Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Picks 2011

I must admit, when I signed on for the Goodreads Reader's Challenge, I didn't think I would achieve my 51 book goal. But I did! I even exceeded it by a small bit.

Here are the top ten titles I really liked (in my read order, not order of preference). Many of them I've reviewed on this blog or at GoodReads; the title link will take you there.

Married to Bhutan memoir
Hypothermia mystery
Bone and Jewel Creatures fantasy
Wading Home contemporary
Keeper of Lost Causes mystery
The Sixth Discipline Sci Fi
Power Ballads short stories
A Witness Above mystery
The Only Witness mystery
Patrick Patterson and the World of Others SciFi

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bound For the Promise-Land – Review

I purchased the electronic edition of Bound For the Promise-Land after seeing it mentioned several times in a Facebook Western Authors group. The positive comments there were not misplaced.

The story (cobbled from two different Goodreads book pages):
"Freedom is not a place you run to…Freedom is a place in your soul." These words sum up the life long quest of ex-slave Alfred Mann as he pursues the dream of equality in a world not of his making. From fugitive to Medal of Honor winner, Mann carries on to rise above the ignorance and intolerance of those who seek to bring him down; somehow gaining strength from the unimaginable losses he suffers and his own self doubt.
From the shackles of slavery to the smoky battlefields of the Civil War, from Reconstruction South to Northern race riots to fighting Indians on the Western Plains, Alfred proves to the world and to himself that he is a man.
The first-person protagonist of Alfred Mann came through with great believability, both his actions and his emotions; the many battle scenes were portrayed with gut wrenching intensity. They were very well written. This book is deserving of the 2001 SPUR Award it received [paperback edition], and I'm glad it is now available for e-books.

I haven't given this book five stars for personal reasons. Troy D. Smith is an American History scholar, and I consider myself that, too (although I don't have a .PhD). My knowledge of the events Smith wrote about is firmly in place, so I found myself flipping through some of the book thinking, 'Yep. I knew that.' The history was excellently portrayed, but, for me, I often felt I was getting too much history.

But this brings up another "problem"—not with Smith's writing or his characterizations, but with a caveat placed in the front matter by this publisher: "...the events and occurrences were invented in the mind and imagination of the author..." This line is a disservice to readers and to Smith. Many of the events actually did happen; several of the personages were real 19th Century people. Someone not well versed in American History should be made aware of that. Smith's mind and imagination eloquently placed his protagonist, Alfred Mann, in the events and had him interacting with American personalities such as Black Jack Pershing, Benjamin Greirson, Victorio and others. This is not easy to pull off. Bravo, Dr. Smith!

And on this same note, I would have appreciated an Addend with suggested reading, and/or an Author's note that would tell which events and people were from actual history. This is a fairly common practice with authors of historical fiction, myself included. The information would be great for high school students and other "young" readers of American History.

So is this a picky little thing I mention? Dunno. Might be just me. And that's what reviews are all about.
Final comment: excellent book. Read it!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Getting Lucky – Review

From the book page:
When a young reporter is killed in a hit and run accident, freelance writer Robyn Guthrie agrees to finish one of the stories the reporter had been writing for the local newspaper. But nothing is as simple as it seems when she finds out about shady land deals, an old high school nemesis, and Robyn’s aging mother.

I'm not a fan of first person stories, but I must say this one was handled well, with no dips into third/omniscient point of view. I also like authors who have a good command of the English language (and how to write it); DC Brod does that well.

I'm really a fan of well-paced mysteries with intriguing, well-thought-out plots. Alas, Getting Lucky didn't measure up. Slow, with a lot of detail but not much action, it bounced around, with protagonist Robyn Guthrie's comments on everything and everyone. The hit and run death of fellow reporter Clair seemed to set up one type of story, but quickly jerked to another track after way too many pages on the deceased and her family. Too many coincidences, too: mostly that Robyn's boyfriend has useful connections for anything/everything that could be a possible problem. Also a lot of information was given that was never essential in the wrap of the story, such as the price of the land deal vs the price paid. Since Robyn's thought of scamming the bad guys included repurchase of the land. What price was paid? And the congressman--asked to help out with the scam, but it's never shown that his involvement was a help (all it took was one or two sentences.)

The editor of the newspaper is totally lost by the end of the book after being prominent in the beginning. There's a "shady character" who isn't so shady, but the telling of Robyn’s first meeting with him was useless and a waste of pages.

I haven't read other books in the Robyn Guthrie series, but from the book pages, I see the stories are driven by the interaction between Robyn and her mom. This is good and often funny, but what's with Mom being 84? I realize there's a bit of dementia here (which can occur at any age), but Robyn is only in her 40s. No mention is made of Robyn being a late-life child. This hit me, since my kids are in their 40s, and I (who married late for my generation and waited several years to have kids) am not yet 70 (close, but not yet). Maybe this was addressed in earlier books.

These are just a few of the dissatisfactions that had me reading fast, trying to get the book finished—I feel an obligation to read an entire book when I get it free from netgalley. This could have been an interesting mystery if Brod had fine-tuned the story, cut the slag, and sent a polished manuscript to the publisher rather than her first draft of a decent idea. It was probably her pubs. fault—pushing her to get another Guthrie mystery out pronto. Nonetheless, reading this one dampens my enthusiasm for reading the others.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Grand Murder - Review

I read a bit of this story on Indie Snippets, and decided to buy it.

The story (from the book page):

When a prominent local businessman and friend of the chief of police is murdered on the front steps of his posh Grand Avenue Hill home, Saint Paul homicide detective Catherine O'Brien a pithy, vertically challenged, St. Paul, Minnesota, homicide detective with a monstrous coffee habit and her partner Louise are given two days to find his killer.
They soon discover their victim had a list of people with motives to murder him, including his fashion designer ex-wife, his mistress's husband, and the chief of police. The only evidence they have to go on is a missing cell phone, a stolen book, the victim's letter opener, and an ugly pair of Alpaca wool mittens.

Grand Murder was a fun read with interesting and well presented characters. The book blurb calls the protagonist Catherine O'Brien as pithy. So well put. Told in first person, from Catherine's point of view, author Stacy Verdick Case takes no time in getting the protagonist's personality front an center. There is plenty of action along with good police procedural stuff, and enough twists to keep you guessing.

I liked all the secondary characters, especially her partner, and look forward to future crime-solving adventures from these two.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Alias Dragonfly – Review

The publisher sent me the download of this book after I requested it from netgalley.

The story (from the book page):

"Don't love a spy," warns fifteen-year-old Pinkerton agent Maddie Bradford, a lonely, rebellious outsider with a mind on fire and a photographic memory. It is 1861, the Civil War has just started and this motherless teen must move with her soldier-father from New Hampshire to Washington, DC-a city at war, packed cheek by jowl with soldiers, Rebel spies, slave catchers and traitors of all stripes bent on waging a war of destruction against the Union, and President Lincoln himself.
Maddie's journal, written in secret, of course, begins with her arrival at her aunt’s DC boardinghouse through the first year of the Civil War, a time, as Maddie puts it, full of "dips and dangers," when she becomes a fearless Union spy. And then there is the mysterious, maddening Jake Whitestone, a young man who awakens something equally dangerous in Maddie: Love in a time of terror.

Alias Dragonfly is well presented history, with an interesting fictional character to tie it all together. The battles and Washington City are shown in all their glamor and ugliness. The book is enhanced by Jane Singer's great history notes at the end.

And Maddie? Quite a neat hero. But the book lacked in pace. Maddie's spying adventures didn’t start until after two-thirds of the book. I really got tired of her "learning the trade" even though it was written well, and wanted a more specific story than Maddie’s trials on becoming a spy. Several story bits seemed thrown in, such as Nellie and Isaac. The well-portrayed "battle" at the end between Maddie and her doppelganger (who was only hinted briefly in the book's beginning) was poorly set up; except for a grabber for future Maddie episodes, this scene seemed fairly pointless.

