This blog will observe a holiday hiatus until after the new year. I wanted to post something appropriately literary and holiday-related today. So I searched on YouTube for a reading of "The Night Before Christmas" and stumbled across this.
I don't know about anyone else, but when I read a book, I like to focus on the words. Which is why I'm wondering if I'll ever want to read an enhanced ebook.
I'm speaking, in particular, about fiction reading. I can (possibly) imagine the utility of an enhanced ebook for non-fiction books.
But when I read fiction, I want to focus on the words. I want the words the create images in my mind and take me into an alternate reality.
Enhancements in ebooks seem more like they would be distractions.
Well, here's one person's take on the matter from Shelf Awareness. And although this person found the extra bells and whistles "slowed the flow" of her reading of HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE, she still found the enhancements "neat." Perhaps in part because the book's genre lends itself to those extras. Apparently, the book is "concept-heavy" and the extras build and supplement, rather than distract, from the text.
Even so, as noted, this approach isn't necessarily appropriate for all ebooks.
To quote the article: "I also think that many books might suffer from this kind of enhancement. It's a brave new digital world out there, and my hope is that publishers and authors will try a lot of different things, but will tailor these experiments to the books themselves in the same way that they tailor the jacket. Not every book needs a girl in period costume on the cover, and not every e-book needs embedded video."
I happened to stumble across this book while reading through one of my email lists. The author was seeking reviews. I was more than willing to pay the $2.99 for the Kindle ebook. Ah, the wonders of serendipity!
SUGAR TOWER is about a female reporter named M. Jesus Piazza. (The M is for Marchesa. Not to be confused with the former New York Mets catcher!) Piazza has spent her life in pursuit of a dream career as an investigative journalist for a first-tier newspaper, only to end up on the New York City real estate beat for a paper a bit lower on the journalistic ladder. She's of a, um, certain age, single (aka, married to her career) and second guessing a lot of her choices. She once had a romantic relationship with her editor with whom she remains friends (naturally) and must also deal with her aging father. And I haven't even told you about the mystery yet!
The mystery revolves around the death of Anabel Sugarman, the wife of a big-time real estate mogul named Barry. Piazza originally covered the case (an apparent accidental drowning in the couple's pool) as part of her work as a real estate reporter. However, Piazza (sensing something much bigger afoot) checks with the medical examiner later and learns Anabel had enough toxin in her system to make her death "officially suspicious."
So, years later and after bending her ex-lover/editor's ear, Piazza is teamed up with the NYPD homicide detective Emilio Urquia on the case. Um, what? Since when do reporters and police team up? Well, apparently, a new task force dedicated to solving cold crimes will stop at nothing to accomplish their mission. Including working with reporters. Okay, then.
Piazza and Urquia seem to have little problem digging right into their task. Barry and Anabel lived in one of the penthouses at the Sugar Tower and, basically, the whole building is full of suspects. Anabel wasn't exactly the nicest person ever. And Sugar Tower is populated with residents who have all sorts of secrets.
Even so, that's not even the best part of the story. What makes this story special is spending time with this protagonist. M. Jesus Piazza has a wonderful way of expressing herself (with lots of parenthetical asides -- funny and otherwise). This is true, whether she's extolling her love-hate relationship with the City of New York or describing a thrilling night at the opera. Piazza is also forced, at one point, to deal with a situation involving her father. One involving tough moral choices. Choices -- there's that word again.
This may be one of the most character-driven mysteries I've ever read. Not that plot is short-changed. Jessica Dee Rohm's ability to weave the character's thoughts and feelings seamlessly into the plot is amazing. Her writing style is smooth and rich with descriptions that swept me away. She also clearly knows her subject: the details of real estate and finance are handled in enough detail to inform the reader without getting too technical.
There's also a funny subplot involving a dog walker and Piazza's dog that figures into the mystery in a way I never saw coming. And even though I knew whodunnit way before Piazza, the real fun was in watching her reason it out.
However, a couple of things that made me go "Hmm?" (other than the reporter-police team concept): (Minor spoiler alert--maybe.) Piazza ends up dating Barry. Um, would a journalist do this? Would a journalist investigating the murder of a woman date her widower? Seriously, is this wise? But, he has an alibi. Well, okay -- I'll look the other way and hum past this one.
