Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snake Dreams by James D. Doss: A Charlie Moon Mystery


Book 13 of the Charlie Moon series and I have read all of them up to and including this one. Waiting for me in my bookcase is #14 The Widows Revenge, and on my Wish List is #15, A Dead Man's Tale. Obviously I am a fan of James Doss and a fan of Charlie Moon. What is not to like? A 7 ft tall lean good-looking Ute cowboy, retired cop and now part-time tribal investigator. He has a wonderful ranch in a beautiful location, every girl falls for him but he just can't seem to hang onto them. Of course this is often because of Aunt Daisy's machinations.

His Aunt Daisy Perika, of ancient age, is a blessing and a curse, trouble with a capital T, yet often helpful in solving cases. Sly as a fox, she is a shaman, a crabby one at that. Daisy talks to spirits, not that she invites them, they come to her with messages and portents and try as she might, she can't ignore them. After all, they know where to find her anytime, anywhere. She also visits and talks to a pitukupf, a dwarf who lives in an abandoned badger hole, bringing him food and tobacco in exchange for cryptic answers to the spirits' problems which are now her problems. He also brings news of evil coming, if she can decipher what he is saying in time.

In Doss's earlier books, there was much more police action, mysteries, missing people, murder and such playing a rather major role, along with the great descriptions you can count on. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona some of the most beautiful and extreme landscape in the country. Those readers of Tony Hillerman's series of the Navajo tribal police, especially Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, will understand what I mean. I expected similar when I started reading James Doss' books, and in fact there were a lot of similarities in the early books, although with Daisy there was a lot more myth, legend, because of her heritage, but there was still a lot of policing and investigation.

The Charlie Moon series has always been great fun to read, but in the latest books, possibly because Charlie is supposed to be on his ranch, not solving crimes like his best friend Scott Parrish, chief of police for Granite City, the focus has been much more on the characters themselves with a mystery running in the background. As mentioned, the books have always had some humor in the storyline, but the past few have been nothing short of hilarious, which leaves me to wonder if this series has done a crossover genre. I laughed out loud through a lot of this book Even the style of writing seems to be different and very unique, but again, very funny.

The characters are true to themselves, and it's been fascinating to see them continue to grow and even to age, something that is often missed in a series. Who would be my favorite character? It's hard to answer that, so many diversities, but I think my personal favorite is Daisy, without her half the book would be missing. She is now tutoring her young protégé, 16 year old Sarah, in healing, magic and other shamanist knowledge. This is still one of my favorite series and great for a break between more serious books. Highly entertaining.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

Photo by Brenda Gelean 2009
my youngest granddaughter, Bella, and their "cat with no name"


Thank you to all my friends, followers,
authors and readers,

may the New Year 2011 bring us all
happiness, health, & peace!


Betty


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Justice in June by Barbara Levenson

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Oceanview Publishing

Starting right off with the death of an informer, we meet Mary Magruder Katz, a criminal defense attorney in Miami, immediately thrown into heavyweight cases building up to overload. Her friend Judge Liz Maxwell is about to up the ante with a serious criminal investigation aimed at her, and needs Mary's legal assistance. It doesn't help that the dead informer was the main witness in a case that Judge Maxwell is trying.

If that were not enough, Mary's hunk of a boyfriend, Carlos, desperately needs help for his "cousin", actually the son of friends of the family, Luis. Luis was taken into custody as a terrorist on a business flight for his parents from his home in Argentina. He has completely disappeared into the Federal system with no information, no paper trail, no formal charges, and one partial phone call. Mary takes on all these cases with only one assistant. She knows she has serious and short deadlines to accomplish all this, and spends almost all her time on her work, until the threats begin.

It is June in Miami, and living up to its steamy hot weather. Not only is the weather stifling, but the caseload is threatening to stifle Mary for good. Are the threats related to the case for Luis? Possibly, but no one can find out where the Feds have him, he might even be out of the country. Are the threats related to her investigation of why Liz is in danger of being removed as a judge? Again, possibly, but who would be going after Liz? She appears to be honest and fair in her judgments. Certainly they can't have anything to do with a suit against Carlos, which has just been added to her caseload ... or can they?

Mary, though frightened having already been assaulted, is only more determined to carry on with all her cases regardless of the threats. When she gets a threatening call on her brand new Blackberry that she hasn't used, nor given out the number, and her home is broken into, she hightails it over to Carlos' with Sam, her dog, and moves in temporarily.

Barbara Levenson's writing is interesting, well researched, and filled with unique characters. The story is a blend of judicial, legal, and federal investigation and performance. It outlines the chaos and paranoia in the ongoing search for possible terrorists. It addresses greed and corruption as it can happen from within the judicial and the policing arenas, particularly with drug money involved. It also highlights the qualities of the honest in these same arenas. Bringing some light humor into play is the interaction between the parents of both Mary and Carlos, who have their own plans in play.

Mary Magruder Katz is an interesting character, one I would like to see grow. I enjoyed reading this book, and I appreciated Ms. Levenson's chapter breaks with subtitle whenever the storyline backtracks so the reader knows when there is a time shift. This is the second in a series and I will be looking for Fatal February, first in the series, and look forward to the third.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Judgment Day by Wanda L. Dyson

Reviewed for LibraryThing giveaway
Published by WaterBrook Press

I went into this book thinking it might be lighter reading, somewhat like a fascinating cozy, but immediately found out how wrong I was. Fascinating, yes, but this plot is much more sinister, a significant, fast-paced thriller. This story has a deadline which must be beat! An arrogant, self-centered sensational reporter, Suzanne, with her own show, Judgment Day, is about to find out she has taken on more than she can handle. Somebody wants her to meet her own judgment day.

Teens are disappearing, most of them runaways who presumably won't be discovered as missing. Is there any connection? Her boyfriend has just been killed while driving her car. They traded cars for the day because he was worried she would have an accident, and he wanted to take it in to be checked out. Somebody is trying to kill her.

Who wants her dead? The father of her boyfriend? The senator she has been investigating? The Reverend she has accused of building his mansion with church funds? The District Attorney who is in such a hurry to prosecute her? Or maybe it's the widow of the school principle her allegations caused to commit suicide. Suzanne has been arrested for a murder she didn't commit. Her rich father has posted bond and she is back on the prowl for information.

Only one thing is sure, she is onto something, but since she hasn't been doing her homework, sensationalizing her accusations to boost her ratings without proper authentication of her facts, she doesn't realize what she has. Her lawyer knows he needs good investigation if he is going to win her case. Enter her ex-fiance, now a private investigator, and his suspicious female partner who knows their romantic history from the college they all attended. Marcos and Alexandria (Alex) suddenly find themselves baby-sitters, while trying to learn what is happening to the missing teens and if they are truly missing or just hiding. Their assistant Razz, a technical whiz who can achieve amazing results, starts digging to find out why the D.A. is in such a rush to get the murder to trial.

Everyone involved is fighting demons of their own, but somehow they must keep Suzanne safe and find out who is framing her. She certainly does not understand what she has done, how much damage she does with her lack of attention to the details of truth. She constantly takes chances as though she is immortal.

Lots of action in this book, and with so many possibilities for suspects, there are lots of red herrings, but are they really? Or is every one of them involved? This is a good storyline, up-to-date, and a fast read. I found the book intriguing and the more I read, the more I needed to. My attention was held all the way through. It is not just a case of who and why, but how many are involved. The character of Suzanne is pretty straightforward. We do get to learn what drives her, though, which gives the reader a different perspective from that which runs all through the book. Razz is a likeable character even while dealing with the death of his wife. Marcos and Alex are great characters I'd like to meet again. They work very well together.

