Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: Murder Most Academic

Bonus Review this week...Murder Most Academic by Alicia Stone

Read the ARC. Former call girl and now a History Professor, Trinity Pierce, is a survivor. She's a loyal friend, solid colleague, and now must morph into a detective for the sake of a friend's request despite the danger that exposing someone else's past can have on her buried former profession. The great writing makes this slim novel fly by, making it a perfect read at the beach, on a plane, or while some boring professor drones on in the classroom. This is a solid mystery delving into two worlds that don't usually cross paths: prostitution and academia. It's a delicate balance that the author carries off with style. The twists will keep you looking over your shoulder as much as they do for Trinity, and the danger to her current life grows as the story progresses. Can Trinity catch a kidnapper and murderer, and save herself? Read, find out, and be surprised. First book for 2013 to put the little piggy toe into the 5-star rating camp.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: The Fall of Billy Hitchings

In the write (sic) hands, The Fall of BillyHitchings would make an interesting indie movie. It has some quirky characters, sharp action sequences, unexpected plot twists, and an interesting take on morality with regard to "does the ends justify the means" both for the good and bad guys. As a novel, though, it missed out on the opportunity to be a very good book through some sloppiness. It needed a pass-through by a more thorough editor, not for the writing mechanics, but for ironing out the rough spots.

After a fast-paced, but hard to swallow opening, the plot settles into a story with a cast of characters that you just know are going to merge later to help clarify what's happening. Give it time. Though the characters are distinct, most are somewhat superficial. A number of "jumpy" points caused me to retrace who was saying what to whom. And by the end, some characters and subplots just disappeared (Crazy Jenny for one) from the pages without solid wrap-up. It was more annoying than story killing. Also, the black moment was hard to visualize even with the vague clarification afterwards. How does one character get away with the "good" guys while another gets whisked away by the "bad" guys when they are feet apart? The flip-flop of who had the plates (not a plot spoiler here) didn't make sense in the end, considering their value to the "owner".

On the upside, some humorous situations, mostly at the expense of the Indian character trying to master American idioms and the wiles of feminism, keeps things moving. It's word-play not slap-stick and usually well done. The book does have a good plot and John Reeves could evolve into an interesting series anchor. The story moves and is a quick read. I had a lot of empathy for Billy and his situation. Despite some of my nit-picking, this is a decent beach read and squeaks into a 4 rating.

Monday, January 28, 2013

MMWUC: Controversial Poetry

I'm working on a poetry book for April 1st, the beginning of International Poetry Month. I consider myself a novelist not a poet, but I've been scribbling poetry since high school, mostly while hiding in dark corners of the Shop-Rite supermarket where I worked or other such venues. Occasionally  I'd write something nice, but most of the early stuff was like a Hallmakesque bad trip, mahn.

Later it got better. Recently, it's more like haiku format, but without the strict defining form of haiku as originally penned--though sometimes I get it right. I've also written a fair number of Twitter-related poems bound by the 140-character limit. Writing using twitter is actually a neat exercise in minimizing your style, that is, distilling down your words to get the maximum meaning from your rambling nonsense. Later, you can add back in the nonsense if you desire. I've found it quite useful. You should give it a try. It's like what the NASA scientists must do to anything sent in space: How much can we put in this tiny space to get the maximum results? Even if you're writing a flowing literary fiction piece about the affect a sneeze had on the love life of a rich woman's downfall from grace to poverty and ultimate rise at the cost of the downfall of her lover who dies of syphilis from an angry short-lived affair with his aunt after she was raped by aforementioned woman's father who had relapsed from his opium addiction and was out of his mind, (breath) tightening is the number one rule of good writing. (You would have thought that I would have tightened that sentence for you. Where would the irony have gone?)

Back to the main point: uncomfortable poetry lies at both ends of the spectrum. gushy love poetry from day's of yore:

Love comes in different ways,
and to most of God's creatures
on unexpected days.

Or, to the really weird stuff that enters the head and needs to be purged least you go insane thinking, where did that come from?:

Jeffrey Dahmer's Cat
I found myself up on a hill
where I caught a little chill
I went hunting for a thrill.
Shot a cat. Kill, kill, kill, kill.

