Sunday, May 25, 2014

Book Review: The Neanderthal's Aunt

Hmmm! Let's create Jurassic Park (yes, I know it's off by 60M years, but the drift is there) in the womb of a monkey to give a rich, self-absorbed, and annoying woman a baby after her husband dies and then drag her sister, THE NEANDERTHAL'S AUNT, through this hellacious and suspect process. Could work. I love the braided plot line where odd little tidbits in life coalesce into hair-brained logic at the end of the story. Though it starts off a bit slow, good moments of sheer lunacy thrive in the story. Some love interest aspects between two of the main characters didn't click with me. What does he really see in the aunt? How can she care for a playboy? The aunt is not quite Bridget Jones--though close, the science is a bit wacky or perhaps it's the lack of medical team support for the crazy science experiment that pulled me out of the story a few times, and the very ending seems emotionally right but the how and where were kind of hard to swallow.

Still it is a very good read for the beach or on the plane. You may even find yourself laughing out loud on a few occasions. With the right players, this might actually make a better movie than book. Zany romance female leads Renee Zellweger and Sandra Bullock are pushing the age envelope, but I think a fattened-up Alyson Hannigan could pull this off. This is a very strong 4-star book.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

SOCIAL DEATH is deadly

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

SOCIAL DEATH by Tatiana Boncompagni is a well-written and layered murder mystery with lots of interesting details about the news reporting business, which I assume is accurate since I'm not in the biz. It was also nice to read a story where the police were not painted as total buffoons although what was considered a leak, lead, off-the record comment, or non-denial denial from the cops often seemed arbitrary. It is a fast-paced story with the expected twists and red herrings, a too-long denouement, and a few ambiguous last lines that will send conspiracy theorists rereading the book for "the truth" about the death of one character.

I never really warmed up to the protagonist, Cornelia "Clyde" Shaw, despite the explanations for her actions based on her past issues. She had far too many forgiving guardian angels especially for a career in an industry often painted, even in the story, as brutal and vicious. But life is two-faced. Had she been a man, her escapades would probably have been considered colorful rather than capricious and slutty. I believe this had to have been written this way on purpose. If so, well done.

Like many mystery readers, I play the game of detective alongside the protagonist. I love it when I'm totally fooled at the end. I was not fooled here. 43% of the way through my Kindle read, I knew who had committed the murder and more importantly, why. Yet, it did not deter me from enjoying the rest of the read. SOCIAL DEATH is a solid 4-star mystery. In the hands of an experienced screenwriter to tighten the story even more, it would make a good movie.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Two Short Reviews for Short Story Books

CHANCES by Norman Cooper is the second slimmest book I've ever purchased, but in its scant 22 pages are one okay, three very good and one excellent stories. (You'll have to figure out which is which on your own.) They are soulful looks inside characters' lives at critical junctures in their circumstances where life altering chances need to be taken or not taken. It's flash fiction, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. And yet, I feel some of the stories needed to have had the pixie dust of phrases, turns, and pithy lines sprinkled on them to enhance the reading experience to its fullest. I envision great things from Cooper once the knife blade is sharpened to the fullest extent. Here's your chance at an early preview of his writing in a 4-star flash-fiction book.

BROKEN ABROAD by Rasmenia Massoud is a book of nine well-played journeys of people abroad, searching for themselves or meaning to their existence. It is an overlooked 5-star gem of a book that digs deep into each of the main characters, and then digs a bit more as the author mines for what is the root of each person's existence and what they are trying to resolve. Unlike other deeply introspective short story writers whose stories or characters too often end up without fulfillment, creating a downward spiral look at life, Rasmenia has some stories that provide a hopefulness at the end of the life search being analyzed. To be sure there is heartbreak, but there is an embracement of our differences in most stories that, while even in tragedy, provide a hopeful boost for the human spirit. For short story readers, this is a book that should be read.

I was trying to have three collections for this posting, but the other two short story collections made me puke. One was so badly written, I swear the author pasted it together from a fourth-grade assignment; the other was just a badly written collection of ghoulish images with no plot or character development. Neither deserved review, both will die of electronic degradation.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: Oliver Stanton and the Josephine Key

B.T. Clifford's debut novel, Oliver Stanton and the Josephine Key is a good adventure story. B.T. has hit the right notes for that age group. Oliver has lost his parents and now must grow up with family he never knew he had, and they don't give him any time to adjust to doing so in the fast paced, short novel.

