Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Parker’s Sanctuary: A Guardsmen Novel” by Cooper West— Do Not Quit Your Day Job

West, Cooper. “Parker’s Sanctuary: A Guardsmen Novel”, Self published, 2017.

Do Not Quit Your Day Job

Amos Lassen

As a reviewer, I tend to get a lot of books and among them are those that should never have seen the light of day. I m always amazed that there are so many want-to-be authors out there. I try not to pan anyone’s work and I can usually find something nice to say but with Cooper West’s latest effort at trying to be a writer, I can’t really find anything positive here. I see that her old publishing house has dropped her and she is now self-publishing and I do not understand why she has never understood that she is not a writer and that she will never be one.

She introduces us to Greg Lademar, yet another Army veteran with PTSD. (I thought we had stopped having novels about ex-soldiers with PTSD about two years ago). Greg lives on a farm that he bought from his parents and when a friend of his who works at an animal shelter asks Greg to adopt Parker, “a severely injured dog who has just been rescued from an abusive home’. Now here the story goes crazy. Greg does not want to be involved with the Guardsmen. Up until now, we have not heard a word about the Guardsman and learn now that they are bonded pairs of humans and their weredogs (whatever— PTSD and blood sucking dogs in the same book). These dogs are known as Protectors, “who are literally the stuff of myths and legends”. I suppose Cooper also invented the myths and the legends.

Next we see that Greg’s life is turned upside down by unexpected events that involve Parker, the WEREdog and the strange Guardsmen, Marcus and Alex Stephanek. As if that is not enough there is the man who used to own Parker, the WEREdog but far more dangerous to him is the man who used to own Parker and he now bears a grudge because” his” dog taken from him. Now there is something the life of Parker, who has become more important to Greg than he ever imagined a rescue dog could be (especially in the paragraph above we see that he had no desire to take the WEREdog. So somewhere here we also get a shapeshifter and the paranormal becomes normal or does it.

In the past the only books by West that I read were shoddy gay romances supposedly aimed at women. I criticized those back then and had actually thought that West had stopped writing until I saw this. It is a likely progression I guess— she has moved from romance between two men to romance between man and dog. I have no idea what to make of this novel nor do I care to make anything of it. Cooper West would be wise to do the same. But beware, whenever I give West a negative review she goes on a rampage and believe it or it is West and one another writer that always get negative reviews from me but I must say that West is the only writer who has ever threatened me. Now that theme might make an interesting novel but not from West who has a difficult time writing English prose.

“In Memory of an Angel” by David Shapiro— The Real and the Dream

Shapiro, David. “In Memory of an Angel”, City Lights, 2016.

The Real and the Dream

Amos Lassen

“In Memory of an Angel”, is poet David Shapiro’s first full-length collection in fifteen years and it deals with the themes of art history, architecture, literature, and Jewish identity. The poems are “a rare combination of lyrical abstraction and postmodern self-referentiality, rendered with Shapiro’s understated virtuosity”. These are avant-garde poems that contain a strong current of love as well as reminiscences of childhood and reflections on fatherhood. Surrealistically, Shapiro violates the boundary between the real and the dream. We have a variety of forms (some invented by Shapiro) and we meet icons such as Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Jasper Johns, Frank O’Hara in a New York that is both sophisticated and haunted by memory. Shapiro possesses a childlike sophistication and his poetry is luminous. He once again shows that he is a poet’s poet whose language is multilayered, wonderfully erudite and simply beautiful.

 

“Made for Love: A Novel” by Alissa Nutting— Finding and Escaping Love

Nutting, Alissa. “Made for Love: A Novel”, Ecco, 2017.

Finding and Escaping Love

Amos Lassen

Hazel has just moved into a trailer park of senior citizens, with her father and Diane and her father and his very lifelike sex doll are his roommates. Living with her father is stressful but she really has no alternative since she just run out on her marriage to Byron Gogol, CEO and founder of Gogol Industries. Gogol is a monolithic corporation that is determined to make its products and technologies indispensable in daily life. For over ten years, Hazel had been quarantined by Byron in the family compound and her every movement and vital sign tracked. When he demanded to wirelessly connect the two of them via brain chips in a first-ever human “mind-meld,” Hazel decided that her relationship with Byron that had been irritating had become unbearable. Leaving Byron was a big step since living with him had been living in a bubble and away from the nuisances of the world but in a world that was populated with a gaggle of deviant oddballs.

