Saturday, February 28, 2009

Books on Cellphone

When I saw that Google (which has been busy digitizing books) and Amazon (which has been busy selling Kindles) are working together to make e-books accessible on cellphones, I thought, "Ugh! I have a hard enough time making out my text messages. E-books aren't my thing (yet), and you're not going to sell me on them by letting me download them to my phone."

I dunno--maybe it's just me. But reading a novel by cellphone seems almost as crazy as writing a novel on one.

The Girl who left in Peace, Singleton Hippie Art

The Girl who left in Peace(C) Singleton 2009SOLDAnd there she was,the face behindthe musty, dustywrite~on~me~window....looking out...and kissingyesterdaygood~bye...with two fingers upand lips pursed,cantelope orange....She was glad to go...wrists warmed byclose callsand wrapped in late night fingerless crochet...Glad to leave in peace....10 by 12 original collage. Five archival prints of orignal

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Toss That Book!

It's funny how some people simply must finish a book once they've started it--no matter how much they hate it.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks life is way too short to spend reading books I don't like simply because I made the mistake of starting them. This article quotes many people who feel the same way. "Divorce That Book"--I like that. Frankly, it's not even that much trouble, is it? It's more like dating someone and finding out you're incompatible. Nip that relationship in the bud, I say.

I made the mistake of slogging through a book that was going absolutely nowhere and doing absolutely nothing for me. It was SOMETHING HAPPENED by Joseph Heller. I bought it because I loved CATCH-22, but CATCH-22 it was not. And I kept waiting for this "something" to happen, but nothing happened until the very end. And it wasn't even worth the effort.

So, my advice is to save yourself the grief, use your limited time on earth more effectively and, when you've started a book that you just can't get into, take Dorothy Parker's advice to heart: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

'The Appeal' Has its Own Appeal Right Now

Review of THE APPEAL (Random House Audio 2008)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

hor, John Grisham; read by Michael Beck

With the economy crumbling around our poor little ears (have you priced the cost of going bankrupt lately? Trust me—you can’t afford to even go broke!), this David & Goliath story has magnetic charm. I could not wait to get back to it and click on the CD player, despite the slow Southern accents and occasionally blah-blah-blah Grisham style.

David is a Ma & Pa law firm in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, representing some downtrodden and dead cancer victims in a nearby "Cancer County" that had been drinking death water poisoned by an evil chemical company run by a Wall Street billionaire (natch).

OK, corny setup. But wait.

As the poor lawyers are continually harassed by mustache-twisting bankers wanting to call in their loans, the evil billionaire uses brute spending power to stack the deck in the state supreme court, which will be ruling on the huge verdict the Hattiesburg jury delivered in favor of the cancer victims. Why not just get a sympathetic justice elected and dump the woman who still had in interest in the "little guy"?

Of course, they find a family-first type who goes to church a few times a week and push him out there.

But what I wanted to know was—will the rich keep getting richer? See? I am a romantic!

I won't tell you, although I did not love the deus ex machina Grisham came up with at the end. Ever feel like calling an author and yelling?

The reader Michael Beck is a favorite of mine and does the accents well without overplaying them into Foghorn T. Leghorn territory.

Overall, this was a disk-flipper (my version of a page-turner). But my fists are still clenched. And you will see why.

Star Lawrence is a writer in Chandler, AZ, and can be reached at She's a frequent contributor to The Book Grrl and her audio reviews also appear on

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sister Love, Singleton Hippie Art

Sister Love(c) Singleton 2009SOLDBlack haired babystanding up in anold wooden crib,banging spoons onthe rail....Manic music to my soul...And I tiptoe down theempty halland peekat theround little face...My own...ten years later...And I knew then,what I know now....Sister Love....Little hippie yet to be,knee high to my raggedy levi's....holding my handand waving at butterflieswith the other...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'Ordinary Heroes': A World War II Story of Extraordinary Grit

Review of ORDINARY HEROES (Random House Audio 2005)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

hor, Scott Turow; read by Edward Herrmann

My father served as a doctor on a destroyer off Iwo when the flag went up. My daughter's father was in Laos and North Vietnam, not even South Vietnam, in the special forces in 1965. Both talked very little about it.

In ORDINARY HEROES, Scott Turow tries to explore his own father’s experiences in World War II in a fictionalized form. His father, he says, in an interview afterward on disk, stopped talking about war when Turow entered his teen years—at that point, his father was talked out and had achieved whatever peace or compartmentalization or whatever he was trying to get or had given up on it. "What percent of what people tell us do we understand?" Turow says he once asked a professor. About 10%, they concluded.

The construct for this story is a son trying to find out why his father, a lawyer with the Judge Advocate General's office in France, was almost executed in France for letting a dashing American OSS officer go when the latter was suspected of spying for the Russians at the end of World War II.

It is also a story of how Stewart Dubinsky's father met his mother. The son had always been told, rather vaguely, that they met when his father entered a concentration camp, that she had been an inmate lucky enough to survive the horrors. But no.

This is a mystery, a love story, and a grim, horrid story of the ravages of war and madness.

