Monday, June 16, 2008

Book with a View

More book reviews for June 2008.

Positive Force
Author: Tim Stewart
Publisher: Nightengale Press
ISBN: 9781933449579
$ 15.95 US
Reviewed by Melanie Cressman

As I picked up Positive Force, the cover immediately caught my eye like a Wassily Kandinsky painting. I flipped it over to peruse the summary, and I was instantly fascinated. I opened the front cover and plunged into the novel.

When Officer Brandon James begins to investigate cases on gang violence within his community, things get horribly out of control, sending his family into shock, his life into turbulence, and his sons’ reality into a fuzzy haze. Without the semblance of their normal reality, their world is again changed when a ghost joins their ranks. Soon the situation becomes more drastic and Officer James knows that he must do something to interfere with the gangs.

Deciding to take action, his two sons go undercover as new gang members to get an insider’s perspective. His sons, along with the help of some unlikely friends, convince the local gang forces to create Positive Force, a cumulative gang that brings people together to do good for the community.

With a plot driven by seemingly un-related coincidences, and writing that is crystal clear and concise, Positive Force is the story of people taking several negative aspects of a situation and creating something positive that can truly make a lasting impact on everyone in their community. The characters bring the conflict between good and evil to life in an intriguing way. This book will not only inspire readers, but it will also enthrall, charm, and help to stimulate pressing questions about whether or not our reality is the best it could be.

Lifetime Loser
Author: James Ross

ISBN: 978-1-4257-8208-5

Publisher: XlibrisGenre and Target Market: fiction; male relationships; legal drama

Publication Date: 2007Book Length in Pages: 327
Reviewer: Sarah Moore

J.W. Schroeder (known as J Dub) is one shot away from getting the score he needs to become a member of the PGA Tour. He has played well throughout this qualifying tournament, and his confidence is peaking. His wife, Marcia, is standing nearby, pregnant with their first child. She questions the unstudied approach that J Dub is taking to such a crucial swing, while his suddenly swelling ego allows him to believe nothing can go wrong. Marcia’s doubts prove warranted when J Dub fails to earn a spot to play his beloved golf game professionally. With all of the family’s hopes and dreams riding on that ill-fated shot, what will be next for the Schroeders?

So begins the first foray into the literary world for author James Ross. Over the next 300 pages of Lifetime Loser, Mr. Ross takes us through twenty-three years of J Dub’s life and introduces us to a cast of unforgettable characters. J Dub and his wife are lured to Illinois by the villain of the novel, Lewferd “Lew” Zerrmann. Lew asks J Dub to manage a golf course he just acquired, with promises of eventual ownership and a life-changing fortune. However, as the novel unfolds, we realize that failing to keep his word is the least of Mr. Zerrmann’s unappealing qualities. Lew and his business associates introduce the well-intentioned J Dub to a world of murder, perversion, tax evasion and a demented fascination with a genocidal dictator. What could go wrong?

One of the strongest parts of Lifetime Loser is the detailed attention to character development that Mr. Ross pays to each player in his story. We learn the background story for each person, from high school experiences to luck with women to professional successes and failures. The readers also receive vibrant physical descriptions … for better or for worse! I found myself rooting for J Dub and his family, while becoming more sickened by each new detail that was shared about Lew Zerrmann. The emotional investment that I staked in these characters was directly due to Mr. Ross’ determination to make these people three-dimensional and complete in their personalities.

I also was drawn to the layout that Mr. Ross uses to develop his storytelling. While the entire novel is written in the third person, the person, issue … and even year … of focus changes from chapter to chapter. We are let into the homes of the characters and even unexpectedly taken back in time to provide context for the plot. There are also lapses allowed in the chronology so that the reader is given the opportunity to fill in the details based on what we have learned about the people and their situations. Ross manages to elegantly fold these different snapshots together to create a novel rich in detail.

Readers should not expect a quick and casual read that can be completed in one afternoon. The text of Lifetime Loser is dense and needs to be read carefully. I found several instances in which I flipped back to chapters I had already read just to see how a particular aspect of the plotline had shown hints of itself before fully unfolding. The need to go back and forth in my reading was not due to any shortcomings on the part of Mr. Ross’ writing, but was instead based on my interest in how Ross managed to get the intricate story to its current point.

This initial offering, Lifetime Loser, by James Ross is a great novel for anyone who appreciates the art of creating strong characters on the written page. It is not often that I find myself audibly gasping in reaction to a development in a novel, but the actions of the main players in Lifetime Loser made me do just that. This book is certainly a page-turner, but with a plot that deserves your time to give it a slow and deliberate read. I have no doubt that you will be amazed by some of the situations that our protagonist faces as he simply tries to support his family by helping others play the game that he loves. Ross has a creative mind that translates well to each page of his first book. I look forward to meeting the other people who I hope James Ross chooses to create in the future.

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