Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 3)

Northern Exposure

I just finished watching all six seasons of Northern Exposure, a television series that first aired in 1991 about a young doctor forced to work in a small town in Alaska.

Northern Exposure was prestige television before there was such a thing as prestige television. I remember considering it a cut above when I first got into it, though not right away. I’d seen part of an episode when it first aired and dismissed it. My friend Trish insisted I give it a second look. She loaned me several VHS tapes jam packed with Northern Exposure episodes. I watched them with my roommates and we were soon hooked. I watched the first two seasons and thoroughly enjoyed each episode. I continued watching on network television once Trish’s episodes ran out. Then life intervened and I left the country for a while and fell off the Northern Exposure bandwagon.

But I always remembered the spell the show wove, its sensibility, its slightly off kilter humour. When the pandemic hit and I found myself working from (and mostly trapped) at home, I thought maybe some Northern Exposure magic might be just the thing to help get me through. My wife gave me all six seasons as a Christmas present (on DVD; it’s not available on any streaming platforms, as near as I can tell), and I’ve spent just over a year gradually watching them all.

I was surprised to discover how few episodes I’d actually seen. Maybe Trish missed taping a few. Or perhaps I’d completely forgotten some. Turns out I’d never seen any episode beyond the first two seasons. At first I was thrown by the 4:3 (or 1.33:1) aspect ratio, having become accustomed to 16:9 these last twenty years or so, which only became standard after 1996, once Northern Exposure was off the air. 4:3 doesn’t entirely fill a modern television’s entire screen. But after an episode or two the 4:3 aspect ratio stopped bothering me.

I loved re-watching the episodes I’d seen and happily ventured into new territory. The ones I’d seen took me back to a time when I was younger than two of the main characters in the ensemble cast, Joel and Maggie. I was twenty-six when I started watching Northern Exposure the first time around; they were about twenty-nine. Watching the episodes now I found I was closer in age to ex-astronaut turned entrepreneur Maurice Minnifield. So, that was weird. Where has the time gone? (Still younger than the character of Holling Vincoeur, though.)

The first two seasons held up nicely. Much of the magic, I realized, lay in the show’s magical realist elements. The show is at its absolute best when it marries magical realism to bold storytelling (such as briefly breaking the third wall in season two’s War and Peace, or going back in time for a period piece in season three’s finale Cicely). This is not a show with car chases and murders and drama (though death does figure occasionally). It’s a pleasant show, often delightful, shot brightly for the most part, about agreeable, gently flawed people. The music choices are varied, eccentric and entrancing (at least for the first few seasons), featuring artists such as Daniel Lanois, Etta James, Magazine 60, Nat King Cole, Miriam Makeba, Brian Eno and more. It was fun seeing actors like Jack Black, Graham Greene and James Marsters pop up at random. Stars Rob Morrow and Janine Turner are note perfect throughout.

I found the show the perfect anodyne to the increasingly mad world we find ourselves in now. I couldn’t completely escape, though. Unsettinglingly, I heard Trump’s name invoked not once but three times during the course of the series, each instance jarring.

Does it hold up for the entire six seasons? I had read that it doesn’t, but was curious to see for myself. In the middle of the show’s run creators Josh Brand and John Falsey handed the reins over to showrunner David Chase. Chase is famous as the showrunner for The Sopranos, a gritty show about a mob boss, considered one of television’s greatest series. I found this fascinating. Chase admitted not really understanding the premise of Northern Exposure. So this guy, who professed not to understand the premise of Northern Exposure, but who obviously knows a thing or two about making television, wound up running the show. He had other writers (such as Diana Frolov and Jeff Melvoin) to help him, writers who did mostly get the show, so I’m happy to report that the show does indeed hold up. Sort of. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s get a bit dodgy around the end of the fourth season and into the fifth, but does eventually find its stride again until near the end of the sixth season.

The sixth season is hit and miss. The season premiere, Dinner at Seven Thirty, is strong, and I thoroughly enjoyed a storyline featuring Joel giving up his medical practice to head north and immerse himself in native culture. Halfway through the season Joel is replaced by another doctor and his wife. The actors, Paul Provenza and Teri Polo, are fine, though little of note is done with them. There’s an episode near the end of the run featuring Ed Chigliak (called Balls) that in my opinion is among the strongest in the entire series (well, one of the episode’s story lines, at least). It provides actor Darren Burrows (Ed) with a material he could sink his teeth into for a change. Another enjoyable episode from season six, Little Italy, curiously presages The Sopranos.

