INFINITE BLUE, by Darren Groth & Simon Groth [2018]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10

A brotherly work of fiction! Infinite Blue was co-written by brothers Darren & Simon Groth. Not sure how the work was divided, or which part each brother wrote, but the end result is seamless; not feeling at all like there were multiple voices. Loved the magical realism bits in this book, and the subject of competitive swimming is something new to learn! I did feel the adult characters within the story were a little too cliché, but in a novel this length (which reads even shorter than the 180+ page count suggests) some stereotyping can be forgiven. Great book for high school libraries, and appropriate for most reading levels.

In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan [2017]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

I don’t think I’ve ever taken SO LONG to read a book I enjoyed SO MUCH. Seriously, I don’t know what took me, maybe it was because I was reading this as an eBook (a format I don’t typically reach for), or perhaps it was the pacing of the book. And In Other Lands has a very unusual pacing to it. Yes, it’s about a 13-yr-old boy (Elliot) who goes to “school” in a different world (a fantasy world with mermaids, harpies, elves, etc) and it’s about Elliot meeting and making friends, discovering truths about himself and his orientations through multiple relationships, and it follows Elliot until he’s 17 and graduating from said school. But within that plot, there’s quite a few moments where I wondered where the book was really going, only to find it wasn’t really going anywhere other than that. And for this book, that is 100% okay.
In Other Lands almost feels like a bunch of growing up vignettes, and the fun is really in the book’s humor, Elliot’s well-crafted personality, and his interactions with all the other characters.
This one was recommended by a good friend, and although it’s not my normal genre, I enjoyed it IMMENSELY.
Maybe it took me so long to read because I didn’t want it to end?

Love, Music, Madness by Tabitha Rhys [2018]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10

I was given a copy of this debut novel by the author in exchange for an honest review. The book was published by the independent Soul Mate Publishing.
Love, Music Madness has a lot going on within its small, 200-page package. This is the story of Lawson “Law” Harper, a young, somewhat lost musician who seems to float from page to page; fortune and misfortune almost landing in his lap at random. He’s got a thing for the older Jessa Warlow, herself an ambitious musician, and a high school friend of Lawson’s older brother. The two pair up for some song writing and a bit of fooling around, before things go sour and Lawson takes advantage of an opportunity to move out west to LA. Here, Lawson gets into another relationship, takes some work as a sound engineer, and explores LA’s music scene. All until Jessa moves out west too, and they decide to put the past behind them and take their music more seriously, recording an album with their old songs. Things get worse before they better, but through it all, the novel still does have some degree of hope within.
The Cons:
-Throughout the story, the characters seem to all be playing parts; as though the story demands certain moments, reactions, and scenes, which does take a bit of the realism out of it. Lawson’s new girlfriend needs to be jealous of Jessa, so she flies off the handle intermittently, and with flimsy reasons.
-For a book all about music, I wish there was more detail on this collection of songs of Lawson and Jessa created. There are hints of some of the enigmatical tracks, with titles like Estrella, Ravens, Andromeda. And although Tabitha Rhys does an incredible job with explaining the details of making music, sadly there’s a lacking of the songs’ actual descriptions, which I would have really enjoyed. I imagine there could be an accompanying soundtrack with the novel, but even an idea like having lyric excerpts in the book would add a lot.
-It’s sometimes hard to get a handle on where the book is headed. With so many moments happening just to progess the characters’ journeys, the novel has that feeling of being a slice of life, rather than a definitive, linear story arc.
The Pros:
-Rhys’ descriptions of locations – whether its houses, apartments, clubs, restaurants, or beaches – is incredible. It really helps to put the reader exactly where the author is imagining, and it’s a tough skill to learn.
-There are plenty of nice, literary moments too; Rhys’ use of language when dealing with mood and metaphors is great. There’s one scene where the MC takes note of the night sky, comparing the blinking stars and shining planets above as a “celestial cabaret”. Fantastic.
Here are a few other excerpts that stood out to me:
“Hopes can be dangerous things. One minute they’re bobbing on the horizon like hundreds of brightly-colored zeppelins. The next, the sky is full of Hindenburgs, burning down to their metal skeletons and falling to the earth in flames.”
“Jessa drew her knees up and sat next to me in silence for a long time. The pipes gurgled and hissed above us. In the air, the sour tang of mildew mingled with the sweetness of fabric softener.”
“Bright marquee lights chased each other atop Hollywood’s tourist traps. The restless breeze, murmuring with the sounds of distant hubbub, was like the zephyrs stirred by roller coasters.”
“Charlie stepped out into the dim hallway, lit by the few fluorescent fixtures still in operation. The rest were merely mausoleums for Hollywood’s dearly departed moths.”
In all, Love, Music, Madness is an admirable debut by an author who’s got some wonderful tricks up her sleeve. Hoping there’s enough tricks left for future stories.

MOSQUITOLAND (2015)

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R.Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10
It’s not too often that I’ll find myself really enjoying a book, but then there’s a sudden shift along the way, and I realize I’m actually not enjoying the book as much as I’m enjoying the writing. David Arnold‘s debut MOSQUITOLAND (2015) surprised me. His writing is sharp, clever, funny, sad, and filled with fantastic metaphors. But he falls into the YA trap of making his characters a little too quirky, seemingly for the sake of merely being quirky. Some of Mim Malone’s road trip from Mississippi to Cleveland feels like random events that may have happened to the author himself, and he’s just cramming them in there at breakneck speed just keep things moving. As a writer, it’s aggravating, but it’s also a first novel (my own first novel fell for similar traps), and I could tell there’s enough writing chops here that his next books will probably feel a bit tighter.
There are also some frightening moments in the book; creepy, malicious characters that show up and do terrible things, yet there never really feels like it’s for a certain purpose. But overall, this is fantastic character book, and Mim Malone’s voice (though maybe some years beyond her age, in the “no kid really talks/thinks like this” sense) is fun, funny, and heartwarming.

