Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Liberty Lanes - Review

I borrowed this book from my Public Library.

Paperback, 192 pages
2011 by University of Nevada Press
ISBN 0874178576 (ISBN13: 9780874178579)

As an oldster, reading about oldsters, I believe that Robin Troy has given poignancy and truthfulness to the subject of old age..

Her short novel Liberty Lanes is about relationships among a group of long-time friends in a small Montana town. All are more than 70 years old; they bowl together, have parties, and generally enjoy having fun. Then stalwart member Nelson Moore prevents one of the women, Fran, from choking to death on a chicken bone. Nelson is a hero; he is interviewed by the local papers. And that's where their interactions get a bit wobbly. It's also when they notice that Nelson is losing his cognitive abilities.

Each chapter is written from a different point of view, beginning and ending with Nelson, as the group is suddenly very conscious of previously ignored circumstances. Fran becomes frightened by her own impermanence; Bethany, always courageous, harbors worry that she could have done something to offset Nelson’s condition; Alistair (blind since in his 20s) seems to have insight about each of them that they don’t realize themselves. The young journalist Hailey James eventually notices Nelson’s condition, too, but not before the interactions of the group have given her reason to contemplate her own relationships—or lack thereof.

I’m fortunate that no one in my family has suffered from Alzheimer’s or even mild senility. But I have several friends from whom I’ve learned about this sometimes sudden disease and caring for those who have it. Robin Troy’s depiction of Nelson, slowly losing bits of himself, is well written, and seems to mirror what I’ve heard from my friends. It would have been easy for this book to be a real downer—especially since I’m in this age group, but Liberty Lanes gives a dignity to it all that for me was unexpected.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Pinch of Dust - Review

I really enjoyed this historical Christmas short story by Carol Buchanan. "A Pinch of Dust" (10K words) not only tells a story of goodwill and caring for others, but portrays the rough living conditions of a 19th century mining town.

It takes place on Christmas Eve, 1864, with all the cold winds of Montana and with a child begging on the street. "Mister, can you spare a pinch of dust?" she asks Dan Stark.

Dan's reaction? He gets himself into a poker game with the girl's dead-beat father.

This gets him into big trouble with his wife, Martha, and his stepchildren, Timothy and Dotty. "You'll be sittin' in the seat of the ungodly!" Martha says.
His intentions are really good. But can he pull it off?

Set in Virginia City, Montana Territory, Buchanan has employed her great character--Dan Stark, from her Vigilante series--as the protagonist. There's also a lot of card-shark talk (beyond me, but interesting just to see the ins-and-outs of a five-card stud game).

Author's notes at the end are also interesting.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Review

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I have heard many comments about this book, and the author currently lives in my state, so I borrowed the title from my Public Library.

It started off a bit slowly, but the writing was smooth so I kept at it as protagonist Henry Lee's life unfolds in a series of well-written flashbacks (1942) and contemporary (1986) scenes. Character development sort of grew on me; all characters, from Henry's war-obsessed father to Sheldon, Henry's sax-player best friend, and Henry's son, Marty are very well portrayed.

The story is essentially a love story, not my favorite read as I tend to find these stories a bit maudlin (this one teetered on the edge at the end). In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, the enduring commitment of Henry (Chinese American) with Keiko Okabe (Japanese American) is brought to life, beginning when they are twelve-year-olds and the only non-white students at a private Seattle school (I identified with this big time, since I was in a similar situation at twelve—albeit several years later than 1942, and not in Seattle).

I was, however, most interested in the World War II domestic history--the West Coast internment of Japanese citizens. The information was deftly given so it didn't seem like a history lesson; the characters' emotions and reactions were believable and dramatic. Even as I cringed about the government procedures, I could understand the mind-set; just as I could understand the conflict between Henry's parents and their only son.

This is a powerful story.
Recommended (especially for anyone born after 1980).

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Weapon - Review

I was lucky enough to win a copy of The Weapon in a Goodreads Giveaway.

The Weapon is Heather Hopkins' first Thriller, and it is full of action and intrigue. Hopkins' education includes a degree in business, and this shows in the setting of this face-paced novel. The protagonist, Veronica Stone, is a financial wiz and high-tech entrepreneur who has built a fantastic international business. Her own tech innovations make headlines worldwide. Although she's incredibly successful, a tech genius, and beautiful, to boot, she is burdened by the drive to always be on top, to attain more and more acclaim. This leads her into an unhealthy liaison with some international nasties.

By the time Veronica realizes she's made the wrong move, she in too deep, framed for an attempt to kill the U.S. President, and the target of her recent creation--an application of a Cold War weapon--a devastating way to spread a wasting disease throughout society and especially on top officials. The creators expect to use this to take over the governments and bring themselves to world power.

