wendy oconnell

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Smashwords book reviews by wendy oconnell

  • Monday and the Murdered Man on Dec. 21, 2011

    This book made me laugh. The premise is quirky and intriguing. However, it’s not unusual for a ghost to want revenge for his own murder. Shakespeare started that a long time ago with Hamlet’s ghost. But to borrow it, throw in an urban landscape, with a detective much like Phillip Marlowe from the 1930s, well that’s just rich, thug making creativity through a new kind of magnifying glass. Sweet. Other than Zach Monday, the hero of the story, the rest of the cast left a vivid impression on your mind. They reminded me of the cast from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Let me explain further by using a line from the book and not spoiling anything for you. “She rewarded me with a laugh, but she didn’t loosen up one notch. I was hoping to put her at ease and relax her. She held the smile, but her eyes were sharp on me and her body language said ‘control, control, control,’ I guess Charming Zack isn’t so charming as far as Alexandra Sycorax is concerned.” Again, very funny book, it continued to make me chuckle with its colorful cast and strange premise, but about sixty percent of the way through it there was a bump. I won’t go into details, but it had something to do with death. It felt very confusing for the next several chapters; therefore, unnecessary. There seemed to be a number of ways Andy Kirschbaum, the writer, could have reached his very clever plot end without being confusing for so long.
  • Hang On on Dec. 22, 2011

    A little girl often clings to her mother. Even if the mother isn’t so good. And it doesn’t matter how the rest of the world sees the mother, the girl will never see her mom as anything, but angelic. The first chapter drew a picture of Holly’s mother from a child’s eyes. And in a child-like simplicity, the complexity of what Holly would have to face in her lifetime was laid out. I read past that first chapter because I dearly wanted young Holly to find the solution her mother could not. At this point, Gavin piqued my interest because she made me care about Holly. The first chapter brought tears to my eyes. However, after the relationship between Holly and her mother is shown the rest of her childhood is primarily told rather than shown. Holly’s aunt had a significant impact on Holly, but I never saw them together much, never got a real sense of the aunt. The dad broke her heart, but I didn’t see it. I didn’t want to hear how these relationships came together, or fell apart. It’s like hearing about someone else’s vacation rather than actually experiencing it. Of course, Holly’s early life was no vacation, which was the primary reason I wanted to experience it. At the point Holly meets Trevor, the Gavin illustrates her story more though conversation, setting, and mental processing from Holly’s. The plot unfolds into a funny, but serious romance. The middle section took a fascinating look at backstage rock in roll life in the seventies. A life contrasting the ‘normal’ life Holly tried to create for herself in a tiny apartment and office job. A contrast that kept Holly’s illness in focus at all times even when she seemed to be having so much fun with Trevor. Gavin played this with a clever hand. It would have been all too easy to lose focus on the main plot through the colored lenses of groupies, roadies, drugs, and preoccupations with whether or not Jim Morrison still lived. Gavin never lost focus on Holly’s mental issues. Holly hung tightly to life despite so many times I wanted to slap her silly because of her constant whining, and clingy personality towards men. In the end, she evolved into someone to respect more and sympathize less. The book took an unexpected ending, and a favorable one. My only quarrel with it is that it started into the telling format, which created a much faster pace than necessary. The end should have been played out in heartbreaking/joyous scenes of love and betrayal. Again like the early childhood, I felt cheated. “Hang On” could have easily been a much longer book maybe even a two-part book with more showing. The premise of a woman struggling to discover herself despite her mental illness is not a new one, but it is a universal one and one similar to many women. Most women will find they have much in common with Holly. Even though Holly often irritated me, we had much in common, which is why I rooted for her. Most readers will. I highly recommend it to both a female and male audience. Females, despite the odds can persevere. And men, sometimes there might be a rational reason we act bizarre from time to time. And you’ll have to read to understand.
  • A Lovely, Indecent Departure on June 28, 2012

    Review: A Lovely, Indecent Departure, has a well-crafted plot line and is written in a bold prose that leaves little room for frill. The sentences were often active and called for my attention. It was the different style of writing that drew me into this story. Listen to the first three lines. “Look there comes the girl. She is treading alone up the sidewalk. Looking like anyone else of the noontime crowd blissfully strolling the strip mall. But she is not one of them, and never has been.” Nothing strikes me as passive in those three lines, but it’s more than that it’s the sense of mystery right out of the ordinary. Right away, I know this story could be extraordinary and the reader in me pushes past those three lines because I want to know who this woman is and why she will never be one of them. The woman turns out to be Anna, and she takes her son away from his father, a man who turns out to be mean-spirited. It turns out she has plenty of reasons for doing this, but the way the story unfolds in the perspectives of Evan, the father, the sheriff, Monroe and Anna it becomes fragmented through the different characters. And there is the lacking detail in the prose which I can only describe as writer, Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory. The theory basically means that writing should be evident from the surface story because the real meaning is below. So, I think if Gilbert was operating along the lines of this principle it might make sense because by the time I got to the end of this story there lacked a certain understanding of Anna, that I desperately wanted to get. And the chill factor in the Hemingway theory wasn’t going to get me there. I do know that I was looking for what kind of desperation does it take inside a person to steal one’s child from another parent and Anna was written in such a way that I was never able to dive into her soul. Let me provide an example from another book I just finished reading. Look at the next two passages. The first is from a novel called Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown. It’s told from three perspectives and it has a great deal of mystery. This particular passage is told from a wife about her former husband. She’s talking to her step-daughter, Meredith. “There are women who make much worse choices than the ones I made who don’t pay that kind of price. In your short life you’ve lost a mother twice, Meredith, and maybe that’s as bad as what I feel. I’m sure it is. But I can’t help being angry at you for letting your father do this. Lord knows that even in your quiet way, you’ve got more sway with him than a wrecking ball on a house of straw. Didn’t you think to tell him that you just wouldn’t go?” Now, look at how the prose is stripped in A Lovely, Indecent Departure and how the emotion and depth feels missing. “Oliver watched them. Are we poor? He asked. She looked at him. Do you feel poor? He shrugged. I don’t know. What does it feel like? Like you have very little to be happy about. Oliver thought about it. He picked at some dried glue on the lantern. Did you ever feel that way? He asked. Not now I don’t, she said. When. Not so long ago.” But, Anna doesn’t explain to Oliver when she felt poor. The reader is just supposed to get it. In Brown’s book there is a lot of mystery, but eventually it unravels and the characters choose to feel a certain way with the circumstances given to them. It’s very clear how the speaker feels in the first passage, but Anna is not forthcoming in her dialogue to Oliver. I found this frustrating and when I went back and read the summary I realized Gilbert is looking for answers to a large extent from the reader - what would you do? Okay, let me digress for a minute much of my opinion is I like fully fleshed out characters and Gilbert’s writing style didn’t really allow for it. With the exception of Monroe, the characters were borderline flat and so, it was a trade off I suppose. Monroe, the sheriff, had a painterly feel to him, but he was no Picasso. I would place him with the Impressionists and then stand five feet back from his portraiture. I found myself indifferent to him, and because he became a key element in the ending of the story, I found myself indifferent towards the ending. Overall, I would recommend this book simply because my opinion is subjective, and this is a book that is written in simple prose and done well.