The True Crime Books Reviews site is taking reader votes on their top 30 picks of TC books for 2010. I rarely read this genre, and was surprised/pleased to see two authors I know.
Congratulations to both of them.
The True Crime Books Reviews site is taking reader votes on their top 30 picks of TC books for 2010. I rarely read this genre, and was surprised/pleased to see two authors I know.
Congratulations to both of them.
For first time since 1378, total lunar eclipse of full moon to fall on winter solstice. It happens tonight! Learn what you can see (and when)=======
If you think the younger generation has totally gone cyber/electronic/plug-me-in, check out Matt's blog, "Adventures in Typewriterdom."=======
It's an ereader, for pity's sake. I don't want mine attracting any attention, or someone might try to steal it. But other people... Of course, you could always get a leather-bound (rarely found any more) flip-the-page book, if that’s the "feel" you want.=======
I checked out those Top Twenty-five book covers at Huffington Post. Yuk. I only found two that were compelling. Most had too much clutter, and the fonts were really hard to read. Here are books with covers I find rather dynamic: I haven't read this book and David Dalglish's book, which I have read (bought it because of the cover!).
In the contemporary mystery Grave Undertaking, protagonist Barry Clayton has returned home from several years of police work to help with the family funeral business. His father has Alzheimer's and decisions have to be made. While attending business at the graveyard with a local minister, the grave diggers unearth a murdered corpse on top of the burial vault they had come to move. A wallet in the murdered man's pocket reveals a photo that shocks Barry—it's of his girlfriend, Susan.
Susan immediately becomes a suspect in the murder, and Barry is drawn into an "unofficial" investigation to protect her and her family from scandal. As he develops clues, interviews people, gets shot at and beat up, he also must continue his mortician work and decide if selling the business to a national funeral home chain is in the best interest of his family.
I was struck by the fluid and spare way the author got from one segment of the story to another. I think this element stood out for me because a book I had attempted right before this one had been ponderous in its story movement.
In one section (of the book I didn't finish), it took several paragraphs for a character to get out of his car, up the steps, through a series of doors and into his apartment. Yet nothing was revealed during those paragraphs that brought nuances or information to the story or the characterization. Details were given like stage settings. Another segment had: "I stood and extended my hand to her. Laura took it, and then used it to slip her arm around my back." Not only is this hard to visualize, but it doesn't advance the story. These sentences were part of five paragraphs at the beginning of a chapter that were merely setting a scene--a scene the reader had been in for the past fifteen pages. When dialogue that would get out information did begin, it was repetitive and stilted. Also "I extended my hand. She took it," shows up at least four other times in what I read. Hence, Castrique's book seemed swift and lively by comparison.
Grave Undertaking involved the first person protagonist in all aspects of the story, even the descriptions. In the other book, the protagonist seemed more like a camera lens, showing the details without any invested emotion. Even when "to slip her arm around my back" happened, it wasn't followed with how that made the protagonist feel. Castrique's book had only one hand-holding sentence and it told a lot in eleven words. "I reached down and grabbed her hand with a gentle squeeze." The action words--grabbed and squeeze--give expression to the line; gentle lets you know his tender feelings.
Writing style and presentation carry a lot of weight with me, and even when I don't intend to, I analyze these characteristics in every book I read. I imagine most readers do, in their subconscious at least, and their reactions to these elements result in a positive or negative response to the book.
No, I'm not giving my top picks. But a flurry of "tops" are available online. Here are a few
I'm certain even more suggestions or declarations will come forth in the remaining December weeks.
What would your picks be? Come on, tell me. I'm really interested!
Can ebooks be the total blame? I think not. There's a lack of logic in many of the chain stores. For instance, Why have 40,000 titles on shelves for people to browse, and probably not buy? Not only are you in debt to your earlobes to publishers and distributors (Joseph Banks reportedly owes nearly $200,000 to Ingrams), but many of those books can't be returned. Also, many large chain bookstores are set up like a library; you can sit and read—have latte.... If you went every day or so, you could finish a whole book and not have to buy it.
The "chummy" attitude is also lost in large chain bookstores. Very few have knowledgeable sales people who will recommend a title, or, more importantly, who know what you read last and ask if you liked it. Hmm, Amazon does all that electronically, offering suggestions, and encouraging reader reviews. But Amazon doesn't supply the human factor that you can find with smaller indy booksellers.