Good history, good writing, slow story (And the cover doesn't look anything like the character--until the last bit of the novel when she finally does some spying).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Patrick Patterson and the World of Others – Review

I read an author interview at Kindle Author and decided to purchase this book.

I really enjoyed James Edward Fryar's book, Patrick Patterson and the World of Others. It's a fresh voice and a different story from SciFi I've recently read.

The story (excerpted from the book page):
For almost thirteen years, Patrick Patterson has lived a quiet, simple life in the tiny town at the edge of Texas, called Farwell, but he is suddenly whisked away by a rag tag group of warriors and others across the United States to discover his true identity and a destiny clouded in mystery.
Never in his wildest dreams did he think that he'd walk through an underground city filled with citizens from across the universe, contend with powerful enemies from the edge of the galaxy, or travel to the Arctic Circle on a high speed train.
Now, he must decide what he truly desires and whether he even wants to take up the mantle of hero...or alien.

So we're in the present, with aliens among us, and we don't even know it. Patrick didn't know it either, until right before his thirteenth birthday. Then he gets to meet these aliens--up close and personal, and some are pretty gruesome.

Fryar seamlessly melds the fantastic into the common place, and accepting the story is easy. The characters help with this, as they are believable--especially their emotions. The story moved along well, but wasn't predictable. There were a few glitches (aren't there always?), such as irregular sentence structure:

"Patrick found a greasy woman cooking at the stove that he assumed was Pratt's wife"

??the stove is Pratt's wife?? But these were few and offset by some nice language:

" like tiny bubbles of oxygen through the vein of the enclosed Lincoln Tunnel, and back out, into the beating heart of Times Square".

I particularly like the overall presentation; what is shown in the prologue, was important to the entire story, and ties up nicely at the end.

But it isn't quite The End, because Patrick, after he escapes the nasty, alien baddies, still has to make his trip to a distant planet (the true World of Others) and face his destiny. I look forward to the next book.

Online For No Reason

An article in my morning paper gave results of a study (a very small sample, mind you) and states that most people (especially younger people) go on line for no reason. The demographics are given at the research site, but I'm wondering what significance any of this has on anything--even if the sampling was large enough to really mean something.

I'd like to see a comparison to the number of people who get up, and turn on their TV, first thing...and rarely watch it. Cruising around the Internet seems no different than flipping through a magazine or two. People are looking for something to grab their interest, and have a much greater chance of finding something on the WWW.

I'm sure some folks think that "no reason" and "just to have fun" are symptoms of malaise; but this is just the new version of playing solitaire or watching soaps. At least the Internet provides a great chance of interaction with others. And perhaps that is really the REASON people go online.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Steps to Heaven - Review

I paid for a download of Steps to Heaven after reading an author interview.

I like police procedural stories and Wendy Cartmell's had the bonus of military police, too. The interaction between the civil and military was interesting. The settings were well described as were most of the characters.

Story (from the book page): Sergeant Major Crane, is a Special Investigations Branch Detective in the British Army, based at Aldershot Garrison. Crane is disturbed by the horrific case of a soldier who, after recently returning from Afghanistan, murdered his wife and 6 year old son and then committed suicide. It seems Solomon was attending a local Church, offering salvation. But as Crane investigates and the body count rises, events take a darker turn and he wonders if the Church is offering salvation, or slaughter...?

Unfortunately the story had few surprises for me, and I didn't like the protagonist who seemed borderline bipolar. He rarely just spoke to anyone: he shouted and stomped, was sarcastic and couldn't sit still. He was unreasonably irritated by anything that didn't seem to go his way. Maybe this is something that will be developed in future books (this is the first of a series).

That Wendy Cartmell wrote the story in present tense would have been okay if there hadn't been slip ups and sentences with both present and past tense. A copy editor would have been helpful to catch this and to correct the absence of commas ("Oh by the way Crane..." and many others), the misspelled words (waives should have been waves, and others), and awkward phrases ("squalling showers," "the syntaxes in his brain start to pop," and others).

I always try to take off my editor hat when reading, but some of these problems distracted me from the story. Nonetheless, with a fast pace and plenty of action, Steps of Heaven is an energetic beginning for a new mystery writer.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Corsair (Outer Pendulum, Part 1) – Review

I paid for a download of Corsair after reading a 200-word excerpt on Indie Snippets.

This short-story length hard science fiction, takes place on a flagship of an armada. I'm not a big fan of hard SF, and the Indie Snippet's post didn't really indicate this genre. The snippet spoke of slavery and mining colonies. Nonetheless, I read on, pleased by the competent writing and good descriptions.

The Commander of the armada, Eli Saffinger, is well described both physically and emotionally. He has revenge on his mind, as he hopes to engage the alien commander who destroyed a cruise liner, killing more than 1000 people. The battle scene is quickly set, and proceeds with action fit for a TV screen.

It was all over rather quickly and I think it should have been fleshed out to at least be a novella (~60,000 words). It ends with hints of more to come (This is Part 1, after all).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blood Country - Review

I downloaded the electronic edition of Blood Country when I found it as a freebie (a short-lived occurrence) on an e-book site. The printed edition had been published by Walker Publishing Company, Inc. in 1999, and I might have enjoyed the book a bit more if I'd read that version.

Story: Claire Watkins is living in a small Wisconsin town with her daughter, Meg, after her husband's death--an unsolved murder. She works for the county sheriff's department and enjoys small town police work after having been a detective in the Twin Cities. But life changes on two fronts when her elderly neighbor is murdered in his yard; then her daughter admits she saw the man who drove the truck that ran over her father. Claire calls her ex-partner to help her with the new evidence about her husband's murder while she works on solving the small town killing.

Mary Logue is a very good wordsmith; the descriptions and sense of place were well crafted. Character differences made all the people in the story easy to recognize. For me, however, there were too many points of view; some where internal thoughts that could have been better served to come out in dialog with the principal character. Because of this, the story bogged down in many places, and the tension and action didn't live up to the title Blood Country.

Most aggravating were the many errors in the text. It was obvious the e-book layout hadn't been vetted. face most times came out as fece; missing punctuation was jarring as well as sections of dialogue that weren't separated into paragraphs. I find it very disappointing when a publishing company (in this case, Tyrus Books – F+W Media, Inc, Adams Media [all the same, I guess]) sloughs the work of creating a good final product. And they have the nerve to charge more than $7.00 for it! Hopefully, they'll go in and make the corrections--an advantage to e-books that more publishers should utilize.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Understanding Exposure - Review

I purchased Understanding Exposure from a book catalog to which I subscribe. I have a small collection of photography books, mostly information-related, and this seemed like a good one to add to the shelves.
This is Bryan Peterson's Revised Edition, with the subtitle of "How to Shoot Great Photographs with A Film or Digital Camera." I shot film for many decades, and switched to digital just a few years ago; I was ready for some more tips on how to get the best from my pixelated (maybe pixilated :-)) pictures.
The book didn't disappoint. Peterson presents fine examples with well-written text. I also liked that he stressed how to get the picture right when you take it, and not rely on photo-manipulation programs to make corrections. Although some of the information seemed very basic, I appreciated getting the information I already knew (or thought I did) from a new perspective--part of the learning process that I crave.
Recommended for both photographic newbies and experienced shutterbugs.

My Photo Art

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Only Witness - Review

I purchased the electronic edition of Pamela Beason's book after reading an online interview by the author.

Story: A young mother, Brittany Morgan, leaves her sleeping infant in a locked car, only to return a few moments later to find the baby gone. Most of the town thinks Brittany killed little Ivy. Detective Matthew Finn sets out to discover the truth, but evidence to charge Brittany is nonexistent, clues are slim, and there were no witnesses. He expects this will become another Cold Case. Then he hears from Dr. Grace McKenna who claims her charge, Neema, saw what happened. Neema? A gorilla with the mind of a five-year-old and adept at sign language. Could this truly be the breakthrough he needs to solve the case?

