leads Domenic Jejeune across a vast continent.

Newly estranged from his girlfriend, Inspector Domenic Jejeune returns to Canada, where he soon receives news that his brother has gone missing in Wood Buffalo National Park while conducting field research on Whooping Cranes. Jejeune immediately heads out West to try to find him.

Meanwhile, back in the U.K., Jejeune’s plan to protect his ex-girlfriend from a dangerous adversary has failed, and she has also gone missing. In Jejeune’s absence, it falls to his trusty sergeant, Danny Maik, to track her down. But there is far more to the situation than either of them anticipated. And time is running out for all of them.


My Review
: The sixth book in an ongoing series, this entry has two things I enjoy...Canadian setting, birding events...and two things I really don' dynamics that are absurd and coercive, and a woman-in-jeopardy driving the plot.

Domenic's brother Damien is TSTL and has needed rescuing a LOT in the series. This time he simply does not take reasonable precautions! He does careless things a lot and Domenic always scrapes up the mess. Why? No excuse works for this frequency of use. Not for this reader, anyway.

Lindy, who is notionally Domenic's ex at this point, gets kidnapped, and that is of course a huge deal...but she's back in the UK not in Canada so Domenic isn't involved in the search...but of course is upset by it. This is called "fridging" in the comics genre, and it makes me nutso.

This explains my under-four-star rating, and honestly the wide-open place the book stops felt like a cheat not an ending, so permaybehaps I won't be among the crowds moving on to book seven.

Oneworld Publications will cheerfully accept your $4.99 in exchange for access to a Kindle edition. The series is very interesting, or I wouldn't've been reviewing #6!


Celebrity Werewolf by Andrew Wallace

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Sally Wisniewski (21) was jogging in a park in Kent when she was attacked by John Fonting (37), who had been stalking her for a year. Fonting was interrupted in his attempts to rip off Wisniewski’s clothes by ‘this massive grey thing that was like a gorilla, but taller and more pointy’. The creature hurled Fonting against a tree, incapacitating him.

Ms Wisniewski said of her rescuer, “His voice was very deep and posh, and his eyes were sad and kind of lovely.”

Fonting, released on bail, said: “Frankly I think immigration is totally out of control if they’re letting werewolves in. I mean, how’s he going to get a job?”

Suave, sophisticated, erudite and charming, Gig Danvers seems too good to be true. He appears from nowhere and sets about promoting humanitarian causes and revolutionising science, using his growing influence for the good of all humankind; but are the cynics right to be cautious? Is there a darker side to this enigmatic benefactor? One that is more in keeping with his status as the CELEBRITY WEREWOLF?

Andrew Wallace masterfully blends horror with high concept science fiction, in a short novel of first contact that is both moving and funny, yet plumbs the darkness of the human soul. The result is a story of surprises, wonder, and of hope.


My Review
: Much fun to be had in this silly romp. The deeper, and darker, meanings are perfectly possible to ignore if you just want a slightly absurd, very suave novella to pass some time; but the entire exercise, taken as a whole, is a tale of primal conflict.

The titular celebrity werewolf winks into existence with no prior memories. So why would he have earned himself a truly determined nemesis? And what does it say about the world that a genuinely generous and other-directed guy is so easily and repeatedly foiled by a profit-driven and selfish turd?

And how cynical am I that I found this so unremarkable as not to question it even once until I'd finished the whole read?

NewCon Press offers Kindle editions (non-affiliate Amazon link) for $4.49.


The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: For a brief moment on December 27, 2007, life came to a standstill in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto, the country’s former prime minister and the first woman ever to lead a Muslim country, had been assassinated at a political rally just outside Islamabad. Back in Karachi—Bhutto’s birthplace and Pakistan’s other great metropolis—Rafia Zakaria’s family was suffering through a crisis of its own: her Uncle Sohail, the man who had brought shame upon the family, was near death. In that moment these twin catastrophes—one political and public, the other secret and intensely personal—briefly converged.

