Monday, February 28, 2011

The First Tycoon – Review

This book, The First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles, was on an A. Knopf recommended reading list, and I borrowed it from my local public library.

I used to live in a city where Vanderbilt was the name of the major university and medical center. I lived there for more than two decades, but knew nothing about the family or the patriarch, Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had amassed a fortune in the 19th century.

I completed only one-third of this very hefty book, simply because I’m not fond of biographies. But the 230+ pages I read were enough to realize the excellent biography and historical writing skills of Stiles. He begins with the background of the parents of Cornelius, with interesting commentary on the attitudes of New World inhabitants and late 100 economics. When Cornelius is introduced I had a firm grasp of his word. The early-to-mid 19th Century are the years I have researched and used in my fiction books, so learning more detail appealed to me. Stiles presented the facts with a comprehensible style. I acquired an excellent sense of what it was like to live and conduct business in the New York/New Jersey port towns—big and small.

Although I didn’t complete the book, I suggest it is a 4-star (or higher) book to biography lovers.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Black History Month Author #5

Here are two people often overlooked in references to Black American authors. I find their lives quite fascinating.
Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882–1961), born in New Jersey, graduated Cornell University 1905 and was the first African-American woman Phi Beta Kappa. She is the author of four novels, and has more than 70 other published works, many first appearing in The Crisis (a journal at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance) for which she served as Literary Editor.
Learn more about this inspired American woman at African American Literature Book Club and Good Reads
Alain LeRoy Locke (1885-1954) is considered the philosopher of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Philadelphia, Locke graduated from Harvard University in 1907 and was the first black Rhodes Scholar. He studied at Oxford and the University of Berlin, then received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard in 1918. He edited and wrote numerous articles, anthologies, and books about black life and culture. Locke taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., for nearly 40 years.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Young Writer Wins Awards

This is Cool

Eight-year-old Brooklyn Wright has written another book The Adventures of the Earth Saver Girl. The book took the second place 2010 National Award for Litter Prevention from Keep America Beautiful and this month Brooklyn received the Captain Planet Eco Superhero Award. She's up for two more awards, too.

You can see Brooklyn's first book (completed when she was six), here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Black History Month Author #4

Octavia Butler (1947 - 2006) has been an inspiration for me to try new things, to follow my own path. I'd always hoped to meet her. In 1995 she said, "I'm a 48-year-old writer who can remember being a 10-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an 80-year-old writer...." Unfortunately, that didn't come to be.

Her writing has always been considered "cutting edge". Along with winning Hugo and Nebula awards, she was given a McAurther Foundation "Genius Grant" in 1995—the first science fiction author to receive this. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in June, 2010. Learn more about her at Answers and see her titles here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Black History Month Author #3

For clarification: the numbers on these posts do not indicate any type of ranking system. Most blogs don't respect posts with the same name, and would probably give numbers anyway. Proof forthwith that this, #3 contains info on two authors. Two authors from antiquity: Lokman and Aesop.
Lokman lived 3000 years ago (1100 B,C,); he was a slave, but his prestige is still highly regarded in Arab countries. One of the best reknown fabulists, many of his stories and proverbs endure today. One of my favorites:
A fly buzzing around full of its own importance finally lit on the horn of a bull and said, "Let me know if I am too heavy for you and I will take myself off."
To which the bull replied,"Who are you? I did not know you came, nor shall I know when you leave."
In volume one of J.A. Rogers World's Great Men of Color, Aesop is said to have lived in the fifth century B.C., and the scant physical descriptions very much match those of Lokman (a coal-black Ethiopian with wooly hair). Some of the fables attributed to Aesop were originally written by Lokman. More is known about Aesop, however, because of the modern era in which he lived, and the profound influence he had on many Western philosophers. Rogers says, "Socrates spent his last days putting his [Aesop's] fables into verse."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Avoid Head Hopping

I'm always happy to see articles and comments from other editors/writers about one of my pet peeves—head hopping. Blood Read Pencil gives good info on this all-too-frequent occurrence in today's fiction. Authors, read and heed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Black History Month Author #2

