Brand new review: A Murder on Jane Street by Cathy Cash Spellman

By Ekta R. Garg

July 17, 2019

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Release date: July 16, 2019

Rated: Bordering on Bypass it / 2.5 stars

When an elderly woman is murdered, her ex-cop neighbor investigates the strange circumstances. The deeper he digs into her life, the more he realizes his neighbor was anything but an ordinary person. As his family and friends pitch in to help solve the case, they’ll find themselves on high alert in the middle of a larger plot. Veteran author Cathy Cash Spellman debuts in the mystery/thriller genre with the well-intentioned but wieldy, bulky novel A Murder on Jane Street.

After decades as one of New York City’s finest, retired police chief FitzHugh Donovan is enjoying ownership of an independent bookstore. He lives in a charming brownstone with his daughters and his granddaughter, and for the most part he’s content. While he’s friendly with their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Wallenberg, they haven’t formed a close friendship.

Fitz is shocked, then, when Mrs. Wallenberg calls him one day sounding frightened. She insists that someone is targeting her, and she wants to leave important materials with him in the event that she dies. She asks if he can stop by on his way home from the store, but Fitz doesn’t know what to think. Why would someone go out of their way to kill a little old lady well into her nineties?

By the time he checks on her, it’s too late. Mrs. Wallenberg is murdered in a gruesome fashion. From her house, Fitz retrieves a packet addressed to him of mysterious documents, and he realizes that one of them is written in invisible ink. It turns out to be a journal and reveals that Mrs. Wallenberg led quite the life before migrating to the United States from Poland decades earlier.

Her journal warns of a global conspiracy dating all the way back to World War II, Hitler’s plans to take over Europe and beyond, and the complicity of Allied countries in hoaxes and cover-ups. For 75 years she’s kept secret evidence of it all, but she knows those on the wrong side of justice have long memories.

Fitz is quickly joined by his daughters, granddaughter, and several friends in finding Mrs. Wallenberg’s killers. The longer they pursue the truth, the more they realize that the global scale of the operations means the wrongdoers will stop at nothing to keep their secrets. Fitz and Co. will need to be careful with who they approach for help and who they trust if they want to stay alive.

Author Cathy Cash Spellman’s efforts succeed within a limited range. The story introduces endearing characters, but Spellman brings on so many to solve the murder that at one point readers may forget names or who does what. The book tries to tackle science, history, the supernatural, present-day politics, and police procedure; the various elements, like the various characters, may overwhelm the target audience.

Worse, at some point readers may feel the need to skim ahead, and Spellman’s didactic writing approach means reading every single page might be unnecessary. The characters gather at regular intervals to meet and “update” one another on their progress as they work to uncover the secret plots. What happens is, essentially, an update for the readers.

Most of the big action happens “off stage,” so readers only find out about big discoveries via these updates or character conversations. The result is that the book feels less like a heart-stopping murder mystery and more like an interesting newspaper feature article—in multiple parts—after the fact. It doesn’t help that the characters spend the bulk of the book doing research into Mrs. Wallenberg’s journal and her claims. Readers never get a clear-cut answer on what the brave cast was going to do once they uncovered the complicated, webbed truth.

In a book that makes the characters call out the Allied powers in World War II for secretly supporting the Germans, the tone is upbeat and optimistic in a Nancy Drew kind of way. While Fitz and family all know they might run into dangerous factions, the book’s tone never lets the reader doubt that in the end the Donovan family will come out all right. The lack of major conflict throughout the book confirms this; the characters run into dangerous elements a total number of two times. For a book that tops out at more than 120 (short) chapters, the danger needed to be sky high.

A couple of small factual errors might make some readers wonder what other facts don’t line up with reality. Those plus the long length and the sense that the characters are having all the fun without letting the readers partake in most of it might make some readers shun the novel. I rate the book as Bordering on Bypassing it.


Second review for today: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

By Ekta R. Garg

June 19, 2019

Release date: June 11, 2019

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A young Chinese American woman comes home to fulfill a dream. As she gets to know her mother’s neighbors and works on making her dream come true, she discovers secrets and gets answers she’s sought for much of her life. Author Roselle Lim draws on her own cultural heritage to give readers a story full of delicious recipes but light on substantial fare in the cooking-related novel Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune.