Veronica is chased through several countries, but her masterful abilities (did I mention she's a martial arts expert?) and wit help her survive.

The Weapon is persuasive. Hopkins is a very good writer, and the characters are richly drawn and believable, which adds to the tension of the story. I cared about Veronica and her plight, and her friends and family.

The ending hints at a sequel. I look forward to it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

On Promised Land Now in Print

The American historical fiction, On Promised Land now available in print.

This novella is set in the 1840s at the end of the Second Seminole War, and details the great American dream of all pioneers who settled the western lands. But these are black pioneers. Black-Seminole: Tru, free-born in the Everglades and recently orphaned; his two younger siblings, Toby and Kate and his teenage Calusa wife, Tall Deer.

These stalwart, industrious folk have been driven West and are caught up in politics and expansion in Indian Territory. They strive and survive in what we think of as the "American Way" even when they aren't recognized as Americans--or Seminoles--or free. Yet they persist.

Electronic versions of the title are available for Kindle and Nook

Cover and layout for print and eBook by GITP.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Black Women in the West

© 2001 Kae Cheatham and mostly published in The Portland Observer, 7 Feb. 2001

"Go West, young man, go West." Horace Greeley popularized this John B.L. Soule phrase in 1851, and Greeley also insisted that the western lands should be "reserved for the benefit of the white Caucasian race." But at the time he was calling for white men to go west, the West contained a sizable population of men who were black, and a growing population of black women.
Black women inhabited farms, towns and cities from the Gulf coast to northern California. The beginning of the 19th century saw Mississippi river towns, such as St. Louis, which had been under French rule, with significant populations of free French-speaking blacks. From 1817 and into the 1840s, untold numbers of blacks, slaved and free, emigrated to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) when the Five Civilized Tribes were forcibly removed from the southeastern states. During this time of westward expansion, black women also trekked along in servant capacity to entrepreneurs and pioneers moving to Arkansas, Texas and the western Territories. Texas was home to thousands of black women. Most were slaves, some were also free--former Spanish slaves. Wherever military forts were established, officers moved west with their families and domestic servants. By the 1870s, black women nurses, wives and teachers, mostly connected with the black military, joined this population, while black women from southern states lead the way to Kansas as "Exodusters" to escape the persistent backlash of the Reconstruction South.
History information, however, followed the sentiments expressed by Greeley and for more than a century, the mystique of carving out a niche in the massive western landscapes was restricted to white males. It has only been in the last thirty years that blacks have begun to appear in western history. Texts have bloomed with information about the black soldiers who served on the western frontier. Then came the admittance that black cowboys also existed--not just a few, but many. It is estimated that more than 5,000 black cowboys worked the cattle drives from the 1860s to 1890s.
As the renaissance of history continued, women have been credited for their part in settling the West. At first only white waifs, wives and bawdy girls were mentioned, but recent presentations have begun exploring the broader aspects of women's role in the westward expansion. The information about women now includes women of color.
The west coast has a particularly proud heritage as black women aided the region's spectacular rise of culture and wealth. In 1859 California (just eight years after Greeley's narrow-focused urging), the women of Sacramento's black community began a school--a school whose pupils won medals of achievement from the Sacramento Board of Education. The majority of the twenty-five to thirty students were black and female.
Where did this black community come from? More than 2,000 free black men had hurried to Old California to take part in the Gold Rush, and some sent for their families. California, like Texas, had a small population of former Spanish slaves and mixed-blood blacks from before the arrival of Americans. Again, the whites who came west brought their slaves. Many of those servants took advantage of territorial laws and sought their freedom.
One such person was Biddy Mason who, as a slave, had herded her master's cattle West. Her three daughters were with her, and when their owner planned to return to Virginia in 1856 (presumably to sell his slaves), Mason and her family won a legal battle for their freedom and stayed in southern California. Mason, a skilled midwife and herbalist, built an empire by investing in real estate. She was one of the first women of color, under American rule, to own a home. By the 1870s, she was a wealthy woman, but never forgot the hardships she had suffered. Her home was always open to people who needed shelter, no matter their race; she helped found the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles; she established charitable operations during the 1880 flood.
Biddy Mason died in the 1890s, but nearly a century later, her good works were remembered by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who dedicated a large tombstone to her memory. Many of her descendants still live in the Los Angles area, and Biddy Mason Day began in 1989.
Philanthropists and rags-to-riches stories usually get recorded, and there are several black women who fill this category. Among them, along with Biddy Mason, is Clara Brown, who made several fortunes in Colorado Territory real estate in the mid-19th century and helped hundreds of blacks settle in the Central City region. Businesswoman-activist Mary Ellen Pleasance was co-founder of the first Bank of California, developed shelters for abused women and aided fugitive slaves.
Several black western women did not amass a fortune, but created such a unique impression, they are remembered even today. Elvira Conley started her western life as a successful laundress in rough-and-tumble Sheridan, Kansas. Among her friends were Wild Bill Hickok and other notables of the late 1860s. Cathey Williams moved West as a girl with her mother and sisters. Lured by military pay and adventure, she changed her name to William Cathey, and for two years served as a Buffalo Soldier, earning a medal for bravery. And no one could forget Stagecoach Mary Fields, who stood at over six feet tall. She traveled West in 1884 to aid Ursuline nuns and settled in Cascade, Montana Territory, where she became a driver for Wells Fargo, one of the state's first postmasters, and was noted for her ability to hold her liquor.
Many of the intrepid souls who ventured West, no matter their color, are remembered only because western culture thrives today from their effort. Horace Greeley's bigoted ambition for the western territories was thwarted even as he spoke, and the strength of character, inventiveness and vision that formed the West can be credited to blacks as well as whites, to women as well as men.

