Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Love Now

SOLDI sing...Ten thousandsweet nothingsnever whispered in your ear....And time has wings...Say it now....In sidewalk chalk colors....LOVE.....Over and Over Again...LOVE...Love may last forever, but these moments do notThey keep coming and going, each one faster than the one beforeten til two in the morning, two past ten at nightI Love Youso while the world around me lays asleepI creep out into

Read 'Hit and Run' for Fun--Just Don't Think Too Much

Review of HIT AND RUN (William Morrow 2008)
Lawrence Block

HIT AND RUN is one of those books where it's best not to know too much about the story before you start. So I'll limit the description to what was on the book jacket and just enough more so that, hopefully, my comments will make some kind of sense.

John Paul Keller, the "hero" of our story, is a professional hit man. Keller is right on the verge of retiring when he's called upon to perform one last job--whacking some guy in Des Moines, Iowa. Keller reports for duty in Des Moines only to be repeatedly put on hold. While Keller indulges himself in buying some stamps for his collection (a long-time hobby), someone puts the hit on the governor of Ohio--the first black governor of Ohio, at that, who happens to be
visiting Des Moines. He's also a likely presidential contender and the media are treating the incident as something akin to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Keller had nothing to do with it--he was busy buying stamps at the time. Yet, later, when he turns on the news, guess who's been fingered by parties unknown as the suspected gunman? Yes, it's Keller. And the ostensible last job? Nothing but a way to lure Keller to Des Moines, part of an elaborate ruse to set him up. Now his face is being splashed across TV sets and front pages everywhere. And Keller can't seem to reach his trusty assistant, Dot (the woman who acts as both his business manager and sole confidant). What's a hired gun to do? Where can he go? How did this happen to him?

All good questions that really hook you into the story, after what seems like a leisurely start. As to the first and second questions, when Keller did run, I found myself asking "Why are you going there?" at least 50 pages before he realized the folly of it, which for all his thoughtfulness (and Keller is constantly thinking, reasoning things out) seemed odd. Even so, Lawrence Block is a master storyteller and manages to keep things highly suspenseful and occasionally amusing, even as Keller is doing something that doesn't make much sense.

Essentially, Keller races to a place he thinks will be safe, only to have the rug of his life pulled out from under him. From that point, he lives in constant motion and fear of being identified, with little to sustain him other than his wits--and a few unfortunate (and somewhat convenient) souls from whom he's able to steal various handy things--a credit card here, a license plate there and so on.

Keller winds up in a situation that gives the story a dramatic turn (to say the least)--a "safe" situation with a person who apparently can accept his former hit man ways with little problem. (Keller does this person an amazing kindness, but his past seems to be accepted a bit too easily and I found it kind of a stretch to believe.) At that point, the story goes from "Keller, Run" to "Keller at Rest" (to invoke a bit of John Updike). And things get a bit leisurely again, so I'm figuring something has to happen to shake them up. And
eventually something does. According to the story, it doesn't happen for three and a half years (though the narrative doesn't really capture the feeling of this much time passing), and when it does, things take yet another turn. And the story--well, read it and you'll see.

With respect to the third question--"How did this happen to him?" or "Why was Keller set up?"--the explanation seemed thin and unconvincing to me. Surely, I thought, someone must have it in for Keller, to go to all this trouble to implicate him in a killing he didn't commit. But the reasons for setting Keller up appear to be only that he was a handy hit man, and the reasons why the person behind it all would wish to assassinate the governor of Ohio (let alone go to such lengths to pin it on Keller) are never explained at all.

The book could also have benefited from a closer edit. At one point, Keller is dropped at an airport, presumably to head back to Des Moines. In the next chapter, he's in some unidentified city, but not Des Moines, because in the chapter after that he finally flies to Des Moines. What's up with that?

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed HIT AND RUN. I love Block's fast-paced style and his humor. The only other Keller story I've read was a novella from the collection TRANSGRESSIONS. And, even though enough of Keller's history was explained to make sense of this story without reading the ones before it, something tells me it would have been more satisfying if I'd read the others first.

I noticed in the editorial blurbs on Amazon that the Charlotte Observer called HIT AND RUN
"[a] great beach read." Which sounds like a nice way of saying, enjoy the ride--just don't think about it too much.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boy, Girl, Immigrant, American, Who Knew, is Theme in 'Middlesex'

Review of MIDDLESEX (Macmillan Audio 2004)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

Author, Jeffrey Eugenides; read by Kristoffer Tabori

Even though Oprah recommended this book and it won a Pulitzer Prize, I liked it.

Turns out, the narrator of this gender bender family epic, Calliope Stephanides, later to become Cal, knew a lot about his family. This even led me to ask my sister if she remembers much anyone told us about our grandparents—we only had snatches, not an epic journey that carried them from Greece, to Turkey, to Detroit, to destiny itself, like Desdemona and Lefty Stephanides.

But they carry a secret under the surface and one that was to wrench Calliope/Cal’s life in a new direction at age 16.

This book is sometimes in the third person, sometimes the first person, but Jeffrey Eugenides does it seamlessly. It rollicks along, by turns fascinating, funny, and horrifying, as read by Kristoffer Tabori, a grumbly, dignified sort who does not overact the accents.

I confess I liked the first half better than the second. The story of Desdemona and Lefty’s escape from Greece prior to World War I was glorious and weirdly romantic and touching (there’s that “secret” again).

The one thing hanging fire was why Cal’s brother is named Chapter Eleven, apparently not a nickname and never explained. People were plunging up and down in the Depression melting pot, but no businesses went under around the time of the tot’s birth. Just quirky to be quirky, I concluded. The title, too, Middlesex, is an arch pun—their house is named that, but it could also refer to . . . the not-so-secret secret.

Do you ever stop to think what chromosomes lurk in your innards and link you down the ages to those who came before? And which—don’t forget—you are blithely squirting into your own kids? I never gave it much thought, either, not that we can do much about it. But this book made me think . . . opa . . . and feel like dancing.

Star Lawrence owns the health humor site Health’s Ass at http://healthsass.blogspot.com. She can be reached at jkellaw@aol.com.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

What a great time to relax, sit by the fire and read a book. And if you're not lucky enough to have a real fireplace, here's a virtual one.

Did anyone get any interesting books for Christmas (or any other holiday of choice)? I got two: HOSTILE WITNESS by Douglas Anne Munson (aka Mercedes Lambert) and THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I'm looking forward to reading both.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Non-Fiction Recommendations from Zen Habits

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but I do like to mix it in with my fiction reading from time to time. This list of "20 amazing and essential non-fiction books" from one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, includes some intriguing picks.

I've been told THE ART OF HAPPINESS is a good one and have been wanting to read it for some time. The first three books on the list all have catchy titles (and I could stand to learn more about handling my money, living in the moment and simplifying my life).

A book called THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK sounds too good to be true--but, again, I've heard good things about it. And then you have classics, like THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, TAO TE CHING, ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE and, of course, Strunk and White's ELEMENTS OF STYLE (which I read so many years ago, I could really stand to read it again).

As one who enjoys history (and alternative views), I think I could get into A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. And DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF sounds like wonderful advice--perhaps it is an equally wonderful book.

On the whole, an interesting list of non-fiction reads.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Random Reading

If the economic crisis is good for one thing, it's to get more people back to the library. I feel good about this as a librarian (by training) and a lover of libraries. I feel bad for the booksellers, who must compete for precious dollars from book sales. I have mixed feelings as an author, who can promote myself and my books through the library, but who may suffer in the sales department as a result.