Natalie Tan has wanted nothing more than to be a chef with her own restaurant. She knows she comes from a tradition of cooking: her grandmother ran a restaurant too. Natalie doesn’t know much more than that, however. Before she was born, the restaurant shut down. When she pressed her mother, Miranda, for details, Miranda claimed the restaurant was beyond saving.

Despite this, Natalie wants to pursue her dream. She leaves home to enroll in cooking school. She fails after her first year, but she cooks and travels across the world to continue honing her skills. For seven years mother and daughter don’t speak—until the day Natalie receives word that her mother has died.

She arrives in San Francisco’s Chinatown and her old neighborhood where she grew up as the only child to a single parent. She also grew up hating her father, a man she never met but an inheritance she carries from her mother’s refusal to talk about him. Now Natalie has no parents and only a neighborhood full of people who, in her mind, turned their backs on her and her mother when she was young.

From beyond the grave, though, her mother surprises her. The restaurant is not in a state of disrepair after all, and in a letter Miranda says she approves of Natalie’s dream to open it again. She only wishes she could have said it to Natalie’s face. Natalie is ecstatic, but then she examines the neighborhood. The buildings are old, the tourists no longer come, and few young people live there anymore. Even if she does open her restaurant, who would eat there?

The discovery of her grandmother’s old cookbook and a message from the neighborhood seer encourage her. The seer states that Natalie must make three dishes from the cookbook to help three different people. Her grandmother’s cooking was legendary, healing hearts and solving problems. If Natalie wants the restaurant to survive, she must think of the neighbors and help them first before she can help herself. As she fumbles her way through new relationships and tries to deal with the challenges of starting her own business, Natalie learns that a good meal, like a good conversation, can whet one’s appetite for a new life.

Author Roselle Lim will make readers mouths’ water with the recipes she includes. She offers insight to Asian cooking and its subtleties, proving Chinese fare is so much more than the standard dishes most readers might know. Natalie begins the story with an excellent understanding of these subtleties, so readers might question just why she couldn’t complete her tenure at cooking school.

Natalie comes across as deferential and eager to do the right thing yet also longing to forge her own path, traits many Asian readers will understand. Yet for someone who spends so much time talking about how much she wants to open her restaurant, she takes a long time to do so. In between getting to know the neighbors, cooking, and finding new love, she doesn’t charge forward with the specifics of her goal. Mentions of paperwork, licenses, and other necessities to start a new business crop up from time to time, but readers may wonder: what else, exactly, does Natalie do all day?

Despite the story being told in first person, Lim gives the neighbors their due as secondary characters. While readers never get the full stories on any of them, Lim provides enough information to satiate the most curious. It’s a shame, then, when one or more of these characters behaves in a manner that seems too far outside the lines drawn for them, which happens on more than one occasion.

Lacking a major conflict or even high tension for most of the book, Lim does keep one big surprise for the end. Some readers may not make it that far, but for those who do it will offer a sweet “aha!” moment falling right in line with the rest of the story. Readers looking for a quiet, laid-back novel about family might enjoy this one. Otherwise I recommend readers Borrow Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune from the library.

Brand new review: Man of the Year by Caroline Louise Walker

 By Ekta R. Garg

June 5, 2019

Genre: Mainstream fiction

Release date: June 11, 2019

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A man suspects his wife of cheating on him and decides to put a stop to it. What begins as one small lie to get rid of his rival escalates into a tower of falsehoods that threatens to destroy everything in. Author Caroline Louise Walker strings readers along with a plot that feels a little excessive but saves her story with a twist in her brand new book Man of the Year.

Dr. Robert Hart can’t complain about his life. The business risk he took years earlier has turned into a profitable solo practice in the town of Sag Harbor, New York. He shares a home in this idyllic location in the Hamptons with his second wife, Elizabeth. Jonah, his son from his previous marriage, has come home from college for the summer. On top of everything else, Sag Harbor residents have just voted him as Man of the Year, an honor given to an outstanding citizen who has made a significant contribution to the community.