I came across this article while going through some files. Most of it was published in the Portland Observer, and I think it's in the Articles section of the GITP Web site. It's worth another run-out, especially since the two books I've published in print this month (Hammer Come Down: Memoirs of a Freedman and On Promised Land) both deal with blacks in the Old West.

Several excellent nonfiction books have been published in the last decade that offer an in-depth look at black women in the west. Just typing those words into a search engine provides abundant information.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Silki, Girl of Many Scarves - Review

Silki the Girl of Many Scarves: Summer of the Ancient (Book 1) Silki the Girl of Many Scarves: Summer of the Ancient (Book 1) by Jodi Lea Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many book/news reports are saying more adults are now reading YA books. I'm not inclined toward YA, but I'm always interested in a story involving American Indians. Silki the Girl of Many Scarves is a fun story, and the action at the end is really intense. The protagonist, Silki, has a unique and well-written voice; descriptions made each scene visual.

This is a fine story about friendship and family--with a lot of mystery and some Navajo culture included. The lovely illustrations were a plus.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Character Impact With Names

One of my favorite entertainments is watching soccer. Through my trusty satellite dish I follow the English Premier League (EPL), Italian Serie A, watch a few Mexican league games, and this time of year I'm a faithful follower of the North American, Major League Soccer (MLS).

At the beginning of the season, I was watching/listening to an MLS Houston Dynamo game. At the beginning of the game, I wasn't in the room with the TV and kept hearing the commentator talking about Tally Ho. I realized he was referring to the goalkeeper. Tally Ho? When I viewed the game, I learned the player's name is Tally Hall. I still got a chuckle from my mis-hearing, and once when I watched a Dynamo game on a Mexican channel, their commentators seemed to find the name Tally Hall (ho) amusing, too. (Mr. Hall is an excellent keeper with an impressive shutout record)

I started thinking of when I might give a character a name like this--one that the reader might misread, or get a sound image that could be amusing or disruptive. I think if I described a fairly unimposing character near the beginning of a piece but knew he would be important later on (say, page 98 and on), giving him a name with impact could be helpful. Readers would be more likely to remember a name such as Tally Hall than they would Ron Smith.

A few weeks ago I was again watching a Dynamo game, still aware of my reaction to the goalkeeper's name. They were playing the Chicago Fire, and that team made a substitution. Hunter, was the name on the new player's jersey. Then information came up about the young man…His first name is Hunter. Hunter Jumper?

Okay. Tally [Ho] Hall and Hunter Jumper in the same game.

I snickered and laughed about Hunter Jumper (the name, not the player). It's akin to Kandy Caine, Slim Pickens, or River Banks. Almost too humorous without having a purpose--in fiction especially. Of the books I've read where this play with names occurs, I usually start thinking the authors have rather inflated senses of self as they assume their wit is topnotch and universal. I also found myself distracted from the story.

Would I ever tag any of my characters like this? Maybe. A minor character with this type of impact name could be used to show personality traits of the story's more central characters: the protagonist could be polite and nonjudgmental; another character could react by being subtle and snide, asking, "Do you raise foxhounds?"; or the gregarious, no-tact person would say "I can't believe your parents did that to you!"

Too much of this, unless I were writing satire or attempting humor (neither of which I do), could appear I was making fun of my characters--or I that take myself too seriously. I'd definitely try not to be too clever.

Which brings to mind another soccer player...this one from the EPL Manchester United team...with a neat name, Tom Cleverly.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman’s Work - Review

Published January 1st 2005 by TwoDot; ISBN 0762736542 (ISBN13: 9780762736546)

This book was loaned to me by a friend.

