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.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Hot Dog Stand in the Himalayas by Deb Martin-Webster

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Authorhouse

A fabulous book for young and old, as we find ourselves back in our childhood right away. What wonderful memories this book will bring to those fortunate to have known a grandmother like Grandmom. The story really belongs to a three year old girl named Raelyn but her Grandmom always calls her Sammie because that's what she thinks is more to her personality.  Sammie narrates the story with a beautiful innocence and brings back all the magic we adult and even many teenagers have left behind us.  I am so pleased to have the opportunity to read the book.  With a title like "A Hot Dog Stand in the Himalayas", what else could I do, I knew I just had to read it. I think it was calling out to me personally.

Deb Martin-Webster must have somehow retained the magic of early youth, she is so on the mark! If I had a hat I would tip it!  She has a remarkable sense of turning imagination into reality. She has tapped into our souls and the child within, either what we were or what we wish we had been. Reading much like a diary, the story flows as conversations, shared secrets and jokes, wonderful camaraderie between the young Sammie and her grandparents Grandmom and Pop-pop. This is a story  for all ages: children will enjoy the thoughts and interactions of Sammie and her Grandmom, older readers will enjoy the storyline, the opportunities around them and ahead of them, and the mystery of "Falling Rock". Adults will remember an earlier, more innocent time, relationships, and recognize the value of imagination as quoted by Grandmom to Sammie, "It is if you believe it is."

Though short (this version is 96 pages), it is packed with life and covers four generations and 6 characters. In other words, this takes us from Sammie at 3 years to Sammie married, with a daughter of her own.  And so, the adventure continues with everything Sammie has learned from her mother and grandparents, and her daughter Krista's own relationship with Great Grandmom and Great "Pee-pop", her own first words for her great grandparents. I won't leave you wondering about Sammie's mother Nina, she is in the book, but this is Sammie's relationship with her grandparents and Nina is rarely mentioned except that the reader can guess that she has also that she shares this same imagination and belief in what she can do.  Where does the title come in?  Read the book, you'll be glad you did.  This is a great example of learning what textbooks can't tell you; learning about using your imagination to create a future for yourself, never say never. You learn while you don't even realize it. Perfect for kids to learn! I loved this book, and this author who obviously has a wonderful outlook.  I definitely want to read more of her books.  Deb Martin-Webster is a very special person, a force of loving and giving.  Highly recommended at any age.

Penny & Rio: The Mysterious Backyard Meeting

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Mirror Publishing

An award-winning debut adventure series for young children, this book not only gives the child a pair of unlikely investigators, but delivers a message as well. Much like a chapter book with very short chapters, it can be read to younger children, or used as an early reader. Jennifer Swanson is really onto something with this mystery series.

The two investigators, Penny and Rio, are two dogs with different personalities. When Penny discovers a mystery in their new backyard, she wants to get to the bottom of it, fast.  But Rio doesn't want to bother, saying it's not their business. When Penny sees a cat and an owl sitting and talking together she knows that this is not quite right. Birds and cats shouldn't be together, there has to be something more to it. And what about the other animals who seem to be involved, too?

Penny finds herself a hiding place where she can keep an eye on what is happening. She is careful because she has already been in trouble over the barking she did and had to sleep in the garage. Penny doesn't give up trying to solve the mystery, though.  When she overhears the plot, or part of it, she tries to talk to Fifi, the dog next door, to warn her about the animals' plans, but Fifi doesn't believe her.

This is an excellent book for children  Smaller than a regular chapter book, an early chapter book, the story has enough laughs, enough mystery, enough investigating to keep their interest, illustrations on almost every page, and a surprise ending, all in one lively little book. I know my grandchildren will be looking for the next one! Dog lovers especially should enjoy the antics of Penny and Rio, and the other animals. Illustrated by Rosita Schandy and Neal Wooten.  Recommended for children, parents and grandparents;
Ages 3-7

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

206 Bones by Kathy Reichs

Reviewed for Edwards Magazine Bookclub
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, Canada

Is Tempe Brennan losing her mind? Or is there something more sinister going on? Is she really responsible for things disappearing and the anthropological mistakes she is making? In this novel, someone is trying to discredit and possibly oust Tempe, and is doing a moderately good job of it in the beginning but that soon escalates. Kathy Reichs has a writing style that builds the tension throughout, and drives you on to discover what you will find at the end. No disappointment there!

She is accused of mishandling an autopsy by an unknown tipster. With the body exhumation she just attended she counted and bagged 206 bones, in other words all bones accounted for. But strangely when she comes to complete reconstruction of the body, and looks for the most accurate marker she knew could give a positive ID, she finds she is now down to 203 bones. Tempe is then accused of mishandling evidence; she requests that she be allowed back to the site to see if they really had been left behind, but is turned down. When the newest member of the team is allowed to recheck the exhumation site, she remarkably 'discovers' the bones. Missed diagnoses are brought to light by the oh-so-helpful young Dr. Briel, who has insinuated herself into almost everyone's work. Tempe must find out how she could have made an error worthy of a warning that "someone's out to get you". She is also beginning to doubt herself.