When the opening of The Only Witness was told from Neema's point of view, I was concerned there would be too much animal "thought," but that wasn't the case. The action picked up and I was totally caught in the agony of the grieving, beleaguered mother. McKenna's interaction with her sign-language-speaking animals was believable. By the time McKenna decided to tell Detective Finn what she knew, the well-crafted story had me reading straight through to the end.

The end was the only place I felt let down, and I know this is because of my personal preferences. Nearly everything was wrapped up with neat solutions. I won't give spoilers, but for those who like rosy ending where you say, "aww" with a smile; you won't be disappointed.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Anonymous - Does It Matter?

With the movie due to open this month, I've given thought to the anonymity or not of writers--more specifically, the works they create. "A rose by any other name..." Is that true? Or does it matter whether the person listed as the author really wrote the piece?

This smacks of some sort of heresy for me to even think this, but don't the written tomes stand for themselves with their engaging manner or philosophic overtones--creative word usage, and mind-challenging presentations?

Ach! No. It can't be that simple. I'm a writer and a photographer, and it is very disturbing to think that someone else would take credit for my creative idea and the hard work of developing its presentation. But it happens...unfortunately more often than we know...and it's not just the creative spirit of an artist (writer, lyricist, painter, photographer, et. al.) that is being stolen, but the monetary rewards for the original thinker.

Plagarism is a reality, and not restricted to overwrought college students trying for a good grade. It flourishes in the broader scheme of the consumer public. It's a subtle form of identity theft. A nationwide effort is currently underway to curtail the blatant money-making plagiarism of one person, David Boyer. Although reported several times over that last few years, he still grabs up writings of others and republishes them under his name. I lend my support to the effort to get him stopped and hope that you will, too.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Let Us Prey - Review

[I received Let Us Prey from the author when I accepted her request to review this book.]

It's a mystery, It's chick-lit, it's romance. Jamie Lee Scott's Let Us Prey has it all. Mimi Capurro is the first-person protagonist, a recently widowed thirty-something who has started Gotcha Detective Agency in Salinas, California. Her employees are a good mix of characters—believable and well drawn. All the characters are nicely crafted, including author Lauren Silke, who hires Gotcha to investigate possible threats against her. But rather than Lauren, it's that woman's assistant who is gruesomely killed; Mimi's investigation switches focus.

The mystery, who killed Esme Bailey, has many suspects; many of them are male, to whom Mimi responds with varying levels of libido. Police procedure comes into play, with the assistance of one of Mimi's college sweethearts, Nick Christianson (go hormones, go!). Nick is a police detective with the Salinas PD. They perform the Attract-and-Aggravate Romance dance as they step on each other's toes during the investigation. This is nicely handled.

I had worried at first that the vampire aspect would take over the story; it didn't. Vampire books are what Lauren Silke writes, and many of the suspects participate in a vampire RPG. I did have a problem with a few plot elements, especially why threats and aggression were directed at Mimi? Although I had a good sense of Mimi's fear and anger, the reason she was a target wasn't adequately explained for me. I truly appreciated that all the scenes had a point and related in some way to the mystery&mdsh;nothing seemed thrown in only for the sake of drama, romance or hype. Scott's Let Us Prey is a fun, well-written read, and a good beginning to a new mystery series.

On a scale of 5: +3 for originality, +5 character development, +4 pace and story flow; +3 edits and format

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Bit About Book Reviews

I've recently read a bunch of comments on forums and groups about the content in book reviews. I write book reviews, and I also write books, so I understand what prompts concerns. The public reviewers that I find on the book-sale sites often offer glowing recommendations to the point of disbelief. When I see the same reviewers constantly giving five-stars, I wonder: 1) are they being paid? and 2) do they truly read the book? Or perhaps, they only want to give praise, and never post about books they didn't absolutely love.
As a writer, I grin when seeing five-star reviews on my works, but I also like to read the less flattering reviews—a chance to learn something I can fix in other things I write. But then, there are reviewers who are terse and rude. Not fun to read—neither on my book page nor someone else's.
I also review books, and I try to be objective when I do so. But writing a book review is like trying to review of a chef salad. You can take parts of it and make comments: the dressing was too tart, the mild cheeses—very good, the lettuces could have been more crisp and I wanted more radicchio. Then you sum it all up to a total of some kind. That total is a whim of the salad eater. Some people don’t like radicchio, and other like their cheeses more aged.
Here's what I look for in a salad—er—book. I grade on a five-point scale for 1) originality: is this a typical genre story or does it offer something new and different?; 2) character development: consistency for each character in voice, emotions and description with each character being distinctive; 3) pace and story flow: as in a salad, I like it when the tart is offset by the sweet, the crunch with the smooth, and when it's all relative to the whole; 4) edits and format: grammar, spelling and sentence structure must be correct and word-choice appropriate for the scenes; the layout (this especially in electronic editions) should allow the reader to progress through the book without a hitch.
I don't read a book, thinking critically about these elements. Usually the negatives sort of jump up and slap me (inaccurate spelling and grammar, rough transitions, head-hopping). Some readers can breeze right by these things that I consider imperfections, but I'm also and editor, so I see all this stuff. Parts of a book that I delight in, usually come to me after I've finished reading the whole piece. I sit back and I think, that was nicely done.
When I write the review, I give a thumbnail of the plot and avoid spoilers. I try to address each of the elements I think important, and if I criticize, I like to explain why. For review readers, particularly the authors, I hope they remember that what I write is a single opinion. Let's face it, if everyone liked the same thing the same way, reading books would be pretty boring.
Here are a related articles I posted a while back on my Get It Together blog: Writing a Book Review, and Criticism Can Sting
You can find a list of reviews I've posted on this blog by clicking "book reviews" in the labels (right side).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Witness Above - Review

I bought the e-book version of A Witness Above after reading an interview on Kindle Author. The setting intrigued me, as well as the mystery, and I wasn't disappointed. I was engaged from page one and recommend it to any mystery fan.

From the promo blurbs: "Thirteen years ago, Frank Pavlicek left the NYPD under less than ideal circumstances. Now, the divorced father of a teenage daughter, he works as a private investigator in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he indulges his passion for falconry&emdash;and tries to live outside the shadow of his past.
"While hunting with his red-tailed hawk, Armistead, Frank finds the gruesome remains of a teenage boy’s body – barely concealed behind a pile of brush...But what Frank finds in the dead boy's wallet is even more disturbing—his daughter’s phone number, scribbled in ink on the edge of a bill. He pockets the evidence and flees. Days later, his daughter is in jail and his past is coming back to haunt him. His reputation--and life--are on the line…"

Andy Straka's protagonist, Frank Pavlicek, is a strong character, with emotional depth and realistic concerns. That Straka got all this out in a first-person presentation credits his writing ability. I often avoid first-person stories, because they're come off a bit vapid. Not here. Word choice and descriptions were vivid, and the action moved well. Although I knew who the perp was right at the beginning, I was interested in seeing how Pavlicek figured it out.

Details about falconry were nice; I always like to learn new things. Straka worked this into the story quite well, right from the title.

A Witness Above was a Best First Novel-Anthony, Shamus, and Agatha Award Nominee.

Friday, July 1, 2011

No Hero - Review

I received the publisher's e-ARC of Jonathan Wood's No Hero from netgalley.
Publication date: ~19 July 2011
Publisher: Night Shade Books

From the publisher: "What would Kurt Russell do?" Oxford police detective Arthur Wallace asks himself that question a lot. Because Arthur is no hero. He's a good cop, but prefers that action and heroics remain on the screen, safely performed by professionals. But then, secretive government agency MI12 [MI37] comes calling, hoping to recruit Arthur in their struggle against the tentacled horrors from another dimension known as the Progeny. But Arthur is NO HERO! Can an everyman stand against sanity-ripping cosmic horrors?"

I really liked the first-person non-hero, Arthur Wallace. Jonathan Wood has written this character with style and personality that grabs the reader from the opening page. The supporting cast are also well written, from the loquacious science guy to the steampunk cyber authority, and the "Let's stick to business" leader of MI37. No Hero is an action Sci Fi adventure akin to the movies Men in Black and, Arthur's favorite, Big Trouble in Little China. In No Hero the aliens are seeping through from another reality—an updated version of the usual "world is doomed" scenario. This is also a popular theme in SF right now, with true science speculating on different universe dimensions with different physical properties. The idea is that our universe has a membrane that secludes us from different entities and physics.