Despite the accolades, Robert is less than thrilled at the moment. Jonah brought his friend and roommate, Nick, home with him, and lately Robert has noticed that Nick pays too much attention to Elizabeth. If the attention had only gone one way, Robert would chalk it up to a summer infatuation that would fizzle out by fall. But Elizabeth seems to reciprocate Nick’s interest by going out of her way to make sure he’s comfortable in their home.

It may be natural for Robert to be suspicious. After all, he and Elizabeth formulated their relationship on a lie: they had an affair while married to other people and decided to divorce their former spouses and stay together. It’s been 10 years now, but as Robert discovers with Nick the flicker of suspicion never quite dies out.

When Nick mentions that he doesn’t have a place to stay for the summer, Elizabeth immediately offers him the guest house. Backed into a corner, Robert supports the invitation. Inside, though, he’s seething. He doesn’t need some idiot teenager trying to seduce his attractive wife.

Robert decides to put Nick in his place by telling him a lie. That one lie leads to a second, then a third, until he finds himself square in the middle of an unthinkable tragedy. Suddenly everyone seems to be lying, and Robert can’t figure out who to trust. All he knows is that he needs to watch his step. As a prominent citizen now, he can’t afford to mess anything up. He also can’t afford to tell anyone the whole truth.

Author Caroline Louise Walker sets up Robert’s world with enough speed that disaster becomes a foregone conclusion. That Robert is the architect of much of that disaster will keep readers intrigued through the first part of the book, although some of his choices on how to deal with Nick will come across as outlandish and petty. While Walker may have intended for this effect, at times Robert’s moves to get revenge may induce an eyeroll.

Walker lets Robert lead the way, allowing him to tell most of the story in first person. She gives other characters a handful of chapters, which offers a limited view into the story world through their eyes. Readers may wish at times that Walker had given them increased access to those other characters. Just when it feels like they’re beginning to round out the story, the narration flips back to Robert.

“Pride goes before a fall” declares the saying, and Walker illustrates the maxim to the fullest. Readers will have no doubt that Robert deserves the complications he endures in his life; instead of facing challenges like an adult, he would rather let his ego run on a power trip. And trip it does; by the end, Walker will offer unforeseen twists that will lead readers to believe Robert didn’t suffer nearly enough for the heartache that ensues throughout the story.

To get to that point, however, readers have to be patient. Some may not be willing to give the book its due for the payoff. Those looking for a quick summer read and willing to wait for a meaty surprise may enjoy this story. Otherwise, I recommend readers Borrow Man of the Year from the library.

Latest review: Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

By Ekta R. Garg

May 29, 2019

Genre: Historical fiction

Release date: April 9, 2019

Rated: Bordering on Bookmark it! / 3.5 stars

Three women tied by their circumstances face personal challenges and the horrors of war. As each one fights her battle, their trials and goals bring them together and drive them apart. Author Martha Hall Kelly gives readers a prequel to her smash hit debut novel in the well-intentioned book Lost Roses.

In New York in 1914, Eliza Ferriday, daughter of a well-known physician mother and politician father, is sad and happy all the same time. Her dear friend, Sofya Streshnayva, will be leaving New York to go home to Russia soon, and Eliza knows she’ll miss her a great deal. Considering that she has her own trip planned for Russia, however, Eliza’s sadness is edged by excitement. Sofya’s family is related to the tsar of Russia, and Eliza can’t wait to attend the glittering parties and eat the delicate cuisine her friend’s family enjoys.

Sofya, too, can’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to Eliza, so she’s not too put out when she goes into labor at the farewell party that the Ferridays have organized for her family. She delivers a healthy baby boy whom she names Max, and everyone—her younger sister, Luba, her husband, Eliza, and the rest of the family—instantly falls in love with him. She sees Max as a shining light in an ever-darkening world.

The Streshnayva family comes home to Russia only to face continual unrest. The commoners have become more vocal in their objections to the tsar’s refusal of their rights. Sofya’s father moves the family to their country estate in Malinov, hoping the home farther away from the city will offer more safety. Her husband, Afon, takes his place with the army to fight against the insurgents, and Sofya and Luba do all they can to indulge their stepmother while also complaining about her unreasonable expectations of what is and isn’t available in the country.