I think too much.

Regarding this item, I will only say, "How pathetic."

Finally, I've never been in a book club and maybe this is why.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Accidental Peace, Singleton Hippie Art

Accidental Peace(c) Singleton 2008And thereat the river house,barefeet danglingthrough white washed railings,watching theno~traffic morning go by....I found peace...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ancient Rome's Answer to Columbo Takes a Road Trip to Greece in 'See Delphi and Die'

Review of SEE DELPHI AND DIE (BBC Audiobooks 2006)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

Author, Lindsey Davis; read by Christian Rodska

Sure, you would like to swan over to Greece and ruminate among the ruins, but did you know Romans a la 76 AD also joined organized tours and traipsed about ogling the sights that had already been created up to that date?

In this tongue-in-cheek detective yarn, one of a popular franchise, the snark-in-charge is Marcus Didius Falco, an emissary of the Emperor Vespasian. Falco gets involved in solving the murders of two young women who had taken Seven Sights Tour Company trips to Greece. He speaks a wry Cockney-tinged English, not Latin. He wears a cloak not a raincoat and is no loner, dragging along an entourage consisting of his diplomatic wife Helene and some nephews, a freed slave woman, and even his dog, who though of the nondiscriminating tastes typical of canines, does disdain some of the disgusting pits the tour company books them into. At the better places, Falco quips, the bedbugs went to charm school.

Falco is, by turns, very droll and then agog at the fabulous sights our ancients—his contemporaries—had already created. Man, the temples and oracles were lousy on the ground in those days! Playing good Roman/bad Roman with his wife, Falco tries to get the impressions of others on the tour with one of the young women. Instead, the tour participants give him an earful about the tour company's arrangements, at one point the women outraged that they had to go to some poetry event. The poets "were thick as midges" and spouted bad odes, they grumped.

SEE DELPHI AND DIE is funny. Humans are humans, I guess, no matter which millennium. There is one "tourist trap" where sick people can sleep in a town near some sacred site, while dogs and snakes circulate among the cots. If you dream of a dog or snake licking you, you get better. The man relating this tale said he went it one better and got bitten by one of the dogs—but a snake must have licked it, he notes, because it cleared up. They all laugh sheepishly. Won’t be seeing those drachmas again.

In the course of these travels and travails, of course, more people die, one falling off a cliff. The malefactor kicked Falco's dog first, which caused me great consternation. Any book with a dog—I am in!

The narrator Christian Rodska does not pretend to be Italian or speak Latin, but his little mumbled asides are choice, along the lines of early versions of “Yeah, sure, I bet” or one I particularly liked: “Irony is so useful.”

Anyhow—listen to SEE DELPHI AND DIE and if a snake licks you, you are going to "have a nice day." Assuming you live to see it.

Star Lawrence owns the health humor site Health’s Ass at http://healthsass.blogspot.com. She can be reached at jkellaw@aol.com.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

'An Accidental American' is an Awesome Spy Thriller

Review of AN ACCIDENTAL AMERICAN (Random House Trade Paperbacks 2007)
Author, Alex Carr

Some genres are automatically associated with certain authors. If I say "tough private eye novel," several names might come to mind--Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, Dashiell Hammett or Sara Paretsky, to name a few. If I say "Western," you might think of Zane Grey or Louis L'Amour. But if I say "spy novel," most people are bound to think of one author in particular--John LeCarre. (Ian Fleming doesn't count--he wrote adventure/fantasy novels with a spy protagonist, not the complex works infused with moral ambiguity that are modern spy novels.)

From now on, when I hear "spy novel," I'll also think of Alex Carr.

AN ACCIDENTAL AMERICAN is about Nicole Blake, who's trying to live a quiet life on a mountain farm in France after doing time for counterfeiting in a women's prison in Marseille. Her contented existence is disrupted by the appearance of John Valsamis, a U.S. intelligence operative who wants Nicole to find her former lover, Rahim Ali, because he's believed to be a terrorist. With a few photos of terrorist bombing victims (and one of Ali meeting with a known terrorist), Valsamis persuades Nicole to help him. But, of course, Valsamis is not telling her everything--and Nicole is going to find that out the hard way.

I've never been one for highly-descriptive prose, but this book gave me a new appreciation for good description and how it can be used to set a book's tone and create almost unbearable suspense at times.
I also particularly liked the non-linear narrative, which shifted perspectives in a kaleidoscopic manner and moved back and forth in time (once or twice, I got confused--for the most part, it was smoothly executed). Carr's storytelling skills are exemplary--the various pieces of the narrative are layered on like brush strokes until the whole picture finally emerges. The story manages to provide fascinating character studies and be an engrossing page-turner--packed with the kind of double- and triple-crosses we've come to expect from the spy genre (not to mention the unearthing of long-buried family secrets).

Most of the story is told in third person--with the exception of Nicole's part, told in first person (a device that makes us identify with her all the more). And, though the "bad guys" are anything but lovable, they aren't caricatures--in fact, they're all too human.

Apart from flashbacks, the action takes place shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq following 9/11 (mention is made of Colin Powell's speech to the U.N. Security Council, WMDs, etc.) and the story skillfully combines history (both recent and not-so-recent) with fiction--a process Carr discusses in a postscript.

So, when you think "spy novel," think of Alex Carr. I hope this book will be
only one of many to make her an icon of the genre.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Guide to Buying Gift Books and More

Books make a great gift--but what books do you buy as gifts? Sometimes it's hard to gauge exactly what book to get for whom on your gift list. Well, don't sweat it--Michael Dirda has written a handy guide to buying gift books that I thought I'd share. (I especially like his advice about supporting midlist authors--so many midlist authors are super-talented and under-appreciated.)

And, under the heading of "more," I have a most interesting article about the odd goings-on at Jane Austen's House Museum. (Hat tip to The Reader's Advisor Online.)

Plus (under the heading of "even more"?) it looks like Amazon's Kindle is a big hit. Does this mean e-books are (at last) for real? Are people using their Kindles to read fiction? This last point is one I'm particularly curious about.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Leap of Faith or Two Will Get You Through 'The Fifth Floor'

Review of THE FIFTH FLOOR (Knopf 2008)
Author, Michael Harvey

No question about it Michael Harvey writes with edgy, wry style. THE FIFTH FLOOR is a well-paced story, delivered in clipped, yet highly evocative, prose. And the protagonist, private eye Michael Kelly, has a troubled past (something about a dead woman and getting kicked off the Chicago police force that Harvey may have covered in his first book, THE CHICAGO WAY) and makes all the pithy wisecracks we've come to expect from a guy of his ilk--coming on all tough on the outside, while retaining his essential humanity within.

Harvey also gives you a real feel for Chicago--the place, the people, the politics. (He even mentions The Billy Goat--the greasy spoon lampooned on Saturday Night Live in the "chee-burger, chee-burger" sketch.) The writing is so stylish and goes down so easy that you tend to forgive and forget if the plot gets a little, well, difficult to follow (or, frankly, to swallow).

Kelly is hired by Janet Woods, a woman from his past--they were once romantically involved, but that was long ago and she's married now to Johnny Woods, who's abusing her. Exactly what Janet is hiring Kelly to do is never really spelled out, but he gets her permission to approach Johnny and "talk some sense" into him (whatever that may mean).

