2 out of 4 stars
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The Cards I Was Dealt The Hand That I Played by Joel C Riley and Holly L O'Connor is a memoir that narrates the story of Joel Christopher Riley. He is one of seven children who was taken away from his drug-addicted mother. Having grown up in several foster homes while being a victim of abuse and negligence, Joel finally bumped into the ideal family when he was twelve years old. However, given his negative experiences with his previous families, he found it hard to trust other people and would not let anyone into his world to help him.
Not even his military service days came without its setbacks. What at first seemed like mere training assignments in Okinawa and a couple of simple missions in Iraq along with a few minor shootings ended up turning into a nightmare of PTSD symptoms and an Other-Than-Honorable discharge. Without a doubt, Joel's life is filled with nothing but struggles, bad behavior issues, a few triumphs, and a fair share of traumatic events. But, in the end, being part of a family capable of providing love, affection, understanding, and forgiveness is the only thing that will allow him to overcome even the most difficult circumstances.
While Mr. Riley's story is compelling, his way of telling it is far from being so. The prose of the book is too raw, and while the personal and intimate touch that one may come to expect from a memoir is present, it is difficult to find any substantial literary weight in it. The author tends to repeat similar linguistic constructions while mixing sentences in the past and the present tense in an offhand manner. Although he explains the difficulties he had to learn in school throughout his life, one may think that he could have used some help from a more qualified writer or the co-author herself.
As for the editing work, it is mediocre at best. While there are only a couple of typos and double quotation marks absent in dialogs, there are several problems with the formatting work. Apart from the fact that it does not help at all to improve the whole writing issue (there are sentences in both verbal tenses wrongfully mixed within the same paragraph), the uneven indentations and the inconsistent introduction of the co-author's comments make it difficult for the reader to stay focused on the narrative flow.
In the end, what matters the most in these kinds of books is the story that the author tells. Despite some of the drawbacks I mentioned, the author has been able to share his painful experiences effectively while also providing interesting reflections on his own mistakes. At the same time, he could have delved further in some of the points he raises along the story. Joel talks about his difficulties with women and the upbringing of his children but, out of his limited presence and his tendency to get into trouble, he rarely elaborates on these matters. Taking all this into account, I think the most appropriate thing for me to do is to give this book 2 out of 4 stars. I recommend it to readers interested in complex life stories amid unfavorable circumstances.
The Cards I Was Dealt The Hand That I Played
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