Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Prime Suspects--A Clone Detective Mystery, by Jim Bernheimer


Right off the bat I knew I was going to at least like this tale – after all who doesn’t like clones? Written by one of my favorite indie authors, Jim Bernheimer, Prime Suspects – a Clone Detective Mystery exceeded even my very high expectations. 

The story opens when homicide detective David Bagini awakens on a strange world in a hospital. Gradually he realizes he is a clone.  Having no memories of why his Prime (Dave #1) entered into a clone contract, he wants answers.  Told in the first person, we follow Dave as he has a very rude awakening when he realizes that despite his memories, he is a clone. To make matters worse, he finds he is the 42nd clone in Bagini line. Then, he meets Daves 16 and 29, and things get both interesting and hilarious. 

It turns out is his Prime has been murdered and Bagini Forty-Two is now in charge of the investigation. Despite having a head full of the memories of cases and police procedures, this is actually Dave42’s first real case.

Dave 42 soon learns the only reason he was created is because all the clues point at one of his 41 fellow clones having done the murder, and they needed one viable clone that they knew without a shadow of a doubt couldn’t possibly have done the murder.

This is bad, because all 41 Daves already know all his tricks and know exactly how he thinks, better than he does. Dave 42 will have to think up something they would not expect.

This is a gritty, grown-up tale about gritty grown-up people. It is a uniquely told tale of murder, mayhem, and misbehaving which had me hooked from page one. Of course, battling clones of himself provides ample opportunity for circular reasoning and much of the introspection Bernheimer’s heroes are famous for.  I loved the dark, at times sleazy characters and situations which populate this tale.

All in all, I give this book a full 5 stars for providing me with one of the best reads of this fall!  I liked it so well, I bought book one of his Dead Eye series. I can't wait to get started!

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Whole Clove Diet, Mary W. Walters



Mary W. Walters is one of my favorite authors. A Canadian who is also a well-known editor and author of technical manuals, Mary writes smart, witty novels which zero in on the truth and the frailties of human beings in general. Her most recent novel, ‘The Whole Clove Diet’ is no exception. 

I am going to say at the outset that I was impressed immediately with way the opening pages grabbed my attention.  Rita is a young woman of 28, but she is like so many other women. She smokes too much, her addiction to food has tipped her into the morbidly obese category, and her life has gone to hell because of it.

Only a few years before, when she was young and svelte she met and fell in love with a widower who had two young children. Her husband, Graham, is a journalist, and his two children, Ida and Simon, resent her presence in their lives. The ghost of her husband’s dead wife looms large in Rita’s life—appearing as an unseen but ever-present specter whose perfection can never be matched no matter how she strives to do so.  She cooks and cleans and does everything a mother does with none of the gratitude or respect.  Her sole place of comfort has become her green sofa, her cigarettes and food.

Severely depressed, she goes to her regular doctor only to find him gone. The new, snarky nurse informs her she will have to see Dr. Graves or wait weeks. Dr. Graves takes one look at her and unleashes a diatribe which destroys Rita, humiliating her and telling her if she wants to die she should just do it.

Over the next months, life changes for the worse—her husband begins working from home, her father-in-law gets ill and her mother-in-law (who despises her) moves in with them. Rita has no space of her own and one to discuss her problems with, since everyone, even her mother sees only a fat slob with no self-respect and has written her off. Only Graham claims to love her the way she is and she feels he loves Rita the unpaid servant and babysitter more than Rita the wife. He is desperate to have another child, which Rita is completely not ready to contemplate. Her own mother despises her lack of willpower.

Each section opens with the diet Rita is attempting to stick to that month, and the final one, The Whole Clove Diet is one which is really only mentioned in passing, but is seems the most sensible one when you look at it. 

Rita’s journey to self-discovery is a compelling character study by the mistress of character studies. Her struggles with self-doubt, self-loathing and addiction to both food and cigarettes are vivid descriptions of the daily torments so many women endure.  The place where Rita at last begins the final steps to healing is the last place anyone would ever think she would find refuge.

For Rita there is no magic bullet, no perfect diet and no easy way out. This book is a testament to the strength and determination which is sometimes found only when a person is completely broken down to their component parts. The reassembling process is what I find most inspiring. 
I freely give this book 5 stars.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Madame Zee, Pearl Luke


Madame Zee
Pearl Luke
HarperCollins/Harper Perennial
365 pages
Kindle Edition: USD $11.52

Madame Zee: A Clairvoyant Without Illusions
review by Mary W. Walters

Those of us who cannot foresee the future may be tempted to assume that psychic ability comes with some awareness of what one’s visions mean. This is not necessarily so, as we come to realize early in this fictionalized biography of clairvoyant Madame Zee. It was largely due to a series of misinterpreted visions that Zee, born Mabel Rowbotham in Lancashire, England in 1890, became a central (and generally disliked) figure in the Aquarian Foundation—a spiritualistic cult based on Vancouver Island off Canada’s west coast–and partner to its enigmatic and charismatic leader, Brother XII.

Mabel had the first intimations of her psychic abilities in childhood: she called them “daydreams.” The visions intensified following the tragic deaths of her cherished elder sister Honore when Mabel was only seven, and then of her young brother William a year later. Not only was Mabel bereaved and confused by these deaths, she also felt responsible, and grew into adulthood with a heavy burden of guilt. Honore came to take a central role in Mabel’s “daydreams,” maturing as she would have done if she had lived.

In this rendering of Zee’s life by Pearl Luke – a powerful fiction writer whose first novel, Burning Ground, won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel – Mabel’s approach to her psychic gifts from the beginning is to attempt to understand where they are coming from, as well as what they mean. Isolated by her clairvoyant episodes, throughout her life she also seeks to find others who are like her—with marginal success.

