Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Review of "That's That", an Irish Memoir by Colin Broderick

I finished reading Colin Broderick's memoir, "That's That" in two, very long sittings. I'm usually suspicious of the reviewer's cliche, "I couldn't put it down", but I even got out of bed two hours earlier than usual (on a weekend, no less) to keep reading this amazing book.

Being of Irish heritage, and having traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland, I've developed a strong interest in learning more about the place my great-great grandfather emigrated from. Although I have read a number of books about various aspects of Irish history, none grabbed me anywhere as viscerally as "That's That". Colin Broderick is a superbly-talented writer who has the ability to put the reader inside his skin, and his mind. I felt as if I was present during so many of the scene's at home, at school, and at the much so that I was a bit mentally exhausted after reading some of those chapters. While I won't pretend to really understand what it was like to grow up in Ulster during "The Troubles", I sure developed an appreciation for what Catholic families experienced for so many decades.

I won't rehash what Mr. Broderick has recounted in perfect detail, as that would surely spoil the tremendous impact of his story. I will say that this is not a book for anyone seeking a pretty, Disney-version of growing up Irish in the 70s and 80s. Colin Broderick's story is painful, funny, and sad, sometimes all at once. I am sincerely grateful that Mr. Broderick was willing to share his story with the world, and highly recommend "That's That" as a Must Read for anyone even casually interested in Ireland.

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Review of "Loopers, A Caddie's Twenty-Year Golf Odyssey" by John Dunn

John Dunn has led a life that I suspect many of us golfers really envy. On the other hand, I doubt that most of us possess the requisite talent and courage needed to live a similar lifestyle portrayed so engagingly in "Loopers". Fortunately, folks like me can live vicariously for a few days through Mr. Dunn's excellent first book.

What I liked best about "Loopers" is the way John Dunn managed to effectively transmit many of his emotions through the way he described his experiences. While many of his vignettes will resonate the most with golfers, for example caddying alongside Masters legend Arnold Palmer at Augusta National, I think non-golfers will be able to appreciate John Dunn's tales for his self-deprecating humor, perceptive observations, and well-crafted paragraphs. Reading "Loopers" reminded me of playing a fast solo 18 holes on a deserted course, when most of my shots go where I intended, and the experience becomes purely concerns about slow play, competition, or anything else besides my swing, the flight of the ball, and appreciating the golf course. "Loopers" lasted just the right amount of time, never staying on one particular hole too long, but still savoring gorgeous views along the way.

While I've only caddied once in my life, at a local club tournament in Southern California in the early 70s, I've often wondered what it would be like to become a part-time looper in a few years after I retire. John Dunn has made that notion seem a lot more inviting. That's the mark of a good writer, opening our eyes to new possibilities and challenges. But even if I never carry a bag (other than my own) at Chambers Bay, I will always appreciate having been a "Virtual Looper" alongside John Dunn. He deserves a big tip for his work!
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Monday, April 8, 2013

My Review of Alafair Burke's Newest Mystery, "If You Were Here"

Alafair Burke is a talented novelist, which means that she is willing to take some risks with her novels. While she has written several series, one featuring a deputy district attorney (Samantha Kincaid) set in Portland, Oregon, the other starring an offbeat NYPD detective (Ellie Hatcher), Ms. Burke isn’t afraid to produce standalone mysteries. As a result, Alafair Burke is really adept at character development.
If You Were Here, Ms. Burke’s latest novel, requires a great amount of development of her lead character, former deputy prosecutor-turned-journalist, McKenna Wright, and in a hurry. That’s because the novel’s focus is almost exclusively on McKenna, with the rest of the cast remaining two-dimensional for a lot of the story.

I’ll confess that it took me a while to get into this novel, which is unlike my experience with all of her previous books.  I was also a bit uncomfortable with her portrayal of many pre- 2001 West Point (as in the United States Military Academy) graduates actively seeking ways to avoid being recalled to active duty for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.  I’m sure that Ms. Burke’s characterization must be fairly accurate, as her husband is a West Point grad of that era, but it sure didn’t portray that group in a very positive light. (My own military experience most certainly framed my reaction, so I decided not to let that get in the way of the story.)

Once I had gotten through a quarter of If You Were Here, the story quickly picked up momentum and plausibility. Alafair Burke excels at braiding seemingly-unrelated plot lines into a beautiful cord, and this novel was no exception. Toward the final third of the book, shadowy characters began emerging in sharper detail, making the final chapters into a perfect, believable mosaic…if a mosaic can be called “believable”.

As a result, I highly recommend If You Were Here.  It is entertaining, well-written, and would serve as a good launching pad for another excellent series, should Alafair Burke be so inclined. (I hope she is!)