So Kelly gets some preliminary intell--finds out Johnny works for the Fifth Floor (of the municipal building, where the mayor has his office) as a "fixer" (and we all know what shady characters those guys are). Kelly follows him to a house and makes a shocking discovery, which leads him to investigate whether the mayor's great grandfather (or maybe it was his great-great grandfather--someone way back there in the family tree) was involved in a conspiracy to start the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

What does this have to do with his client, Janet? Nothing that I could discern. She continues to live with Johnny and take his abuse. Worries that her daughter will end up being his next target. But Kelly is off and running anyway, investigating in land records and historical museums to get to the bottom of a murder that seems to be as much of a shock to Johnny as it is to Kelly . . . and this all helps Janet how? I just don't know.

Kelly's snooping gets the mayor's attention (because he is The Mayor of Chicago and knows all, sort of like Oz the Great and Powerful), and Kelly wonders if the mayor is running scared over word getting out that his ancestor may have caused the historic blaze. (A bit of a stretch, I thought--would the mayor really care? Given his obvious lack of personal involvement, would it really create such a huge scandal? But then, I'm from New York, not Chicago--you ask me, if it came out that the current mayor of The Big Apple's great-great-etc.-grandfather had been personally involved in setting up Tammany Hall, I doubt anyone in the city would blink an eye over it.)

Harvey's style has been compared to Raymond Chandler and rightly so. Like Chandler's work, the book's plot doesn't have to make perfect sense because, through the sheer power of excellent writing, Harvey takes you on such great ride.

One review has described the book's ending as "satisfying and out-of-left-field." I saw it coming a mile away. Some of it involves devices that are a bit too convenient (for instance, during his research, Kelly conveniently meets a young computer hacker who conveniently helps him get some convenient information for solving part of the mystery). What can I say? I still liked the book. Even if it did leave me asking, "Now, why is Kelly doing all this investigating? And how is it helping Janet?"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

He loves me, He loves me not, Singleton Hippie Art

He loves me...He loves me not...(c) Singleton 2008 SOLDThere in the sunshine,knee high in grassandthe accidental breezeof everythingthat was...I found the flowers...He loves me,He loves me not....And began to weave tomorrows from allthe broken pieces...Watercolors, markers, Ink, melted crayons, and memories on cardboard

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Most Unusual Bookmark

An 18-carat gold bookmark sounds like something you'd get at Tiffany's. But if it really belonged to the person authorities are saying owned it, I doubt that it came from there.

(Hat tip to Hey, There's A Dead Guy in the Living Room.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

No Laughing Allowed During 'Polar Shift'

Review of POLAR SHIFT (Penguin Audio 2005)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

Author, Clive Cussler (with Paul Kemprecos); read by Scott Brick

Maybe you didn’t get up this morning and say, “You know, these elites are starting to bug me, and I think I will reverse the earth’s magnetic field and destroy the planet,” but apparently Clive Cussler and Co. do think like that and thus this novel.

It is childishly simple to mock a Cussler novel with its square-jawed, blonde heroes (two this time, including a franchise Cussler character Kurt Austin) and "attractive" heroines. (Attractive, attractive--why always that description?) So why should I resist? I am pretty childish. Let the mocking begin.

POLAR SHIFT is like two or three book concepts smashed together. It leaps the shark more than a football player doing broken field drills. There are huge rogue waves, tiny woolly mammoths, an underground city complete with alleys, the obligatory Nazis, and enough pseudo-scientific jargon to choke everyone in Los Alamos (also in there).

So . . . be prepared. But on the positive side, this is a darn intense "listen," with some memorable scenes that make the movie Titanic look as boring as Last Year at Marienbad. (Don’t remember that one? There’s a reason.)

Scott Brick, one of my favorite readers, has a sort of chewy, earnest voice and doesn’t overdo the accents or shoot the women into falsetto.

Should you check out POLAR SHIFT? Ask yourself—How much do I hate electromagnetic fields?

Star Lawrence owns the health humor site Health’s Ass. She can be reached at jkellaw@aol.com.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Powell's Books Goes Solar

Powell's Books, an awesome (in the true sense of that word) independent bookstore and the literary pride of Portland, OR, will begin using solar power next month. In fact, it will be using one of the largest solar electric installations in Oregon.

The system is being installed at Powell's 60,000 square foot warehouse in northwest Portland, out of which Powells.com operates.

According to Michael Powell, "It made perfect sense for our business financially, and it supports our values as a company. We are continually looking for ways for our business to lessen its impact on the environment. "

Although electricity is relatively cheap in Oregon, the bookseller expects to recoup its investment within five years. It will also get the benefit of a federal tax credit.

But what about all the rain Portland gets? Will there be enough sun to generate power? According to
Vince McClellan, who owns the contracting firm that developed and installed the system, "A solar array in the Willamette Valley will produce about 70% of the energy that an array in southern Arizona will produce. Because utility companies offer credit on a yearly basis for power fed back to the grid, the focus is on how much sunshine we receive over a year rather than when it shines."

Well . . . okay, then.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

'The Big Clock' Ticks Along

Review of THE BIG CLOCK (New York Review Book Classics 2006)
Author, Kenneth Fearing

THE BIG CLOCK has been called a "brilliant study in noir" (by The Globe and Mail) that has a plot "stretched tight as a drum" (according to the NY Times). I'll second those thoughts and add that in this short, well-crafted novel, Kenneth Fearing skillfully combines elements of the thriller, noir and social satire into a story that moves at a good clip and keeps you hooked--once the hook catches you, which really doesn't happen until nearly halfway through.

I'm not sure exactly what kept me reading up until that point. Maybe it was the arch observations of the protagonist, George Stroud--not a terribly likeable man. Drinks like a fish, cheats on his wife and seems to hold everyone and everything in disdain (himself included--which earns points for him, I guess). He's married to a woman named Georgette and their daughter's named Georgia, but they all call each other George, which is, um, unusual (and made me wonder if George Foreman had ever read this book) and, strangely enough, not as confusing as you'd think--but hardly so interesting as to pull me into the story. There are some amusing and entertaining moments early on, but not amusing or entertaining enough to make the story a page-turner. Even the milieu in which Stroud works--as executive editor for one of many periodicals owned by a publishing magnate named Earl Janoth--while providing Fearing a way of exploring the whole "faceless modern corporate world" thing, is not so compelling (in fact, at times, the plethora of names and publications can get a bit confusing) that I just couldn't stop reading.

I couldn't say for sure, but I may have simply been biding my time during those first few chapters in anticipation of what I knew (based on reading about the book) was to come--that George Stroud has a fling with Janoth's girlfriend, then witnesses her and Janoth going into her apartment building together. The next day, she's found murdered in that apartment. And, given the time of death, Stroud is pretty sure (barring the unlikely intervention of a third party) he knows who-dunnit. Janoth knows someone--a person he can't identify--saw him going into his girlfriend's building right before the murder. Janoth then (wait for it) puts Stroud in charge of the investigation to find--himself! Yes, this is where things get interesting.

As Stroud goes through the motions of trying to identify the man who saw Janoth at the scene of his girlfriend's murder, while doing everything within his power to keep everyone from finding out he is that man, we see the investigation from various points of view (an unusual device for a crime novel of the 1940s, when the book was originally published) and the evidence slowly accumulating and getting closer all the time to implicating Stroud. It struck me after a while that I was reading a low-tech version of the Kevin Costner movie No Way Out, which turned out to be one of two films based on this book (the other called, simply, The Big Clock).

The farther the investigation goes, the more difficult the book is to put down. Fearing manages to combine dread, irony, suspense and laugh-out-loud humor (the last bit particularly in a chapter written from the point of view of an artist who sees Stroud buy a key painting) with great skill. And if the ending seems a trifle pat and strains credulity some--well, I can forgive him for it. I can forgive an abrupt stop to what was a great ride.