Cases are suddenly piling up of suspected murders of elderly women, but each died in a different manner, in a different location, and over a period of years. Is there a link or not? Throw in a few old bones dredged from a lake just to bring a little more excitement into the mix and you have a number of mysteries to gnaw on. ID'ing most will be an almost fruitless job, but Tempe is sure she is up to the task. Teaming up with her detective partner Ryan, they both link up with colleagues and associates in Chicago and other areas over the elderly deaths trying to find a common denominator other than that they are all elderly, but when they arrive in Chicago, Tempe finds herself already in hot water. With all the red herrings, sidetracks, and downright dirty tricks in this book, you just know you are going to enjoy going along for the ride. Who of the many possibilities is out to get Tempe, and just how far will he or she go?

In the version of "206 Bones" I'm reviewing, there is an essay with facts and explanations of some of the things Temperance talks about which I found to be very interesting as well. I appreciated learning (in an aside), a bit more about the 1990 "Oka Crisis" that we in the west didn't hear about on the news at the time. The interaction with Tempe's family and Ryan were pure entertainment. Another great forensic mystery by a person who knows what she's talking about, Kathy Reichs.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Whale Song by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Anyone who has heard the haunting sound of a whale's song will never forget it. So it is with this story, mystical, honest, haunting and wonderful. So emotional in fact, that I am writing this review while my eyes are still damp with tears. Tears of joy, tears of sorrow, and a great feeling of enlightenment and belonging. The rich blend of lifestyles from the prairies of Wyoming to Vancouver Island's rugged west coast in British Columbia, both very remote, bring together a family who has never seen an ocean to the very shores in their new home, and a traditional indian family whose roots go back many hundreds of years. The area around Bamfield is largely populated by the Huu-ay-aht Nation and the warmth of the people represented in this novel is passed on to us in a way that feels personal. Cheryl Kaye Tardif, you moved me. I read this straight through without setting it down once.

The story begins with eleven-year-old Sarah learning that her marine-biologist father has been offered an opportunity he can't refuse, nor wants to, to live and work near Bamfield for a couple of years. His artist wife, well-known for her paintings of the plains, will have the opportunity to paint different scenes in their new home. Sarah, naturally, does not want to move. Her best friend is here in Wyoming, however at eleven one has little in the way of choices. But Sarah has no idea how much her new home will change her life. Though well-populated with many full-fledged characters, this is really Sarah's story.

If I take nothing more away with me from reading this book, these three quotes alone were worth the read: "live life fully", "forgiveness will set you free", "know when to let go". Of course I loved many things about this book, and it deals with many subjects that affect lives today.

Very soon after arriving at their new rural home, Sarah meets Goldie, her indian neighbor who is also eleven.* They become the best of friends and very soon both families become as close as non-family can be. Goldie's grandmother Nana regales the girls with many legends, and yet it seems that she is also tapping into something that Sarah is thinking or troubled about. I know, you are wondering about the whales. Sarah had been warned by her parents never to swim past the float because a young boy had tried to swim to the nearby island the year before and drowned. Sarah soon hears from Goldie that she believes her brother is now an Orca (Killer Whale) and swims nearby so she can talk to him. Nana narrates the whale legend to the girls later and Sarah then understands what Goldie was talking about. Sarah's mother Dani and Nana have also become good friends, and incorporating something of the legends in her newer paintings has given Dani even more notice in the art world for the mystic quality they present.

When school starts, the girls find they are in the same classroom and sit next to each other. But trouble brews for Sarah in a case of racism and bullying all through the first year. All is not terror for her though, as she becomes popular among her other classmates and has also caught the eye of a popular young boy, Adam, causing her to giggle and blush everytime he looks at her. Goldie tells her he is part Haida, part white. A field trip on the boat Sarah's father does his research on brings a great windup to the school year. They are all mesmerized by the sounds of both fish and whales after Sarah's father drops the echolocation microphone into the water and turns the volume up so all can hear. Adam in particular looks toward his future as he learns as much as he can from Sarah's father.

The book takes place over approximately 13-14 years and there is so much to tell, but I will not plant spoilers. I have left a large part of the book undiscussed. Let me just say that this is one book I am thrilled to have had the opportunity not only to read, but to feel. It is as though I was dropped into the mind of Sarah and existing within these pages myself, feeling every emotion. Cheryl Kaye Tardif is an inspiration! This book should be read by everyone, perhaps a little too sad in places for young children but definitely for 12+ because some of the lessons learned, almost by absorption, are particularly applicable to that age group. For the rest of us, we are never too old to learn something new, and sometimes you can go home again.

* On a personal note, I mean no disrespect when I refer to our native people as indian. As a Chief once told my husband me an indian, the government made me an indian when they created the legislation in the 1800s, and we call ourselves indian because why should we keep changing names because someone decides to change it?