Wanda L. Dyson has produced a great plot, involving a totally unexpected crime that is current, and delivers it with aplomb. There is in this atrocity more than the usual known facts about the dangers to teen-age runaways, and a lot more money can be made. This is a plausible, newer hazard, and profitable to people with the right connections and lack of principles.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

Published by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Review based on Advance Reading Proof

A wonderfully well-written, psychological thriller debut, one that just cries out to be read and discussed. A perfect choice for a book club. Although I found it a bit disconcerting with early chapters switching between then and now, it is really just an essential hiccup in the storyline. This ploy simply increases the building suspense as the story unfolds. Watch out for author Erin Kelly, she has thrown down the gauntlet and intends to stay around for a long time!

An unusual storyline from the voice of the protagonist, Karen Clarke, the characters with their many differences are well-drawn and continue to grow throughout the book. Take a young normal girl who just happens to be fluent in several languages and throw her suddenly into a completely different society and what is she to do? Her meeting with Biba opens a whole new world to her, one she is not only introduced to, but embraces wholeheartedly. In 1990s London, the beautiful and vivacious Biba lives her life fully and dramatically, essentially the actress she wants to be. When she meets Karen, the straight-A student of linguistics, she brings her to her home, a very run-down yet exotic house of many characters, some of whom live there with Biba and her brother Rex. Soon Karen is a constant visitor.

The book begins near the end, then switches back to this carefree and exciting life, time and time again. We learn of old secrets that have a distinct effect on the brother and sister, and later newer secrets come between them. Karen can not tell her story alone without telling the story of Rex and Biba. Their lives and stories are tangled as one. These three are the main characters, but there are more roles to be played by lesser players. Still, they are all bigger than life and all play their parts boldly. The story unfolds between this wild beginning, fraught with suspense and lies, racing toward an unknown and unexpected tragedy. Clues and portents are sprinkled between these carefree days of one summer, building and building to an excruciating level. Murder, prison, life, loss, all wrapped up in one great read. Descriptive, alluring, and definitely atmospheric, characteristics run the gamut from innocence and trust to parties, drugs, drama, sex and lies.

This is not a book one can easily review without spoilers, mostly because of the way the book is written with all its portents. That said, the ending is shocking and yet feels right. Once read, the reader will understand what I mean, but earlier in the book he/she may not. This is an exceptional start to what I believe to be a long run for this author.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dead of Knight - A Jack Staal Mystery by William R. Potter

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by RealTime Publishing

This psychological thriller was of special interest to me because a lot of the action centered around the area where I grew up, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. According to the cover blurb, Canadian author William R. Potter began this book in 2002, put the book on hold, and after completing other work, returned to Dead of Knight. I for one, am very glad he did.

A descriptive book, it takes place in the fictional town of Hanson in British Columbia. The book begins with a journey into the mind of a psychotic murderer, nick-named the Birthday Boy, because his victims were murdered on their birthdays. He sees himself as a hero; he is currently Tyro, training to become what he perceives to be a super hero who will be Damian Knight, Soldier of Justice. He believes he is on the same side as the law. The character is well-defined, as is the character of Jack Staal, the detective who becomes Knight's focused nemesis.

The story is also a police procedural that doesn't always follow procedure, often a sign of office politics versus either the very caring or the corrupt. Jack Staal is one of the caring, but he is fraught with demons of past cases. Some might call him flawed, others a hero. No matter, this is one man who is determined to stop Damian Knight, the psycho-serial killer with a mission. But what is the mission? How do the murders connect?

Jack and his group of allies on the police force must buck authority to bring in the "perp" as soon as possible, while the authorized group bungle and follow wrong leads, rumours abound. This is a very satisfying thriller, complete with background descriptions of what has led to this killing spree, internal strife in the police department, a vendetta against Jack Staal by Damian Knight when he thinks he is getting too close to solving who Damian Knight is, false leads, taunting hints left for Jack, death and injury. The methods of putting the pieces together is compelling. The plot was well thought out, played out with passion and resolve. A complex and taut story that kept my attention throughout. Written for mature readers.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much - The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Reviewed for Edwards Magazine Book Club
Published by Penguin Canada

Allison Hoover Bartlett has written a remarkable piece on this true story of "World of Literary Obsession". The research is deep and personal; the reader becomes involved in the research through her words. This is her story almost as much as John Gilkey's, the book thief she is writing about. It all begins with a beautiful, nearly 400 year old book that has been brought to her by a friend who found it while clearing out a house. She believes the book was stolen which sets her off on a search of discovery about thefts of rare books, wondering if there might be a piece she, as a journalist, can use for an article. Unfortunately, by involving both herself and the reader in her research and interviews, the first part of the book becomes tedious at times.

The book really takes off when the chase to catch Gilkey begins. The sting set up progresses with the same intent as any other criminal chase, and indeed, antiquarian book thievery is no less criminal than the theft of fine art from a museum. In some cases of extremely old manuscripts, they are a work of art. The thief is an amazingly complex yet simple character. The in-depth interviews the author has with Gilkey are quite revealing and yet it is difficult to determine, even to the interviewer, what he really is revealing. When he is working at Saks with all its well-heeled customers, which he does every year around Christmas, he is secreting credit card slips (this at a time before electronic credit card machines, and there was a second slip of paper usually torn out and thrown away). This is how he "purchases" the books. Even prison sentences do not deter him because in his own mind he is not stealing, How much is he lying? His responses are contradictory at times but mostly he speaks as an authority on collectible books.

An intriguing non-fiction look into the antiquarian book world, both dealers and thieves, and how obsessive it can be. I did enjoy the book for the most part, but was disappointed in others. This is a book that many readers will find compelling and others may not be quite so satisfied. Definitely informative, however.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gypsy Crystal by Lorrie Unites-Struiff

Reviewed for Keith Publications
Review based on ebook (pdf)

I love this off-beat murder-mystery. Secrets abound from all directions. The characters are consistent throughout the book, and what fascinating characters they are. With Detective Rita Moldova's Roma background, and as a "trailer park" kid in her school years, the stigma still sticks with this main character, especially with certain old classmates. Her mother is the keeper of tradition and maintains extraordinary senses and powers. I always enjoy learning something from all books I read and this one did not disappoint. The tradition and ancestral life of the Romanians tweaked my historical nerve. I feel there is more to be told with this family.

What is going on in the town of Keyport? Women's bodies are turning up devoid of blood with no signs of struggle, no signs of needle marks. Who will be the next victim? Enter our heroine, Rita, a most unusual member of the local precinct. She is able to see the victim's last view prior to death. Yet, so far, her "special crystal" has failed as never before, no longer sending the killer's face to Rita's perception. A special investigator, handsome Matt Boulet, is sent in from an elite yet secret section (PCU) of the FBI. He has an immediate profound effect on Rita, physical, mental, and sensorial, setting the stage for a beautiful sexy and loving relationship as a background to the action. The crystal appears to have decided these two are soul-mates and the attraction is tangible. A cross between police procedural and paranormal, this story works well. The writing is taut, fascinating, terrifying and exciting. This genre definitely fits Lorrie Unites-Struiff's writing style like a glove. I would love to see a sequel or series, it is that good, and leaves this reader wanting more.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

One Deadly Sister by Rod Hoisington

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Entera Books

A very creative and enjoyable first novel, Rod Hoisington has created a complicated whodunit with red herrings to spare. At the basic root we have the remaining two members of a family, a brother and sister, who have had no real contact since the day their parents died several years ago. In fact, sister Sandy is living her well-ordered life quite satisfactorily, thank you, doing legwork for a highly respected law office. A late night call brings her brother Raymond back into her life like a slap in the face, she has all but disowned him and the call is like a blast of ice. He is calling from a Florida jail in a small town, with a murder rap hanging over his head. Sandy is determined that in no way is she going to help him, she is still too angry about his lack of support for her when she needed it.

