Tuesday, December 29, 2009
(Photo by ridolfo on Flickr.com)
A while back (so far back, I may have already posted and forgotten about it), a NY Times article raised the question of whether an e-book was still a book.
A mere five months later, the paper ran an article about how a major publisher was working with a multimedia partner to produce four vooks (or e-books that have videos embedded within the text), with other publishers expressing an interest in doing the same. The production of multimedia books was expected to rise.
Now, a recent article from The Washington Post asks the following question: How will the proliferation of multimedia books affect reading? And will all this lead inevitably to the novel's demise?
Hey, it's no accident that vooks are largely being produced for children--the next generation of readers. Or are they readers?
Reading a text-only book requires one to pay attention and use something called the imagination. Along with the usual hand-wringing about sapping our imaginations, the article raises the all-too-familiar specter of diminishing attention spans.
Why do I get the feeling they were saying things like this when movies and television were invented? And as for those doomsday scenarios about attention spans, anyone remember the hubbub about Sesame Street? I mean, hello!
Despite the video games, iPhones, TV, Internet and other competition for their attention, kids still read. (Just ask J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket.) And the idea of using visuals in children's books is hardly new.
I suspect we'll all look back on this stuff one day and laugh.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
But up until now, I've only been able to say that I'm a Kindle author, not a Kindle user. This has made me feel a bit weird, frankly. Here I am benefiting as an author from a product I don't use. (Whether that should make me feel weird or not is a subject for another post.)
Anyhow, the issue has been rendered moot as of yesterday. For as I was opening my gifts, what to my overjoyed eyes should I see, but a Kindle for Christmas!
So now, I too can travel without having to lug all those books around. I can get thousands (more? I don't even know) of books at the touch of a button, for a more-than-reasonable price, no less. The shelves in my house will be relieved to know that Kindle has helped lighten their burden and manage at least some of the clutter.
Don't get me wrong. I'll still buy and read print books. At least, I think so.
Anyhow, today I registered myself as a Kindle user. I have 30 days to return it, if I don't like it. I suspect that won't happen, but it'll be fun to play with this new toy and see.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Grafton was recently interviewed by Sarah Weinman, who put a link to the interview on her blog. Grafton talks about how hard it was to write her latest book, which like many of her later works deviates from the "first person only" perspective and jumps around in time. She says the story was difficult to structure and, at times, she got so frustrated with the writing process, she "nearly burst into tears."
I guess it's true that fiction writing never gets any easier, no matter how long you do it. (And now I can't wait to read this!)
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
You could read about it on the latest post, but I'll do a brief recap. Starting Monday, Dec. 21, I will post a chapter a day for five consecutive days of IDENTITY CRISIS to my blog, My Life on the Mid-List (that's five free chapters). I can think of no better way to promote the book than by giving out free samples. And I hope some of you will be interested enough to buy the book and keep reading.
And, yes, an increase in sales would make a great Christmas gift. :)
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Author: D.B. Grady
The science fiction and mystery genres are hardly strangers. Several authors notable in one genre have crossed into the other's territory from time-to-time. (Think sci-fi author Isaac Asimov's "Robot" series or sometime mystery author Sharyn McCrumb's Jay Omega books.) RED PLANET NOIR has the distinction of taking an old-fashioned 1940s-era private eye and placing him in the context of a post-apocalyptic Earth, in the city of New Orleans.
When we meet Mike Sheppard, he's answering the phone "half-drunk, half-dressed, half-asleep and half expecting it to be the phone company reminding me that the bill was past due." At first glance, he's a typical hardboiled private eye. However, as one reads further, it turns out Sheppard is much more than that. He is, in fact, a deeply wounded man. His ex-wife left him (under less-than-ideal circumstances) and he's all over the news for fingering the wrong person in a high-profile case. In short, Sheppard has plenty to feel bad about, and author D.B. Grady conveys his pain with great empathy.
So when Sofia Reed asks Sheppard to investigate her well-connected father's death on Mars, he has little to lose. But he has no idea what he's getting into, either. For as it happens, Mars is under martial law, its economy is dominated by a major corporation, and both the government and corporation have Mob connections. (It's also a "no smoking" planet, which doesn't go over well with the chain-smoking PI.) So, when Sheppard goes to Mars and starts poking around, it rubs a few people the wrong way. And this causes him major problems (ones that dwarf even his perpetual need for a smoke – a rather endearing running gag).
The story is told, for the most part, from the detective's point of view, as most PI novels are. However, Grady inserts a chapter of backstory about the history of Mars and one family in particular that's written with such a heartfelt sense of tragedy, readers may find themselves laughing at Sheppard's ongoing quips one minute and weeping at the tragedy the next. This detour from the narrative is virtually seamless and adds a vivid layer of detail to the Martian context.
For more: http://detective-fiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_of_red_planet_noir
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Still, I think there's a lot to be said for printed books. They're extremely user-friendly, for one thing. They never have to be upgraded or have their batteries replaced. They also never break. They're made with biodegradable materials, unlike e-readers which can contain toxic materials. And recycled electronics tend to get shipped overseas, where they contribute to pollution and hazardous working conditions.
Even though libraries are adapting to the digital publishing revolution and a great deal of research can be conducted online, I still think of libraries as book depositories. In any case, whether printed or digital, libraries have so much to offer in the way of content--for free!
So support your local public library!
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Author: Timothy Hallinan
BREATHING WATER is set amid the honky-tonk, flash and squalor of Bangkok. Told from multiple points of view, the main character is an American ex-pat writer named Poke Rafferty, who gets stuck between a rock and a hard place after winning a poker bet. Rafferty has a family consisting of – of course – a drop-dead gorgeous wife, Rose, who used to work as a stripper (but never a prostitute!) and an adopted street child named Miaow (precocious, naturally).
Other characters include a girl working for "the man" begging for money on the streets of Bangkok, because her village was destroyed after a dam diverted water from it. The girl – named Da – is given a baby, because people will give more money to a girl with a kid. She eventually falls in with a group of street urchins led by Boo (also known as Superman, for reasons best understood by reading earlier books in the series).