Zora Neale Hurston (1891 - 1960) is one of my favorite authors. The San Francisco Chronicle once e wrote about her, "One of the best prose writers of this century." I've read most of her works at least twice. One book I have is a 1948 collector’s edition of Seraph on the Suwanee. I lucked into that when the indy bookstore I frequented called me that they had the edition someone else had ordered and then didn’t want. I got it at cost.
I have her other titles, too, including a volume of short stories. The title of that is Spunk that could be a moniker for Hurston.
More than two dozen works have been written about her, most heralding her as one of the founding voices in the Harlem Renaissance. She is a graduate of Howard University and published her first story in 1921. At various times she was part of the Federal Writing Project, and was also a Guggenheim Fellow (1936-1938).

Much more can be told, but reading her work is the best way to know this great American author.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hypothermia - Review

On a friend's recommendation, I borrowed Hypothermia by Arnaldur IndriĆ°ason from my Public Library. I was hesitant, as it has the word "thriller" on the front cover, and I don't like thrillers. But this had none of the mayhem and ghastly details I have usually found in thrillers. (Thank goodness!)

The reclusive and dogged Inspector Erlendur becomes interested in the reasons why a woman committed suicide. He also begins looking into two cold missing-person cases from thirty years passed--each suspected as suicides--although the bodies were never found. The way his information builds on all three cases is very well told. He is a methodical man and would be quite boring if the stories he pursued weren't so intricate. Add to this the recriminations of his daughter and ex-wife, and his own obsessive brooding over a brother who went missing during a blizzard when they were both boys, and Inspector E. becomes a very complex character.

The novel was well written, and descriptions of the Icelandic weather chilled me. Appropriately so, since the various stories all relate to the title, Hypothermia. I did think that some of the inserted stories from the POV of the suicide victim gave away too much.

Near the end, I felt there were too many ghosts, and too many coincidences. The memories of people interviewed by the inspector seemed way too crisp and convenient for the thirty-year distance from events.

Inspector Erlendur is a series character. I'm not sure if I'll try the other books. Only the subject matter would draw me, since I wasn't really taken with the main character.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Naked Heat – Review

I first became interested in this title after reading a forum thread about the TV series "Castle." Comments were made about the new book release by Richard Castle (the character in the TV show)—book two of the Nikki Heat series. ABC had released some of the early chapters online as a promotional tool. The first book (Heat Wave) by this fictional author was on the NYT Top Ten list for several weeks, and this title was steadily working upward.

I checked the title online and downloaded a sample. (Nathan Fillion, who plays the role of Richard Castle in the TV show is also the face of Richard Castle on the book jackets and online book sites), and ho hO! It was really interesting! I borrowed a copy from my Public Library.

In Naked Heat, homicide detective Nikki Heat is called to a crime scene and finds not only the dead body of the infamous gossip columnist Cassidy Townes, but also the sometimes-ride-along-with-the-cops journalist Jameson Rook. (Rook – Castle -chuckle-). Who dunnuit? The suspects are numerous. Rook, who was writing an article about the dead columnist, officially wangles his way into the investigation and is again riding along with Heat. The story is grim. The delivery is witty and well written. It's easy to stay with the main characters since they're are straight out of the TV show, including interactions that were depicted in the first episode of 2011 (yes, I'm a "Castle" fan). The sub characters are all unique and well developed.

Among the realistic interviews and interactions with the suspects are some fun things: the Castle/Rook bit; a publishing company named Epimetheus, an editor named M. Perkins. There are probably more of these little giggle-squiggles that I missed since I only occasionally read Publisher's Weekly and never read People. Many of the story's suspects are movers and shakers in the entertainment world and might be caricatures of real people.

Whatever, the story moved well, with good insight into all the characters and the workings of a homicide investigation. In an interview on Today Online, Andrew W. Marlow, the writer/creator of the Castle TV series, says "...Where we start is to try and find a compelling story and a compelling crime..." Naked Heat is just that. I will check out the first HEAT book from the library soon, and I do hope there's a third in this series.

