Crack Books

Posts now at Black Heart Magazine by Laura Roberts
February 20, 2011, 12:55 PM
Filed under: Reviews

This site is no longer being updated. All of my new reviews are being posted at Black Heart Magazine. Please check them out for all your literary needs!


No Hope For Gomez! by Graham Parke by Crack Books
July 14, 2010, 5:15 PM
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Graham Parke’s novel, No Hope For Gomez!, is an unusual read, and we’d expect nothing less from the 2008 winner of Broken Pencil’s Indie Deathmatch writing competition (his short story, “Amsterdam at Midnight” took the title). Without spoiling the plot too much, here’s the back-cover summary of the action:

“Boy meets girl. Boy stalks girl. Girl already has a stalker. Boy becomes her stalker-stalker.”

A humorous detective novel? Sure, why not? If the neo-noirs can have their cake and eat it too, let’s not deny the comedians a piece of the action. After all, even wiseguys like to laugh.

The book is additionally told entirely in the form of blog entries, and despite the fact that epistolary novels were all the rage back in the 18th century, we’re not sure whether the “blog novel” carries quite the same weight in 2010 (especially when some of the action is clearly happening in “real time,” rather than being described later for the blog). Still, it’s an interesting effort, chronicling the life of Gomez Porter, who enters into a research study and becomes infatuated with the doctor monitoring his progress.

While there are a number of things that don’t seem sufficiently explained, even when readers remind themselves to suspend disbelief (why a doctor would hire a patient to stalk her stalker instead of just calling the police, for instance), the overall story is amusing enough to push forward with the bumbling Gomez, a sometime antiques dealer in search of his true calling in life. The scenes in which he attempts to discover his “knack” (particularly when it comes to painting) can be quite hilarious, demonstrating Parke’s strength at creating self-deprecating dialogue for his characters as well as showing off a penchant for useless trivia.

Equally, the secondary characters often steal the spotlight from Gomez himself, such as when Gomez puts his employee, Hicks, up for auction on eBay. While readers may occasionally wonder where these amusing interludes are going, since they almost never directly relate to the plot, they are humorous enough that we want more of them despite ourselves.

In the end, it seems there is some kind of hope for Gomez (with or without the exclamation mark after his name), and although jokes about his “Swedish” heritage fall flat, he’s a likeable and odd enough character that readers will want more of his antics. After all, if his involvement in the research study has only recently caused him to notice how truly bizarre his day-to-day life is (not to mention all the people in it), there can only be more misadventures awaiting Mr. Porter in the future.

For more information on No Hope For Gomez! or to order a copy, check out Graham Parke’s website at

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill by Crack Books

Lullabies for Little Criminals Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just finished Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals last night and wanted to get a few impressions down.

1. A 13-year old heroin junkie? Call me naïve if you must, but somehow, I wasn’t buying this. Also…
2. I *really* didn’t buy that Alphonse just conveniently up and dies when Baby was most in trouble. A little too neat an ending.
3. Also, what kind of parents don’t take in a 13-year-old girl who comes in the middle of the night to their house, saying she’s been locked out by her stoner father? Xavier’s parents are clearly assholes.

But other than that, I found this book quite compelling and, oddly, a very convincing portrait of Montreal’s scuzzy side.

Terribly sad, though, the way it seemed to be based on real-life experiences. Or, at the very least, observations of some very troubled children and the society that doesn’t give a damn about them. Particularly the parts involving the detention center.

A must-read for all Montrealers, and anyone who believes childhood is a time of innocence.

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Birds of America by Lorrie Moore by Crack Books

Birds of America: Stories Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I ever take it upon myself to do something insane like spending another 30 grand to get an MFA in Creative Writing, I’d want Lorrie Moore to be my thesis advisor and writing mentor. Ever since I first read her short story “How to Become A Writer,” I knew we were literary soulmates. Her cheeky tone, her sarcastic and bitterly black humor, her characters stuck in stupid Midwestern towns bearing unironic newspaper headlines like “Normal Man Marries Oblong Woman”… these were all somehow familiar to me, yet so unexpected from a writer who is considered part of the “literary” genre of fiction. Can you really write cuss words in your fiction? Can crazy people really be heros? Yes and yes, says Lorrie Moore. And goddamn if those things won’t take you to the top, too. Fuck the naysayers.