Rafferty is, for lack of a better description, a man's man. As such, he likes to play poker, which is what he's doing when the story opens. Rafferty is winning big against a weighty (both physically and politically) and famously jealous-of-his-privacy opponent named Khun Pan. When Rafferty wins Pan's permission to write his biography, this seems like a major coup, at first.
However, Rafferty starts getting threats from mysterious sources who tell him not to write the book, on pain of death or perhaps worse to himself and his family. At the same time, Rafferty is pressured by other forces to write the book – a negative one – or else. (Or else what? Well, bad things. To himself, his family, etc.) Events spiral out of control as Rafferty is kidnapped, threatened, beaten and struggles to protect himself and his loved ones from both sides.
Part of what makes this book enjoyable is not only Timothy Hallinan's intimate knowledge of the place he's writing about and the way he makes Bangkok both a colorful backdrop and a character in the story, but his depiction of Rafferty, who's streetwise and funny – but not perfect. Watching Rafferty muddle his way through his "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation keeps one turning the pages to find out how he'll deal with the next problem.
For more: http://thriller-fiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_of_breathing_water
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Forgive this interruption in our regularly scheduled blogging, but I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that I'm running a holiday sale on the e-book version of IDENTITY CRISIS on Amazon.
The version of my novel that you can download on Kindle (and possibly other devices, for all I know) is available for the low, low price of .99 per download. That's really dirt cheap. That's far cheaper than The Atlantic is proposing to charge for short stories. (Hmm. The Atlantic wants to charge $3.99 for its short stories and I've been charging $1.59 for my novel. What's wrong with this picture?)
The sale runs until the end of the month, which also happens to be the end of the year. So act fast, because prices will be going up in 2010.
Thank you. We now return you to our regularly scheduled blogging.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Author: Ruth Rendell
It's probably safe to say that Ruth Rendell is best-known for her novels, particularly the Inspector Wexford series. However, Rendell has also written her share of short stories, including the ones in THE NEW GIRL FRIEND, named for the Edgar-winning short story.
The anthology is comprised of 11 stories, all of which are suspenseful, but have more than that going for them. They are studies in human nature and how our foibles can sometimes lead to disastrous results.
Despite being somewhat uneven in quality, most of the stories make engaging reading. Whether it's a woman's nagging guilt over a stolen clock, a man who likes (a little too much) to dress up as a wolf or someone who's obsessed with his ex-wife (years after breaking up), Rendell does masterful work exploring the human psyche, while creating a sense of dread over what will eventually happen.
The title story is a good example. In it, a woman strikes up a friendship with a man – keeping it secret from her husband – but not for the reasons one would assume at first. The story builds to a violent climax that, rather than being an unexpected turn, seems almost inevitable.
For more, go to: http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_of_the_new_girl_friend
Saturday, November 28, 2009
According to Carol L. Tilley, a professor of library and information science at the University of Illinois, "Comics were originally an adult medium, since newspapers reached a primarily adult audience, but they very quickly turned into something that was appropriated by kids. Certainly by the first decade of the 20th century it had become a kids' medium."
There's lots more about the evolution of comics over the years in the article, as well as the occasional mention of the graphic novel.
The article notes that comic book elements--such as frames, thought and speech bubbles, and motion lines--are working their way into more mainstream children's fiction, creating a hybrid format. (Would this essentially be like graphic kids' books?)
According to Tilley, "There has been an increase in the number of comic book-type elements in books for younger children. There's also a greater appreciation among both teachers and librarians for what comics and comic books can bring to the classroom. For example, the National Council of Teachers of English sponsors an instructional Web site called 'Read, Write, Think,' which has a lot of comics-related material. Instructional units like these would have been much more rare 10 years ago."
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Apparently, the 5,000 word manuscript for the story was discovered by Christie's daughter while she was rooting around in her attic.
The Strand Magazine was reportedly to publish the story for the first time in the U.S. last week. "Dog's Ball" (as this article refers to it) was already published in Britain in September.
Poirot's reappearance in print is interesting, considering his author killed him off in 1975 (a year before her own death at 85).
And The Strand Magazine considers itself to be the reincarnation of a British journal from the late 19th century that published the first Sherlock Holmes short stories.
The magazine folded in 1950--but was revived again 10 years ago in the U.S.
So, a story by a deceased author about a character she killed off has (presumably) been published by a magazine that went out of business twice, but has come back to life. Sounds like a lot of resurrecting going on here.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
This blog, Shelfrenewal, was started by Karen Kleckner and Rebecca Vnuk, a couple of librarians (and readers advisory experts) in the Chicago metro area, who felt kind of sorry for all those neglected books that weren't on the front burner of media attention anymore (if they ever were to begin with). Plus, like most librarians I know (myself included), they were really excited about the idea of letting readers know about some seriously overlooked books.
So (though this pains me as a person who wants to sell books), I hope this site will help you find some really interesting gems you might not otherwise know about.
(Sigh. Like I didn't have enough choices already??)
Friday, November 20, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I wonder what this blogger would have to say about these.
Can you think of any other good classic book titles that could be made sarcastic?
(How about THE "MAGNIFICENT" AMBERSONS?)
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Author: Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman
TOWER was jointly written by award-winning masters of noir, Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman (who also writes under the name Tony Spinosa). The authors create two memorable characters in TOWER and tell each of their stories, one at a time. The beauty of this approach is that, although the reader sees quite a bit from one character's perspective, there's a whole lot of story left to be revealed from the other's.
Nick and Todd have been life-long friends. They fall into a life of crime, working for an Irish mob boss named Boyle – a Bible-reading gangster whose sidekick Griffin gives new meaning to the word "sociopath."