A quick look at the News, and she starts to get second thoughts. Too many questions, Ray is not the type to murder anyone, much less a high-profile Senator. Confusion reigns as she arrives to find her brother being railroaded through the system so that State Attorney Moran can win a famous trial whether his "held in custody" suspect is guilty or not. Moran is ignoring the many other possible suspects and zeroing in on his target, creating a case for conviction. A stranger in town? What a break for him, everyone will hate this guy Ray for assassinating their Senator!

From this point on, there are misunderstandings, misdirections, underestimations, especially underestimating Sandy, a pit-bull in a sexy body. Ludicrous statements and outright lies are flying everywhere. Not only are there lots of twists in the case itself, but in the many strange relationships that show up here and there throughout. This book is written almost tongue-in-cheek and I loved it. It grabs hold of you early on and you can't get away from it. The action suddenly takes off with a few diverse leads and builds very quickly toward the final setups, lies and implausibilities that give the reader a sense of fun and satisfaction as the story finally wraps up all the loose ends, finding more to deal with than meets the eye. I will definitely be looking for another novel by Rod Hoisington!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: Future Babble - Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway by Dan Gardner

Reviewed for Eco-Libris Greenbooks Campaign
Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
This book is printed on acid-free paper that is 100% recycled, ancient-forest friendly (100% post-consumer waste)

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco-friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

My Review for Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway by Dan Gardner:

One of the first things I've learned from this fascinating book is that the more you know, the less you know. You can not base the future on the past. The reason for this is that there are too many variables, the future is not linear. Too many things can cause hiccups in the reasoning. I learned that the economic and political experts who make forecasts for the future are rarely right, which leaves me to wonder if half of them predict something positive for the future, and the other half predict something negative, does that mean man would never progress? Nothing would ever happen? The section on randomness I thought was particularly interesting, I learned how the subconscious often overrides the conscious in making decision, but the conscious eventually gets there, it's just slower than the subconscious. In other words, the idea that is your first automatic thought is probably the right one, as in hunches or intuition. I've found that in my own life, if I am writing a letter, a story, or a comment to the newspaper, if I think about it after it's written, I start to overthink it and eventually go back to my original (if I haven't lost it, because that overthinking often messes up my clarity).

Foxes and Hedgehogs, Dan Gardner's names for the experts we place our faith on. The Foxes are the popular (right or wrong), confident, and probably entertaining; Hedgehogs, quieter, more careful and technical in their precision and declaration. Yet few predictions of the future based on the past and the present can come to pass. Hedged in wording that is not on a timeline or precise, but full of confidence and great presentation, the Foxes seem to do no wrong in their predictions, yet they are rarely right. When they are, because of their popularity, they are only remembered for their hits and their misses disappear in the human mindset. In Garner's words, "Be simple, clear, and confident. Be extreme. Be a good storyteller. Think and talk like a hedgehog." The author has chosen a few experts from each type of thinking for his examples. In his findings, though, there appear to be too many examples of misses and too few hits, exactly his point. Surprisingly, they almost all think they were right. Somewhat like proofreading your own words, you see what you thought you wrote, they, too, see their own predictions the way they think they presented them.

What I enjoyed most about this book is the section on experiments performed to learn how people are influenced in their decisions of what or who to believe. A wide variety of these experiments will no doubt amaze the reader as to how the mind can be manipulated or simply change sides by what they perceive in the first examples. An unusual book for a mostly economic, environmental, and/or political evaluation of future predictions, but the second part of the title tells it all: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway. Based on no more information than what has been predicted by experts, I have decided, thanks to reading this book, I will no longer worry about the world in 2012.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Remarkable Journey by Larry King


Reviewed for Edwards Book Club
Published by Penguin Canada, 2010

What a strange feeling to be reviewing "My Remarkable Journey" by Larry King! With a rare gift of communication, he takes us on his journey through life beginning as a little Jewish kid in Brooklyn through local radio to global TV fame. From the loss of his father who died of a heart attack at work and the loss of his grandmother two weeks later, Larry King seems always to be looking and finding love only to lose it again. The book is very revealing, honest and fascinating, not because of all the famous names that populate the book, but because of how these people react and communicate with him. The respect for who he interviews, and the respect which is shown him comes through loud and clear. But so, too, comes his downfall with his arrest and in his own personal life at that particular time.

He reads people with great insight and passes it on to the reader. Sure, he sometimes comes off sounding a little self-absorbed, especially when he is not on the air, but it is his story, and in fact he may not even be aware of it. He is just as often overwhelmed by his success and often feeling undeserving. But get him on the air with any influential person, or even as he would say, the plumber, and lightning strikes. On the air or in the book he has a way of letting his guests, and his readers, feel comfortable and thus interested. While reading this book, I felt that I really got to know a lot about Larry King, but also some understanding of why he has married so often and divorced so often, and a feeling of family seems to exist around his children and himself. The shock of learning his first wife had given him a son he never knew about toward the end of the book when she was dying, soon gave him one more son to love.

I think the best parts of his book, though, are those from breakfasts at Nate 'n Al's. There he is one of the guys, with friends he grew up with, friends he has made since and maybe that is "home" after all. My personal take is, if you still have friends you knew as a kid, you have had a meaningful and successful life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fire In The Hole: A Year in the Life of the World's Sorriest Stuntwoman by Colleen Kelli

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by iUniverse

I truly enjoyed this hilarious yet edgy book, Colleen Kelli had me laughing in the first paragraph, and in the next paragraph sensitive to the pain of the breakup of her relationship. Like so many people, the split between Colleen, nicknamed "Pea" by her girlfriend and partner, whose nickname is Pickle, comes in a standoff where Pickle takes a stance and says if that's what you want just go! And so it goes, with every kind of emotion, as this actress decides she hates Los Angeles and wants to move to Albuquerque. If that weren't enough personal trauma, her sister has just committed suicide.

Our heroine is definitely not your typical girl-next-door type.  She comes from a dysfunctional family, lacks confidence, and converses with an alter-ego named Trevor in her mind.  On the other hand, maybe Trevor is a steadying influence or guardian angel. Classed as a memoir, some is true, some is mostly true and some is strictly fiction, and what a fascinating imagination it is!

Her efforts and excuses, hopes of success and failure at the same time, really come to light once she auditions as a stuntwoman... no, actress, ...no, stuntwoman it is, at a Western Town theme park, Gunsmoke Gulch. I’ve seen a Western Town theme park, and Gunsmoke Gulch sounds so familiar! The description certainly fits.

The characters are somewhere between misfit, accident prone, Shakespearean actor, and bizarre. Not Colleen, though, she is just a sensitive mass of confusion, bordering on the flip side of calm and rational. This motley group is one part family, one part support, one part zany and totally madcap, the whole becomes great fun. In Albuquerque she has been staying at her cousin's home, but as she starts her training, she moves out; well, kind of. Colleen heads back to L.A. to retrieve her belongings, moves her furniture into her new place in Albuquerque, then goes back to her cousin's while they’re out of town for a week, because they have air-conditioning, TV, and food.

There is so much underlying the humour in this book, I'm not sure I can really do it justice. It's a wonderful book, easy and fun to read, hilarious in spots, and heartbreaking in others as Colleen flounders her way through the miasma of her new workplace, learning a new vocabulary as she joins the others in the crew, doing everything from washing toilets to working stunts. All the crew have their own quirks and dysfunctions from Shakespeare-spewing Quint to "Murphy's Law" Bob.

