Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kindle Price Drops

Amazon has lowered the price of a Kindle reader from $399 to $359. This despite the electronic reader going "out of stock" (whatever that may mean) not long after it hit the market last November.

An Amazon spokesman says the Kindle's price has dropped because it has become cheaper to produce. We may never know exactly how many Kindles have been sold, but (like all new technologies) I suspect we'll see them getting even cheaper as time goes by.

Friday, May 30, 2008

For Your Reading Pleasure

Another online publication for book lovers at

As if there weren't enough stuff I'd like to read offline.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Potter Prequel to Go Up for Auction

An 800-word Harry Potter prequel hand-written by J.K. Rowling on (get this) a card will be auctioned off by Waterstone's Booksellers Ltd. in London, along with 12 other card-sized works by authors and illustrators such as Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing, novelist Margaret Atwood and playwright Tom Stoppard.

The proceeds will go to English PEN, a writers' association, and the British charity Dyslexia Action. Copies of the cards will be collated into a book that will be available at the bookstore and online in August.

Rowling wrote the prequel on both sides of the card, reported to be slightly bigger than a postcard. I still think she must have written really, really tiny to fit 800 words on something that size.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred

Today, I give you not just one, but two (somewhat tepid) reviews of the latest Bond (James Bond) novel, DEVIL MAY CARE (Doubleday).

And happy 100th birthday-that-would-have-been to Ian Fleming.

Radio Love, Singleton Hippie Art

RADIO LOVE(c) Singleton 2008Ten thousand songsstreetsstoriesandI'm high...Bare toesbalancedon the very edgeof yesterday,A rock and rollballet ofButterflies and Bowie...Incense and drumsrolling,snapping,Jiffy Pop on an open fire....Tin can percussionpulling you in...And we're high...Ten thousand lyricspenciledin the wind....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lower Crime Rate Bad for Mystery Writers?

New York is enjoying a sharp decline in crime--the fewest homicides since the first reliable stats became available in 1963. So does this mean hardboiled crime writers can no longer describe the "mean streets" of New York with as much grit as they used to?

Mystery author S.J. Rozan seems to think so. Her 1994 novel CHINA TRADE opened with a scene in which a couple of private investigators mixed it up with three members of a Chinatown gang. Guns were drawn "in a chaotic scene that also featured undercover police officers dressed as winos, a surprise attack by another gang from a car speeding along the West Side Highway, and a double-cross scheme by a member of the first gang."

However, Rozan says, "That kind of book couldn’t be written anymore, because that level of lawlessness has really disappeared. . . . Anyone who has recently come to New York would pick it up and think: 'What is wrong with this woman? What is she making up?'"

Well, lower crime rate or not, crime still happens in New York and other places. And you can write hardboiled in ways that reflect gritty realities of life other than public gunfights with gang-bangers. So, I don't think crime writers are in any great danger of lacking realistic material anytime soon.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The 'Da Vinci Code' of Physics? I'm Hooked

Imagine a thriller based on the idea that Einstein actually figured out the Unified Field Theory he was after for so long and entrusted pieces of the theory to each of his students before he shuffled off to another dimension. And now, evil forces are trying to collect all the pieces and do whatever it is that evil forces would do with the Unified Field Theory (bad things, no doubt). And it's up to "a lapsed physicist who now teaches the history of science at Columbia University" to stop them.

Or so THE FINAL THEORY (Touchstone) by Mark Alpert is described in this review.

This so totally appeals to the science geek in me.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Grandmaster Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block is one of those amazing people who was just born to write. As this article points out, his early work "ran the gamut from hard-boiled to sleazy. (Which is a fine gamut with me.)" (Me, too, for that matter.)

While I love his dark Matthew Scudder novels, Block is also equally adept at writing with sly humor in his Bernie Rhodenbarr series. He's a man of many talents, whose books are well worth reading.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Some Top 10 Lists for the Mystery Reader

For your reading pleasure, courtesy of Mysterious Matters, we have a series of Top 10 lists: "Top 10 Ground Breaking Mysteries," "Top 10 Reasons to Read a Mystery," and "Top 10 Plot Devices That Make Me Want to Scream in Horror."


Friday, May 23, 2008

So Many Books, So Little Time

As if my TBR list weren't already so long I'll never finish it in this lifetime, now there's a book called 1001 BOOKS YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE.

Or, perhaps, die trying to read. And is the book itself counted in, thus making it a book-length recommendation for 1,000 other books? And why would I read a book about a long list of books I should be reading, instead of reading the books themselves?