The story starts (after the prologue, that is) in Nick's perspective. He's a guy filled with rage and bad family history (particularly with his father), who comes off as something of a criminal "wannabe." He and Todd (the seemingly more self-assured of the two) run into a bit of trouble trying to pull a job for Boyle. And Boyle puts Nick to a kind of test – one involving Todd. Meanwhile, Nick gets involved with a woman and wants to make the relationship work. But Boyle's test is putting him under pressure. And Todd has some surprises for him, as well.
Things that come out during Nick's part of the story are further explored from Todd's perspective. And (true to form for both authors) the whole picture ain't so pretty.
For more, go to http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_of_tower
Monday, November 9, 2009
Review of THE WAY HOME (Hachette Audio 2009)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, George Pelecanos; read by Dion Graham
Some nice, hard-working middle-class parents don't end up with the stereotypical kids who take the stereotypical road to adulthood. I didn't, for instance. So I can identify with George Pelecanos' latest. Although it's set in the Washington, DC, area, a Pelecanos trademark, the protag, Chris Flynn, son of the owner of a successful carpet installation company, is not African-American, a departure of sorts for this author, who has also written for The Wire on HBO.
The story opens on Chris in juvie—having tested and broken his parents' hearts several times with stupid adolescent decisions. Now he's inside the system and they are outside, confused, angry, and hurt. Chris drops his verbs, adopts some street intonations and casually informs his dad at one point that he "knows how to jail." His Dad corrects him each time. Personally, I hate the expression "where it's at" and correct it every time!
As their paths diverge, parents and son, they also braid back together when Chris gets out. The young man even goes to work with Dad's company and his Dad hires some of Chris' pals from juvie. But don't bring out the pleasing pastels for the family portrait just yet.
One day, after installing a carpet in an empty house, Chris and a friend from jail, Ben, discover a compartment under the floor with $50,000 in it. Uh-oh.
Chris remembers some movies (A Simple Plan comes to mind, but was not mentioned) in which keeping found money like this comes to no good. He talks Ben into putting it back.
But fate has spun the Big Wheel. Click, click, where will it stop?
I leave it to you to read or better yet, listen to his story, one of Pelecanos' most involving, at least for me.
Dion Graham reads it and does not overdo the street gab. His voice is quite hypnotic in fact, and like someone who speaks in low tones, draws you in and makes you listen carefully.
You are not going to want to miss a word.
Star Lawrence reviews more audiobooks on http://chandlerazoo.blogspot.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Author: Lawrence Block
Lawrence Block has had a long and distinguished career as a crime novelist. He's written multiple series about different protagonists and done so in very different styles. He's written the light-hearted Bernie Rhodenbarr series of capers about an erudite burglar. He's also written the edgier stories about Evan Tanner, a man who can't sleep due to brain trauma suffered during the war. He's even done a series about a hitman named Keller.
But his most haunting and intriguing character is probably Matthew Scudder, an alcoholic ex-cop who quit the force after shooting a bullet that ricocheted and killed an innocent child. As a result, Scudder drinks too much and works as an unlicensed private eye, who earns a living by doing favors for people. (Then donates 10 percent of the proceeds to random churches, as a form of penance.)
The story starts off with a bang – literally. Scudder and a group of friends are sitting in an after-hours bar, enjoying their usual round of drinks when an explosion shakes the place. This particular explosion doesn't seem to connect with anything in particular related to the plot (which could be said of much of what happens in the book, actually).
However, the explosion seems to put the characters on edge, prompting dialogue that feels so real, it's about as close as you get to overhearing actual people talk. Soon afterward, two masked men with guns charge into the bar, rob the place and make their getaway. This robbery turns out to be one of three cases Scudder ends up investigating, the two others being a blackmail scheme against one of his friends and a murder case in which he's gathering evidence for the defense.
For more, go to http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_of_when_the_sacred_ginmill_closes
Friday, November 6, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Review: NEW ORLEANS MOURNING (Fawcett 1990)
Author: Julie Smith
For readers who enjoy tough female detectives, Skip Langdon fits the bill. She's the protagonist in NEW ORLEANS MOURNING, born to a couple on the Crescent City's social register, though she's rejected their ways in favor of becoming a cop. Not at all your conventional Southern Belle, Skip's a tall and large-boned woman and a mass of neuroses, who just doesn't fit into the whole New Orleans society mileau.
Although Skip's just a city beat cop when the story opens, she has ambitions of making detective. So when the King of Carnival at Mardi Gras, a political up-and-comer named Chauncey St. Amant, is murdered by a gun-toting Dolly Parton look-alike and Skip's put on temporary homicide detail, she's all over it like red beans on rice.
Chauncey St. Amant is a man of humble origin who married into New Orleans society through his wife, Bitty – a woman who enjoys a nip from the bottle now and then (i.e., almost always). Chauncey is highly-regarded, but somewhat controversial, for his progressive views on racial equality. He and Bitty have two children, Henry and Marcelle. Altogether, they make a most intriguing (and secretly) dysfunctional family. (Along with Uncle Tolliver, who has his own issues and is almost a part of the family.)
Skip's job is to use her society connections (such as they are) to gather inside intelligence that may help crack the case. As one brought up among the New Orleans society set, Skip knows the St. Amants personally, and Marcelle seems to warm up to Skip (though they were never close as kids), while Henry tries to freeze her out. Meanwhile, Skip gets involved with a visiting L.A. filmmaker who has managed to capture the shooting on film. However, the filmmaker's mugged and the only copy of the film stolen.
The story is more than a mystery. It's an exploration of New Orleans society and politics . . .
For more, go to: http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_of_new_orleans_mourning
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Review: THE CHICAGO WAY (Vintage Books 2008)
Author: Michael Harvey
THE CHICAGO WAY introduces private eye Michael Kelly, a former Chicago cop who has issues (don't they all?) and an apparent fondness for ancient Greek literature (in the original Greek, no less). If this sounds like the standard set-up to the usual private eye novel, don't be fooled. The book has much more going for it.