While Hazel tries to begin a new life for herself, Byron uses the most sophisticated tools at his disposal to find her and bring her home. When his threats become more and more sinister, Hazel is forced to take drastic measures so that she can find a home of her own and free herself from Byron. While this is basically a comic novel, it is also absurd. Yet there are serious issues in the themes of marriage, monogamy, and family.

If I were asked to describe the plot in just one word, it would have to be the word “bizarre”. What is not bizarre, however, is he fun you will have reading it. You will discover that as you come to the end, it all makes great sense. It is as if writer Alissa Nutting is standing with a camera and photographing our culture with the result that we are able to laugh at ourselves.

“The Oy of Sex: Jewish Women Write Erotica” edited by Marcie Scheiner— A Look at Jewish Female Sexuality

Scheiner, Marcie (editor). “The Oy of Sex: Jewish Women Write Erotica”,  Simon and Schuster, 2017.

A Look at Jewish Female Sexuality

Amos Lassen

Yes, dear readers Jewish women love sex and the physical joy that comes with it. Marcie Scheiner has gathered writers Erica Jong, Joan Nestle, Carol Queen (a shiksa), Cara Bruce, Leslea Newman to show this to us. The stories celebrate Jewish female sexuality and lament body image issues. They contain Yiddish phrases Jewish customs that we may have forgotten but don’t worry, this is a glossary. Included are personal ads from Israel that are quite funny but I am not sure that they were meant to be so. We see that the Jewish condition is a combination of joy and sorrow. Not only are the stories here entertaining, they are also sexy and funny.

“BAYOU GHOST STORY”— A Paranormal Mystery

“Bayou Ghost Story”

A Paranormal Mystery

Amos Lassen

Having grown up in Louisiana, I was quite eager to see this film. Te bayous of the state are a great setting for a ghost story and I remember visiting them and sensing a kind of weird strangeness there.

A paranormal investigator travels to the South to research a series of deaths connected to a supernatural curse haunting an old Louisiana family.

Written and directed by Armand Petri, “Bayou Ghost Story” is about a paranormal investigator who travels to Louisiana to “research a series of deaths connected to a supernatural curse haunting an old Louisiana family”. Petri mixes traditional cinematography with documentary style. Simply because of the nature of the plot and the genre of the film, there is nothing that I can say that would not spoil the viewing experience.

“Victorian Insertion Pride and Prejudice and Donald Trump: Erotic affairs with Dick Cheney And Obama. Buy This Book And Mexico Will Build A Wall To Pay For It” by Alexa Goodwin— The Title Says It All

Goodwin, Alexa. “Victorian Insertion Pride and Prejudice and Donald Trump: Erotic affairs with Dick Cheney And Obama. Buy This Book And Mexico Will Build A Wall To Pay For It”, Independently Published, 2017.

The Title Says It All

Amos Lassen

There is no way I can say anything about his book any better than the blurb does so I will simply let it speak for itself.

“Something that gone straight Trump Trumping Sexual? That the reason of your life is for those WTF moments of humor, comedy, and BDSM. Then this book paided by Mexico will make you laugh and make you think, but promises to turn your brain inside out the GREAT WALL OF MEXCIO, Because CHINA’S GREAT WALL JUST GOT FIRED! In it is 3 Stories of Trump’s EROTIC Adventures. It pokes fun at Political Sensibility, turning Sexual on a drop of a dime and who knows, it might even be poking fun at you. If you get offended easily, or a TRUMP supporter or HATER then you should own a copy haha. Real, raw, profane, cute and ridiculously entertainment. The book is dedicated for a good time no alcohol required! But seriously don’t forget to bring the Booze!”

“One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays” by Scaachi Koul— Dealing with Life

Koul, Scaachi. “One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays”, Picador, 2017.

Dealing with Life

Amos Lassen

Scaachi Koul shares how she deals with life by using biting humor. When she was just a child, she learned what about life made her unhappy and/or stressful and that anything and everything could cause her despair. The stories that she shares in this collection of essays are how she sees this world as a woman of color and she is brutally honest as she looks around and sees that strict gender rules keep us bound in culture. Because of these, there is not much room for a woman who is more interested in having a career than being married and/or a mother. Her look at modern life is both profound and very, very funny.

Koul shares intimate moments and she knows who will read her work— “those who can’t imagine what her life is like and are given a glimpse into it, and those like her, who will likely feel relief to see themselves reflected in a piece of culture that is sharp, witty and just plain fun to read.”

