Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The Owl & Moon Cafe
by Jo-Ann Mapson

I always cringe whenever someone says they or someone they know is a writer and would you mind reading something they wrote and letting me know what you thought of it because I think this person is a really great writer and I respect your opinion....

Oh God. Not another one.

The problem is that I can’t lie. I’ve been hardwired (sometime during my early formation, no doubt) to spout the truth about a piece of literature and how I feel about it. This has led to some rather hard feelings by authors who expected me to put on my kids gloves when critiquing/reviewing their work.

So when the son of Jo-Ann Mapson handed me a copy of his mother’s latest literary offering, I felt the critical hairs on the back of my neck rise. Oh no. Would I have to crush any friendship I might have with this man by telling him his mother was a hack writer? That her prose stunk? That she needed to take a course on plotting? I opened The Owl & Moon Café with a heavy sigh, plunged in and ...

...was immediately enthralled. I’ll have to be honest and say part of the attraction was that The Owl & Moon Café takes place in my hometown of Pacific Grove, California. But I’ve read stories by other authors that take place here and was, shall we say, less than impressed. The thing that really struck me was that this novel is a women’s book — covering the lives of four generations of women within the Moon family — but completely engrossed me (a guy) with its excellent plotting, perfect characters, and flowing prose.

The Owl & Moon Café is ground-zero for these women, starting with “Gammy”, the widowed owner of the cafe and mother of Allegra, grandmother of Mariah, and great-grandmother to Lindsay.

After losing her teaching job, embittered single mom Mariah returns to Pacific Grove to work at the café in order to support her brilliant daughter, Lindsay, and keep her in private school. But at the café Mariah has to deal with her aging and bible-thumping “Gammy,” and her 60s-loving mother. Things quickly turn sour for Mariah as the family learns that Allegra (her mother) has leukemia and must undergo chemotherapy. But into Mariah’s life comes a handsome Scotsman who sweeps her off her feet. Trouble is, though, he’s only here for a short while.

Lindsay, an 8th grader, is infatuated with Carl Sagan and science in general. She doesn’t have many friends and stresses about everything. In fact, she’s so worked up all the time that her stomach goes sour, often resulting in visits to the nurses office at school. She also needs to come up with a science project and when she learns of her grandmother’s (Allegra’s) cancer, she quickly comes up with a topic: medical marijuana.

Allegra, forced to deal with her cancer, finally goes to the hospital only to meet up with a doctor she knows. Dr. Al Goodnough was the love of her life during her younger, wilder days and the two of them rekindle their passions during the treatment of Allegra’s deadly cancer. But will she survive?

All of these women coalesce into a melting pot of family, what-ifs, and probabilities as they battle love, family, cancer, marijuana, and finding out the true meaning of belonging somewhere.

I have to share one paragraph from the story that really caught my attention when it came to character development, prose, and flow. This is on page 107 and it’s from Allegra’s point of view after she’d learned of her leukemia and started having trouble with Mariah, her adult daughter: ‘Doc had resurfaced at the worst possible time. She was almost fifty, dried up like an old walnut. Her life would play out like a World War II movie, a romance that might have been; only in her case, instead of Nazis, goose-stepping leukocytes. Doc would do his valiant best, but eventually those cells would beat him down. All that would be left of them was Mariah. Hurricane Mariah.’

It’s incredible how much information about the characters and the story are revealed in this little section but, there you go, that’s great writing.

So the next time my friend at work mentions that his mom has a new book out, he won’t have to prompt me to read it; I’ll run to the bookstore!

Author’s Name: Jo-Ann Mapson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright: July 2006
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
ISBN: 0-7432-6641-2
Brief Description of the Book: Trade Paperback; 356 pp.
Where Book is Available for Purchase: Booksense.com

Friday, August 11, 2006


The Betrayed by David Hosp
People too often use the word “suck” to describe something they dislike. To me, this shows a lack of expertise in utilizing much better modern day English language descriptors. I hound individuals to come up with more colorful examples, especially my teenage kids who love to insert “suck” in every descriptive passage.

But today I’m going to risk ridicule and use the term to outline my feelings about David Hosp’s book, The Betrayed. Yes, it sucked. In fact, “suck” is the most appropriate transitive verb I can attach to this worthless paper-bound contraption. Not only is the plot completely transparent and mundane, but the characters are cardboard cutouts of movie stars (think Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the “Lethal Weapon” series and you’ll be right on the mark) and the author’s prose is laughable (more on that in a moment).

The plot: A woman from a financially affluent family is found murdered in her home. Two detectives are called in to solve the case, Darius Train (i.e., Danny Glover) and Jack Cassian (i.e., Mel Gibson toned down a few notches). The dead woman’s sister, Sydney Chapin, becomes an investigative force, trying to track down the last few hours of her sister’s life, only to become entangled with high-powered politicians, old family history, a deadly private eye, and an emotional attachment to Detective Cassian. And that’s about all there is. If you’ve read any murder mysteries or watched any movie thrillers involving government higher-ups, you already know the ending to this lame novel.

Suckiness of plot aside, sometimes an author can pull novels along simply by utilizing flowing narrative verse or lively storytelling. This is called “prose” (something Mr. Hosp needs much help with). Myself having battled with this problem, I can easily relate to items that should never have made it into this bulky book (419 pages).

Mr. Hosp’s use of passive voice is consistently irritating and makes the entire story fall flat as a result (example, ‘As he walked...’ instead of ‘He walked...’ etc.). The other HUGE prose issue is the author’s use of “eyes” to describe every emotional state his characters feel. Page 298: ‘Train drew his eyebrows up noncommittally (Ed. — Whatever the hell that means!), and Venable’s gaze settled on him like a heavy burden. He held the stare, returning its intensity without aggression as they sat in silence for a long moment, neither one of them backing down....’ This languorous style of writing is evident on almost every page, making the story read much longer than it needed to.

So this is definitely one to bypass, or perhaps use as toilet paper — the sucking sound of the flush will match this book perfectly.
A Real Stinker!

(Side note: I wonder how in the world this novel ever got published! I’ve read better stories by 8th and 9th graders. I also question the current customer reviews at Amazon.com. Could some -- or most -- of these four and five star reviews be from friends of Mr. Hosp or indirectly affiliated with the book or its author somehow?)