Both extremes will be in the poetry book, POEMS FOR PLATYPUS. Readers will have to decide whether to befriend or run away from me. But in either case, do so efficiently.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: The Pit Stop

Amazon Link

A short review for a short story that I picked up in the electronic give-a-way rack. The Pit Stop is a solid short story mystery with a few confusing passages between clarifying reality from paranormal activities, some which don't really get explained away clearly, and dream sequences. I'm not a fan of dream sequences to help explain the plot, but these were adequately handled. The nice thing is the surprise killer, but it also brings to bear some less than stellar police work to finding a killer. It's better than average, but not great--a "4".

Monday, January 21, 2013

MMWUC: The answer is blowing in the wind

Involuntarily, I got dragged into an argument over self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. Some days I get tired of this discussion. Bottom line: every writer needs to go the best path for him or her.

"Chatting with the same friends over
& over is great, because I forget after
about ten seconds what they say."
Yes, we all know that the traditional publication business favors massive block busters and celebrity one-shot wonders. The business is in disarray and the big houses are collapsing into each other. Soon they will be a BLOB with only smaller presses hovering around it like small moons around a giant gaseous planet. However, like in all walks of life, there are still honest and reputable persons in this industry (agents and editors and publishers) sniffing around for that writer who has that something else, the zing to their words, that style to their prose, that story that rises above all the other barely retreaded tales with a fresh perspective on humankind. If you have that, you should really, really look for an agent despite the miserable returns they offer--the potential national exposure far exceeds what most writers get from hobnobbing with the same people over and over again on the social media marketing circuit.

"It's Marvin Gaye. 'What's
going on?'"
Conversely, self-publishing is not the panacea to literary stardom or financial independence that people shout about. Sure there are those exceptions who make it, and immediately sign with a big traditional publishing house, but, in general, most self-published writers are too impatient with their wares, unwilling or unable to deal with the soak time and editorial bitch-slapping necessary to make their story rise above the average story that is 5-rated by friends and family and then sits, after about six months, on the shelf like another can of beans (thanks for the image Billy Joel). But it can be fun. It can be exciting to try different styles and genres without the gate-keepers. I'm publishing a book of poetry in April, after having put out a short story anthology, which was preceded by three mystery novels of considerable length. Would happen in the traditional publishing world. It makes me happy to do the side projects. Just wish it made me money...I'm honest.

"Murder! Murder! I'm outta here."
I remember taking a fiction writing class with Lee Smith in 1988 at NCSU. A well-respected agent was brought in as a guest lecturer one week to talk about her job. Like lap dogs, we all asked the normal questions, but the tone got a bit more contentious when Lee asked why the agent's share (and many other agents) had recently gone from 10% to 15%. The agent seemed a bit offended by the question, but slapped on that professional smile and said, "Well, I have to work a bit harder now to make a sale." End of lecture.

Well, I have to work a bit harder now too, and it didn't seem like a good reason for her or the industry to pick the pocket of the person producing the goods at the time. Why is it always the producer (writer, artist, farmer, fisherman, etc.) who always seems to get screwed the worst? I guess it's because we love what we do the most regardless of how we find those who appreciate it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Portrait in Wicker

The author of Portrait in Wicker wrote that she penned this short novel in two months. Unfortunately, it reads like it was done in two weeks. The basic premise of the plot, centering around a bigger-than-life child pornography ring with the protagonist as one of its earliest rescued victims, is worthy of Grisham or Connelly. The craft here is not. While there are some nice twists in the story, some were just silly and coincidental beyond belief. The protagonist seemed more interested in coffee, and later sleep, as though the author figured these made for significant character traits. They did not. The flat characters could have used deeper brush strokes rather than the psychology 101 that was painted here for some seriously afflicted good and bad people.