The biggest problem at work that Colleen has, though, is being trained by Doyle. By the end of the first week, she is well into her training of making bombs, followed by punching on the chin, kicking in the groin (harmlessly), and trying to avoid learning how to fall off a two-story building.  Shades of Metropolis, every move is timed like clockwork! She is so tied up in time that she can't sleep. Soon Doyle is determined to have her hanging on a 30 foot flagpole mounted atop the hotel, three stories high. He is installing a flexible flagpole meant to "break", swinging her out toward the audience, where she is to "slip" and fall. The book reminds me of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

She has already had enough of trying to fall off roofs without breaking her neck. But under all this weirdness is a very depressed woman, one who finally seeks help.  As she tries to find herself again, her personal life is falling to pieces.  Behind all the laughs there is grief and insecurity, much like the adage of clowns hiding sadness.  This is what I mean by so much going on in the book, all taking place within one year, hence the title, that nothing is cut and dried.  Fortunately for us, the readers, her life is all laid out for us, and like so many others with similar problems, we have to laugh at what life has tricked us with. Colleen's quick wit is wonderful. This is an enjoyable and insightful read, you never know what to expect next and everything is a surprise.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bader Field by Carl David

Reviewed for Review The Book
Published by Nightengale Press


This book is biographical although that is not its main purpose. First and foremost, it is a plea to young people primarily, but to anyone, that suicide is not an answer to anyone. With the premature death of his older brother, with whom the author has had an exceptionally close relationship, much of the early part of the book gives an insider look at how this death touches and affects everyone who ever knew him. Bruce had everything to live for to the eye of all beholders, but he failed to let anyone into his inner struggles, whatever they may have been.

Too many who are on the edge of this precipice feel that they cannot burden their families and friends with their existence rather than talking to someone, anyone, no matter how large or small the perceived straw that would break them. They must learn to realize that there will be far more of a burden, and blaming of selves, than could ever crush those same people by sharing their feelings, deeds, or whatever overwhelms them.

The book actually begins with the death of Sam David, Carl's father, which takes us on the journey of memories and hence to the suicide of Bruce as an integral part of the memories. Carl David, through his memories, wounds, and lifelong struggle with "why" and "is it my fault?" demonstrates how much of a burden is placed on those who knew and loved Bruce. Though few families seem to share the closeness and love of the David family, the suicide did happen.  But this is not a sad book, it is meaningful, historical, and brings to mind an age gone by as Carl takes the reader through his memories from the 1950s on. Great memories of days gone by he shared with Bruce, memories of growing up with an amazing bond with his father, a lifetime of good memories.

The sudden death of his father at the age of 58, while on a buying trip in England, once again throws the family in turmoil. This event, as fraught with sorrow and  blame as the death of Bruce, almost puts his mother over the edge, adding to the anxiety. But this also brings a wealth of memories, although always with that sadness that clings. By this time, Carl has been married less than a year. Some people would call it paranormal, others would call it echoes, or a passing thought, but a feeling of the presence of the two departed makes itself known many times, a feeling of connection, and sometimes a warning.

Aside from the fears of mortality and loss, the book is full of the love, and the closeness this family has.  There is a bit of history of how the David David  Gallery, and the gallery is another theme throughout the book. This is where Carl learned the art business, along with his older brother Alan. When their father died so suddenly of a heart attack, the two brothers took over the Gallery.  When Carl's boys were old enough to show interest in the workings of the business, they, too, were eventually running the family business.

Another theme throughout the book is flying. Sam David was an excellent pilot and had his own Aztec plane, teaching the teen-aged Carl how to fly. Carl's memories flow on the hours spent with his Pop in the air. Carl lost his interest in flying when his father died, but after many years of not realizing how much time he spent trying to be like his father to keep his memory alive, he and his wife instead took to boating. This was probably the most major event to change the direction of his dwelling on the past. No longer did he dwell, but enjoyed the memories for what they were.

This book is a testament to handling whatever is thrown at you; not only that, but how to sort out the good from the tragic, incorporate those memories and go on. Carl chose to write the memories as a way for his sons to know their grandfather, who and what he was and the gentle, all-encompassing love and compassion he represented. This is perhaps his greatest gift.

Note: The David David Gallery is still in existence, and some of the works of art that Carl speaks of in his book can be seen on their website and Carl's

Friday, October 8, 2010

Maps and Shadows by Krysia Jopek

Although this book is a novel, it is a story told from the hearts of four people of a family of five, beginning with the brutal Soviet invasion of Poland, essentially the first day of World War II, followed by the Germans and the subsequent deportation of its former citizens, this book is an eye-opener to what it is like to have no country. For Poland has disappeared from the globe before and is about to be wiped off the map again.

The story is so terrible and the writing so lyrical, the juxtaposition emphasizes both the interrupted and horror-filled lives with the beauty of the writing.  This book is about a part of the war that is not often told. This was a fitting way to tell it.  I learned a lot from this small book that larger tomes never told me. Each person, except the youngest, tells their story separately throughout the book. Even though the family is separated several times, you know it is always together in their minds, hopes and dreams. They share a past, present, and a hope for the future even when hope seems lost.

Interspersed throughout the book are poems, beautiful poems. Krysia Jopek through her poems and through her novel shows how very talented she is.  I am thankful for the opportunity to "know" this family and the hardships faced by the Polish people as they are moved like pawns from the frozen bleakness of Siberia, and thrust into the equally bleak heat of Africa. It is a wonder that anyone survived. And, of course, many did not.

This is a wonderful book of a little-known time at the beginning and running through the entire time of the war. So much could not be said through the ensuing years because of the traumatic events some remember too clearly, and some have put away somewhere where they hope they will never recall it again.  I definitely recommend this book on several levels, especially for the writing.

An interview with Krysia.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Organ Grinder and The Monkey by Sam Moffie

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Xlibris

I found this book unsettling, not in my comfort zone, although I can see there is humor, angst, poverty, imagination, unique characters, believability and hope. The story is mostly either in conversation or thoughts. Although I found the one-liners by Constance got tired very quickly, it seemed right. I loved the comical efforts to keep the memory of Dean Martin alive, Seymour's father's obsession. Seymour's Italian parents are divorced, his father gay and his mother fixated by the fact. It is very uncomfortable for him as a child to have overnight visits with his father, and yet daytime visits run fairly smoothly. The scene in which the character of Seymour is traumatized was difficult for me to read.

What I liked about the book was the building and shaping of the three main characters, Seymour, Irving, and Constance, from their struggling beginnings in the small, decrepit towns of Ohio and Massachusetts, to their lives in New York. The connection between Seymour and his "Papa" (grandfather) is a great comfort to this young impressionable boy, and a steadying influence for him. From him, Seymour became well-versed in the history of the town. With a chance to get away from Steubenville with an inheritance, Seymour's goal is to become a veterinarian, for which he has a special talent.

Irving, the son of radicals, mother Jewish and father Irish, gets assistance from a policeman in his old town, and decides to set his goal on being the "best cop in New York", a handsome goal that certainly has it's pitfalls in a world of corruption, but as a person who believes everything is a conspiracy, he has a better chance at keeping clean than most. Constance's ambition from her earliest days is to be a dancer with the Rockettes. Constance, raised by her mother alone, is both talented and beautiful. Her beauty plays against her in New York. These three innocents have never been out of their small towns before.