In London, where her family moves when she is 15, she visits the London Academy of Psychical Research, and investigates spiritualism, clairvoyance, reincarnation, and the-then-relatively-new Theosophy movement founded by Helena Blavatsky. When she is 20, she moves with her parents to prairie Canada, where she takes up a position as a teacher, but her beliefs and visions lead to her dismissal. A bad marriage comes to an end in Seattle, and she flees to Pensacola to seek the counsel of her ex father-in-law, Coulson, a Spiritualist.

In Florida, where she assumes the name Madame Zee to mark a new beginning, Mabel experiences companionship, love, more loss and increasing insight into who she is and what her powers will allow her to do–for herself and others. She develops her talent as a visual artist, creating drawings of her visions as well as realistic scenes, and meets her second husband – the attractive but deeply twisted Roger Painter.

Then Madame Zee has a powerful vision involving herself and Brother XII, and she and Roger travel to Vancouver Island to join his colony. (Anyone who has been to the Island will recognize the place: “Where has the moss ever grown so green? Thick luxurious towels of it wrap everything in sight. It covers the boulders at the top of the embankment and clings to mammoth fir trees surrounded by yet more mosses, pea-green foreground for a panorama that slopes steeply down to even more green, the tops of trees poking through wisps of fog parted like tossed veils over emerald waters”).

Now Zee is plunged into the world of Brother XII and the cult that grew around his charisma and apparent mystic capabilities in the late 1920s, when he established colonies in Cedar-By-The-Sea and on Valdes Island. She rises in power through the ranks of his disintegrating empire to a point that will both rescue her and drive her toward destruction. Luke’s storytelling powers are acute, allowing us to relate utterly to Madame Zee’s evolution: “Whenever she reflects [ . . . ] on becoming that which is herself, she understands clearly what [Brother XII’s writing] means for about a fifth of a second before the meaning curls away from her again, like a ribbon curling in a gust of air.”

 In the notes that follow the text of Madame Zee (interesting to all readers and particularly useful to reading/study groups), the author explains that one of her purposes in writing the novel was to try to figure out why the real Madame Zee became a figure who was so disliked in the Aquarian Foundation. Part of the reason was certainly the self-protective and aloof personality that developed in response to her past tragedies and abuses—not to mention the difficult situation in which she found herself once she reached the Island and began to really get to know Brother XII. 

But Madame Zee was also isolated from others by her gifts, and as a writer I found much in her to which I could relate. What might be seen by others as haughtiness, distance and abruptness was no doubt an effort to protect her essential self, and to hide the layers of disappointment when she thought she’d found someone to whom she would be able to relate, only to have her hopes dashed each time yet again.

Madame Zee, first published by HarperCollins in 2007 and now available as an ebook, covers huge swaths of territory geographically, and represents dozens of characters keenly and succinctly. But the book is also thematically vast – touching on issues that range from early 20th century feminism, to religion, spirituality and the nature of psychic powers, to the meaning of life, to the quality of relationships among women and of those between women and men, to drug dependency, to the power of charismatics, the evolution of cults, and more.

Always, and above all else, Madame Zee is a beautifully written story that will draw you along from one satisfying scene to another. And unless you also have the gift of foresight, each new adventure in Zee’s life will come as a complete surprise.

Todays guest reviewer, Mary W. Walters  is an award-winning writer of fiction and non-fiction. Most recently she published the stylish and witty novel, ‘The Whole Clove Diet’. She is a highly acclaimed editor of books, academic articles, grant proposals, papers, theses, essays and blogs. She is a writing coach, and teaches academics, non-profit organizations and artists how to write really effective grant applications. Mary also blogs about what she knows and what she thinks on her blog, The Militant Writer.


Friday, September 28, 2012

The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling

J. K. Rowling is an extremely strong writer, and is brilliant at crafting and peopling her tales. First off, you need to set aside aside Harry Potter and read this book as if it were the only work of hers you’ve ever read.  If you go into this expecting Hogwarts and all the gang reinvented, you will be disappointed. You'll love or hate this book on the strength of her work, not because it is part of a mega-phenomenom. This tale is about ordinary people, living rather mundane lives. Their politics are mundane, their motives are the usual trifling things which motivate petty people. These are not always nice people.  That said, I would recommend this book to those who read literary fiction. This is an adult book, for adult readers.

Councilman Barry Fairbane dies unexpectedly, and this leaves a vacancy on the town council, leaving the little town of Pagford in shock.

Pagford is, on the surface, a postcard English village, complete with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but beneath the surface, the citizens cope with poverty, drug abuse, child abuse, rape, and mental illness along with all the social illnesses which lie hidden under the mask of civility in most communities. Rowling explores this underbelly with sharp wit, cutting, sarcastic humor and sly social commentary.

The empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the focus of an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations. The characters are well drawn and in true Rowling style, you see them fully before you, warts and all.  They curse, they commit terrible crimes and they are violent toward each other in ways that are both heinous and reprehensible. The youth curse, commit crimes and everything else real youth regrettably do. There are raw, violent scenes  depicted in this tale, and each scene is believable and drew me in. 

The reason I can only give this book four out of five stars is there are some places where it is a bit slow; but I stuck with it through those few places and I’m glad I did.

Over all this is a good effort, and shows Rowling’s understanding of human nature. HOWEVER -  I was unimpressed with the price of the Kindle download, and feel that for most people it would be a better investment to wait and buy the book as a paperback when it comes out, because at $17.99 per download it is most definitely overpriced.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Magic Crystal, L.T. Suzuki & Nia Suzuki-White

The first installment in ‘The Dream Merchant Saga’, ‘The MagicCrystal’ is absolutely enchanting. As the authors say in the prologue, it is “an imperfect tale about imperfect people.” It is an untraditional fairy-tale, told in a thoroughly traditional style. Written by the mother and daughter team of L.T. Suzuki of 'Imago' fame, and her young daughter Nia Suzuki-White, The Magic Crystal delivers on all counts.

The tale opens with the spoiled, temperamental, thoroughly aggravating 16 year old Princess Rose abusing her servants and ‘her jester’ an unfortunate boy named Tag. Rose has ruined Tag's life, and made it impossible for him to achieve his goal of becoming a knight, something which he holds against her and she doesn’t give a fig about. She enjoys the fact that he has to serve her no matter what he really wishes.

