December 29, 2011

The God of the Hive ***

*** The God of the Hive, Laurie R King, 2010

King really hit it out of the park with this one. Like Michael Connelly, King has the knack of keeping a series alive with a book that is as good or better than the last one every time.

This one picks up where The Lanugage of Bees leaves off, like the next minute. I found it interesting that King never picks back up the whole abandonded bee hive issue that consumed much of the first hundred pages of The Language of Bees. Which was fine with me. It was starting to pale for me before the real spine of the story kicked in.

In The God of the Hive, King takes the multiple POV even further, as the story requires it, but the majority of the story remains from Russells POV. There was one small thing that annoyed me, a little dirty trick of misdirection done by pairing two scenes but (unknown to the reader) putting them out of chronological sequence. It created a lot of suspense for several dozen pages, but when the reveal happened, it felt like one of those scenes where you're all drawn in and then discover it was only a dream. But a minor quibble on what is an excellent book.

Waiting for my copy of Pirate King to arrive.

December 26, 2011

The Language of Bees ***

*** The Language of Bees, Laurie R King, 2009

In The Language of Bees, King accomplished a difficult task - to write a cliff hanger with a satisfying ending. I didn't realize this story was continued in The God of the Hive, and when I got to the end, that didn't bother me at all. The ending felt like an ending. The important points were wrapped up and the loose threads felt like they would take care of themselves.

In this novel, King continues the use of mutiple viewpoints she started in the last novel, but instead of the large sections in the POV of either Russell or Holmes (omniscient) as in Locked Rooms, The Language of Bees is primarily in Russell's POV with the occasional scene of Holmes and Damien rendered largely as dialog with little POV orientation.

But that's all the technical stuff. As a reading experience this started out a bit slow, taking close to a hundred pages before Russell really gets engaged in the investigation. However, it makes up for lost time and pretty quickly turns into a nail biter. This is vintage King/Russell and should not be missed.

December 22, 2011

Locked Rooms ***

*** Locked Rooms, Laurie R King, 2005

More Mary Russell goodness from Laurie R King, this time set in San Francisco. This time around Mary herself is in trouble and the mystery to solve concerns something that happened when she was six, during the aftermath of the great earthquake of 1906. Something she knows nothing about, but which has placed her life in danger.

In keeping with King's penchant for weaving in real or fictional characters of renown, a well-known American detective teams up with Holmes to play a significant role in the investigation. Prohibition also plays a big part, along with flappers and other icons of the Roaring Twenties.

On a technical note, all previous Mary Russell novels are exclusively in first-person POV. Locked Rooms has sections in Mary's first-person POV interspersed with sections in third person omniscient (sort of) which chronicle Holmes' side of the investigation. This technique is continued in the next Mary Russel novel, The Lanugage of Bees.

It also features something that King tends toward, a large section (30 pages) that explains all the backstory and pulls the strands together. Of course, Doyle himself used this technique a lot, so it's appropriate for the genre. Such sections can get tedious, but didn't in this instance.

Another Mary Russell novel worth reading. Get on it.

December 19, 2011

Cannibal Nights **

** Cannibal Nights: Pacific Stories, Volume II, Kiana Davenport, 2011

I bought this Kindle book and House of Skin three months ago in response to the storm of controversy that Davenport fell prey to in the clash of the old guard (traditional publishers) and the new guard (ebook self-publishing). I won't go into the various sides of the fracas, but there are probably points of merit in both camps, although I tend to side with the author, for obvious reasons.

I haven't read her previous, traditionally-published, work, but the endorsers include Alice Walker (The Color Purple), Isabel Allende (15+ novels, 30+ awards), Norman Mailer (need I say more?), The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune. Despite the very amateurish cover that screamed SELF PUBLISHED!!! I grew hopeful.

As the title suggests, Cannibal Nights is a collection of short stories. I'm more of a fan of the long form, although I have thoroughly enjoyed many short story collections, including those of Damon Runyon, P.G. Wodehouse, G.K Chesterton, O'Henry, Flannery O'Connor, and others. Aside from the last, not necessearily literary, perhaps.

While I found Davenport's writing engaging in spots and well crafted in others, I was disappointed. In many cases I felt like I was getting a story in summary, rapidly glossing through the high points with the occasional dip into an immediate scene, which failed to pull me into the narrative and connect with the characters. There were moments in George Bush and Papa at the Paradise that I enjoyed, and some of the title story, but often I felt the plot of the stories to be ennervatingly inevitable, cloyingly melodramatic, or tritely tragic.

Given the endorsements, I suspect that her other work is more compelling. We shall see what House of Skin brings us.


Why it matters.

Unfortunately, the formatting of the ebook was as amateurish as the cover. Absolutely zero navigation from the Kindle menu, although there is a TOC near the front. To get to it, you have to navigate to the cover and page forward ten pages or navigagte to the beginning and page back four pages. No logical TOC, no left/right button navigation between stories, which means she didn't create a toc.ncx file.

Vertical spacing is formatted via blank linespaces, so when you scroll between TOC items, you have to scroll through the blank lines as well.

Chapter headings are formatted with the anchor inside the heading tag, which means that the heading loses its formatting when navigated to via the TOC rather than the next-page key.

Paragraph formatting and scene changes are formatted properly.

I wish Davenport well, but if she's going to self-publish, should step up to the plate and either learn the technology or contract it out to a competent freelancer. And get a real graphic designer to do the cover.

December 15, 2011

Devil Red ***

*** Devil Red, Joe R Lansdale, 2011

Disclaimer: JLR is not for everyone.

We've reached the end of the year and the end of the extant Hap and Leonard books. As per classic Lansdale, the stakes are upped. I don't want to give away the ending. I'll just say that Hap ends up so far out of his league and doomed for failure that I don't know how any H&L tale after this can be anything except anticlimactic.

Here are a few gems I noted while reading Devil Red on the elliptical.