All three of our unlikely protagonists are very different with simply small town life and college as their connection. The novel is complex, informative, and shows us a slice of life that is almost impossible to overcome. Sam Moffie is definitely an exceptional author with his own style. Events throughout the book will take the reader through hilarity, tragedy, and determination against the odds.

Even the therapist is not altruistic, she is expecting to get a best-selling book out of her sessions with Seymour. He has now been diagnosed with split personality. Complications and changes soon begin moving thick and fast. Irving attends Al-Anon as well as therapy, trying to deal with his drug and alcohol addicted wife. Constance has everything she needs to be a Rockette and/or stand-out actress, but with no resume, she is now the victim of playing small parts off-off Broadway, and full-time dancer at the strip-club, S.T.R.I.P. It is hard not to become involved in the lives of these characters, a sign of a good author. This is definitely not a "feel-good" book but the intricacy and readers' fascination with every aspect of life, it is one of the best of its type. The book is intense, raw, with acts of deviant sexual extremes, and politically incorrect; shocking yet insightful. It speaks to a time of corruption, desperation, and victims of circumstance.

The characters, their dreams, their trials, their achievements all stand up to the test. The changes in Seymour's life midway through the book, build the story to the final outcome, as the story's focus speeds up. Interestingly, it seems at this point much like a thriller with cheat sheets, the reader knows who, but the characters don't. Few people other than the therapist come out ahead. “The Organ Grinder and The Monkey” was a "Best Books, USA Book News" Award Finalist. In the version I read, there are some Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussions in the back.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Department of Temporal Adjustment


Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Sun Break Publishing


Now, this is an author with a great imagination and fun, too. The kind of person who would be a great friend. Certainly, I'm basing this on her book, but no one could write that way without having a great sense of humor and fantasy.  I refer, of course, to Veronica R. Tabares, the author of Department of Temporal Adjustment. With this title, I just had to read the book and I was not disappointed. Vanessa's life both in her reality and in her mental wanderings is hilarious in places, completely serious in others, and involves constant conversations with herself, a trait most mothers with small children pick up very quickly. I found myself identifying with Vanessa on all kinds of levels.

Vanessa is a very happily married mother of three little girls and a prince of a husband. She is working toward her degree in Archaeology. Between her hours and her husband's hours working on his degree, they are still able to have one or the other home with the girls.

The fun begins when the family sees a group of people dressed in clothing of other eras, but seemingly unaware of their surroundings. Though that is odd in itself, Vanessa begins to see these same people most evenings, sometimes in town, sometimes on campus. Considering she works alone at night in the basement at the university on her archaeology projects, her mind takes her through all kinds of possibilities, building from maybe '...an acting group', right up to '...a bunch of terrorists'.  I said the author had a rich imagination!  Once she sees this impossible group emerge from the janitor's closet, she is dumbfounded, but also fearful.

This story is like deja vu in reverse. She suffers confusing memory losses, and though some things trigger a slight memory that wafts away on the wind, other memories at home seem to be normal activities that are forgotten, fortunately for short periods. Again and again she is told she has "been here before" but has absolutely no memory of it. Put it down to Vanessa's inquisitiveness, she goes where she shouldn't, and just what is that humming sound she hears every night she works late? What goes on in that closet? How can so many people get in there? This book reads as though it is all told from the mind. It's a mystery to be solved, a story of family love, a living potential, fantasy, and a secret that must be kept at all costs. A very enjoyable and quick read.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Immune: Book Two of The Rho Agenda by Richard Phillips

This second book of the Rho Agenda certainly kept my attention going at high speed. I suppose it could be read as a stand-alone, but because the story continues with no break and to get a real feel of understanding where the story has been and how it got to where it is, I do recommend that the first book in the series be read before tackling this one. You will be very glad you did because it sets up and prepares you for everything that is about to come.

Picking up immediately from where "The Second Ship: Book One of the Rho Agenda" left off, "Immune: Book Two of the Rho Agenda" is much more active and serious. A roller-coaster ride of a lifetime with no tracks! What is your talent or special ability? Imagine if it was increased a thousandfold?  This is one of the many facets of the book. What if you find out your enemy has also increased specialties a thousandfold? Although "Immune" is a much darker story than "The Second Ship", that darkness was carefully set up in the first book and follows through, building to threshold on threshold. There seems to be no stopping it.  Hang on to your hats, everyone, it's going to be a bumpy ride!

Our three teen protagonists, Heather, Jen and Mark, have become even  more in control of and more adept at their exceptional talents. Their focus and brilliance is amazing, but still they maintain the usual ups and downs of normal teens. I found myself wishing I had the same power of speed reading as Mark, one of his newly learned abilities. The speed reading would have made it possible for me to read this book without stopping to eat or sleep. In fact, I did forget to eat, but sleep overtook me. Richard Phillips has an incredible way of bringing his readers right into the story, one can't help but be involved. What an encompassing book, what a fantastic series! Tender moments between heart-stopping terror; horror and conspiracy, but at the same time a bonding between friends; death and new life; all there and more. There are constantly new things discovered on the Rho Ship, but Jen has shut down the Second Ship to save it. Everything from drug lords to heroes to good and evil in high places, even good and evil between the two ships, and our young heroes are on the run.

New characters are introduced, some old and new characters disappear, "poof"! Emotional ups and downs are enough to keep any reader on his/her toes. This is one very gripping tale. The story is hungry, it wants all your attention and devours you. This book crosses so many genres, or what we may think of as genres, I believe Richard Phillips could write about anything and fascinate the reader!  This series is an absolute winner! We're now left hanging, breathless, wondering what will come with the next book! One thing we know, it will pack a wallop.

My review on "The Second Ship: Book One of the Rho Agenda"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Woman in the Wing by Jean Sheldon

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Bast Press

I am so excited by this book and very pleased to recommend it. It is well-written, intense, and true to itself. Jean Sheldon really knows how to tell a story. Taking place after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it is a work of fiction in a very realistic presentation. Based on the work of women in the United States during wartime, it centers around the work of the "Rosie the Riveters" as they came to be known, and the women pilots in the WASP. Jean Sheldon has given us an insight into the personal and work lives of these women, reflecting the attitudes of the time, and giving us a good dose of sabotage and espionage as well.

"The Woman in the Wing" grabbed my attention and held it until even after I finished the book. I think this is the longest I ever sat with one book trying to read it all at once.  If it weren't for requiring nourishment and sleep, I'm sure I would have done just that. This is not something I say often.

There are not many works of fiction that feature the women, although the author gives some references on-line for non-fiction resources at the back of the book. I even found myself looking up some of the planes mentioned after reading the descriptions!  The story primarily follows the paths of two very good friends and neighbours who want to fly and manage to get the training for it. But Char, our chief protagonist, has run into the male-domination theme so prevalent in the this era, and she is told she will not get her wings because of something distasteful to her which she flat out refuses. I, being a child of the 1940s, applaud Ms. Sheldon for incorporating this imbalance of humanity that was very current at that time and still persists in some ways today.

Enter the FBI searching for Nazi spies in the warehouses and hangars. There appear to be a number of them sabotaging the planes being built and those in use. Since Char is being "punished" for her refusal of the Major's proposal, she has been sent to be a riveter, along with her friend Max.  They are soon required to watch out for suspicious behaviour and report it to the FBI. They know there are FBI agents working in the facility too, but they don't know who they are.