While somewhat light on the emotional recovery of Oliver's life-changing events, the adventure story holds enough thrills and chills (and creepy bugs--I hate scorpions) to keep the younger set engaged with the story and wanting more. The road trip for the Josephine Key provides Oliver with ample opportunities to act or not act on his internalizations with regard to establishing himself with his new family. The adults' actions are at times as reckless as what one would expect of teenagers, but that is the essence of adventure--barreling forward without caution--putting Oliver in good company.

I don't read much YA literature, so some of my expectations probably exceed those of the younger set; however, I hope that the next adventure, and I'm sure there will be one, digs into the overall story aspects a bit deeper than this one to give some subtext that might be appreciated on another level. For me it is a top-notch 3. For the targeted YA audience (boys in particular), expect a solid 4-star read. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Twisted

Out of the thirty-nine books I've read and reviewed this year, I'd only given five 5-star ratings. Twisted by Marjorie Brody makes it six and stands atop of the stack so far in 2013. In fairness to most of the self-published books I normally read, this one did have a bona fide editor and publisher. It shows. Self-pubbers take note. It sometimes does take a team to make it great even if you choose to self-publish.

M. Night Shyamalan needs to read this book to get his mojo back. The secrets, turns, and twists are well-played and the character development is what drives that. The story tension dips slightly after the well-crafted opening. But it is easily ignored as the story takes off in several braided plot lines (not an easy task), converging to a well-played conclusion that left me as satisfied as if the story elements were the basis of a gourmet feast I'd just consumed. Reality smacks us hard sometimes, and the examination of the courage it takes to ultimately face that reality builds until Sarah owns it--wherever it leads her.

Bottom line: it's a 5. Go read it. In a few years, you'll enjoy the movie.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: Zero Balance

Zero Balance -- What a snake pit of bad guys! Why would anyone even want to stay and help save a company of vipers like Audra did? Even with her overly long interior monologue early in the story (which several characters also had), I'm still at a loss why she stayed. (Yeah, I read all the psychobabble why.) Most evil people can't hide their evil that well. And she sure was blind to so many of them. Not new, but a rather unique, the author gets points for doing each chapter with the first person POV of each character. However, it made the read choppy for me, resetting what was going on over and over again instead of freely flowing from one chapter to another following the flow of a rather twisty and complex plot line. The device worked better near the end than the beginning.

Despite a decent top-level plot, I had to overcome the believability associated with many of the detailed aspects of the plot. The bad guys' (and there were some interesting end-of-tale twists) planning was either over-the-top with preparation that was going to be easily unraveled by a competent detective or haphazard impromptu efforts to fix several miscues. If you must have an evil genius, make the plan equivalent. The most silly event was the guy in the bushes near the end, and the stretched-beyond-belief reason why Audra had to go home again. Every rental car in Phoenix was rented? Come on, now.

There was suspense, but in the end, it wasn't a very satisfying read for me. I couldn't even get behind Audra, despite some of her heroics in the end. Nearly everyone was bad, badder, or just evil, with odd vigilante justice metered out near the end using a crude technique that had almost no margin of belief that it would work as designed. The only one I felt for was the detective for being drawn into this mess, and the older woman, whose centric role in all this still mystifies me a bit. This is a fence-straddler for me. Since I'm not enticed to read the first or next book in the series, I'll give it a top-notch "3".

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review: Murder and Mayhem in the Big Apple

Still about murder and mystery, but it's non-fiction. Murder and Mayhem in the Big Apple chronicles the rise of the BlackHand group to the downfall (that we know of) of its successor, the notorious Murder Incorporated. The author has certainly done his homework for this short true crime book, including many comments from the actual bad guys, and this is where this true crime book doesn't quite do it all for me. As interesting as the events are, there is a flatness to the end of the individual stories. It's not a big deal, but it is there to me.

There were so many names (good and bad and stupid) that it was hard to following the main story at times. With a bit more character portrayal, I don't think my mind would have wandered as much as it did. Still, if you are into the history of New York criminals, this is a great place for resource material.

