Tuesday, September 17, 2013

WITS Book Reviews September 2013

Title: Born to Lose
Author: P. J. Thomas
ISBN: 978-1-4787-0617-5
Publisher: OutskirtsPress.com
Genre and Target Market: fiction; crime
Publication Date: 2013
Book Length in Pages: 249
Reviewer: Sarah Moore

I have written my fair share of book reviews over my career in the world of writing and book marketing, but today I will begin my thoughts on the new release Born to Lose by P.J. Thomas in a way that I believe is a first for me. I am offering a disclaimer.

If you are in search for a novel that is written with eloquent prose that immediately strikes you with its artistry, this is not the book for you. Born to Lose is presented in a way that jolts the senses and, if your reaction is similar to mine, makes you uncomfortable. At first you may question the rough style of the sentence structure and the manner in which the characters interact. But, as you become more invested in the story and personalities walking through it, I believe you soon will recognize the author’s incredible skill at creating just the right level of uneasiness with his readers. You are not meant to read this book snuggled into an easy chair with the intention of drifting off to sweet dreams. This book is one of powerful and disturbing grit that comes to life more clearly with every passing chapter.

Born to Lose shares the troubled life of Sammy Lamonte, who reveals in the first two pages that he was given the wrong date of birth on his birth certificate due to drunk inspection by those completing the paperwork and then discovered at an early age that the man he thought was his uncle was really his father. Like the title of the book indicates, Sammy presents such an introduction of himself to lay the groundwork for his lifelong struggle with the intense feeling that he cannot trust his own birthright identity. In order to fill that void, he comes to find refuge at the local soda shop in his hometown of Buffalo amongst friends with nicknames like Louie Scabs and Sneaky Pete. After failed attempts at success in school and then the military, these neighborhood friends become his collaborators in criminal activity that soon drives him into the dark world of mob bosses and hit men.

In Sammy Lamonte, author P.J. Thomas displays great talent in creating a ruthless killer who evokes sympathy and a connection with his loneliness. He parades multiple women into his apartment, sometimes more than one at a time, but never succeeds in winning back the love of the one girlfriend who ever really mattered to him. He shoots police officers and friends and casual bystanders all with the same sense of duty and detachment, but also shows flashes of contempt for his deadly calling. He plans elaborate heists that take months to develop and that employ technology and precision in timing that only a person of strong intellect could pull off. Much as the character Tony Soprano earned his humanity with viewers during those moments in which he exposed his soul to his psychiatrist, Sammy Lamonte becomes a three-dimensional man who proves much deeper than the typical mob caricature.

I am even more impressed with Born to Lose and the violent lifestyle it portrays because this is not the first work by P.J. Thomas that I have had the pleasure to read. Each novel has had a distinct crafting to it, with descriptive phrasing and character dialogue that seem perfectly suited to the environment into which the author wishes to lead his readers. I could not pick up a novel by Thomas and immediately recognize its content as belonging to another by the author. This is an indication to me that Thomas offers great attention to every element of his craft, refining it in each instance to share a specific and unique message.

To claim that I am an expert in mob stories would not be accurate. But in Born to Lose, Thomas took me on a journey with Sammy Lamonte that led me to a greater understanding how a young man can, when presented with a disconcerting home life and a lack of focus or purpose and a group of sidekicks who are ready to embrace the more unsavory side of life with you, turn to a life of crime for acceptance. While written about a young man of two generations ago, Lamonte’s story is one that could be told about teenagers in homes across our country today. It is startling and graphic and makes for a book that sticks in your gut long after you read the troubling end.

Title: First Semester Physics Survival Guide: A Lifeline for the Reluctant Physics Student
Author: Dr. Teman Cooke
Publisher: Three Friendships Company (July 28, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0989320502
ISBN-13: 978-0989320504
Reviewer: Dana Micheli

If someone Googled “reluctant physics student,” the first thing they would see is my picture…at least, that’s what they would have seen before I read Dr. Teman’s Cooke’s, First Semester Physics Survival Guide: A Lifeline for the Reluctant Physics Student. When I was in college, just the thought of those complex equations made me want to run for the nearest Organic Chemistry class. So one can imagine my surprise when, while reading Dr. Cooke’s book, I did not run; nor did I stay and cry and pull my hair out (as I have in the past when dealing with anything involving numbers). Instead, I stayed, I read, and I understood.

Yes, understood. Dr. Cooke does not dive headfirst into the scary equations. Instead, he focuses largely on the concepts behind them, using very accessible examples, not from a laboratory, but from everyday life. The physics became part of a larger picture that I could visualize and learn from contextually. Only then does he ask the student to apply these concepts to problems. By that time, I was no longer scared by the equations; I was curious to work through the problems and see how they played out.

Ultimately, however, the book’s largest success lies in its tone. In a word, hilarious. Can you say you’ve read a physics book that made you laugh out loud? I can. It’s like being in class with that favorite teacher who not only makes you forget you hate the subject, but makes you realize that you actually like it.

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