Kelly is hired by his former partner on the force to solve an old rape and battery case – it's several years old and as cold as they come. Kelly gets drawn even further into solving the crime when his ex-partner/client is murdered and it appears Kelly's being framed for it. One thing leads to another and Kelly is looking into the connections between the old rape case and the recent murder.
To solve the mystery, Kelly turns to his many contacts (loads and loads of them). Every time you turn the page, the reader gets to meet a new (often, colorful) character – some from Kelly's past. People who can help him with his predicament (being suspected of killing his client), as well as solving both crimes. They include an ambitious (and, of course, sexy) television news reporter, a childhood friend who works as a forensic DNA expert and an old pal from the district attorney's office. Plus Kelly must deal with the rape victim, who seems to have a few psychological problems and pops up unexpectedly, often armed with a gun like so many "dames" in hardboiled fiction.
Michael Harvey is a skilled writer, to say the least. His style is terse, yet evocative, and manages to convey both the look and feel of Chicago. He delves into the city's politics with authority. He also includes details about the weather, the streets, the neighborhoods and the bars (of course, there are bars). And he does so with prose so well-crafted, wry and gritty it would make Raymond Chandler weep.
For more, go to: http://detective-fiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_of_the_chicago_way
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Review: JULY, JULY (Houghton, Mifflin and Co. 2002)
Author: Tim O'Brien
At first glance, JULY, JULY might appear to be little more than a rehash of the movie The Big Chill. From the start, you know the characters have gathered for a college reunion of the class of 1969, and one of them (a woman named Karen) has been murdered. The resemblance is uncanny. However, such a comparison would do the book a huge disservice.
Like The Big Chill, this book is an ensemble piece. None of the characters truly seem to dominate it, although the story starts off with Amy Robinson and Jan Huebner – two women, both divorced, both alone and both getting drunk and looking to get laid. The women provide a somewhat detached perspective on the reunion (although the reader gets to hear their individual stories and personal problems, too). Their comments about the others help set the stage for what's to come.
Those others – at least seven, along with some minor (but still significant) characters – have various relationships with one another, harbor old secrets and grudges, and suffer broken hopes and dreams, as well as unrequited love. Although this sounds cliched, the story gives a fresh spin on the old reunion formula by telling the story in shifting perspectives and time frames, showing how the characters' lives have intersected and delving deeply into their personalities and situations, thus compelling one to find out how each makes out in the end.
Read more at: http://modern-american-fiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_of_july_july
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Review: THE BIG GIRLS (Knopf 2007)
Author: Susanna Moore
THE BIG GIRLS doesn't grab you so much as seduce you into reading it. The story is about four people whose lives overlap in odd and interesting ways. It tackles issues like family, fortune (or the lack of it), coincidence and fate.
The book starts off from the point of view of Dr. Louise Forrest, the new chief of psychiatry at a women's prison. The narrative then switches to Helen, a schizophrenic inmate who's committed a crime so heinous, she's kept apart from the other prisoners at first. Helen is obsessed with contacting Angie, an ambitious Hollywood actress, who happens to be dating Dr. Forrest's ex-husband. Dr. Forrest eventually hooks up with Ike Bradshaw, a no-nonsense prison guard.
The story focuses primarily on Dr. Forrest and Helen, at first. The other two main characters' perspectives get included in time. Together, the narratives combine to create a compelling and ambitious overall story – one that explores each character's demons and the gritty realities of prison life.
The narrative shifts among the four characters, and each point of view adds a layer of different perceptions about the same events.
To read more, go to: http://modern-american-fiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_the_big_girls
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Review: L.A. REQUIEM (Ballantine Books 2000)
Author: Robert Crais
Elvis Cole is a tough guy private eye – but not too tough. He actually has a soft inner core that makes him slightly less hardened than many protagonists of the hard-boiled genre. Yet, he's hardly a cream puff. In fact, he'll kick ass, if need be. And he has a sardonic sense of humor that makes him reminiscent of Robert Parker's Spenser, except he's in Los Angeles.
Cole has a partner, Joe Pike, who's stoic (to say the least). Hard to read behind his ever-present sunglasses, Pike plays even-more-badass sidekick to Cole's good-hearted, but tough, main character. What's going on inside Pike's head and how he got that way is part of this story.
The plot's set in motion when the young and beautiful Karen Garcia (Pike's ex-girlfriend, it turns out) goes missing and is found murdered in cold blood. The girl is from a wealthy family, whose patriarch hires Cole and Pike to find her, then to monitor the police investigation into her death. The cops aren't happy about having to work with Cole (and extremely unhappy about working with ex-L.A. cop Pike, so Cole ends up being the point person), but the murdered woman's rich father pulls political weight. So Cole gets assigned to work with female detective Samantha Dolan, who's as icy as winter in Minnesota toward Cole. At least, at first. But, of course, that changes.
To read more, go to: http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_la_requiem
Monday, October 19, 2009
Review of SANDMAN SLIM (Brilliance Audio 2009)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Richard Kadrey; read by MacLeod Andrews
Okay, here is the setup: A negative thinker named James Butler Stark is a naturally gifted magician in an LA group called the Sub Rosa. He ticks them off with his smart-alecky approach to magic and gets dragged into Hell, known as "Downtown," for 11 years. Of course, being forced to fight supernatural beings in an arena in Hell for over a decade, he builds up some resentment and steals the key to everything, including Earth, and comes back for revenge.
With me so far?
Oh—and this is funny!
Stark lops off heads, makes the heads watch infomercials in a dark closet, and says when you have nothing left and are starting over on Earth, you really only care whether you own socks or not.
As he rages around looking for his old buddies, he runs afoul of Homeland Security, which is of course hooked up with angels (on the side of, get it?) and starts Stark raving about "angel hoo-doo"—he is not a fan.
None of his buds from Hell are here (only the boss Lucifer can get out), but there are angels . . . and some other in-between unsavories called "kissi." Turns out these unworthies are the real bad guys—and the hellions are really just sports-minded scum. Who cares—they can't get out anyhow.