She was starting to get pretty lit, though she was an experienced drunk and wasn't losing her focus on the story, and the words came out clear, if slightly spaced, as if they had to stop and rest before going on.
He was all over the road, like a sidewinder snake trying to drive a tricycle.
Kincaid was sitting behind a large desk, and he looked older than sixty by no more than a hundred years. He was white-headed and his face seemed to have collapsed at some point and been blown back into shape with a water hose.

Devil Red has the usual cast of smartass good guys and bad guys and plenty of violence and gore. In other words, it fits in well alongside the others. Check it out if you're so inclined.

December 12, 2011

Kim ***

*** Kim, Rudyard Kipling, 1901

I found The Game so intriguing that I grabbed a 99-cent copy of Kim for the Kindle and read it through. This copy has photos of woodcut illustrations by Rudyard Kipling's faother, J. Lockwood Kipling.

A great story. It's a shame I never read any Kipling up to now. As a classic, I've always been leery of Kim and other Kipling novels. You know how classics, like other things that are supposed to be good for you, can be. Tedious, unpleasant, boring.

As Robertson Davies said of a character in A Mixture Frailties, "During the first day or two she attempted to get on with War and Peace, but found it depressing, and as time wore on she suffered from that sense of unworthiness which attacks sensitive people who have been rebuffed by a classic."

The writing style in Kim is dated, but engaging. It's a story of a boy and a Buddhist priest on a pilgrimage mixed with a spy novel. If that doesn't sound interesting, think again. Recommended reading.


Why review formatting?

Fully functional navigation, including TOC and chapter forward/backward keys.

Paragraph formatting: Good.

No apparent errors.

December 8, 2011

The Game ***

*** The Game, Laurie R King, 2004

In an earlier review, I said that King did Doyle one or two better. After reading The Game, I think she takes Dorothy Sayers game to the next level as well. In this story, character and sense of place trumps plot, which is quite Sayeresque (if I can use that word), but Mary Russell feels more vivid to me than Lord Peter Wimsey. Of course, it's been a decade or more since I've read Sayers, so perhaps I'm speaking a bit out of turn, but I don't think so.

Like Kipling's Kim, on which this story is based, and like O Jerusalem, large portions of the narrative are devoted to travelling, which could get tedious in less skilled hands. I found some of the tricks of Holmes' travelling magician to seriously stretch credulity, but if that is a flaw, it is a minor one.

However, the account of the first pig hunt had me turning pages like a madman, completely riveted and oblivious to my surroundings. It far surpassed the hunt in Justice Hall, although for some reason it reminded me of the horse-riding scene in A Letter of Mary.

In addition, I was so intrigued by the story, I immediately bought Kim for my Kindle and read it with great enjoyment before proceding to the next Mary Russell book. (Review to follow, eventually.)

I don't know what more I can say that I haven't said before to motivate you to read this series. Just do it.

December 5, 2011

*** A Hole in the Apple

*** A Hole in the Apple, Harley Carnes, 2011

For a guy who doesn't read thrillers, I seem to be doing an awful lot of it lately.

This debut offering from CBS News anchor/correspondent/commetator Harley Carnes is the novel equivalent of watching an entire season of 24.

Carnes starts off the novel with a literal bang, a schoolyard bombing in France, and ratchets things up from there. In addition to the gradually unfolding plot of terrorists smuggling nukes into the US (Hmm, why does that sound familiar to me?) there are increasingly intense set pieces that build to the thunderous climax. The first of these scenes involves a showdown on the George Washington Bridge that rivals anything I've seen or read in the genre.

As Southern boy who has been a resident of NYC for the past 30 years, Carnes knows whereof he speaks when it comes to the Big Apple, which is where the novel is set for the most part. You really get a sense of a wide swath of the life of the city, from the halls of power to the seamy underbelly of the streets.

He's also an aviator with over 25 years of flight time, which comes into play in the story's dramatic and tension-packed climax. In that regard it reminded me of another book I recently read in which aviation played a big part, Pilot Error.

One thing I liked about the book is that Carnes isn't shy about dialing things up a notch or two. In several scenes I found myself thinking, "He's not going to do that, is he? Oh, yes, he is."

If you're the type to read political action thrillers, you should check out A Hole in the Apple.


Why ebook formatting matters.

Table Stakes

I found several typos in the book, like "blueToyota" and "New York city." I'd be surprised if the typos are in the print book, although it is possible. Some publishers are less diligent in proofing the final draft of ebooks than for pbooks.


Full working table of contents, chapter navigation buttons.


Proper paragraph formatting and scene breaks.

December 1, 2011

Vanilla Ride ***

*** Vanilla Ride, Joe R Lansdale, 2009

Disclaimer: JLR is not for everyone.

I'm coming down the home stretch on the Hap and Leonard stories. Only one left after this and it just came out, so I don't have it, yet.

Vanilla Ride is more of the classic Lansdale H&L thrill ride, and is back to something more like a real structure than the last one. At least there's a definable goal, although it changes from rescuing Marvin's daughter to retrieving a mobster's son. And it sort of goes off the rails after that.

Most of what happens in a Hap and Leonard story isn't exactly plausible, but it's usually entertaining, especially if you like stories of people pounding and shooting each other interspersed with witty, if juvenile, banter. And evidently I do, although I didn't realize it before.

Here are a few gems in the collection:

P. 6. She had on a white shorty robe and her hair was bed fluffed and her legs were long enough to make a giraffe drown himself.

P. 9. Used to, you could leave your wallet on the porch swing and no one would bother it. These days, you left a cheese grater out, someone would steal the holes.

P. 54. One ear floated out from the side of his head as if signalling for a turn.

P. 46. I went home and showered the sweat off and read a little from a book by an author who didn't use quotation marks and was scared to death his work might be entertaining.

Don't know who he's talking about with that last one, but my money's on Cormac McCarthy. Some folks think it's Charlie Huston.

The cover confused me, as well as the title, until the last 50 pages cleared that up. If you liked the other H&L stories, you'll probably like this one, too.