Birds of America is an excellent collection of short fiction by an unconventional writer. They’re all about modern forms of insanity which, really, are signs of sanity in an insane world. At least that’s how I’d describe them. I’m sure the literary types are shaking their snoots and dipping their piggy tails in ink to scribble some nonsense right now about some highfalutin’ themes and messages and other such dreck, but screw ’em.

Who needs an MFA from an accredited university when you’ve already majored in Life at L’Ecole aux Frappes Dures?

Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux by Crack Books

Hotel Honolulu Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read mainly during a stint scoring Hawaii Math at one of the country’s top education testing facilities, Paul Theroux’s Hotel Honolulu provided a nice counterpoint to the terribly misguided papers I was reading for 8 hours a day.

I am contractually bound to keep the details of my scoring gigs confidential, so I’ll say no more. Suffice to say that after this particular gig, it was readily apparent to me that Hawaiian students–much like Texan students–are either very poorly educated or simply don’t bother to perform on standardized tests.

But back to Theroux, whom I stumbled upon totally by accident, thanks to a mandate from my husband to find anything and everything Hunter S. Thompson while I was browsing the UT library with my TexPass. By some quirk of the alphabet (plus Library of Congress shelving), Theroux and Thompson were next to one another. “Hotel Honolulu,” I remember thinking to myself, “That sounds intriguing…”

Theroux, a travel writer who also writes fiction (or is it the other way ’round?) pens an autobiographical account of his time in paradise, aka Hawaii, with much humor and compassion. I particularly enjoyed his account of regional variations on Scrabble, where he is miffed that his hotel employees will allow him to play with them (given his status as a writer), and then doubly miffed that he is always the loser in their games–which allow “Whyan” terms. (I was mostly amazed that they had that many U’s in their bag of letters!)

The kicker? Theroux objects to the term “shim,” which the Hawaiians claim is something used in “consruction,” and he has it stricken from the game’s record. Later on, he looks the word up in the dictionary, only to discover it’s a “Howlie” (i.e. white dude) term he should’ve known all along, meaning “a thin often tapered piece of material (as wood, metal, or stone) used to fill in space between things (as for support, leveling, or adjustment of fit).” The “near illiterate” janitorial crew gets his goat once more, proving that book smarts don’t necessarily equal real-world smarts. Touché.

Writing, Publishing & Marketing Your 1st Book (Or 7th) by Bobbie Christensen by Crack Books

Writing, Publishing & Marketing Your 1st Book by Bobbie Christensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book on how to write your first book (or 7th) in just 6 weeks or 20 weekends, along with great advice on how to self-publish and market your own book. The author, Bobbie Christensen, insists that self-publishing is the only way to sell your book, as you are clearly the one person who knows your material best, and I would have to agree.

I’m currently working on a book of my own (entitled Naked Montreal, and available for pre-sale online, if you’re curious), using this method, so I’ll let you know how it turns out!

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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert by Crack Books

Eat, Pray, Love Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hate reading bestsellers. Maybe this is a stupid prejudice, or maybe it proves what a snob I am, but in general, I’ve found that I’m more often disappointed when I read a book that supposedly “everyone” loves.

I am not everyone. Books should not be written for EVERYONE. That’s my opinion.

Still, I had heard good things about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and I was on a travel writing kick (not in the “I’m gonna read a ton of guidebooks!” way, but in the sense of reading personal travelogues that really explore a few destinations in depth), plus I had really enjoyed her TED talk on the nature of genius, so I requested a copy from the library.

I’m glad I did. She’s a really excellent writer, very funny, and tells great stories. I made it through all of Italy and most of India with her, and I’m dying to know what happened in Indonesia with the Holy Man. (Wouldn’t you know it? Someone else put a hold on the damn thing, so I had to return it before I finished reading.)

So I’m giving this book 4 outta 5 stars, because I’m glad to have discovered Gilbert’s writing, despite the fact that the hoardes have already embraced her (oh, and the whole chick-lit label didn’t really help her cause, and this is a pretty girly book, but I got past it). Check it out if you’ve ever thought “Yeah, this isn’t really what I wanted to do with my life…”

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