Not far away from the Streshnayva lives Varinka with her mother and Taras, the boy Varinka’s father took in before he died. Taras bullies Varinka and her mother, forcing them to do his bidding. When word comes that Finance Minister Streshnayva has come to stay in the country with his family, Taras sees the opportunity to further the cause of the peasants. Varinka just wants to work for the family, one step below royalty. She’s hired as a nursery maid and falls in love with Max just like everyone else has.

When the tsar loses power completely, all of Russian aristocracy collapses. Sofya’s family is captured and terrorized by Taras and his comrades. In the chaos, Varinka slips away with Max. Sofya knows she has to get Max back at any cost, but she’s lost contact with the outside world—including Eliza—and doesn’t know who to trust. Back in New York, Eliza has begun an organization to help Russian migrants by finding them homes and jobs. She hopes that her efforts will lead her back to Sofya so she can help her friend and her godson.

Author Martha Hall Kelly makes a connection to one of the key characters in her first novel, Lilac Girls, by going back a generation. In Lilac Girls, New York socialite Caroline Ferriday moved the story forward. In Hall’s latest book, Caroline’s mother Eliza plays a crucial role. By telling the stories of these incredible women, Hall gives readers worthy characters to cheer on.

In Lost Roses, she balances all three main characters by letting them tell their stories in first person. Although the method does create a sense of intimacy, at times readers might find the scenes blending from one character to the next. Some chapters stand out as distinct in their voices; others not so much.

The writing does sparkle in some places. For example, in one scene Eliza describes entering a building in the slums of New York on her mission to rescue someone who is sick. Eliza says:

“I followed her down a dark hallway to a windowless kitchen in which a gray stew pot steamed on a black iron stove, a rug below it so dirty and worn into the wood, as if being slowly digested by the floor.”

Hall’s diligent research into the time period grounds the story in reality, and the fact that she’s sharing the accounts of real women make her novels that much more endearing. The action in Lost Roses moves at a good pace, sometimes too good as the emotion of the characters struggles to keep up. In the end, however, readers will keep flipping pages to find out just how these characters resolve their problems. While a surprise at the end of the book about one of the three women feels a little forced, for the most part the three stories intertwine in an organic manner.

Those wanting to learn more about citizen heroes, particularly women, during wartime will probably enjoy this novel. For me, Lost Roses Borders on Bookmarking it.

Brand new review: The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

By Ekta R. Garg

May 8, 2019

Genre: Mystery

Release date: April 30, 2019

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A woman and her husband decide to build their dream home in the woods. The land they buy for it, however, comes with a tragic history, and they begin to wonder whether the ghosts of the past are happy to stay back there. Author Jennifer McMahon leads her readers on a meandering but ultimately satisfying journey in her latest novel The Invited.

Helen Wetherell loves history. She specializes in early American time periods and shares her passion with her students at an exclusive private school in Connecticut. It’s where she met her husband, Nate, in fact. Nate teaches science, and the two feel like they’re living their dream life together.

At least, that’s how Helen used to feel. After her father died, however, an unexplainable restlessness has settled inside her. The lesson plans she used to build no longer hold the same excitement, and life just doesn’t make sense anymore.

She discusses her feelings with Nate, and their conversation leads to a crazy thought: what if they leave their condo behind and go build their dream home? Actually build it, with their own hands? Although it seems far-fetched at first, the idea begins to take shape and feel more attainable the longer they research it and suitable plots. Helen thinks they’ve struck gold when they find a piece of land in Vermont; the small town of Hartsboro contains enough history to satisfy anyone attached to happenings in the past.

In Hartsboro, Olive Kissner wants nothing more than for her mom to come home. Even though gossip in town is rife that Lori Kissner ran off with another man, Olive still believes she’ll come back. She even has the perfect plan to convince her: Olive is going to find the treasure of the legendary Hattie Breckenridge, the woman rumored to be a witch at the turn of the century. People still speak about Hattie in hateful whispers, but Olive doesn’t believe any of the rumors and neither does her Aunt Riley. Of course, Aunt Riley doesn’t exactly believe in buried treasure either, but at least she thinks it’s okay for Olive to look for it.

Except now Helen and Nate have bought the land where Hattie’s home used to sit, and Olive doesn’t feel free to keep searching it anymore. What makes matters worse is that something—a sort of sixth sense—has begun pressuring Olive to step up the search for the famous treasure. When Olive, Helen, and Nate finally meet, Olive has to decide whether to tell the truth about why she’s poking around their land. If Hattie was real and the treasure was too, then it’s the only shot Olive has at bringing her mother home.