By the way, as a reissued classic, the publisher saw fit to have Nicholas Christopher write an introduction. If you've never read the book, I urge you--do not read the introduction first. Christopher assumes we all know the story and brings up at least one spoiler that absolutely wrecked the final twist for me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

'The Brass Verdict' Shines

Review of THE BRASS VERDICT (Little, Brown and Company 2008)
Author, Michael Connelly

When I heard that Michael Connelly had brought Mickey Haller, his defense lawyer protagonist, back in a sequel to THE LINCOLN LAWYER, I was already sold on reading it. I gave that book a glowing review on another blog, praising Connelly for, among other things, his realistic and sympathetic depiction of the kind of character who doesn't always get so portrayed in crime fiction. When I heard that THE BRASS VERDICT brought Haller together with his polar opposite, Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, I was dying to see how that pairing played out.

Essentially, after a year-long hiatus during which Haller recovers from a serious gunshot wound (suffered in the previous book) and ensuing addiction to pain pills, he is thrust back into practicing law by inheriting an entire practice from a murdered friend. However, of all the cases he picks up, he's most concerned with one--a high-profile murder rap against a filthy rich film studio exec. It's on the investigation into the lawyer's murder that Bosch makes his appearance. It seems that Haller may have placed himself in jeopardy by taking over his friend's practice, because the killer may come after him next, rendering him dependent on Bosch for protection. And, though the relationship between Haller and Bosch starts off rocky, the two eventually develop a cautiously cooperative (if not completely forthright) rapport.

True to form, Connelly does a masterful job of plotting this story. It's full of suspense and has more twists than Mulholland Drive. Told in first person from Haller's point of view, the story is intricately constructed and depends on things that don't quite seem likely to occur--at least, not until you've read it to almost the very end. And (for those who have read the Bosch series and know that he's in this book) when Haller and Bosch meet, you can pretty much see what's coming, even before Bosch introduces himself. (The scene in which they meet has an intensive "wait for it" feel.) Their clash of interests may be predictable, but still manage to be entertaining. (One scene Haller and Bosch share actually made me laugh out loud. I won't spoil it by saying which.)

Having said that, while Connelly is quite capable of sardonic humor (Bosch revels in it), he tends not to be as deft with the lighter variety, in my very humble opinion. And, more than in some of his other books, his attempts at whimsy in this one seem to stray into being overly cute at times. One scene with a celebrity expert witness (who happens to be a gorgeous blonde woman with a bubbly personality--natch) comes to mind as being a bit over-the-top in that department.

Occasionally, the antagonist characters tend to be more like caricatures. The prosecutor Haller goes up against seems to lack the finesse I would picture a district attorney with a perfect record would have and comes across as a bit too much of a grandstanding blowhard at times.

The scenes in which we see Haller relating to his daughter and ex-wife, however, add a nice personal touch. And a bit of relief in what is otherwise a rather intense tale.

My only other criticism is Connelly's famous attention to detail--particularly in the courtroom scenes. It had the unfortunate effect of reminding me why I don't usually read (and never write) legal thrillers. Nonetheless, Connelly does get major points from me for getting it right. As right as I've ever seen a courtroom proceeding done in fiction. Which makes some of the reading--much like a real trial--a trifle tedious at times.

No matter. There's enough suspense here--and interesting back-and-forth between Haller and Bosch, as well as Haller and his client--to get you past all that and keep you turning the pages. I read most of the book on a round-trip flight that took three hours total--that's how much of a page-turner it is.

The book ends with a breathtaking climax, as well as a couple of final twists, the last of which struck me as being the teeniest bit contrived--but not so much that it ruined the story. Actually, it serves as an apt metaphor for the notion that there's a yin-yang symmetry between crime solver and criminal defender--flip sides of one coin that is our less than perfect, but still far and away better than most, justice system.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Catch and Release, Singleton Hippie Art

Catch and ReleaseThe Peace(c) Singleton 2008"There at the bottom of it all,I scrunched my toesdeep into the sandand held on fora never~ever againforever...waiting to breathe....To be lifted up again...To see the sun....And then....I felt the tiniest threadof change...black waters turning tepid blue,champagne chilledand full oflife...And I remembered...what I needed to share....Peace...."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

'Faster Than the Speed of Light': One Scientist's Moving Account

Review of FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT (Perseus Publishing 2003)
Author, Joao Magueijo

I was inspired to read FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT after seeing a special on the Science Channel in which Joao Magueijo explained his theory about the speed of light not being constant. He developed the theory that light may have moved faster when the universe was created than it does now, as a way of explaining certain paradoxes about the "Big Bang" theory that have confounded cosmologists (scientists who study the origins of the universe--not to be confused with cosmetologists) for decades. Since this theory contradicts one of the long-held tenets of Einstein's special theory of relativity (that the speed of light is constant), Magueijo's work was widely pooh-poohed and he was called quite a few bad names for his efforts--as I recall, words like "moron" and "heretic" had been tossed about.

Needless to say, I was intrigued. I had to find out more.

See, once upon a time (so long ago, it seems like another lifetime), I studied physics and even took a course in relativity. In fact, the idea of studying cosmology--understanding how everything was created--seemed incredibly appealing. I was ultimately done in by the math. It just turned out not to be my thing. Words are my thing. I turned to them instead.

I approached this book with some trepidation, concerned that it would be far too technical for me to enjoy after lo these many years of not doing hard science. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, because this book is about more than just science. It's about the people who do the science: how they work; how they collaborate, clash and compete with one another; and the resistance they encounter from various quarters when they take their theories to the bleeding edge and explore strange and controversial new possibilities. In short, it's about the human drama associated with science, along with the theory Magueijo created.

The book was a real eye-opener, in terms of finding out how contentious scientists can get with each other over these theories. All the name-calling that I took as a sign of others feeling threatened could just as easily have been typical posturing among Magueijo's peers from the sound of it. And I had to laugh (in sympathy) at his description of the agonizing process of getting one's theories published. Magueijo makes the academic publishing world sound about as arbitrary and capricious as the literary one.

Magueijo's writing also makes the book easy to digest. The science can get a bit heady at times, but if you don't get too put off by it, his stories and (sometimes delightfully ribald) sense of humor make the reading well worth the effort.

In the book, to a greater extent than the TV special, Magueijo discusses how others have come up with their own VSL (variable speed of light) theories--some of them prior to his doing so. And, since he was finding support among other scientists before he wrote the book, what may have seemed crazy in the 1990s may seem less so now. This book was published in 2003, so even more scientists may have signed onto it during the last five years, for all I know.

The book even served as a review of what I learned in that relativity class. Plus I learned a bit more. And while I would hardly consider myself a cosmology expert after reading this book, I can say I have a slightly better understanding of the science, along with a much greater appreciation for the trials and tribulations of those who are pushing the envelope in the field.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Book World Suffers More Losses

Lately, it seems like the obituary page is turning into a hit parade of literary greats of one sort or another.

Michael Chrichton is gone. His death has been written up in the NY Times and many other places. I've never read his books--never even saw Jurassic Park--but you can't argue with his success.

