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.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bone and Jewel Creatures - Review

Stories about wizards and sorcery aren't usually my preference; the interesting title and cover compelled me to take this from my public library shelf.

I was not sorry. Elizabeth Bear's story about a wizardry power struggle was--enchanting :-)

Protagonist Bijou, is an artificer who creates and animates creatures from bone, gem and other inanimate objects. She is old, and her thoughts and struggles with her infirmities are well told. The reader will also sense she has a "past." This aspect of mystery is enhances when her former apprentice and colleague, Brazen the Enchanter, brings her a feral child with a withered and festering arm. Bijou agrees to help the child, although she feels discomfited by the circumstances. Her worries are substantiates when she discovers a purposefully placed item in the child's rotting hand that is causing the limb deterioration. She suspects who has done this, but isn't sure why.

In this well-written novella, Bear gives three points of view: Bijou, Brazen, and the child Emeraude. Bear moves effectively from one to the other in clearly-delineated passages that add dimension to the story. The writing and vivid descriptions quickly immersed me in this magical world, from Bijou's workshop and her intricate companions she constructed, to the surrounding City of Jackals. I enjoyed the book, and the brevity seemed fitting for the story. Too much more could have been too much.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Glass Rainbow - Review

Dave Robicheaux is an ongoing series character [more than 16 titles] I hadn’t read other Roicheaux books and was relieved not to feel left out with his personality. In this story, Robicheax follows a possible lead about the murder of a young woman. This sends him to other leads and on various interviews and confrontations with some well-presented characters. Characterization is one of Burke's strong suits. Other murders take place and Robicheaux’s instincts send him along dangerous paths.

My descriptions is without detail to avoid spoilers. The convolutions within this novel, including involvement of family members and friends, are so many even author Burke didn’t get them all sorted. As a mystery, this didn't work for me.
1) The protagonist didn't investigate as much as he did instigate.
2) I like police procedural stories, and this didn't have much; in fact there were lots of rules broken.
3) I wasn’t satisfied with the ending and some writing style elements detracted. Burke uses first person for the Robicheaux sections, but also presents other characters in third person. Although the writing and use of language was all top drawer with vivid descriptions and character depictions, I found the third person segments to be superfluous, often detracting from the story. The information from those segments was rehashed in the Robicheaux scenes, and the tension of the supposed-to-be-gripping finale of the book was diluted by a third person presentation.

Development of the protagonist's foibles and concerns were quite good, and when I began to think of The Glass Rainbow as a novel, not a mystery, I liked it much better. In all, I felt it was a 2-star mystery and a 3-star novel. I know I'll remember the characters and emotion of the story.