And, as for the choices, any "must read" list that has INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE on it must be viewed with some suspicion.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review: 'The Second Objective'--A WWII Detective Thriller

Guest blogger Star Lawrence reviews THE SECOND OBJECTIVE (audiobook) by Mark Frost, as read by Erik Steele.

Don't let the World War II thing throw you off: THE SECOND OBJECTIVE is a detective thriller.

Only middle-aged guys taking a break from their Quicken programs are into World War II. So imagine my shock when I realized I had raked a WWII book, probably a yawner, off the audiobook shelves. With a shrug, I flopped in the first disk, thinking, hey, maybe it will be a little Grishamy or something. Within 10 minutes, I was hooked! And I am a woman and think Quicken sickens.

It’s after D-day, nearing Christmas of 1944. Hilter’s so-called commander, Otto Skorzeny (real guy), has assembled a bunch of German soldiers who speak OK English to go behind the lines of the Germans’ last offensive to cause trouble. Twenty of them will also go on to a “Second Objective,” thus the title.

Bernie Auster, a shrewd, young Brooklyn Boy from Park Slope, had gone back to Germany with his parents and gotten slapped into the army. Being almost a native English speaker, he is selected for the commando scheme and teams up with a cold-hearted SS sociopath, to thrash around the Ardennes and then go to Paris for the second assignment.

That assignment would change a lot.

A New York City detective and lieutenant named Earl Granite starts sniffing out irregularities as American troops engage German Panzer units in the area of the Bulge (in rivers). Battle of the Bulge! I have heard of that. Ah.

Soon, Granite and his Wisconsin-drawling assistant Oly cross paths with the duo of Bernie and the relentless SS mastermind and the game is on.

Steele is a very subtle reader, effortlessly sliding in and out of the different timbres and speech patterns of the characters. The SS man alone has several accents—his snooty Cambridge one when he talks to Bernie, an American Southern accent when he is an American officer in disguise, and so on.

Will Bernie survive? Will he face a firing squad for being a spy behind enemy lines? Will the hardboiled detective believe in his character and intentions? Will we? Should we? You know how to find out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Novelists Weave Stories into the Web

I know most authors have Web sites and many have blogs, but this is the first I've heard of authors creating Web sites associated with particular books.

NPR reports that several first-time novelists are doing this, including Marisha Pessl whose companion Web site for SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS is at, and Charles Bock, author of BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN, who also has a Web site for his book.

Creating a Web site for each of your books could get burdensome for someone like Sue Grafton or Robert Parker, who have extensive backlists. But when your body of work consists of one book, I suppose it's manageable.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

This Time, He's Calling it Fiction

James Frey, of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES infamy, has come out with a novel, BRIGHT SHINY MORNING. This article talks about the debacle with his memoirs and how he's coping with that, as well as his writing background.

Gee, if he'd just called the first one a novel, imagine all the humiliation he could have avoided. By the same token, however, Frey and his latest novel might not be getting such a lengthy write-up in the LA Times, either.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Man Who Created James Bond

Ian Fleming (the author who created Bond, James Bond--thank you very much) is the subject of an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London called "For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond." The exhibition opened last month and will run through March 2009.

This article provides an interesting look at Fleming's life, some information I hadn't known (like that Fleming died in 1964, "before the Bond franchise went stratospheric") and some fascinating trivia about where he came up with his characters.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Review: Never Get Crosswise of a 'Thirteen'

Guest blogger Star Lawrence reviews THIRTEEN (the audiobook) by Richard K. Morgan, as read by Simon Vance

Richard K. Morgan, I learned from Amazon, is an award-winning sci-fi guy (ALTERED CARBON, BROKEN ANGELS). My only claim to sci-fi knowledge comes from being acquainted with Bucky Fuller in The Wayback and from telling Paul Krassner about the word “grok” in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, so that the word then entered polite conversation. So you will soon see I know nothing to speak of about the genre. Of course, ignorance never stops me, so let’s proceed.

The book takes place at the end of this century. The reader gradually figures out that the UN has gained in stature, the American south has seceded again and is called Jesusland, and the Pac Rim countries are sort of a separate territory with lots of clout. Of course, shadowy corporations run everything (that’s not new) and some cars called Teardrops can drive themselves.

The anti-hero is Carl Marsalis, a Thirteen, which is a genetically altered human short on sympatico and long on belligerence. He’s also black and English. One of the shadowy corporations gets him out of jail in Jesusland to hunt down another Thirteen who is killing people the corporation doesn’t want killed.