I especially like Wallace's continual shock that he is in a real "save the world" situation—sometimes he is exhilarated, but most often is aghast at his position in it all. His frustration at not really knowing what is happening is palpable. The whole idea of another dimension is as alien to him as the aliens.

But, there were story problems—or actually, elements in action adventures that usually gripe me. Jonathan Wood wrote from the accepted rules of the genre and did a fine job, but I am always bummed by the ineffective "good guys" who have limited skills, power, etc. while the "bad guys" (in this case the Progeny) seem invincible. I suppose this is to get the reader to cheer for the underdog. I could accept the underdog role of Wallace and his MI37 team, but the supposed Keepers of the Status Quo Between Realities (the Dreamers) were a bunch of duffs. And while Wallace was frustrated with inadequate information, the final action scenes left me frustrated with the continual deflection of any real answers or presentation of what was really happening. I still can't figure why the Dreamers were so ineffective. Nor could I figure out how people like The Sheilas (and a few others) came to be.

The potential for further books with Arthur Wallace and MI37 fighting anomalies of the universe is clearly set up, and for all that I don't often like some of the devices of this genre, I know I'll grab the next Wood books and enjoy the action and unique situations.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Married You For Happiness - Review

I requested and received the e-galley of Lily Tuck’s I Married You For Happiness through Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press Publication date: September 2011

When composing the book review of Lily Tuck’s I Married You For Happiness I found myself in a conundrum. The writing style is easy to read, good word choices, and the tone fulfilled the overall thrust of the book. I reread several parts of it, trying to determine why I felt a bit dissatisfied.

I was quite pleased with the unique setting of telling about a 30+ year relationship. There is a death. An unexpected and unexplained death. Philip comes home, says he'll lie down a bit before dinner, and that's his end. Nina finds him on the bed...dead. No sign of convulsion, or distress. Just—gone. The story is the new widow in mild shock, and remembering select moments in their life together as she sits by the bed all night.

As often happens with memories, they come erratically, triggered by sound, a glimpsed object, a taste. The memories tell of their meeting in Paris, parts of his background and hers; her concerns for things she never really knew about him, and her own secrets she kept from him. This montage of the past is laced with mathematical theory and content. That was his life, a mathematician. The well-researched comments from the profession are interesting, yet also show the distance in their relationship (even the cover image shows this). Nina didn't understand most of it, and didn't seem to want to understand.

For me, learning their story through memories (essentially flashbacks) became tedious. Another problem was the present-tense narrative that became intrusive; I found some of the transitions between past and present (both told in present tense) a bit rough. There were also scenes that Nina couldn't have known about, such as what Philip said to his class at various times—even in their last session.

I really didn't care much for Nina. I had empathy for her situation—the suddenness of lifestyle change—but she seemed too withdrawn even in the memories. Referred to as a redhead, noted for fiery character, hers was bland. The title "I Married You for Happiness" could have had an addend "But Didn't Find It." The scenes of possible happiness were tainted by the smell of garbage, a prowling cat, a lost dog. It seemed more she married him for direction and was irritatingly content to be the house frau on the fringe of his busy life. Only once was her art work referred to as completed, in reference to a piece she gave to their daughter; the rest was scrapped, unfinished, and sources of dissatisfaction. Perhaps this was Lily Tuck's design for the book. If so, I think she succeeded. If not...

Herein is one of the book's strengths: it's propensity to induce contemplation (consternation?). I Married You For Happiness will be a great title for book clubs and reading groups because of the varied opinions and reactions that will come forth.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Short Story Shorts - Reviews

I have always like short stories; I appreciate the skill it takes to develop characters and a story in a limited number of words (something I have trouble doing). Here are two authors who write both short and long fiction, and have used their short story talent to showcase their work. I "met" both of them through social networking, where I also learned about the following titles.

Craig Lancaster's This is Butte, You Have Ten Minutes contains three short stories with three very different settings and characters. In the title story is "the man with the Blackberry" who is busing home after his car broke down. He is a "modern guy" and while he sends text messages to her significant other (they are at odds), he imagines names and lives of his fellow bus passengers. One of these people offers up more than he imagined, and possibly changes his life. This story is upbeat and with moments of comedy.

In the second story, we meet Alyssa ("Alyssa Alights"), a runaway from an abusive home, as she attempts to get a new life on the streets of Billings. The third, "Star of the North", is set in the Montana State prison, with lifer inmate befriending a new con, and then learning stupefying circumstances about the buildup to his own crime.

In each of these three, very different stories, the characters of the protagonists and supporting characters are clearly drawn. Realistic dialogue fits the circumstance of each story, showing the broad range of Lancaster's abilities.

Craig Lancaster is a Montana journalist. His first full-length fiction book, 600 Hours of Edward, was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and the 2010 High Plains Book Award winner. His second book, Summer Son was chosen as an Amazon Encore book.

Velda Brotherton writes from a very different perspective and place. A native of the Ozarks, she presents the regional history with great insight. The two short stories in Going To Freedom reflect her passion for history. The title story (first published in The Whitest Wash, Lost Creek Press) is set in the Depression era, with an unlikely circumstance of a family having a Bengal tiger. Ina has a particular fondness for the big cat; her husband, Lee, does not. These differing views show the relationship in the marriage as well as situation of the times.

The second story, "Blue Ribbon" (first published in Echoes of the Ozarks, Ozark Writers League), spans several decades, beginning in 1883, as we see Lena as a young romantic girl intrigues and in love with the adventure of the passing train and the young railroad man who always waves. Then Lena is old, with only her memories and dreams. The depth of passion and remorse in this story is excellent.

Brotherton has developed two different protagonists and their lifestyles. The era of each piece is well-drawn, and the rich language evokes vivid pictures of the Ozarks.

Velda Brotherton has received many awards, which include being a 2008 finalist for the WILLA in creative non fiction. Her historical newspaper columns have earned three merit awards from the Arkansas Press, and a collection of the columns is scheduled for publication as a book.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rafe - Review

I downloaded Rafe after reading a sample from the Kindle page. This is a 2011 ebook version of a 2010 Trade paperback.

Frank Roderus's Rafe: A Tale of Redemption has all the elements of a classic western—bank robbers, shootouts, ambushes—with the added element that protagonist Rafer Allard finds faith. It opens as Rafe sets things up for a bank robbery—that's what he does: he's a professional thief. But the bank deal doesn't go as planned, and Rafe finds himself severely wounded and in the home of a stranger. Begin redemption.

How Rafe becomes Born Again is nicely written without being pedantic. His skepticism doesn't dissolve overnight, and his transformation is presented with realistic emotions.

The action in this story is masterfully written, as those familiar with Roderus's dozens of titles would expect. The land and lifestyles in the late 1880s West rings true. The dialogue is right for the times. All the descriptions of weather and barrooms are drawn well, as Rafe scours Rocky Mountain dales and towns, looking for the person who made the bank robbery go wrong. But wait! He doesn't have revenge on his mind! Honest!

I found the ending scene a bit rushed, and the Kindle edition had a few proofing problems (such as "Large Print Book" still on the cover), but if you want a well-written Christian western, this is a perfect fit.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Sixth Discipline

I bought the kindle edition of The Sixth Discipline after reading about it on Kindle Author Interviews.

Carmen Webster Buxton's The Sixth Discipline is a far-future story that has strong elements of world building—a feature that always interests me. A distant planet is called Haven by the people who settled there. Several factions formed at land fall; they dispersed to different parts of the hospitable planet.

Ran-Del Jahanpur is part of the Sansoussy, who believe in living with the land. By design, their development in the forests remains basic to needs; but they also have a variety of psi abilities. While out hunting, Ran-Del is kidnapped by some technologically-advanced people from the progressive city of Shangri-la. His captivity remains a mystery to him as he is treated well and introduced to the contrary marvels of the city.

