Katka by Stephen R. Meier

Title:  Katka

Author:  Stephen R. Meier

Paperback:  107 pages

Date Published:  2008

Publisher:  booksurge

ISBN:  9781439216330

“Gavin why are you here in Prague?”  Katka asked as they were walking along one of the cobblestone streets.
The question seemed to be one that Gavin didn’t like answering, and one that caused a bit of duress.
“I just wanted to get away for awhile,” he finally answered.
“From?”
“Life.”
It was the way he said it.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, just every now and then you need to take a step back and reevaluate things.”
She just listened.
“I just couldn’t stay there.”
Thinking about it made Gavin angry, very angry.  He had done everything by the book, had gone to college, gotten a degree and a job right out of University.  One complete with benefits, a matching 401k, everything.  Perhaps it was a life that he never really wanted, but still, his parents had been so proud.  He never saw it coming.
Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
“Why Prague?’
“To find you,” Gavin answered with a smile.
They both laughed.
“No, my buddy Pat lives out here and told me to come out and that I could work at his bar.  He’s been out here for awhile now and loves it, so I figured why not.”
“Do you like it?”
“I love it, especially right at this moment.”
It was cheesy, but the right thing to say at the time.
Katka loved it.
They stopped walking and turned to one another.
They stared deep into one another’s eyes.
“You’re absolutely stunning,” he said pushing a piece of hair out of her face.
She blushed.
They they kissed.  The kind of kiss that moves mountains, creates dreams.
Writes a fairy tale.

-Katka by Stephen R. Meier, pages19-20

First of all, I want to get all the unpleasantness out of the way.  I did not like this book.  At all.  I was in pain for most of the (thank gawd it was only) 107 pages.  It wasn’t as bad as The Gun Runner’s Daughter (worst book ever), but it was bad.  I give Katka by Stephen R. Meier 1 out of 5 stars.

Now, having said that, let me explain.  First off, I feel bad for not liking the book.  Meier spent 7+ years trying to get this story out there, and it’s definitely a labor of love for him.  I truly wanted to like this book, as the description sounded very intriguing.

Katka by Stephen Meier is a gritty, edgy novel of greed, love, and swindles gone very wrong.  When Gavin and his girlfriend team with her best friend Simona to pull a phony mail order bride scam in the Czech Republic, Gavin gets in way over his head in the high-stakes and dangerous business of selling wives.  When Gavin talks Katka, his girlfriend, into becoming part of the merchandise, planning to bait-n-switch the client in the end, things go awry and Katka disappears with the client.  Partnering with the jealous and volatile Simona, Gavin begins to lament this risky life he has chosen, but finds the money is something he can’t walk away from. Gavin’s doubts grow; the con begins to consume him, and he finds himself thinking of Katka, the fate he dealt her, and whether he can undo the biggest mistake of his life.  Written with staccato grit and streetwise savvy, Katka reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie.  Stephen Meier’s work will leave you begging for more.

So where did it go wrong?  The writing, mostly.  I think part of the book’s problem is that, originally, it was written as a screenplay and later adapted into a novella.  Nearly all of the book is written in short, punchy sentences, as demonstrated by the quote.  There are no indentations for paragraphs, and the grammatical and spelling errors were too abundant to overlook.  I was tempted to send the book flying when I came across “Gavin striked Dale across the face” on page 77 (just 30 pages more, you can do it!  I said to calm myself).

Also, the book’s timeline is disjointed with seemingly random flashbacks and bunny trails of side-thoughts.  Meier gives no lead ins to the changes and, by the time the story returned to original scene, I couldn’t remember what the heck was even going on.  It was all too irritating and confusing.

Adding to all that was the gratuitous sex and violence, and the overuse of the ‘F’ word that seemed more like, “Hey, I’m a tough guy because I say the F word a lot.”  I did expect sex and swearing, given the subject matter, but where it appears often appears out of place and contrived. 

Then there were the characters, most seemed mildly schizophrenic, behaving one way in one setting then flipping it in another.  I don’t think Gavin used the F word more than five times in the whole book when he was alone with Katka, which is why I thought maybe it was an attempt to butch him up.  The majority of them were underdeveloped, flat, and didn’t inspire me to empathy.  The novella is too short for the amount of characters used to be properly developed and for all the sub-plots to receive the needed attention to make sense.

HAVING SAID ALL THAT…..

There are glimpses of potential good in this novella.  It would be a really good starting place for a novel; it felt more like reading a concept for a novel.  It does have a feel, toward the end, of the movie Indecent Proposal.  I think it could be a great novel, but it needs a lot more work.  AND, a better editor (maybe a woman editor would help smooth out the edges?).

As it is, I think it would appeal to guys in their late teens to late twenties.  It has a feel of a dime store novel and of the old 8-pager… the pulp-fiction porno.