Carl hooks up with a tasty former NYPD detective named Sevgi Ertekin and they have some smokin’ sex and then set off looking for the rogue Thirteen. As they flit around the world in their space-age fiber duds, a number of subplots start to tumble out and roll around. Many are kind of abandoned, so you have to make of them what you will.

Needless to say Carl gets a little more sympatico where Sevgi is concerned and it gets "personal." So, look out, bad Thirteens!

The reader Simon Vance has a light voice and an English accent. Vance sort of trips along a little too fast at first, but then settles in and does the various voices well without sounding like a blithering schizo.

This puppy is 18 disks, so pace yourself. Maybe for a cross-country trip in the car this summer, assuming you are not going to "the Rim." Just be sure to bring some "Sin," which as far as I could tell was some really cool, legal speed.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Murder by the Bosphorus

I wanted to post this article primarily because 1) it introduced me to two new mystery authors and 2) who knew that there were two mystery writers setting their stories in Istanbul?

Preachin' to the Sky, Singleton hippie art 2008

Preachin' to the Sky(c) Singleton 2008It's 2 A.M.and we're buildingbonfires of beer bottles,crackling, snapping,breakingin a pick-up stick pile,amberdisco lightsunder yesterday's moon.In the morningyou won't rememberthe perfect sequenceof the stories,the way we playedhokie-pokiewiththe fire....the spellsthe magpie fairies cast...but you'll smile....And I'll keep preachin' to the sky....

Friday, May 16, 2008

Baltimore Book Blog

From Baltimore ("The City that Reads," according to many a public bench around the town), the Sun paper is now publishing a blog about books called "Read Street." It includes some stuff pertaining specifically to Charm City, but it's mostly about books and things related to them. So book lovers everywhere can enjoy it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Like Father, Like Son

This interesting article discusses Peter Leonard's relationship with his father, Elmore Leonard. It seems Peter has chosen a career path similar to his dad's. Not only have Elmore and Peter both worked in advertising, but Peter has published his first novel, QUIVER--a crime novel very much like those his father writes.

According to Desiree Cooper, who wrote the article, QUIVER is "set in Michigan, and the dialogue is smart and quick--signatures of Elmore's novels."

"Despite 'Quiver' springing entirely from Peter's imagination," Cooper writes. "I thought it read remarkably like an Elmore Leonard novel. It's one of those fast reads where the characters are both visual and real."

Unlike his pop, Peter Leonard has not quit his day job in advertising. Wise fellow--though I suspect he's not hurting on the book publicity and distribution front. After all, his dad is Elmore Leonard.

And if you're going to emulate someone, no matter who you are, Elmore Leonard isn't a bad choice.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Obscure Favorites

Some authors name their favorite books you probably never heard of and tell you a little about them.

In one case, extremely little--Colum McCann, author of DANCER, said of his obscure favorite, FUP by Jim Dodge: "The less said about it, the better." Well, now I'm intrigued.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Just Too Sad

Imagine getting a publisher for your first novel--then getting killed days after turning in your final revisions on it.

It happened to auxiliary cop Nicholas Pekearo, who was shot to death while he and a fellow auxiliary cop were following a man who'd shot a pizzeria worker in March 2007. Pekearo had just finished his story, THE WOLFMAN, about a small-town detective who transforms into a werewolf that "murders evildoers who can't be brought to justice any other way."

Novelist Andrew Vachss said the book was "a brilliant, insightful, overpowering debut" while Publishers Weekly described it as "a considerable achievement that should give this novel crossover appeal beyond crime and horror readers."

The novel was scheduled for release today.

Peace, the love drug, Singleton Hippie Art 2008

Peace, the Love Drug(c) Singleton 2008Airdrummingin a spaceso emptyI color the wallswithmake~believemusic...blues wailingin the distance,crashing into corners,and the chorus,a thousand stray birds strong,strumming on steel guitar strings in the wind.And we're high.Lost in the accidental peaceof a songyou've heard a thousand times before,but never like in the wind.....

Monday, May 12, 2008

Let's Get Real-ish

David Sedaris, who writes wonderful books about his wacky family and the strange things that may or may not have actually happened to him, is coming out with a new book, WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES. (The guy really does have a way with titles.)

With all the sound and fury lately over how "true" memoirs really are, Sedaris has taken the precaution of describing his work in the preface as "real-ish." (And if you want to read more about that and the controversy surrounding memoirs, I highly recommend clicking on the link to The Christian Science Monitor article from which this news was taken.)