Then there are other factors in the bookstore-closing dilemma. John B. Thompson’s book Merchants of Culture (Polity Press 2010) covers a lot of them. This interview tells more. "The publishing industry is in trouble—but not just because of the digital revolution."
Some other reasons? You tell me.
In a lot of modern poetry, form and structure seem to have disappeared. I like reading it, though. I often use traditional poetry to jump start a prose project; word usage is crucial in poems and the discipline gets me focused.
Poetry comes in many forms, some of which have been around for centuries. The sonnet dates back to 13th century Italy. Japanese haiku: evolved from the 16th century; this form and tanka were favorites of the ruling courts. Other poetry styles are newer structures. Free Verse: is the English for vers libre; the term was coined by French Symbolist poets in the late-19th century.
The limerick dates to the mid-19th century. This humorous and often ribald style of poetry was popularized in 1846 by Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense. A limerick consists of five lines, and thirteen beats (3, 3, 2, 2, 3), and the rhyme scheme is a, a, b, b, a. The first line most often ends in a place name, and the last line ends with the same word as the first line. Puns and plays on words are usually included. Here's an example:
There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket;
But his daughter named Nan
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.
Although I've written and published poetry, I've never been able to come up with a limerick ("An old woman lived north of Helena/ and went to the..." duh, what rhymes with Helena?)
A few years ago, Steven Womack invited me to the opening autograph party for his book By Blood Written, from Severn House. In the 1990s, Steve and I were both part of the indefatigable still-in-existence Nashville Writers Alliance (the group started in 1978). He knew I couldn't get to the event (1800 miles away) but he usually keeps me in the loop on writing endeavors. About By Blood Written, Booklist wrote: "Chockablock with unusual twists, the tension is palpable, and the denouement is terrifying. An edge-of-the seat thriller."
Thriller? I had thought it was a Suspense novel. I sent him congratulations and decided to get his take on the mystery subcategory of suspense/thriller, since he's an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer. He responded:
"As for the difference between mystery and suspense (or suspense/thriller) [aha! all one category!], I tend to fall back on a Hitchcockian perspective. To Hitchcock, mystery was primarily an intellectual exercise or a puzzle. A crime is committed and you, as the reader or viewer, get to put all the evidence together and see if you can figure out the murderer before the protagonist does. It's a game... "Suspense, on the other hand, is where the audience knows more than the protagonist. We know who the bad guys are, we care about the good guys, we are emotionally engaged with suspense on a level that we aren't in traditional mystery. And suspense depends less on surprise than on emotion; Hitchcock's classic example is where a couple sits over the kitchen table sipping coffee and suddenly there's a terrible explosion. That's surprise. But if the audience or reader knows that in the husband's briefcase under the kitchen table, someone has planted a bomb and neither one of the couple knows it's there, and we know the bomb is going to go off at nine a.m. and we can see on the kitchen clock that it's now 8:56, then for the next four minutes our stomachs are going to be in our throats waiting to see if the bomb goes off. "It's a visceral/emotional connection rather than an intellectual one, which is why, I think, suspense has proven to be more popular than ever these days."
Steve's reference to Hitchcock are not surprising. Womack teaches scriptwriting at Nashville's Watkin's College of Art & Design Film School. He's written a few TV scripts, too. He's won the Edgar, and has been nominated for numerous other international mystery awards, including the Shamus, and the Anthony. Can't wait for his next mystery, suspense/thriller or whatever.
James Fenimore Cooper is one of America's first novelists. In his first series, The Littlepage Manuscripts, Corny Littlepage was the hero of the Satanstoe. Other books in the series, (written in two years!) are The Chainbearer and The Redskins. All the novels deal with the anti-rent controversy of the mid-1840s.
Cooper's strong political feelings in favor of the landed gentry progressively colored each book until the last is considered more of a diatribe than a novel. Since he favored the "landed gentry" they obviously favored him, by publishing his books that espoused their needs with no care to the essence of a good novel. (Even then, it paid to have connections!).