We see that in order to overcome something that is distasteful or that we consider wrong, we must first be able to make public its ugliness and why it is harmful. As Koul does this, she uses her own honesty, vulnerability and sense of humor. Her stories, while hers, are universal.

Koul’s is a first-generation Canadian with Indian parents and she has something to say about phobias, guilt trips, and grudges, race, sexism, and body image issues. If there is an overall theme here it is inheritance is universal and the struggle not to become one’s parents and perhaps accepting that the ways they done things is acceptable today. She is quick to point out the double standards that exist for her both as a woman in her family and a woman of color in the world. Much of what Koul has to say is not new but she manages to make it fresh and very, very funny.

 

 

 

“A STREET CAT NAMED BOB”— Changing A Life

“A Street Cat Named Bob”

Changing a Life

Amos Lassen

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode “A Street Cat Named Bob” is about James Bowen’s (Luke Treadway) finding a cat in his hallway that changed his life completely.

James had been living hand to mouth as a street musician on the streets of London and the last thing he needed was a pet. However, he couldn’t resist helping the strikingly intelligent tomcat and he named him Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining he would never see him again, but Bob had other ideas. Soon the two were inseparable and their diverse, comic and occasionally dangerous adventures would transform both their lives, slowly heal the scars of each other’s troubled pasts. The film follows what happens next in this true story.

James takes the cat around the neighborhood but could not find anyone to claim him and the cat essentially moves into his place and Bob decides to keep him. As a recovering heroin addict, James has to make sacrifices to have a pet. One time, he misses his appointment at the methadone clinic when he has to take Bob to the vet and treat a wound with expensive antibiotics.

Bob follows James around and sits on his shoulder as he sings his songs on the street. Soon the musician with the cat has new and enthusiastic audiences. Bob accompanies him after he gets a job selling a newspaper published by homeless people, and his sales soar. And best of all, Bob is with James as he goes through a painful program to get clean from heroin.

Two women encourage and support this drug addict as he struggles to turn his life around. Val (Joanne Froggatt) is a social worker Belle (Ruta Gedmintas) is an artistic neighbor. As the film moves forward, we see and love the healing and helpful ministrations of Bob, a truly remarkable cat.

Despite the serious themes, the movie offers a clear message about second chances and we see that it’s possible to overcome demons if you have someone to love. Other themes deal with humility and compassion.

Bowen’s hardships are compelling, and the picture has its heart in the right place. He is a child of divorce and a wayward soul, living on the street, trying to make some change as a busker and dealing with an addiction to heroin and methadone. As James attempts to clear his head, he has help from drug support worker Val, who manages to pull together an apartment and participation in a recovery program if James commits to becoming clean. When he is offered a rare opportunity for stability and a new beginning, James puts forth an effort to help himself, finding comfort from neighbor Betty), a veterinary tech who doesn’t understand how deep James’s addiction problems go.

“A Street Cat Named Bob” is sometimes bleak especially when looking at James and his many problems. These include his daily routine of street performance and survival, the struggle to find edible food in dumpsters and a safe place to sleep. The film puts a human face on homelessness, highlighting the flow of life that passes desperate souls every day showcasing this unfortunate invisibility. James is simply someone who needs help out of where he is.

James’s unraveling as he struggles to kick heroin, and his lying to Betty and himself show how needy the is. James’s reclamation of dignity puts focus on his quest to help himself.

 

“The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple” by Jim Guinn— The Definitive Story

Guinn, Jim. “The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple”, Simon and Schuster, 2017.

The Definitive Story

Amos Lassen

In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a strange mix of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded and loved leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California and he became involved in electoral politics, and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader.

Writer Jeff Guinn examines Jones’s life, including his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fake faith healing his decision to move almost a thousand of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. We get new details about what led to the day in November, 1978 when more than nine hundred people died—including almost three hundred infants and children. They had been ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink.

Guinn’s research included thousands of pages of FBI files on the case, including new material that was released during the course of his research. He traveled to Jones’s Indiana hometown, where he spoke to people who had not been never previously interviewed, and discovered fresh information from Jonestown survivors. He even visited the Jonestown site with the same pilot who flew there the day that Congressman Leo Ryan was murdered on Jones’s orders.