Says Sedaris, "I guess I've always thought that if 97 percent of the story is true, then that's an acceptable formula."

Given the vagaries of memory, I would think getting it right 97 percent of the time would be pretty spectacular, actually.

It's funny. When I read my sister's copy of Sedaris' HOLIDAYS ON ICE, while spending some vacation time with her and her family in Oregon, I found myself questioning the veracity of a lot of it. I asked my sister, "How could all this weird stuff have really happened to him? How can he remember it all in such detail?"

Her response: "Who cares?"

I have to admit, I think she was onto something.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Exploring the Book-Beer Connection

When people think of authors and alcohol, it usually conjures up images of Scotch on the rocks, bourbon or even the more froufrou-ey wine. But Omnivoracious takes a long-overdue look at authors and their favorite beers.

Thanks to Library and Information Science News for leading me to this article. And to SemiConscious Dot Org for leading me to LISNews.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bond (James Bond) is Back in Another Book

FishbowlNY reports that James Bond is making another appearance in the publishing world. DEVIL MAY CARE, the new Bond novel, will be the 23rd Bond book to be released since his original creator, Ian Fleming, died 44 years ago.

With an initial print run of 250,000 in the U.S. and 100,000 in the U.K., it seems the publisher has high hopes for the book, especially since the previous Bond novel, THE MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO, only sold 13,000 in the U.S.

The report has a link to the Wall Street Journal article about the book's release, which I could have posted instead of Fishbowl's summary. But then you wouldn't get to see the video of the opening chase scene from Casino Royale. Kind of gives new meaning to the term "height of improbability," but that's Bond for you.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Quintessential Hardboiled Detective

NPR's Morning Edition recently aired this examination of "Raymond Chandler's quintessential private eye, Philip Marlowe."

Dashiell Hammett may have been published earlier, but (IMHO) Raymond Chandler did it best. (And, if you click on the link for Chandler, you'll see he liked cats, too. A man after my heart.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Turin Book Fair a Political Hot Spot

The Turin Book Fair started today and apparently the organizers' decision to honor Israeli writers at the fair, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Israel's creation, has led to protests and boycotts.

According to the article, the protesters are "a number of Arab and Italian intellectuals and left-wing activists, who charged that celebrating Israeli letters ignores the plight of the Palestinians."

Amid flag burnings and a volley of angry words, the article notes, "The festival's organizers are exasperated, noting the irony that a book fair is meant to broaden horizons, not build barriers."

Ironic, indeed. Communication, learning, understanding--aren't these the things literature is supposed to promote?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Presenting Charles Ardai

NPR recently interviewed Charles Ardai, founder of Hard Case Crime, on its show Fresh Air. Ardai, who also writes under the name Richard Aleas, has indeed provided a bit of fresh air to the pulp fiction genre, using HCC to show the mystery writing talent of Stephen King, reprint old stories by established writers like Lawrence Block and showcase some extraordinary new talent on the hardboiled and noir writing scene.

NPR also obligingly provides an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Aleas' latest book, SONGS OF INNOCENCE. A worthy read.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Review: Do You Have a 'Compulsion' to Read Jonathan Kellerman?

By guest blogger Star Lawrence

COMPULSION (audiobook), author Jonathan Kellerman and read by John Rubenstein.

COMPULSION is the 22nd novel featuring urbane, koi-loving child psychologist Alex Delaware and his sidekick, Milo Sturgis, the loner, gay cop who never enters a restaurant without ordering. Of course, I listened to the book and did not read (detached retina). Delaware books are like Milo’s favorite snack food—irresistible to me. I throw them down like bon-bons—or make that in one ear and out the other.

This one is the usual knot of interweaving cases and themes, opening with the perennial favorite: woman in jep, as we used to say in the screenwriting game. Spaghetti straps askew, this one is hammered, mincing across a parking lot in the dark, alone, drops her keys, pats the ground around the car…eeek. Oh, she found them. Okay, now she drives off and takes a secluded shortcut in the Hollywood Hills…and runs out of gas. Really runs out of it. But a shiny black Bentley appears, and the driver is a woman. Saved!

Don’t count on it. The theme is shiny black cars.

You will have to read or listen to see how this plays out. But Kellerman rhapsodizes about his new baby koi, the jumbled symphony of life that is New York City (he travels, but we aren’t too jealous because the LAPD puts him in a crappy hotel), and detailed descriptions of what everyone is wearing when he meets them. Has anyone seen this author and Michael Kors in the same room?

