Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Gripping, Yet Poignant Look at Reviewer Cliches

Okay, I promise on my word of honor that I will try my very, very best not to use any of these dreadful cliches in any future review I write for this blog.

Yes, it's hard to write reviews without endlessly repeating certain overused words and expressions. You find yourself thinking, "Did I call the last one 'thrilling' or 'enthralling'?" And "Just how many times can I describe an author as 'promising' or 'inspiring'?" (Assuming I can remember what words I used before--no guarantees there.)

Anyhow, take a look at these Top 20 Most Annoying Book Reviewer Cliches. You could say it's an unflinching, fully realized tour de force (and a rollicking one at that).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bizarre Book News

Imagine our court system if judges actually heard suits brought by disgruntled authors against those who write bad reviews of their work. Ridiculous? Not in Russia, where on April 23 a federal court issued an unprecedented ruling, ordering a newspaper journalist to pay damages of US$1,000 to a writer unhappy with a book review the newspaper ran.

The author claimed the review caused he and his family "severe mental suffering" and damaged his professional reputation. He stated that after reading the book review, he experienced chest pains, headache and elevated blood pressure. (Okay, that last part I can relate with, but really now. $1,000 for a bad review? Apparently, Russians aren't familiar with the principle that there's no such thing as bad publicity.)

The writer had sought US$150,000. Both parties say they will appeal.

Unbelievable. I don't know Russian law, but if you ask me, that author was lucky to get a penny--or would it be a kopek? Clearly, their tort laws differ from ours if a bad review can be the basis of some kind of emotional injury claim.

On an unrelated note, this woman claims she was inspired by Agatha Christie--but not in a good way.

It's a strange world out there . . .

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Learning 'The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death'

Author, Charlie Huston

THE MYSTIC ARTS OF ERASING ALL SIGNS OF DEATH is a title so long I thought I'd forget it after reading it once, but I didn't. Somehow I was able to remember all those words. And it sounded interesting . . . so . . .

It's the story of Webster Fillmore Goodhue (otherwise known as Web) who is an LA slacker with issues who likes to sleep a lot and is spending his days doing so at the home of (what we are led to believe is) his one last friend in the world. Why? Because like I said, Web has issues. Big issues. Issues that make him want to sleep and, I guess, keep house now and then because he mentions doing that, too. So, anyway . . .

Web is the son of a stoner mom in Oregon and a disaffected screenwriter in LA--both of whom he keeps at a distance, for reasons that are revealed later. But first . . . did I mention his friend was a tattoo artist who does body piercing? No? Well, it doesn't really matter.

What matters is that the tattoo artist has to have his various types of hazardous medical waste disposed of by a huge person named Po Sin. Po Sin offers Web a job. Not disposing of hazardous waste, actually, but cleaning up scenes where death has occurred.Thus, the name of the book. (Which echoes a theme in the book that relates to Web's issues. How clever. I'm not being sarcastic here. It's really very clever.) Web helps clean up messy scenes of death. You know, like crime scenes and such.

Or messy suicides, and Web ends up working on just such a scene, when he meets a woman. A woman who will eventually lead to (what else but) trouble.

Charlie Huston has an unusual edgy style. He doesn't use quotes. Instead, he puts long dashes in front of the dialogue. Sort of like this (and I'm totally making this up here):

--How's it going.
I didn't care, but it seemed like the thing to ask.
--Fine, fine. How are you?
Like he gave a shit. He didn't care any more about how I was than I did about him.
--I'm doing great.
What a crock. I felt lower than whale shit, but I didn't feel like going into all that with a guy who didn't really give a shit about me to begin with.

Yeah, kind of like that with those kinds of four-letter words (just a warning to those who are put off by them, which I'm not). Huston's writing is filled with edgy banter (real banter, not that silly conversation I just wrote) interlaced with Web's unvarnished thoughts in all their cynical glory (kind of like I just wrote). And I should mention here that involves all sorts of gross descriptions of various types of death and such, but that's to be expected when someone's working a job that involves scraping people's brains off the walls--I mean, am I right?

It's the kind of writing that sucked me right in from page one and kept me going. So when I first picked up the book, I didn't stop reading until page 49--I zipped those first 49 like they were nothing. Highly unusual for me to read so many pages right off the bat.

The only place where things seem to slow a bit is when you get to the "big explanation" stage. You know, the part where the protagonist is figuring out what's really going on. But by then, you're so far into the book, it hardly matters and you keep going because you want to find out how this thing ends. And see if Web solves his big issues.