Always looking out for herself, she has crafted a plan to trap the Tooth Fairy and thereby force her to grant Princess Rose 3 wishes. Rose tries to force Tag to help her steal the tooth of a child. He refuses to help her, but she gets the tooth through bribery. Her plan succeeds, but goes awry, when the enraged fairy rats her out to her parents. Her parents are not really that strong on discipline and leave it up to the tooth fairy to discipline Rose, as long as she doesn’t do any magic, such as changing her into a toad. Rose makes a bargain with the fairy who agrees to introduce her to the Dream Merchant who will make all her wishes come true. Though she is warned many times that this is not that good of an idea, Rose insists and the fairy accepts a small silver heart-shaped locket in lieu of a good deed to make the deal binding.

Of course, Princess Rose is her usual charming self when the Dream Merchant arrives, and thus is set into motion a wonderful set of adventures that are perfectly befitting the arrogant girl. He tells her that she shall have no more than 3 wishes per day, and that devious manipulation of the rules on her part will reduce her to 1 wish per day. He gives her a dream crystal and tells her to keep it safe, for if it should fall into the wrong hands, the consequences would be dire. She is told that she must learn something called wakeful dreaming to use it properly. He only asks for one thing in payment for the Crystal –the love of her parents. She agrees, as she does not think that her parents love her since they are always trying to get her to behave. He warns her to be careful of what she wishes for, tells her how to get hold of him if she wants to return the crystal and disappears.

Of course the next day she finds herself tossed out of the castle, and the only one who recognizes her is her despised jester, Tag who reluctantly helps her. Soon they are on a quest to find the one thing that can get her life back to normal - her heart. On the way they meet a wonderful character, Cankles Mayron, the local V.I (or Village Idiot). He helps them out and becomes an indispensible part of their life.

I enjoyed this creative and amazing series of adventures immensely. I laughed and cried with Rose and Tag, and loved the way that one misadventure flowed into another. Sorcerers, dragons, and mistaken identity -it is all rolled into one of the funnier tales I have read in a long time. The uneasy alliance of Princess Rose and Tag, and Cankles is a brilliant, entertaining story that will become a classic in my family. The Magic Crystal is a read-aloud sort of story, one that will enchant the adults as well as the children.

I loved the second installment in this series, The Silver Sword. It lurked within my Kindle, tantalizing me, begging me to drop everything and read it and so of course I did

And BEST OF ALL - The third book in this series, The Crack'd Shield is due to be released within weeks!  I CAN'T WAIT!!!


Friday, September 7, 2012

A Killing Tide by P. J. Alderman

This contemporary Columbia River thriller, A Killing Tide, was a RITA finalist and climbed the charts to stay on the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists for eight weeks. I can tell you why – this book grips you from the first page.

A Killing Tide by indie author P. J. Alderman takes place in the small Oregon city of Astoria; a town I am quite familiar with. With simple strokes, she evokes the atmosphere of the coastal town, the eternal grayness and eternal rain. Based in Astoria, Oregon, Columbia River Bar Pilots were established in 1846 to ensure the safety of ships, crews and cargoes crossing the treacherous Columbia River Bar, which is recognized as one of the most dangerous and challenging navigated stretches of water in the world. The men and women who fish those waters are also a rare breed.

(Kasmira) Kaz Jorgensen was once a well-known local fisher-woman, and has recently returned to Astoria and fishing after a long absence from fishing as financial a consultant in San Francisco. Her best friend had called her, telling her there was trouble with her brother Gary, but not what the trouble was. She has not been able to talk much to him, due to having to be out on her own boat, the Kasmira B, and things are somewhat distant between them.

Kaz has not been welcomed back with open arms by her brother or the community at large.  Having just lost half her pots and most of her catch to a vandal at sea, she brings her boat in late. She arrives at the Redemption, a tavern frequented by the local fishers, and meets up with her best friend, Detective Lucy McGuire who is also her brother’s girlfriend. Also eating dinner in the Redemption is the new fire chief, Michael Chapman. Just hired from Boston, Chapman is a man with a history, which comes out as the story progresses.

That evening in the Redemption, Michael witnesses Kaz trying to break up a violent disagreement between Kaz’s brother Gary and his friend, Chuck. Because she is no longer considered a member of the community for reasons which gradually emerge. Everyone warns Kaz to stay out of ‘it’; indicating to her that whatever is going on between Chuck and Gary is big and it involves the whole fishing community. Michael Chapman intervenes, to Kaz’s irritated chagrin.

That night a friend, Ken Lundquist, is murdered; a family man who is also a crewman on her brother’s boat, the Anna Marie. Gary, a vet suffering from post-traumatic-stress syndrome, is immediately suspected of murdering him and committing arson to burn his boat to cover it up. Making things worse, Gary has vanished. Police Chief Jim Sykes, a man with political ambitions, is hot on Gary’s trail, sure he is the culprit.  Michael, as fire-marshal, is leaping to no conclusions, and is handling the investigation his own way.

This is an intense tale of greed and small-town lust for power and easy money.  Each and every character is fully fleshed out and you immediately like or dislike them with one exception.  Jim Sykes remains somewhat of an enigma right up to the end.

The attraction between Kaz and Michael Chapman is part of what makes this tale so engrossing.  The possibility of their romance is a thread which weaves in and out of the tapestry that is this mystery.  Right up to the end, I was unsure as to whom the culprit was and the ending is a thrilling as any you could ask for.

First published in 2006, A Killing Tide was my introduction to P.J. Alderman’s work. She has become one of my go-to mystery writers, and I have enjoyed everything she has written.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bubba and the 12 Deadly Days of Christmas by C.L. Bevill

Bubba Snoddy and the good folks in his small town of Pegramville, Texas are celebrating a sunny Christmas festival, complete with a parade and candy-cane swirl martinis.  Unbeknownst to Sheriff John Headrick, the Pegramville Women’s Club has donated the decorations for his office using funds raised by Bubba Snoddy’s mother, Miz Demetrice’s illegal gambling ring. Even Bubba’s basset hound, precious, is dressed for season, in her special doggy antlers. Best of all, the woman of Bubba’s dreams, Deputy Willodean Gray is, upon occasion, giving Bubba an encouraging smile.