The CDs are read by John Rubenstein, a bit actor I have seen on TV several times. He does a marvelous job not chewing up the distinctive accents and speech patterns of the various characters. He is one of the best. I especially liked his reading of an eccentric old lady in a tiny California town remarking on the hairstyles of her fellow residents. “Some these gals have hair that looks like roadkill,” she cackles.

I have been to that beauty parlor.

This is not the best Kellerman ever—but it won’t disappoint if you like Dr Rationality. At least his instrument carving GF Robin (yes, they are back together—he could use his own psychologist) has a minor role. They do have a new bulldog, though—Blanche.

Oh, and I was never sure what the “compulsion” was. Kink, maybe.

Star Lawrence

Those Girly Book Covers

Karen Heller has an axe to grind. In fact, she'd like to take an axe to some of the women's literature she's seen with these froo-frooey covers.

Heller cites Katie Crouch's Girls in Trucks as an example. The "debut novel about Southern debs gone bad is winsome. Crouch possesses a deft comic voice, a gift for observation, and the ending is free from the prince-saves-heroine gimmick of much chick lit," Heller writes. However, she says the cover "is literal and beyond cliche, the obligatory back of a woman in a vintage gown, barefoot on a blurry country road, a truck in the background. In a time of innovative design, the cover is visual Splenda."

"This isn't a great time for publishers," Heller notes. "If they would banish the uniform covers, which were stale from the get-go, and realize that women--who buy an awful lot of books--will buy ones without pink or shoes or severed body parts on the cover, they might sell a good deal more copies."

I know I'm turned off by ultra-fem cliche covers. My favorite genre is hardboiled mystery. And you don't see Lifetime channel-type images on the covers of hardboiled crime fiction--even when it is written by women.

So what gives? When will "women authors" be treated as simply "authors" in the wacky world of literary fiction?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Review: 'Stalking Death' is a Suspenseful Delight

I was fortunate enough to buy an early release copy of STALKING DEATH (The Mystery Company 2008), part of the Thea Kozak mystery series by Kate Flora, when I attended Malice Domestic a couple of weekends ago. It's an absorbing read.

Thea Kozak is the "crisis expert" in the private school consulting firm that she and her partner operate. In this story, Shondra Jones, a black female student at St. Matthew's prep school, claims she's being harassed by a male student. When Kozak shows up to handle the situation, she's given a less-than-enthusiastic reception from the people she's trying to help. It seems the alleged stalker is the grandson of one of the school's major donors. So guess how anxious they are to punish the stalker--not very.

Before you know it, someone is murdered and Jones' brother is accused of committing the crime. But there's a whole lot more going on at St. Matt's than meets the eye. And it's up to Kozak to figure it out so she can do her job and try to protect Shondra (who has become a target, because she refuses to drop her complaints against the school). In doing so, Kozak puts herself squarely in harm's way and must keep on her toes to stay alive.

With a dry wit and fine-tuned sense of the ambiguities of dealing with people, Flora does a great job of exploring the difficulties of being a consultant--the outsider who must look behind her clients' bland representations and challenge their complacent attitudes in order to get the job done. I can't help but be reminded of when I was practicing law and had to see through what clients told me to understand their true agendas. Flora's previous career as an attorney no doubt contributes to her keen understanding of what it's like to have clients lie to you and balk at taking advice they don't want to hear.

The story is well-structured and engaging, building in suspense and tension as Shondra and Kozak face one peril after another, until it reaches a nail-biting climax.

Flora also does a great job of weaving in enough detail about previous books in the series to bring you up-to-speed about what's come before without dragging the plot down with excessive detail--giving one all the more reason to go back and read them, as well.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Talk With Reed Farrel Coleman

Reed Farrel Coleman is one of those authors I hope to see succeed in a big way. His Moe Prager mystery series is (IMHO) brilliant. Each story builds on what came before it, while Prager and his relationship with his wife (who starts out the series as his girlfriend) goes through changes, too. It all leads up to a shattering development that culminates in a cliff-hanger scene at the end of the first book, WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE.

While this short interview with Coleman focuses on SOUL PATCH, which was nominated for the Edgar, it also tells you a little bit about him. Though it didn't end up winning, as Coleman says it truly is an honor just to be nominated. Besides, he won a bunch of awards for his previous effort, THE JAMES DEANS. Plus in his latest Prager novel, EMPTY EVER AFTER, the story arc appears to finally reach that shattering cliff-hanger I mentioned. Having read and enjoyed the entire series so far, this latest book gets a spot high up on my TBR list.

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