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Crack, Apple & Pop by Saira Viola

I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy when it comes to reading. When I open up a book, I want to like it, maybe even love it. I hope a new book will enthrall me, but, if not, as long as it’s good, I’m good. I had read Saira Viola’s previous release on Fahrenheit Press, “Jukebox”, and though I wasn’t the biggest fan, I knew from “Jukebox” that Viola had the skills to put out a good book. Sadly, “Crack, Apple & Pop” was not that book.

Viola’s new release opens with Tony (T) getting the crap beat out of him by some skinheads in London. He’s rushed to a hospital which happens to be where his mother is a nurse. She breaks down wailing, stays with him and vows that “he would never be a victim again.”

On arrival at St. George’s hospital, he had already been resuscitated three times. Lying on the gurney, an oxygen mask by his side, his mother, Elizabeth, an A & E nurse, stopped by to make a routine check on new admissions. As she peered closer her face shrunk with fear.

I felt it all a little too melodramatic being resuscitated three times and his mother, a qualified nurse, just abandoning her training. But at this point it’s only Chapter One, so I move on. Chapter Two begins win T getting boxing lessons and ends with him on his way to being a contender for a boxing title. A bit preposterous.

T was beaming. He felt good. He wasn’t a try-hard any longer, he was a contender.

Every day it was the same routine. Up at five with a three-mile jog to the gym and a six-hour training session. He would fuel his body with whole grains, yams and beans overdosing on chicken and tuna, eggs and steak. A protein shake during exercise bouts added to the general gash-and-mend body regime he had adopted. He would eat six small meals a day and run solid, a deluxe build up for the Southern Counties Heavyweight Tournament. In the shadows of Ali, Tyson and Lewis, T was on his way to championship glory.

So I’m thinking these two chapters which were laden with clichés and background information should not have been included in the book, but there they were. Forever the optimist, I hoped the book would pick up.

Chapter Three: T goes into a boxing match and his career ends quicker than it started and that’s saying a lot. Chapter Four: T is recruited by a gangster who tells him his entire criminal enterprise as if the police never listen in on conversations. And then by my last chapter of reading, Chapter Six, Tony becomes a rousing success at drug dealing.

The coke profits paid for more than his rent, sundries and upwardly mobile lifestyle – they paid for social acceptance and a plausible identity. From now on T was no longer a boxing dead-beat, he was an entrepreneur, a record producer, a promotions dealer, and low-level investor. He had a prime appetite for success and the Einstein precocity in Bernie was particularly impressive.

Could Viola’s “Crack, Apple & Pop” have gotten better after I put it down? Possibly. However, I’m good with my decision.

Buy: Amazon

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Jukebox by Saira Viola

Saria Viola’s Jukebox (Fahrenheit Press) assaults the reader in the first sentence, ” ‘‘Screw you, you fucking Jew!’ ” Make it past this — you can do this, I have the utmost confidence in you — and you’ll be rewarded with a kaleidoscope of criminals and artists existing on the fringes of London.

Jukebox is ostensibly about Nick Stringer, a trainee solicitor, who, along with his big-time law firm, get hired by his mobster uncle, Mel Greenberg. Stringer has dreams of being a rock ‘n’ roll god, but lawyering keeps hounding him. Greenberg loves the con, long or short, he doesn’t care. And if you get in his way, he has people for that.

These two are not the only colorful characters in Jukebox, Viola created some wondrous ones. There’s Matt, Nick’s friend and guitarist, “strumming his days away on a toxic blend of Facebook fiction and bottles of Jack.” Or the eclectic Buddha Christ Mohammad, though he is better known as BCM. Matt first witnessed BCM at the scene of an accident.

BCM and the bleeding boy remained unaffected, as if cocooned from the chaos. BCM reached into his bag, removed a stick of sage and calmly asked a bystander to light it and hold it for him. He slowly took the child’s hurt leg with his left hand as he used his right to cover his own eyes, tilting his head to the skies. You could see the agony on the child’s face. Then, all at once, BCM cried out, ‘Shem de la Shem de le shog!’ Matt had watched as a gentle equilibrium coddled the boy. With a white cloth from his satchel, BCM had stopped all the bleeding before the medics had arrived, and beyond all reason the suffering child lay in the street exuding a rosy peace. BCM leaned in close saying something to the child that made him laugh. There, in the middle of a crash scene, surrounded by raised voices and emergency sirens, BCM had somehow managed to erase the child’s pain and shelter him from darkness. Then he picked the child up, carried him to the pavement and sat by his side until the ambulance finally arrived. The child was saved.

Is it possible to con a violent con man? Stringer thinks so. The young lawyer’s girl happens to be a reporter investigating Greenberg and using his Achilles heel: Greenberg’s love for a transvestite showgirl. There are many fantastic characters and an equal amount of coincidences that drive the plot in Viola’s Jukebox. But this is where I probably diverge from many readers as I prefer a simpler book with fewer characters, so if Jukebox sounds like it is something you might be interested in, don’t let my reservations hold you back.

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