Boogle’s Top 5: one of those year end deals

December 31, 2009

So I’ll jump on the bandwagon and post Boogle’s Top 5. The five best books reviewed by the Boogle in this blog’s inaugural year. Keep in mind that the blog started in May, so just over a half year’s worth of reading, but still plenty of books. Enough chatter, here is the list, from best to almost-best:

#1 They Never Die Quietly…D.M Annechino’s gripping novel about a gruesome serial killer is not fit for the weak-minded. Click here for the review.

#2 Far Arden…Kevin Cannon’s graphic novel about Arctic piracy and lost lands is filled with action-packed adventure, quirky characters, and striking artwork. Check out the review.  



#3 Certain Jeopardy…Cpt. Jeff Struecker’s Special Ops thriller is engaging and action-packed, and expertly executed by an US Army Ranger. Check it out.




#4 Timeline of America: Sound Bytes from the Consumer Culture…Floyd Orr’s quirky celebration of American minutia is an off-beat history of pop culture, from the first UFO sighting in 1644 to the failure ot New Coke, to the rise of musical political punditry. Read more!



#5 TIE Kipling’s Cat: A Memoir of My Father/ Born Bent Over: Flashing the Vertical Smile at Middle Age…These both made the list. Kipling’s Cat is Anne Cabot Wyman’s enduring memoir of her father, and Born Bent Over is Brian Greenleaf’s hilarious confrontation with the perils of growing old.

Thanks to everyone who sent books to The Boogle for review! I had a great time reading your work, and writing reviews…and in some cases, arguing about your book. As I’ve sated earlier, I’ve added another reviewer to the team, David Stucki, so you’ll start to see reviews from the both of us in 2010. And since I’ve nearly depleted the gigantic stack of books sitting beside my desk waiting to be reviewed, I will be opening submissions in 2010…read: 2010.

That will also be the year that my next book The Cigar Maker is released en-masse, so I may be tracking down some of you to do a review!

Stay tuned and have a happy new year!

Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told

December 29, 2009

Ronan Smith

Trafford Publishing, 2008

224 Pages, Non-fiction/Humor

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

If you love boyish anecdotes of widespread vomiting, fart jokes, cow “shite” and other forms of “shite,” brutal fights, infantile wrestling, arbitrary vandalism, heavy drinking, and all manner of theft and dishonesty—all experienced by the author and his real-life cronies—then you’ll love this sophomoric chronicle from Ronan Smith.

Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told invites us to “join one man for the adventure of his life…growing up in rural 1980s Ireland.” It “provides an insightful account of life in Ireland over a 25-year period, which many—regardless of nationality—will be able to identify with.” I found myself often drawn to the raw energy, passion, and living-life-to–the-fullest attitude of the author (a.k.a. “The Rams”) and his friends, but, along with the relatively innocent juvenile adventures, Smith adds layer after layer of “shite” such as alcohol abuse, fraud and common thievery. While certainly human, the book’s protagonists don’t give anything promising to the reader hoping for greater depth of character and humanity.

I may be a bit hard on Smith, however. Perhaps I’m writing from the point of view of the emasculated American male who—along with his fellow American males—has lost touch with his once wild and undomesticated self. Okay, so before I get all Robert Bly in your face, maybe Smith wasn’t trying to accomplish anything of significance except a simple look into his early and very wild life. After all, boys will be boys. Maybe he simply needed to express the experience of being a young male. Perhaps, but do we need 222 pages of boys doing what boys will do?

Although the immature subject matter becomes tedious—especially after page 60 or so—Smith weaves a tale that is quite engaging at times. My guess is that if Smith were to take up the profession of technical writer, he could easily create page-turners for even the most mundane topics. I would love to see a revised edition of this book with new chapters interspersed describing childhood disappointments, joys and loves.

The success of this book ultimately depends upon a very narrow intended audience. If you’re a college-aged young man, this book will fulfill your Fast Times at Ridgemont High juvenile longings, desires and addictions. Being that the second half of book is nothing but a perpetual frat party, I can’t imagine, ladies, how this book would be of interest to you with the childish behaviors and actions of the author and his friends.