There appeared to be a lack of understanding of some of the characters in season six. Apart from the aforementioned episode Balls, and half-hearted attempts to make him a filmmaker and a shaman, the character of Ed Chigliak gets entirely too goofy over time. It’s a shame; the writers could have done so much more with him. Elsewhere Brian Doan has written (in an essay about Northern Exposure that far surpasses this one in depth) about Chris Steven’s incipient toxic masculinity, and dammit Chris actually does become that a bit. It is painful to watch and a betrayal of the way Chris was presented earlier in the series, when he lived with a self-awareness of his darker side.

Sadly, none of the characters ever live up to their potential. In the first episode of the sixth season (Dinner at Seven Thirty) we see Cynthia Geary as a completely different character. I didn’t even recognize her for half the episode. It was a glimpse of what could have been done with Geary’s character Shelly had the writers allowed the character to grow. And in the final episode of the entire series, Tranquillity Base, which, sadly, bordered on the ridiculous (no, actually was ridiculous), we see Holling Vincoeur as a caricature of himself, more bloodhound than man, while Chris Stevens is ludicrous as opposed to insightful. Still, I like the montage music in the final moments of that episode (Our Town, by Iris Dement), perhaps the only saving grace (one final, parting gift from the series) in an episode that otherwise seemed deliberately designed to make fans repeatedly facepalm themselves.

Although the series ended on a less than stellar note, it was still entirely worth watching. It did not betray my memories of it. And although I will never watch it in its entirety again (unless I somehow become immortal between now and eternity) I fully expect to cherry pick episodes here and there when I feel the need to return to the state of mind that is Northern Exposure at its best.

“Frankenreview” (Part Two)

Here’s a slightly more positive “frankenreview” (hey, fair’s fair…)

Photo by Dad Grass from Pexels

Once again, this “frankenreview” is comprised of direct quotes from existing reviews found on Goodreads, Amazon, Librarything and elsewhere. I did not change a single word, though I did omit some words (as indicated by ellipsis) and added others (indicated by parentheses) in the interest of readability.

I encourage you to visit any of the sites mentioned above and post your own reviews. Not just for my book(s), but for any you’ve read. Whether the reviews you leave are positive or negative (or somewhere in between) you’ll be doing your favourite writer(s) a huge favour.

Et voila… A Time and a Place “Frankenreview” Part Two:

(Click here for Frankenreview Part One)

What a story! Unlike any other sci-fi you’ve ever read. Non-stop action. It… had me hooked from the beginning. I really enjoyed this novel and recommend it for those who like their science fiction stories to be quirky, human and compelling. I loved this book!

Mahoney relates a pretty rollicking Fantasy-Science Fiction adventure story with a lively, imaginative degree of world building. There is a veritable smorgasbord of funky ideas at play in the novel and passages of sneaky thoughtfulness cheek by jowl with subversive goofiness. With wry, tongue-in-cheek similes and metaphors at his disposal, Mahoney seems to be both winking at the tropes of the genres he is engaged in while encouraging us as readers to give them another look with a fresh set of eyes.

This book was both comic and tragic, sad and funny, with a hero who tries to do the right thing but always seems to stumble. The protagonist is an endearing sad sack. I… found the characters to be sympathetic and memorable. Mahoney… deserves credit for taking a passel of relatively archetypical supporting characters and either spinning them off in unexpected ways or giving them much more nuance and depth than expected. Beings of all stripes enter the field of battle, the most charming being Jacques, a one-eyed tentacled Necronian who will engulf you unless you have something he wants. I greatly enjoyed the chapters in which our time and dimension travelling hero finds himself in the body of an alien, purple-furred cat with opposable thumbs and then a seagull. The T’Klee were my favorite bit. I love the idea of large cats with opposable thumbs, their own language & culture, and having to fight the technologically advanced Necronians.