Cooper's best known and hallmark Leatherstocking series wasn't named for a character. The protagonist was Natty Bumppo--a"natural man." The five books tell Bumppo's life from his youth (Deerslayer) to his death (The Prairie). The Leatherstocking series also includes The Pioneers(1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), and The Pathfinder (1840).
Cooper was a family man; he married Susan DeLancey in 1811.
Now that I qualify for this marketing category of "senior," I'm really conscious of how my peers are represented in books. Several mystery writers have had senior protagonists, but most often in the Cozies and the protagonist is a bit ditzy and whimsical. The Man from Yesterday by Seymour Shubin offers a a fresh character with senior status.
In this mystery, retired police detective Jack Lehman becomes embroiled in investigating a heist that hasn't yet been reported to the police. In his seventies, Lehman can't always recall details on demand, and the local constabulary thinks he's a bit balmy--even when his life is threatened. Nonetheless, Lehman is doggedly active, aggressive and creative in his search for the truth. His emotional relationships with wife and son, as well as memories from the past, are also interesting.
Shubin has created a believable character and good supporting cast in this intriguing story.
Here are two books that have different and effective ways of telling the backstory. The tactic often used is a direct narrative about the past, but these authors were more creative.
In the historical piece, The Diezmo, Rick Bass used a first-person narrative, and the reader learns right at the beginning that the story is a remembrance, told fifty-years after the fact. This allows information to be presented that the narrator wouldn't have known at the time, and we're told that:"...he always paused near the end. It was not until much later...that I found out he had been skipping a sentence..." (page 11). Background information about characters is given ("$1400 worth of jewelry…")--precise facts that the narrator wouldn't have known at the time. Bass could also relate incidents about other people who weren't in the narrator's presence--information the narrator learned during the ensuing 50 years ("John Alexander and his group spent the rest of the day lying in that pool...In the meantime--never dreaming of Alexander's success...")
The book's Epilogue reinforces the fifty years that have past before the telling, and gives closure to the story.
The other title is contemporary. In Blue Dog, Green River author Brock Brower chose to make his first-person narrator the recipient of a story. The "I" character is river rafting with a friend, and the friend, Paul, tells the story. Opening lines: "'I spaced the dog [Blue Dog].' Paul Nozik started telling me his story up on a Navaho sandstone ledge..."
The narrator isn't really a participant in the story, but the verbose Paul tells it all, including the background of other characters, the geology of the region, and more. The reader is reminded of the passive narrator on occasion: "Paul stood up, dusting his palms, you could see excited. He does love to tell you the best part of a story…He got me up, politely dragging me along for company, talking his way around to the far side of this squared-off limestone." Brower breaks up Paul's storytelling with chapters from Blue Dog's perspective, in an omniscient narration rich in language and detail.
Both authors kept their stories short (Blue Dog, Green River - 108 pages, The Diezmo- 208 pages) and I enjoyed reading these well-crafted books.
I while back I contacted the Barnes & Noble "corrections" department and asked them to consolidate my meager titles under one name. Contact was made by e-mail with an addie given to me by the rep in the distribution department. I hadn't been able to find a single link on the site for "customer" or "author" service.
So I e-mailed my request. Received nada in return and after two days with no changes to my B&N page, I assumed my missive didn't get through.
So I emailed my request again--this time with a delivery confirmation tag and a return receipt request. Ah! Delivery confirmation! but that was it.
Yet when I visited my B&N page the next day, my titles were consolidated as I had asked.
Wouldn't you think a company with a big online presence would at least have an auto-responder to let people know they "heard" you?
A number of years ago, I read The Discrete Charm of Charlie Monk by David Ambrose and I recently revisited it. The book is incredibly inventive--filled with VR, biogenics and more. A mystery with political overtones and families in distress. Each page brings something different.
Product Description from the publisher:
"Charlie Monk is the ultimate spy, willing to do absolutely anything to accomplish his mission. He has no conscience, no fear...and no memory. Charlie's friend, Dr. Susan Flemyng, thinks she may have found a way to give him his memory back. As the two of them embark on a series of scientific experiments to try and recover Charlie's long-lost memory, they find something terrifying in the deepest recesses of Charlie's mind. Their discovery will turn science on its head, call reality itself into question-and force Charlie and Dr. Flemyng to risk their lives for the entire human race."