While Smith’s story is often funny and entertaining, where is the meaning, significance, importance or even redemption? Why don’t we discover more of what makes Rams tick besides having fun and causing trouble? Where was the balance? I would have loved to discover more about his family relationships, but we learn of only the most inane, base motivations of Rams, his likes and dislikes, and nothing about his emotional and spiritual state beyond his crazy antics. Maybe that wasn’t Smith’s intension. But why should I be interested?” It’s the “so what” factor. (How much do we really need to know about college-aged boys and their fart contests?) Like the author’s own words about his life, I hoped for the “cessation of the infantile messing” that had become the book.

Smith talked only briefly about his life successes and failures in academia, his relationships with women, and his family life., I would love to know more about Irish culture beyond his family watching professional wrestling together. In Chapter 25, Smith gives us a rare glimpse into his heart for his family and treats us to his experience fishing with his dad, giving the book a much-needed diversion, but it‘s disappointingly short-lived. At some point, the juvenile escapades lose their edge making the reader the true victim and recipient of his childish behavior.

While his memoir is self-centered and self-absorbed, I give him credit for the courage to express himself so openly and honestly. Where Smith succeeds is when he writes about the person most of us want to be–or are; the dual personalities within us vying for control of the “true self”—the one shy and well mannered, the other fun loving and free spirited. Who wouldn’t want friends with names like Rams, Stano, Finger Jo, Boo Boo, Goosey, Slug, Spade, Jockey, or Tritchy?

Remarkably—and here’s where I do agree with the book’s promo—I found myself identifying with some of the same childhood and young adult experiences Smith had, such as our love of English and writing, and our struggles with the sciences (mine Chemistry, his Biology). I delighted in the reminders of all the crazy stuff we jumped into as youngsters in suburban Michigan, and Smith’s experience in Chapter 6 of “The Gauntlet” was nearly identical to my high school experience. That’s my story, not Smith’s!

Overall, Lord of the Rams is a smart-assed, quirky, approachable, deranged and tight autobiography, full of ill-advised antics. Smith succeeds with what he intended: a harmless (to the reader, at least), entertaining romp of his first 25 years. Ultimately, Smith’s strength is his writing. Free of cliché, his writing effectively brings us into the journey of his early years. With short, approachable chapters, Smith’s story keeps the pages turning–. Yet, I went back and forth with this book. At times, couldn’t wait to read what was on the next page, other times I just wanted it to end.

Interestingly, the last page of the book ends on a strangely philosophical note. Perhaps as catharsis for his 200+ page promotional rant on the joys of ill behavior. Although difficult to decipher from only one page, in a sad way, Smith ends his memoir with a rather repentant and guilty tone. Maybe he felt the way I did and asked the same question I asked of the book: After all that, is that all there is?

Strengths: Strong writing, inventive, imaginative, witty, fun and funny (at times), wonderfully descriptive

Opportunities: Laced with crude and empty humor, lacking emotional depth

Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told is available directly from the author (which really helps the author) and amazon (which really helps amazon), and a lot of other places…

Reviewed by David Stucki, December 2009

Certain Jeopardy

December 22, 2009

Cpt. Jeff Struecker with Alton Gansky

B&H Books, 2009

400 pages, Fiction/Christian/Suspense

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Captain Jeff Struecker is a very interesting guy. If you haven’t read Mark Bowden’s  Black Hawk Down (you should), or seen the movie (you should), Jeff Struecker was one of those Army Rangers stuck neck-deep in that intense, and now legendary firefight in Mogadishu. I urge you to check out his website and read his impressive bio. He did a lot more than fight in Somalia, A LOT more, including writing a pretty engaging military thriller called Certain Jeopardy.

It starts as six Special Ops soldiers are plucked from their lives and families by an ominous cell phone call and sent on a recon mission to observe a suspected terrorist training operation in Venezuela. Six guys, traveling in pairs, leaving at serpate times to regroup in unfriendly territory. Right away we have the makings of a great military thriller reminiscent of the old Tom Clancy novels (remember those books? the one he wrote before he got so rich and famous he could hire someone else to do his writing for him?) Unlike Clancy, Struecker is writing what he knows, from firsthand experience, with credibility that is never in question.