Accidents have increased in the facility over the past 3 months and are becoming more personal than just slowing production. It soon escalates to planes crashing, equipment falling, and murder, with deaths and injuries piling up, building from fear to terror for the women. Character-driven, the plot accelerates through the whole book until the reader may find he/she is out of breath. I highly recommend this book for its research, subject matter, characterizations, and its exciting, suspenseful finish.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Not an Ill Wind by Nancy Gettelman

I learned a lot in an easy-going way, much easier, in fact, than the people who populated this story. I refer to the very interesting trip to Tibet, the amount of information about the country, the history, and Buddhism, while the travelers taking the trip suffered greatly on their actual journey.

Therein lies the mystery, always on the edge of the story causing a feeling of discomfort without an event to explain it. Who are the two Chinese men who the travelers catch glimpses of along the way? Why are there no reservations made for their journey? Why did their host and travel guide turn the group over to his Sherpa wife who obviously does not have a clue to handling a tour, nor does she speak any English. These are the questions that kept me going right through the book, the discomfort growing quickly and the mystery slowly building.

This was a most interesting read, entertaining and teaching, with a satisfying final solution when the reader discovers that most of the travelers are not who we imagined; some were not who they said they were, others were taking the trip for different reasons. Even our main character is keeping mum about what she hopes to gain other than the insights of the trip itself. What she hopes will come of this trip are answers to a relationship, how true her feelings are in this older woman/younger man relationship, and whether she should stop it or pursue it. But the reader must read to the very end to learn what that resolution will be, quite apart from the resolution of the mystery.
Nancy Gettelman has a very distinct style of writing, like a conversation with a friend relating incidents that have happened to her within the story. Her books are diverse. For a good read, informative, mysterious, and satisfying, I highly recommend this delightful and adventurous author.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves by Larry Seeley


Reviewed for Read the Book
Published by: Eloquent Books

Larry Seeley begins his book with a somewhat exciting prologue, then drops back to two years previously, setting characters, setting plot, and the breakup of a major scam. As head of a company that built Tribal casinos, our protagonist Jack Sloan, unwittingly becomes sucked into the scam. While trying to escape, he kills two men in self-defense. With his own money, he makes sure that as many investors in the scam as possible get their money back, but he is unable to finish what he started for the Tribe. He feels responsible for the loss of the Tribe's funding and can't free himself of his self-imposed guilt.

From that point the book seems to slow down temporarily, as Jack falls into his own personal hell and back, then gradually builds his new life in Santa Fe. Here the book and Jack begin to take a turn for the better. Although he anticipates payback from the unavoidable murders of two of the main players in the scam, he begins to enjoy life again, yet he stays alert. In his life in Santa Fe new characters are introduced to the story, adding friends to his life.

Suspense is always in the background of the book, sometimes wriggling through to the forefront but mostly just there, day and night, hauntingly. Some rough sex and language in the book, but certainly no more than one would expect from the characters involved.
Characterizations play a major role in the growth of the book and many defining moments are a result of this. All characters are full-blown, although some harbour surprising secrets of their own. The more I read, the more I got into the book, after my earlier thoughts of "let's get into this!" As the book picked up speed, so did my reading.

Once in Santa Fe, Jack purchases a ranch and a bar. The bar soon became a meeting place for his new friends, including the Shaman John Thunder. The person who really captured his attention was the new waitress, Darlene, young, smart, beautiful and unattached. Darlene also lost her aunt through the machinations of the prime character in the scam. Eventually, Jack has a large number of friends including his cook and handyman prepared and determined to stand by him if necessary. Life seems to be turning around for him, then his past starts visiting him and his nightmares become real. Not really his past but the people who dragged him into near oblivion with their scam. One by one they begin to show up and he knows they will soon make their move and come after him.

By this time, the story is going full bore and coming full circle. Everything is building up steam for a major blowout, but where will it be? The ranch, the bar, or the house where all the scam team are currently lodged? The book comes to a surprising yet satisfying ending on several counts. There is lots of action, lots of identities/characters, plotting, good guys and bad guys, each trying to out-think the other or try to decide what the other is thinking. I found that once I really got into the book, I rarely set it down. If you enjoy this book, you are in luck, the author is already at work on a sequel.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seven Cities of Greed by Jean Sheldon

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Bast Press

A very entertaining treasure hunt and thriller, somewhat reminiscent of the "Sisterhood" series by Fern Michaels with its mixed group of heroes.  Jean Sheldon has written an adventure based on legend and history from the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s and the discovery of a journal presumably dated from 1539.

The reader is brought into the story very quickly with the abduction of Jacqueline Tracy, who has unwittingly purchased this journal at a book auction because she liked the carved leather cover. She has a tendency to forget about auction purchases until they are delivered and so is unable to tell her kidnappers where the journal is.

Jackie's friends, almost all middle-aged including Jackie, soon realize she is missing. The police won't do anything until there is more information, so the women turn to Jackie's friend Nicole, an ex-cop and now private investigator. Little do they know the abuse Jackie is going through, nor the kindness of one of her captors, a giant of a man.

Her band of merry girls manages to rescue her, but they are incredulous when Jackie hires Chuck, the captor's 7'4" assistant, to be her bodyguard, and she won't take "no" for an answer. She is sure he is a good man and didn’t want any part in the kidnapping but had his own reasons for being involved. What impressed her was his kindness and his assistance in helping with her escape. Their group now numbering six including Jackie's Aunt Beth and Chuck, starts trying to sort out what the kidnapping was all about. While Jackie was away, a parcel that had been overlooked in a delivery truck finally made its arrival, and of course, it is the journal being sought after by somebody pulling the strings in the background regarding Jackie's kidnapping.  Someone with a great deal of money and a ruthless greed.

Gwen, a psychiatrist in their close-knit group of friends, is able to translate most of the ancient Spanish, touching off a decision to go to New Mexico. Several things happen that hurry them on their way. Our modern group sets off on a vacation which, though exciting, is not at all the kind of excitement they expected or wanted.

There are several interesting characters in this book, not all in a good way. Our motley but hardy crew is made up with Jackie and her adventurous aunt Beth. Beth Tracy has raised Jackie in Chicago from childhood, the city where all their friends live, but still maintains the house in New Mexico where Jackie lived before her parents died. Pat, whose partner recently died, lives with her cat Zodiac above the bookstore Jackie owns. Nicole, the P.I., Gwen, the psychiatrist, and Chuck, Jackie's new friend, bodyguard and excellent cook. Then there are the "bad" guys under the thumb and threat of one psychotic "Conquistador".

This book surprised me. I learned some history along the way, the legend of the "streets paved with gold" as understood from the journal, that middle-age can be exciting, loyal friendship is a wonderful thing to have, and when you are being chased by a madman always watch your back!  Ms. Sheldon has mixed adventure, terror, history, and the beauty of New Mexico into a story I didn't want to put down. The characters, even the worst of them, molded a certain fascination into the story. I feel with these characters she has the makings of a series, though I have no idea if that is in the author's future. She has written a variety of books and possibly prefers stand-alone stories. I want to keep my eye on this author's output, I'm sure it will be interesting.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press

When I first requested this book for review, little did I know I would be reading it and beginning my review amidst forest fires, smoky air, and strong wind gusts! My interest in requesting the book is twofold: I recall Hurricane Frieda ripping through Vancouver, B.C. in 1962, a very rare event for that area; my Dad's cousin was the weatherman who was first to recognize and forecast it, returning to work to do so on TV in Portland, Ore. Weather has always fascinated me, not only because "everybody talks about the weather"!

"Warnings" is very easy to read for the layman. I was shocked to learn how lacking some of the basic things we now take for granted were, such as no tornado warnings as recently as the 1950s, in some areas of the U.S. even more recently. Not a hint! How many lives must have been lost needlessly in past years? Mike Smith has done his research, has lived his research, and knows how to deliver it. The book is historical, accurate, and personal. I was hooked on the Introduction which primes the reader for the main event, or in this case events, to come in this book.