"The entire human race." Now there's a broad statement. One which many SF books fall into—perceiving the intricacies of western civilized endeavors as really having global impact. ENTIRE is too massive a word. Ethnologists are still discovering "lost tribes," so it's a bit over the top to think that some Dr. Frankensteins in D.C. will really be able to make changes in the entire human race.
Oh well, it's a premise that has been used for decades. A premise that repelled me from SF books in mid-twentieth century when everything was male-driven and western Judeo-Christian driven. I find fault with it, but books sell because of it. Most readers are, after all, part of the societies that consider themselves the "entire human race" and so if they see a threat to their niche, they assume it's global.
Reminds me of that great movie "The Gods Must be Crazy."
Ambrose, nonetheless, continues to create upbeat, nervy, and intriguing stories. They are often marketed as mainstream and not SF or mystery, even though his web site's sub title is "Hitchcock meets Hawking."
I really enjoy reading books. I'm usually reading two or three books at a time. You'd think my house would be overflowing in books. But only one wall of one room has filled bookshelves. I used to have many more than that, and I also once vowed I would always buy a copy of my friends' books. There is a long shelf on my wall filled with autographed books of friends. But I couldn't keep that up; so many of my friends are writers—rather successful writers, too—that I would have gone broke in two years.
But I'm able to appease my reading habit (greatly increased in the winter months) by going to my Public Library. The "New Books" shelves are where I start browsing. Every week I'm there, returning five or six books and borrowing six or seven more. I recently came across mention of a title online that I thought I'd enjoy. My library didn't have it. BUT, they ordered it for me on Interlibrary Loan. No charge. I used that service quite a bit when I was doing research for a science book I wrote. I borrowed books from Portland and Chicago, from military libraries and universities.
Our local library foundation is oldest in the state, dating back to the mid-19th Century—one of the first libraries West of the Mississippi; the building that holds it now is much newer and was recently updated. The library fills other of my needs, too, with lectures, workshops, visiting authors and more.
When I was a kid, the town library was a Carnegie Library--an impressive place with a Greek colonnade at the front doors. I remember the doors as being massive, although I'm sure that's a trick of time. Inside the floors were marble tile; I think of the whole building as one big room with the ceilings fifteen feet or more high. In cavernous spaces like that sound bounces around and intensifies. No wonder librarians have the "shhh" reputation.
The Carnegie Library concept really made books accessible to more people, but back in the early twentieth century when Andrew Carnegie opened one of his libraries in Pittsburgh (his home city), many authors weren't too keen on the idea. According to the Carnegie site, local mystery writer, K.C. Constantine, wrote: "Any writer who sees that one copy of one his books in one library has been lent twenty-six times in one year…and knows that he was paid only one royalty check from the time the library made the original purchase knows plenty about involuntary servitude…"
I appreciate my books being in libraries. When I go to other towns and cities, I check the shelf or computer inventory to see if they have my titles. If I sold to every library in the country, that would be a nice dividend. Occasionally I find a real gem at the library, a book I read and am so taken with that I BUY THE BOOK.
Now, with the eBook evolution, I admit I don’t visit as often; and this winter, when slick roads and whiteouts will make driving the 15 miles to town a treacherous proposition, I will snuggle up with my eBook reader and a steamy mug of tea, glad not to be going out.
But I won’t ever stop going to the library. I like the eBooks, and I also like holding and flipping pages of a dtBook.
I downloaded this eBook because I like J. R. Lindermuth's writing style, although the subject matter is quite different from his mystery series.
Watch the Hour is historical fiction, but with Lindermuth's usual depth of characters and story. The sense of place is excellent, truly placing me in the early Pennsylvania coal-mining towns. Information about mining was deftly inter-worked with the story, which takes place during the time of the Mollie McGuires and attempts to unionize the mines. The development includes the clash of cultures, several families, mine owners, foremen, Irish workers, and law enforcement. I often felt there were too many viewpoints.
The ethnic tension is punctuated with a cross-culture romance that seems destined to fail. Most of the characters were very sympathetic, and the bad guys were--really BAD guys. The depiction of Father Delaney was particularly good.
Roll all this in with rich language and volatile weather (always one of my favorite characters) and Watch the Hour is an exciting, well-wrought read.