I was immediately engaged by the stories of the soldiers’ wives and families, whose struggles were just as compelling as the high-stakes international mission. With parallel stories of men sent on their secret deeds while their families are left behind to hope is speckled with some familiar cliches, but it works quite well. There is a kidnapped wife of a nuclear scientist, a mom with a rogue teenage son who won’t listen and doesn’t care, and a Special Ops wife confronting a miscarriage, then a possible abortion. And it also has terrorists and machine guns and helicopters!

Yes, there is a lot of compelling story packed into this book, and at times there are so many characters that it’s easy to get confused but it unfolds quite nicely, with sharp writing that is crisp and engaging. Tense is some places, with a captivating, action-packed finale that moves so fast you’ll finish in one sitting. For the guys, there’s plenty of shooting, lots of blood, and enough military hardware to make you wish you could pop the movie version of this book into the DVD player. The female characters are strong and resourceful and while they yearn for their husbands, they are not hopeless without them. We know they will find a way to go on, and we admire them for that.

The dialogue, at times, is exactly what you’d expect. How many military/cop stories have a character (probably played by Keanu Reeves) proclaiming the following:

I didn’t choose the Army for the money. I didn’t choose it for the excitement. I enlisted because I’m an idealist. I believe I can make a difference in the world. I hate to see the little guy get kicked around, especially when I can do something about it. I can’t change the world, and I can’t save everyone; but I can save a few along the way. It’s why I wear the uniform. It’s why I’m here.

Other than that the dialogue sharp, with lots of witty, light-hearted banter between the soldiers. The abortion storyline feels a little contrived, as if it was inserted more to make a cheap political statement than to move the story along. It almost becomes a non-issue and leaves itself disappointingly unresolved. But this books is patriotic without being patronizing. Classified as Christian, its religious characters are reverent, never preaching, and seemingly at peace amid unimaginable circumstances. I commend Cpt. Struecker for handling these sensitive issues in a way that will satisfy both the faithful and the secular reader.

The ending is a solemn reminder that there are men and women who guard us while we sleep, and who do incredible things – and make unthinkable sacrifices – to keep us safe. I thank them for that.

Certain Jeopardy is available on amazon but I’m sure the authors want you to grab it from the official website. Please remember to check out Cpt. Struecker’s website. He frequently makes appearances and is probably worth checking out. You can bet he has a lot of amazing (and true!) stories to tell.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, December 2009

Guest Reviewer Joining The Boog

December 19, 2009

I’m pleased to announce that I’m bringing a second reviewer onboard in the next few weeks – my friend and fellow book lover/writer David Stucki. He’s currently reading some of the books that have been piling up in my house and will be sending some reviewers over soon. This will be a huge help to me, since I’ll finally be able to fulfill obligations made to writers so many months ago….this also means I will begin to accept submissions again soon (don’t everyone email me at once!!) Probably not until early 2010, after Christmas is finished.

Currently I’m reading Certain Jeopardy by Captain Jeff Struecker, and a review will be posted soon.I gotta tell you – it’s pretty good. And I’m not just saying that because the author was one of the Black Hawk Down guys (he was!)

I’m also finishing up my next novel The Cigar Maker – which should be out in the summer of 2010, as long as everything stays on schedule. Which it should! You can read the first four chapters here. Comments are always welcome!

Wondering if I should do one of those best-of, year-end deals. What do you think?

Need an affordable gift idea?

December 10, 2009

All you Christmas shoppers out there looking for deals can do a lot worse than ELVIS AND THE BLUE MOON CONSPIRACY….The real story of NASA’s first moon landing. Since this book was published 6 years ago I’ve had the pleasure of hearing people say things like, “this wasn’t the type of book I would normally read, but once I read it I really liked it,” or “I had to keep reading because I HAD to know how this was going to end!”

It’s a perfect gift for the book lover/space buff/Elvis fan/conspiracy theorist in your life. And it’s very affordable! Head on over and pick up your copy today….Drop me a note and I’ll sign and personalize it for you or your special someone….you can read more about ELVIS AND THE BLUE MOON CONSPIRACY right here.