November 28, 2011

Pilot Error ***

*** Pilot Error, Tosh McIntosh, 2011

I'm not much one for reading thrillers, even though I co-wrote one back in the day. But that was a one-off and not my story. I've read one Clancy (seriously in need of an editor) and two Bourne books (painfully written, but that was the model Phil gave me for his hero, Matt Cooper, so I forced my way through a couple) but that's about it for me for the thriller genre.

Tosh is a career aviator, fighter plane pilot, commercial jet pilot, and all that, so he knows whereof he speaks. Nick, the protagonist, is a NTSB crash investigator who stumbles on a conspiracy and gets cranked through a meatgrinder before he finally gets on the other end, much the worse for wear. The body count is pretty high, but that's probably typical with a thriller.

One thing about this book, it really puts you in the left seat of some pretty cool airplanes. And what Nick does with the last one, well, I don't even want to think about it.

If you're fond of thrillers, you should check this one out. He's just getting started and more are on the way. I've seen a few peeks of some early scenes of the sequel, and it looks pretty good, too.


Why ebook formatting matters.

Tosh got it right on the conversion. Edited and proofread. Full navigation. Good paragraph formatting. Scene separators. The works. He also did the cover himself.

November 24, 2011

Justice Hall ***

*** Justice Hall, Laurie R King, 2002

Justice Hall differs from the first five Mary Russell books in that there is less action and derring-do. In fact, other than an intial off-camera attack, the first bit of violence doesn't occur until halfway through the book.

The first half of the book invovles a reunion with Mahmoud and Ali from O Jerusalem, picking up right after where The Moor left off, country manor life, and some background checking and research. There's plenty of tension on just about every page, but after the non-stop action thrill ride of O Jerusalem, it was a startling pace change. Then on page 138 somebody gets shot and we're off to the races!

The crux of the story centers on the death of a soldier in WWI under questionable circumstances and the account of what the British did to keep the order during the heat of the war was both intriguing and chilling. This novel is a good tribute to those formerly unsung casualties of a global conflict.

November 21, 2011

Pattern of Wounds ***

*** Pattern of Wounds, J Mark Bertrand, 2011

It's unusual for me to read a book in the year it came out. I'm not much of a bestseller follower, and until recently I haven't really been following any contemporary series. Plus, my to-be-read shelf is long enough for me to wait for the paperback of any series of a living author I might be reading.

However, after reading Back on Murder, I knew I would be getting Pattern of Wounds quite quickly. I did, but somehow failed to review it after I read it. I remedy that failing with this post.

I had a few extremely petty quibbles with Back on Murder. But Pattern of Wounds didn't garner even one microscopic quibble. It was an excellent read from end to end. Bertrand came out of the dugout swinging for the fences and he's still connecting on all pitches and knocking it out of the park.

I'm now caught up with JM and it's on him to shove another fine story my direction. Get in on the ground floor.


Why it matters.

I'm proud to say that Bethany House also stepped up to the plate and rectified every single complaint I had with the formatting of Back on Murder. Functional TOC, proper paragraph formatting, proper scene-break glyphs, no noticeable typos. My only complaint is that the left/right buttons take you backward/forward one section at a time, not one chapter at a time. Each section covers ten chapters. If you want to find something inside that ten-chapter block, you're still reduced to paging forever or playing hide and seek. It should be a chapter-level navigation.

November 20, 2011

So you want to be a writer

What if on a Friday night someone said to you, "You have this weekend to produce 5,000 words on your latest project." What would you do?

Everyone in my family would probably shoot themselves at the thought. I would think, "Really? I get the whole weekend to write? Rock!"

Life and the day job intrude too often to allow me the luxury of a full weekend of writing, but this weekend it happened and I hit a vein and cranked out 5,000 words on Muffin Man. Pretty good words, it feels like right now. We'll find out when I read it over tomorrow.

But if that question fills you with dread instead of ecstacy, you might want to rethink that whole writer thing.

Charles Bukowski said it much better.

November 17, 2011

Captains Outrageous ***

*** Captains Outrageous, Joe R Lansdale, 2001

Disclaimer: JLR is not for everyone

I have the Hap and Leonard series on the Elliptical and the Mary Russell series on the night stand, reading each in order. However, for H&L I skipped over the limited edition Veil's Visit because I typically resist paying $60 to $131 for a 164-page book. If anyone wants to send a copy to me, I'll take it.

Captains Outrageous has all the typical stuff you expect from a Hap and Leonard novel:

  • High action with lots of violence
  • Play-by-play choreography of fight scenes (which makes sense when you know that Lansdale is a two-time inductee into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame)
  • Play-by-play choreography of sex scenes (no information in Lansdale's bio about being an inductee to the Sexual Arts Hall of Fame)
  • Dialog full of smart-aleck remarks, testosterone-laden blustering, and East Texas colloquialisms
  • Ruthless, deadly villains
  • Great similies (more on this later)

However, Captains Outrageous departs from the previous episodes in that it doesn't have a classic hero's journey structure. For those not steeped in writing craft issues, this means there is no clear objective set out in the beginning for the heroes to accomplish, and none of the other classic milestones in the plot. Consider the first five H&L novels:

  1. Savage Season: Find the treasure.
  2. Mucho Mojo: Solve the mystery of the body under the house.
  3. Two-Bear Mambo: Find out what happened to Florida.
  4. Bad Chili: Clear Leonard's name and find out what happened to Raul.
  5. Rumble Tumble: Rescue Brett's daughter from a brothel.

Then we get to Captains Outrageous, which has more of an episodic structure. There is no big goal, just a series of incidents in multiple locations that Hap and Leonard react to: save a girl from her attacker, take a vacation to Mexico on a crappy cruise line, get attacked by local thugs, help a local fisherman, escape from local mob violence, avenge a death. It changes as you go. The average non-writer reader might not notice this directly, but rather sense a lack of direction. There is a reason most novels and movies use some variation on the classic three act structure, even if readers don't know what it is.