Here enters a Romance side of the story, as we meet Francesca Hayden, whose father engineered Ran-Del's kidnap. He intends for Francesca and Ran-Del to marry. Romance, yes; but not heavy-handed with the expected genre standards of distrust, jealousy, and misunderstandings. Instead, the story of why Ran-Del is the perfect husband choice for Francesca, and the politics of Shangri-la guide the story.

The story shifts back to the Sansoussy Forest and Ran-Del's family—especially his great-grandfather who sees what is in Ran-Del's future. Movement between these two regions on the planet shows the cultural development of each in realistic fashion. All the characters are sharply drawn and believable, from the dock-side workers who become Ran-Del's friends, to Ran-Del's grandmother who is unsure of the very modern Francesca. The final resolutions include Sansoussy rituals and political maneuvering in Shangri-la. Tension is high and the outcome satisfactory. A good read (great cover, too).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Power Ballads - Review

I received the galley from the publisher via Expected publication: September 16th 2011 by University Of Iowa Press

On the Goodreads site, I marked that I'd finished reading Power Ballads six days ago. Why the delay of the review? Because I read several of the stories again. I also know I'll reread many of them in the future.

The ten short stories in Will Boast's award-winning Power Ballads are tied together by the lives of musicians. Not the headline makers or anyone of notoriety, but the everyday person who is compelled to play and perform, even when they know they'll never achieve the success of Boney James or Joni Mitchell. Some belong to the corner tavern polka band ("Sitting In"); or the hometown boys gone big ("Dead Weight")—sort of; or the choir director whose musical past is reflected in the equipment he's kept, and the passion he can't bury ("Mr. Fern, Freestyle ").

Boast also tells stories of the people who are part of musicians' intimate lives—the friends, a spouse, a sibling who—who are affected by the lifestyle in ways the musician often doesn't realize. Together these ten stories have drama and insight. My own family has handfuls of musicians; I have musician friends, and I have even done my stint in late-night jams. These stories are real.

The stories are also excellently written. The voice rings true with each character, especially the drummer, Tim, whose stories bookend this collection. Excellent writing as in "Heart of Hearts".

...When Kate saw Holly close her eyes onstage and lose herself completely in song, a shudder when through her, and she despaired that nothing, not work, family, or even sex, could ever exert such a tidal sway over her own life."

And from the title story, "Power Ballads"

I remember them, barely—a last-gasp eighties band that had lingered into the nineties like a stubborn stain before being erased by grunge and "alternative."

Lyrical language floats through each story, along with intense wording of emotional scenes. The tension in the last two stories, "Lost Coast" and "Coda", is gripping. They close the book with strength and energy. Power Ballads is a Must Read for anyone who enjoys excellent short fiction and fine writing. For the musicians out there, the connecting theme is a bonus. I am pleased to have this book in my library.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bet Your Bones - Review

I requested Bet Your Bones by Jeanne Matthews from Poisoned Pen Press through

Partial Overview (from the publisher): "A wedding on the lip of a Hawaiian volcano sounds risky to Dinah Pelerin, the bride’s best friend and maid of honor. The bride, Claude Ann Kemper, has bet her heart that she’s found the right man at last. The groom has gone all in on a real estate deal he believes will set him and his new wife up for life. A group of Native Hawaiians claims that the sacred bones of an ancestral king are buried on the land the groom plans to sell and one of them has vowed do whatever it takes to stop him...."

These are just some of the situations in this in second mystery of a series (reading the first isn't a prerequisite). I was attracted by the Hawaii setting and the mention of myths. Myths are protagonist Dinah Pelerin's specialty as she studies for her anthropology degree.

Her undaunted curiosity (a given for most scientists) had Dinah in the Philippines, so she didn't have too far to go to get to her friends wedding. Her deep concern for her best friend Claude Ann draws her to the Big Island. But Dinah's trip carries a lot of baggage—and not just her own. She worries over Claude Ann's sudden marriage to a man she's known for only six weeks; she broods over the events surrounding Claude Ann's first marriage and feels she needs to clear the air with her friend; then she is alarmed by protests about the business activities of Claude Ann's intended, Xander. Dinah's curiosity kicks in and she tries to learn more about Xander and the protesters, and whether Claude Ann is blundering into a bad, maybe even dangerous, marriage. Events escalate to a murderous state, and Dinah even becomes a suspect.

Along with Dinah, Claude Ann and Xander, this third-person presentation has strongly written characters. Each is distinctive, from the remonstrative protest leader, Eleanor, to Xander's grown children, his business partners, and Claude Ann's born-again daughter, Marywave. There was a point midway through that I grew a bit impatient when new people were introduced, but each was necessary to the whole story; I had a few nice A-ha! moments as things fell into place. The great dialogue also had some witty bits as well as down-home vernacular from Claude Ann and Dinah (They grew up in Georgia).

I also found it refreshing to increase my education while reading this mystery. Matthews does an excellent job of weaving actual mythology into the story (She lists the sources of the myths in the Acknowledgements). These pieces of factual information are sprinkled throughout the book, and always relate to Dinah's thoughts and next actions.

While Dinah's manner of flushing out the bad guy felt a bit occluded, Bet Your Bones is an intricate mystery woven neatly into the lava, smoke and culture of Hawaii. A satisfying and interesting read.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lethal Lineage – Review

I really enjoy Charlotte Hinger's Lottie Albright mysteries. I'm fortunate to own both of them. I like the contemporary Western Kansas setting with wide open spaces and third/fourth generation land survivors. Thirty-something Lottie Albright is married to a respected rancher-veterinarian; she is a mover and shaker in the local historical society, and also the under-deputy sheriff for the county.

Lethal Lineage starts in church with Lottie, and members from several counties, attending the first service at the new church they built themselves. But the day is marred when Episcopal priest Mary Farnsworth has a panic attack, locks herself in another room, and is there found dead after the service. No windows, only one door. A natural physical ailment is ruled out.

The mystery deepens when there is no record anywhere of Mary Farnsworth's history, family, or other relations. And then there's the strange Bishop who was officiating for the baptism of Lottie's niece...He reminds Lottie of a priest she researched who lived 150 years ago.

A lot to contemplate here, and with Hinger's good writing the lively plot moves along quickly. We see her conflicts with being a sheriff and also a wife and a working historian; to lessen her burdens, her husband takes on the vacant deputy position, and is also on the case. Both of them really rile the sheriff of a neighboring county and he makes trouble.

Throw into this mix Lottie's continuing interviews with county people for family history, and, lo!, some seem to be tangential to the Farnsworth murder. Also, Lottie's very urban twin sister, Josie, gets involved after a not-so-smart arrest by the neighboring county sheriff. And then there's the fiddle contest...

Sound complex? Well it is, and I think Hinger nearly undid herself. The information that led to the denouement, while it tied up all the loose ends of the story, is presented quite late and it seemed a scramble to get it all told. And then there's Edna... Well, you know how it is with some characters: you either love 'em or you hate 'em...

All in all, Lethal Lineage is an interesting whodunit with complex characters and descriptive writing. I look forward to the next Lottie Albright adventure.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Heat Wave – Review

You know how the second season of a promising TV show is usually better than the first season? You saw the potential in that first season, but the timing was a bit off, or the lines seemed forced. Yet the characters were compelling enough that you kept watching, and tuned in for the next 13-week run.

Well, the Richard Castle books followed that pattern, which I guess is appropriate since Richard Castle is a TV character writing the fictionalized fiction of the real TV show, Castle. Lucky for me, I had read the second book, Naked Heat first, so when I was somewhat let down with book one Heat Wave I wasn't too undone. (The worst was the teensy-tiny print of the mass-market paperback I got on loan from my public library: 1/4 inch margins, for pity's sake!)

Heat Wave takes place during a heat wave in New York City when protagonist police detective Nikki Heat is called to investigate the death of a prominent mover-and-shaker in real estate. He has plunged six stories to his death from his huge suite/apartment into the beverage bar of the street café below. Suicide? Murder? Let Police Procedure begin! Interviews ensue with all of the deceased's associates, from his ditzy (or is she?) wife to low-lifes who might have a grudge. These characters are well presented and distinctive.