The magic of A TIME AND A PLACE resides in its rich description of places we’ll never see—not even in dreams. The author has a great imagination. His ability to evoke imaginative worlds and alien creatures is what makes reading this book such a pleasure. The vivid descriptions and wit kept me hooked from beginning to end. A Sci-Fi Fantasy with literary notes, there is so much to love about this book. 

The writing is so polished that if it were my hardwood floor, I would be able to see my face in it. Quintessentially Canadian, beautifully written, displaying the dry humour that made Stephen Leacock a national treasure. By turns droll and exuberant, this novel reels you into its strange world with as much pull as the portal that sends Barnabus through time and space. This book sprawls, wildly (I didn’t mention the shapeshifting demon Iugurtha or the sentient artificial intelligence Sebastian or the warrior cats), yet it all fits together. Through its unflinching depiction of conflict, this book packs a surprising emotional punch. But – mark my words – this doesn’t disqualify Joe Mahoney from being the next Terry Pratchett… the author has a decided knack for humorous word play which brings some levity to otherwise serious situations. Mahoney writes with a practised wit. In A Time and a Place, the humour sneaks up on you and results in under-your-breath chuckles. This all interweaves into Joe’s style, which is actually quite pronounced for a first novel.

This is the first time—in this lifetime—I’ve read anything by Joe Mahoney, and it won’t be the last. I enjoyed the book tremendously and appreciated how the background story unfolded in stages. (It) was so well written and intriguing, I did not want to put it down. A page turner. I stayed glued to it until late into the night. With questionable allies hiding in every closet, layered characters and a plot that kept the pages turning, you won’t regret adding A Time and a Place to your shelf. By the time you reach the end, you’ll be sad to leave this crazy universe behind.

Joe Mahoney was also a fine narrator. I have to say with a voice like that I would listen to anything he narrated. I loved this mesmerising audiobook with its non-stop action and adventure. Can’t wait for Mr. Mahoney’s next book.

CULLED FROM VARIOUS SOURCES SUCH AS GOODREADS, LIBRARYTHING, AND AMAZON

Frankenreview

As a public service, I thought it would be helpful to cobble together all the negative criticism ever written about my debut novel A Time and a Place (at least all that I could find online) and publish it as one single blisteringly harsh review. Kind of like ripping the Bandaid (TM) off all at once.

A “frankenreview“, if you will.

Photo by Brett Jordan from Pexels

Every line is pretty much a direct quote from the original source review, though I’ve jumbled it all up so that my frankenreview follows a kind of twisted logic. I altered some punctuation and the occasional pronoun/noun in the interest of syntax.

I think the result is a fairly kick-ass review, though admittedly not one likely to help me sell more books.

To see more reviews of A Time and a Place (both positive and negative), or to add your own, check out its Goodread’s page.

I must confess that I am fairly conflicted about Joe Mahoney’s ‘A Time and a Place’. More than once I picked this up to read and simply could not do it. I didn’t like this one, and couldn’t get past the third chapter. It’s too much like too many other books and it is also very slow. Liked it but didn’t luv it, BUT NOT saying it was bad, just not totally my type or maybe the mood, but seemed as if in places it dragged a bit. Parts of the novel seemed a little rushed, and there’s questions left unanswered.

The novel is probably too strange for people who normally don’t care for science fiction. To list some points of criticism, which are meant to be constructive, I think that the author was a bit too ambitious. A Time and a Place is a complex story and an ambitious novel, but I found that the execution wasn’t quite up to the premise. Normally, this would take 3 books or more to cover. Compressing it into one book meant that it comes across rushed, and there is not enough time for sufficient character development, or exploration of the themes.  

Mahoney clearly has a peculiar sense of humour and (for me) a protagonist who really needed a good smack upside the head!  He saddles (his) world with one of the least likeable protagonists I’ve read around in some time. I would have given (the book) a higher rating if it wasn’t for the characters. The main character can be annoyingly obtuse at times. I feel like most of them besides Wildebear aren’t fleshed out and are just there for plot convenience. Even Wildebear, despite being close to 40 years old, was childish most times and I didn’t like the book as much because of him. Barnabus J. Wildebear is a strange character, at times willfully ignorant of the world around him, ill suited to the task at hand, yet still trying to act as if his opinions about almost any of the circumstances he is caught up in are remotely valid. Unfortunately, Barnabus seems pulled through the events of the story by external forces and lacks the level of agency I like to see in a protagonist. Much of the time he comes across as bewildered.