Born Bent Over: Flashing the Vertical Smile at Middle Age

December 8, 2009

Brian Greenleaf

iUniverse, 2008

93 pages, Humor

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

What should you do when you hit middle age and realize you are out-of-shape and divorced, with no hair and a body that resembles a bowl of oatmeal? Give life the middle finger, attack your plight head on, laugh at yourself and then write a self-defacing book about it. Brian Greenleaf’s Born Bent Over: Flashing the Vertical Smile at Middle Age is the ultimate celebration of middle-aged misery. It’s a light-hearted look at the unavoidable perils we youngsters can look forward to, while all you 40+ geezers nod knowingly and eagerly await the next newcomers to climb over the hill and come careening down your side.

Filled with hilarious and sometimes touching essays on life-after-midlife-crisis, Greenleaf is a witty storyteller whose good-natured sarcasm draws you into a miserable existence filled with charming anecdotes of mid-life wretchedness. You can’t help but admire how much he’s embraced his dismal existence. Greenleaf has truly made lemonade out of life’s lemons (after being squirted in the eye by burning juice-acid a few times). He has clearly enjoyed every minute of writing this book, and the reader will appreciate Greenleaf’s positive and uplifting approach to growing old. Most amusing is a chapter titled “Who Said Women Don’t Fart?” a detailed encounter with a swamp-assed supermarket granny. Greenleaf is so comfortable with his words that he has nearly created his own vernacular.

This is a great gift idea for the middle-aged person in your life and its good-natured ribbing is harmed only by a handful of several typos and some redundancy. It could use some professional typesetting and a review using the Chicago Manual of Style. He classifies his book as fiction on the back cover, when it’s clearly non-fiction/humor. A few revisions and a resubmit to his POD partner should fix this.

Born Bent Over: Flashing the Vertical Smile at Middle Age is a funny book that I honestly enjoyed. I never felt I was reading it because I had promised a review, I wanted to see what kind of trouble he’d get into next. I was rewarded with a few chuckles while I read of his cockamamie chain-letter scheme and his attempt to get in shape after buying his own treadmill. Greenleaf is the type of guy you’d want to have a beer with. Does that mean I think he should be President of the United States? Well, probably not. But he’d probably be a pretty entertaining guy and a genuinely good hang.

It’s a good book that taught me that growing old, though filled with colorful challenges and surprises, probably won’t be that bad.

Born Bent Over: Flashing the Vertical Smile at Middle Age is available through iUniverse, and in both hardcover and paperback. You can find more information on Brian’s website.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, December 2009

Kipling’s Cat: A Memoir of My Father

December 5, 2009

Anne Cabot Wyman

Protean Press, 2010

240Pages, Non-fiction/Memoir

4 ½ out of 5 stars

Kipling’s Cat is the true story of Jeffries Wyman, a roving Boston scientist, as seen through the eyes of his admiring daughter, Boston Globe travel writer Anne Cabot Wyman. For those of you who have never heard of Jeffries Wyman (I suppose that is most of you) here is all you need to know: he was a good guy, an accomplished scientist, and he’s been to more countries than I’ll probably ever be lucky enough to point to on a map.

It is ultimately a refreshing, wonderfully written diary of a woman who admires her father and sees him through a lens that is both pure and pretentious; a celebration of a man whose life was filled with happiness and adventure.  Jeffries Wyman is enigmatic, like the Great Gatsby, a man living the American dream, legendary and eclectic, and above all a genuine old sport. And like Gatsby, Wyman is mysteriously disconnected from those closest to him. His passion for traveling the wonders of the world drove Wyman from his family – but only in a physical sense. He left them but did not abandon them, and his children know their father mostly through the many letters he wrote, and the romantic image of himself that his words created.

What unfolds is an exploration of Wyman’s life as an accomplished hematologist, diplomat, artist and father. The author paints a picture of a relatively comfortable life, filled with house servants, sailing expeditions, viola lessons, dinner parties with Harvard colleagues, and names like Cabot, Forbes and Oppenheimer. Filled with charming and amusing anecdotes of his travels and family life, at its core, Kipling’s Cat is a father-daughter story that many can relate to, a story of a girl who is constantly trying to connect with a father who is rarely around and always on an adventure. I can relate. My father traveled a lot for work, to all corners of the globe, to exotic places I will probably only dream of visiting. Anne Cabot Wyman’s stories of her father beg us to reflect on our own mothers and fathers. It made me wonder if my parents have any old love letters stashed away….? And when I am gone, will my daughter admire me enough to write a book about my life?