Another detail I haven't mentioned before is that, with rare exceptions, every character in a H&L novel is a smart-ass. Hap, Leonard, their cop buddies, their cop enemies, the girl friends, the bad guys, the locals in whatever place they travel to, pretty much everybody. Any bit of dialog is essentially interchangeable and could be spoken by just about any character.

Despite all that, Captains Outrageous has lots of the stuff that brings me back. Here are a few examples:

  • p. 62: I read from a good Larry McMurtry book about the size of a cement block.
  • p. 63: The singers were so awful they hurt my feelings and their dancing was a bit more like contained stumbling to music.
  • p. 79. A very attractive, slightly heavy, thirtyish woman with shoulder-length hair dark as a miner's dream came onto the deck.
  • p. 106. He looked like something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. He wore a white linen suit that looked as if he had slept in it. Scuffed black shoes run-down on the sides and a shirt that had been last washed during the Mexican Revolution, and then only because he had been caught out in the rain. He had salt-and-pepper hair and the front of it hung down on his forehead as if it were too ill to consider being combed.
  • p. 182. I felt like something made of Tinkertoys, but screwed down way too tight and somehow rotten at the center, fearing that if I turned just a little too far in one direction the whole of me might come undone.
  • p. 194. I gathered up my courage. It was like trying to gather up ten pounds of yard and poke it in a two pound basket.
  • p. 253. We flew closer to the city. A haze of pollution thick enough to wear overalls hung over everything. Mixed with the sunlight the air achieved the color of a dried wound. Buildings jumped at us and the streets below were as confused as a ball of twine.

I'm not too enamoured with Hap and Leonard to be oblivious to the flaws, but the pleasure of reading well-crafted sentences trumps the flaws, for now. I have one more H&L book on my shelf, Vanilla Ride. We'll see how it turns out.

November 14, 2011

The Girl with the Long Green Heart ***

*** The Girl with the Long Green Heart, Lawrence Block, 1994

Amazon has a thing called the Kindle Daily Deal. If you have a Kindle or read Kindle books on a PC or smartphone and you aren't getting the emails, you should sign up now. I've bought more good Kindle books in the last two months the previous ten months that I've owned the thing, all at $1.99 and under. This book was one of those.

I've read a handful of Block novels, mostly in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, all of which were very entertaining, so I knew this one was a sure thing.

The Girl with the Long Green Heart is a classic noir story, and a gem of the genre. The voice is perfect, the protagonist is perfect, the scheme is perfect. I didn't mind at all that because of the dictates of the genre I knew the twist way ahead of time. It was just such a joy to soak in the atmosphere of a brilliantly told noir story.

If you're a fan of noir, this is a must read.

Block was on the last segment of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson last week.


Why it matters.

Nicely formatted. Fully function navigation and TOC. Proper paragraph formatting and scene breaks. There are two formatting artifacts that could have been resolved:

  1. Chapter headings lose their formatting when the left/right buttons are used to navigate. This happens when the anchor tag is inside the heading tag instead of before it. Easy for a publisher to fix.
  2. The last paragraph of ten of the sixteen chapters was centered, probably because it got wrapped in the tag for the heading of the following chapter, although I didn't verify the cause by looking at the code.

These are fairly minor formatting issues, although both should have been caught during proof-reading and the first is well-known and should always be tested during production.

November 10, 2011

O Jerusalem ***

*** O Jerusalem, Laurie R King, 1999

I lost a lot of hours of sleep over this book, but the Mary Russell series has that effect on me. Just can't put it down. But one must do the day job occasionally, so it's not possible to read it straight through.

Although this is book five, the 425 pages of O Jerusalem take place in the time frame between pages 288 and 293 of book one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. If I were coming to this series for the first time, I would read O Jerusalem second, not fifth.

Just like The Moor made me want to see Dartmoor, O Jerusalem made me want to explore the aqueducts of Jerusalem, although the 25 pages of their subterranean journey felt more like 50 pages to me.

The tension between Mahmoud, Ali, Holmes and Russell was brilliantly managed, and was maintained at various levels until the end. Once again, King weaves in actual historical figures with the fictional ones, which always amuses me, although the most clever one, Lieutenant-Colonel William Gillette was too obscure even for me.

I really wanted a little more time with the shadowy villain as compensation for the 400-page journey to uncover him, but alas, it was not to be.

So far, King is 5 for 5 with the Mary Russell books. I am confident of more good things to come.

November 3, 2011

Rumble Tumble ***

*** Rumble Tumble, Joe R. Lansdale, 1998

Disclaimer: Lansdale is not for everybody

Five books in and it's still a non-stop, insane, balls-to-the-wall thrill ride, combined with masterful writing.

Rumble Tumble features ruthless small-time mobsters, drunk Mexican bikers, working girls and a felonious midget. Hap and Leonard, joined by Hap's new girlfriend, hit two whorehouses, one in Oklahoma and one in Mexico, where they pack plenty of heat are aren't too bashful about using it.

This time around we don't get any high-drama meteorlogical cataclysms, but we have plenty high body count.

But the thing that brings me back to Lansdale is the great writing. Check these gems:

Next morning we were tooling down Highway 87 on our way into Lubbock, traveling some of the bleakest, ugliest terrain this side of the moon. It's the kind of landscape you think you'll fall off of. Every time we passed a scrubby tree - more of a bush really - I wanted to jump out of the car, hold on to the tree for dear life, lest I be sucked away into some sort of Lovecraftian cosmic vacuum.

A shaft of sunlight fell through and hit the dirt floor and gave the cigarette butts there a sort of royal glow, as if they were floating in God's own butter.

They seemed different stars from East Texas stars. They were brighter and closer. They looked sharp enough to cut your hand.

His belly heaved like a great turtle sleeping.

Man, this was something. An East Texas bouncer, a black queer, a ex-sweet potato queen, a six-foot-four overweight retired hit man and former reverend, and a redheaded midget with an attitude. The only thing we needed to top our wagon off were a couple of used-car salesmen, a monkey and an organ grinder.

I wonder how long it takes Lansdale to churn one of these out. I bet they're a blast to write.