Zakaria uses that moment to begin her intimate exploration of the country of her birth. Her Muslim-Indian family immigrated to Pakistan from Bombay in 1962, escaping the precarious state in which the Muslim population in India found itself following the Partition. For them, Pakistan represented enormous promise. And for some time, Zakaria’s family prospered and the city prospered. But in the 1980s, Pakistan’s military dictators began an Islamization campaign designed to legitimate their rule—a campaign that particularly affected women’s freedom and safety. The political became personal when her aunt Amina’s husband, Sohail, did the unthinkable and took a second wife, a humiliating and painful betrayal of kin and custom that shook the foundation of Zakaria’s family but was permitted under the country’s new laws. The young Rafia grows up in the shadow of Amina’s shame and fury, while the world outside her home turns ever more chaotic and violent as the opportunities available to post-Partition immigrants are dramatically curtailed and terrorism sows its seeds in Karachi.

Telling the parallel stories of Amina’s polygamous marriage and Pakistan’s hopes and betrayals, The Upstairs Wife is an intimate exploration of the disjunction between exalted dreams and complicated realities.


My Review
: I read this book in a dazed state, slightly revolted that a man *can* take a second wife without ridding himself of the first one; utterly stunned that the first wife, unconsulted and apparently not so much as considered in this life-altering decision, has no recourse; and appalled at religion's foul, slimy fingers choking yet another country's people into darkness and despair.

What I thought I would read was a memoir tied explicitly to historical developments in Pakistan's life as a country. Instead the author's family's turmoils were centered, and the times in which they occurred...a war in 1962 was the impetus for her family to up sticks from their Bombay home, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination signaled darker political days but her aunt's betrayal bit deeper...were the depressingly appropriate backdrop for the erosion of their collective happiness.

What this read lacked in propulsive plotting it more than made up for in food for fruitful mulling and turning and examining in one's mind. Most definitely a pleasure to have encountered this unique angle on the Rights of Woman honored in the breach not the observance.

Beacon Press offers Kindle editions (non-affiliate Amazon link) for $13.99.


Tehran at Twilight by Salar Abdoh

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: The year is 2008. Reza Malek's life is modest but manageable—he lives in a small apartment in Harlem, teaches "creative reportage" at a local university, and is relieved to be far from the blood and turmoil of Iraq and Afghanistan where he worked as a reporter, interpreter, and sometime lover for a superstar journalist who has long since moved on to more remarkable men.

After a terse phone call from his best friend in Iran, Sina Vafa, Reza reluctantly returns to Tehran. Once there, he finds far more than he bargained for: the city is on the edge of revolution; his friend Sina is embroiled with Shia militants; his missing mother, who was alleged to have run off with a lover before the revolution, is alive and well—while his own life is in danger.

Against a backdrop of corrupt clerics, shady fixers, political repression, and the ever-present threat of violence, Abdoh offers a telling glimpse into contemporary Tehran, and spins a compelling morality tale of identity and exile, the bonds of friendship, and the limits of loyalty.


My Review
: The politics of a thriller...evil done by good people, bad ones not so much redeemed as explained, Systems always, always regressing to the mean...the pace of a literary novel...we open in New York where a college professor begins speaking...and the domestic concerns of "women's fiction" as family, both born and made, center the action of the entire story.

When Professor Reza, an American emigrant, hears from his childhood friend Sina with an urgent request to return to Iran, he dithers briefly but acquiesces. This sets in motion family reunions, with Reza's long-lost mother; endings for others, Sina's mother suffers a shocking (to me) betrayal; and the end of a lot of comfortable lives in service of rooting through the mucky, sinful past for nuggets of Truth.

No Honor is to be found, though. Nothing comes out of the past unsullied. Reza, leaving New York and a comfortable life, bargained a lot away for the chance to find a few brummagem gauds that I wouldn't dignify with the name "facts," simply "data points."

An incontrovertible fact I *did* glean, and felt richer for knowing, was the existence of a sizable Polish refugee community in Tehran. They fled the USSR (for obvious reasons) and fetched up in this distant place, welcomed and settled. I was deeply heartened by their lifetime's-worth of respite in a place I don't associate with refuge. Or generosity of spirit.

What the read offered to me was a set of characters I recognized, and could invest in; a series of interwoven stories (except the Polish refugees one, that doesn't fit well) that resonate with and enhance each other; and a biittersweet ending that, like actual life, isn't tidy but is fruitful.