I enjoyed reading Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman's Work. It was refreshing to see the struggles and accomplishments of a western woman, when so many biographies (and fiction) focus on the men of the West. Often the woman is the "supportive wife" the "hardworking sod-buster" and while those have always been necessary to the growing, 18th Century society, I like reading about a professional woman who succeeded in harsh social conditions.

Mari Graña has set down the a biographical story of her grandmother, Mary Babcock Atwater, who carved out opportunity in the frontier west. It begins at the end of the 19th century, during an era in women's history when those with strong will and positive thinking made a difference for the rest of us.

From Book Page:
When Mollie Babcock stepped off the train in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1890, she knew she had to start a new life. She'd left her husband and their medical practice in Iowa, and with only a few hundred dollars in her pocket and a great deal of pride, she set out to find a new position as a physician. Due largely to the fact that the mine owner's young wife was expecting their first child, she took a job as doctor to the miners at Bannack, Montana, and thus began her epic adventures in the Rocky Mountain West.

Using a narrative style, Graña portrays of Dr. Babcock's emotional problems of dealing with a divorce and trying to make her way in the male-dominated medical profession. Graña gives good pictures of both Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City, and the mining towns. She paints a vivid picture of both the harsh mountain environments and lifestyles of the times. She shows how Dr. Babcock dealt with not only the medical problems in the mining camps, but also tackled issues such as domestic violence and sanitary worries.

Through this book, I was enlightened about some of the circumstances of the mining areas--several of which are near where I live. There were a few places where the exposition of her situation seemed a bit long, but overall, I found this a well-written and fascinating story about a person who should be considered a true hero of the West.

Mari Graña is a freelance writer an editor in Santa Fe. Her book, Begoso Cabin, a regional history of New Mexico, won the Willa Cather Award (from Women Writing the West) in 2000 and the Southwest Writers Award in 1997.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Silent Witness - Review

I like a good mystery, and Shirley Wells's title, Silent Witness had some extra perks, too. I downloaded it to my Kindle after reading a blurb about it. At first I thought the book would be related to the BBC TV show of the same name, but it's quite different.

From the book page:

After his ex-wife bled to death in a bathtub covered in his fingerprints, the case against Aleksander Kaminski seemed open and shut. Though sentenced to life in prison, he swears he's innocent, a claim supported by his current wife.
Private investigator Dylan Scott finds himself drawn back to dreary Lancashire in a search for justice. The evidence against Kaminski is damning, but having been unjustly jailed himself, Dylan is compelled to pursue the case; if there's even a small chance the man is innocent, he has to help. The other obvious suspect--the victim's second husband--has a watertight alibi. But Dylan has a strong hunch that as usual, there's more going on than meets the eye in Dawson's Clough.
The deeper Dylan digs, the more secrets he unearths. The question remains: If Kaminski didn't murder his childhood sweetheart, who did?

Plenty of twists and turns in the story line, and Dylan Scott is a great character to lead the reader along the curvy path. This is the third mystery featuring this protagonist. I hadn't read the previous stories, but had no problem knowing him. The good characterization continues with the people who populate this interesting story.

I especially like that Dylan has a good relationship with his family. A few problems between him and his wife, yes, but it was evident they would work them out. The couple also has a teenage son, and it was refreshing to find him easy-going, not rebellious, and supportive of his family and the new baby girl in their midst....Yea!

This family interaction, as much as I approved, didn't distract me from the mystery of who killed Kaminski's wife. His parents believe he's innocent, and they have hired Dylan. Kaminski's wife is devastated by her husband's incarceration. She runs an canine rescue facility; the veterinarian who treats the many animals is very protective of her. Dylan's prison interview with Kaminski doesn't clear up much, in fact it adds more mystery to the mystery.

Several times I thought I had this solved, only to have my idea quashed by new (and logical) information. In all, Silent Witness was very enjoyable, with characters I will be glad to read more about.

Monday, June 4, 2012


In 1919, after many decades of rejection, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally passed by the Senate and ratified by the states, giving women the right to vote! Women, don't forget to assert your rights tomorrow in primaries.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Beyond Boundaries - Review

I found Beyond Boundaries at my Public Library. A well written book about the fascinating subject of neuroscience. Since all of my own Science Fiction titles have "brain anomalies" as standard for most of my characters, I am drawn to neuroscience books. I especially appreciated the analogies used by Duke University neuroscientist/author Miguel Nicolelis: music and futbol (soccer)--two of my passions. I think that helped the book resonate well with me. Historical information about the neuroscience through several centuries was quite interesting, as well as the current different camps of approach to research.