Bubba’s already complex life has become even more complicated by the fact he has family visiting for the holidays from Louisiana, along with a maiden aunt from Dallas. The youngest Snoddy, ten year old Brownie is a riot, as is the cook-housekeeper, Miz Adelia.  Miz Demetrice is terrified her relatives-by –marriage are going to rip-off the tattered treasures of infamous, broken-down Snoddy Mansion; but still felt compelled to invite them anyway. Brownie is the son of Bubba’s late father’s now deceased younger brother.  Beauregard died in prison while serving ten to twenty for bank robbery. Bubba feels sure Brownie didn’t inherit a lot of intelligence, as Uncle Beau had robbed a bank next to a police station during lunch hour.  His other relatives, Fudge and Virtna Snoddy are adept at carrying all sorts of possessions out to their truck, and he has become adept at intercepting them.

Unfortunately, Bubba finds another dead body – yes he had apparently found one previously which had caused him no end of trouble before the tale picks up - and this time it’s a man in a Santa Suit. He turns out to be Steve Killebrew, a habitually dishonest auto mechanic. Words had passed between him and Bubba regarding a defective fuel pump. Once again, Bubba is suspected of murder, thus scotching his plans for Deputy Willodean.

Bubba’s hilarious adventures kept me wondering right up to the last chapter, and I was laughing all the way. Bubba’s family creates no end of trouble for him and his rival, deputy sheriff Big Joe, really wants to send him away for life, but Sheriff John manages to keep things on track.

By page eight I was so involved with these wonderful people that I couldn’t be bothered to cook a meal until the book was done. Though there is a backstory, this book is the first in the series, and while it finishes up this mystery, they are left with another to solve in the next book, Bubba and the Missing Woman.  This tale is unabashedly folksy, and right on the money for a rainy-day book.

All of C.L. Bevill’s books are available at both for the Kindle and Barnes and Noble for the Nook; and this one was listed at the fine price of .99, as are the follow-up tales in this series.  I recommend it to anyone who loves a cozy mystery with violent overtones, and peopled with characters you want to know!

UPDATE:  Since publishing this post  I have  discovered that this is indeed the second book in the series, the first of which is 'Bubba and the Dead Woman' .  I must say this explains the heavy backstory, and I now am off to read it!  This just proves that C.L. Bevill's work stands alone or as as a series, which is what I am always looking for in a cozy read.  Awesome!



Friday, August 24, 2012

Dwight Okita, Murakami, and Jellyfish

This summer I've had the pleasure to read both 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and The Prospect of My Arrival by Dwight Okita. The books were very different, and yet there was a similarity to their style - a deceptive simplicity, deepening excitement, addictive prose, and a sense of melancholy and wonder throughout.

1Q84 is a doorstop of a book that originally was published in three volumes in Japan. It is perfect for anyone who is looking for a book for autumn, one that will last through quite a few rainy nights. Murakami writes about a woman, Aomame, and a man, Tengo. They go through separate adventures that interact in Murakami's signature mysterious existentialism.

Aomame gets out of a cab one day and climbs down from the highway into a world that has two moons. There she finds that things are a bit off. The world has shifted. In that  new alternate universe, a beautiful young girl called Fuka-Eri writes about Little People. They appear out of a dead goat's mouth and build an Air Chrysalis. There are two moons, and a Town of Cats.

Meanwhile, Tengo is working to polish and publish the manuscript by Fuka-Eri called Air Chrysalis. There are fascinating minor characters, such as the man who leads a powerful cult, a man that Aomame is contracted to kill. There is Ushikawa, the man hired by the cult to find Aomame.  Each of these characters is more than they appear - they unfold, like origami, into balanced people with depth and emotion. 

I am already a huge Murakami fan; Kafka on the Shore is one of my very favorite books. To be able to spend a summer reading a long novel by him was a real gift. And he didn't disappoint - 1Q84 satisfied my delight in urban fantasy, science fiction, action, and wonderful writing.

The Prospect of My Arrival was a different kind of read. It is much shorter, for one thing. I read the book in a few evenings, although in part that was because I simply could not put it down. Okita uses dreamy prose that is reminiscent of Murakami. He pumps up the volume on the science fiction, as the book is about a scientific and moral experiment.

Prospect is a foetus, a baby about to be born. He is given enhanced intelligence and a twenty-year-old body and sent out into the world to see if he wants to be born.

To help him in his decision, he is sent to visit Referrals. The book is the story of those visits on one level, but there is a thread of other plots connecting those stories. There are people who are against the Pre-Born Project and who want to stop it at all costs. There is also a love story between Prospect and Lito, his second referral. Okita manages both deftly, making the first exciting and the second lovely and touching.

I have read some reviews on Amazon about The Prospect of My Arrival that complain about the spare prose. Okita uses short sentences and simple description, but to my mind it is done very artistically. The book is like a Mondrian painting. It seems very straightforward at first glance, but there is a complex structure and design behind the simple sentences. And those short phrases echo the soul of Prospect who is, after all, a foetus. 

In one scene, Prospect meets his mother in the Shedd Aquarium. They talk about his sister, Joyce, in front of one of the tanks of jellyfish. "As they leave this place, jellyfish descend in slow motion like parachutes onto the bright coral reefs below them." This image is echoed in another Referral's home. "Sheer pink curtains flutter from the open windows of the living room. They move like jellyfish in the summer breeze."

The jellyfish encapsulated the book, to my mind. The words move lazily, dreamily, like underwater creatures, and yet they are mesmerizing. The plot and the prose seem so simple, and at the same time they are lovely and complex.