The second half of the book got a bit muddled for me. I felt I needed a diagram to keep track of it all. There were few female characters. Besides Swipe, there’s Barnabus’s dead sister, and then the scientist Sarah (who is always described by her awesome looks first and second and her mental abilities third). Perhaps we can count Iugurtha as a female character, but she’s really a mix of all the people she’s absorbed over the years. It would have been nice to have a bit more from the ladies.

The ending rallies a bit, despite occasional segments that distract or feel a little overdone. I was still confused about Iugurtha who I think becomes known as Jacques… but then there’s also Jack, right? These seem to be all the same ‘demon’ (or alien) at different points in time. But I’m not sure, which is what bothered me. I want to be sure about such things by the end of a book. Speaking of that ending, it gets rather sentimental and strives for deep thoughts. I found it a little sappy. I wanted a more definitive ending, perhaps following a rousing action scene.

A Time and a Place strikes me as quintessentially Canadian – oddly polite and mannered and stubbornly domestic, even while an absurd parade of characters, circumstances and magical beings marches through the book. So why didn’t it click with me? Because that’s just the way it goes with humour. If Mahoney had maintained the dry humor of Wildebear throughout the whole story he likely could have pulled off a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy vibe. But the humor gets lost at times and the protagonist’s point of view comes across more naive than anything else through the middle chunk of the book.

Joe Mahoney has narrated his own story. He does a decent job but needs a little polishing all around. There were a few mouth noises here and there. The pacing was just a touch slow. The female voices were pretty good though sometimes they could have used a little more femininity.

culled from Various sources such as Goodreads, Librarything, and Amazon

A Time and a Place Audiobook Half Price Sale

A Time and a Place

Yes, I know it’s gauche to attempt to sell your wares, really wares should be capable of selling themselves, that would be best for everyone, certainly much less embarrassing for all involved.

Alas, it doesn’t work that way. You have to tell people about your wares, otherwise nobody will know about them. It’s not like we’re all telepaths (and those of us that are telepaths aren’t talking).

And so it is that I have no choice but to inform the fourteen of you who have not yet purchased a copy of A Time and a Place about this little opportunity to pick up the audiobook version at a bargain basement price.

Yes, you read that right, A Time and a Place is on sale at half price for the next couple of weeks (via Findaway Voices, which distributes to most major online retailers). (This does not include Amazon, which invariably does its own thing).

A Time and a Place (you might recall) is a science fiction time travel novel that has been described thusly:

“A brilliant, often hilarious, thoughtful and amazing read.”

Leesa Tea, Goodreads

Thank you Leesa. I did not pay Leesa to write that. I feel I owe her something for writing that beyond a simple thank you. If she ever writes a book of her own you can bet I will purchase, read, and praise it (no matter how terrible it is, which it won’t be, because let’s face it, this is obviously a woman with impeccable taste).

Okay. So what is this half-price audiobook about? So glad you asked:

When hapless English teacher Barnabus J. Wildebear’s nephew Ridley is kidnapped to help fight a war halfway across the galaxy, Wildebear rolls up his sleeves and sets out to rescue the boy. He soon finds himself in way over his head: who knew there’d be time travelling, shape changing, and battling an evil Necronian named Jacques? Making matters worse, the boy doesn’t even want to be saved. But none of that matters. Cuz rescuing your nephew from a sinister shape-changing alien in the middle of an intergalactic war is just what any good uncle would do. Isn’t it?

Well, that’s part of what it’s about, anyway. You’ll simply have to read it (or listen to it) to get the rest. Hey, it’s only about eleven hours of your time. The average person lives about 692,040 hours, so it’s not like that’s asking a whole lot. Is it?

So there you have it, A Time and a Place the audiobook version on sale at half price for the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for your time.