One thing it did show is that even for the bad guys, the pull of family and the familiar is strong. It was that pull that was the downfall of so many bad guys as they snuck their way home. I'm kind of glad for their downfall, but there is some kind of social statement that can be made there if I was a social scientist. I don't read much non-fiction, but this is a top shelf 4 to me.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: Tidal Surge

Read an ARC. Equal parts horror, suspense, romance, and paranormal mysticism, TIDAL SURGE is a heavily plotted, well-written novel that is captivating on several levels. While the main character, Liliha, searches for peace, that's the last thing that comes to her even with marriage to the love of her life and a hopeful attempt at reconciliation with her daughter from a previous marriage. All this occurs despite her empathetic prowess through ancient Egyptian artifacts that can elevate one's positive or negative impacts on the lives of others.

The author balances several characters effectively and breathes life into each of the diverse individuals, ensuring they come together in the horrifying conclusion that bodes a promise of more to come for some of the characters. The suspenseful plot twists and turns continuously and is enhanced by the moody British weather. (Is it ever not moody?)

This is a worthy sequel to STILL ROCK WATER. While I'm not big on the paranormal aspect of the story (a personal bias), others who like Egyptian lore, spiritualism, and paranormal effects on the here-and-now should find this an excellent read. I liked the crisp and clean language. The sub-plots held more interest for me than the main paranormal plot line. Liliha might try to influence me to give this a "5", but for my more reality-based taste, it's a top shelf "4".

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: A Stallion to Die For

If you love horses with a dash of family saga, A Stallion to Die For is a 5-star read. I'm not a horse person. There--I said it--but I kept an open mind while reading this story written with barely a grammatical hiccup, which interrupts the narrative of too many self-pubbed novels. Well done. Read reviews from horse people with regard to the validity of the inside scoop into this elite and very subjective world. The action is crisp and precise even if I still don't know a canter from a trot to a gallop, or the cross country scoring methodology of this type of riding. The scoring logic did throw me a few times. And why are babies allowed on course where 1400 pound animals are going to be running with locomotive power?
Not "My Friend Flicka"

While the protagonist, Lexy, deals with her share of emotional baggage believably, some secondary characters felt more like window dressing, stampeding into a scene then dismounting into the sunset. Bo, the equine protagonist, is superbly drawn, even to a horse-challenged person. Hamp, Lexy's main squeeze, felt wooden, with only three emotional reactions to most situations: extreme rage, emotional detachment, or tender lust. His vague motivations were not enough. And considering this was also a mystery, the sheriff and her investigations disappear for far too many pages for this mystery lover. She plays a pivotal role around which she seems disengaged. Lexy's amateur detective excursions--some of which were motivationally handicapped--keep her in jeopardy despite my constant warnings to not go there.

The mystery was more about suspense in the mind of Lexy than this reader. Though adequately developed, I would have loved more build-up around the red-herring bad guy or even less certainty over the bad guy until much later in the story. That others were aghast over the character's emotional implosion in the end says a lot about family sagas where those closest to a situation are usually the most clueless. Well done. Most puzzling was the positive outpouring for the murderous and arsonist bad guy at the end. Tie it all together, and this is a solid read worthy of time on the front porch rocker sipping ice tea in Southern Pines. A top class "4" from me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Guest Blog Interview with Abbe Diaz

And now for something different. This week, I'm feasting on a short interview with Abbe Diaz about publishing, eating in NYC, and her new series books. Her PX This book is free on Kindle, but only for a limited time. 

Abbe Diaz is the author of PX This. (Diary of the “Maître d’ to the Stars”) and PX Me. (How I Became a Published Author, Got Micro-Famous, and Married a Millionaire.) She is also a freelance commercial-artist, designer/dressmaker, and restaurant consultant. She has worked in the restaurant/bar industry for nearly 25 years, with numerous stints throughout the New York dining/party scene that include: Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel, Club USA, Coffee Shop, Spy, Cafe Tabac, The Strand (Miami Beach), Mercer Kitchen, Ilo, Lotus, and Theo. She served as the opening maître d’ for The Park, Smith, and 66.
One of several volumes.

What’s the one best improvement in self-publishing now over ten years ago?


Ten years ago eReaders didn't even exist. Basically, a self-published book was "print on demand" only. So although the process of publishing was relatively easy, the system of selling books was difficult because books which were printed "on demand" were very expensive, simply by virtue of the printing operation (not to mention the door-to-door delivery).