Guinn shows who Jones was through interviews with the people who themselves knew him, from townspeople to his parishioners to his the reverend’s own family. When Jones was just a 12-year-old he would walk into Indiana back roads wearing a black suit and carrying a bible in hand. He would conduct an imaginary funeral services alone, in the woods. He rose to power after he honed his charisma and inclusive, Marxist ideals and eventually became a megalomaniac and began a descent into madness. Guinn answers many of the questions that have hung around for almost 40 years. We all want to know how did this happen.

The level of research and detail in this book is amazing and it really The Road to Jonestown is the best ever, and really lets readers understand not only what happened, but how and why. We see here that listening only to one point of view, and surrounding yourself only with people who agree with you, you lose the ability to think for yourself.

Jim Jones’ ministry began around such a good thing— the idea of equality and dignity for everyone. He believed in helping people attain these ideals. Living the perfect socialist lifestyle (later with definite leanings toward communism) was how Jones took his small town Christian revival teaching to the front pages of the world’s newspapers. His followers showed their ultimate love and loyalty to him by dying for him. However, Jim Jones didn’t follow his own teachings—- he chose to die another way unlike those who went through an agonizing death by cyanide poisoning. Some might have needed persuading by the armed guards before they gave the infants and children the poison squirted from syringes while adults drank it from cups, but most were willing participants. Some members simply told the guards they wanted to leave and they were allowed to go. Down to the bitter end this was a contradiction of good intentions versus evil manipulation.

Jones was able to fool so many people by his charm and telling people what they wanted to hear and this gained him the loyalty and love of his congregants. Good people joined Peoples Temple because Jones promised them racial equality and dignity and/or because they saw through his religious façade to his socialist intentions and agreed that was the way the world would work best. Not everyone remained with Peoples Temple, some left.

As a young man, Jones studied the writing of Marx, Stalin, and Hitler and Gandhi. He was once affiliated with the Communist party and his ideology was based on racial equality, economic and social justice; religion was used as a means to promote his agenda through his church.

Jones’ temple attracted followers from every walk of life. Members lived communally, pooling income and resources, caring for the sick, disabled, young and elderly in church sponsored homes. There were social services of food banks, thrift stores, farming catered to the community and needs of the poor. Jones supposedly healed the sick and cast out demons in dramatic charismatic services of loud singing and praise. However, underneath it all, there were highly disturbing things that were profoundly wrong. Most of the shocking aspects related to his conduct and behavior were unknown to general membership.

By 1974, Peoples Temple had expanded to San Francisco and busloads of Temple members arrived at various political rallies. They helped elect officials were elected that supported socialist causes and tolerance for racially diverse and LGBT populations. However, in 1976 problems involving Jones and his temple began to surface and investigations were begun. Relatives of some Temple members were upset that their loved ones were being held against their will after JJ suddenly moved the majority of his followers to Jonestown.

The book reads as if we are watching a documentary narrative and while questions are answered here, we are still left with a feeling of immense loss, once that did not have to be.

 

 

 

“The City Always Wins: A Novel” by Omar Robert Hamilton— A New Look at the Egyptian Revolution

Hamilton, Omar Robert. “The City Always Wins: A Novel”, FSG, 2017.

A New Look at the Egyptian Revolution

Amos Lassen

In 2011, Egypt experienced an uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo that ushered in a revolution and caused Mariam and Khalil to move through Cairo’s streets and political underground. Their were swept up in the revolution and were consumed with purpose. The world was watching Egypt and their city as the country began to move toward an unknown future. They believe that this revolution is a new kind of revolution and that they are players in the making of a new age.

Battles raged day and night against the Egyptian police force and many began to feel the emotions of

Post-revolutionary exile even before the revolution actually began., Omar Robert Hamilton gives us a psychological look at the beginning twenty-first century Egypt. While this is a novel about the revolution is also about the global generation that tried to change the world.

Here is the revolution from inside the revolutionaries and as much as it wanted to succeed, it did not. This is a look at a generation that could just about see a new world and of a revolution betrayed. We read about the popular movement that we all saw from the outside and we feel its passion and the details are vivid and unforgettable. The book captures the uprising that was fueled by the Internet and broken by the reality of what took place. What we really see that it was love that brought about the revolution and gave it its power.

Hamilton takes us behind the scenes and we cross borders and generations as he read. We are crushed by the failure as were the revolutionaries and the questions that they get from those that died as a result.

What caused the uproar was the struggle with despotism. We clearly become aware of “violence and inequality, grief and loss, how politics is for many today a way to live and die.”