October 31, 2011

The Wayward Bus ***

*** The Wayward Bus, John Steinbeck, 1947

This off-schedule review comes to you courtesy of a last-minute visit to the home of Steinbeck, Salinas, California.

My first impression of Steinbeck was the result of a forced reading of The Red Pony in high school, and the result was not good. Over a decade later a cab driver in San Francisco persuaded me to give him another try, recommending Cannery Row, and much to my surprise my opinion was completely reversed. That novel was also responsible for my Guinness float experiment yet a decade later.

So, when I discovered that I would be near Monterey, California with a day to kill before my flight home, I realized I would finally have a chance to spend some time in Salinas rather than pass by on the 101 from one business meeting to another. I decided to visit the Steinbeck Museum and have lunch at the restaurant in his childhood home, and in preparation, I went to my to-be-read shelf, where there are always several Steinbeck novels to choose from, and selected The Wayward Bus, which I've been hauling around from state to state and house to house for several years, now. This is a first edition that is about to fall apart and I'm surprised it survived the plane trip and the driving around of the week in California.

I was a bit gun shy as my last Steinbeck read was In Dubious Battle, which I estimate to be nothing more than a well-written propaganda pamphlet for unionizing migrant workers. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the Steinbeck I have come to know and love. Excellent writing and character development, although very little plot. The structure is more of a pilgrimage that a hero's journey, although the bus doesn't actually roll until around page 140. The Juan arc could bear some scrutiny to which I will not subject it at present.

I haven't read a novel with an omniscient POV for quite a while, and it was interesting to go there. Not as much a market for that these days, but this novel was published 64 years ago, after all.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

p. 65. She wanted to meet new and strange people and through such contacts become new and strange herself.

p. 67. Of her father's emotional life she knew nothing whatever, just as he knew nothing of hers. Indeed, she thought that a man in middle age had no emotional life. Mildred, who was twenty-one, felt that the saps and juices were all dried up at fifty, and rightfully so, since neither men nor women were attractive at that age. A man or a woman in love at fifty would have been an obscene spectacle to her.

p. 186. "Whatever side everybody else is on, Van Brunt is gonna be on the other side. There's a fellow wouldn't vote for the second coming of Christ if it was a popular measure."

I particularly enjoyed the character Bernice, who as soon as something happened, would narrate it to herself in her head in past tense as if writing about it to a friend. Very clever.

If you haven't read Steinbeck in a while, give him a whirl. One Steinbeck a year is a good habit to develop.

October 29, 2011

BBC World Book Club

The BBC World Book Club is a treasure trove of author interviews that I was exposed to by The Learned One. I listen to them over breakfast and lunch.

Here's a quote from Richard Ford's interview that interested me.

Being a writer is not a profession. Being a writer is a vocation. It runs on a line that is coterminous with your life. It covers your life. Your life covers it. You’re not promised that vocation to the end of your life. It can stop and your life can go on.
I hope I have the temerity, I hope I have the good sense to say to myself, “You’ve done this as well as you can do it. Go do something else while there is any time left for you.”
Any book you don’t write, that’s OK. It doesn’t get held against you.

October 27, 2011

The Moor ***

*** The Moor, Laurie R King, 1998

It's a return to Dartmoor for Holmes as the specter of the dreaded hound emerges again from the moor. One thing that attracts me to King's Mary Russell series, beyond the primary element of excellent writing, is the tie-in to elements from the canon, such as Baskerville Hall in this case. I also greatly enjoy references to or use of contemporaneous fictional and historical characters.

In The Moor, a historical figure, the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, plays a major role. He is of interest to Holmes fans because he is the grandfather of William Stuart Baring-Gould, the author of what was probably the first attempt to create a full biography of Holmes, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A life of the world's first consulting detective.

This book was not as action and thrill packed as some of the earlier Mary Russell books, but it made me want to see Dartmoor, which has never happened in any of the other books I've read or movies I've seen with that setting, so that is saying something.

I'm still digging the series. You should check it out.

October 21, 2011

Bad Chili ***

*** Bad Chili, Joe R Lansdale, 1997

Disclaimer: JRL is not for everybody.

After the rather traumatic and daunting experiences of Two-Bear Mambo, Hap and Leonard have regained most of their self-confidence and brio. You have to love a novel that opens with a rabid squirrel. And then things get worse. The storyline of this one takes some particularly gruesome and graphic paths. But the trademark JRLisms that keep me coming back abound.

One partner loses a main squeeze while the other gains one, with much gratuitous pillow talk, if you catch my drift.

An interesting side character helicopters in almost deus-ex-machina style to save some bacon and add local color, making me wonder if we'll see him in the future.

Like in Two-Bear Mambo, the final showdown takes place in the context of a cataclysm of nature, which definitely ups the tension, but perhaps somewhat artificially? Let me know what you think.

October 14, 2011

A Letter of Mary ***

*** A Letter of Mary, Laurie R King, 1997

Still rocking along in the Mary Russel series and still loving it. I wondered how the change in Mary's circumstances would change the atmosphere of the series. The answer is that it did nothing to hurt it, but in fact probably improved it. Can't be any more specific that that without spoilers.

I was delighted to encounter a certain gentleman sleuth of the era in Chapter 17. It took me a while to snap to the clues, but I had to smile at the deft way it was worked in without distracting from the story. I'll say nothing else so as not to spoil the discovery for others.

No more specific details to mention, other than that any Holmes enthusiast should definitely read this series, starting at the beginning.

October 7, 2011

The Two-Bear Mambo ***

*** The Two-Bear Mambo, Joe R Lansdale, 1995 Disclaimer

I skimmed through the second Hap and Leonard novel, Mucho Mojo, and then dove into The Two-Bear Mambo on the ellipitcal. Every time I read a Hap and Leonard novel I think it can't get any more crazy, then the next one goes off the charts.

Grovertown, where much of the action takes place, is based on Vidor, which was notorious as a hotbed of racism and Klan action. I've been to Vidor a few times, and my college roommate, Fred Smith, was from Vidor, although he had not a racist bone in his body and was nicer that most people I know.

According to wikipedia, Vidor has cleaned up its act in the last few decades. But at the time Lansdale wrote this book, it was unregenerate and Grovertown is unimaginably brutal, far beyond what I imagine happened in Vidor in at least the past 50 years or longer.

Once again Lansdale brings us fantastic images and extended scenes of violence, interspersed with smartass, sarcastic dialog and startling metaphor. There were a few places where I felt the dialog became a bit on-the-nose and expositional. Especially when Charlie turns into a redneck psychologist at the end.

Like with McConnelly, in a Lansdale novel, nobody is safe. In fact, there were moments when I wondered if the main characters would survive, even though I know there are a half-dozen more books in the series.

September 29, 2011

A Monstrous Regiment of Women ***

*** A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Laurie R King, 1995

This should really be 3 and a half stars, but I can't do half an asterisk. I did skim through The Beekeeper's Apprentice to get back up to speed. It took a while because it was very difficult to avoid dipping back in and read instead of skim. But I got up to speed and proceeded to A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

For me the most fascinating thing about this book is that King actually made Christian theology an exciting element of the story. Really. Unbelievable, right? Well, she did it.

This book is a rollercoaster ride that really pushed the limits. Russell gets in over her head several times, quite beyond her depth, and finally it caught up with her. In my humble, but accurate, opinion, King does Doyle one or two better. And she takes a few humorous swipes at him in the book.

At the end, she confirmed something that I suspected when reading the prelude. I'll let you discover it for yourself.

It's on to A Letter to Mary. I'm quivering with anticipation.

September 22, 2011

Savage Season ***

*** Savage Season, Joe R. Lansdsale, 1990 Disclaimer

We're back on Lansdale, forging through the Hap and Leonard series. I read Mucho Mojo, the second in the series, on recommendation from Zane. As I said before, Lansdale is a brilliant writer. Vivid images, trenchant metaphors, visceral writing, penetrating characters, outrageous circumstances, sardonic humor.

But he also has a penchant for graphic violence, moderately explicit sex, and, the deal killer for me, a tendency to focus on the worst aspects of human nature, to roll around in the depravity of man like a hound dog in a cow pie. While I enjoyed the writing brilliance of his short-form work in Sanctified and Chicken Fried, I didn't like spending that much time in such a dark place. Although I must say that the last story, "White Mule, Spotted Pig" was transcendent.

So, I decided to avoid the other work for now and start at the beginning of the Hap and Leonard series and read them all, and then see what I thought. Like the other novels in the series, Savage Season has more sex per gallon than I prefer in a book. It has a closing showdown scene that goes on for about 30 or 40 amazing pages, with some seriously graphic violence. But it doesn't have the lingering malaise of moral despair.

Savage Season isn't a whodunit, it's a treasure hunt turned horrifyingly bad. It's also Lansdale in all his perverse glory. Give it a shot if it's the kind of thing you go for.

September 15, 2011

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane ***

*** The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo, 2006

This was a Kindle Daily Deal book. Of course it's a kid's book, a story for children. It seemed a little stark in some places for a kid, but what do I know from kid's books?

Edward is the very definition of the passive protagonist, as he is a toy rabbit made of china and fur. He can't move or talk. All of the action in the book happens to him or around him, viewed through his thoughts.

But this is the way of some children's books, so I guess that's OK. He's a bit of a smug prig in the beginning, which I found amusing.

It's a nicely told story from the author of the Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn Dixie. The illustrations by Bagram Ibatoullines are excellent.


The thing about ebooks.

No table of contents, embedded or otherwise, for the Kindle. However, the left/right keys do move you back or forward one chapter. The Nook sample I downloaded had a TOC. In all other respects, it is a nicely done ebook.

September 8, 2011

Back On Murder ****

**** Back On Murder, J. Mark Bertrand, 2010

Note: I started rating books online 20 years ago, before Amazon existed, and developed a 0 to 4 star system. Add a star to get an equivalent Amazon rating.

First off, note another four-star book. Not many of these in a year. You should get this and read it now.

I don't recall where I first ran across Mark - somewhere online about a decade ago when I was in Honolulu and he was in Houston. We exchanged some emails. I read a short story of his and was overwhelmed. At that point I knew I wanted to read anything this guy wrote.

But then life proceded as it does and now, many years later, I'm in Texas and he's in South Dakota and I discover that he's got a contract with Bethany House and a couple of books out in a series. I downloaded the sample on my Kindle, read it, and bought the thing right then. I had the discipline to finish the bedside book I was reading before picking up Back on Murder. As soon as I finished it, I bought the second one immediately. I'll read it when I finish a few other items in the stack.

Here are a few things that stood out for me:

  • "I let her take my hand a lead me up the back stairs All is not right in my world, but one small corner is about to get noticeably better."
  • "Her gaze has a soft and sightless quality, as if her eyes were the back of a silvered mirror."
  • There is this brooding backstory hanging just out of sight for a large portion of the novel. You know there's some point at which this is going to be laid out for you. Two-thirds of the way in, you get the story, but in tight dialog, not in a big information dump. Very deftly handled.

The bottom-line is, if you like well-written police crime fiction, you should read this book. It's not quite Michael Connelly, but it's pretty dang close. Kinda like E. F. Benson vs P. G. Wodehouse. Excellent characters, March, the homocide cop who is the protagonist, the various levels of the police department, the bad guys, all of them, very well drawn. The story has plenty of tendrils, some of which fade out and others which interwine at the end, to keep you guessing.

Connelly was a crime-beat reporter. I don't know that much about Bertrand, personally, but he seems to have a surprisingly intimate knowledge of police culture and processes for a guy with an MFA. Although there was one moment that bugged me. A cop comes to March, saying he'll give him important information in exchange for an immunity deal. They talk for a while, the cop insisting on a signed deal before he'll even mention what his information is about. As I know from my extensive experience in watching cop shows and reading crime novels, you can't get a deal without some sense of what it is you have to offer and a high degree of credibility that you can deliver. So the conversation doesn't feel authentic. Cause I know these things.

This book is published by Bethany House, which is a Christian publisher, but there is no three-points-and-a-poem, come-to-Jesus moment, for which I am grateful because I find them obnoxious and typically avoid Christian fiction for that reason. There are a few notable exceptions based on quality writing and lack of cheese factor. Bertrand is now on that very short list, along with Lisa Samson, Tosca Lee, Athol Dickson, and a few others.

There was only one spot, about a third of the way in, that I felt edged the line, when a cop who is religous gets provoked and says, “What do you believe, March? About God, the universe and everything?” Which is followed by 2 or 3 paragraphs of his response. The exchange felt gratuitous. Less than a page. Minor irritation that quickly passed.


This is the first Kindle novel that I've reviewed. Having recently suffered through producing Kindle, Nook and iPad versions of the three Fred novels, paying painstaking attention to high-quality production, I'm painfully aware of bad formatting.

For a traditionally published book, the author has no control over production, so this is really a critique of the publisher and their epub production, which may or may not be outsourced.

In my humble but accurate opinion, if publishers want readers to spend $9.99 or more for an ebook, they should produce a superb quality ebook. I hired an experienced epub guy and did over a dozen proofreadings of all three versions of all three books to do everything possible to deliver them with the highest production quality, and with extras you don't get in the print books. And I'm just one guy, not a publisher. And the Fred ebooks are only $2.99. So I have little tolerance for significantly priced ebooks from major publishers, or anyone else, with poor production quality.


None. No table of contents, embedded or otherwise. No ability to skip between chapters using the right/left keys. So, if you want to skip back 7 or 8 chapters to check on something, you just have to scroll back one screen at a time, check it, and then scroll forward. Or play "guess the location" with the Go To button.


There are two ways of doing paragraphs:

  1. Indent the first line, no blank lines between paragraphs.
  2. Block style, no indent, a blank line between paragraphs.

This book does both, which wastes limited ereader screen space. Pick one is my motto.

In addition, like many print books, extra line spacing is used to indicate a scene change instead of some kind of graphic element. The problem is that with spacing between paragraphs, which doesn't normally occur in a print book, it's easy to overlook the extra space, which means you enter a new scene without realizing it and get disoriented. Not good to get knocked out of the story like that just from a lack of good formatting. I recommend some kind of graphic indication of scene change for all ebooks. Plus, it just looks nicer and doesn't cost extra to do.


I get the impression that proofreading is not as high priority for ebook production as it is for print. In this case, there is a paragraph that is right-justified with ragged left margins somewhere in there. There is also an occurence of a character's name that is hyphenated in the middle of a line, with spaces in the middle of the name, thus: Cav- allo. It's highly unlikely you would see either of these errors in a print book.


I downloaded the Nook sample. You get the front matter and a couple of chapters. The paragraph formatting is done right, indents, no linespaces. There is both an embedded and physical table of contents, but the embedded TOC only covers the front matter and the first chapter. The physical TOC covers the whole book, but it doesn't work. Touching the links doesn't take you anywhere.

If I were Bertrand, I'd send Bethany house a copy of this review.

September 1, 2011

Son of a Witch ***

*** Son of a Witch, Gregory Maguire, 2005

I'm on a roll, reading lots of good books by good writers with a flare for imagery, a turn of phrase, and metaphor. It's been a while since I read Wicked, but I thought it was great, so when I saw the sequel at Half-Price books, I snagged it.

It does not disappoint. Excellent writing that pegged the Elliptical Test. I evidently read Wicked before 2008 when I started the Wunderfool Reading List, so I don't have a review to point to. The stories provide an alternate history of Oz and characters from the Frank L Baum series, which I've never read. Unlike Baum's books, Maguire's books are not for children and are definitely not rated G. I would put them more at an R rating.

But the writing is excellent and highly recommended.

August 25, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie ****

**** The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley, 2010

Finally, after many months, we get a four-star book! The best description of this book is to imagine an 11-year-old Miss Marple. That pretty much says it all, and for those who like that sort of thing will love this.

For those not familiar with Miss Marple, we're talking about a classis whodunit set in the 1950 English countryside. The protagonist, 11-year-old chemical genius Flavia de Luce, finds a body in the cucumber patch and we're off and running. Flavia is a precocious narrator in the tradition of Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird) or Swede (Peace Like a River).

I stayed up until two and three AM on multiple occasions reading this book. This is Alan Bradley's first novel, published when he was 70. It may be his first novel, but this is definitely not his first rodeo. Some of the figures of speech spun my head around like a carousel.

I can't recommend it highly enough. I will definitely be following all of Flavia's adventures, several of which are already available.

August 18, 2011

Resurrection in May ***

*** Resurrection in May, Lisa Samson, 2010

The novel has been sitting on my shelf for some time like a fine wine as I was reluctant to precipitately imbibe the only extant Lisa Samson novel I haven't read and be left bereft. But I finally cracked it open and drank.

Here's the takeaway: If a book has Lisa Samson's name on the front, it's worth buying an reading. Period. I've read all her novels since The Church Ladies and haven't been disappointed once. (Well, there is that dark period where she wrote historical romances, but I don't talk about those.)

I have to admit Resurrection in May has not displaced my other favorites, the most recent being Embrace Me, but it's still got lots to recommend it. The Rwanda segment was vibrant and visceral and the ending, beginning with the prison visit, was powerful. And there is that spot that caught me completely off guard the way Embrace Me did. Wonderful stuff.

From a technical standpoint, I think this is the first contemporary novel Lisa has written in third person. I also found it an interesting choice to place almost half the book in the POV of Claudius, even though it is May's story. Person and POV decisions are sometimes very difficult, but they can make or break a story.

But enough of the inside baseball talk. If you haven't read this one, yet, then get to it. I hear she's got another in the works. Good thing, since I just depleted my stock.