THE ANIMATORS, by Kayla Rae Whitaker [2017]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

There’s a few moments here that easily make The Animators a 5-Star book. Just brilliant, quiet, heart-breaking moments that Whitaker absolutely nails. But there are other moments where I felt my attention drifting, wishing I knew where this book was really going. It’s a slow start, and the placing of certain events feels unusual to me. But it all gets there eventually.
When things happen in this book, they happen quickly. A sudden turn this way, then giving us a while to explore it and feel it out, before another sudden turn takes us that way.
Having an animation background myself allowed for some extra bonus treats in my reading. I’ve been through the struggle of trying to stake my place in that world. I kind of wish we were privy to more of Sharon’s struggles at the top of the book; instead, we’re quickly celebrating Sharon’s and Mel’s success in the industry. But upon reaching the end of the novel, I think readers would have been better-rewarded with a slightly different approach at the beginning.
Sharon herself, at times, felt more like a passenger than a driver in her own book. She just kind of went along with the things that were happening around her rather than controlling the action herself. In the end, I don’t know if I ever really felt like I knew her as much as I wanted to.
Flaws aside, The Animators is an exceptional debut from an author who is not afraid to write a raw, imperfect, and often disappointing world.

UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR, by Patrick deWitt [2015]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

If ever there was a novel that could be labelled “Irreverent” this would be it. Probably by a landslide. However, through all the flippancy, I’m not entirely sure what Undermajordomo Minor is trying to say. Something about love? Something about finding one’s place in the world? Something about wild, profane sausage parties? Maybe all of the above. Maybe none.
BUT! This twisted sort of fairy tale remains a fun romp. As is the case with Patrick DeWitt’s previous writing, the verbiage is delightful, but at times his use of language bothers me, with an almost a too-smart-for-his-own-good vibe. It’s a fine line, but I cheered more than I jeered, so let’s call it a literary victory.
If I was asked to compare DeWitt’s style, I might eventually say it’s not unlike Wes Anderson using an ink-dipped feather-pen. I’m a sucker for Anderson (like many), but I find he can hit sour notes with me from time to time, and DeWitt fits that description.
I’ll leave you with this wonderful quote from the pages of Undermajordomo Minor. Apply it to your own life:

“And what is [love] like? I’ve often wondered about it.”
“It is a glory and a torment.”
“Really? Would you not recommend it, then?”
“I would recommend it highly. Just to say it’s not for the faint of heart.”

ARE YOU SEEING ME? by Darren Groth [2014]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

Fun book by local-by-way-of-Australia Author Darren Groth. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Darren about my own writing so it was good to finally crack this one open.
Of the two main characters (twin siblings Justine and Perry) I found myself drawn to Justine more, which is unusual since Perry is arguably the more interesting character. It says a lot about Groth’s ability to write female protagonists. Are You Seeing Me? has heavy moments, lighter moments, in-between moments and moments of the absurd variety, and they all work well together. The many nods to handfuls of local sights and details, as well as a fair amount of hockey-talk were all appreciated from a personal standpoint.
I also feel this is an important book for school libraries, (dealing heavily with disability in the autism-spectrum) so if you have any pull at all, make sure they have a copy!

& Sons, by David Gilbert [2013]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

Just a really good work of contemporary literary fiction. The characters all had rich histories and the author did a tremendous job at interweaving excerpts from A.N.Dyer’s collection of fictional novels. Yes, as other reviewers have commented, it is pretentious at times, but this is the nature of a work like this. Our narrator is oftentimes a confusing choice and I feel like there could have been a few more opportunities to explore Philip Topping’s surreptitious role in all of this. The writing and word choices are engaging and David Gilbert offers the reader a great deal of humor along the way. My favorite chapter was definitely the one with the pretzel scene. I wish there was actually a bit more depth to the Andy/Jeanie relationship, and Isabel really deserved another appearance, but this is a novel about men. Fathers & Sons, more specifically, and any divergence from this might have only lessened the theme. Recommended!

WIND/PINBALL by Haruki Murakami [2015]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10

Two of Haruki Murakami’s first and previously unpublished stories, each one only around 100 pages. I was going to write my review of the first story (“Hear the Wind Sing“), but then I thought, “Nah. I’ll read the second one and then review them both! Gosh golly, I’m brilliant.” Of course, half-way through book two (“Pinball, 1973“) I’d forgotten nearly everything I liked about the first book. Yes dear readers, I am brilliant indeed.
But this is the nature of Murakami. His stories all share very similar themes and characters that even if you enjoy his work it’s sometimes very hard to differentiate them. These are not perfect stories but there are perfect moments within them both. And when Murakami gets perfect right, well it’s perfect. It’s the quiet moments of reflection; young men maturing and finding their place in the world; girls preparing spaghetti; a trip to the doctor to have wax removed from an ear canal; waking up next to a mysterious girl with nine fingers; the weirdness of discovering a barn in the outskirts of Tokyo that is filled with pinball machines and the protagonist has a conversation with his favorite one. It’s stuff like that that makes Murakami.
No, nothing really happens in these stories, but sometimes it’s just a pleasure to read the words of certain authors.