For example, my 468-page book retailed at $29.99— for a soft cover! That made it damned near impossible to market. I got so many complaints about it, and even my own family started demanding free copies instead of supporting a struggling new author like a loving family should. Most authors know it's hard enough to sell a book as it is; just imagine how challenging it is when you are charging an arm and a leg and a firstborn.

On top of all that, it turned out to be a double-edged sword. I declined a quasi-offer from a traditional publishing house, because I wanted to maintain creative control over my work. But then after I self-published, I reconsidered and spoke with several literary agents thinking I could find a publisher who could butcher enough trees and distribute so many copies of my book it would end up in the discount bin for 99 cents, but none of them were interested in representing me unless I'd sold "at least 5,000 units." Now I ask you, if I could have sold 5,000 units at thirty bucks a pop, what the hell would I need a literary agent for?

Now you can sell books for as little as 99 cents without all that rigmarole, if you want. Hooray!

What’s the one biggest disappointment in the lack of self-publishing progress?


Did you know that authors still cannot present their books in the specific font of their choice? They can't even control whether it's a serif or a sans-serif. I mean, yes there are expensive eBook conversion services which can "embed" fonts, but the Kindle devices themselves are not always compatible with the outcome.

Yea yea so what, you ask— who do I think I am, e.e. cummings? Well okay, let's assume I am e.e.cummings. Just imagine how frustrated I would be.

Are you still banned from restaurants?

Hey, I am not banned from restaurants; I am banned from one restaurant group. Because they're cowardly and cheesy. But if you were to ask any staffer that's below top-tier management all up in that mess, they would tell you what a hero I am.

All the other restaurants love me— I'm a great and frequent customer, I never complain, and I always tip really well. And besides, I never insulted any restaurateur who didn't patently deserve it.

Do you worry about retaliatory food in your orders? Skate disguised as flounder?

There are only handful of creepy chefs whose food I wouldn't trust. Believe me, I don't want to eat their food anyway. So no, I don't worry.
Dine On This Book 

The killer asteroid is coming. To which NYC restaurant do you put on your Jimmy Choos and run there to eat?

Can I pick two places and pedal in my Jimmy Choos from one to the other on a Citibike or something? Cuz right now I can't decide between Omar's and Maison O.

Oh okay, I pick Omar's. Especially since the food is great but I hear they're maybe about to lose their chef, Kenny Cuomo. Oopsie, I think that's probably supposed to be a secret, but "news" like that is forever falling right into my lap.

Ha, you should forward this blog post to Eater New York, they would kill for a "scoop" like that. Then again, don't hold your breath for any acknowledgement, because supposedly I am "blacklisted" now for delineating all their depravity in my second book, PX Me (How I Became a Published Author, Got Micro-Famous, and Married a Millionaire (available now on Amazon!) and for putting a photograph of their jerkfaced co-founder on my hilarious trailer video (viewable now on YouTube!

I would give it a try anyway, though. The experiment alone is fascinating, no?

Bill Gates offers you his fortune if you eat at the worst restaurant you have ever eaten in. Do you eat there? Why/why not?

His entire fortune? Oh hell yes, I would do it for a mere one-tenth of his fortune. I would even eat at one of those places operated by that handful of aforementioned creepy chefs. I wouldn't worry about being poisoned, because I would take Bill Gates's fortune and just buy the entire restaurant. And if the owners were stubborn and egomaniacal and refused to sell the restaurant to me, then I would just buy the whole fucking building.

More About Abbe Diaz

Abbe has been featured in various media outlets such as The New York Daily NewsThe New York Post, msn.comThe Morning Show (Australia), CBS’s The InsiderThe New York ObserverBlackbookTime Out New York, Perez Hilton, Gawker, LXTV-NBC, NBC Chicago, New York magazine, Mediabistro,, and, just to name a few. For more visit: Twitter: Facebook:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review: Long Doom Calling

Read the ARC for Long Doom Calling. The fourth book of the Higher Ground Series is the best at pulling all the various plots of the epic story together to bring the adventure to Long Doom to a climax for this version of what happens after the great flood many years in the future. Has mankind changed? Stayed the same? Retracted? Grown? Read it and find out. You won't be dissatisfied.
Is this humanities future?

