BOOK RECOMMENDATION: The Bahawre Legend (Legends of Aeo Book 1) by Chris L. Meyers

The Bahawre Legend by Chris L. Meyers is a charming fantasy tale involving Geoffrey, a newly anointed king under siege from a rival country as well as his own generals. We are also introduced to Gurtie, his devious mother the queen, and Boman, the kingdom’s sensible prime minister who sets out to interrupt a plot against the king, but instead finds himself shipwrecked on a mysterious island. 

The novel actually begins with a group of sailors who have been marooned on the same island but long ago. We first follow one sailor, Caedmon, who will later meet Bowman and serve as his guide to the island. Bowman learns that the island is ruled by a cryptic entity known simply as “Putlag” who forbids anyone to ever leave. This presents a major conflict for Bowman since he has a dire need to return home and save his king. 

Meyers’ writing seems to gain strength as the novel progresses. He provides sparse physical details, though just enough to give the reader a clear image of the environment and action. He gives special attention to colors, describing an invading army as “a mass of yellow.” Meyers describes a plant on the island as having “peach-colored leaves” with “a dainty, thin-petaled flower which varied from variegated blue/orange to bright-yellow.”

The dialogue flows nicely with each character owning a voice distinctive enough that they can be told apart with few dialogue tags. While there’s a tad too much exposition given through people speaking, especially towards the end, it still doesn’t feel too intrusive or contrived. The intrigue and political maneuvering of some of the characters makes for engaging drama. Meanwhile, the fantasy elements of the novel—sea serpents, magical waterspouts, a lisping dragon—are a part of the plot without taking it over. In other words, you care about the humans just as much as the monsters, which isn’t necessarily easy. My only substantial complaint against The Bahawre Legend is that it feels far too short. The novel ends right where the story really begins to cook. It definitely leaves you wanting more. A lot more. Not the worst complaint to have against any fantasy tale, I guess.       

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: An Unconventional Family by Roberta Bombonato

An Unconventional Family by Roberta Bombonato is one page-turner of a novel, despite its epically awful cover. (Paperback version is a vast improvement.) The plot involves Marvin Costa (alias Azrael) and his on-again/off-again stripper girlfriend Carmen. Their lives are turned upside down by Marvin’s discovery of a recently orphaned 8-year old Asian girl named Keiko. Marvin and Carmen unofficially adopt her, knowing that the ruthless man who killed her family is still searching for her. Keiko’s adorable maturity-beyond-her-years and utter dependency on Marvin and Carmen for survival wins them both over. It also provides an innocence and tenderness to their relationship, sorely missing since Marvin has been hiding a dark secret: He’s a hitman. His targets typically deserve their death, more or less, but it’s a brutal way to make a living. One scene in particular finds Marvin ambushing, then torturing the mob boss who killed his own family, an event which led to him being a hitman in the first place. Body parts go flying. It’s fairly gruesome stuff. 

Bombonato’s writing is nothing flashy to say the least, but she’s a master of pacing. The plot rolls along so seamlessly that I finished the book in two sittings. Snappy but realistic dialogue helps, too. The reader is presented with an abundance of side characters, all of whom are interesting and well-rounded enough that you can nearly smell them. Each plays a crucial part in the action as it barrels towards its inexorable climax. Many of these people have hidden relationships to each other, revealed along the way in a manner that is astonishing yet somehow believable. This is pulp fiction at its most pulpy, which is to say that it’s loads of fun. There’s nothing capable of making a reader care more for a book’s moving pieces than their connection to a helpless child. An Unconventional Family does possess a few suspense novel tropes, such as gunshot wounds which seem to become only mildly bothersome after a few days, and Carmen conveniently taking the news that her boyfriend is a murderer far too nonchalantly—still, the book more than makes up for this through the power of its storytelling, the careful handling of its scenes, and the reverent way it treats its characters. A solidly good read.     

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Awaken(ed) by Patrick Baird

Awaken(ed) by Patrick Baird is a self-help book for people in a hurry. The book is only 77 pages long yet jammed with enough wisdom to pack the semester of any Spirituality and Self-Improvement 101 class. Baird takes pride in being the healthy-bodied executive chef of an unnamed New York City restaurant. He’s figured out that the path to success and happiness doesn’t have to be so abstract. So complicated. According to Baird, it’s truly as simple as caring for your health, focusing your mind, being nice to be people, not pissing away free time, and hawk-watching those finances. How come so few people do this though? 

Baird writes: ”A vast majority of people never do anything extraordinary and then fade into a corner and die.” Harsh words, but hard to argue with. In other words, people are unhappy because they’re too lazy to do anything about it. As you can imagine, much of the book’s message is common sense. Still good to be reminded though that all we have to do is TRY. 

The book is divided into sections, each concerning a different facet of good practice for good living. The sections are prefaced with quotes from the likes of Anthony Bourdain to Thich Nhat Hanh. These quotes are so impressively picked they’re worth the price of the book alone. However, the book’s most enjoyable trait is the dressed down style of the writing, sounding more like the dialogue of a friend, rather than some pedantic know-it-all. Baird writes: “…if you finish 30 days of anything, you’ve already achieved a goal. Look at you, crushing it!” Hard to argue with that, either.   

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: The Unwinding Cable Car by Andrew J. Brandt

  I tried twice to put this novel down, wanting to savor it since I was enjoying it so much. However, I couldn't help myself and I picke...