Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Woman Fights Demons From Her Past in 'The Skull Ring'

Review: THE SKULL RING (Haunted Computer Books 2010) (Kindle edition)
Author: Scott Nicholson

At first glance, Julia Stone seems almost paranoid. She jumps at things that go bump in the night and seems to worry excessively. Then she comes home to find children's alphabetic blocks arranged on her coffee table, to spell out her name in the spooky way her father used to say it -- "Jooolia."

At this point, you start to feel the tingle of fear that runs up Julia's spine. The shadows in the house could easily hide creeps or demons. Thus, you're quickly pulled into Julia's world of terror and doubt.

Julia has fled from Memphis to the backwoods of Elkwood, North Carolina, looking for a quiet place to recover from deep psychological wounds inflicted by a terrible childhood trauma. The details of this trauma have been dredged up through therapy sessions that provide anything but comfort.

The nightmare of Julia's life, spent constantly peering into shadows and looking over her shoulder for creeps who may be after her, is examined up close and personal. A journalist, who's engaged to a young up-and-coming attorney from the "right" family, Julia harbors last-minute doubts about their relationship, along with growing doubts about her memories, her mental competence and even her sanity.

What ensues is a psychological suspense story that explores issues as varied as the existence of God and Satan, the reliability of recovered memories, the efficacy of psychotherapy, class distinctions (in the form of her attorney fiance and a friendly handyman/rival love interest), the virtues of risky individualism versus the safety of the status quo and the challenge of fighting the powers that be.

As the story unfolds, Julia is pushed by her therapist, Dr. Pamela Forrest, to explore the mystery surrounding her father, who's been missing ever since one terrible night when the unthinkable happened. This mystery is woven skillfully into the narrative which focuses on horrific crimes involving Satanic rituals -- the kind of ritual to which Julia recalls being subjected.

Scott Nicholson's vivid prose places the reader right inside Julia's skin. He draws out each of her actions with an almost slow-motion cinematic quality. The quiet woods around her house become a place of deep shadows and suspicious movements. Red eyes glow at her through her window. Her bedside clock is mysteriously stuck on 4:06 (numbers that end up being significant). She tapes one television program only to find a hell-fire Christian evangelist ranting in its place.

As the truth comes out, the story builds with pulse-pounding speed toward a breathtaking conclusion. Throughout the story, the question of who Julia can trust is omnipresent. THE SKULL RING is a perfect example of the maxim that just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean no one's after you.

(Disclosure: The reviewer received a free advance review copy of this e-book, for review purposes only.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks

On her blog, Sarah Weinman linked to her recent Barnes & Noble review of a book called AGATHA CHRISTIE'S SECRET NOTEBOOKS, which Weinman noted is "as self-explanatory a title as you're going to get," and in which she discussed various discoveries John Curran (the author) made about Christie's work and her writing habits.

The book not only provides an inside glimpse into Christie's writing process (in a word: disorganized) and Curran's commentary on her published work, but also reveals his discovery (a la Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, perhaps?) of two hitherto unknown Christie short stories.

Noting that the book is more than just "catnip for hardcore fans," Weinman concludes: "The net effect of Curran's years-long project is a virtual pilgrimage to the Christie homestead, sweeping readers up in his quest for the secrets that underpin Agatha Christie's mysterious literary logic."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

'Three Bedrooms in Manhattan': A Haunting Story of Love and Alienation

Author: Georges Simenon

If Francois Combe's life is anything, it's a study in loneliness and dissatisfaction. Having suffered the throes of a recent divorce, brought on when his wife fell for a younger man, Combe retreats from the world (and his public humiliation) into his Greenwich Village apartment. When Combe leaves his place, his movements seem purposeless, lacking specific direction or destination. A middle-aged man, Combe seems to be unemployed, without even a career to fall back on.