Edward Herrmann handles the voices well, including the French/Polish accent of the beguiling resistance fighter Gita, who steals the book as Turow notes in his interview.

Not really "ordinary." But heroes, yes. Maybe "Quiet Heroes" would have been a better title.

Star Lawrence is a medical writer and reporter based in Chandler, AZ. Her other reviews and ramblings can be found on

Saturday, February 14, 2009

'The Wrong Case' is the Right Book for Hardboiled Mystery Fans

Review of THE WRONG CASE (Vintage Books 1986)
James Crumley

I've been hearing people sing praises for James Crumley's writing for years. Now I finally know what all the fuss has been about.

I chose THE WRONG CASE as my first Crumley book, because I had the impression it was one of his grittiest works. And I wasn't disappointed in that department.

The protagonist, Milo
Milodragovitch, is a man whose livelihood has been legalized out of existence. He's an ex-county deputy who'd been earning his keep gathering evidence for divorce cases back when you had to prove adultery, by doing surveillance and getting photos of cheating spouses, as they say, in flagrante delicto. But the divorce laws were changed to make breaking up easier to do and, when the story begins, he's at his desk, staring out the window at the mountains in an unnamed Western state and listening to the sound of his phone not ringing.

It tells you loads about Milo that his first line of dialogue, spoken when his client-to-be knocks on the door, is "Go away." Apparently, he's too busy hitting the office bottle (yes, there's an office bottle) and eating yogurt (okay, that I wasn't expecting) to be bothered with drumming up business.

The client-to-be is Helen Duffy, a lovely young redhead. (More standard hardboiled fare here, but at least she's not blonde.) Helen wants Milo to find her younger brother. Although he's never done that kind of work before, Milo goes through the motions of getting some information, then basically says he'll work for Helen if she'll sleep with him. Helen doesn't go for this arrangement. At least, not right away.

Needless to say, Milo does end up on the case. Except he ends up getting involved after the brother's been found (and not looking at all well). Per the title, he finds out the hard way that it was the wrong case to take.

Crumley captures the essence of a small Western town in this book. Although the essence reflects a particular period in time (when was the last time you heard anyone use the term "freak" to describe a long-haired man or "balling" to describe sex?), the dated references didn't bother me, any more than the term "reefer" or "tea" for marijuana would bother me in an even older book.

And Milo is such great fun to watch. He reels through his investigation, almost constantly high on booze, amphetamines and weed, wielding the occasional firearm, like a cross between Philip Marlowe and Hunter Thompson. But he's basically a nice guy who doesn't want to hurt anyone. He gets mad sometimes, roughs a few people up (no one who doesn't deserve it), even fires a shotgun at one point and brings a house down (literally), but he doesn't want to kill anyone. And when people start dying, by his hand or others', you can feel his remorse.

Finally, I can't recall ever reading about a character as sad and screwed up as Milo, who could make me laugh out loud with some of his dour observations and outrageous behaviors.

What can I say? THE WRONG CASE turned out to be the right way for me to become a James Crumley fan.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Heroic Pilot Goes One Better

Here's a story that'll warm any librarian's heart. (via Reader's Advisor Online) Remember the US Airways pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who made that amazing emergency landing in the Hudson River last month? He left a book on the plane that he'd checked out from a California state university, through his local library.

Sullenberger could have easily forgotten about the book, but instead he asked for an extension (until when? just gotta wonder) and a waiver of overdue fees.

The library was so pleased with Sullenberger's diligence, it's waiving all fees and dedicating the replacement book to him.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

'Hollywood Crows' is Retro, But a Fun Listen Anyway

Review of HOLLYWOOD CROWS (Hachette Audio 2008)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

hor, Joseph Wambaugh; read by Christian Rummel

Stephen King threw HOLLYWOOD CROWS on his "best of" list in Entertainment Weekly. I thought, "Joseph Wambaugh, wow, pretty Hill Street." Turns out the precursor to CROWS, HOLLYWOOD STATION, had been Wambaugh's first book in a decade.

At first, I was sort of cringing when I heard corny lines like "Hollywood, where men are men and so are the women,” but within two disks, I was hooked. Crows—the pronunciation of CRO—Community Relations Officer—do the PR work, schmoozing people with unauthorized people parked across their driveways or noisy neighbors who suddenly go quiet (that one did not end nicely).

They also interact with the "regular" cops from the Hollywood Station, including my favorites, two surfer cops nicknamed Flotsam and Jetsam. Their blab is hilarious, so Valley-guy and jargon-frontloaded, their fellow cops treat them almost as lovable mascots. Yet, their weird gut feelings ("That house is seriously bad juju, bro.") edge the story forward in its leisurely pace.

Weaving the elements together as only a master can, Wambaugh brings the cops into contact with Ali Aziz, a Middle-Eastern strip club owner, and his gorgeous honey-haired wife Margo, who is not as sweet as her hair.

Christian Rummel is a slightly nasal reader, hilarious as F&J (see above).

I wouldn't say this story is exactly plot-driven, but it does end up someplace. And the trip is worth the hours. What more could you ask? I mean, what more could you ask, dude?

