Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Mixed Bag of Book Reviews

I'm going to do reviews for 2 books:  Toltec by Alex Walker  Product Details a local writer, by the way.
The Long Shadows by Andrew Erlich Product Details

Talk about different subject matters:  A first time novelist creates a wonderful world of adventure, with mystery and thrills galore and then a novel about the tortured (?) life of an 8 foot 6 inch "giant". 
Let's start with great adventure with Toltec.  Here's what the publisher's had to say about the novel: Read more...

"At the end of the American Civil War, two young opposing cavalry officers confront each other in a brief skirmish, but through a temporary truce, suddenly discover they have the same great grandfather. Their new found blood kinship leads them to escape the war that will soon be over. They journey to Mexico where the two learn of an ancient Toltec city in the Yucatan jungle where, according to legend, a vast treasure is buried beneath the city’s pyramid—they decide to search for it. Guided by a young Mexican and his beautiful sister, they are pursued by ruthless and dangerous rival treasure hunters.But the most unlikely pursuers are an American general and special Pinkerton agents sent to capture the deserters and return them for trial.Throughout their harrowing quest, our young adventurers encounter terrifying jungle hazards, mysterious caverns, deadly hidden traps, and violent confrontations with descendants of the ancient Toltecs.
A startling discovery is made—something that could drastically change the world—even destroy it. This creates a potential danger to mankind and a serious moral conflict between our two Americans and the reckless manipulation of ambitious government and military leaders—all leading to an unexpected and explosive conclusion."  

I normally don't include a publisher's description but I did this time because if I gave a true book review I might give away the ending, which of course, I don't want to do.  This book is extremely well researched.  Mr. Walker vividly describes not only the horrors of the Civil War, but also the lawlessness of Louisiana and Texas during the 1860's as well as that of the Inca and Mayan civilizations.  He creates a whole new world with the ancient tribe of the Toltecs.  Mr. Walker really knows how to spin a yarn.  It has the twists and turns and surprises of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Unfortunately, I started picking up clues about where the book was going fairly early on.  So when the first big surprise was supposed to be a big surprise, I was not surprised.  But the ending, as described above, was a very big surprise.  It can be purchased in e-reader form from both Amazon and Barnes and Nobles or go to and search:  It is also available in paperback.  I understand he has two more books waiting in the wings.

 The Long Shadows: The Story of Jake Erlich.   I downloaded this book because I heard the author doing an interview on the Book Channel on Sirius.  It's about the life of 8 foot 6 inch Jake Erlich who made close to 50 silent comedy movies, was "the giant' for 10 years at Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily Circus, was a renowned artist and vaudeville star.  By the time he was 10 years old, he was over 6 feet tall. This is not a biography but a novel about his life written by his nephew.  I wish the nephew had not gone this route.  I know why he did.  He tried to make this amazing man come to life so we could feel the impact that Jake's height (and his Jewish heritage) had on his life.  I don't know why he decided to muck it up, I'm sorry here, Andrew, with some pretty bad writing.  He has Jake always saying things like this:  " If I knew then what I know now, I would just have enjoyed the experience." Or, "Little did I know that before long, kleig eyes would be the least of my worries."  He also makes Jake a whiner and complainer, a man who is constantly, CONSTANTLY questioning his self worth. Now that could very well have been his personality.  But it gets really really old.  It makes you not like the guy. He also makes up a romance that never happened (or can't be documented).  There are two good things about the novel.  One is Erlich's depiction of life in a circus:  The "freaks", the roustabouts, moving the circus, and the "rubes" who always caused some kind of trouble. The second is that you learn  about Jake's life.  A life that the vast majority of us never even knew about.  Even through all of his trials and tribulations, the bottom line is that Jake Erlich aka Jake Earle was an amazing man.  Here is what people said about Jake that had been interviewed by Andrew:  His kindness, his creativity, his painting, poetry, photography, singing, playing saxophone and piano, his dancing, his acting, his gourmet cooking, his business acumen, his story telling, his expert use of guns, his sense of humor and what a wonderful friend he was.  Unfortunately, very little of this makes it into the book.  I very much enjoyed learning about the man from one perspective, the book,  but it was rounded out by my research on the internet.  I did learn that in June 2012 the El Paso Museum of Fine Art is exhibiting 12 paintings by Jake.   Jake died at the age of 46.  He lived a much longer life than others who had the same affliction.  When he was young all they could diagnose him with was "monstrous growth".  It turned out he had a tumor on his thyroid which caused his rapid growth. 

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