Monday, June 30, 2008

Souvenier, (c) Singleton 2008 hippie art

Souvenier(c) Singleton 2008Wet T shirts piled on the floor,faces and placescovered in sandand yesterday's salt....wilting,and waiting their turn fortomorrow....And i tiptoe over them in the morning,psychedelic jelly fish fading in their has~been glory,souveniersofanothernightdredgingsand dollarsfrom the mouths ofyesterday's peace......IMYSVVFM

Lawrence Block Hits the Big Seven-Oh

Yes, one of my favorite (and most prolific) authors, Lawrence Block has turned 70. I'm sorry I missed his TV appearance, but glad he's still out there--writing and publishing and promoting (oh my!).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Must Reads?

In the spirit of the First Amendment, the late George Carlin and all those who believe in the right to speak their minds (no matter how wrong they may be :)), I give you--the ALA's 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, 1990-2000.

Read well and often, people.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Least Loved Stories

This caught my eye--you often see lists of the top [pick your number] best books. Why not a discussion of the worst of the lot (at least, in the opinion of this select group of critics)?

I can think of a few pretty awful candidates, but I refuse to name them if the authors are alive. I figure, why add to their troubles? Isn't the agony you go through to get (and stay) published bad enough?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Something in the 'Air That Kills'

Review of AN AIR THAT KILLS (IPL 1985) by Margaret Millar

Margaret Millar was without question a talented writer of mystery and suspense novels. Wife of Kenneth Millar (better known as Ross MacDonald), some say she exceeded her husband in writing ability, if not in fame among the general public.

AN AIR THAT KILLS makes great reading, too. Millar had a way with dialogue—her characters could be pathetic, sarcastic, annoying or droll and she had an eye for detail and an ear for the spoken word that just nailed each of them.

And Millar could set you up like no one else. Her stories had a way of leading you down a primrose path, only to leave you staring at a trash heap, realizing she really had you going all along. And the clues to where you ended up were all hiding in plain sight, in retrospect. These things are all true, if you aren’t already familiar with her work.

See, I’ve already read Millar before—HOW LIKE AN ANGEL, another convoluted story that kept the reader guessing up to the last line, no less—and actually figured out the big surprise before I got to that line. So, when she laid the surprising finish on in this story, I wasn’t quite as shocked as I might have been if I didn’t already know how Millar tended to write.

I enjoyed AN AIR THAT KILLS—the writing is superb, the dialogue crackles, the plot intrigues. What bothered me was the premise—in the end, I just found the whole setup a teeny bit hard to swallow. Without spoiling anything for others who wish to read it, I’d love to know if anyone else who knows the story felt a similar sense of anti-climactic disbelief in the ending. All comments are welcome.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spending Time With 'A Girl Named Zippy'

Review of A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY (Broadway Books 2001)
Author, Haven Kimmel

When I looked at the cover blurbs for A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY by Haven Kimmel—stuff that said it was “[f]illed with good humor, fine storytelling, and acute observations of small-town life” and described the author as “a spunky little girl trying to puzzle through the adult world . . . in this gentle memoir”—I thought “Aw, jeez. Is this going to be one of those collections of too-cute essays? Is this going to be Lake Wobegon in Indiana?”

But I picked up this book on my sister’s recommendation, and I respect my sister’s opinions on books greatly. Plus I met a woman at a business mixer who liked the book, which reflected well on her since she shared my sister’s enthusiasm for it. And I figured I’d give it a try.

So I did. And the book is neither too-cute nor would it be confused with anything by Garrison Keillor.

Zippy not only avoids being excessively cute, she can actually be outright dislikeable at times. Kimmel writes with disarming honesty about one instance in particular where a girl in Zippy’s class suffers a family disgrace, and Zippy proceeds to find out about it by pretending to be her friend.

But I do the book and Kimmel a disservice if I leave you with the thought that Zippy was a horrible child. She wasn’t. It’s just that Kimmel is so forthright about her (occasional) bad qualities, you have to really respect her. And like her, too.

It also doesn’t seem to be saying enough to mention that Kimmel has a unique voice. Anyone who would write of a ceramic bowl her mother made that “was so pretty I wanted to break it” has more than a unique voice.

The book does paint a picture of small (very small) town life, in a way that captures the joys, anxieties and outright terrors of childhood in a distinctive and (deceptively) simple way.

Kimmel is a gifted storyteller—despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she didn’t speak a word until she was three years old. And, in case you hadn’t already guessed, I did indeed enjoy A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY so much, I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone looking for (as the Python boys would say) “something completely different” to read.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Finding Yourself 'In the Midst of Death'

Review of IN THE MIDST OF DEATH (Jove ed. 1984)
Author, Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block is the kind of writer who can pretty much do it all. I’ve read books from his series about Evan Tanner, the perennial insomniac, and the droll burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. But my favorite of his protagonists has to be Matthew Scudder.

Scudder works as an unlicensed private eye. He was once an NYPD officer, but quit after accidentally killing a young girl when a bullet he fired at a fleeing criminal took a bad ricochet into the girl’s head. As a result, he quit the force, left his wife, took a room at a Manhattan hotel and began drinking bourbon for breakfast. He is, in short, a man with issues.

In addition to drinking too much, Scudder is working through his demons by tithing at the first church he runs across every time he’s paid and trying to right wrongs as an investigator.

IN THE MIDST OF DEATH shows Scudder taking up the cause of Jerry Broadfield, who claims to have been framed for the murder of a high-class call girl. The police would just as soon see Broadfield take the rap for the crime, as he was cooperating (voluntarily, at that) with a police corruption investigation.

So did someone on the force set Broadfield up? Or was someone else behind the prostitute’s murder? Block’s story piles on the questions, the characters and the dead bodies. Our flawed hero, Scudder, gets to the bottom of it all. But does he win in the end? In a story like this, the best one can hope for is resolution—even if it’s not entirely a happy one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

'Little Girl Lost' is a Find

Review of LITTLE GIRL LOST (Hard Case Crime 2004) by Richard Aleas

LITTLE GIRL LOST is the first of the John Blake books written by Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai, under the pseudonym Richard Aleas. Having read the second book (SONGS OF INNOCENCE) first, I had some sense of what might happen in this one, but not enough to ruin the story for me.

John Blake is working in New York City (his home town) as a private eye for a two-man detective agency when he finds out that his high school sweetheart, Miranda Sugarman, has been shot, execution-style, on the roof of a “tenth rate” strip club, where it turns out she was also performing. Blake’s last memories of Miranda are of a girl who left New York to attend college in New Mexico, harboring dreams of becoming an ophthalmologist (or an optometrist—Blake can’t remember which). Along with the news of her murder, finding out that Miranda returned to New York ten years later, only to end up stripping at a bottom-of-the-barrel club, comes as a bit of a shock to Blake. He decides he simply has to find out who killed her.

This necessarily entails finding out more about Miranda and how she ended up where she did—inquiries that, as his employer warns him, may lead Blake to information he will wish he’d never found. It also involves his establishing a relationship with another stripper going by the stage name Rachel Firestone, whose real name is Susan—a woman who ends up doing a lot of the dull legwork for Blake “off-stage” so the narrative can focus more on action-oriented plot developments and Blake’s theories about the case.

Aleas captures the world-weary, ironic tone of the genre, yet makes Blake vulnerable enough for us to see that he’s not completely hardened by his experiences. Thus, finding the truth about Miranda’s death becomes something of a harsh reality check for him. The plot goes through its twisty paces as Blake tries to reason out what could have happened. By the end of LITTLE GIRL LOST, Blake loses what’s left of his innocence and makes a tough, but understandable decision. All this, plus the story’s gritty, evocative descriptions of New York and its noir-ish ending, make it easy to see why it was nominated for both the Edgar and Shamus awards.

Monday, June 23, 2008

'Deal Breaker': An Offer You Shouldn’t Refuse

Review of DEAL BREAKER (Dell 1995) by Harlan Coben

I decided to read my first Harlan Coben book and chose DEAL BREAKER at random, based on a description on Amazon. I was lucky in that 1) I stumbled upon the first book in the Myron Bolitar series and 2) Coben is a writer after my heart.

For anyone who hasn’t read this best-selling author or this series, Myron Bolitar is a sports agent. As the story begins, he’s on the verge of signing his first major client, a promising rookie quarterback named Christian Steele, to an NFL contract with (if the sleazy team owner will agree to it) a record-setting salary. Things get a bit rocky when a nude photo of Steele’s old girlfriend, Kathy Culver, who mysteriously vanished and is thought dead, turns up in the back pages of a porno rag. They get more bizarre when Kathy’s father, Adam Culver, is murdered during an apparent robbery. But Kathy’s sister (who also happens to be Myron’s ex-girlfriend—yes, these people are a cozy lot) isn’t convinced that muggers killed her dad. And she thinks there’s some connection between his death and Kathy’s disappearance.

Coben is, to say the least, a skillful storyteller. Bolitar is not only a likeable character, with sardonic wit reminiscent of Robert Parker’s Spenser, but he’s a sports agent with a heart of gold (sort of Jerry Maguire as wisecracking private eye, if you will). Bolitar is also a former baseketball star who lost his chance at everlasting fame and fortune in the pros due to a career-ending injury. Somewhere along the line, he also found time to acquire a law degree, do some kind of mysterious work for the FBI and (conveniently?) become something of an expert in self-defense. Lest he sound too much like a Superman here, I might add that even though Bolitar is in his early thirties, he still (for reasons not really explained) lives in his parents’ basement.

Not only does Coben manage to weave all this backstory (and more) into the narrative without slowing the pace, but he creates memorable characters and writes sparkling dialogue. Bolitar also has a wonderful sidekick named Windsor Horne Lockwood III to do his dirty work—his “psychopathic Tonto” as I think one character put it. Win Lockwood is to Bolitar as Mouse is to Easy Rawlins or Hawk is to Spenser—except Win is wealthy and white.

The plot twists along at a fast pace and Coben plays fair with the reader clue-wise. When the telling clue comes along, it’s not hard to spot—but you might skim past it because you don’t want to believe what it has to mean. And when the truth comes out about Kathy and her father, you may think of that clue and find yourself saying, “I should’ve seen that coming!”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Enough to Give Terrorism a Bad Name

A Review of WILD FIRE (audiobook) by guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Nelson DeMille, read by Scott Brick

You know those wacky millionaires, always using their ill-gotten (in this case, oil-gotten) gains to wipe out the world, just when you’d think they’d want to be ordering another Hummer or something. Let’s see, where can we find a wisecracking ex-New York cop turned terrorism expert and his long-suffering FBI agent wife to unravel the shenanigans? Why, in this very book, WILD FIRE by best-selling, page-turning, or in this case, disk-flipping, Nelson DeMille.

When last visited, the duo of John Corey and the purry Spec Agent Kate Mayfield were just running over to the World Trade Center for breakfast…and that didn’t turn out well.

In WILD FIRE, their buddy Harry Muller has disappeared from the lavish Adirondack estate of the aforementioned millionaire—and they drive up from the terrorism task force office in New York City for a look-see.

Corey is worried about those woods up there—are there bears? He even had me laughing out loud as he belabored this point over and over. DeMille can be quite amusing, although Corey is only half as wise-ass as he thinks he is. Maybe the second half.

Anyhow, a trip to the morgue does result in an unusual clue I have never read before—and that is saying something!

WILD FIRE is read by my personal favorite reader Scott Brick, who is snarky and wry and manages to keep the voices apart pretty well.

Did the world end? You’re reading this aren’t you? Now ask me do they see a bear. Wasn’t that actually the point?

Star Lawrence is owner of HEALTH’Sass,

Monday, June 16, 2008

Love is free, Singleton hippie art 2008

LOVE IS FREE(c) Singleton 2008....... Technicolor snake,Coiled,Draped,A Lazy string ofCircus coloredIndian beads....I touch youand laugh....Love is free andyou don't scare me one little bit.....

Friday, June 6, 2008

Lewis Black Makes BEA Appearance

I got to see him in Vegas, where he was hysterical (and would have been even without the tall, fruity rum drink I had at his show), but missed his appearance at Book Expo in Los Angeles. But here's a promotional video for his new book, ME OF LITTLE FAITH. And, contrary to the article's author, I think it's funny even without a laugh track--especially his "ripple of evil" bit about the economic consequences of not buying his book.

And speaking of appearances, I'm about to disappear for a couple of weeks while I take a vacation. But I'll be back to blog again after June 21.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Buy the Book at Murder by the Book

Mystery readers are a loyal bunch. And it's gratifying to see that independent bookstores focused on the mystery and crime fiction genre, such as Murder by the Book in Portland OR, continue to do business despite competition from the big chains. In fact, the store has just celebrated its 25th anniversary--no small feat for an independent specialty bookstore these days.

But then there are so many mystery authors who aren't major best-sellers and can't get their books into the chain stores. Which is why mid-list mystery authors and devoted mystery readers everywhere are so happy to read success stories like this.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Interview with Lee Child

I had the opportunity to hear Lee Child speak at Sleuthfest a few months ago (even got to stand near him at a poolside cocktail party) and the description of him given in this article as "the sort of person who carefully outlines his replies, explaining that there are three reasons for this or two causes of that, [with] a mind that’s a midden of trivia" does capture Child's persona well.

During Child's speech, which included a good deal of historical information, I was struck by how well-read he obviously was and his amazing facility for remembering the obscure fact or two.

So he'd already made an impression on me when I read this article. Now, I'm all the more curious to read his Jack Reacher books.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wil Wheaton at BEA!

Okay, I'll admit it. I didn't even read this short blurb about various authors appearing at Book Expo in Los Angeles. All I know is it's about books and authors and it has a photo of Wil Wheaton (who played intergalactic wunderkind Wesley Crusher in "Star Trek:The Next Generation") and, well, that's good enough for me.

I hope you enjoy the article, whatever it says.

And, Wil, the beard really suits you.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Review: Moe Prager Series Ends Up 'Empty Ever After'

It seems fitting that EMPTY EVER AFTER (Bleak House Books 2008) starts in a cemetery and ends with the spreading of ashes, given that the book's theme is that of ghosts. Ghosts and secrets--the two things protagonist Moe Prager has been most plagued by throughout author Reed Farrel Coleman's series--along with his almost pathological inability to live with evidence that contradicts the results when a case appears to be solved.

Coleman has played out the arc of the Moe Prager series to its apparent end in this book. The ghosts in question are that of Patrick Maloney, his (now) ex-wife's late brother and her late father, Francis Maloney, a man haunting Prager by revealing (in a message delivered after his death) a devastating secret they shared about Patrick, thus effectively putting the postmortem kibosh on Prager's marriage.

A series of grave desecrations and some indications that Patrick may still be alive are what draw Prager into the mystery. With Patrick's voice showing up on ex-wife Katy's answering machine and someone who looks like Patrick making the odd appearance or two, is it any wonder that Katy starts to come apart at the seams and Prager's daughter, Sarah, is so worried about her mother she delays her return to college to look after her?

Bleak, moody, but still infused with Prager's ironic sense of humor, Coleman takes us through the investigation that asks who would do this to the Prager family and why? And, of course, when the puzzle seems to be solved, there are just enough pieces that don't fit to keep Prager going until he gets to the truth. As usual, it comes at a cost.

One character seems to sum up our hero's lot when he says, "Lost is what you are, Mr. Prager. You always have been and I sense you will always be so."

While it isn't absolutely necessary to read all the stories that came before this to understand what's going on, I would highly recommend it. The end is shattering, though not without its bright spots. And brings to an apparent close a wonderful series about a deeply-troubled man.

Review: 'Lush Life' Paints a Picture in Lush Prose

Okay, so I start off reading this book, LUSH LIFE (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2008) by Richard Price, and right off, it's looking like a throwback to James Ellroy. Four cops in some kind faux taxi, all talking in clipped sentences, words blatting like from a squawk box in a squad car, surveying the street scene, looking for the lucky collar to wander along and what-not.

Next thing I know, I'm reading about this failed actor named Eric, who works in a deli called Berkmann's and seems like a nice (if disgruntled) guy. He goes in to work and sees this huge line of people blocking the entrance to Berkmann's, waiting to have a look at an image of the Virgin Mary on the door of a refrigerated unit in some convenience store down the street. Eric hooks up with a new bartender at Berkmann's, a guy named Ike, who proceeds to go see the image with Eric, then wipes it out by just opening the door.

Meanwhile, a couple of neighborhood homies from the projects are planning some kind of bad business--Little Dap, the more experienced one and Tristan, the newbie who wants to step up to the challenge and who ends up carrying the gun.

All this is told with a great deal of detail and loving description of the neighborhood, of Eric's disappointment at still working at the deli instead of acting and with an absent girlfriend who makes a study of kinky sex toys and practices, who's off on one of her frequent business trips, plus the scene inside and outside Berkmann's, interspersed with the plottings of the two homies. And that's where you are by page 32.

So I'm starting to wonder, where's this going, do I even like this book, with its intricate description of place and mental process, with it's occasional run-on sentences and close study of character? It's not what I usually read, but it's interesting and there's a promise of something coming, though at this point, I'm still not sure exactly what.

Then--BAM!--it happens. The thing I've been waiting for. The event that changes everything. The hook that digs in deep and won't let go. And I keep reading.

To say much more about the story would be telling, so I'll only say this. LUSH LIFE creeps up on you like an addiction. It hooks you and keeps you reading with its suspenseful presentation of a murder and its effect on the detectives investigating it and the hapless survivors (both of the crime itself and relatives of the victim), as well as the deeds and thoughts of the perpetrator in the crime's aftermath. The prose is lush (and I mean that in the nicest way), but the dialogue is spare and rings true, like the best Elmore Leonard). The description of New York is dead-on (as is the characters' inner dialogue), the plot is complex, but well-structured, and the suspense as to whether the bad guy will ever get caught just about kills you.

It's a great read. What more can I say?

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