John Leonard has also left the building. A writer, critic and "out-and-proud liberal" (an endearing trait in itself, I think), Leonard worked for many major publications in a variety of roles. He's authored books, and the most recent one has possibly the longest title I've ever seen.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And then there were Angels, Singleton Hippie Art

And then there were Angels(c)Singleton 2008It was morningin the Manger,and everythingwas alive,brimming,dancing...a new day was born...And the Angels sang...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

In 'Chasing Darkness,' Cheeky PI Elvis Cole Skirmishes Again with Questionable Cops

Review of CHASING DARKNESS (Brilliance Audio 2008)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

Author, Robert Crais; read by James Daniels

I am no cop lover. So I am a big fan of private dicks who nip at the heels of the police. If they can do it with funny asides, more the better. You can’t be too funny, actually.

Elvis Cole is one such literary heel-nipper. He, of course, lives in a house perched on an LA canyon wall, has an iconoclastic cat who takes no nip (speaking of nip) and an even more cynical ex-cop friend named Joe Pike.

Some years before, Cole had been hired by a local lawyer to try to get his client off a murder charge—indeed, Cole found a tape of the guy elsewhere during the time of the crime and the accused walked. Now—the guy is found, apparently a victim of suicide, with a book of Polaroids of dying women (blood still spurting) at his feet. The woman Cole proved he did not kill is in the book.

Hey! No fair! Cole insists he was right the first time and sets off to roam the weirdos, aggrieved relatives, offbeat landlords, busybodies and all the usual suspects you’d expect in a wise-ass detective novel to prove the dead guy did not commit at least that one murder.

And who should be acting strangely? The police! (Did you call that one? I did.)

I had a problem with the reader, James Daniels, who has sort of a light voice that to me did not fit Cole, although he has apparently read other Cole and Joe Pike books. I also thought the title was blah—darkness, evil, murder, killer, ripper—pick one from Column A, etc. I could have thought up many better titles.

Despite this, it’s a fun ride—assuming you are not in the Death Album (see? better) and at least this time, I wasn’t. So far, so good.

Star Lawrence is a health writer and author of the blog HEALTH'Sass.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

'North River'--A No-Nonsense Tale of New Yorkers in the First Depression

Review of NORTH RIVER (audiobook 2007) by guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Pete Hamill; read by Henry Strozier

It’s 1934. Dr. John Delaney is moping around his townhouse, taking care of patients and obsessing over his daughter, Grace, who has taken her infant son and left for Mexico or Spain or someplace looking for her husband, who is some kind of half-vast revolutionary. Delaney is also processing his wife Molly’s decision of some years before to walk out of the house, never to return. Is she drifting in the currents of the North River? Apparently, this guy has kinda bad luck with women.

Sound like a Hallmark special? Not so fast. When Delaney returns home one day, his grandson, Carlito, about 3, is stuffed into a rickety troller in his front hall—here, Dad, I have to check Europe for hubs.

Delaney’s furious, not all warm and fuzzy. But the kid is hungry and can’t reach the toilet to pee, so things need attending to. He muddles on.

Of course, he begins to like hanging out with the kid and teaching him things about New York, but at the same time, he has gotten crosswise of a Mafia war. They even threaten the tot.

But Rose, the babysitter/nurse/etc. he found, is Sicilian, off the boat. She knows a thing or two about these goombahs.

I don’t want to give anything away, but this is not a touchy-feely. We wouldn’t expect that from Pete Hamill, anyway.

The reader is a wonderfully deliberate, rumbly guy named Henry Strozier, whom I have heard before.

I got so caught up in these people, I thought sadly at one point—some of them may be dead now. Wait—they never lived at all, this is fiction. Really good fiction can make you think things like that.

Star Lawrence is a health writer and author of the blog HEALTH'Sass.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Holiday Budget Tight? Buy Books

GalleyCat reports that the American Booksellers Association is promoting the heck out of books for the upcoming holiday season.

As the ABA's CEO Mark Domnitz put it in a letter to bookstore owners, "it's essential to try to remain proactive rather than reactive" in this economy. He makes several suggestions on how booksellers can cut costs and capitalize on selling a relatively inexpensive product that gives so much for the money.

She sees Things, Singleton Hippie Peace Art

She sees Things(c) Singleton 2008"He watches her,quietly digging her toes into the sand,tracing the hermit crab's trail with her fingertips...watches the smile,a polaroid pixie,whimsically painting it's way up her face...He knowsshe knows...She sees things....Old faces inbent trees,Sad eyesin lost marbles found again,Promiseson butterfly wings,Accidental heartson the tea~stained counter top....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Westward Ho!

George Will and I may not be able to agree upon much else (except maybe that baseball is a pretty cool sport), but we do both like Westerns. A genre that (hopefully) is not dead yet.

(Thanks to Readers Advisor Online)

Friday, October 24, 2008

McBain Produces Compelling 'Transgressions'

Review of TRANSGRESSIONS (Forge Books 2005)
Editor, Ed McBain; multiple authors

In the foreword to TRANSGRESSIONS, Ed McBain says it was a bit of a challenge finding 10 authors to contribute to a collection of crime novellas. I mean, who even writes novellas anymore? Yet somehow, McBain (or Evan Hunter, to use his birth name) was able to do it.

The result is a lengthy--783 pages, to be exact--and ambitious work that will probably stand as one of a kind, perhaps forever, since I doubt anyone else will undertake such a project in the future.

I had originally checked this out of the library because I wanted to read the contribution by Walter Mosley called "Archibald Lawless, Anarchist at Large: Walking the Line." Despite my more limited original intention, I decided instead to start with the first story to see if it agreed with me. It was a humorous crime story by Donald Westlake, who I'd read before and hadn't particularly cottoned to--but this time, I liked him better. Maybe I just like Westlake in smaller doses. Maybe the novella form forced him to get to the point faster, so the plot moved more quickly, engaged me faster. Whatever it was, it convinced me to try the next one, too.

Each story, I'm happy to report, is excellent in its own way. Anne Perry turns in a wonderful suspense tale of a political hostage situation in Ireland--a situation that forces the main character to grow and adapt to the situation, deepening the story to make it more than just the average suspense yarn. Joyce Carol Oates writes a tale of horror and suspense involving mean girls (not usually my favorite plot device, but one that worked for me here) and the tumult they cause others when they victimize an innocent girl. Sharyn McCrumb shows the lurid lengths doctors in the old South were driven to, in order to get bodies for medical students to work on--and the effect it had on one slave's life.

And Walter Mosley--well, I confess, as good as all the other authors were--a stellar combo that also included Ed McBain, Stephen King, John Farris, Jeffery Deaver and Lawrence Block--Mosley's story was still my favorite. Archibald Lawless is a, um, memorable character--intriguing, frightening and encouraging by turns to the protagonist, Felix Orlean, a college student Lawless hires to work as his "scribe," but who ends up unwittingly on the wrong end of a murder investigation. One in which Lawless is somehow involved, yet in which he is able to protect Orlean. They end up in a strange and wonderful relationship that Orlean is not quite sure he wants from the start, leading to a series of peculiar and sometimes deadly events.

I liked this book a lot. The stories all kept me interested, turning the pages. However, I must confess that 10 novellas felt like a lot. Normally, I wouldn't read 10 crime novels in a row--I usually like to mix a bit of mainstream or other genres in with my crime fiction reading. I loved the stories in this book. McBain may have rushed the editing a bit, as I caught several errors throughout, but they're good stories anyway. Nonetheless, I would recommend (unless you're the type that reads nothing but crime fiction) that you read these novellas two or three at a time, with something different in between to "cleanse" the literary "palate."

If it hadn't been a library book, I'd probably have done that.