However, Combe does have an occupation. He's an actor, originally from France (a country he fled in the wake of his divorce and the ensuing publicity). However, talk of work or new parts is met with little enthusiasm on Combe's part. In fact, he seems to simply exist without expectation of either joy or tragedy.

This changes when Combe meets a mystery woman named Kay Miller in a Greenwich Village diner. Their chance meeting leads to an unusual relationship. One that jolts Combe out of his rut, at least.

The two strike up a relationship that appears to be driven as much by desperation as passion. They spend their first night walking the city's streets, leaning on each other like shipwreck survivors, and hitting the bars. They fall into bed at a cheap hotel, a sort of neutral ground, where they spend much of the next day. When they finally leave, they end up repeating the exercise again.

Combe's feelings about Kay are volatile and unpredictable. One minute, he can't bear the thought of being without her. The next, he's angry with her, convinced she's cheap and easy. He can barely stand the thought that she's had other lovers and wonders if she's thinking of them when they're together. One can only assume that the circumstances of his divorce are feeding this paranoia.

Kay's personae is harder to grasp. Although she starts off looking flighty and neurotic, these character traits are as seen through Combe's jaded perspective. And while aspects of her character appear to grow clearer as the story progresses, she's just mysterious enough to keep one guessing about her real agenda (if she has one). Although she claims to love Combe and seems honest about her past relationships, for various reasons her true intentions grow murkier as the story unfolds.

To read the entire review, go to:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

'Bridge of Sighs': A Story of Fate, Choices and Regrets

Review: BRIDGE OF SIGHS (Kindle Edition 2007); also available in print from Vintage (2008)
Author: Richard Russo

When we meet Lou C. Lynch, the main character in BRIDGE OF SIGHS, he's a 60-year-old man who's risen to prominence in Thomaston, the small upstate New York town where he grew up. Lou (or "Lucy," as he's dubbed early on by his peers, due to an unfortunate choice of first name and middle initial) appears, at first, to be someone completely comfortable in his own skin. He's been a life-long Thomaston resident and has never strayed far from home, despite the town's decay. However, as he writes his memoirs, various questions begin to plague him. Questions about the accuracy of his memory, the strength of his marriage and his own identity.

One of Lou's earliest problems is his on-again, off-again friendship with Bobby Marconi. The Lynches and Marconis present opposing pictures of family life. The Lynches (headed by Lou's affable, if unrealistic, father and his shrewd, no-nonsense mother) seem to be happy and stable, while the Marconis (headed by their angry, controlling father and weak, pathetic mother) present a much more volatile tableau.

The two families are brought together by circumstance or fate, so that Lou and Bobby end up being friends (or, at least, Bobby deigns to be Lou's friend). Lou suffers a traumatic experience in his childhood, which leads to what he calls his "spells." It's no accident that these spells tend to be prefaced by disconnects between Lou's expectations about himself or his family and any possible harsher realities.

Two other families, represented by Sarah Berg, the only child of a broken marriage, and Nan Beverly, the privileged daughter of one of the town's elite, come into the picture when the girls each start dating one of the boys. Sarah, a gifted artist with the potential to set the world on fire with her talent, ends up settling down and marrying Lou. To reveal more about Bobby and Nan would risk spoilers. Suffice it to say, Bobby ends up leaving Thomaston – fleeing it, actually – after a fateful night and going on to live abroad as the artist Sarah could have been.

For the entire review, go to:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

'Working Stiffs': Talk About Your Bad Days at Work

Review: WORKING STIFFS (Smashwords 2009); also available in print from Blue Cubicle Press (2006)
Author: Simon Wood

The workplace can be dangerous, despite any regulations enacted to keep it safe. Those dangers come from people – greedy, unscrupulous people who can make it hard on those who aren't. Hidden behind a person's disarming smile and handshake, all sorts of devious thoughts can be lurking.

Simon Wood explores this theme in WORKING STIFFS, an anthology that manages not only to keep readers on the edge of their seats, but does so with stylish and clever prose.