Being the first book of the series, introductions had to be made of Heat's detective assistants (they were too cutesy!) and her ME friend (the best character development), and, of course, the writer, Castle--er, Jameson Rook--who is a police tag-along while he researches a national article about the police department. Rook has none of the humorous charm of book two (or of Castle in the TV show); he seems rather Junior high-schoolish and vain; three cheers for improvements! The romantic and lustful interludes between Heat and Rook are more prominent in this first book and to me seemed a bit overdone. But then, I imagine this first book was an experiment (it almost seemed like a spoof) a whim of ABC directors, and they probably didn't expect it to become a NYT bestseller. If there's a third book, it will no doubt be better than the second.

Heat Wave is a fun read, and as vacation times approach, it's a good book to throw in the beach bag.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Keeper of Lost Causes – Review

I was browsing Net Galley and really liked the sound of Jussi Adler-Olsen new mystery (expected release date, August 2011). Although the overview says that Copenhagen detective Carl MØrck is "deeply flawed" I didn't find him as such. He's a gritty, nose-to-the-grindstone cop who was recently nearly killed in an incident that took the life of one partner and severely injured another. MØrck questions himself as to whether he could have done something differently to avert the mayhem. No flaw there. In fact, this rough-and tumble- guy is really quite compassionate: he makes regular hospital visits to his debilitated colleague; his stepson (from a marriage gone bust but not officially over) lives with him; he even tolerates the odd requests that his I-don't-want-a-divorce wife puts on him.

But the recent near-death experience has put him into a deep funk. Unfortunately, he was never a favorite of some of the detective squad and his depressed, moody attitude makes him more of a thorn in their side. To get him out of their way, and to increase the main department budget, they put MØrck in charge of the newly-developed Department Q--a Cold Case department--expecting he will do nothing.

After sitting around contemplating the inside of his eyelids, he is motivated first by the economics involved in his "promotion" and second by his unique and highly-energetic new assistant. He soon finds himself following up on a five-year-old case of a politician gone missing. Was she murdered, kidnapped, victim of an accident, or did she commit suicide? The body of Merete Lynggaard was never found.

This is the first of a new series for Jussi Adler-Olsen and the presentation of the probable ongoing characters is nicely done. We learn enough to keep interest, but not so much that the background gets in the way of the story. In fact, with his assistant (ostensibly "maintenance man") there are a few mysteries hinted, which I'm sure will be revealed in forthcoming books.

As for the lost cause cold case that intrigues MØrck: it is deftly presented with separate chapters that deal with the victim from shortly before the time of her disappearance; with each Lynggaard chapter, you learn more about her and what might have happened. It's gripping down to the action-packed finale. In the last scene, The Keeper of Lost Causes is also touching with the emotions of MØrck, and all those involved.

Fine story. Fine writing (and translation).

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Miss Timmins’ School For Girls - Review

I requested the ARC for Miss Timmins School for Girls after reading the overview at Net Galley. Here's part of it:

"An intense, irreverent love story and a dark murder mystery, Miss Timmins' School for Girls is also a coming of age novel set at the confluence of three great cultures: the heroine's conservative, middle class Brahmin family, the British Colonial universe of the boarding school, and the rock 'n' roll, drugs, free love philosophy of the 1970s, filtered to this small corner of India...."

I was immediately drawn in by Nayana Currimbhoy's use of language and smooth writing. The 1974 setting in a small mountain town in India is unique and well drawn. Much of the story takes place during the monsoon season, and I could feel the perpetual dampness and visualize the land shrouded in mist and heavy squalls.

The fictional Miss Timmins' School for Girls is in this town--a British missionary boarding school--run much as it has been since the turn of the 20th Century. Well-to-do Indian families send their daughters here to learn English and western ways. Charu Apte goes there to teach, and it is her story that runs through the novel; her story and the secrets and attitudes of the boarding school. Not long after monsoon season begins, one of the English teachers is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. Police suspect murder. Charu was friends with the woman.

This is intriguing. This could be riveting, but for me, it was not. The story was too distended with character descriptions of even the most humble of the large cast of characters. Paragraphs and anecdotes, while nicely told, often diluted an emotional scene, and I often had to tab back several pages to recall the main thrust of a scene.

The story is told from three points of view, but each of them is written as first person. There's Merch, in the prologue, then Charu Apte, then one of the students, Nandita, then Apte again. Unfortunately, there was no variance in the tone and style of the first person writing. The Apte sections often were set up as her reminiscing on the events of 1974, yet the character doesn't give much emotional reflection on the occurrences. First person stories also succumb to the need to give information to which the main character isn't witness, so there is always someone telling and passing on information. Several times an incident would be told, and then retold, and then explained again in detail as the main character talked to different people. Letters and news articles seemed to be recited verbatim by the teller, especially in Nandita's section.

Most of the story is from Apte's point of view, and she is and interesting character; just the story of her family could have made a book in itself. Through Charu, the expectations of India's many social strata are shown, good and bad. Continual reference is made to a woman's role, the importance of marriage and how this determines a woman's place in the family. Her father has secrets, her mother becomes ill, her mother's family is at times exasperating and at others humorous. Some of the best scenes deal with Charu's family.

Yet, had I borrowed this book from my Public Library, I doubt I would have finished it. Too many passages went on too long, and I quickly realized many of them were unnecessary to the overall story. What kept me reading was knowing this was an ARC—actually and "Uncorrected e-Proof." I hope a sincere editor has worked to smooth this into a more contained story that will show off Nayana Currimbhoy's obvious talent.

Here is an interesting article that enhances some of the social ethics mentioned in Currimbhoy's book.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Just Another Day?

Do you remember what you were doing on Earth Day 1970? That was the first national gathering of the environmentally concerned. Some of you might have still been in diapers, or not yet born, so here's the official history.

I was at the University of Michigan in 1970, and that campus was/is renown for activism and protests. I don't recall the exact details, but I'm sure I was into doing something. Our American Indian group, American Indians Unlimited, took Earth Day quite seriously; I remember a bumper-sticker we all had on our cars: "America: Love It or Give it Back". I also worked at the School of Natural Resources for Dr. Richard Duke who was involved in building one of the first social and environmental computer simulations for city planners. (Think prototype for Sim City)

Earth Day was originally a U.S. phenomenon, but has spread to global recognition. Yet in the ensuing forty years it doesn't seem that much has happened on the "Love Earth" campaign. Along with the natural calamities striking areas around the world, the national economics of many countries have restricted Earth's management to isolated areas, and education--what the original Earth Day was all about--has more of a "preaching to the choir" aspect rather than effectively reaching the masses.

With Earth Day, are we merely keeping up appearances by adding yet another "special" day to the calendar? I will contemplate this as I make my once-a-week trip to town; I'll recycle my paper, tin, cardboard and glass while I'm there--something I do every month, not just once a year (Getting rid of plastic is a bimonthly event; our area population isn't large enough to have a full-time plastics recycle center). As usual, I'll have groceries packed in my reusable bags and check the air in my tires to get the maximum gas mileage from my efficient four-cylinder car.

Just another day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ember and Ash – Review

I received Ember and Ash as a publisher's ARC through netgalley. I chose Pamela Freeman's Ember and Ash because of the world-building elements suggested in the overview. I was not cheated here at all and was introduced to a rich work with eleven domains, each with its own environmental attributes as well as spiritual beliefs. But each Domain is under the influence of the Powers--main elements of nature--even when the people don't recognize this.

The story develops when the Power, Fire, suddenly denies fire to several Domains, beginning with the Last Dominion, where Ember and her family reside. To have the all-important element returned, Ember must travel to Fire Mountain to placate Fire. Her entourage includes Ash and Cedar, brothers who become vital to a successful quest. Ember refers to them as her cousins, but she isn't truly blood related.