The writing is very clean and tight--to my personal taste, a bit too tightly reined in at times when bridging scenes. The personalities of the large cast are well defined and the action uncluttered, easily followed. There is a bit too much serendipity for me--characters getting what they need, but rest assured, there's usually a price to be paid for the acquisition. Quibbles over the believability of the future of humanity is what makes books about Dystopian and Utopian futures rich fodder for discussion over tea, wine, or hard liquor. Whatever your take on the future, the authors have laid out a vision that is, for the most part, plausible in the literary world. The main plot winds its way with twists and turns worthy of a passing nod to The Bard in the making of kings and queens over the British Isles.

It is nigh impossible to determine where one author leaves off and the other one picks up the story--a significant accomplishment. There are enough strong characters for every reader to identify with one or another, and root for, boo, or hiss their heroes and villains. I'm giving this book the little toe into a "5" rating zone. And oh yes, I get the play on words for the entire series. Well done.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Review: A New Dawn Rising

A New Dawn Rising has all the elements of the lone wolf, ex-cop with old wounds story genre. It is well put together without a lot of self-publishing hiccups, but I had a tough time getting behind Sam, the protagonist, early in the story. While it starts off well in the opening chapters, it does fade a bit as the author attempts to engage our intrigue in the story line and develops Sam's character before the action picks up midway through the story. It's also nice to meet a flawed person, Sam, who doesn't have all the answers. But his detective skills phase in and out of the story causing him to stumble along occasionally, sometimes making baffling decisions and mistakes that only worsen his situation. Perhaps it was the alcohol, but at times I felt led by the author less by the action. Not a major issue though.

In my novels, I also have a lot of characters for the reader to come to grips with. It's tough keeping them distinctive for the reader. The author did a good job for the most part. But too many of the characters were fairly shallower, almost cardboard cut-outs we've seen before. It took too long to get a feel for some of the main characters, like Carl. At first, I thought someone in his late 50's, than early 30's, than trying to piece the timeline, he must have been in his mid-40's. The same was true with Sam's love interest. I thought a teenager at first, then she turns out to be in her late twenties. Why important? Their actions were at times confusing based on what they should or could have been doing. Carl, himself, was the most confusing person to figure out, and left me wondering if he could have been the portrayed mastermind in business and crime.

The ending did wrap up a twisty plot despite the fact that I beat Sam (and the police) by 100 pages with anticipating the big reveal. For a debut novel, this is a good read, but lacks a definitive punch to make it a great read. It does have the look of a positive series. It is a solid 4.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: Storm Surge

Storm Surge by J.D. Rhoades has a strong plot, but with one unbelievable twist - timing a burglary to occur during a hurricane. I'm sure that point won't bother many thriller readers. Go ahead and read this during hurricane season down at the beach, but it bothered this weather geek who knows you can't predict the path of even a category 5 hurricane two days in advance, and this burglary must have been planned long before that based on what happens in the story.

This story does have going for it Max Chase, if that's your real name, and a mother/daughter team that has enough backstory to make them interesting. The story hook is solid and should draw in any thriller reader. But I must confess I had some difficulty keeping the bad guys straight during the start of their misadventure.

Living near the North Carolina coast, I enjoyed the realistic portrayal of events during the storm's rampage, though for the life of me, I'm not sure why the various characters in their run-a-bouts weren't piercing by flying debris to the point at which they were fully imbedded pincushions. This is a solid read, but the next time I meet J.D., I'm going to scold him for the minor spelling and grammar errors. A solid 4 that can blow some people away--if you deserve it.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: The Castlegate Club

I confess I critiqued a tiny portion of The CastlegateClub a long time ago. I detect a hint of a Russian tragedy in this story where everyone suffers and no one wins, but the story is without the uplifting and powerful writing of a Russian master to capture and fire our imagination. The intricate plot is solid material. The rising tension is evident with some nice twists. However, I found some of the mechanics to propel the story forward not fully engaging.

Mike McGrath, the protagonist, doesn't grow. He's the same bull-headed, 40-year-old winner-takes-all adult despite the damage to those around him as he was as a star athlete in high school. His lack of insight to his own issues and alternative actions to achieve his goals are sometimes hard to swallow. He's a one man wrecking machine, and the person he wrecks most often is himself. His main antagonist is slightly better developed, spiraling downward into the criminal world by birthright, desire, and situation to which the reader is witness.