Smith gradually builds from its early beginnings the study and workings of tornadoes in terms anyone can understand. The subject is fascinating as he writes it. By two-thirds through his book I am amazed that the few trips I have taken by plane were successful strictly on the basis of weather! The growth of knowledge, and the way that growth comes about is exciting and tragic at the same time. When the investigations turn to storm-chasing, the reader learns just how important this scientific information-gathering becomes, not just another daredevil stunt among adventure seekers as we might see on TV.

I found the information on Dr. Fujita's methods and discoveries to be well explained and the ignorance of the official weather prognosticators in their cocooned refusal to accept his discoveries almost inevitable, yet unacceptable and disastrous. Even when changes were made, neither pilots nor airport control staff were made aware of impending tornadoes, or "microbursts" (explained in the book) until very recently, a ruling referred to by Mike Smith as "bureaucratic myopia". This is non-fiction, but gave me the shivers in the same way as a thriller fiction would, especially with a very close call that was averted not by a weather warning, but because of a power outage at the airport just prior to a landing, causing the pilot to abort the landing.

Did you ever wonder how the newspapers got their weathermaps so up-to-date? Did you ever wonder how Doppler Radar came into being and how it works? These are questions I'd asked myself through the years and they are covered in this impressive book. This is not a large book, nor do you have to be a meteorologist or savant to read it. Nor does it deal exclusively with tornadoes. It is all written in simple language. There are also a number of photos in the book. While this book deals mostly with the U.S., it is of global significance.

Not surprisingly, the most critical event in the book is Hurricane Katrina. Among other things we learn what could go wrong with the forecasts’ timely releases, what did go wrong and why, and how they tried to get the evacuation process going while there was still time. The survivors were literally 'hung out to dry' as buck-passing and meals in high end restaurants took precedent over people. How many more could have survived if it weren't for the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo and selfishness? The night of August 31, 2005 should be etched in their memories forever as deaths of survivors began to pile up. If bureaucracy hadn't fumbled the ball, the meteorological scientists would have netted it.

This is a fascinating book, full of suspense, telling it like it is, and a great learning experience without realizing just how much of what you read will stay with you. I highly recommend this book, it opened my eyes to the difficulties people 'in the know' deal with not just occasionally, but on-going in their efforts to keep us all as safe as possible. We know that paramedics, firemen, rescue teams all do this as part of the job, but we rarely think of the background to catastrophe. Winds, flash flooding, and the deadliest for a city below sea level: a storm surge. All closely watched. One last tornado is included: Greensburg, a town that disappeared, but has risen again. As an added bonus, this book is interactive. There are symbols scattered throughout which direct readers to a website where they can find videos, related information, and more.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sounds of Murder: a Pamela Barnes Acoustic Mystery by Patricia Rockwell

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Cozy Cat Press


Patricia Rockwell is an academic with an extensive portfolio of publications, journal articles, textbooks and presentations. She holds a doctorate in Communications. This is her first book of fiction. With her solid and prolific background in academics, it would be easy to think the transition to fiction might be a bit weighty, or overly academic.  This is absolutely not true of Dr. Rockwell.  She has written a cozy novel in an untapped area of the study of sound waves that is very definitely readable.  I chose to review this book because I'm fascinated by all kinds of science, and love cozy mysteries. I was not disappointed.

"Sounds of Murder" does take place in a university, and sprinkled throughout, the politics of a university come dashing through. But this is a murder mystery set in a faculty dealing with communications. As in all cozy mysteries, there are several interwoven characterizations. Anyone who has gone to, or worked in, a college or university will appreciate the diverse personalities they find there.

Our heroine, Pamela Barnes, specializes in Acoustics, the study of sound waves, voice patterns, and basically anything to do with sound.  She teaches this at a graduate school in the university.  On this night, she has a  three-hour class and has just made sure that her student assistant, Kent, has locked the Communications Lab before they go to class, since the school is usually empty at this time of the evening and there is a great deal of very expensive equipment in there.

The author's characters range from meek to extreme behaviour. Dr. Charlotte Clark is one of the latter and very quickly the story takes off with a terrible argument between Dr. Clark and the Head of the Department, Mitchell Marks. Pamela has just come into the front of the main office to get her mail and the strength of the argument is coming right through the Head's office door. She can hear it, although she can't hear the words, When she hears Charlotte getting louder as she approaches the door, she hurries out of the office and into class.

On leaving at the end of the evening, Kent is sent to double-check that the door to the lab is locked.  Next thing she hears is Kent running and calling her to come to the lab, he has found the door wide open and a body slumped at one of the special computers. Now our story is really underway as police arrive and question them both together and separately, only with a brief pause for Pamela to call her husband Rocky to let him know she would be late.

From this point on, the action begins to build, everybody seems to have a motive of some type, but as well, we are witness to all Pamela's thought processes, which I found to be unique and fascinating. Her mind goes over and over but jumps to inane things in between just as a person who has met with trauma would do.  Here I began to have the feeling of being inside her head, a remarkable piece of storytelling. This happens a few times as the investigation moves along, but the reader almost always knows what Pamela herself is thinking. Though this may be anticipated to be monotonous, in reality it most certainly is not; there is even some humor to be found in this method. One thing she is thinking is that she may well be the only person available with the expertise to possibly solve this case or at the very least present compelling evidence, because she has a small sound byte on a CD that she knows she is the most likely to be able to analyze it.

Meanwhile, Rocky and the lead Columbo-like Detective Shoop both try to stop her from "sticking her nose in" but she just can't leave it alone.  This is a well-written mystery, with some unique features. I do enjoy finding cozies or any book that has something new and different. This appears to be the first in a series, and I certainly hope so.  There is humor and pathos, surprises, lots of interaction of characters, and a most tempting house to come home to. Regardless of the murder and political academia, this is essentially a warm friendly story, a perfect cozy to curl up with.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chapter & Hearse: a Booktown Mystery by Lorna Barrett

Lorna Barrett writes with a flow that takes the reader into the story as eye witness to the events. You are there, it feels real. What I like best about reading a series is the character development and consistency; you soon feel you know these people personally, and Lorna is very good at giving her readers those characters. "Chapter & Hearse" is the fourth in the Booktown series.

An explosion rocks the little town of Stoneham, completely demolishing one of the heritage buildings as well as the store manager, and giving the biggest tourist draw in town the look of a mouthful of teeth with one missing. What's more, the property is sold within four days of the explosion, which naturally causes our heroine, amateur sleuth and bookseller Tricia Miles, an itch in her sleuthing bones. Fortunately, her ever-faithful employees and friends, Mr. Everett and Ginny, are on hand to mind her store "Haven't Got A Clue", while she pursues the case. Three men from her past tend to interrupt her concentration on sleuthing, especially the Chief who definitively tells her to not put herself in the way of danger.

Tricia's sister Angelica, owner of both the Cookery bookstore, next to Tricia's bookstore, and the eatery "Booked for Lunch" across the road, is out of town through most of this book  She is out on a book-signing tour for her cookbook, "Easy-Does-It Cooking", but hurries back when her boyfriend Bob is not only an 'almost' victim in his own home, but also suspected of the crime already being investigated.

There are many surprises in "Chapter & Hearse", misunderstandings, outright lies, misdirections, suspicious accidents, several suspects, tangled connections, and a funny scene where Tricia tries to bake. Lots for the reader to chew on. There are also recipes included. If you are looking for a good cozy murder mystery, you will not be disappointed in this book. Once again, Lorna Barrett has delivered an absorbing and extremely satisfying read. Very enjoyable and hard to put down, a real treat.