The overall book explains and verifies the ability of the brain to interface with non-biological entities. The publisher's info on the book page states: "Imagine living in a world where people use their computers, drive their cars, and communicate with one another simply by thinking....His lab is now paving the way for a new treatment for Parkinson's, silk-thin exoskeletons to grant mobility to the paralyzed, and breathtaking leaps in space exploration, global communication, manufacturing, and more."

Beyond Boundaries was published in print in 2011, and is now available electronically. I'm wondering if the new edition will contain updates on some of the original books predictions. In the last chapters of the books, Nicolelis had speculated on where all the research was now headed. And already many of his hopes and projected uses for brain-machine interfaces have come to be. New organizations are springing up to advance this, too. Interesting concepts that have me anticipating breakthroughs in medical applications--and sooner than later.

Beyond Boundaries is a good introduction to this future potential for our brains.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Antarktos Rising - Review

I downloaded Jeremy Robinson's Antarktos Rising (Origins Saga, Book 4) after reading a clip about it on Indie Snippets. I guess the story could be called dystopian, since the Earth has suffered a massive change. The change is environmental, not sociopolitical. But something else is occurring that promises more devastation.

From the book page:
A phenomenon known as crustal displacement shifts the Earth's crust, repositioning continents and causing countless deaths. In the wake of the global catastrophe, the world struggles to take care of its displaced billions. But Antarctica, freshly thawed and blooming, has emerged as a new hope. Rather than wage a world war no nation can endure, the leading nations devise a competition, a race to the center of Antarctica, with the three victors dividing the continent.
It is within this race that Mirabelle Whitney, one of the few surviving experts on the continent, grouped with an American special forces unit, finds herself. But the dangers awaiting the team are far worse than feared; beyond the sour history of a torn family, beyond the nefarious intentions of their human enemies, beyond the ancient creatures reborn through anhydrobiosis—there are the Nephilim.

Very well written, this is the electronic version of a 2007 title. I am writing this book review several weeks after finishing the book, and I vividly remember all the characters—their personalities and importance in the story. I was a bit bothered by the red herrings thrown out about Mirabelle's background. In some ways her parentage and marriage, while vehicles in the emotional story, could have been set upfront, rather than making them mysteries.

The story itself has action, emotional drama, environmental conundrums. Each are presented with convincing realism, even if drawn out a bit. And The Nephilim...Regardless of my beliefs on this, the circumstances were well written. Very visual.

I could have been happy with a bit less melodrama, but overall, Antarktos Rising was a satisfying read.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mighty and Strong - Review

I downloaded Michael Wallace's book, Mighty and Strong after reading a blurb about it. The subject was something I knew little about, and the mystery involved intrigued me.

From the book page:
Son of a polygamist leader, Jacob Christianson is approached by the FBI to infiltrate a millennialist cult similar to his own church. [The FBI] lost an agent, tasked to penetrate the cult and investigate a plot to kill a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate. The agent is no longer communicating, and they fear she's either dead or a hostage.

This is a sequel to Wallace's thriller The Righteous, Mighty and Strong. I haven't read that one, but it isn't a prerequisite to appreciating this book. The characters are well defined and distinctive. The writing is very good, especially the action scenes. I have read a few other titles that deal with polygamist cults, but they have been from the point-of-view of outsiders--and generally written by authors that eschew the practice of polygamy. Hence, I found this story enlightening as well as interesting.

Mighty and Strong provided a mystery that went beyond the missing FBI agent, as a girl from the cult is found murdered...Add to this a lot of emotional intrigue, and this is a book that I won't soon forget.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Poetry Slam

The fifth annual Women of the World Poetry Slam will be held in Denver this year on March 7-10, 2012. A visit to the site will link to videos of readings, as well as the list of activities for the four days.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hotel Carousel – Review

What fun! I really enjoyed S.H. Hughes' book Hotel Carousel. Science Fiction mystery, with sometimes kitschy humor. Neat. I downloaded it after reading an overview on an online site.

From the book page:
Janski Fox had a plan. Buy gold Armani Wellingtons on her credit card. Obtain a refund. Now she's over 24,000,000,000,000 miles from home irradiating drain hair to repay the debt. When a chewing gum failure destroys the ship taking Janski to join a mineral ore mining team, what's left crashes at the Hotel Carousel, where a non-paying guest soon realises Janski is the perfect mouthpiece to help it confess its crimes--hopefully she won't die like the others did! As well as staying alive, Janski must prove she's not a jewel thief, outwit a bunch of Psi officers wishing to excavate her mind, convince a mad professor that scooping out her brain isn't such a good idea and save Muse, a royal fugitive who has the genetic hots for her. And then there are the manoeuvring tests... Hotel Carousel: All Aliens Welcome!