While the author has some of the interrelationships between characters spot on, the reader is at the mercy of some repetitive and dragged out dialogue and memes to get the point. And then when you want to be at the climax of the story, most of it takes place off page. We are left with a dénouement of sorts that I truly don't understand, but then again, I'm not drawn to Russian tragedies. It's a 3.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review: Claws of the Griffin

When rich northerner, Peter Reynolds, heads to North Carolina for the funeral of an old girlfriend, he gets more than he expected including murder. Claws of the Griffin is a must read for anyone who likes their mysteries served with a southern flavor. The author does a could job of keep us guessing the outcome with well-played twists until the very end. It's got the big toe firmly planted in the 5-star rating arena. A good read for a hot southern night. Full disclosure: I read the ARC of this story.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Two short story reviews for the price of one blog view

The Player is another very good short story by Linda Johnson that puts you in arms reach of a psychopathic killer and his modis operandi. This could have easily been extended with more interplay with the cops and the victim's family to heighten the tension and make the ending sharper. It was a bit too straight on and in need of a few more curves. The last sentence confused me for a while, but any story that makes me remember it long after reading it (and I read it over a month ago), makes me bump this up a notch. The Player slips into the low "5" range for a short story. Job well done.

Delightfully Departed is a nice, short read, about a 'justifiable' rant and its consequences, but there's really not much to make a reader sit up and take notice even with an epilogue. And I'm not sure a story that is probably no more than 2,000 words long needs an epilogue. A story of this length needs more, a cruel twist of fate, more counter-punching, something even more ironic in the ending than what was dished out. This is average fare--a "3".

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: One Time on Earth

Novels are sneaky things. A reader never knows when one will capture his attention and for what reasons. That's how it was for me and One Time on Earth by Neil Newton. Newton tries to capture that moment in time for a 15-year-old English boy who's enraptured with the Apollo missions leading up to Apollo 11, when man first steps foot on the moon. It drew me in. I was that geeky kid at that time, explaining the moon missions to the adults in my world who couldn't comprehend the idea of going to the moon. In fact, my grandmother died a decade after the deed, believing it was a lie.
Times were surely

Newton does a good job demonstrating the boy's obsessive nature with the event and how he perceives its significance. Set in an English city in the midst of an urbanization project that is tearing down the neighborhood and moving people out, the landscape becomes as foreign as the lunar landscape by the end of the story--some nice symbolism. Newton delves into great detail about the place. It will capture some, but at times it felt over-written. The travelogue adventures of time and place drew me into an England I don't know. I envision this story as a moody British movie ala The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner where the struggles are as much physical as they are emotional and cultural, responding to the change of times and events the late 1960s brought to us.

The dialogue drags a bit in this literary romp, but the subtleties of language along with the verbal sparring are what would have been appropriate in this era. And the one line I thought for sure would have been there ("That's one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind."), was told me in narrative form. Why? This is a top-shelf "4". And if your taste runs to British coming of age stories, some might nudge it up a notch. Well done.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Interesting Story

The theme of good versus evil sits on top of the question, 'What would you do for love?' Stephen Douglass's book, The Bridge toCaracas, is a heavily plotted story within the murky world of the oil and gas industry that he seems familiar with. It takes place in the 1960s through the 1970s, and centers on how Jim Servito steals boatloads of money from the industry and screws everyone who gets in his way.

The story has lots of potential, but neither Mike King, the protagonist, nor Karen Taylor, his love interest engaged me. No spoiler here--Karen is kidnapped by terrorist and presumed dead. Mike moves on and marries the wrong woman. Bad enough. It happens. Karen returns--no big shock--and moves on now that Mike is unavailable. What bothered me is that the convenient plot point of Karen's abduction, which sets up the star-crossed lover theme, seems to have had little emotional effect on Karen. I kept waiting for her horrendous life event to impact her current life and the story. It never materializes. And Mike, this really smart guy, blunders his way through traps set up by Servito to make Mike's life miserable without getting a clue. Mike seems at times to only be aided by chance (admittedly some of it in the beginning by shrewd moves), luck, coincidence, and finally, at the climax, assistance from a total stranger to solve his problem. Even when the women he loves is being brutalized by Servito in the middle of the story, he does nothing for months except to have rendezvous sex. What starts out sharp and thrilling, peters out for me. In the end, the events and actions felt more staged and Mike's actions reckless, reactionary, and without thought more so than realistic--often causing heartache and loss for others.