Especially dominant are the characters of Ember and her parents, Martine and Arvid. Ember starts as a privileged girl who gains maturity as the story progresses. This transformation influences her decision-making in a well paced logical way. Her mother Martine is from an old line of seers; her strengths and that of her lineage come through well. Arvid, Ember's father, is conflicted by his position as Warlord of Last Domain and his love for his wife, who it appears has been deceitful with him. The emotional interactions between the two, and the events that caused them, are some of the most powerful in the book.

Many of the early chapters that detail the travels of Ember's group are also used to elucidate the beliefs and magic associated with the various regions of this World: The Great Forest, Starkling, and Ice King's Country are all vividly presented. (Although a map is provided, the ARC version didn't mark all the places mentioned in the book, such as The Great Forest and The Deep--the site of the book's first chapter).

The lifestyles of the various places are well defined, but the attempt to explain the interrelated histories of each gets a bit muddled. Several chapters are told from the view points of women who travel throughout Last Domain to prepare people for the hard times ahead without fire. While these were interesting, I felt distracted from the events involving the main protagonists. By the end of the book, I felt Freeman included too much information—some of which prompted my puzzlement about the story's ending.

I also found the official overview to be quite misleading. Ember doesn't strike out for retribution, but is following the orders of Fire—orders necessary to restore fire to her people. Fire's reasons become convoluted from Chapter 2 to the end, where a new elemental power is introduced; that's one of the puzzlements I had at with the ending.

But overall, Ember and Ash is a story of quest and transformation with lyrical writing and strong characters. It provides an interesting trip into an intriguing and well-thought-out world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wading Home - Review

Rosalyn Story's novel Wading Home is a story of recovery. Not so much New Orleans recovering from the devastation of Katrina, but of people recovering from the disaster and from personal despair. Focus is not on New Orleans and politics and rescue/repair efforts, but on one family—the Fortiers. Their Louisiana heritage began in days of slavery, and is studded with interesting and not-so-uncommon black/white history.

Patriarch Simon Fortier, a renown New Orleans chef, now retired, lives in New Orleans in a house built by is father. Simon plans to see out the storm. The Fortier family also owns Silver Creek, rich delta land passed down through generations and dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Amidst the upheaval aftermath of Katrina, ownership of this land seems in jeopardy. Simon's only child, Julian, has never been interested in the land. An internationally famous jazz trumpeter, he is in Japan when he learns of Katrina's slam into his hometown. He has recovery issues of his own: returning to his career after an accident; reestablishing his relationship with a special woman and with his father, with whom he has been slightly estranged.

All of these issues are presented in masterfully written prose—language that sets the reader in the physical and emotional scenes. This description, as Julian contemplates his options, he recalls better days when the river was bright with lights and activity. Story writes: "But tonight the only light on the river came from a pale gibbous moon casting oyster-colored shimmers across the rippled surface of the water. Downriver, a lone barge floated without sound."

Later is a description of a brass band funeral march: "No one knew exactly when the tradition got started—the funeral cadence, the somber march in slow, studied steps, the swell of trumpets and trombones wailing a mournful cry before escorting the departed soul to a jubilant release—but of the music's source there was no doubt. Born on a breeze that swept across the African plains, it winged west to the cotton fields of America and seated itself in the soul of the south..."

The picture of ravaged New Orleans is given through conversation, as Julian's friends express their despair, concerns and even anger. Scenes also show the efforts within tight-knit communities to help each other when it seems no one else cares.

I admit, at times the story was a bit drawn out, with elements often hinted but never revealed until later in the book. The deft prose kept me reading, even when I had determined the solution to one continual mystery—how to save Silver Creek.

A very enjoyable read both for the writing and the information presented.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fractal Time - Review

Gregg Braden's Fractal Time: The Secret of 2012 and a New World Age is what I consider a quasi science/self-help book that investigates the possible ramifications of the "2012 world's end" predictions. The main precept is, Does the past hold the blueprint for the future? Braden reasserts many times that the 2012 date is does not predict an Armageddon. He presents cosmologic data that pretty much confirms that earth is a part of fractal time—a moving piece in cycles that have been going since the universe was formed. December 2012 is when the earth will reach end of an oblique circling of the sun that has encompassed 250 centuries. December 2012 also marks when the earth begins its long trip anew. This cosmic trek has been noted in several ancient records from several continents, most notably the 3,000 year old Mesoamerican calendar. The first part of the book details information about how the 2012 date was ascertained from these ancient, often stone-tablet, tomes.

Braden, a former computer systems designer, also presents the theory of the Time Code, and how the small cycles within the big universal cycle can be calculated. These small cycles affect the environment, world politics, and even a single person’s life. This theory is nicely laid out with formulae and several examples; an appendix at book's end has even more step by step detail.

The science part was interesting, and I've perused several of the online sites listed in the references for more information. The "calculate your cycle" part didn't hold my interest as much. I find it more a remarkable mystery that the ancient astronomers and astrologers were able to perceive this movement of the earth—a vast cyclical trek that modern scientists, with computers, space telescopes, and so on, are just now comprehending. Regarding the future, I'm sort of a "whatever" type person, and the idea of trying to determine the not-yet-arrived-at good or bad features of this life’s cycle, doesn't appeal. But for those interested, Braden's book has some unique and well presented ideas.

Monday, March 28, 2011

BS List

Ah, the New Your Times Book Review page. Would I pay to read it? Ha! NOT. I've always considered their "Best Seller" list the B*** S*** list. This HP article articulates my feelings about the NYT Book review.

At my Public Library, when I see an interesting title and then notice it has one of the NYT review list stickers or blurb on it, I slide it back in place and move on to something else. The NYT, just as Madison Avenue and network TV have done, works too hard at trying to sculpt the thinking of Americans. Actually, they're scalping it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Book Release Dates

It's Spring, and many publishing houses are releasing their new titles. I have several friends whose books are due out soon. My friend Linda Leaming, who wrote Married to Bhutan, is rightfully excited about the April 1st release date for her book. She has encouraged people to preorder the book as preorders are suppose to push interest in a title. So I popped over to Barnes and Noble online to do just that—to preorder—but no need; the book is already in stock and on sale—AT A SIGNIFICANT DISCOUNT. Gasp! The same is true at Amazon; Amazon even offers a Kindle version, at a few pennies less than the discounted DTB.

Doesn't a release date mean anything?

I decided to check on other friends' titles. Charlotte Hinger's second mystery for Poisoned Pen Press, Lethal Lineage...I got the date wrong. It was released March 1st, but by golly, it's at a reduced price too.

Next stop, Michael Sims. I know his schedule includes readings for one of his Penguin Classics, The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime, that came out in January, but The Story of Charlotte's Web is not to be released until June. Or is it? Ah! 7 June is the release date and, yes, preorder is still in place at a reduced price, no less.

And these discounts before the book is officially on the market—do the publishers arrange for that? It really doesn't seem economically sound, but maybe I'm missing something. At least the authors take isn't reduced.

To drum up a bit more business, I decided to go back to B&N and post the review I wrote for Leaming's book, but, sadly, that wasn't possible. I hadn't purchased the book from them, so I can't write a review. Of course, B&N didn't tell me that, they just kept declining my "submit" and I assume that's why (I read all the rules and directions, really I did!).

I'm making a trek to town tomorrow and will stop by my local independent bookseller to "preorder" my books. That should generate interest and improve sales demographics. And as for release dates...I'll put no stock in those anymore.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky - Review

I borrowed this book from my Public Library, but I might well buy a copy for my home shelves.

This intricate and well-conceived novel by Heidi Durrow gives a different glimpse into the plural American society. Beginning in 1982, with a six year story line, the reader learns of Rachel (told in first person) who has suffered a horrific family accident that leaves her the only survivor. At age eleven, she is taken from Chicago to Portland, Oregon to live with her paternal grandmother. She is suddenly part of a black community. Not long before this, Rachel had made another move: with her Danish mother and two siblings from a European military environment to Chicago: her black GI father was left behind.