Here are a few other reviews of Katka, some people even liked it.

Chicago Center for Literature and Photography- rated it 7.3 out of 10 and said, “it’s not much more than just a basic pulp-fiction tale, nothing more and nothing less than a typical film-noir B-picture put out by Hollywood in the 1920s and ’30s, updated in this case for modern sensibilities and cultural references.”

The Faerie Drink Review  gave Katka a 4 out of 5.  You can also read Devyn’s interview with Stephen Meier here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Long and short of it…  I really did not like Katka, and after reading the interview, I feel bad for saying it.  Meier seems like a decent guy, who was inspired by real life events to write the story, and has been on a seven-year journey to finally see his baby born… and I’m pooping on it *sigh*  BUT… it’s not the kind of bad that I’d say, “Don’t read this,” because obviously some people do like it.  Also, I would love to read Meier’s next book, Teaching Pandas to Swim, though he probably won’t invite me to read it.

*now I feel guilty… off to buy 10 copies of Katka….*

Tan Lines by J. J. Salem

Title: Tan Lines
Author: J. J. Salem
Hardcover: 306 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publish Date: July 8, 2008
ISBN: 9780312374150

Normally, I like to start my reviews with a quote from the book. However, I think you’ll enjoy this video of Tan Lines’ first line the good people of St. Martins press has posted over at YouTube.

So with a first line like that, you’d think this book would definitely be a fun and steamy summer read, right?

Well, it’s definitely steamy. If you took all the sex out of it, Tan Lineswould probably be whittled down from the 306 pages to 220. AND, if you took out the drinking and doping, you’d be further reduced to about 190 pages (it would have been even less, but some of the drinking and doping is mixed in with the sex). Then, if you took out all the who’s wearing what designers clothes, shoes and undies… Undies, for cry-yi-yi! One line says Kellyanne stripped down to her La Perlas, I thought it was some new slang for being naked. Turns out La Perla is designer underwear… So taking out all fashion apparel text, it’s down to about 165 pages. Now, take out the name dropping, the “Kelly Ripa was at the table next to them” and “Mathew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker was leaving as they were going in”, and the book would be cut down to about 158 pages.

With almost half of the original text cut, what is left? One hell of a story, to be honest. It could almost be a joke, or a Reality TV series: What happens when you take Hillary Clinton, Courtney Love, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck to the Hamptons to share the same house for the summer? That is kinda-sorta the premise of Tan Lines.

Of course that’s not enough to make a book, J. J. Salem (who is a guy by-the-by) adds Liza’s stalker, Kellyanne’s cruelly possessive sugar daddy, a closet party-guy neocon who’s hanging from the chandeliers on coked out benders with Billie while being engaged to a frosty-queen old money deb, Liza’s shiftless leach of a fireman husband who Liza believes is cheating (what’s really going on with his is a complete blindside), and several other characters hear and there that wouldn’t be a stretch to see killing one, or all, of the three.

Revealing that one, or all, of the characters will die is not a spoiler, by the way, because the prologue says: “…the way those girls had been in the beginning, before everything had gone so wrong.” and that the condo owner is remodelling because “she could not look at those ghastly bloodstains one more day.

Reviewing Tan Lines, for me, is an exercise in schitzoprhenic writing. On the one hand, I could seriously done without all the sex. Really. I learned things reading this book I had never heard of before, and I scored 36.6% on the purity test! Booty bumps and bleached bungholes were completely new concepts to me. After a while, Tan Lines’ sexual content had the same effect as the nude tribesmen in the National Geographic specials -after 20 minutes, you stop seeing their nakedness. Also, I really could have lived without all the drinking and drugs. AND I don’t care that much about fashion and designers.

But, on the other hand, I thought Salem’s writing is quite effective, his plot development compelling, and the twists and turns he throws in completely disarming. He is an exceptional storyteller, and his characters are very human -even if most are the dregs of society.

The ending was quite a surprise. For one, it was beautifully happy and fair. Second, it was inevitable. and Third, it was all of a sudden and shocking… and I just didn’t get why it couldn’t have been the rock star! It sucks, and it wasn’t fair.

There are some really wonderfully sweet scenes, as well. Liza’s blossoming relationship with her arch nemesis and Kellyanne’s realization that she’s more valuable than being some nasty old man’s sperm receptacle. When it comes to Billie, unfortunately the only epiphanies had are those of the people around her deciding she’s a lost cause and they’re better off exorcising her from their lives.

I would definitely say this book is an X rated book, but not erotica. It’s graphic and explicit, full of foul language, alcohol, and drugs… even forced sex on a couple occasions. It is NOT the book for the Christian Women’s book club. I probably wouldn’t even recommend Tan Lines to me. But I would have to say it’s a great read, very compelling, and sticks with you for a while… for better or worse.

Overall, I’m giving Tan Lines 4/5 stars.

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