I sensed little understanding of how the FBI or police actually do their job. Also, evidence is kept in a chain-of-custody not a chain-of-command. Silly errors like this cropped up all of the time, along with numerous grammatical issues above my usually forgiving threshold. A host of civilians would not make up the kind of impromptu FBI/police/victims/judges SWAT squad in the way they were portrayed in the book with the psychologist protagonist seemingly running most of the show. And the ending made no sense whatsoever. "This is the story xxxx told me in his own words. Of course he thought I wouldn't be around to tell anyone, that I would be dead...." Hey, nice way to ruin the ending and suck the tension out of the story as the second banana bad guy spills his guts for no good reason.

There is much repetition. The ending dragged on, and when the ultimate bad guy was revealed, it wasn’t plausible. Where was all the "deep" psychological justification for the really bad guy to erect such an empire of evil as there was for the second banana bad guy? And there was no real reason to believe that this person could even pull it off, in secret, for all these years, while holding down a stressful full-time job. I nearly put this book down several times, but forged on. The author should remove this book, work on it for a year, and give the premise a story to match it. This is a "2".

Monday, January 14, 2013

MMWUC - Gingerfest

Ginger Root

It's nine in the morning and my feet are soaking in a ginger root hot bath once again. Why? Well, Diane suggested it and the quad of women playing recorder in the house yesterday agreed that it will help me recover from the flu I picked up on Friday that manifested itself on Saturday and beat the snot out of me on Sunday...nasty, nasty, nasty. The house smells of ginger. Good thing I like ginger. I feel that I might have to deal with this for a few more days at least.

BUT...It did not stop me from writing my minimal 500 words yesterday. I won't look at the muddled words I put down for a while, but I put them down. Don't forget your words. As a writer, that's all you can depend upon.

I think my next book will be, "The Year of Being Sick". While nothing I've had since Thanksgiving has been deadly (well, the flu can be), no matter how much I carp about it, being under the weather for an extended period of time does lead you to have some weird thoughts that can be extrapolated into a weird semi-humorous conspiracy story. Just what was in that flu shot? My wife and I had different flus and different times. Who sneezed on me to give me the cold I had? Was it on purpose? And why can't the doctor identify the type of respiratory infection I had? What isn't he telling me? Is it really an alien parasite? So much bullhock to write. So little time. Time to heat up the ginger root water.

Write on! Write on!! Brothers and sisters, amen. Write on!!! 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review: When Ravens Fall

Quoth the Raven:
If you like deep character studies with considerable violence, mayhem, and a lusty ogre, When Ravens Fall might be your book. The author has crafted an interesting story in which the plot lines twist and turn, and eventually end up pulling the reader and the major players to a satisfying ending, and a well-played final confrontation. (Yeah, I got the aiming parallel from the opening to the ending. Well played.) To get there, you have to negotiate some off-putting language, the author's unique telling style, and the liberal use of head-hopping between characters. Sometimes it was quite effective; sometimes not so much; sometimes confusing.

The author has certainly created a character as bad tothe bone as the 1980s song would suggest a person could be--he was born that way. His ability to manipulate people and miraculously stay out of prison was as extraordinary as the weakness of so many people to fail to see what he really was -- a psychopathic monster. It was well played most times, though I do believe it dragged a bit when psychoanalyzing some of the secondary characters.

I'm surprised that after six months on the Amazon shelves, it appears I'm going to be the first reviewer--a rarity for me. The author's publisher must be asleep, marketing-wise and editorially. There were a number of editing issues, mostly grouped in the beginning and end, but none of that affected my rating. This book straddles the fence. I'm not a fan of vast head-hopping, I think it often defocuses the story. I'm also not a fan of gratuitous violence in a vacuum of a balanced response. The police must not exist in this part of the U.K. But I must admit I liked bow tied around the plot. Raven can caw a 4, just barely.

Monday, January 7, 2013

MMWUC: Writers Write

Even if you listen to music
just keep on writing.

Your Monday Morning Wake-up Call (MMWUC) is short and sweet today: Write. No pretenses. No excuses. Get the cat off the keyboard. Tell the family there's cereal, bread and butter, frozen TV dinners. There will be another sunny, rainy, snowy, windy day in the future to explore the outside. 500 words. Do it! Do it, now! Don't make me get Jillian Michaels on your case to sweat out those words. I know it's math 500 words a day x 300 days is 150,000 words. Hey, it's a novel or two!