So now Stark is after the kissi—the ones who really dragged him Downtown and killed his one-true-love Alice.
You can grab your weapon of choice and hear the rest. As Stark puts it—"This is a booty call to a massacre." The narrator, MacLeod Andrews, reads Stark as an ironic sort of hell cat, and I have to say, this audiobook is full-on groovy.
Star Lawrence owns a recession blog called Do the Hopey Copey, at http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Review of THE WATCHMAN (Brilliance Audio on CD Unabridged 2007)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Robert Crais; read by James Daniels
Does the concept of an ex-Marine, ex-cop dashing around LA trying to keep a hot heiress safe from South American hit men grab you? What if that Marine/ex-cop was your beloved Joe Pike of Elvis Cole/Joe Pike fame? Are you in?
Unlike his growly guest appearances in private detective Elvis Cole books, Pike takes this one over, bodyguarding the brash young Larkin Connor Barkley, who has happened into some weird action when blasting her Aston-Martin through empty LA streets at 4 a.m.
No matter what safe house Pike puts her in—or even finds for her himself—the scuzzies show up an hour later to blast Larkin into giblets. Someone is selling her out. Time is short to find out who the heck these people are and why they want her dead. All the people involved in the early dawn accident are already dead, except for Larkin.
Assisted by his wisecracking buddy Elvis Cole, Pike tries to second-guess everyone who knows him or Larkin—to no avail. In the front door of a safe house—and the bad guys are sneaking in the back door and are in need of some decimating.
James Daniels is the perfect reader for this, doing Pike in a slow, flat, reluctant voice—darn, I hate to use my vocal cords, how many times have I told you that? Elvis Cole comes off as the motor mouth, funny younger brother type. Larkin is no Paris Hilton, either—she is by turns scared, irritated, and a little enamored of her capable protector.
Apparently, when she is not on the run, her usual male companions don’t clean their guns every night, buy her vegan meals, or understand when she sneaks out to dance on a bar amidst shouting Armenians.
By the way—the title, THE WATCHMAN, makes no sense. Where do they get these titles sometimes?
Star Lawence is a long-time writer and owns a recession site called Do the Hopey Copey, at http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Review: THE WHEELMAN (St. Martin's Minotaur 2006)
Author: Duane Swierczynski
Patrick Selway Lennon is a wheelman. He doesn't rob banks – he drives the getaway car. And he's about to help pull a bank job in Philadelphia that will be the worst mistake of his career.
Lennon's perfect plan for stashing the money and laying low until the heat's off goes awry when someone tries to horn in on the action. This sets a string of events in motion that pits the Russian Mob against the local Mafia, inflames the greed of a crooked ex-cop and brings a woman named Katie, waiting for Lennon in Puerto Rico, to Philly searching for answers when he fails to show up on schedule.
To discuss the plot in any great detail creates the risk of spoilers. Suffice it to say that it's set in motion by a double cross on the part of two trusted individuals, one of whom, ironically, is acting based on a mistaken impression about Lennon.To read more: http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_the_wheelman_takes_you_for_a_wild_ride
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Review: FLIGHT (Black Cat 2007)
Author: Sherman Alexie
Zits may not be the angriest protagonist in literary history, but he surely must come close. In FLIGHT, author Sherman Alexie introduces the reader to Zits (not his real name, but as he puts it his "real name isn't important") on his first day in a new foster home. The nickname derives, of course, from the overabundance of acne he's afflicted with.
Zits is 15 years old, with all the emotional baggage one carries at that age and much more. His Irish mother died when he was six and his Native American father abandoned them, by his account, "two minutes after I was born" and, ever since, Zits has been kicked around from foster home to foster home – twenty, in all. The first chapter, in which Zits meets yet another blithely dysfunctional foster family, perfectly captures his witty, if world-weary, teenaged view of the mess that is his life, as well as his complete disdain for all adult authority.
After getting off to a less-than-ideal start with the folks, Zits reacts in the way he knows best – he runs – but the cops catch up to him. He's taken into custody and befriended, to an extent, by a well-intended cop. In fact, Officer Dave tries to mentor the boy, regarding him as more than just the pimply loser Zits perceives himself to be. However, Zits isn't ready to hear what Officer Dave has to say. Instead, he falls in with a charismatic, slightly older teen he meets in detention. The older boy lures Zits into committing an act of extreme, random violence, by virtually brainwashing him into believing he will benefit from it.
Zits goes along with the program and commits the horrible act – a mass shooting at a bank, during which he gets shot in the head. However, he doesn't die. Instead, he's launched through a series of time traveling, out-of-body experiences, or to be more accurate, experiences in other people's bodies.
To read more: http://time-travel-fiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_flight
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Review: SALT RIVER (Walker & Company 2007)
Author: James Sallis
SALT RIVER finds its ex-cop/ex-con/ex-therapist protagonist John Turner serving as de facto sheriff of the small town outside Memphis that he's come to think of as home (the actual sheriff, Lonnie Bates having, for all intents and purposes, retired). The town, however, has succumbed to the ravages of time and decay. Like so many other people and things in Turner's life, the place is dying.
An auto accident involving Bates' wayward son is the inciting event for this story, which (as with the previous Turner books) serves as more of an excuse for conjuring up the ghosts of Turner's past than a traditional narrative. However, a narrative is implied within the scenarios cobbled together in this book – some from Turner's experiences as a therapist, some from his time in prison, others involving various people and situations in the present.
The mystery storyline, such as it is, comes out in fits and starts. In fact, the plot details emerge almost at random, appropos perhaps for a series that emphasizes life's random qualities.
Read the rest at: http://mysterycrimefiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_salt_river
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Review: WHERE ANGELS FEAR (Oak Tree Press 2009)
Author: Sunny Frazier
Christy Bristol is a unique protagonist in a part of California not usually featured in crime fiction. She's an administrative assistant at an outpost of the sheriff's office in the San Joaquin Valley who – in a truly unusual twist – moonlights as an astrologist. Christy gets sucked into investigating a series of suspicious deaths linked to an exclusive and highly secretive sex club, after a wealthy woman hires her to prepare her missing husband's astrological chart.