The essence of Kipling’s Cat is something we do not see enough of: parents and children getting along. The book made me strive to keep close ties to my family and to be a great father, a daily challenge. When I think about Jeffries Wyman I see an eccentric who captured his adventures in vivid watercolor, a man whose nature prevented him from ever settling down but in the end, a man who cared deeply about his family.

Kipling’s Cat and other titles are available from the catalog of Protean Press.

Much more about Kipling’s Cat and Jeffries Wyman available here.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, December 2009.

The Cigar Maker: Excerpt #2

December 2, 2009

Here is another excerpt from THE CIGAR MAKER (coming out summer 2010)….From Chapter 1…


Cuba, 1875

Salvador was learning the farming trade, but his father quickly gave him an education in politics. “Spain is draining Cuba of its natural resources,” Ernesto told his son. “They are giving nothing back. All the wealth generated by Cubans is feeding the Spanish. They own our government and our property and leave us no opportunity for self-determination. Shouldn’t every man have the right to decide who enjoys the fruit of his own labor?”

One morning Ernesto’s lessons abruptly ended, and Salvador was forced into the world to find his own education. When shots rang out in the distance and the sound of approaching horses grew louder and louder, Ernesto frantically woke his only child and ordered him to run across the fields and hide in the forest. “Go now, boy! Step lively and don’t look back!”

Those were Ernesto’s last words to Salvador.

The boy ran until he was hidden by a giant Ceiba tree. Watching from afar as Spanish soldiers on horseback trampled through the village and set the modest bohio homes ablaze, Salvador saw the fragile shelters of wood and palm fronds collapse into flaming piles as many of the villagers, including Salvador’s mother and father, were captured by the soldiers and executed by their rifles.   

The image of his mother and father on their knees before a gang of Spanish troops, with his sobbing mother begging God’s mercy before rifles exploded, became seared into his memory. Salvador fled into the forest carrying nothing but his father’s rusty dagger and a hatred and complete mistrust of anything Spanish.

When he finally made it to the city of Pinar del Rio, and met Juan Carlos on the streets begging for food, it became easy for them to steal from the aristocrats responsible for their plight. For Juan Carlos had also lost his father and a brother at the hands of Spanish soldiers. Young, vengeful Carlito carried a pistol and a machete in a canvas duffle bag and hoped to join a band of rebels but had little luck finding an army that would lead him into battle against the Spanish.

“I like you, Ortiz,” Juan Carlos told him the day the teenagers met on the street. “Your story is like mine. It seems as though we’re the last of a dying breed.” The truth was that Juan Carlos could use another man to help him rob a local Spanish bookkeeper he had been watching for over a week.

“You have a knife, I have a gun and this man is a Spaniard. Not only that but he has money. I have been watching him for many days now. Every night after he locks his office, he walks down the block to the Spanish bakery where he has a cup of coffee and a pastry before heading home. We go in right before he locks up and split our earnings right down the middle. If we’re successful, we rob the bakery tomorrow.”

Salvador, as if transfixed with the unending memory of his mother’s head being blown apart by a Spanish rifle, nodded and gripped the wooden handle of his knife. Normally he wouldn’t consider stealing, and would rather work for his daily meals, but he had been numbed by grief.

“Yes, we are stealing,” Juan Carlos said. “But we are stealing back little pieces of our own country. We are reclaiming what is ours.”

Salvador thought of his father’s blood, spilled on Cuban dirt. “Let’s go.”

On Carlito’s signal the boys entered the bookkeeper’s office and less than a minute later were running from the scene with enough pesos to eat for several days. It was easier than Salvador thought it would be. The bookkeeper was a man used to the confines of his office and did not compare to the menacing Spanish soldiers Salvador had eluded in the countryside.  “You’ve got guts,” Juan Carlos seemed to admit later on, as they divided their money in a secluded alley. “If you were afraid, the bookkeeper couldn’t tell.” Juan Carlos was satisfied that he had found a partner and the duo spent the next weeks robbing aristocrats, begging for food and eluding the authorities. When he decided it was getting too hot for them in the city, he introduced Salvador to Victoriano Machín, the charismatic young ruffian who would eventually become the legendary bandit El Matón.

Click here for more snippets from THE CIGAR MAKER….

Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome…