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.