Christy goes (somewhat reluctantly) from astrologer to investigator at the urging of her best friend and former co-worker/roommate, Lennie Watkins. Lennie left the sheriff's office to work at a detective agency and is determined to play Sam Spade, after Christy tells her about her latest astrological client. Together, as the women investigate the husband's disappearance, they stumble across a series of seemingly connected deaths – all well-to-do men and all related in some way to the Knights of Sensani, a mysterious and kinky sex club.
They follow a twisted trail leading to the club itself, the Veterans Hospital, a sly college professor whose field of study might make Kinsey blush and a string of widows, reacting in highly varied ways to their husbands' deaths. Naturally, they cross paths with the police (and Christy's own boss) along the way. These run-ins with law enforcement, along with the appearance of a fresh-faced, go-getting co-worker (Lennie's replacement) in Christy's office, create no small degree of stress for our heroine. Plus there's also Christy's DEA agent boyfriend, whose work keeps him on the road a lot, but who makes at least one untimely and awkward appearance in the story.
Read more: http://murder-mysteries.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_where_angels_fear
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Author: James Sallis
In CRIPPLE CREEK, James Sallis' protagonist John Turner has become somewhat entrenched in the small Southern community he came to know in the previous Turner novel, CYPRESS GROVE. Turner, an ex-cop, ex-con and lapsed therapist, who helped the local sheriff solve a crime in the first book, is now a deputy with all that position's attendant status and responsibilities. Turner's also acquired a family (if only a de facto one, at first) in this sequel, including his girlfriend, attorney Val Bjorn, his staunch buddy Sheriff Lonnie Bates, the redoubtable curmudgeon and local sawbones/mortician Doc Oldham and, eventually, a blood relative.
The story is ostensibly about solving a violent crime committed against a fellow deputy and office assistant, after someone springs an arrestee from lock-up – a guy caught rolling through town drunk with around two grand stashed in his car. Turns out the arrestee's connected to some heavies from Memphis, Turner's old stomping grounds. So Turner heads back to the big city to find out who's responsible and dispense justice his own way. Turner's foray stirs up a hornet's nest of bad guys, putting him at risk for a potentially deadly payback. Thus, the novel is deftly transformed from cop story to suspense/thriller.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Review of RAIN GODS (Simon & Schuster Audio 2009)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, James Lee Burke; read by Will Patton
Hackberry Holland is an old man, sheriff in a small South Texas town, but a former politician and womanizer. He lives on a little ranch with two frisky horses, overhung with sky, weather, and nature of every description. And you will get the descriptions, as any James Lee Burke fan knows. No tinted sunrise or bruised thunderhead leaping with lightning goes unnoticed.
But trouble has come to town and in the form of "Preacher" Jack Collins, a mercurial killer on a mission, and his mission at one point has involved machine-gunning nine Thai women brought to town for the purposes of prostitution. Hackberry dredges them up from their shallow rest behind an abandoned church and takes it personally.
The theme is "unlikely heroes," which as the book unwinds, include a young Iraq vet, his singer girlfriend, a pudgy strip club owner, his wife, and of course, Holland himself. The irony is that even "Preacher" Collins does not behave as a depraved killer should.
Will Patton is the perfect reader for Burke books, with his sleepy, Southern voice and reassuring tone even in the midst of the most depraved scenes.
No country for old men? This is the perfect country for old men who have learned a thing or two and grown some principles. Young men, too.
Star Lawrence owns a recession coping website called Do the Hopey Copey (http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com). She can be reached at email@example.com.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Having just announced the end of the August 10% off promotion on my book, IDENTITY CRISIS, what does Lulu do, but turn around and offer another 10% discount for another month.
So I'm happy to say that the 10% discount on my novel will continue throughout the month of September.
The code has changed, but the procedure's the same. Just go to the order page, order a copy and enter the code LULUBOOK at checkout.
And I have absolutely no idea how long Lulu intends to keep this up.
Author: James Sallis
In CYPRESS GROVE, "[a] haunted ex-cop and therapist trying to put the past behind him gets drawn into a small town murder investigation."
I think this book represents literary crime fiction at its finest (or at least it's among the finest, anyway).
Sunday, August 30, 2009
It's sort of like L.A. REQUIEM, except shorter and it takes place in a law office. (At least, that's what the editor, Rick Helms, has to say about it.)
Okay, this is very last minute, but I wanted to let you all know that the big promo on my mystery novel IDENTITY CRISIS (click on the link for the description) will expire by the end of the month. That's two days, people. (Well, less than two, really. Unless you're across the International Dateline. Then . . . well, I don't know. I suppose the publisher determines this based on Eastern Daylight Time. Anyway . . .)
You can order a copy (or copies) of IDENTITY CRISIS for 10% off the retail price, if you click on the publisher's order page and simply enter the code README at checkout. It's that simple.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I love e-publishing and have personally benefited from it, but I think there will always be a place for print books. What do you think?
So . . . I'll just say that the book is an almost agonizingly real depiction of the publishing game. A brilliant satire, I think I call it. Well, worth checking out. As is my review--so check them both out, okay? Thanks!
Oh, and just a footnote. Star Lawrence will continue to have guest reviews posted here. (Unless she also becomes a Suite101 writer. Who knows?) One way or other, I'll keep the reviews coming.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Author: W.S. Gager
I'll admit I approached W.S. Gager's debut novel A CASE OF INFATUATION feeling hesitant.
The cover and title seemed to have "romance novel" written all over them. But I started reading and, while the book has romantic aspects to it (or at least a healthy dose of lust on the main character's part), I wouldn't describe this as a romance novel. It reads much more like a suspense-thriller with dashes of romance and police procedure folded in here and there.
The protagonist Mitch Malone is a crime reporter. I'll quote the back of the book here: "He never lets the blood and guts he covers bother him. He always works alone. And he hates kids."