Rachel's emotional assimilation to both changes defines her intelligence and strong character. She is intent to make herself a new girl. On page 10, Rachel reports: "When something starts to feel like hurt, I put it in this imaginary bottle inside me. It's blue glass with a cork stopper." Everything goes in there, joining the major event that has her being a "new girl."

The reader learns of this event through back story with fascinating characters. Presented in third person, each character name is the chapter heading: Laronne, Jamie (who becomes Brick), Nella (Rachel's mother), Roger (Rachel's father). With deft integration of these stories, the tragedy that relocated Rachel to Portland becomes clear.

Durrow flawlessly presents other vivid characters, creating a tapestry of Rachel's Portland life as she matures and survives in a changing global society and Portland neighborhood. This multitudinous presentation intrigued me as an author and an editor. I can understand why this book won the 2008 Bellwether Prize for Fiction (for literature of social responsibility). It has also been chosen as the March 2011 Costco Book of the Month.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, while portraying some racial constants and restrictions, is about family and personal strength. It's a book that launches discussions and fosters introspection. I'm so glad I read it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In the Shadow of the Cypress - Review

I borrowed this book from my Public Library, with hopes (encouraged by the jacket flap info) of having an interesting story and presentation.

I was disappointed.

The story is in two parts, with the historical segment of finding artifacts near the Pacific Grove Chinese community in 1906. The interest, consternation and subsequent handling of the items covers the first half of the book. Then is the contemporary story of Charles (Luke) Lucas who stumbles upon some of the 1906 information and begins his own quest to learn more.

Thomas Steinbeck is an articulate wordsmith. More than 80% of the first segment is narration. But with narrative writing, I expect to be tantalized by creative prose. It didn't happen. Throughout the book, the prose was very dry and journalistic, with such time-worn phrases as, on page 179, "the rain started to come down in buckets..." (A phrase I've always had trouble imagining). The "main" character, Lucas, was fairly flat. The descriptions of the 1906 Chinese community are intriguing, although they have a NatGeo feel about them.

I also found the early time presentation troublesome. The first section presents journal entries from Dr. Charles Gilbert. The first date is in June 1906 when a fire rages through the Chinese community; but the rambling length gives details about events that happened much earlier (such as the April San Francisco Earthquake)--information I would think a true journal keeper would have imparted closer to the time events occurred. The next Gilbert "entries" are from late in thie year, with more information on artifacts and the Chinese community. Then there's the shift to 1906 and character Dr. Lao-Hong. The events his segment tells are in June 1906--the ones written by Gilbert in November.

I did like the art work and proverbs that separated the different sections

What I perceive as an editorial glitch is the Prologue and Epilogue that aren't part of the story; they are Thomas Steinbeck's comments on his background and life. Both are in first person, and I assumed, when reading the Prologue, I was reading about one of the book's characters. NOT. Perhaps Foreword and Afterword would have been better labels

Why did I keep reading this book when I was so dissatisfied? I kept wanting something to happen. I knew the answer to the slight mystery by page 100, so I wanted the characters, especially Charles Lucas, to come alive and offer me something. (sigh) Oh, well; maybe the next book

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Global Thoughts

With the devastating events occurring in Japan and the Pacific Rim, I find it hard to concentrate on my mundane life. I can't imagine the grief of the victims, nor the overwhelming pressure of decision-making on the heads of state and authority service agencies.

There have been so many global tragedies recently, both environmental and man-made, I hope no one becomes inured to the suffering these are bringing to hundreds of thousands of people. This is one planet. We are all one people. Certainly, my life must carry onward, but even my comfort is not immutable. I will have a moment of silence each day for those who aren’t so fortunate. I hope you will consider doing the same.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Drawing Conclusions - Review

I was given the chance to read the ARC of this mystery, due out in April 2011. It is the 20th Commissario Guido Brunetti novel, the first published in 1992. As an overall tag for what the book is about, I would say Drawing Conclusions is a story of possible crimes.

Guido Brunetti is an interesting, thoughtful person; highly observant, very little escapes his notice, from the color of grass, to faint bruises along the neck of a dead woman, Signora Altavilla. Along with the bruises, he considers the placement of furniture in the woman's apartment as peculiar. These are two of the elements that set him on an examination of Altavilla's life and habits. Coroner Rizzardi states the woman's death was from a heart attack and she was known for heart problems. Brunetti wonders if the heart failure could have been precipitated by an act of violence against her.

He pursues the possibility, aided by his assistant, Inspector Vianello, and by Signorina Elletra, the secretary of his immediate supervisor, who is adept at finding all kinds of info. These characters are ongoing in the series, but I had no trouble picturing them and understanding the relationships Brunetti had with them. The same is true with his wife, Paola, and their two teenage children. I enjoyed the family scenes and the loving sparring between them.

I did find Giuseppe Patta, Brunetti's immediate supervisor, is a bit of a cliché--more interested in appearances than crime solving. But Signorina Elettra's personality is so smartly drawn, I think I could recognize her on a street. Brunetti's wonderment if a crime had been committed against Signora Altavilla is the focus of the book; his quest for information turns up other elements that are also possible crimes—events dealing with the an estate and a will; a game of swindle among charity cases. Brunetti pondered them all as he tried to decide what really happened to Altavilla.

As he does this, he is still ever observant to his surroundings; descriptions of the Venetian cityscape are nicely presented, and (I haven't been to Venice) I assume they are accurate since Donna Leon has lived in Italy for more than 25 years.

I am, however, dissatisfied with ending; I kept checking to see if there was more and still wonder if the e-galley I rec'd was missing a chapter. Although Brunetti seemed satisfied with what he learned, other possibilities remained as to what happened to Signora Altavilla. Her "guest," who left suddenly, hadn't been ruled out (it was a didn't-seem-to-fit phone call cast suspicion here); I even have unanswered questions about her son. And then there are the missing pictures...

I also wonder why so much information is given in Chapter 1 about Signorina Guisti, who found Altavilla's body. Do we really need to know about her breakup with a guy and what his family was like? I kept waiting for something about that to resurface later in the story; but actually, the signorina is mentioned only a few times after chapter six.

The intricacies of the government agencies and public services was at times funny and interesting. In all, I enjoyed the book, Well crafted with interesting characters.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

ECHO - Review

Jack McDevitt is a master at presenting humanity of the future in terms we can identify with today. ECHO is a fine example of this. In the far future, when people are flung throughout several galaxies, ECHO shows how humanity still yearns to answer a basic question: Are we alone? Are other sentient, conversant people somewhere primed for contact?

In ECHO, antiquarian Alex Benedict (this is the fifth book in the series) is curious about an artifact he see advertised for sale. It has unknown glyphs on it and is very large. Benedict learns the object once belonged to the late Sunset Tuttle--a man renown for his SETI-type searches. The object goes missing, and all Benedict has are visual facsimiles. When he sets out to investigate what happened to the object, events become both puzzling and dangerous.

This pursuit is not handled solely by Benedict. Although he initially recognizes a mystery that begins the adventure and always deduces the solution, the Benedict novels are written as first-person accounts by Chase Kolpath. Chase is the administrative assistant for Benedict's antiquities company. She is also Benedict's pilot, both on world and off; when action heats up, Chase is at the center of conflict resolution.

Each adventure (book) is a memoir, recording Chase’s perspective of events. She sets the story down for people of her era, although she often puts in asides: "The station’s name, as you probably know, is Tsarendipol..." (page 104). On page 288, after a particularly dangerous misadventure, she shrugs off Benedict's apology and writes, "...when I started putting this memoir together, I'd intended to leave this sequence out...Alex advised me to tell the whole story."

This styling of the book allows a casual comfort when the future technology and circumstances are related. Nothing is overly explained and it’s easy to accept everything presented, such as jackets that, when you put them on, automatically adjust heating for different temperatures (I wish I had one of those!). The language and writing are strong.

As a mystery, the unfolding story of what happened to the object and why has abundant tension, a few red herrings and plenty of action. ECHO is a 2011 Nebula nominee, and I wouldn't be surprised if Jack McDevitt takes top honors.