The collection is comprised of six short stories and a longer story called "The Fall Guy" that's basically a short novella. One that takes the reader on quite the trip.

The short stories cover different aspects of the theme. The protagonists range from people like the business owner taking drastic steps to hold onto his company in "The Real Deal" to the beat cop whose reputation is compromised when a street punk shoots him with his own weapon in "Officer Down" to average Joes placed in circumstances in which events spin out of control, such as the adman in the story "A Break in the Old Routine".

Despite Wood's propensity for wry humor (as evidenced by the delightfully bad pun of the book title), he paints a bleak picture about the dark side of human character. Even a successful crime author isn't immune to succumbing to temptation when a former object of his affections comes into the picture in "Old Flames Burn the Brightest". And the notion that, not only do nice guys finish last, but really horrible ones thrive is evident in "Parental Control".

To read the entire review, see:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Library and Librarian Song Mix Tape Special

Well, I would have posted a book review, but it's not quite ready yet. So, instead I offer you The 10 Best Songs About Libraries and Librarians from Flavorwire.

You've got a bit of almost everything here from Green Day to the Beach Boys, from My Morning Jacket to rap by MC Poindexter & The Study Crew.

Beats the hell out of a half-baked review.

You're welcome.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Would You Buy a Book in a Cigarette Pack?

While authors and the publishing world are trying to come to grips with the whole e-book revolution, it turns out that new and innovative ways to sell print books are still being developed.

Take this, for instance--books sold in cigarette packs. You'll notice the choices are limited to the old classics. I don't think they're selling Dan Brown or Mitch Albom in cigarette packs yet. Nor are they likely to be, either.

It's a cute idea, the whole notion of having Franz Kafka or Ernest Hemingway tucked away in your pocket. (Though I'm still trying to picture squeezing Tolstoy into such a tiny space. I see WAR AND PEACE didn't make the cut. I guess not. Could you imagine the print? You'd probably need a microscope to read it.)

Having said that and knowing that you can find classic authors in the Kindle Store and buy numerous copies of their work for a buck a piece, the author-in-your-pocket idea seems like a cute gimmick. But that's it.

Valentine for a Liar, Singleton Hippie Art

Valentine For a Liar(c) Singleton 2010 , Words and Hippie ArtworkSOLDCherry filled wordslined up in cheap little boxes,beribbonedand glitteredand half price the morning after they're uttered....I couldn't be bothered to listen,but just so you know....This velvet valentine's for all the cream filled colorsof yesterday's candy....11 x 15 Watercolor on Strathmore coldpress. Sometimes in the

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Authors and Addiction

Numerous authors have been addicts. Alcoholics, speed freaks, cocaine addicts, etc. In Hunter S. Thompson's case, he'd try anything for a buzz.

Most people know this, but may be surprised at exactly which authors didn't say no to drugs.

According to Life's "Famous Literary Drunks & Addicts" (yes, that's the real title), Baudelaire once said, "Always be drunk ... Get drunk militantly. Just get drunk." Sounds like he was stoned, actually. In fact, it sounds a lot like that Bob Dylan line, "Everybody must get stoned." (Wonder if he got the idea from Baudelaire?)

And who knew Ayn Rand was a speed freak? I guess you'd have to be one, to write books as long and boring as ATLAS SHRUGGED.

Anyway, feast your eyes on the photos, quotes and trivia in this literary line-up. (via The Heavy Metal Librarian)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Love Now, Singleton Hippie Art

LOVE NOW(c) Singleton 2009SOLDBlack vinyl spinning,coffee table scuffed from Friday night shoes on fire...I'm an Accidental Go~Go Girlin knee high boots and love....Sand castles sky highand dripping,periwinkle roads winding in never ending eights,and I'm a Mermaid,old and washed up...and at sudden peace...Highways with dotted lines,burned out lights,and ditches deeper than the sea....Soft from

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