Okay--I already like this guy. Loner reporter who hates kids. Yeah, but things get a bit screwed up for Mitch in that department with the grand entrance of Petrenka Peterson, who bowls Mitch over from the first chapter's opening line. Petrenka is so gorgeous and mysterious, that Mitch finds himself simply smitten with her despite all his loner bachelor instincts, which he often reminds readers about. (Quite a bit--perhaps trying real hard to convince himself?)
Petrenka has come to the paper to work as an intern. And she's assigned to work with Mitch. Which is fine with him, even though it's difficult for Mitch to keep from panting and stay focused on his job when she's near.
Mitch ends up covering a double murder. Petrenka tags along, showing fine investigative reporting instincts for an intern. (Hmm . . .) And, at the scene of the murders, they find (guess what?) a kid. The child is found sleeping in a cubbyhole. And Mitch ends up taking the kid and Petrenka under his wing to protect the child, who's a potential witness, and--well--to possibly score with Petrenka.
Things get very interesting when the local cops are taken off the case and the FBI steps in. This gets Mitch's radar buzzing. This double murder has much more to it than meets the eye. Something that could be said about almost every character in this story.
See, while Mitch is grappling with wrongful murder charges against him (because he snuck into the crime scene and carelessly left a fingerprint), he's also trying to figure Petrenka out. And deal with little Joey (the kid) who worms her way into his usually icy kid-hating heart.
And as each new character was introduced, they all seemed to have a secret agenda of some kind that kept me guessing.
By the time the book reached its climax, I wasn't even sure whether to trust Petrenka or her, um, associate.
I can't tell you much more than that without the risk of spoilers. Just know that the action builds (in great detail) to a big finish (cinematic big! with a car chase and a damsel in distress who Mitch needs to rescue) and the plot takes you through enough twists to make you dizzy. And Mitch has many questions going through his head. Who is Petrenka? Where is she? Why is she doing what she's doing? (So many questions, they made me a bit dizzy, too.)
But the plotlines are all neatly resolved in the end. And as for Mitch--well, he changes. Suffice it to say, he grows and matures into a character who I can easily see having further interesting adventures in a series. (And Petrenka? We'll see . . .)
And not only do the plot twists and character agendas surprise you, but the cover and title had me going, too. The infatuation Mitch feels isn't just for Petrenka, but for the little kid, Joey. And, as cynical and ironic as I tend to like my usual mystery reading, I'll admit, I was genuinely touched by the portrayal. The warmth in the relationship between Mitch and Joey is what gives this story its heart and makes you root for the main character. Watching Mitch change from hard-hearted loner to surrogate father figure was actually quite moving.
So, if you like suspense-thrillers with a dash of romance, a touch of gritty cop stuff and a tough-but-likable protagonist, give A CASE OF INFATUATION a try. It'll take you places you might not expect. I know I was fooled.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
For anyone trying to analogize the e-book to downloaded music, the author suggests there's a big difference. To quote the piece: "Books are not songs and the e-reader has a different function to [sic] a Walkman or iPod. For people who devour hundreds of books a year, they will be a boon. But the majority of book readers probably buy – what? – fewer than 25 titles a year: one a fortnight. And they do not need additional technology to enjoy their purchases. So the need to acquire an e-reader is correspondingly less urgent."
Yes, these things may be true, but . . . e-books are much cheaper to produce and, therefore, buy. So even if you're not a speed reader, it must be nice to have ready access to a whole library of books on your e-reader device (for the record, I don't own an e-reader, so I'm just imagining this). And if e-books cost less, then sales should rise--basic economics, yes? Plus it beats lugging all those books around when you're on vacation or going to school. (I believe the academic market is ripe for e-books these days.)
I know that as an author I see e-books as an amazing way to produce books at a low cost and distribute them with ease. And the potential for online marketing is awesome. Authors have little to lose from the success of e-books. (Of course, the specter of illegal downloads may make some authors nervous. But if you're trying for exposure, these considerations seem less important than simply getting your work out there.)
So, while I agree that e-books will never completely replace print books, I think there are reasons why they will succeed. The issue is how successful they'll be. Will e-books eventually become the norm? Or will they always be secondary to their print counterparts?
Good questions. Any thoughts?
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Apparently, there's an old novel out there about Nazi dwarves.
And, if it doesn't qualify for having the best book cover ever, it certainly comes close.
(Be sure and read the back cover story synopsis. Amazing.)
Now, where can I get a copy of this thing?
Saturday, August 15, 2009
The article was written by indie bookstore owner Alex Green. (So could this Amazon dying thing be wishful thinking?) He says Amazon's business model is too dependent on not paying sales tax. The problem is the law may be turning against the company on this issue.
Green argues that Amazon can't survive under its current business model, if forced to pay sales taxes. He claims: "If nationally enacted today, enforced tax legislation would put at least $1 billion of Amazon's yearly operational costs and profits into state coffers. Under such pressure, Amazon would briefly comply and then collapse. Three weeks later you would find them on the nightly news, appearing before Congress for a bailout, 'selling,' as the poet Franz Wright says, 'the emptiness of their own hands.'"
And Green says the trend toward states requiring online retailers to pay sales tax is increasing.
Hmm . . . could this really be? Could Amazon be brought to its knees by having to pay sales tax? Here's a question: Wouldn't Amazon get a grace period for compliance? And what about charging the consumer to make up the difference? And (when you come down to it) how can the state expect to get money that isn't there? I mean, it's one thing to have a judgment, a whole 'nuther to collect on it.
Plus you'll notice the qualifier "if nationally enacted"--big "if." Sales taxes are imposed state-by-state. Green does mention the Commerce Clause and suggests it may be violated by exempting online retailers from sales tax. But it's an arguable position, so it's not a given that Amazon will have to comply with a nationally-imposed sales tax requirement.
