Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: One Time on Earth

Novels are sneaky things. A reader never knows when one will capture his attention and for what reasons. That's how it was for me and One Time on Earth by Neil Newton. Newton tries to capture that moment in time for a 15-year-old English boy who's enraptured with the Apollo missions leading up to Apollo 11, when man first steps foot on the moon. It drew me in. I was that geeky kid at that time, explaining the moon missions to the adults in my world who couldn't comprehend the idea of going to the moon. In fact, my grandmother died a decade after the deed, believing it was a lie.
Times were surely

Newton does a good job demonstrating the boy's obsessive nature with the event and how he perceives its significance. Set in an English city in the midst of an urbanization project that is tearing down the neighborhood and moving people out, the landscape becomes as foreign as the lunar landscape by the end of the story--some nice symbolism. Newton delves into great detail about the place. It will capture some, but at times it felt over-written. The travelogue adventures of time and place drew me into an England I don't know. I envision this story as a moody British movie ala The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner where the struggles are as much physical as they are emotional and cultural, responding to the change of times and events the late 1960s brought to us.

The dialogue drags a bit in this literary romp, but the subtleties of language along with the verbal sparring are what would have been appropriate in this era. And the one line I thought for sure would have been there ("That's one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind."), was told me in narrative form. Why? This is a top-shelf "4". And if your taste runs to British coming of age stories, some might nudge it up a notch. Well done.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Interesting Story

The theme of good versus evil sits on top of the question, 'What would you do for love?' Stephen Douglass's book, The Bridge toCaracas, is a heavily plotted story within the murky world of the oil and gas industry that he seems familiar with. It takes place in the 1960s through the 1970s, and centers on how Jim Servito steals boatloads of money from the industry and screws everyone who gets in his way.

The story has lots of potential, but neither Mike King, the protagonist, nor Karen Taylor, his love interest engaged me. No spoiler here--Karen is kidnapped by terrorist and presumed dead. Mike moves on and marries the wrong woman. Bad enough. It happens. Karen returns--no big shock--and moves on now that Mike is unavailable. What bothered me is that the convenient plot point of Karen's abduction, which sets up the star-crossed lover theme, seems to have had little emotional effect on Karen. I kept waiting for her horrendous life event to impact her current life and the story. It never materializes. And Mike, this really smart guy, blunders his way through traps set up by Servito to make Mike's life miserable without getting a clue. Mike seems at times to only be aided by chance (admittedly some of it in the beginning by shrewd moves), luck, coincidence, and finally, at the climax, assistance from a total stranger to solve his problem. Even when the women he loves is being brutalized by Servito in the middle of the story, he does nothing for months except to have rendezvous sex. What starts out sharp and thrilling, peters out for me. In the end, the events and actions felt more staged and Mike's actions reckless, reactionary, and without thought more so than realistic--often causing heartache and loss for others.

This is not to write that this is a bad book. The writing is fine and premise strong. The middle had copyediting issues, but not too severe. It just lacked the character development and story ending dynamics that should have been there considering the promise of the beginning. I occasionally mention books that should be read fast to skip over the weak points. This would be one of them. I can see lovers of action and adventure stories falling for this story. Had the ending been sharper, this novel might have been a "4." As is, it is slightly above average, a strong "3".