Can you get excited about the story of a foetus who may or may not decide to be born? Oh, yes indeed you can. As I said, I could not put it down, and I had a very sad feeling when the book ended. Luckily, Okita has other books coming out, such as The Hope Store, and I will certainly be purchasing everything by him.

I read Prospect as a Kindle book. Formatting is an art unto itself, and Okita's format is breathtaking. He includes images and chapter headings that make this a joy to read. However, the story was so amazing that I need to get the print version and beg the author to sign it for me. Okita is a name to be watched on the Indie front.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Last Call by George Wier

The Last Call, book one in the Bill Travis Mystery series is an interesting take on the classic hardboiled detective action tale.  Author George Wier has created a cast of characters who immediately draw you in, and from page one you care about their problems.

The hero, investment-advisor Bill Travis, is having a mid-life crisis.  We never really find out exactly what area of investment consulting Bill works in, other than it is for extremely sensitive clients who need help with investing large amounts of cash and property just short of money laundering;  keeping good people out of bad trouble. In the course of his work he's made many friends, a lot of of whom owe Bill some rather large favors.

On the day this tale begins, we find Bill in in traffic on his way to the office.  As he is negotiating the rush-hour traffic, he finds himself playing tag with an attractive blonde.  She wins. cutting him off and making a fine start to his Monday.

Lo and behold, his first appointment of the day is the blonde from the traffic-jam; her name is Julie Simmons and she is in trouble.  She has crossed a bad man, a north-Texas liquor baron, named Archie Carpin and has taken a VERY large sum of money from him and hidden it.  She turns to Bill for help; he tells her he doesn't deal with stolen money.  Still, he finds himself involved both physically and emotionally and the next thing he knows, he is trying to help her get her mess straightened out.

Bill turns to Hank, an old client and a friend who has a passing love of explosives.  Hank has a friend, Dock (with a k) who also gets involved.  Somehow, Julie forgets to mention that two of Carpin's henchmen, Lefty and Carl are following them until they are outside Dock's house.  After the shooting is over and Lefty and Carl have been driven off,  the  three men find themselves hiding Julie. During the course of their adventures they rescue an 8 year old girl, Keesha and find her a good home.

The action is non-stop, keeping you turning the pages to see what is going to happen next.  Several times the truth is both revealed and hidden in the nightmares Bill suffers from. Not everyone survives the action in this thriller.  When one of the characters died, I found tears in my eyes. Julie is a cypher - you don't really know what to make of her until the end. Nothing is predictable, and yet nothing is random.  The plot makes complete and perfect sense, and the story, as it unfolds, is a piece of Texas history, with a certain amount of license taken in regard to the truth. 

I will definitely be reading the next book in the Bill Travis SeriesCapitol Offense.  George Wier is the author of 14 books and has several more currently in the works.  With The Last Call as my introduction to his work, he has become one of my favorite authors!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ednor Scardens, Kathleen Barker

Book 1 of the Charm City Chronicles,  Ednor Scardens by Kathleen Barker takes place in Baltimore in the nineteen sixties. The title is a play on words; a twist on the name of the neighborhood in which the protagonist, Kate Fitzgerald and her friends live: Ednor Gardens. The story begins as Kate and her chums are leaving the sixth grade in their coed parochial school. Kate comes from a working class catholic family, she and her mother live with her grandmother, with no father in the home; he was killed in the service before she was born.

Kate has developed breasts, and as such she is the envy of all her girlfriends, and the object of scrutiny by all the boys. She lives with her mother and grandmother, in a loving and supportive family, and has the usual problems and worries that girls of that age have. She develops a crush on both Gabe and Michael, who just happen to be brothers. During her last years at her coed school a new priest joins the faculty; one who is a danger both to boys and to girls.

Boys are never-ending source of mystery and trouble for Kate.  There is plenty of the real-life misbehaving which I remember in my own teen years, and the general partying and abuse of alcohol among her and her set of friends is much as I remember in my small town set of friends.

This is not by any means simply a novel of fond reminiscence, however – Ednor Scardens deals with the issues which plague girls today – the temptations and pitfalls of life are trans-generational.  Teenage girls and boys all struggle with the desire to remain chaste, and yet they struggle with their own physical changes and the wants and needs which those changes bring with them. Each teenager deals with those issues in their own way, and Kate’s personal struggles make for a wonderful coming of age tale.

The small dramas which happen in their daily life are every bit as entertaining as are the larger dramas; and are very real in the way they are portrayed. There is so much humor and love between Kate and her friends that the reader lives the story with them. The dark side of this story (and there IS a dark side), is handled very well.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a well-crafted romance. You won't be able to put it down until you have reached the end!  Kathleen Barker has just published the second book in the Charm City Chronicles series, The Body War.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sax in the Suburb, Marilyn Rucker

This novel is one of those wonderful experiences which every dedicated reader yearns for when they first crack open that book!  Author Marilyn Rucker has written a tale a band geeks and love gone awry culminating in an ending I certainly never saw coming!

Sax in the Suburb opens with Miranda Beeling warming up her saxophone as she prepares to practice with the community band she is involved in.  All the members of the band are former band-nerds of varying degrees of both age and musical ability. Miranda's idle observations of her fellow band-members paints the picture - these are people I could have known!

As people trickle in to practice, she notes the absence of two trombonists, David Hu and Ralph Tucker; people she deems as irreplaceable as they provide a buffer against 'Cheeto' a rather disgusting, obnoxious person.  As the evening progresses, the conductor, an arrogant, frustrated genius named Mark Garcia arrives, and the band begins to practice, still lacking the two trombonists.

Ralph stumbles in, declaring David has been shot and is in the parking lot.  This is the beginning of the fun - Miranda is a legal assistant at her father's old law firm, and she feels a deep personal connection to the murdered man. She is currently living with her father whose retirement has allowed his hoarding to get out of control, making for an unbelievably difficult environment to live in. Between worrying about her father and work, Miranda's only outlet is the band. In the course of the investigation she meets the police lieutenant investigating the crime, Lieutenant Jason Hartley (hubba-hubba!) who is also a trumpet player.