The above review based on Advance Reading Copy.
Read my reviews of the first two of the series here: Murder is Binding and Bookmarked for Death.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Second Ship: Book One of the Rho Agenda by Richard Phillips

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Synergy Books

Exceptional first book in the Rho Agenda series! I was grabbed in the Prologue and wasn't let go.  Great reading for young people, sci fi buffs and UFO fans, amazing yet made plausible, some perhaps even probable, BUT you do not have to be a fan of sci-fi to thoroughly enjoy this book, it covers so many genres.  Richard Phillips is an author to be reckoned with, absolutely incredible.  He knows exactly what he is saying and knows how to say it.

For those readers who are UFOnauts, it all begins in Groom Lake, Nevada, site of the infamous Area 51.  Book One of the Rho Agenda, takes place in and around Los Alamos, New Mexico.  I am old enough to recall the "Roswell Incident" when it happened, so the book is of particular interest to me. However, don't be led astray by that personal fact, this is not about Roswell.  This is The Second Ship.  A model plane is the method through which this ship will be discovered; not just a model plane but one carrying a camera as an experiment. This model plane just happens to crash in some difficult terrain and must be retrieved.

Three high school students, while retrieving their plane, have stumbled across a cave which hides the back entrance, or rather entry point, where an alien ship buried itself when crashing. A highly sophisticated camouflaging device almost thwarts them, but no, they can actually walk right through it, disappearing as they go in and completely out of sight once they are in. As they turn around, they see the back of the ship which they feel must have been able to generate the cloaking devise at the mouth of the cave. There is a gaping hole where it appears the ship was shot down, perhaps by the Rho ship. 

The Rho ship crashed in the next year after the Roswell event, and has been undergoing tests in either another cavern or another part of the same cave. This ship was also damaged but whether from the crash or a collision or shot down is unknown. The authorities, from several different areas of security, presumably only know of the Rho ship, a cigar-shaped monster. This second ship the teens have just discovered is round, has a mind of its own and is only too ready to give portions of it to the newcomers. The problem with being a high school student though, is that there are certain restrictions on your free time, which makes it difficult for them to spend much time with the ship, but when they do, miraculous things happen.

Each student already excels in specific areas: Heather in mathematics, her next-door neighbours the twins Jennifer, excelling in technology, and Mark, into sports. Now, having investigated a number of areas in the ship and done some tests, they have found these skills amplified by multiples.  They must now play down their skills so they won't draw attention to themselves and raise suspicion.  Soon, Heather realizes that she is being 'stalked' by a skinny tattered man who appears homeless and possibly dangerous. Somehow he knows that they have been to the Second Ship.

This book has it all; humour, terror, alien ships, corruption, love, kidnapping, good, evil, secret agents, exciting, conspiracy, greed, thrills and chills, intrigue, deep dark secrets, action, adventure, and great cliff-hangers, especially the last one. The writing style keeps the reader in a constant race against time, running several parts of the story in chapters of their own.  This is not as difficult as it sounds, I found it easier to keep track of the parts that make up the whole this way.  Other styles would have left me floundering. The book is extremely readable, technical terms seem easy to grasp for the novice, and the action never stops, very fast paced. "The Second Ship" leads into a "must have" feeling for the second book of the series, "Immune".  This series definitely promises to carry on like lightning.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jamie and The Angel: Meeting her Guardian Angel by Carol Guy

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Marvelous Spirit Press

A beautifully illustrated childrens book (illus. Richa Kinra), Carol Guy has touched on a subject that has had many a parent scratch his/her head wondering what their child is talking about. Almost every child below the age of 6 and sometimes even older has had an "invisible friend" or has claimed to see people who aren't there.  How do you explain this to your children?  What can you say to comfort them and let them know it's alright to talk about it?

This story is just the right blend of comfort and level of reading for sharing with your children. Jamie is very troubled with what she is seeing that others don't appear to see. It makes her feel shy and isolated from her peers. Her parents told her it was all her imagination, which made her feel there was something wrong with her.

Praying one night, she asked for help. She told God how she felt and asked what she could do. As she lay in bed that night, hoping He would answer her prayers, a bright light filled her room. As it came closer she saw it was an Angel.  The angel comforts her with her words and explanation, an explanation that was easy for Jamie to understand. This is a book that resonates with simplicity and innocence. No one should be made to feel different because of what they perceive, what is in front of their eyes, or what they are hearing. Life is all about learning, and some learning curves are different. Some paths switch direction and some stay in a straight line, in other words, who are we to decide there is something not quite right about someone who sees things, whether adult or child. Most children leave it behind but a few do not, and they are our fortunate future.

After the end of the story, Carol Guy has written Guidelines for Parents that could be very helpful in dealing with this "gift" that so many children have for only a short while. I as a grandmother found this book to be an excellent resource, both story and guidelines, because my granddaughter was one of these special children. The story itself is only 14 pages plus 1 page of Guidelines and 1 page about the author and illustrator.  A wealth of comfort and understanding in one little book. I loved this beautiful little book and highly recommend it to all ages who have or know children, or who still maintain these "gifts". Everyone can benefit.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lord of the Rams: the Greatest Story Never Told

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher: Trafford Publishing

A slice of life from a young Irish rapscallion, or, how to get by with the gift of gab and no money. Ronan Smith has authored a mostly biographical story of what life was like for several school friends growing up in the rural village of Munterconnaught, Co. Cavan, Ireland in the 1980s. Hard-working at home, once school was in it was fun and games. In typical Irish colloquialism he gives a very funny accounting of this jolly group of misfits who charm and scorn their way through each level of school, each inspiring another, which rather than finally battling it out, bonds them closer than ever.  No teacher is sacred, all become the focus of their warped and sometimes hilarious pranks and jokes.

There is a naming ritual the boys turned to and every one of them is renamed, Ronan being "the Rams".  Rams had a way of "shortening" names by adding to them to confuse matters more. Living in a poor rural area means you make your own fun, and that is exactly what they did.  Most of them were exceptionally smart though playing it down, particularly the Rams, which meant they were quite able to verbally run circles around their instructors. As probably the wittiest and the fastest thinker on his feet, the Rams was pretty much head honcho, hence the Lord of the Rams.

There was not much change in the hierarchy when the boys started college, sharing flats in Waterford and with the addition of weekend partying that eventually started on the next week almost as soon as the last week ended, the pattern was set.  Find a pub or bar that hadn't tossed them out yet, party until they are tossed out, then on to the next.  Flat 4A, what a home that became!  I'll not spill all the joys and sorrows of these times, read the book and relish the luck of the Irish to be able to talk their way out of everything, especially the Rams.  There seems no end to his vocal aspirations.

One might wonder how a whole book could be written around what appears to amount to one big drunk, but there is much more than meets the eye at first glance. This is a story of family, friendships that last a lifetime, of discovery, of life. A story of friends who will always get your back.  And a story of the Irish sense of self and home, not to mention the Irish sense of humour. With a poor background, you face life on your own terms, you are tenacious, connected, and never have to apologize for who you are. You know who you are and the rest of the world will come to know who you are, too. Your town is your family as much as your birth family.

Ronan Smith has written in a lighter vein a book that will be discovered to be much deeper than it appears at first glance.  A fun-loving story of growing up with all its foibles displayed.  Though not my kind of reading fodder, it was consistently well-written in its rough humour including a lot of bodily humour. Quirky, realistic and true to itself.  The characters are well fleshed out and begin to mature at varying rates as it should be. Probably aimed at college age.  Though the story begins in childhood, this book is not for children.