Star Lawrence owns the health humor site, Health's Ass, at She can be reached at

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

'Hostile Witness': A Gritty, Stream of Consciousness Novel

Review of HOSTILE WITNESS (Pinnacle Books 1992)
Douglas Anne Munson

HOSTILE WITNESS, a paperback novel that was first issued in hardcover under the title EL NINO (picture a tilda over the second "N," since I don't know how to type it), is not a book for the squeamish or those whose sensibilities will be jarred by descriptions of child abuse, parental neglect, poverty-related ignorance, casual sex, excess drinking/drug use and the routine use of foul language and black humor, particularly as a way to deal with a difficult high-stress job.

Sandy Walker, the protagonist of our story, holds just such a job. She's an attorney representing parents in juvenile dependency court--parents who've been accused of everything from abandoning their kids on street corners to beating them with electrical extension cords to allowing spouses and lovers to sexually abuse them.

We get the story (mostly) from Walker's point of view and her thoughts come out in a great rush and tumble at times--
description so rich with the sights and smells and sounds of the courthouse and the heat of a Los Angeles summer, you can just feel the sensory overload coming on.

The book starts with a typical day for Walker--too many clients, not enough time. You see her walk a couple of clients through her standard speech about juvenile court--it's not a criminal proceeding, but the court has broad powers to impose child protection measures, blah blah (and you feel the "blah, blah" part in the way Walker tells it). You get to know what it is Walker does, the kind of people she's dealing with every day and sense that it's gotten to a point where she's said the same thing so often to so many people who aren't really listening, she's almost just going through the motions--almost, but not quite, because she actually does care.

That's the problem. Walker is in a job that requires just enough caring to do the work, but not so much that you get overwhelmed and unable to function. Unfortunately, not only does Walker have to deal with numerous crazy clients in crazy situations, but her thoughts take us back to her own sordid past and some of the terrible things that happened to her as a child--memories that resonate like faint echoes of the cases she deals with every day. So she ends up caring more than she should. And it leads her to hitting the bottle pretty hard. And to getting a bit more involved than perhaps is wise in some of the cases. And this leads to trouble.

But that's not all.

Walker catches the eye of a cop (of all things--she's not fond of cops in particular or authority in general), who seems to want to "save" her in some way. Or not. In any case, he has a Latino heritage, which makes him interesting to her. She likes Latino men, she's fascinated with Latin America and Mexico (where she lived for a while) and her thoughts occasionally drift, in totally off-the-wall ways, toward ruminations on the Mayans and their rituals, such as how they had "set an ear of corn in bed to guard a sleeping child" (to pick one at random). And Walker dabbles a bit in superstition and the supernatural (Latino and otherwise), which gives her character some interesting eccentricities.

I found the grittiness and unblinking honesty of the writing, combined with its sometimes dreamlike stream of consciousness prose, to be a refreshing break from the usual hardboiled fare. Not that I dislike the usual hardboiled stuff--it's just that this book is so . . . different.

Even from a genre-classification perspective, this book is simply not like the others. Sandy Walker is not a criminal defense attorney--she's representing parents in civil proceedings over whether the state must protect their children based on alleged neglect or abuse. (So it's not crime fiction, in that sense.) This alleged neglect or abuse, however, can qualify as criminal behavior and be prosecuted as such in a separate proceeding. (So it is crime fiction, in another sense.) The story is not a mystery--there's no murder or other puzzle to solve--nor would I call it a thriller. It seems to fall somewhat into the category of noir--except not really, for reasons I don't want to reveal. That would be telling too much.

This was Douglas Anne Munson's first novel--the only one she wrote under her own name. She wrote three other novels (the hardboiled Whitney Logan mystery series) under the name Mercedes Lambert. In this first novel, you get just a taste of Munson's interest in Native American traditions, particularly as they relate to religion and the supernatural--topics that would be explored in more depth in her last novel, GHOSTTOWN.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, I loved it, but it's not for everyone. Like I said--stream of consciousness, gritty with foul language, frank discussions of child neglect/abuse, casual sex--oh, and, now and then, the point of view shifts from Walker to someone else entirely. One minute, you're with Walker, the next--boom! You're in a passerby's head. And some people just don't go for that stuff. But it doesn't happen that often. If nothing else, it keeps readers on their toes.

It genuinely pains me that more people don't know about Munson/Lambert's work--that she attracted so little notice while she was alive, given the extent of her talent and her truly unique voice. Her final novel took forever to be released (her publisher rejected it--I'm assuming because it was a bit "out there"). Munson tried to rewrite it and eventually quit writing altogether. She died of cancer before her last book finally got published. I grieve to think of what else she might have written, given more time and encouragement, that we'll never get to see.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Peace is a Vintage Dress, Singleton Hippie Art

(C) Singleton 2009It was the light from the stairwaydoordancing in smokey shadows....long arms reaching out and touchingeach and every garment there....rattling old metal coat hangers....Making me Look....And there in the attic,I found her....A thousand memories old...the dress she loved in.....perfectly pressed between the cornflower blue shirtand the musky old trenchcoat of a stranger...And

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