Rucker paints each scene with simple, vivid strokes.  Miranda discovers how little she really knows about her friends; realizing she only knows what they have allowed her to know.  No one is safe from suspicion, as both Frank and Miranda's best friend, married bassoonist Louise Parkinson were sexually involved with David Hu.  Frank's involvement with David was not news to Miranda, but Louise's was. This leads Miranda to wonder just how much else she doesn't know about her friend.

The twists and turns of this plot are inventive and logical; it never sits and spins its wheels. David is only the first casualty; and as the bodies turn up, the list of suspects grows.  I found I couldn't stop wondering about it when I was forced to put the book down!

Sax in the Suburbs is Marilyn Rucker's first published novel.  She has an intimate knowledge of her subject as she is both a practicing attorney and working musician, playing (!) the sax in a well-known jazz band.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sin, Shaun Allan

This is one of the more thought provoking novels I have ever come across.  I had to read it twice, before I could sit down and write this review!  Indie author Shaun Allan has created a real masterpiece with Sin.  Allan's style is narrative, and in a way, reminded me of James Joyce's equally compelling 'Finnegan's Wake'.  Others have compared Allan's style to Stephen King and Dean Koontz; and there is a slight similarity to their work as in it is definitely horror, but I am here to tell you Shaun Allen is an original in the purest sense. This is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Finnegan’s Wake."

Sin is a dark, urban fantasy, written with large dose of sardonic humor. We hear the tale from the man who was given the name 'Sin Mathews' at birth, but who goes by the name of Sin only, as the last name doesn't matter; only the name which is the sum of his parts matters.

Sin finds a coin, a two pence coin, or perhaps the coin finds him. Either way, this is the catalyst for Sin's curse. He finds himself flipping the coin compulsively -flip, catch - and it arcs through the air he sees images of disaster and death, which is then reported on the news. Eventually he realizes every time he flips the coin, someone dies; sometimes a lot of people die in what he believes are 'unnatural disasters' timed perfectly to the flip of the coin.  Though he tries to avoid flipping the coin, he finds himself doing it anyway.

No matter how he tries, he can't throw it away, or lose it. The coin always comes back to him when he buys something and gets his change; or even just appearing in his pocket.

Sin receives a letter from his sister Joy, telling him she had found a coin, and when she flipped it she made lives. She wrote that the responsibility for making the world happy was too much for her. She was alone in world of happiness she couldn't be a part of, and she killed herself.  Sin apparently had found his coin right after her death.  He decides to check himself into an insane asylum in order to get the sort of psychotropic drugs which will render him incapable of seeing the visions, and flipping the coin.

Sin's conversations with Dr. Connors in the opening chapter are adversarial, and illuminating. For the most part, he enjoys his stay in the asylum, but, being sane, he sees the sordid truth in the callous treatment and chronic over-medication of the patients.

Although posing as a mentally ill patient works for a while, the medications soon cease to be effective and he decides that since the coin always comes back to him as if by magic, maybe he has the power to teleport.  He resolves to commit suicide by teleporting himself into the heart of a furnace, hoping for instant incineration.  Unfortunately, he finds himself on a beach, instead of in Hell where he had hoped to be.

Sin has an encounter with Joy who tells him death is not what it is cracked up to be. She warns him "a storm is coming".  He continues his inadvertent journey, trying to get his bearings. After a chance meeting which reveals more of his powers, he finds himself in Grimsby, the home of his childhood.

The atmosphere throughout is surrealistic, but it is well-balanced Allen's lyrical, intimate style of prose, as in this series of images describing Sin's disorientation, “History doesn’t relate whether Jonah, Gepetto, and Pinocchio sat around a table eating pizza, sharing stories of prophecy and puppetry while in the belly of the whale, but I thought that I could relate to being swallowed whole.” 

Throughout the novel, Sin's ruminations are self-mocking, and world-weary, yet naive and innocent.  He bears the guilt of the world, and suffers the unbearable pain of being the cause of so many deaths, but still he finds ironic humor in every situation. Joy is grounded and guides him to the truth, but is not allowed to tell him anything.

 Nothing is what it seems in this tale, and right up to the end, you are not sure which reality is real.

The facts come out, or do they?  This book is a rollercoaster ride from the start to the finish, and I give it 5 stars for originality.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

72 - hours to Crack the Universe’s Code; Mark O'Brien

72 - hours to Crack the Universe’s Code by indie author Mark O'Brien  is a novel of political intrigue, mathematics, passion and underlying it all, an imperative directive to humanity with dire galactic overtones.

Somewhat like the Illuminati, the Mathematika is a mysterious Greek society founded long before Christianity. The reason for its existence is to bring mankind ‘that which they know but cannot understand’ and was created to ‘safeguard the truths until mankind was ready to understand them’. Now the time has come, and the Mathematika is now ruled by the dark fanatic, Alexander Kepler – who believes ethical lines were drawn so you would know where to cross them. Yet, although he is extremely violent, murderous and obsessive, Kepler is a family man, and his relationship with his wife is one of the lighter parts of the tale. This most violent and evil of men is also a romantic, tender lover. However, the time has come for the world to know some basic truths about the Universe, and it is Kepler’s task to insure they are made public.

To this end, he kidnaps a renowned Muslim leader, Ibn Qurra. His henchmen also kidnap the renowned Rabbi Jacobi, and Father George Pappus, president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation -  all three at 10:45 am on the same day.

Not all of Kepler’s heavies are 100% behind him, one is a traitor, and another considers him to be insane. All the heavies are individuals, which makes reading them enjoyable.

Ransoms are sent: a series of 3 mathematical equations which all must be solved one per day within 72 hours. If one equation is wrong, all three of the kidnapped men will die.