Okay, that was more than one question, plus a few opinions. In any case, it's an interesting article. And while I may have ambivalent feelings about Amazon, I wonder--could the sales tax issue really be its downfall?
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
And Sony has come out with a new e-book reader that costs only $199 (and one for $299, as well--cheaper than Kindle). Many of Sony's e-books will be competitively priced at $9.99--a figure that apparently represents the appropriate "market price" of e-books based on . . . whatever the powers that be based it on.
Finally, on a lower tech note, a book vending machine--or should I say a book lending machine?
Saturday, August 8, 2009
By guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, Dean Koontz; read by Dan John Miller
Dean Koontz is not a poor man's Stephen King. He is his own kind of sweet, kind of overwritten, and kind of totally spellbinding self. Some people can get into that like a hot bath, others can't stand it. I am a bather . . .
RELENTLESS is one of his best yarns to date, in my humble. Yet, it is festooned with characteristic Koontz touches, which include a protag who is so grounded and loving he makes your eyelids slowly descend, only to snap open on such lines as, "We did not know then that by day's end, one of us would be shot dead."
Cubby is a novelist, a loving husband, the jokey father of a seriously smart kid (referred to by a bad guy as a "weird little Einstein"), and oh, yes, Cubby has a big secret in his past, the kind of horror you would never associate with anyone you would ever meet. You never would. Koontz would, though.
Don't laugh, but a famous book critic wants to wipe out Cubby, his wife, their weird little Einstein, and their little dog Lassie, too!
This may sound funny, but I assure you it's suspenseful and warped as hell.
Of course, I won't tell you what happens, but it involves a deus ex machina shaped like a crystal salt shaker. But you knew that, didn't you?
Anyhow, even hard-core thriller lovers will get into this one. John Dan Miller has a pleasing tenor, rendering even the most banal inter-familial banter interesting and believable.
You're just never ready for the odd line that jumps in. "I don’t think you're ready for this, Dad, it's not a salt shaker anymore."
Star Lawrence owns a recession-coping site called Do the Hopey Copey at http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Hello, readers! Yes, Debbi the reviewer and blogger is speaking to you as Debbi the author now. My recently reissued novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, is available at 10% off the usual price until the end of August.
All you have to do to get your hands on a brand new copy (with an awesome new cover--the one you see to the left) is click here and enter the code README at checkout. It’s simple–and you get all the same great mystery reading at less cost.
Such a deal!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Author, Holli Castillo
Does it hurt yet?
Those are the opening words to GUMBO JUSTICE and they haunt the main character, Ryan Murphy, for reasons made clear much later in the story.
When we meet Ryan, she's being roused in the dead of night after drinking way too much tequila and falling off her bar stool into what she sincerely hopes is beer. The phone rings and Ryan is summoned to a crime scene. So she's a cop? No! She's a New Orleans assistant district attorney with a boss who's a bit overeager to impress voters during an election year by having his staff show up at crime scenes. But it is a police procedural, right? Not exactly.
GUMBO JUSTICE starts out as a legal drama-cum-police procedural, with the hint of something more creepy in store after we see a strange man named Jacob watching Ryan from his hiding place at what turns out to be the scene of several murders in the same housing project. And they all have one thing in common--which I won't go into for fear of spoiling any of the story. Let's just say there's a common thread and it leads to trouble for Ryan.
This all takes place during a too-hot spring in New Orleans, the Big Easy--you can really feel the steam heat, the sweaty brows and dampened shirts in Holli Castillo's description. And it's a city depicted (warts and all) as a bold clash of sweet-smelling narcissus and lavish mansions with shabby shacks and impoverished housing projects.
Ryan is a tough talking, hard-drinking gal who dresses down and flaunts her belly ring with impunity at the opening crime scene, not caring what the police captain (aka, her daddy) thinks. She puts on her game face around the cops--Sean, her brother; Shep, the cute one; Spence, the big strong guy. (So many "S" names!) One of whom she's secretly attracted to--leading to a hint of romance (at least, Ryan hopes so--even if she won't quite admit it to herself at first).
Castillo does a great job of weaving in all the cop procedural details, along with the legal stuff without getting too technical (being a criminal defense lawyer and former New Orleans prosecutor probably helps, huh?). And we get to see Ryan strut her stuff in court a bit. At times, she pulls a couple of TV lawyer maneuvers that had me shaking my head, but smiling at her antics (even Ryan admits she's going somewhat over-the-top). And since most of the story's told from her point of view, we get the benefit of her many sardonic remarks and snappy one-liners, like one in the first chapter, when she's hastily rolling on deodorant: "While people might call her a bitch, Ryan wasn't going to let anyone say she stunk." Got to admire a woman whose got her priorities straight, right?
But beneath that tough exterior, Ryan's a woman with ghosts in her past. Traumas from childhood and the more recent past come together to create a dark, disturbing situation for her.
The story builds in tension with each murder until the common thread emerges and Ryan must face the danger head on.
From that point, the story takes a turn into full-tilt suspense/thriller mode. The narrative shifts to the creepy Jacob more often and you hear more about how much he hates Ryan and ultimately wants to kill her. (And just so you know, that's not a spoiler. Jacob clearly despises Ryan when you first meet him and has some kind of dire plan for her.)
During the last third or so of the book, I could hardly read fast enough. I kept turning pages, anxious to see how things turned out.
And when all was revealed about Jacob, it left me with my jaw hanging in complete surprise. I'm usually pretty good at anticipating suspense/thriller revelations, but this one came at me from out of left field. And, looking back on it, the author played fair with the reader by providing clues hidden in plain sight.
Finally, the book ended with one of the most clever and astonishing twists I've seen in a while. Again, I was completely blindsided.
So if you like tough gal protagonists, particularly of the legal persuasion, I highly recommend GUMBO JUSTICE. It has a nice blend of police investigation, lawyering, suspense and even a little romance--sort of like Law and Order and suspense masters like Grisham and Patterson, all mixed up together (like gumbo?) in the Big Easy--with a big finish that I never saw coming.