Rest in Peace, Sweet Friend, Singleton Hippie Art

Rest in Peace,Sweet Friend.(c)Singleton 2008.I see you inaccidental places ataccidental times,a face in the rearviewmirror,laughingin five o'clock traffic...a shadow on the midnightwalls,watching...a reflection in the wishing pond,fleeting, butthere, I swear.....I hear you in the sudden orchestraof unexpected windchimes,the laughter of strangers,the "I know this means something"words to a song

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Book Covers Revisited

Some of these entries to the Bookninja's "literary novel rebranding contest" are flat out hysterical. Enjoy!

This One's Not About Books

Quite clearly, it's not about books . . .

But it's poetry and I like it. And it still feels relevant (dated cultural references notwithstanding), even though it's been almost 40 years since its first release.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chief Justice Channeling Raymond Chandler?

Oh, you just have to love it. In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts pours on the hardboiled prose, in his discussion of a criminal case. To wit:

"North Philly, May 4, 2001. Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a three dollar steak. Devlin knew. Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force. He'd made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.

"Devlin spotted him: a lone man on the corner. Another approached. Quick exchange of words. Cash handed over; small objects handed back. Each man then quickly on his own way. Devlin knew the guy wasn't buying bus tokens. He radioed a description and Officer Stein picked up the buyer. Sure enough: three bags of crack in the guy's pocket. Head downtown and book him. Just another day at the office."

Priceless--simply priceless.

My thanks to The (New) Legal Writer (citing May it Please the Court) for this one.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Good News About Reading

It's a truism I've never believed: that young people today don't read books. I'm happy to see that author Dave Eggers not only shares my belief that young people read, but has direct experience with them to back it up.

And, in another case of misleading media coverage, check out the headline, then read the story. Okay, you're saying young men don't read books, but a higher percentage of them (46% which, as I recall, is not quite half) read books than read magazines (43%), rent DVDs (33%), go to bars (33%) or go to movies (20%). And, based on these numbers, you claim young men don't like to read books?

Is it just because 69 percent said they can't live without the Internet? Well, that's a useless indicator. I can't live without the Internet these days and I love to read books.

(A tip of the hat to The Reader's Advisor Online for both articles.)

Face Painting, Singleton Hippie Art

Face Painting(c)Singleton 2008SOLDCome on in,drop yourwanna~be'sandlook~at~me'sat the kitchendoor...Hang yourfancy keyson the picket fence,your three piece suiton the arbor,your Big Fish Story on the clothesline....Come on in,butmake it free...I'm nottradin' peacefor nothin'....Colored markers, pencils, ink and a promise I made to myself 30 something years ago....And still believe. Love is free,

Monday, October 13, 2008

Are Geniuses Worth it All? This is the Core of 'Loving Frank'

Review of LOVING FRANK (audiobook 2007) by guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Nancy Horan; read by Joyce Bean

When I was 14, I looked up camps in the library and sent an application to an artsy affair called Hill Top in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Turned out it was run by the wife of an architect who'd once been at Frank Lloyd Wright's studio. It had a studio on the premises and was across the road from Taliesin, Wright’s famous house above the Wisconsin River. Wright had died rather recently and the cult of personality raged—we counselors were told never, ever to read THE FOUNTAINHEAD, so of course that is when I read it.

The other day, I picked up the 12-disk reading of LOVING FRANK, seeing only casually that it concerned one of Wright's mistresses', Mamah (May-mah) Borthwick Cheney's, experiences.

About halfway through, it was getting a little chick-booky for me, until my subconscious told me, "Uh-oh, is this the woman who gets murdered on the Taliesin property?" If you don’t know the story—a true one—you can learn it in stages in this book.

The story takes place before women got suffrage in 1920 and is also interesting in that this rather spoiled Oak Park housewife with her maids and nannies runs off to Europe with the dashing Wright, who was quite the ego boy, always broke, swathed in a cape, and madly collecting Japanese prints everywhere he went. He felt genius was license and spent money willy-nilly until even Mamah became alarmed.

As to the reader, Joyce Bean, she does a fine job, but I must confess now for the first time that I prefer male readers. When women try to do the men’s voices all gruff and low, they sound like Shirley Temple being cross. To me, to me!

The book even mentions my Hill Top, which apparently was a Chappaqua camp for adults before being turned over to rich Chicago girls who loved to ride horses. But I do remember seeing the “Shining Brow” Taliesin above us as we swam in the river. And, of course, the dog-eared FOUNTAINHEAD was under my pillow.

Star Lawrence is a health writer and author of the blog HEALTH'Sass.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Girl with the Peace Tattoo, Singleton Hippie Art

The Girl with the Peace Tattoo(C) Singleton 2008She was therein the crowd,Leon Russell on the stage,a barefooted ballerinaflitting over mud puddlesand ice chests,totally free...And behind the pinkcloak of yesterday,she still dances...and every now and then...someone noticesthe tattoo....Sometimes you have to go back,to get it right. 8 1/2 by 11 on cardstock. Colored pencils, ink, markers,

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Indie Booksellers Bowed, but Unbroken

The independent bookstore may be down, but it's not out, according to this essay on the "megalisters"--the online booksellers that sell their wares by the ton, rather than the title.

There's no denying it--I'm as guilty as the next person of taking advantage of the convenience of ordering books online and having them shipped right to me. But there's also no denying that, when I happen upon a mom-and-pop bookstore, I love to go in and browse. Because you never know what you might find.

I think each of these retailers has a rightful place in a book lover's heart. Online sellers, for convenient, targeted purchases, and indie brick-and-mortar stores, for the random treasure hunt.

What say you?

PS -- this weekend, I'll be on the road (or more like up the road, really) in Baltimore at Bouchercon, the big enchilada of mystery conventions.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nailing the Ineffable about Vietnam in 'Tree of Smoke'

Review of TREE OF SMOKE (audiobook 2007) by guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Denis Johnson; read by Will Patton

TREE OF SMOKE, on 18 disks, is by turns elegiac, amped-up, circularly crazy like all wars, and mysterious with, as one character said it, reality pushed so far to the edge it becomes a dream.

Like Apocalypse Now in some ways, TREE OF SMOKE centers on a hard-drinking, philosophical Army colonel-turned-CIA man gone native and his nephew Skip--also CIA, but a more gentle soul and linguist, who gets ensnared in the demonic logic of war and pays the price.

Two brothers from Phoenix are also featured, one who gets kicked out of the Navy and almost straight into the Arizona penal system and the other who keeps re-upping in the Army and descends into the lawless hell of the bush and the tunnels.

The narrator is actor Will Patton, a favorite of mine, whose soft, Southern cadences and subtle dialects both lull and scratch insistently at the subconscious of the listener. I felt like writing him a fan letter after listening to TREE OF SMOKE.

The title, by the way, comes from the Bible and is said to double as a name for an atomic explosion. But it also could be the wavering gray area where the exactitude of reality blends into the forest of nightmares.

Star Lawrence is also a health writer and author of the blog HEALTH'Sass.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Peace is a Paisley Dress, Singleton Hippie Art

Peace is a Paisley Dress(c) Singleton 2008SOLDOctober swing,wooden and crickety,crooked and old...tick~tocking over the gravel driveway...I lean way backand stretch my legs outpointy toed tokiss the skyand swing higher,rock dustpowdering my cheeks,eyes closed.And I remember...The sound of the tirescrunching the gravel...Peek~a~boo smiles...Accidental million mile hello's...And in the wind,my

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Banned Books Week

Banned books--not a good thing, right? Well, the LA Times ran an opinion piece that raises some valid points about the matter.