The protégé of George Pappus, Clancy Sylvester, astrophysicist and mathematician, is determined to get his mentor back. The author has researched all three of the religions represented by the three kidnapped leaders, and also the cultures they represent.  The author also appears to have a firm grasp of mathematics, as I do NOT; but  on the positive side he did not make me have to do the thinking so the math was fine. Clancy’s friend Jules Hadamard (female, despite the name) who is a math genius explains it all. All of the characters are distinctly individual, and if some are over the top, well that is part of the fun.
While O'Brien goes a little heavy on the descriptions at times, over all this is a compelling read. There are moments of humor and also of pathos, and the action is non-stop. All in all, I found this to quite entertaining, and well written. This is a good read, and I do not hesitate to recommend it!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cornerstone, by Misty Provencher

Nalena's story captured me from the first sentence. The image of a girl living with a mother who writes constantly, filling the house with piles and piles of paper covered with small, neat writing, was addictive. And Nalena herself is beautifully realized. Like Harry Potter in The Order of the Phoenix, she is adolescent and angry.

Her anger is understandable. She is bullied at school, and she has to lug home those reams of paper for her mom. She's pretty, and she could be popular, but because one girl saw the inside of her home, her nickname is "The Waste."

It isn't until she meets Garrett Reece that her life begins to change. He is gorgeous and kind, and his family takes Nalena and her mother in. More importantly, he seems to understand her mom and why Nalena herself is starting to experience some strange episodes of her own.

Provencher insisted on including the fantasy element in the book, to the point of rejecting agents' cries for a rewrite into a more realistic book. The fantasy is well-done, although the ending does feel a bit rushed. (As a fellow author I can sympathize; endings are incredibly difficult to pull off.) Still, it's satisfying and makes me want more.

Keystone will be the next in the series, and I shall certainly look for it.

Here's what I liked about the book:

1. The writing is fantastic. "A wave of hot, rancid stomach soup rolls through me." I remember that stomach soup feeling from my own teens. That little sentence captures that feeling of dread perfectly. 

Another example: "There's a whole library full of empty tables up front, but this boy, with hair that would probably feel like soft twine between my fingertips, has to sit here." Great description, and I'm very thankful that she resisted the urge to use the Jewel Words: topaz eyes, etc. 

2. Nalena herself. She's a well-drawn, conflicted character.

3. The tensions between Nalena and her mother. It's perfect and logical.

4. Provencher is self-published, and the format and edit are just about perfect. Too many self-published novels roll into cyberspace with myriad errors, and Cornerstone is clean of those. Again, as an author with a small (tiny) press, I appreciate this. Self-publication is an art form, and Provencher has pulled it off beautifully!

A few quibbles:

1. You know that I love female friendships. Nalena and Garrett become friends, but she doesn't have a girlfriend to chat with in the book. The one girl who hangs with her in school, Cora, is depicted as a physically repulsive, not-very-nice person. I would have preferred to see a friend who could be counted on throughout the story.

2. Garrett was just a bit too perfect. He's gorgeous and kind, as I said, but he really would have sprung to life if he had a few flaws. 

Perhaps these will be addressed in the next book. And I'm being very picky. For those quibbles, I give Provencher a 4 out of 5 stars, and I definitely recommend this as a great read.

You can buy Cornerstone here: on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble Nook
and find Misty Provencher here:
She is also on Twitter: @mistyprovencher

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sax in the Suburb, Marilyn Rucker

Todays review is for Sax in the Suburb, by Marilyn Rucker, and is brought to us courtesy of Alison DeLuca, whose blog, 'Fresh Pot of Tea' is one of my favorites.
There is something about books that makes me hungry. The act of reading just seems to go naturally with a pot of tea, of course, as well as a plate of scones and some finger sandwiches. There are books out there that strengthen this connection. One obvious culprit is Dickens. His characters are always going off on picnics complete with pork pies, cold cider, and rounds of cheese. One of my favorite descriptions of his is his "curiously light wine, with a curiously heavy cake." Another book that makes me hungry is Miranda Warning. I'm almost at the end (reading it slowly so it will last; I'm going to hate being finished) and I love the gorgeous descriptions of food. The book, a murder mystery, is set in Texas, so there is plenty of RC cola, banana whoopie pies, as well as buttery croissants and delicious coffee drinks.
Miranda, the main character, is just as delicious. She is a bit overweight (who wouldn't be, with all that food) and works in a run down law office where her boss often falls asleep on the floor. She has to learn to maneuver her rolling chair carefully so she won't squash his hand. She is also a sax player in a local band, and one of her band mates gets bumped off in the beginning. The way that Miranda investigates the murder is funny and well written and completely believable. Oh, and there's a romance, too, and it is delicious as well. To be honest, I'm not a huge murder mystery fan, but I'm enjoying this book with a great deal of delight. It should be savored, like a whoopie pie, for its flavor and creamy filling.
Thank you for this delicious review. Alison Deluca is the author of 'The Crown Phoenix Series', a wonderful classic series of YA adventures.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Woman Upstairs, Mary W. Walters

First published in 1989, The Woman Upstairs written by Mary W.Walters is a timeless tale of a family's descent into dysfunction and estrangement. A young woman, Diana Guthrie, has been told that her estranged mother is dying. Neither her mother nor her brother has told her this, but a friend of the family has taken it upon himself to tell her, believing that it is the right thing to do. Diana makes the arduous drive from Edmonton, Alberta to well-heeled Donellon, Ontario, with no clear idea of why she is going to where she is not wanted, and not knowing what she will do when she gets there.

Diana's mother's family, the Leavenworths, had long been the pre-eminent family in Donellon society, and her mother and grandmother never let her forget that. Her haughty, disdainful grandmother despised Diana's father, whose parents were from the United States, sneering at him and his textile factory in Donellon as being low-class and generally treating him despicably.

Grandmother despised the Guthrie Textile Factory for its ugliness, its base origins and considered it to be a blight on the landscape. She was frank in her opinion that her daughter married far beneath herself.

