Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Man He Never Was by James L. Rubart

The Man He Never Was by James L. Rubart

I'm always curious whenever Jim releases a new book.

Let's begin with the summary of his latest, which released today:
Toren Daniels vanished eight months back, and his wife and kids have moved on—with more than a little relief. Toren was a good man but carried a raging temper that often exploded without warning. So when he shows up on their doorstep out of the blue, they’re shocked to see him alive. But more shocked to see he’s changed. Radically.

His anger is gone. He’s oddly patient. Kind. Fun. The man he always wanted to be. Toren has no clue where he’s been but knows he’s been utterly transformed. He focuses on three things: Finding out where he’s been. Finding out how it happened. And winning back his family.

But then shards of his old self start to rise from deep inside—like the man kicked out of the NFL for his fury—and Toren must face the supreme battle of his life.

And now, my review:

Jim's uses a bit of the sci-fi genre as a backdrop for exploring our spiritual lives. I spent a lot of the book asking, what is Jim trying to say?

The setup that the MC disappeared makes for a great story opening where he reappears in the lives of his loved ones. The emotions are palpable, though at times confusing as we try to make sense of the story world.

Once again, the author makes readers think, or perhaps rethink is the better wording. He explores dying to one's self and what that truly means. There are a few villains in this story, and they are formidable. I could relate with the hero's battles, and I believe readers will see themselves in the story to some degree. And the resolution will leave readers pondering. The final message is strong and clarifying.

The opening confused me. He's free, but he continues to battle his demons. The many questions I had at the beginning kept me reading, and the book read fast.

The main character regrets bullying his family. He himself was bullied as a child. The cycle continues. I think readers will find this believable and possibly relatable. I liked Quinn. He was a good ally. And the portrayal of his friendship with the MC was well-written.

Overall, I recommend this novel. It's "outside the box" as are Jim's other novels. And it'll get you thinking.

Note: There are several instances of "man" language in this novel, grouping both genders into male nouns, which isn't preferred.
I'm looking forward to book two and hoping since it's about a woman we'll see that less. I also noticed a lot of references to "black" as evil. I think we have to be careful of using black to equal evil. There's a subtle underlying message we should avoid, just like with the "man/men" language I mentioned above.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

Let’s begin with the summary:

Denver chef Rachel Bishop has accomplished everything she’s dreamed and some things she never dared hope, like winning a James Beard Award and heading up her own fine-dining restaurant. But when a targeted smear campaign causes her to be pushed out of the business by her partners, she vows to do whatever it takes to get her life back . . . even if that means joining forces with the man who inadvertently set the disaster in motion.

Essayist Alex Kanin never imagined his pointed editorial would go viral. Ironically, his attempt to highlight the pitfalls of online criticism has the opposite effect: it revives his own flagging career by destroying that of a perfect stranger. Plagued by guilt-fueled writer’s block, Alex vows to do whatever he can to repair the damage. He just doesn’t expect his interest in the beautiful chef to turn personal.

Alex agrees to help rebuild Rachel’s tarnished image by offering his connections and his home to host an exclusive pop-up dinner party targeted to Denver’s most influential citizens: the Saturday Night Supper Club. As they work together to make the project a success, Rachel begins to realize Alex is not the unfeeling opportunist she once thought he was, and that perhaps there’s life—and love—outside the pressure-cooker of her chosen career. But can she give up her lifelong goals without losing her identity as well?

And now, my review:

We are immersed in the restaurateur/foodie world while we read this novel. Lots of jargon I’d never heard, but it was obvious the author knew her story world and her heroine’s field. That said, sometimes the narrative was difficult to follow because of the exclusive language.

The main character was hard to like. (Can’t call her a heroine since she wasn’t heroic toward others often enough, especially from the beginning.) She didn’t act noble until we were well into the story, so I found myself reluctant to root for her. I did like how she went after her dreams and worked very, very hard. That’s true to life and respectable.

The main male character’s climbing world was well-researched too. I liked him sooner because he seemed more noble. Though he’d have to swallow his pride, he was determined to obey what he felt God directed. This element kept me reading, especially when I found secular components later.

Some aspects of this story were so vivid, so representative of our times—the essayist with strong opinions, the snowball effect of social media, the power of the same to upend a person’s current life. The precariousness of stability in the social media age.

Though I often found strong prose, at times I felt the author focused scenes on lesser elements, which made my interest lag. Part of my disinterest was due to the cold protagonist.

I did like the obvious feminist leaning of the protagonist’s worldview. She works in a male-dominated field, yet she is competent, successful, visionary. She doesn’t bash men, which makes her heroic, even though she took flack for that stance. The fact that her love interest believes in equality as well only makes him more noble and likable.

There were some elements that made me double-check the publisher’s name: the reference to certain male body parts, one-night stands, and the mention of of main characters participating in eastern religion practices, etc.

The chemistry and banter between the romantic pair was lots of fun!

I would have liked to see the male character explore psychology in more areas of his life, like his parents’ decisions, for example. That choice may have been a missed opportunity, or it may have been intentional, given word count restrictions.

One more tip for readers—don’t read this book while dieting, hungry, or fasting. 😉

The romance really worked here. The secular elements were jarring. The heroine sometimes struck me as juvenile and unlikable, and I would have liked to see a stronger character arc for her. Well-developed story world and immersion into the foodie scene made the book stand out.