I finished this book several weeks ago, and due to myriad complications just got a chance to write the review. I didn't have to go back to the book to find names, situations, etc., because I remembered them all. A sign I enjoyed the book.

The omniscient narrator keeps the story from getting out of hand, and also inserts these great descriptions of the "guests" at Hotel Carousel. They're all from somewhere else, and since Janski is totally out of this galaxy--very few of them (except Muse) resemble anything she knows. But this telling about aliens doesn't get overdone. It's applied skillfully and when needed.

All the characters were distinguishable not just by their quirky alienness, but with distinct personalities that played throughout the book. The several mystery elements were straightforward, which is important in a book with so many peculiar characteristics. Along with sleuthing to save her job (and her life) Janski is involved in action scenes that are believable and well portrayed.

Hotel Caoursel is witty, well written and a fun read.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Women's History Month

It's Women’s History Month--another separate celebration of American History. Many activities at libraries and museums. This page at Info Please has some interesting quizzes and bits of information.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Royal Wulff Murders – Review

The Royal Wulff Murders: A Novel is a well-written story with great descriptions and sense of place. The mystery involves fly fishing, and for outdoor enthusiasts, there's a lot here to enjoy.

From Publisher:
"When a fishing guide reels in the body of a young man on the Madison, the Holy Grail of Montana trout rivers, Sheriff Martha Ettinger suspects foul play. It's not just the stick jammed into the man's eye that draws her attention; it's the Royal Wulff trout fly stuck in his bloated lower lip. Following her instincts, Ettinger soon finds herself crossing paths with Montana newcomer Sean Stranahan.
Fly fisher, painter, and has-been private detective, Stranahan left a failed marriage and lackluster career to drive to Montana, where he lives in an art studio decorated with fly-tying feathers and mouse droppings. With more luck catching fish than clients, Stranahan is completely captivated when Southern siren Velvet Lafayette walks into his life, intent on hiring his services to find her missing brother. The clues lead Stranahan and Ettinger back to Montana's Big Business: fly fishing. Where there's money, there's bound to be crime."

Through the course of this mystery, author Keith McCafferty (a name you might know if you read Field and Stream magazine) provides interesting facts on fly fishing and the whirling disease that infects trout in many Western waterways. He also has integrated details of tracking, and types of weapons—beyond rod and reel.

For me, the main protagonist, Sean Stranahan, could have been developed better. He often fades behind more dynamic characters. Perhaps that withdrawn/bland aspect is part of his character. Sheriff Martha Ettinger, however, is well developed, with personality coming through—strengths and weaknesses.

The character of Velvet LaFayette is too mysterious to be believable, and the fact that Sean becomes captivated by her seems to add to his blandness. I didn't find her as compelling as she is purported to be and read through her scenes wondering when I'd get back to the main story. Not that she isn't part of the main story. Velvet is the reason Sean became involved in the murder investigation, but she dominates more of the story than I thought necessary.

But then, I like mystery stories to have the mystery front-and-center. Although crime solving is a major part of The Royal Wulff Murders, overall it has too much Romance for me.

Other characters and their settings are dynamic and well presented, from fishing guide Sam, to tracker Harold Little Feather, and the rich summer fly-ins who populate the story and the Montana riverbanks.

There is a long monologue that ends the mystery. I had felt the story got overly complex at times, and here it seems as if McCafferty was writing his way out of corners. Then there are the wrap-ups, which, if the romances hadn't been so prominent, wouldn't have been needed.

Throughout, McCafferty presents very nice use of language that make the scenes spring to life, and the character of the Treasure State—Montana—come to the fore. I'm a Montanan. It rings true.

A FOUR star title, with reservations caused by my personal preferences. A good outdoors mystery.

For more of Kae's book reviews Click here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Blasphemer - Review

The Blasphemer is a very well crafted, Espionage/Political Thriller. The writing is good with an interesting storyline that the author, John Ling, calls "faction" in that it has so much based on facts from current events. He gives the connections in the Author's Notes and essays at the end of the book. These facts are were informative, and he worked them into the story efficiently and believably.

From the book page:
When Abraham Khan releases an e-book condemning radical Islam, the consequences hit him fast and hard--an armed fanatic smashes into his home one evening, trying to kill him. He survives the harrowing attempt. Just barely. But will he survive the next one?
Maya Raines is the security operator brought in to protect Abraham. She is tough and committed. The very best at what she does. Always one step ahead of the threat.
But Abraham is no ordinary principal--he will not hide, and he will not stay silent. And as rage explodes on the streets and the nation is propelled to the brink, Maya will have to ask herself the hardest question of all: how far would you go to protect one man's right to speak?