Despite Grandmother's disdain of her husband, Diana's own mother insisted that Grandmother live with them, against her husband's earnest wishes. Grandmother is not simply hateful to Diana's father. She also open in her intense dislike of Diana, the child of six years of age who did not fit into the Leavenworth mold. From the moment her grandmother moves in with them, the Guthrie marriage begins to deteriorate, and Diana's childhood becomes an endless cycle of guilt and recrimination.

All through her school years, Diana is both admired and despised for her connection to the Guthrie Textiles, as her father is the largest employer in Donellon. Her own grandmother's vocal disdain was perhaps a part of that, giving the local aristocracy permission to feel somehow more upper-class than someone whose wealth is both new and foreign. She has few close friends and is awkward and unsure of herself as she traverses the high school years.

There are many open wounds in Diana's relationship with her mother, and the news that her mother is dying sends Diana into an emotional tailspin, which she desperately tries to keep contained under the smooth veneer that, if she only knew it, is the mark of the women in her family.

Her younger brother, Mitchell, still lives with their mother, and is possessed of an extremely warped view of the situation. He is angry and resentful of Diana, telling her frankly that she is not welcome there. He arrogantly orders her to stay away from their mother. Indeed, Diana does hesitate to go upstairs to her mother’s room, but that is for reasons of her own.

The story of what lies between Diana and her mother unfolds over the space of several days, during which she lurks downstairs, unwilling to go upstairs to her dying mother, and unable to leave. Other relationships which had been poisoned as a by-product of the Guthrie family situation come to light and are examined for the first time in years.

As a young child, her relationship with her mother was destroyed by her grandmother, whose hateful actions go unpunished, while Diana's punishments for natural childish behaviors are never-ending.

Guilt, abandonment and death form the watershed moments in Diana's childhood. Her father breaks under the extreme pressure of living with his mother-in-law, and abandons his family, which cuts the young Diana deeply.

The suicide of Noel, the boy she loved, drives her to leave Donellon under a cloud of hate and suspicion. Many people blame Diana for his death. The story of what really happened, and what lies between three generations of women in one family is compelling and impossible to put down.

The characters are clearly drawn and environment in which they live is rich and vivid.  I highly recommend this classic book, as either an e-book or as a paperback.

Other books by Mary W. Walters include several technical books and novels, including  The Whole Clove Diet, a novel that was just published in March of 2012, and is soon to be available as a Kindle download.

I guarantee that I will be buying that book!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Requiem For The Widowmaker, Blackie Noir

Guest Review by John A. Aragon:

Coarse, gritty, and brutal prose…

I "met" Blackie Noir on an online writers' forum about four years ago. Over the years he occasionally gave us tantalizing glimpses of his coarse, gritty, and brutal prose. Now he has finally published some of his brilliant and savage novels.

REQUIEM FOR THE WIDOWMAKER is an astounding work. It offers a dark vision filled with fascinating, well developed characters from the underbelly of the Southern California biker culture, and from the universal and timeless perspective of homicide detectives.

This novel is action packed, tightly plotted, psychologically incisive, and, ultimately, life affirming, despite its unflinching view of the pain of human existence. It's a page turner--I couldn't put it down. This is a novel such as Charles Bukowski might have given us.

Detective Nadine Kozak and her partner, the aging, old school, Johnny Vance team up to hunt down a vigilante serial killer called the Widowmaker. Their quest will lead them to places in which they must face their own demons and question their most deeply held values.

Blackie Noir's writing is so much fun that some might say: "Yeah, but is it great literature?" My answer is; I don't know. But consider this passage and decide for yourself:

"Watching the water stretching out, it's darker indigo melding with the paler azure of the sky where they joined on the horizon. This early in the morning, both managed to maintain the illusion of pristine cleanliness. As the day wore on the truth would out, their faux virginity shattered, both sky and sea would reveal their true colors, the horizon becoming a pronounced line, as dreary beige met dismal gray. Vance sighed; metaphor for the career of an aging cop."

Noir, Blackie (2012-04-13). Requiem For The Widowmaker (Kindle Locations 5013-5016). . Kindle Edition.
Special thanks for this week's review to
John A. Aragon, author, trial lawyer and  all-round renaissance man.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wishbone, Brooklyn Hudson

This week we are exploring the dark side of life in the bucolic country-side with the unnerving novel, Wishbone, by indie author Brooklyn Hudson.

The tale begins with Rachel and Julien Grenier, a well-to-do couple who live on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. Julien was born on a farm in France, and at the age of 9 he witnessed his father brutally murder his beloved grandfather.  He does not share this traumatic experience with anyone, not even his wife, although he is plagued by dreams of the event.  A sculptor and artist, Rachel knows that he has has secrets, but is content to leave them be as they don't intrude on their life together.

Unfortunately, Rachel is the victim of a brutal attack that culminates in the miscarriage of their baby; a child that Julien was unaware of and would not have wanted. 

Rachel sinks into depression bordering on madness, and is ruled by her fears.  Julien is desperate to bring her back to normal. To escape the past and give Rachel a new start in life, Julien quits his job and finds a home in the country, a lovely old Victorian that Rachel falls in love with.

King's Hollow appears at first to be the miracle they prayed for.  The one thing that Julien is not really on board with is the Chickens that come along with the place, but eventually he accepts them.  The chickens are cared for by a developmentally disabled seventeen-year old, named Sarah. 

Sarah even does the butchering of the chickens, and although she is unhappy at eating a 'pet', Rachel cooks it up and finds it to be the best chicken she ever ate, as does Julien. At the end of their meal, they take the wishbone, and play the game of wishing on it.

This begins a series of events, and their life together takes a strange turn, directly into the Twilight Zone.

I could not put this book down.  Julien is handsome and strong, and loving and giving despite his secrets.  Once they begin the game they cannot quit, nor can they stick to the rules they set for themselves. Rachael is no longer herself and Julien is experiencing a string of bad luck and unfortunate accidents.

And at the center of everything is Sarah and her beloved chickens.

This book will have you thinking long after you put it down.  I don't think that I will ever see a Thanksgiving dinner again and not think about this book!