This is not to write that this is a bad book. The writing is fine and premise strong. The middle had copyediting issues, but not too severe. It just lacked the character development and story ending dynamics that should have been there considering the promise of the beginning. I occasionally mention books that should be read fast to skip over the weak points. This would be one of them. I can see lovers of action and adventure stories falling for this story. Had the ending been sharper, this novel might have been a "4." As is, it is slightly above average, a strong "3". 

Monday, April 22, 2013

MMWUC - 17-Year Cicada Cycle

This year is the 17-year Cicada Cycle when that strange spaceship noise will blow your mind. This is one of the sixty-six stories in BATHROOM READING--Short Stories for Short Visits that touches on this subject. Enjoy while you still can.


At some point, Bob Zucker slept. At another point, he awoke, but as he lay there in bed, he couldn't recall either of those points in time or how long they had lasted. All he could think about was the damn noise the cicadas made. Hour after hour, day after day, night after night. And he left the noise of the city for the peacefulness of the country. He turned over in bed and realigned his pillow over his ears. “I could sleep better under the El.”

The cicadas seemed to be pointing their unwanted attentions at him. For the first three weeks, he heard them everywhere: home, work, at the park, fishing, outside the bowling alley, coming home drunk from the bar. “Ubiquitous.” The word dribbled out of his mouth, as he slipped out of bed and went to the kitchen for a beer and whiskey chaser. The sleeping pill wasn't working. He could feel tightness in his chest. He belched. Some relief. He noticed the cicada noise was a bit less intense in the kitchen, so he drank there.

He cursed the cicadas. He cursed his boss, Mr. Barrister, for the pressure the bastard applied when he knew that Bob was having trouble sleeping. He cursed Acme HVAC for not fixing his air conditioning unit, and then not returning when he’d threatened them with a lawsuit. He cursed his wife, Matilda, for insisting on the move out to the country, and then for leaving him just after the cicadas started their racket. She claimed it was his temper, not the bugs. Everyone and everything else can dump on him, but he’s not supposed to get angry about it? Right! One beer became two. Two led to a third with another shot.

By the fourth one, he envisioned the death of each cicada. “Damn their crusty little empty-shelled bodies everywhere.” When he had opened the fifth beer and drank the third shot, he got up and staggered over to the gun case. He extracted the shotgun, and then decided on his deer rifle. “More noise for the little buggers to deal with.”

Out on the porch, he loaded four shells. He fired at the tall oak in front of the house. “Take that you bastards.” His neighbor's light came on and a voice rang out.

“Bob, are you nuts? Put that gun away before you hurt someone.”

“Screw you, Mark.”

Bob fired again and then laughed before noticing that the noise seemed to have diminished somewhat. “Hey, maybe the little buggers don’t like loud noises.” He fired a third shot higher in the tree. “Maybe there's more of you up there.”

“Bob, put the gun down.” Mark marched up Bob's driveway. His wife, Abigail, trailed behind him.
Bob sneered. “Can't you see I'm trying to help everyone out?”

“Mark, don't go there,” Abigail pleaded, tugging on his shirt tail.

“Just leave this to me,” he hissed back at his wife.

“He’s drunk again. Let it go.”

Bob laughed. Mark stepped onto the sidewalk leading up to the front porch. Bob’s demeanor changed. He pointed the gun at Mark. “Get the heck off my property.”

“Don't be stupid and don't point that gun at me.”

“I'll point it anywhere I want.”

Abigail stepped in front of Mark. “Let's just go.”

“Yeah, go.” Bob echoed Abigail's request.

Mark stared at Bob. With Abigail pulling on his arm, Mark finally turned and walked away.

Another shot rang out. Abigail screamed. Mark grabbed her. They both turned around to see Bob laughing, his rifle on his hip pointing to the sky. “Cicadas got you spooked?” Bob said, and then stuck out his tongue at the two of them before he dropped to the ground.

Later, Detective Stark examined Bob's prone body. “This is another one for that website about dumb people doing dumb things,” Stark said. “First he shoots at the tree, then he confronts his neighbor, then he fires one shot straight into the air, and damn if it doesn't come right down on him catching the artery just right. He bled out in four minutes.”

“Stupid bastard,” the patrol officer said. “Found the source of that noise. This white noise generator is set to turn on every night at nine. It was in the attic, but whoever put it there forgot to unplug it. Damn thing sounds like cicadas.”