The Annoyed Librarian also expresses some annoyance about BBW.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Little Peace and Love, Singleton Hippie Art

A Little Peace and Love(c) Singleton 2008I found some dusty oldsidewalk chalkin a zip lock bag,buried under photos,and yellowedpages ofpoetrywritten from the rooftopof another life...and there was magic in that bag....Technicolor remembrancesofwhen we believed....Pastel memories...And soI tell the story again...in different colors...but the ending isalways the same..."Peace~love"Funky little

Book Reviews and Blogs

As time goes by and the newspaper business continues to suffer, we see the shrinking and (in some cases) the elimination of book review sections.

In their place, you find a proliferation of blogs. Some of the papers are starting these blogs; many of the bloggers are independent readers or librarians.

This trend was discussed recently on the blog, Poe's Deadly Daughters. Blogging is increasingly becoming a way to send information out to people--whether we're talking about news, book reviews or individuals and businesses marketing their goods or services. But does it serve as an adequate substitute for the book reviewers? Certainly, it creates more content on the subject--but is more better?

As one who blogs about books and reviews them, I'm the last person to say it's the wrong thing to do. But I will pose some questions--how well are bloggers covering the book beat compared with newspaper staff reviewers? Do bloggers provide the same quality writing and depth of insight into books as staff reviewers? Are they better or worse? What's good (or bad) about seeing bloggers take over the role that professional book reviewers have traditionally filled?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Find your Peace, Singleton Hippie Art

Find Your Peace(c) Singleton 2008It's there,in the shards ofyesterday,tomorrow,now...the little broken piecesof what was onceFiesta Ware....The colors of peace,fleeting fragments...Find 'em....Grab 'em....Glue them back together...String 'em from the sky...Chaos is the canvas...Color it with peace...Watercolors, marker, ink, peace and love (c) Singleton 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Flippant Comments and Spying on your Kids are No-No's in 'Hold Tight'

Review of HOLD TIGHT (audiobook 2008) by guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Harlan Coben; read by Scott Brick

Do you like those thrillers that plunge you into ghoulish cruelty and completely gross you out, but your main thought is, "Huh? Who is this character? Do I know who this is?"

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Context--who needs it?

Thriller master Harlan Coben perfects this weavy-type plotting in HOLD TIGHT. Characters are introduced by the dozen, lovingly fleshed out, described, and croaked, and so on, and you have no idea how they fit into the story. You just bought the ticket and got on the ride.

The setup is two rich parents in the Sopranos-rich New Jersey 'burbs, Mike and Tia Baye--he a transplant surgeon, she a lawyer--who decide to put spy software on their teenage son's computer. Oh, they agonize over invading his privacy, but in short order, done deal.

Naturally they don't like what they find, such as cryptic IMs alluding to "staying safe." In the meantime, though, and seemingly unrelated, a man and woman are snatching middle-aged women and killing them. Coben describes this in loving detail.

A friend of the Baye's 11-year-old is also having a meltdown over being insulted by a teacher who made a crack about the little mustache on her upper lip, leading sadistic teens to call her "XY."

But, about those murdered women again. Does anyone know what's going on?

Scott Brick reads for us. He is one of my favorites and his sort of nasal, long-suffering, sing-song cadences suit the work well.

As for resolution, it is nearly gift-wrapped by the end. Maybe a little too neatly. As the reader, or in my case, listener, all you can do is say, "Aha. I get it now."

Star Lawrence is owner of the health humor site, Health'Sass.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Name's le Carre . . . John le Carre

Wow! Talk about taking your research for a book a bit too seriously. Who knew John le Carre, well-known spy novel author, had considered defecting to the Soviet Union?

Le Carre said he didn't particularly like communism, but while he worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), he became increasingly curious about what life was like on the "other side."

"When you spy intensively and you get closer and closer to the border... it seems such a small step to jump... and, you know, find out the rest," he said.

I'd say that's one small step for man, one giant leap for a member of MI6 to take.

(Via The Reader's Advisor Online)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sad News, Odd News and Funny Bits

Recently, we've gotten quite a bit of sad news about good authors. David Foster Wallace checks out. Fletch author Gregory McDonald is gone. And the retrospectives continue for James Crumley, not only from the Washington Post, but from the Associated Press, the LA Times and a blog called "Chewing the Fat."

As for the odd news, how odd is it for another author to add a sixth book to the late Douglas Adams' five-book Hitchhiker's Guide "trilogy"?

And the funny bits? Well, I thought both this and this were pretty funny, actually.

Peace Garden, Singleton Outsider Hippie Art

Peace Garden(c) Singleton 2008SOLDTeeny Tiny seeds,trinkets ofyesterday...mood rings andbroken chains,pennies painted red,ticket stubs fromnights well spent...Broken thoughts andstories,lyrics to unfinished love songs,Beginnings with blurrymake~believe endings....Memories....Feel the love....let 'em grow....Peace Garden and other beer enhanced Hippie Art from Singleton available at Just Give Me

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How to Choose and Why

In a world in which there are so many books and there's so little time, how does one choose which books to read?

Think about it--hundreds (maybe thousands?) of good books are published every year. So what makes one book stand out among the others? In the competition for your attention, how do you choose a good book to read?

In my case, a lot of it depends on genre. I write mysteries, so I often read them and other types of crime fiction. But I don't want to limit myself to them. So I often turn to mainstream fiction for alternatives.

Science fiction was once a passion for me, but I've been reading it less lately. Not because it isn't good, mind you. Some of my favorite authors (Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, Spider Robinson and Douglas Adams come to mind) write (or wrote) sci fi. And I watch sci fi on television. But there are so many books to choose from--and there's so little time.

Sometimes I get interested in books based on reviews, but I suspect I'm in the minority. Ironically, I don't think I've ever picked up a book based on its cover (though authors tend to think a good cover makes all the difference where sales and promotion are concerned).

I'll note other people's book recommendations, keeping the source (and his or her proclivities and interests) in mind. But so many people recommend so many different books--and what they like doesn't always square with my preferences.

I have certain favorite authors whose work I read every time a new book comes out. Other authors I read sporadically--usually, because they have such huge bodies of work, I'd have to devote my life to catching up with everything on their backlists.

There are several classic books I've yet to read. I went through a period where I read loads of them--The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Slaughterhouse-Five, Sister Carrie, An American Tragedy (yeah, I was in a Dreiser phase), The Great Gatsby (for the second or third time), The Catcher in the Rye (for the third or fourth), Moby Dick (okay, I skipped over the part about dolphin and whale anatomy--but the rest, I read) and even War and Peace (it took me two and a half months, but it was worth it). But there are many others that are supposed to be great. And I still haven't read them.

I've dabbled in the satirical (Catch-22, Then We Came to the End), memoirs (The Glass Castle, A Girl Named Zippy), the off-beat (P.S. Your Cat is Dead, Cloud Atlas and On the Road--which is both off-beat and Beat), but I've never read James Joyce or William S. Burroughs. I've read John Steinbeck's East of Eden, but not The Grapes of Wrath.

And I haven't even touched on the childrens'/young adult books that are supposed to be so good. Among my favorites: The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time and most of the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I keep meaning to pick up Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events books, but (being perverse) am determined to maintain a Harry Potter-free existence (book-wise and movie-wise).

Then, of course, there's biography (I've read a few about Marilyn Monroe and one about Montgomery Clift) and loads of worthy non-fiction (I keep meaning to get to The Devil in the White City) to read on top of that.

As a result, I've ended up with a long list of books I'd like to read--and any day now, I will.

So, I'll put it to you, readers. How do you choose what you're going to read?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

RIP David Foster Wallace

It seems like the eulogies will never end for David Foster Wallace, who was found dead on Friday, Sept. 12, after hanging himself.