Author Jennifer McMahon takes her time to build the ghost story around Hattie and her connection to the modern-day residents of a small Vermont town. Readers may find it challenging to buy into the premise of Helen and Nate quitting their jobs and deciding to build an entire house with almost no outside help and no means of financial support beyond the first year after they’ve completed the home. The explanation that Helen grew up doing some construction work with her late father does provide credibility, but Nate comes off as overly optimistic and naïve about the entire venture.

While Helen, Nate, and Olive’s paths cross at a fair point in the story, readers may feel like they’re encountering two different versions of the same tale: one is about Helen and Olive’s discoveries about Hattie, and the other is about the home building process that Nate and Helen undertake. At some points these two sections of the book run parallel; they almost have nothing to do with one another for several pages. Helen and Nate’s bickering may annoy some readers and cause them to skim those pages, and some of the dialogue between Helen and Riley comes off as unrealistic.

When the main portion of the ghost story gains some steam, however, McMahon keeps the train moving along at a steady pace. Twists and turns will make readers nod with satisfaction, and a few red herrings provide a great deal of satisfaction. It just takes patience to get there, and some readers may choose to leave the book behind before they make it to the final stop. I recommend readers Borrow The Invited from the library.

Newest review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

By Ekta R. Garg

May 1, 2019

Genre: Mystery/thriller

Release date: April 23, 2019

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

When a well-off woman winds up dead, the police ask her daughter-in-law pointed questions. The daughter-in-law insists on her innocence but knows the fractious relationship with her husband’s mother wasn’t exactly a secret to anyone. It may, in fact, just lead the police right back to her doorstep with an arrest warrant. Author Sally Hepworth keeps readers glued to the pages of her whip-smart new book The Mother-in-Law.

Lucy Goodwin has everything a woman could want: a husband who loves her, three adorable children, and a sweet little house. She gets the opportunity to stay at home and raise her kids, and she has a bevy of friends. The one thing she doesn’t have, that she really wants, is a better relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana, but then, all women have crossed swords with their husbands’ mothers, haven’t they?

Maybe so, the police answer when they come to the Goodwins’ door, but it still leaves a lot of speculation. Diana has died, and at first glance they think she killed herself. A little more investigation reveals that suicide is less likely. The clues at the scene don’t add up, and the police are more inclined to believe someone killed Diana. But who? And why? They don’t know, they say with pointed looks, but Lucy certainly won’t escape scrutiny.

As she helps to plan the funeral and keep track of the kids throughout the chaos of the aftermath, Lucy reflects on her relationship with Diana. When Lucy lost her own mother in her early teen years, she assumed her mother-in-law would eventually fill in the gap. Her husband, Oliver, projected such a warmth and general ease that Lucy always thought the woman who gave him birth would be exactly the same way.

Diana, however, stayed at arm’s length right from the beginning. She ran a highly successful charity to help refugee families, particularly pregnant women, but she believed in a tight-fisted approach to her own children. She avoided indulging their whims, disagreeing ardently with her husband, Tom, when the kids came asking for money for legitimate life needs. Better, she would always say, that they learned to make do.

Now all any of them can do is make do. The police keep hounding Lucy and Oliver, and they’re putting equal pressure on Oliver’s sister, Nettie, and her husband, Patrick. At a time when the four of them should be drawing closer to one another, they’re driven further apart by the investigation and a shocking revelation by Diana’s lawyer. Lucy realizes, too late, that she had always misunderstood Diana, and she’s worried what will happen if the others find out the truth about her mother-in-law.

Author Sally Hepworth keeps the tension taut from start to finish. Shying away from stereotypes and tired clichés, Hepworth builds both Diana and Lucy into three-dimensional characters. Readers may not always like Diana’s responses or the way she reacts, but they’ll sympathize enough with her to want to argue on her behalf with her children on more than one occasion.

Hepworth makes the smart decision to tell the story from both Lucy and Diana’s points of view, alternating between them every few chapters. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law both present their opinions, and, as is often the case in real life, both of them are right and wrong in many situations. The difference, of course, comes in the perspective and how much they choose to share with one another.