“Yep, glad that racket's over with for another seven years,” Stark said, turning the noise generator around. “Says here, it’s the property of Maltida Zucker. She must be his wife.”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: Three Books For One

(1) Poems For A Platypus by me! Okay. This is self-serving, but I never had a book that I could claim is the #1 best-seller in a paid market (Australian/Oceanian) or #12 in the paid U.S market for 20th Century poetry books (even though we are in the 21st century). Platypi must be very happy about the poems in my book along with some of the human purchasers. But how do you rate a poetry book? I never really thought much about it. With 171 poems, do you have to like all of them? Half of them? One-quarter of them? Or, if just one poem moves you to tears or joy or happiness, is that enough to give it a high rating? I never thought about me being a poet. I just like writing my thoughts down that way on occasion. What's next? Poet Laureate of Chatham County? Surely, I jest. I do, well, you never know.

(2) The Bustacious Bunny by Andrew Peters is not a novella for everyone. The Private Investigator (PI) Otis talks to himself, good guys, bad guys, and the reader. That will certainly be off-putting for some, but I liked the off-beat PI from Wales living in Memphis, Tennessee, trying to solve low-hung fruit crimes, but who gets drawn into one that he openly admits is out of his league. Yet, he soldiers on, and like any good writer, Peters convincing puts Otis into a corner wherein the reluctant hero must take up the case.

There is a fair amount of funny asides and situational humor worthy of a few chuckles and pleasant harrumphs as the overmatched Otis goes about his business, his own bacon being saved again and again by his modicum of insight, and dealing with a flotilla of really big guys (good and bad) to spice up the story. Though the opening was somewhat confusing and the plot not too deep, the PI (and author) moved the story right along. I want to give it a five-star rating, and I will...barely.

(3) Cop Shot by David DeLee is a police procedural short story with strong, clear writing. It was too short for the mystery at hand and where he wanted to take it. For the depth that the reader is supposed to feel, this story needed much more of everything (mood, storyline, feelings, angst, clues, push-back, back-story, etc.). It brushed many topics lightly, and though it had several potential suspects, the twists were still a bit thin (basically one and done). What we are supposed to believe at the ending is sad, but again without any additional depth, the emotional appeal wasn't quite there for this reader. Now, you might be thinking I didn't like the story. I liked it. He held back information until needed, and tried to supply a gritty atmosphere. It's good, not great. It's a 4-rated story you won't regret spending time with.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: The White Mountain

I'm not sure how The White Mountain ended up on my Kindle. I was downloading a mystery when this one popped-up like a parasite. So I read it. I don't know why, but it felt like it took forever to finish this short novel, and when I got to the end, I must admit, it didn't satisfy completely. The ending felt like a lead in to the author's next novel without fully wrapping up this one. The two main characters were well drawn (kudos), but I never understand how Randall ended up with Alice, and some of the timelines didn't seem to jive. It was twisty, but with only one really big surprise moment in the middle. The main plot line took some hard swallows to accept, and I did guess way early on, who the "third" one was, even before I knew there was a third one. Perhaps I read too much? With all the preparation, cloak and dagger surprises, and organizational advantages, I was under-awed by the climatic situation the bad guys put the good guys into to satisfy their 'what?'.

This is one of the few self-pubs that has minimal grammatical issues (kudos). Occasionally I read a book, and think, "This would be better as a movie." This is such a book (kudos). I know this is odd, but many good action sequences seemed to slow down the novel. I liked the details and explanations, but they seemed too much at times while reading but would translate better on the screen. The author missed opportunities to give the characters more dimension with the unexpected. When Mein Kampf picks up the cactus to throw at Randall, I was ready for something more than continued unrelenting fighting. I wanted Randall to stop the action: ["No that's Alice's favorite," Randall pleaded. Mein Kampf shrugged, put the potted Christmas cactus down, and picked up a bowling trophy to hurl at Randall.] The bad guys were just too much from central casting.

If you are into adventure thrillers, super killers, or spy vs. spy vs. spy stories, this is for you. Go forth and read, you will enjoy it. Though there were places for improvement, this was, overall, a decent book. It keeps moving, has some nice chapter endings to keep us hooked, and as mentioned, plenty of lies and twists, all essential for a thriller. It's better than average, but it's not great. It's a "4".