I first learned the news on Work-in-Progress, which in turn referred me to this AOL article. The NY Times and Washington Post both ran appreciations of his work. And a brief blurb (with links to still more appreciations and an online memorial) appeared on Galleycat.

I've never read Wallace's work, but many years ago, I'd read that INFINITE JEST was an unusual and brilliant book. Given what I'd heard about it (and sight unseen), I ordered it from a local bookstore, thinking it would make a great gift for a relative's birthday. When I went to the store to pick it up and saw how BIG it was, I decided against gifting it (didn't seem like gift book material, somehow) and bought my relative a copy of CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. (There's a certain irony in the choice that seems a bit tasteless to explore at the moment . . . so I won't.)

I still have INFINITE JEST on my shelf, patiently waiting to be read. After seeing all these accolades for Wallace, I'm wondering if it's time I got 'round to picking it up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Office Tells the Story in 'Then We Came to the End'

Review of THEN WE CAME TO THE END (Back Bay Books 2008)
Author, Joshua Ferris

One of the first things I noticed about THEN WE CAME TO THE END, a darkly-funny story (it's been called "the CATCH-22 of the business world" and "The Office meets Kafka") about a Chicago advertising agency going through tough times after the dot-com bubble burst, is how starting it was not unlike starting a new job. The characters, at first, are just a whole lot of names thrown at you. A bit confusing to keep straight, but after a while, traits emerge and you come to know them. Some are nice, some are pathetic, some unforgettable and others you'd just as soon forget. The kind of people you might, say, work with in an office.

The other thing I noticed was that reading the story was like revisiting the times when I'd worked in offices. As a freelance writer, I enjoy certain perks--the short commute (seconds rather than hours), flexible scheduling, etc. On the other hand, reading this book took me back to a time and situation that had its drawbacks, but also its joys. Reexperiencing the collegiality of office life, along with its frustrations, office politics, gossip--even the shared misery--was kind of an interesting blast from the past.

The major theme in the story is job security (or lack thereof) and many related issues--getting a bit too secure in one's job, not preparing for change or thinking such change is possible, feeling a trifle too fat, dumb and happy for one's own good. The specter of layoffs haunts the characters throughout the book. At the same time, the story has numerous subplots: the office romance gone wrong; the office eccentric who gets canned and who may (or may not) return to the scene with a semi-automatic weapon and a bad attitude; the office clown, who harbors a secret unrequited love; the office whipping boy, who's the last one to hear anything; the chilly middle-manager; the distant (and intimidating, but respected) boss with no personal life (at least, not one that's immediately obvious to the staff). And, of course (especially since some of whom we are talking about are ad copywriters), the office's would-be screenwriter and "failed" novelist.

The most interesting thing, though, is that the book is written in first person plural. The book opens with the lines, "We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen. Most of us liked most everyone, a few of us hated specific individuals, one or two people loved everyone and everything. Those who loved everyone were unanimously reviled."

It continues that way, talking about what "we" did and how "we" felt--with the exception of a brief interlude mid-way through, in which the book switches to third person singular. It took a chapter or two for me to realize the individual telling the story hadn't been identified and to ask, "Just who's telling this story, anyway?"

It struck me, then, that "we" could be the collective consciousness of the office. As if the staff as a whole was telling the story. (Joshua Ferris gives a different explanation for using "we" in an interview printed at the end of the book. I like mine better, but he's the author. I suppose that counts for something.)

It is an omniscient "we," as well, for you get to hear some conversations the staff never would have. This "we" manages to be all over the place, witnessing simultaneous events at times. The narrative occasionally shifts from one person's point of view to another with a fluidity I like (but my writing group would tear to shreds).

THEN WE CAME TO THE END not only explores the peculiar dynamic of the office workplace in a clever and funny way, but shows the eroding effect on morale as that office is slowly, but surely, dismantled. So when you come to the end of this book, the "we" seems to have become diffused, broken into bits that are cobbled together for one last collective event. And how natural that, when the event is over and everyone goes home, the storyteller should conclude this tale with--for the one and only time--the word "me."

Peace and Dragonflies, Singleton Hippie Art

Peace and Dragonflies(c) Singleton 2008Wings fluttering,dancing,parading through the skyintranslucent petticoats,a chorus ofmake-believe blues,swirling,twirling,scooching intomake the circle...and thencurtsy tothe wind...Peaceanddragonflies....Ballet for the sky....Available here!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mercantile Center Announces 'First Novel' Award Nominees

Earlier this month, the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction announced the shortlist for its 2008 John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. The winner gets $10,000.

"As the new Center for Fiction, we intend to do everything we can to support and promote emerging writers," said director Noreen Tomassi. Ten grand is, indeed, quite a bit of support.

This list of nominees caught my eye, because I noticed ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES by Rivka Galchen was on it. I've heard so many good things about the book, it's on my impossibly long list of books I'd like to read eventually. I'll be interested to see who wins.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An Award for the Odd Title

The Bookseller recently did an online poll to determine the oddest book title of the last 30 years. Now, as odd book titles go, you'd think it would be hard to beat People Who Don't Know They're Dead, but another one did--Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers. (Damn! I was going to use that one for my next book.) How to Avoid Huge Ships came in third. (And would you believe there's actually another book with that title?)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

News and More News

All sorts of cool book-related things to report. I wish I could say I dug these up all by myself, but I found them on The Readers' Advisor Online Blog, which is always packed with interesting tidbits.

For instance, Dutton has inked a deal on what's being called a "digi-novel," to be published in Fall 2009. According to this Publishers Weekly article, Dutton "paid millions for a multimedia three-book series from Anthony Zuiker that, at its centerpiece, features a mystery novel which will send readers to a Web site with companion footage relating to the plot." We're seeing this kind of crossover between print and Web publishing more and more.

PW also reports that Amazon has bought Shelfari.com, a Seattle-based social network site for readers. So what isn't Amazon buying these days?

And Anne Trubeck suggests that Catcher in the Rye might need to be replaced on high school syllabi with contemporary literature that speaks more to current teens. I know there are more current coming-of-age stories out there, but isn't Catcher what is commonly known as a classic? Has it really lost all its relevance? I pick it up about every 10 years or so (and you don't need to know exactly how many times that's been ;)) and found something to like about it each time.

Maybe I'm just old school, but I can't picture Catcher being replaced by the complete scripts for Freaks and Geeks.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How to Hire a Readers' Advisory Librarian

Readers' advisor--now, that's a job many people would consider a dream position. Imagine getting paid to read books and recommend them to people. Sign me up now!

Thing is, there's more to it than that. Of course, you can't just read what you like--you have to read what other people might be looking for (and you might hate). Plus you have to advise people, thus the advisory part of the position. Which means working with them, not dictating to them or dumping all over their choices. ("Science fiction? What are you some kind of geek? And thrillers? Totally unbelievable and formulaic junk. Now, how about a little Proust . . .")

So, here are one woman's thoughts on how to hire a good readers' advisory librarian. It's not necessarily a job for anyone who enjoys reading.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Peace, Love, The Dream...Singleton 2008 Hippie Art

Peace, Love, The Dream (c) Singleton 2008 SOLD.Tangled in Sunday sheets,I stretched,tossed,let the Sun sprinkle pixie dust in my eyesand woome back to sleep.....Cold, summer sleep...And we we're dancing...heads thrown back in laughter,everyone else wrapped around their partners,swooning,but we were laughing....And it was the Peace, tattered little sticks and strings,woven,matted,braided

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