With enough red herrings to satisfy most mystery lovers, Hepworth keeps the answer to the central question—How did Diana actually die?—just out of reach until the right moment. The conclusion that follows keeps in pace with the rest of the story and also as an homage to Diana’s spirit. Hepworth doesn’t linger over long resolutions. She’s in and out in neat fashion, and readers will finish this fast-paced novel wishing for more.

Emphasizing the idea that all the information at hand may not necessarily constitute the entire story, Hepworth brings her readers along for a zippy ride. Once readers start they won’t want to stop, which is why I recommend they make time to Binge The Mother-in-Law.

Latest review: My Last Lament by James William Brown

By Ekta R. Garg

April 24, 2019

Genre: Historical fiction

Release date: April 4, 2017

Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars

A girl barely survives the Nazi occupation of her village by running away with a family friend and a Jewish refugee. As the three make their way across the country, they will lose and find one another and themselves countless times before the war ends. Author James William Brown tries to follow his characters but lets the story meander in the rambling novel My Last Lament.

In modern-day Greece in a small northeastern village, Aliki is approached by a graduate student focusing on the tradition of lamenting. Aliki is one of the last lamenters left in the region, a professional mourner hired to keen when people die. Left with a tape recorder and several blank cassette tapes, Aliki begins sharing her thoughts on her life, the heritage of mourning for those not related to her, and her experiences during World War II.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Germans have occupied major sections of Greece. A teenage Aliki watches in horror as these men in their crisp uniforms and tight formations shoot her father for stealing squash, a crime committed only because of the abject hunger he and Aliki are experiencing. Other villagers are beaten, tortured, and killed for even lesser deeds named as crimes.

After her father’s death, Chrysoula, a family friend, takes in Aliki. Aliki gets along well with Chrysoula’s son, Takis, and views him with fondness and affection as a younger brother. The two play and laugh; it’s almost like life has taken a new shape of normal.

When Aliki discovers that Chrysoula has also taken in two Jewish refugees, however, her world changes. The mother and son managed to escape the Nazis in Athens and have scurried from village to village since then seeking help. Their arrival means an increased level of danger for everyone, especially Aliki, Chrysoula, and Takis. Takis, in particular, takes an instant dislike to the son, Stelios, and the way Stelios captivates Aliki with the shadow puppets he creates and the stories he tells with them.

Despite Chrysoula’s best efforts to keep Stelios and his mother hidden, someone eventually alerts the Germans. A bloody battle ensues, and Aliki, Takis, and Stelios manage to escape. They head to Athens where Stelios is sure they can find help. The journey takes them from Athens to the island of Crete, from a grand home to a prison camp. The shadow puppets become a means of survival and a way to forget the horrors they have witnessed, but they also stand as testament to all that they have lost.

Author James William Brown begins the book with a unique framing method. Dividing the story into “cassettes”—that is, the number of tapes Aliki uses to tell her story—he gives readers the chance to “listen in” as Aliki shares her thoughts with the unnamed college student. The unusual storytelling method may entice target audience members to begin reading, but the story ambles along. While some of the experiences Aliki relates certainly make for compelling reading, at some point readers might wonder what any of it has to do with lamenting.

The argument, of course, could be made that the tapes themselves are a final lament for Aliki before she finishes out her days as an old woman in a forgotten village. Unfortunately, that idea isn’t strong enough to sustain an entire book. Anyone personally touched by the Holocaust has a right to lament, to grieve, what they’ve lost. Brown misses out on an incredible opportunity to showcase this unusual rural institution; what follows, instead, is just another book about World War II.

Brown scores a few points for giving readers a glimpse into the horrors of Nazism as they affected Greece, a country not normally associated with the extreme movement. The book serves as a reminder that this terrible period in history affected many more people than initially known. Had Brown attempted a more straightforward approach with the novel, it would have offered much more compelling reading. Instead, one character suffers from mental illness, another goes to a prisoner camp, and Aliki slips into her laments at the strangest times without much rhyme or reason.

On almost all accounts, the book flounders until it limps to an end that doesn’t seem to do much. I recommend readers Bypass My Last Lament.