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!