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.