Ratings and Reviews

Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels

This past month I was fortunate to have sold plenty of copies of A Time and a Place. About 1400 copies, all told. And copies of Other Times and Places, too. People have been reading my work, and forming opinions about it. This is great, and I’m pretty happy about it. It has resulted in reviews and ratings on several platforms, primarily Amazon, Kobo, and Goodreads. And not just Amazon Canada, but in the US, Australia, and Great Britain as well, and some of the ratings from those locations have shown up on Amazon India too.

Although I wish I was impervious to reviews and ratings, I’m not. Maybe one day I will be (I kind of doubt it). Whenever I notice a new review or rating has been added, I get butterflies. My curiosity gets the better of me, and I scroll down to see how one tiny portion of the universe has reacted to my work. Sometimes the response is positive; sometimes less so. You have to take it all with a grain of salt. You have to develop a thick skin. But that can be easier said than done.

The work I’ve publicly released into the world, that I consider worthy of an ISBN, that I dare to charge money for, is the best I was capable of producing at the time I created it. I gave it all a great deal of thought and in most cases injected massive amounts of time and effort into it. If someone indicates that they’ve liked it, I’m gratified and feel a tiny bit vindicated. If someone indicates that they really dislike or hate it, I get a bit deflated, at least temporarily. If someone reveals that they’re ambivalent to my work, or they kind of like it but consider it flawed in some way, I’m disappointed but okay with it.

I’ve received a couple of one star ratings on Goodreads. They haven’t been accompanied by reviews, so I consider them meaningless. I’ve heard Goodreads described as “crazy town” by other writers, so some of what shows up there you just have to ignore.

Now that I know how much work goes into writing and publishing a book, I’m a bit bemused by the whole concept of ratings and reviews. Sometimes I think you shouldn’t be allowed to simply rate someone else’s work without an accompanying review. You should have to defend your rating. Shouldn’t you?

A writer spends (in some cases) years of their life working on their opus only to have someone read it in a matter of days (perhaps not even closely) and then dash off a rating in few seconds (or a flippant review in minutes). It doesn’t seem quite fair. Fortunately, this doesn’t bother me too much. I have long since abandoned the idea that life is fair (it’s a recurring theme in my work, after all).

For ratings and reviews to be fair they would have to be produced with integrity. Ideally the reader would read the work reasonably closely and reflect upon it before producing an opinion that they then back up with a cogent, considered argument. Although I much prefer to receive four and five star reviews, I don’t mind receiving a three star review if it’s accompanied by a solid rationale explaining why my book only merited three stars. I might even agree with it.

Myself, I can’t rate any book less than four stars anymore (although I have done so in the past). I just can’t bring myself to do it because I relate too strongly to the authors of those books. I know they’ve worked hard on their book, and they’re trying to sell it, and anything less than four stars isn’t going to help sell the book. I hasten to add (for those of you who have given my work three stars) that this is just me. I’m not complaining about your rating or asking you to change it (something I would never do). Different ratings mean different things to different people. Megan Lindholm (writing as Robin Hobb) posted the following on her Goodreads account:

“I am shocked to find that some people think a 2 star ‘I liked it’ rating is a bad rating. What? I liked it. I LIKED it! That means I read the whole thing, to the last page, in spite of my life raining comets on me. It’s a good book that survives the reading process with me. If a book is so-so, it ends up under the bed somewhere, or maybe under a stinky judo bag in the back of the van. So a 2 star from me means yes, I liked the book, and I’d loan it to a friend and it went everywhere in my jacket pocket or purse until I finished it.”

Megan lindholm

So that’s what a two star rating means to her. It’s not what it means to me! Myself, I’m appalled that she would even consider rating the work of a fellow writer two stars. Three stars I could see: the existence of three star ratings accompanied by a well-reasoned review helps lend integrity to the rest of the reviews. But two stars? That’s just insulting. And I say that as a fan of Megan Lindholm’s work. The Wizard of the Pigeons is one of my favourite books. I rated it four stars (instead of five) because of the ham-fisted execution of the final three pages, which, in my opinion, almost completely undermines the quality of what comes before. Perhaps I should revise my rating to two stars.

I know that ratings and reviews are ultimately meaningless. All that really matters is that we do the best we can when we produce our work. We mustn’t derive our self-esteem from external sources. True value (and self-worth) comes from within.

And I shall do my best to remember that.

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