Akashic Books offers Kindle editions (non-affiliate Amazon link) for $2.99.


Love and Other Ways of Dying: Essays by Michael Paterniti

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: In this moving, lyrical, and ultimately uplifting collection of essays, Michael Paterniti turns a keen eye on the full range of human experience, introducing us to an unforgettable cast of everyday people. In the seventeen wide-ranging essays collected for the first time in Love and Other Ways of Dying, he brings his full literary powers to bear, pondering happiness and grief, memory and the redemptive power of human connection.

In the remote Ukranian countryside, Paterniti picks apples (and faces mortality) with a real-life giant; in Nanjing, China, he confronts a distraught jumper on a suicide bridge; in Dodge City, Kansas, he takes up residence at a roadside hotel and sees, firsthand, the ways in which the racial divide turns neighbor against neighbor. In each instance, Paterniti illuminates the full spectrum of human experience, introducing us to unforgettable everyday people and bygone legends, exploring the big ideas and emotions that move us. Paterniti reenacts François Mitterrand’s last meal in a rustic dining room in France and drives across America with Albert Einstein’s brain in the trunk of his rental car, floating in a Tupperware container. He delves with heartbreaking detail into the aftermath of a plane crash off the coast of Nova Scotia, an earthquake in Haiti, and a tsunami in Japan—and, in searing swirls of language, unearths the complicated, hidden truths these moments of extremity teach us about our ability to endure, and to love.

Michael Paterniti has spent the past two decades grappling with some of our most powerful subjects and incomprehensible events, taking an unflinching point of view that seeks to edify as it resists easy answers. At every turn, his work attempts to make sense of both love and loss, and leaves us with a profound sense of what it means to be human. As he writes in the Introduction to this book, “The more we examine the grooves and scars of this life, the more free and complete we become.”


My Review
: You expect essays to be inward-gazing, thought-provoking exercises in the acquisition of knowledge. What that often entails is also a certain claustrophobia, a kind of psychic noli me tangere above-it-all-ness. Author Paterniti avoids this fatally separate sense of insulation with the evergreen tactic of humor...but also of, in most of his essays, compassion. He tells us his stories without making either himself the star or himself the omniscient narrator of the foolish doings of Them.

It's a deft trick to pull off, this being part of, apart from, moved by yet not moving, the action and actors of daily life in many different places. Ukrainian farm life, Chinese urban life, US long-haul travel...all without leaving scars or enemies behind you. Quite a trick to sustain and more impressive to pull off as a career.

Obviously things are quite different in all the places and parts that Paterniti wrote about fifteen-plus years ago. In a certain sense I felt I was reading histories given the vantage point post-COVID and post-Ukrainian invasion. When the collection of previously published work first appeared in 2015, reading these essays was less evocative of a distant and receding past. Revisiting the collection from today's greatly altered worldscape made it feel disturbingly disconnected from our just seven years, the world of the late 1990s and early 2000s went from recent events to receding history!

The inflection points of recent times have been that powerful. I had not fully realized this until I read "The American Hero (in Four Acts)" from 1998 and thinking, "this is a different world entirely." While I found that a surprising reflection, it wasn't entirely unexpected. Essays are, by their nature, prone to the reader having the sense of them being artifacts of a moment in time. None of these essays are so personal as to make them timeless; nor are they about politics as practiced at the time they were written, or they would simply be irrelevant and/or uninteresting. Paterniti's essays touched, moved, and even amused me inside their own frame of reference. A high-satisfaction reading experience.

The Kindle edition (non-affiliate Amazon link) is $12.99.


This space is dedicated to Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50, or "the Pearl Rule" as I've always called it. After realizing five times in December 2021 alone that I'd already Pearl-Ruled a book I picked up on a whim, I realized how close my Half-heimer's is getting to the full-on article. Hence my decision to track my Pearls!

As she says:
People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,” which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books. If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.

So this space will be each month's listing of Pearl-Ruled books. Earlier Pearl-Rule posts will be linked below the current month's crop.


September 2022 came and went without any books being Pearl Ruled! I am amazed, and not a little delighted, that this was the case.

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