gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: July 2016

The End Of The Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher

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“The government in the past created one American Dream at the expense of almost all others: the dream of a house, a lawn, a picket fence, two children, and a car. But there is no single American Dream anymore.”

For nearly 70 years, the suburbs were as American as apple pie. As the middle class ballooned and single-family homes and cars became more affordable, we flocked to pre-fabricated communities in the suburbs, a place where open air and solitude offered a retreat from our dense, polluted cities. Before long, success became synonymous with a private home in a bedroom community complete with a yard, a two-car garage and a commute to the office, and subdivisions quickly blanketed our landscape.
But in recent years things have started to change. An epic housing crisis revealed existing problems with this unique pattern of development, while the steady pull of long-simmering economic, societal and demographic forces has culminated in a Perfect Storm that has led to a profound shift in the way we desire to live.
In The End of the Suburbs journalist Leigh Gallagher traces the rise and fall of American suburbia from the stately railroad suburbs that sprung up outside American cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries to current-day sprawling exurbs where residents spend as much as four hours each day commuting. Along the way she shows why suburbia was unsustainable from the start and explores the hundreds of new, alternative communities that are springing up around the country and promise to reshape our way of life for the better.
Not all suburbs are going to vanish, of course, but Gallagher’s research and reporting show the trends are undeniable. Consider some of the forces at work:

• The nuclear family is no more: Our marriage and birth rates are steadily declining, while the single-person households are on the rise. Thus, the good schools and family-friendly lifestyle the suburbs promised are increasingly unnecessary.
• We want out of our cars: As the price of oil continues to rise, the hours long commutes forced on us by sprawl have become unaffordable for many. Meanwhile, today’s younger generation has expressed a perplexing indifference toward cars and driving. Both shifts have fueled demand for denser, pedestrian-friendly communities.
• Cities are booming. Once abandoned by the wealthy, cities are experiencing a renaissance, especially among younger generations and families with young children. At the same time, suburbs across the country have had to confront never-before-seen rates of poverty and crime.
Blending powerful data with vivid on the ground reporting, Gallagher introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, including the charismatic leader of the anti-sprawl movement; a mild-mannered Minnesotan who quit his job to convince the world that the suburbs are a financial Ponzi scheme; and the disaffected residents of suburbia, like the teacher whose punishing commute entailed leaving home at 4 a.m. and sleeping under her desk in her classroom.
Along the way, she explains why understanding the shifts taking place is imperative to any discussion about the future of our housing landscape and of our society itself—and why that future will bring us stronger, healthier, happier and more diverse communities for everyone.

Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs is a book of social history in the same vein as, and of similar caliber to, the ancestral classic of its genre, Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth T. Jackson. Like that book, this one avoids several of my pet peeves. It shuns ostentatious language in favor of highly function, dense, understandable sentences. No word seems to be solely dedicated to creating emphasis without also fleshing out the meaning of what is being said.  The discipline in research displayed in this book, unfortunately, did not match the the discipline in language.

I understand that it is unfair to expect of any book the thorough and relentless inclusion of data and primary source material provided by Mr. Jackson in Crabgrass Frontier. However, I must note that the difference in reading experiences between these two books is probably founded in this lack. In Crabgrass, the reader doesn’t feel like he or she is being convinced of anything. There is hardly any deductive step in that wonderful book about which the reader must say, “I’ll give Mr. Jackson that one.” Instead, Mr. Jackson would support a statement with publicly accessible data or primary source material, deduce something from that statement, and then support the deduction with MORE data or primary source material. What is different in Gallagher’s work is that reading it is like crossing a bridge of ordinary construction, with what looks to me like enough structural support to safely get me from one side to the other. But hey, what do I know? I don’t build bridges for a living, and she does, so I’ll trust her and drive over the bridge. Reading Mr. Jackson’s book is like driving on what seems to be an ordinary road on solid ground, and then have your rendezvous partner at the end of your journey ask, “How was your passage over the river?” You reply, “There was a river?”

If you don’t mind deductive passages spanning fractions of entire chapters without references to sources (and I imagine that most will not mind) there is much to love in the potentially mind-expanding subject matter here. Mrs. Gallagher connects the decline in childhood outdoor activity not to the advent of television and electronic entertainment, but to changes in the design of suburban landscapes. She investigates the pressures of the Millennial generation on the demand for suburban accommodation, and she provides a rich historical backdrop for the future she predicts. The average reader of Mrs. Gallagher’s book will finish it much more informed about American modern history, demographics, architectonics, and demographics than he or she was before. Furthermore, the relative paucity of primary source material helps to make The End of the Suburbs more fluidly readable than Crabgrass Frontier. This accessibility, and Mrs. Gallagher’s lighter tone, will hearten her work to more casual readers than myself, i.e. nearly everyone.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales by Susan Berliner

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Welcome to Susan Berliner’s world. It’s a place where strange things–both good and bad–happen. Meet some of the inhabitants:

* Doreen. It’s time for her wedding but where is everyone? (Doreen’s Wedding)
* Neal. The face he sees in the mirror is no longer his own. (Mirror Image)
* Deb. All she does is recite four Latin words. How bad can that be? (The Rapunzel Effect)
* Ben. Everything he says sounds like gibberish. (Wordless)
* Mary. Her sweet dreams become nightmares and then the nightmares become real. (Dare to Dream)
* Kayla & Dan, Lisette & Omar. Two vacationing couples, one white and one black, form a bizarrely close relationship. (The Sea Crystal)
* Alicia. She waters office plants for a living. It’s a stress-free job, right? (The Plant Whisperer)
* Isabel. The man in a red sports car looks exactly like her long-lost husband. (Nathan’s Return)
In this weird world, you’ll encounter a variety of genres from thriller and horror to fairy tale and humor. Enjoy your visit!

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

Once I started reading these stories, I could not put my Kindle down. Short stories are always good, because you can read one and pick up again with a brand new story. However, once you start reading anything written by Ms Berliner, you had better clear your calendar. Her characters are haunting, memorable, and real. Despite the horror/thriller undertones in some of the stories, each character seems authentic.

As I read, I kept thinking of the Twilight Zone, with offbeat stories that started out normal, but always had some strangely plausible but unsettling ending.  THE SEA CRYSTAL is just like that. Normal people: a bride, an office worker, couples on vacation — what could be so strange about that?

You are in for a real treat. It takes a special talent to be able to create a scene in a few pages, from beginning to end, and this is where the author excels. As soon as the story begins, you are thrust into a little microcosm where things look ordinary…mundane, even.

But then…plants start talking, or someone disappears, or someone who is there turns out that they were never even there in the first place!

Much like a riddle or a brain teaser, these tales will get under your skin and not be shaken off that easily. One of the stories in particular, DOREEN’S WEDDING, left me with a queer little ache in my heart. Entirely plausible, simply done, and utterly gripping. I challenge anyone to read that and not be moved.

Berliner is a talented weaver of stories, and I guarantee you will love this book. Click here and pick up your copy RIGHT NOW.

 

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Dissolution by Lee S Hawke

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What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head and your entire city might turn out to be a lie… what would you sell yourself for?

 

Thanks to the author for this review copy! I had reviewed her other novel, DIVISION, so when she contacted me about this one, I immediately said yes. Hawke is a master of the dystopian genre, and this book is a wonderful, thrilling, well written bit of pleasure.

Madeline is a great protagonist: a girl coming to terms with the world around her, and losing her faith in things she believed were to be true. She is strong and capable, with a clear idea of what she wants from her life.

I loved the idea of the Auction – it almost seemed like a kinder, gentler version of Brave New World. As the corporations and their culture became clearer to me, I could easily imagine the future Hawke created. As in every dystopian novel, there must be the “others” – ones who shun the way of life and the rules. Madeline comes in contact with these, known as the corpless,  after she makes her escape, leaving the door open for a sequel. She learns that what she was told about these others is false, and is unsure who to trust – after all, there is a large reward for her capture that would have someone set for life.

The only suggestion I would have for the author is to share more details about the corporations earlier in the book – it was a bit confusing to see the names like MERCE and PERCO and DRAYTH without grasping the concept that they were all separate entities with extremely limited job offerings.

Other than that, I’d like to give the author kudos for writing a YA/dystopian novel without including teen angst and romance. Sometimes the science just has to stand on its own without dragging a love interest in there. Madeline can convey all the social commentary she needs to on her own, without being a lovesick teen.

The chapter with the river really made an impact on me. The idea of a city poisoning the water supply with chemicals, whether intentional or accidentally (due to poor care of the natural resources) seems truly apocalyptic. The description of what Madeline sustained after her near drowning was intense and thought provoking.

Other futuristic details include food with no taste (unless your taste sensors are on) and the ubiquitous collar that all citizens wear. This collar is used for some nefarious purposes, as the reader will discover.

DISSOLUTION was one of my favorite books this year so far. It’s extremely well written, and more enjoyable than HUNGER GAMES. Madeline’s world is not as dark as the HG one, but pretty close.

I’m hoping that there will be a part two to this novella, so I can see what happens to Madeline, and learn the future of the corporations.

This book is a must read! Go get your copy here.

 

Guest Post by author Hal Levey (Under The Pong Pong Tree)

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“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. . . .The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.” -Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore. . .The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.” -Blue Ink Starred Review

Love and the brutality of war are woven together in a beautiful, heart-wrenching tapestry in Under the Pong Pong Tree.

