coming of age

Review of ‘The Train’

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Jean ‘Jack’ Jourdain is a young man growing up in Mobile, Alabama in the 50s and 60s. He has a very close relationship with his father, who is his mentor and friend. In The Train by Tony Jordan, we follow Jack’s life as he grows up under the shadow of his father’s impending death from a variety of ailments, and learns the value of the subtle lessons his father teaches him.

A rich portrayal of one aspect of life in the South in the 1950s and 60s, and how one young man, through the relationships he has, learns to stand on his own, and to be true to himself. A story of friendships, in particular Jack’s friendship with Jean-Louis Thibodeaux, the scion of a wealthy Mobile family, who becomes his best friend in college, but most significantly, Jack’s friendship with his father, a man who refused to allow the circumstances of his own birth, or the social strictures of southern society to beat him down, The Train is a great debut novel that contains many essential truths that are conveyed through the eyes of the main character, making them all the more profound.

While I found it a bit frustrating not knowing the narrator’s name until chapter four, the incremental introduction of Jack and his responses to life turned out to be a strong point of the book. You sort of know who he is, even if you don’t know his name, and by the time it’s introduced, you’re inside the mind of this unnamed character, seeing the world through his young eyes.

Clean prose, rich descriptions, and an inexorable growth in the character from page one until the end, marks an outstanding first novel by a promising writer. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Circle’

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If your reading taste tends to the prudish, you should probably not read Circle by Leon Maldon. If, on the other hand, you are the type reader who can appreciate a genuinely written story of the anguish and angst of being a teenager, with all the problems of self-identification and group identity that accompanies this most turbulent period of life, you just might enjoy it.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. While there were a few formatting issues with the Kindle version, and one or two places where editing would have caught typos, none of this detracted from a well-crafted story.

CJ Mitchell is a high school student grappling with issues of friendship and his own sexuality. He is dating Hannah, the school bully, and Hannah doesn’t like his best friend, Clayton. CJ knows that Clayton has a secret—one that CJ’s sister, Iris, seems to know—and, he also knows that he is conflicted when it comes to his own feelings for Clayton. The main setting for the story is a trip to Six Flags amusement park where CJ’s choir is traveling for a competition. During the trip, CJ comes face to face with his feelings, and the knowledge of his own sexuality. Events force him to eventually acknowledge who he really is.

Although billed as a spicy story, I found it to be tastefully written, and the author digs deep into the emotions of the characters. Regardless of your views on sexual orientation, you will be able to identify with the torturous path teens must navigate on the way to maturity.

I give Circle three stars for a competently written story.

Review of ‘Dog Days’

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Summer is not a good time to be in or near Houston, Texas. The low lands, mostly marsh, hold the heat like a steam bath, and it’s hurricane season, so it’s not really a good place for summer vacation. But, when you live there, you have no choice.

For 14-year-old Mark Eckert, who lives in a wealthy community halfway between Houston and Galveston, though, it’s a time of adventure and exploration. He’s looking forward to his first year of high school, and his summer is much as summer is for any teen in that part of the country – hanging out with his friends and dodging the older neighborhood bullies who’re determined to pound him into the sidewalk. A normal summer – until the hurricane hits and leaves a shrimp boat lodged in a tree near Mark’s house; a boat containing partially eaten corpses. Mark’s father, a Houston cop, discovers that the dead men have been eaten, not by animals, but by another person. As it that not horrible enough, more partially eaten corpses start turning up in the neighborhood and a torrid summer turns deadly in a hurry.

Joe McKinney’s Dog Days is a horror novel with a unique twist – it’s also a coming of age novel. A unique blend of genres that will leave you chilled to the marrow. McKinney knows his stuff, and he knows how to spin a great yarn. I received a free review copy of Dog Days, not sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised – chilled – shocked – and entertained. I grew up just north of Houston, and I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable spending the night back in my home town ever again.

A five-star book in class of its own.