And let's just say the ending is satisfying and not quite what I expected. Which is a huge compliment from this reader.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

'The Da Vinci Code' Cracked

Okay, I'll admit it--I'm not usually a big huge fan of Dave Barry. However . . . he does have his moments. Such as this hilarious send up of THE DA VINCI CODE.

Now, if he could have just thrown in an albino and some professorial type, he'd have absolutely nailed it. (But this is close enough.)

Singleton Hippie Art, The Story Teller

The Storyteller(c) Singleton 2009I lifted the tatteredpaper,folded, unfolded,a thousand timesin this life,and touched the fadedsunshine....ran my fingers overthe colorsas softashand~me~downjeans....Three tables awayI saw the blue, blue eyescome to life...a firefly flickering...dancing...And then whenhe ambled over,barefooted,andleaned over me,making sun shadowswith skinny arms and legs...I

Saturday, May 16, 2009

'Easy Money' Proves to be Anything But

Review: EASY MONEY (St. Martin's Paperbacks 2000)
Author, Jenny Siler

EASY MONEY is what the main character of this book is looking to make, but her assignment as courier this time is anything but easy. Allie Kerry (the heroine of our story) normally runs various deliveries for her shady friend, Joey, a former lover--she got involved with this whole business through her dad and his friend, Cyrus (nothing like keeping business in the family).

Anyway, a simple assignment (easy money, as she frequently repeats, as if trying to convince herself) to pick up a package goes all wrong--Al's contact (she goes by "Al," too) ends up dead in a seedy bar and she's got this disc--something that others seem willing to kill for. So she takes off, looking to find out what it is she's got.

What follows is a cross-country journey from Seattle to the Florida Keys (Allie's home)--one packed with suspense, more dead bodies and some fascinating characters. Before you know it, Al's been set up for the murders. Now she has both thugs and cops to contend with.

So Allie keeps running, crossing the ever-changing landscape which gets richly described (perhaps a bit too rich at times), along with thoughts of her past and trying to figure out just what the hell's going on.

But (as the Amazon review put it) "fancy-pants prose aside," this book is highly readable. Al's such a strong, unconventional character. She totes enough guns to overload a metal detector (no less than three). And she ain't afraid to use those babies.

The story is told in first person, present tense, which bothered me until I realized it made it much easier to figure out which parts were about the past versus the present. Because Jenny Siler likes to play with narrative that way--one of her endearing traits as a writer (to me).

Plus there was this one question that occurred to me after I'd finished the book. It seemed like a plot hole--one I'd missed because I was so caught up in Allie's desperate situation and the huge climactic ending, so suspenseful I couldn't read through it fast enough. But to say what that plot hole is would be telling, right?

So, all I can say is, read the book for yourself. Does it leave you wondering--what about . . . ? About something I can't tell you.

Besides, as I always say, these stories are really about the ride, the journey. And when Raymond Chandler was asked who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep during the film's production, he said he didn't know. And I say the answer is, "Who cares?"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Singleton Hippie Art, The Crying Moon

(c) Singleton2009The Crying Moon"She sat sky highin the paisley colored night,weeping...and a zillion milesawayunder her tattered lace petticoat,rhinestone stars twinkling...the world danced.Silly little stick people..."Watercolors, pencils, ink, markers on 9 x 12 Strathmore paper...A little hippe hoo~hah whipped up the morning after the full, full moon....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

'True Detectives' is a Jonathan Kellerman Book that Barely Mentions Alex Delaware

Review of TRUE DETECTIVES (Random House Audio 2009)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

hor, Jonathan Kellerman; read by John Rubenstein

If you are expecting the usual Kellerman fare of a French bulldog-owning shrink and his gay detective friend Milo, bleeepppp . . . rewind. The TRUE DETECTIVES are half-brothers, one white and still on the force, the other black and now a PI.

Their fathers used to be squad car mates. When one is killed, the other marries the first one's wife. Mom started out a little hoochy, then married rich. So no pathology to see there, keep on walking.

First introduced in BONES, Moses Reed, the white cop, is neat, orderly, humble and serious. His half-bro Aaron Fox is hip, drives a Porsche and is a self-styled player. His friends and sources are dotted around "the business" in LA, which is handy because the two are sort of informally teamed up on a missing persons case of a young college student, which soon leads to various DBs (dead bodies, to the innocent), libidinous housewives, skeevy hookers and pimps and a missing infant presumed hideously disposed of.

The wisecracks keep coming and Kellerman's endearing habit of describing in detail the clothes each person is wearing is intact, thank goodness.

TRUE DETECTIVES only leaves you with one question. . . . Are these guys really detectives? For the longest time, they drive around in cars and mull the people and clues. All that mulling.