Thanks to Publishing Push and the author for helping me create this guest post! UNDER THE PONG PONG TREE is a wonderful, character-driven novel about love and war. Here, author Hal Levey tells us how everything came to be:

 

Under the Pong Pong Tree was incubated long ago during a year spent as China Medical Board Visiting Professor on the medical faculty of the National University of Singapore. The eponymous pong pong tree of Southeast Asia also is called the suicide tree. It is intended as a metaphor for the cruelty suffered by the Chinese residents of Singapore under the heel of the Japanese during World War II. I kept a journal that became a background resourceI also met many colleagues who suffered under Japanese brutality. Nevertheless, the year in Singapore was an exhilarating experience. I did a certain amount of recreational jungle bashing upcountry in Malaysia, and befriended the RAF contingent at the Seletar Air Base in Singapore. I became close friends with Squadron Leader Darrol Stinton, MBE, and joined him and the RAF Seletar Sub-Aqua Club on an expedition to Pulau Perhentian (Perhentian Island) in the South China Sea. The purpose was to develop sea rescue capabilities for airmen lost at sea. The job previously was done by the Royal Navy, but, for some reason, they terminated such operations and the RAF was obliged to create their own system.

The airmen made me Honorary Member No. 1 of the club, but harbored the faint suspicion that I was a CIA plant. Darrol died in 2012 from a hospital-borne infection at a military hospital in London. He was there for surgical replacement of titanium rods that supported his spine, stress-fractured from his years as a test pilot for the RAF. I brought him back to life in my book as Squadron Leader Darrol Stanton. I also borrowed Chinese and Malay names of individuals I had met as characters in my book.  I did this to avoid inventing ethnic names that might inadvertently have had a lewd context.

The novel started to come to life when I spent a summer month in the Caribbean, lecturing to pre-med students at St. Georges University on the island of Granada. This was a pleasant diversion, and St. Georges relied on visiting faculty, mainly from Australia, India, and the USA. Part of my stipend was a room at a first-class hotel perched on a glittering white sandy beach. I delivered lectures in the morning, and spent the afternoons sipping rum punch at a tiki bar next to the hotel. Sitting on a bar stool with time on my hands, I started to scribble an outline in pencil on a yellow legal pad. I started with the setting and then populated it with my characters. Eventually they wrote their own stories and I merely transcribed them. After much picking up and putting down of the manuscript over several years, it ultimately emerged as Under the Pong Pong TreeThe first draft ran to about 185,000 words, but I chopped it down to 78,000 words in the final version.

It is a gripping story that also bears elements of a cautionary tale. In the book, the Japanese are portrayed as brutal and pitiless in their treatment of the Chinese residents of Singapore. They executed thousands and practiced decapitation almost as an art form. Today we view the Japanese as a tidy little people, hard-working, and steeped in their quaint cultural traditions. The other naughty nation, Germany, has emerged from the horrors of Nazism to become an economic powerhouse. One might wonder what the future holds for brutal regimes of the present day?

I am unaware of literary influences that have helped me along the way – although there must be some. I tend to write from the omniscient viewpoint, with little interest in the machine-gun conversational style of the contemporary best-seller. Nor do I have an affinity for the current obsession with zombies or mutated mosquitoes the size of Greyhound busses. I lost interest in fairy tales when I was about eight years old. Although, now that I think about it, I have toyed with the idea of writing a story about a hemophobic vampire. If I have a favorite author, it might be Archy, the poet reincarnated as a large cockroach, who held frequent conversations with Mehitabel, a morally ambiguous cat who claimed to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Mehitabel maintained her zest for life, proclaiming “there’s a dance or two in the old dame yet.” Archy typed messages to his boss, Don Marquis, by diving headfirst onto the keys. The messages understandably all were in lower case and lacked apostrophes. That did not disturb the editors of the New York Sun, who were happy to publish Archy’s messages in their daily edition.

As to the future: I might follow up with a prequel to Under the Pong Pong Treebut only if a readership emerges from the underbrush. Otherwise, I shall move in another direction – yet to be determined.

I am currently involved in the puzzling procedure called marketing. I won’t bore you with the details, but, if you write a book, you want it read. Of course, I also might call your attention to Boswell’s quote from Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Undiscovered authors are advised to refrain from such flippancies until THEY beg you to sign a major contract. Until then, we must be content to write because we are unable to not write.

 

Here are excerpts of excellent reviews of my book, by Clarion and Blue Ink:

“The Japanese invasion of Singapore sets the backdrop for this World War II saga of loyalty, love, and the promise of liberation. Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey delves into the brutality of foreign occupation from a woman’s perspective, allowing a candid portrayal of a war victim to emerge from the pages of this gritty chronicle. …The prose is sensitive, knowledgeable, and empathetic, covering intriguing topics across an extensive time line.”
—Clarion Review 5 stars

“This utterly compelling historical novel revolves around several characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed and, for the most part, damaged, by the WWII Japanese invasion of Singapore….The plot moves quickly with continuing storylines of many characters, and the writing and editing is flawless. Under the Pong Pong Tree will be enjoyed by a wide readership, particularly those who appreciate a fast-paced, realistic tale of war, survival and, ultimately, redemption.”
—Blue Ink Starred Review

 

 

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