I'm guilty just as you are of not giving myself permission enough to write. Let's stop that. Before you go to the next blog, twit, Facebook picture of fuzzy kittens, go write for 20 minutes.

Okay. It's the wake-up call. And it's short. I have to go write.

- - -

Ronald stared at the girl. She was in her mid-teens, maybe sixteen if he had to put an age to her face: light blue eyes framed by thick shoulder length chestnut hair-a Maureen Sullivan look. The small button nose centered or slightly oval face, and the lips were in need of puckering, primping, lipstick, and kissing to make the fuller. She wasn't perfect, but she was perfect to him, especially when she smiled and the dimples formed. How can the mere appearance of a dimple make him almost fall to the ground and blow in reverence in her direction. The girl listened to her friend, the more iconic blond cheerleader-type chatter on and on and on. He couldn't hear her words, but heard her nasal high-pitched voice and squeals of laughter when she said something she was obviously in love with. The girl...too impersonal, she was Robin to him wore a button-down brown coat with leather trim that extended to just below her knees. Her brown boots rose to meet the hem. She had a habit of touching the cheerleader on the shoulder with her brown-gloved hands. Leather also, Ronald assumed. The action always toned down the cheerleader as though Robin sensed the one-sided conversation had grown to loud even in the open air park shortly before noon on that Sunday.

He'd seen Robin twice before, distance glances, too brief to snack on. Today, was an unexpected feast. She's been there alone for five minutes, when he first thought about approaching her, but then the cheerleader arrived. Now, twenty minutes later, whatever courage he had dissipated.

Ronald had tired of his parents' continual arguing and left with his e-reader for the park despite the cool temperatures. The weather, however, was on his side. No wind stirred and the sunshine warmed his chosen little alcove. Early daffodils, grape hyacinths, and a trio of late-blooming Daphnes filled the air with a strong fragrance. A few early strollers lingered over the smell; he suspected they wanted the small bench he occupied. Not happening. He pilfered a soft drink, three egg bagels, and grabbed a handful of jellies and jams in little packets from the kitchen when he left. He'd eaten one of the bagels with grape jelly. For him, it as a gastronomical delight. He was there for the long haul, and seeing Robin was the bonus that crowned his day.

A boisterous voice up the path to his left yelled, "Yo!"

Robin and the cheerleader looked up. His stare met Robin's for a micro-second that burned in his heart.

- - Okay, 20 minutes up. 427 words. Just do it! - -

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Mind of a Madman: Evil Unleashed

Mind of a Madman: Evil Unleashed is a thriller. Like most thrillers, the suspension of disbelief must be overcome for the thrilling part of the story to grab the readers by the throat and allow the story to march forward unrestrained. It didn't work for me. The "carefully planned" escape was more coincidental luck and poor police procedures than careful planning. And our main protagonist is declared dead twice in the most incompetent ways possible in the first two days. And he seemed to get, find, or stumble across just what he needed at every turn. Still I read on. The author had an engaging character with a never stated mental problem (for which there was never any true indication that he was getting medical help though it was stated he was), and I was curious.

But the unlikely pursuit of Caleb, the escaped prisoner, across several states by a Kansas cop, sometimes as unglued as Caleb, and later joined by a Nebraska State Trooper, who quits his job to continue the pursuit that stretches over several months (don't remember the weather changing) and across several states, made the story harder and harder to accept. Caleb is one bad dude, and the graphic violence is what you would expect. She nailed some of those scenes. How he wanders around at his size without being spotted defies normal life, but this is fiction and a thriller.

I must confess. I was angry with the ending when I felt like I was coming to a conclusion only to turn the page and be greeted by a notice that the story continues in a second book. There are books that are series, where stories continue, new characters, new events, highs and lows, new adventures, even the reappearance of bad dudes, like Caleb. But they usually end with a conclusion, a message, a meaning, a lesson learned, a story arc completed with the bad guy confronting the last standing good guy to ensure his message: evil triumphs over good. This story just ends. Despite my issue with story construction, the writer writes well enough to garner a 3 for this novel.