The last concern, though, is too big to ignore. The detective has Piazza search Barry's beach house and gather evidence, claiming he never had grounds for a warrant. Er, but if Piazza is working cheek-to-jowl with the police on this, she's acting on their behalf. She's even filling out chain-of-evidence forms. Basically, the cops can't use her to maneuver around Fourth Amendment requirements. Sorry, there's no turning and humming past this one.
But did I enjoy the book, anyway? Yes, absolutely. The story ends with indications of a possible sequel. I, for one, would love to spend more time with M. Jesus Piazza. (Great name, by the way!)
If anyone had told me previously that I'd be thoroughly engrossed by a mystery involving a Jewish shammes (or sexton of a synogogue) in 16th Century Prague, I'd probably have been skeptical. However, as the old saying goes, you should never assume, because you know what happens when you do.
The protagonist, Benjamin Ben-Akiva, is a new Talmudic scholar who's come to Prague under the weight of a few acceptance issues, by his own scholarly crowd as well as his wife, both of whom are more than a little disappointed in him.
Unfortunately, Prague turns out to be, rather than an improvement, a hotbed of Jewish oppression (Jews are confined to life in the ghetto and forced to wear identifying badges) and Catholic domination. Protestants are (sort of) caught in the middle, enjoying a tentative peace with the Jewish merchants with whom they do business. A peace that's shattered when a young girl is found shot to death (with her throat slit, as part of an alleged ritual) in a Jewish merchant's shop.
As an outsider, Benjamin is able to view the situation with a relatively non-judgmental eye. He's clever and tends to crack wise almost as much as a modern day shamus. In fact, the book is prefaced with a short explanation of how the word "shamus" was probably derived from the Yiddish word "shammes." (Clever!)
The story is essentially a private eye story transplanted into an archaic setting. Benjamin is the alienated detective seeking out the clues and following his own credo, while trying to ferret out the truth in a corrupt society. In doing so, he enlists the help of various wise rabbis, with whom he exchanges many Talmudic verses. So the book is not only entertaining, but outright educational.
Wishnia manages the neat trick of writing a great mystery that's also rich in historical detail. He brilliantly folds the conventions of the private eye novel into the 16th Century setting. Along with that, he manages to explore the long history of anti-Semitism, not to mention the many factions within the ranks of each belief system.
The place of women within that society is depicted as well, in subplots involving a suspected witchcraft practitioner and a (forbidden!) romantic interest.
Not only is THE FIFTH SERVANT modeled along the lines of a modern detective novel, but it seems to have a touch of the Western genre to it. Particularly the movie High Noon. To wit, I offer the following (really rough) analogy: the Catholics are the "black hats" riding into town to dominate it; the Jews are the oppressed "white hats" they're after; and the Christians are the townspeople too fearful to intervene.
Like High Noon, the story builds to a huge conflagration. And, after all is said and done, when the real bad guys have been apprehended, one of the Jews even tears his badge off and flings it into the dirt.
And, in the end, our heroes do nothing less than ride off into the proverbial sunset.
It's taken a while, but the Google eBookstore launched yesterday morning. Apparently, you can buy ebooks there to be read by various means, including Android, iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, Sony and Nook e-readers, as well as the Web. (Notice one e-reader -- Kindle -- is conspicuously absent.)
The ebooks are stored on what is referred to as a "cloud-based Google bookshelf." That sounds weird and spacy. But I think it probably refers to the technology that makes partnerships with independent booksellers possible. This amounts to (long-awaited) happy news for indie booksellers, who've been losing ground financially to the big guys.
So, awesome sauce. This puts indie bookstores on a more level playing field with Amazon and BN.com, ebook-wise.
However, you won't find any indie authors' titles in this new ebookstore, because (according to this article) "Google says it has deals to sell books from almost 4,000 publishers, including all the major houses." It seems safe to say this doesn't include any self-published authors whose work is available in ebook format. Plus the article doesn't mention a digital text platform for publishing ebooks like the ones provided by Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Quick survey: What do you think of this? Do you think you'll be more inclined to buy ebooks from an indie bookstore now? Or will you probably continue to look to Amazon or BN.com (while it lasts) for your ebook purchases? Not to mention Smashwords.
The holiday issue of Mystery Scene Magazine has become available online and, along with it, one (so far) of two reviews I wrote. The next will be for DEAD SPY RUNNING. Hopefully, it'll come online soon.