I liked the characters. Maya, while exceptional at her defensive work, also has the empathy to understand people; yet she doesn't let it intrude on her duties. And she doesn't let her own fears and pains compromise her job. Maya and her mother, and another operative, Adam, are well-drawn and compelling.

So to are the various other characters, from the manipulative "Magellan" who plots to kill Abraham Khan, to the Muslim woman who gruesomely loses her life in a street riot.

Fast paced, with plenty of firefights as well as sleuthing, The Blasphemer is not one to miss.

For more of Kae's book reviews Click here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Black History Month 2

The American history that is often revealed to people for the first time during Black History Month, is particularly appealing. For me, I'm particularly in that history as it concerns the American West.
The Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th Century, is termed that because of the association of the Black-American art scene as flourished in Harlem, New York City. A recently published title from Routledge Publishing, shows that this was not an East Coast phenomena. the anthology, The Harlem Renaissance in the American West: The New Negro's Western Experience (New Directions in American History) show that artists, musicians, playwrights, club owners, and more in African American communities in the American West participated fully in the cultural renaissance.
My friend, historian Charlotte Hinger, has an entry in this book: "Black Renaissance in Helena and Laramie: Hatched on Top of the Rocky Mountains." Helena. My current residence. So wonderful to have this reference.
Another often-missed piece of history about blacks in the west is in Erich Martin Hicks' Rescue at Pine Ridge: Based on a True American Story. The book page states: ”Rescue at Pine Ridge is the story of the 9th Cavalry from its Congressional conception in 1866, to the rescue of the famed 7th Cavalry by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers.... The 7th Cavalry was entrapped again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later by the Lakota Nation, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. Only after enduring an all night forced-march in a snow blizzard, the 7th Cavalry are saved from sure annihilation by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Solders." Hicks (unique in his own right) has written fascinating U.S. history. A movie is in the works.
Author/historian Troy D. Smith has his charismatic character, Alfred Mann, ending up with the Buffalo Soldiers in his powerful historical fiction title, Bound for the Promise-Land. This excellent book had been recently reprinted, and is also available as an ebook. It won a SPUR award in 2001.

These books will increase your knowledge of American History. Don't pass them up.

Click "Black History Month" in the labels of this page for more articles.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Gauntlet Assassin - Review

I downloaded the Kindle edition of L.J. Sellers' The Gauntlet Assassin after reading about it at an online book site. Mysteries always attract me, and this title combined mystery with another of my favorite genres--speculative fiction, in that the story takes place a few years in the future.

From book page:
The year is 2023 and ex-detective Lara Evans is working as a freelance paramedic in a bleak new world. She responds to an emergency call and is nearly killed when a shooter flees the home. Inside she finds the federal employment commissioner wounded, but she's able to save his life. The next day Lara leaves for the Gauntlet—a national competition of intense physical and mental challenges with high stakes for her home state. She spots the assailant lurking at the arena and soon after, she lands in deep trouble. Who is the mysterious killer and what is motivating him? Can Lara stop him, stay alive, and win the Gauntlet?

Lara Evans is a good character; we see her tough side, as well as her inner worries and fears. Her altruistic need to win the Gauntlet competition seemed a bit overdone, however—sort of Joan of Arc-ish. But her other strengths (physical and mental) kept me engaged.

Sellers did a good job of giving backstory and slowly merging it into Lara's side of the tale. I had no doubt it was all important, even if a bit obvious. An unexpected turn at the very end was a good touch.

The slightly-dystopian view of the future world was predictable—today's grievances extended and becoming global actuality. The government-adopted Reality show method of awarding grant money to states was an interesting twist that could have had more play. I kept wondering what other "events" were launched for other money distributions.

L.J. Sellers writes a well-paced story, with action and decent character depth. The Gauntlet Assassin adds to her collection of interesting novels. It's available in print and electronic editions.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

February Is Black History Month

February is Black History Month, which began in 1926 as a week-long celebration; Frederick Douglas was born in February, and so was Abraham Lincoln--both icons in African American History. Fifty years later, in 1976, the commemoration was extended to a month. African-American history and American history are so intertwined, you can't be celebrating one with out glorifying the other. The same is true with all the other "ethnic cultural celebrations."
This year's theme is Black Women in American Culture and History. Goodness, that's a lot to cover in one month! Many events and online places have American history information as it pertains to Black Americans. Community events can also be found at various locations. Nike (yes, the shoe company) has a special Black History Month collection. Ah, marketing—anything to grab a sale.
Here's your American History: Yesterday (1 February) was "Freedom Day" the 147th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery; tomorrow (3 February) is the 142nd anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment (voting rights for black men--with conditions, of course).
Throughout this month, as a writer and book reviewer, I'll post about some titles that are pertinent.
The Adventures of Elizabeth Fortune takes place in 1870 when the 15th Amendment was ratified. The feisty woman protagonist fits well into this year's Black History theme.
On Promised Land, set in the 1830s, has a rather gutsy gal, too.
William Loren Katz has many authoritative titles about Blacks in the West. His Black Women in the Old West has nearly become a classic with school librarians.
Leave a note about the online sites and book titles you like for this month.
More later.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Dead Man - Review

