Book review: Misconception

Ryan Boudinot. Misconception. New York: Black Cat, 2009. 224 pages.

Misconception is a novel in the form of a memoir with a twist: we get the same story from two perspectives. But this isn’t just a case of he said, she said: it’s a thought-provoking exploration of both memoir and memory.

The memoir sections deal with a summer in the late-1980s, as 13 year-old Cedar and Kat explore a relationship. With the exception of what seems an inordinate obsession with masturbation, this reads like any other boy-meets-girl. But there is a twist (which I won’t give away), and what seems to be the truth isn’t necessarily so.

The novel starts out strong. Boudinot is a talented writer, and the book is well-written, with many memorable turns of phrase. Having one of the characters (Kat) write several chapters as a memoir in Cedar’s voice is a fascinating exercise. Boudinot definitely made her and Cedar’s voices distinct. But it doesn’t hold together quite well as a novel–there’s just the sense that something is missing. And the last twenty pages seemed mean-spirited for the sake of it. Like the pervasive masturbatory meme, this feels not like honesty or even verisimilitude, but an appeal to cheap shock value.

Bottom line: I’d definitely put this book on a reading list for a writing class, simply because of Boudinot’s sure style and innovative technique. Reading for pleasure, though, is another story.

Book review: God Doesn’t Shoot Craps

My review of Richard Armstrong’s outstanding novel God Doesn’t Shoot Craps.

I tend to open unsolicited packages with a bit of trepidation, and unsolicited books to review with a triple dose. “If this book was really good,” I think, at almost a subconscious level, “they wouldn’t be asking me to review it.” And I would have heard of it before.

Half the time, it’s just a warmed-over “guide to gambling” that’s neither offensive nor enlightening. Other times, it’s not even that mediocre. But sometimes, I get a real gem–something that makes opening up all those mysterious packages worthwhile. Richard Armstrong’s God Doesn’t Shoot Craps is such a book. It’s a rarity: a great gambling novel.
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Book review: The Fortune Machine

This is another paperback I discovered in the catacombs of the UNLV Special Collections stacks. The tagline is what sold me: “The most beautiful girls in Las Vegas couldn’t stop Eddie from winning.” Also, Library Journal called it “a groovy novel.” So, I figured, it’s about a card-counting Greg Brady. This might make for an entertaining 250 pages. It was really, really weird.
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Book review: The Spirit Cabinet

I’m back with a brand-new review of a nine year-old book. This is another example of a book jumping off the shelves of UNLV Libraries and into my hands based on little more than a hunch and a quick judge of the book’s cover. Figuring that any book that’s about magicians and features the erstwhile Barbary Coast bullnose on the cover can’t be too bad, I jumped in. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out one last contributing factor: I saw The Prestige a few weeks ago, so I’m particularly open to reading a book about the underside of magicians. So, in a nutshell, I’m basing my opinions on 9 year-old books that I’ve just seen on two year-old movies that I’ve just watched.

I’m not convinced that books improve with age, but the good ones certainly do. And, as you’ll read, this is a very, very good book.
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Book review: The Flea Palace

I read Elif Shafak’s The Flea Palace almost four years ago. I haven’t re-read it since, and don’t own a copy. But it’s still one of my favorite books, and I can still vividly recall much of the writing. Here’s what I had to say about it when I first reviewed it:

I saw this book in the “new books” shelf of UNLV’s Lied Library. The title jumped out at me, and I decided to read it on one of my cross-country flights back east. I originally approached it with some trepidation (it’s written by an academic, and in my experience most academic prose is eminently forgettable), but it’s a great book! Don’t trust me, read it yourself.

So keep on reading, and learn just why this book is one of my favorites.
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Book review: The Blackjack Hijack

My reposting of reviews continues. This one is a real gem. If you don’t believe me, look at the cover:


Click through to look at the big version of that if you don’t believe me, but yes, that is JFK and, yes, he does figure into the plot. Is he the BP on the count team? You’ll have to read on to find out.

By a strange coincidence, I’m meeting Ed Thorp today. I don’t think that this book is going to come up in conversation, but if it does, I’m covered.

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Book review: Loaded Dice

James Swain. Loaded Dice. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004. 310 pp, $22.95 (hardcover)

When I started this site back in 2005, I posted many reviews as static pages. Now, instead of reformatting them all, I’m reposting them as posts. If you’re a longtime reader, enjoy the nostalgia, and if you’ve just found this site, it’s a chance to enjoy something new.

I’ve also made a few small graphics changes, so hitting the handy F5 key might make the site look better.

I’ve started with James Swain’s Loaded Dice, which was a fun book and the first fiction that I reviewed here. Enjoy. Click on through for the full review.
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