On the upside—Blanche the French bulldog is mentioned. She is straight-up cute.

Star Lawrence is a writer in Chandler, AZ, and can be reached at She's a frequent contributor to The Book Grrl and authors the blog Do the Hopey Copey, a humorous how-to guide to handling the recession.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

'Valley of Bones' Revisits Santeria-Afflicted Detective Jimmy Paz

Review of VALLEY OF BONES (Audio Editions 2005)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence

hor, Michael Gruber; read by Nick Sullivan

You are talking with a rawboned Florida woman found in a Miami hotel room where an Arab has just been thrown out of a window and her face changes for a split second, her blue eyes turning black, then back to normal. Did you see that—or not?

If you're Jimmy Paz, a devil-make-care (my stars, what an expression) detective, whose restaurateur mother is regularly "ridden" by Santeria "saints" and who tangled with a hideous witch doctor in TROPIC OF NIGHT, you know this might not be good.

Turns out Emmylou has a checkered background, starting with child abuse and murder and ending running a backwater war over Sudanese oil in her capacity as a nun. The woman had such a boring life, it's a wonder it made it to a book. But it does—in the form of four confessional notebooks she writes out for Paz to keep the devil from making her blurt out wrong information. Yes, he will do that.

Taking the notebooks from Emmylou one-by-one is her therapist, Lorna, a focused woman who is a hypochondriac and can't bear to wear a bathing suit because she is convinced she is fat. But Paz likes what he sees anyway and flirtation leads to more flirtation. Will Paz give up his University of Girls, the institution that seems to flourish between sheets, but which he credits for teaching him all the beguiling poetry he seems to know?

Lorna is not big on the University of Girls, but she is also busy trying to stay alive as "The G," various mercenaries, a rich order of nuns, a former police partner of Paz's who has found the Lord, a schizzy homeless person, and various other folks scamper around at the devil's behest. Or is it God's idea, all this? Emmylou thinks so.

How does it end? You know how to find out. But you may not look people in the eye for a while. You wouldn't want to see anything weird, would you? And then not see it?

Star Lawrence is a writer in Chandler, AZ, and can be reached at She's a frequent contributor to The Book Grrl and authors the blog Do the Hopey Copey, a humorous how-to guide to handling the recession.

Singleton Hippie Art, The Whisper

(c) Singleton 2009The WhisperHe whispered to mefrom a ghost town,pale blue voicein the wind..."Look...Listen...Believe..."And on the wingsof every butterflythat passes,every breeze thatplays woodland music outside my kitchen window,I hear him still...."Vinyl LP reincarnated to send the message round and round and round....Altered archival print of The Eternity Angel embellished with the

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Pleasure to Announce . . .

I'm thrilled to say that my short story "A Woman Who Thinks" will be included in the anthology CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 4, to be published by Wildside Press in March 2010.

Will keep you posted on this. Don't have a cover yet, but here's a link to CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 3. Maybe it'll be something similar.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Problem with Li-tra-cha

Walter Benn Michaels claims so-called "literary writers" need to make their work more about class issues and the social order of contemporary life. Michaels says they should follow the lead of David Simon, who examined such issues in the HBO show The Wire. (That's really something when a literature professor says novelists should follow the example of television writers. Particularly television writers in "crime genre." In publishing circles, many consider "literary" fiction different and somehow better than "genre" fiction. Plus, at one time, television was considered inferior to books, i.e., the "Boob Tube." Am I over killing my point about the irony? Probably. Oh, well.)

I loved The Wire. It was a great show. But I'm not sure that means we all have to emulate it. There are many types of great books. Some of them focus on class issues and contemporary social order--some of them don't. Some of them are overtly political--some of them aren't. And the ones that deal with personal or timeless issues aren't necessarily self-indulgent or boring. Besides, people who write on class issues and society are fully capable of doing so in a self-indulgent and boring way. (Read any Ayn Rand lately?)

Maybe what we're really talking about here is writing a good story. Whether it's on politics, social order, personal problems, economics or whatever. Literary novels (whatever that term means) are most memorable when they tell a good story. Regardless of topic or theme, good story rules. That's why we read books.

Singleton Hippie Art, The Psychedelic Sea, The Original

Psychedelic Sea(C) Singleton 2009SOLDHe followed the sound,guitar strings and tambourines,southern voices in the wind...knowing thatthere in the nightcrowdhe would find me,barefooted and gypsy dressed,dancing in the ocean spray...Full moons,martini moons,and a gazillion empty moonshave passed...And I gothere still...a mermaid ghost...dancing on the dunes,at the edgeofapsychedelic sea....And in

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