And now the real mystery. Who wrote this book?

The front matter of the book lists the copyright to ABC. The cover jacket has a copyright to Hyperion Books. The Acknowledgments....Now here's a clue. The acknowledgments are Richard Castle thanking everyone, including all the TV show characters as if they were real. Lots of other names, too, and I don't know how many were real. One of the real-people names I did recognize was Andrew W. Marlow, the above-named writer/creator of the show; and Castle also gave a special thanks to "co-conspirator" Terry E. Miller. Hmm. Miller is also a screenwriter and is married to Andrew W. Marlow.

Well, this is just circumstantial evidence. Until the perp comes forward and fesses up, it's still an open file.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Black History Month Author #1

Frank Garvin Yerby
(1916-1991), was born in Augusta, GA. He wrote popular historical fiction, and his books are often categorized as Romance and Gothic. In 1944 Yerby won the O.Henry Award for "Health Card" -- a best first-published short story. In 1946 The Foxes of Harrow was published, and later picked up as a popular Hollywood movie.
The Black literary community criticized Yerby for not giving more attention to racial problems. He moved to Europe in the early 1950's and lived the rest of his life outside the U.S.
Yerby's career boasts thirty-one published titles, many of which have been reprinted in England and U.S, in large print and paperback; three titles were adapted for movies. He died in Madrid, Spain in 1991.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Deadline in Athens - Review

I enjoy books that give a different persective and let me "travel" to new locations. Deadline in Athens did just that.

I had to rethink the way I went into this book; U.S. standards didn't apply. Told in first person, Haritos reflects on page 4: "...who has time to worry about Albanians? If they'd killed a Greek, one of ours...that would be different. But they could do what they liked to each other. It was enough that we provided ambulances to take them away." Actually, the prejudices and reactions presented aren't a lot different from what can be found in police departments in this country. Here, however, in books it's usually a secondary character that is blatant with hostility while the protagonist tsk tsks and attempts to make up for the other's lack of PC.

Not so with Deadline in Athens. In this book, all the characters are very up front with their prejudices; there are also instances of what could be called police brutality but is taken for granted in this Athens atmosphere. This police behavior is also explained a bit, as Haritos thinks back to his days with the military police--to the revolutions just two decades removed within the country--to the different political structure of Greece compared to the States.

But about Inspector Haritos. Putting aside the honest representation of his prejudices, why did he have to emotionally and verbally abuse his wife? By the end of the book, it seems it was part of the roles they played in their marriage, but it nagged at me.

Will this domestic glitch be enough to keep me from reading another Inspector Haritos mystery? Definitely not. Too well written, too unique a story line for me to pass up a title because of My prejudices.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Poorly Wrought Books What Not To Do

A friend's recent post over at Facebook listed a link to a NYT article about memoirs. In it, the author gives his list of things NOT to do if you're bound and determine to write your memoir. It's unfortunate that the article was a few years too late for author Meloy's The Anthropology of Turquoise. The language was well crafted, but the entirety didn't capture me as a volume of import. I'm sure someone else has/will read it and be smitten.

The Prison Ship also had a few things authors should not do.

Do not think your prose is so witty that it can't be streamlined; do not use adjectives (often multiple adjectives) in eight out of ten sentences; do not sacrifice story line for verbose descriptions (even elegant descriptions) of rooms and restaurants and food.

I admit I'm picky, but phrases such as "wander apparently aimlessly" and "his hands lying apparently idle" and "he moved apparently quite casually" are awkward. As is, "[His thought] of her body beneath the clothes revealed in his memories as effectively as the bodies of travelers passing through the new airport X-ray security machines."

One character spoke "trenchantly" two times in three consecutive paragraphs; or how about "[they effused] angry negativity and almost childishly sulky resentment." I don't think I've read a book with more adjectives and modifiers.

Wedged within this was a mystery that seemed like an afterthought; it was convoluted and overrun by the heavy prose; I found no charm in it.