I give a +5 for writing, +4 for character development, +3 for story line, +5 for historical content.
I moved furniture around in the living room today, getting ready for my house guest--my neighbor's little Chihuahua, Paco Laco (or maybe it's Pacolaco). He stays at my house rather than a kennel when his "folks" go on trips.
You can't tell from the picture, but Paco is blind, so kennels confuse him, and staying with the neighbors who have big dogs is a disaster. So he comes to my house, where he knows his way around and all.
The furniture was always in a certain pattern on his last visits, so I've put it back to that configuration so he won't bump into things. I'll get out the little bed I made for him and keep in my office. He knows right where that is, too, and sleeps away while I'm busy at the computer.
I do have to walk him on a leash; the yard isn't fenced, and there's the danger of eagles, ravens or fox seeing him as prey if he were out on his own. We have a morning and evening ritual run up the driveway and back (maybe 1/8 mile RT). In the evenings when I'm watching TV, he toddles in and jumps onto the sofa and snuggles (another reason to have the sofa in the same place he's used to}.
For me, this is the best way to have a dog -- part time. Like I've heard people say about grandkids: right when they start to be an aggravation, you get to send them home. :-)
Banned Books Week starts today and runs through next week (September 25 - October 2, 2010).
This annual event celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Promoted by the American Library Association, sponsors are many, including Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
What to do during this time? Find a title that has been banned somewhere, and read it. I'll probably read an Alexie Sherman title (pick one, any one, and it's probably been banned); maybe Huck Finn, or Animal Farm. I already have Ayn Rand's Anthem on my Kindle.
This is a Freedom issue. If there's someone reading this who thinks book banning is okay, think of the other types of bans that could be forced on us that would take away our right to choice. If you don't like a book, don't read it. If you find a certain title offensive, that means your curious self probably DID read it, and now you're in a tiff. Get over it. And don't attempt to proscribe for others what they should or shouldn't do.
For sensible thinkers, trot off to your public Library and Indy bookseller and get involved. Click here for lists of Banned Books.
On occasion I enjoy reading books set a very different locale. Since I write American historical fiction and science fiction, I'm drawn to something that isn't in my bailiwick. Serpent in the Thorns certainly fit that.
I was immediately swept into the 14th century London setting. Jeri Westerson does a great job conveying sense of place--one of the keys to keeping me a happy reader.
The mystery involving series protagonist Crispin Guest, was intricate and filled with action as Guest is drawn into political intrigue of the Court (Richard II) and dealings with France--the very type of situation that had Guest's knighthood stripped from him seven years earlier. So rather than being part of the Court, he lives in a poorer part of London and employs himself as a "tracker" (a PI, if you will).
All the characters were smartly drawn and distinctive. I felt some loose ends in the story development, but I nitpick on these things.
This is a good action mystery--well-written and vivid.
I downloaded this Smashwords book after reading reviews and comments from the author, Thomas C. Stone. As a writer of SF and a reader of SF, I couldn't pass it up. And also, the title was the same as a book I already owned--not SF--about a 1970's American Indian spiritual leader (Rolling Thunder, by Doug Boyd).
Smashwords books are often limited in aesthetic "real book" look, but that didn't matter. Stone's Rolling Thunder was compelling enough to read even if it had been in longhand.
I give 5 stars for character development. Jacqueline Judson and T.L. O'Toole are vibrant and well defined, as are all the sub-characters, from TL's companion Sera to a not-so-nice Acala. When I wasn't reading, I often thought of them, and wondered what would happen next—anxious for free time to get back to the story.In SF, an important "character" for me is the world. Stone's Pax Noma was as interesting and well described as the flesh-and-blood characters.
For the story line: I'd only give 4 stars. The action was well done and believable, but the tie-in to what was happening politically on Pax Noma didn't show up until very close to the end. I'd say more about the actual "rolling thunder" but that would lead to spoilers. The ending pushed the envelope a bit on believable development, and this only hit me after I'd finished the book and pondered it for a day. That a book makes you ponder after reading it, is a true positive.
When all was factored in, I rated this book that in the way IRS reckons taxes; my 4.6 becomes a 5.Stone has written several SF books. Visit his Web site