A few weeks ago, author Joel Goldman offered the Kindle edition of The Dead Man (Jack Davis Thrillers) for free and I grabbed a copy, hoping for a good mystery. I didn't let the "thriller" tag deter me (I often avoid thrillers) and read through the grisly prologue with growing interest.

Here's the story overview from the GoodReads book page (the Amazon page was filled with hype, and not much about the actual story):

Milo Harper wants former FBI agent Jack Davis' help. People in Harper's study of the human brain are starting to die--and dying exactly in the very ways they have dreamed...Harper wants Jack to get to the truth and counter lawsuits aimed at the foundation. But when Jack investigates, the truth explodes: a serial killer is lurking inside one of the most advanced research facilities in the world. For Jack, the case will shatter illusions, raise ghosts, and take him onto both sides of the law--and into the path of a murderer's terrifying rage...

This is the second of the Jack Davis Thrillers, but I wasn't too lost on Jack's life without having read the first. Goldman put in backstory when his protagonist was triggered to memories. At first, when this happened during a fairly active scene, it seemed intrusive, but I got used to the style.

All the characters were well-drawn and believable; the "thriller" aspects (blood, gore, graphic violence) wasn't too much to bear, and the story resolutions were effective. That's resolutions--plural--because protagonist Jack Davis has relationship issues to deal with, as well as his odd health condition, and his forced retirement from the FBI.

A lot going on, here. Most was handled well, although the ventures into the points of view of other characters didn't seem necessary, and a few scenes really gave away too much. But then, from the cover and the prologue, I had determined the perp early on. I read along, learning more about Jack and wondering when he would pickup on the clues.

In all, since it had few editing and formatting glitches, The Dead Man was a satisfactory read from a competent writer.

Joel Goldman at Goodreads
Joel Goldman's web site

For more of Kae's book reviews Click here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pure - Review

My copy of PURE came from the publishers through

I read a lot of Science Fiction, but dystopian stories aren't usually the ones I choose. I often find them a bit overwhelming with their dismal view of the future. Of course, that's what dystopian stories are about, but many of them focus more on this wrecked and depressing future than on the characters. I like a character-driven story. The titles I've read that give me the characters I can care about have been by Octavia Butler and Paolo Bacigalupi. I'm sure more authors would meet my criteria, but I haven't found them...until now. I've added Juilianna Baggott to this list.

From the Goodreads book page:
"Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost--how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small.

This overview of Pure snagged my attention, and the character of Pressia pulled me in to her story of surviving a fractured and disturbing world, where odd wraiths can attack from underground, where finding food and water is a hopeful consideration, and where deformities are the norm...deformities such as Pressia's where the doll she was holding when Detonations happened is now permanently fused to her hand. Her physical change is nothing compared to other people. Her grandfather has a fan lodged in his throat that whirrs as he breathes. Her friend, Bradwell, has birds embedded on his back—still alive and living through him. Everyone has some odd alteration...Except for the Pures

The Pures have become nearly mythical, even though everyone can look up to where they live in a massive hermetically-sealed Dome. That thriving mini city is home to people without deformities, without starvation and attacks by Groupies (a multi-fused people gang). A place some wish they could get to, while other want it destroyed.

When Pressia meets the Pure, Partridge, who was driven out of the Dome by his need to find his mother, she learns new things about herself and the blasted world around her. How she assimilates her new knowledge is deftly told. Her emotions, often conflicting, about Pures and the Before, are realistic and heart-wrenching. Partridge, too, is a fascinating character. Through him and another Pure, Lyda, life within the Dome is presented not just as a camera-view of this future place, but with the emotional needs of the characters.

Baggott is noted for her excellent YA fiction, and while the major characters of Pure are in their youth, the story and writing offer excellence for anyone. Although I noted a few plot line conundrums, I won't mention them because 1) they were small and would also be Spoilers, and 2) I was reading an ARC--these aspects in the final book might be different.

Without reservation, I recommended Pure as a fascinating, well written story. It's also the first book in a series. I look forward to the next.