August 11, 2011

The Throne of Fire ***

*** The Throne of Fire, Rick Riordan, 2011

Rick is on a roll. (Sorry, I couldn't resist it.) It amazes me that Riordan can do the formula for five Percy Jackson books and now two Kane books and still make it interesting.

I just wish I could get the newer ones autographed. I got the first three Percy Jacksons autographed, but that was before there was a movie and they had to move his appearances at the Texas Book Festival to the Paramount because of the crowds.

If you like mythology-based YA action adventure stories and haven't read Riordan, you absolutely need to stop what you're doing and check him out. While you're at it, check out his Tres Navarre detective novels, too. They're even better.

August 4, 2011

The Art of War **

** The Art of War, Sun Tzu, 512 B.C.

One advantage of getting a Kindle is you end up reading all the classics you've been putting off reading because you can get them for free. One downside of this practice is that the free versions tend to have poor formating. But hey, it's free.

One thing I learned in the (very long) introduction is that, like the Bible, The Art of War has had many translators with varying interpretations of problem passages. Lin Wusun's translation is interspersed with James Clavell's commentary, which offers alternate translations and illustrative anecdotes.

If I were a student of war, strategy and tactics, I would have found the multiple viewpoints interesting, but I'm not and I found they slowed down the reading. However, I did enjoy the anecdotes. Man, those ancient Chinese warriors were a crusty lot!

If you're into this type of thing, it's worth more stars. For me it's more of a curiousity than anything. Hmm, maybe I'll stream the Wesley Snipes movie of the same name.

July 28, 2011

American on Purpose **

** American on Purpose, Craig Ferguson, 2009

My Tue-Sat morning routine is to grab the iPad and watch the previous nights Late Late Show while I make and eat breakfast. In my humble but accurate opinion, he's the only late night talk show guy worth watching.

So I put his biography on my BoxedUp list and ended up with two copies at Xmas. I rated it as two stars not because it's bad. It's an interesting read and well written, but not a must-read by any stretch. But if you're a CraigyFerg fan, it's worth picking up.

July 21, 2011

No Way to Treat a First Lady **

** No Way to Treat a First Lady, Christopher Buckley, 2003

Could it be that I'm over Buckley? I have found the last two clever, but no longer engaging. Erudite, sophisticated, but no heart. Well, one must eat the chicken and spit out the bones. I'll keep sampling and see if things change.

July 16, 2011


The BradNotes email list is for folks who want an email when a new book comes out.

To get on the list, email me: author [at] bradwhittington [dot] com.

The next issue has a link to a free PDF advance reader copy of What Would Jesus Drink?


July 15, 2011


All Christy award winners or finalists, at long last the Fred books are available on Amazon for the Kindle for $2.99 each. That's a ton of Fred for $9!

In the next few weeks we'll also release Nook and iPad versions.

Here are the Kindle links.

If you've ever held a Fred book in your hand, you know that B&H went the extra mile with high-quality covers (Living with Fred has an embossed cover) and graphics in the chapter headings. To preserve the high-quality reading experience even in ebook form, I hired a beKindling gnome to work his otherwordly magic.

We couldn't emboss the covers, of course, but the graphics from the print versions are there, along with some new elements. The books take full advantage of the Kindle navigation tools, including skipping through chapters with the left/right navigation buttons. And of course, as with any Kindle book, you can download a sample before you buy.

You also get extras, such as discussion guides for readers groups, and a peek at three chapters from the next book at the end of each. The end of Escape to Fred has three chapters from my novel-in-progress, Muffin Man, planned for an ebook release in 2012.

And you can still get physical Fred books. Signed print copies make a great gift and are available through SignedByTheAuthor.com. Yep, I really sign them myself. Ha!

Of course, you can always get a used copy on Amazon for a penny plus shipping. At least you can get WtF and LwF for a penny. Looks like right now you'll have to shell out at least #2.91 plus shipping for EfF, which is only fair, since it's the best one. ;-)

I don't get any money from used copies, but I get a new reader, and I'm cool with that. Spread the Fred word.

July 14, 2011

The Hawkline Monster *

* The Hawkline Monster, Richard Brautigan, 1974

I'll give you the good stuff first. Several good turns of phrase and it was short, so I didn't waste that much time reading it.

I don't remember who recommended this book to me, so I can't hunt them down and thrash them severely about the head and shoulders with it. Plus, it probably wouldn't do any good, anyway since it's a lightweight paperback.

I've been familiar with the name because of the book Trout Fishing in America, but never read any of his stuff. Based on this sampling, I won't read another anytime soon. The cover blurb says The Hawkline Monster is "by far the best-selling of any of Richard Brautigan's books." OK.

While there is the occasional serendipitous turn of phrase, such as "[she] slipped like a grape peeling off her horse and into the arms of the woman," most of the writing was unremarkable. Much more telling than showing. Weird and quirky things seemingly tossed in randomly to artificially inject interest. Development of a whole plot line that is abandoned without explanation. Using the ability of the monster to manipulate thoughts to inject gratuitous, unmotivated sex. Random complications shoehorned in to delay forward momentum, evidently to build suspense, unsuccessfully, in my case.

And, when you come down to it, just a dumb storyline. Perhaps I'm a philistine, but I'm not seeing the genius, here.

July 10, 2011


Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea.

We interrupt our regular programming to announce a complete redesign of BradWhittington.com with the aesthetic assistance of The Number One Son. I'll be doing minor tweaks in the days and weeks to come, so if you find something broken, let me know.

For those who are interested but as yet uninformed, you can also catch me on Twitter @BradWhitt and also FaceBook.

I'm considering launching another blog with a different focus, probably about the time that What Would Jesus Drink? is released. More on that later.

July 7, 2011

The Career Novelist ***

*** The Career Novelist, Donald Maass, 1996

There are two things wrong with this book, and they both have to do with the date at the end of the above line.

The first, and main one, is how long it took me to read it. If I had read it when it came out, it would have been a lot better. I would have had a better understanding of the industry (which was surprisingly hard to come by in the last century) and would have annoyed fewer people. Perhaps.

The other thing is that I'm no longer looking to scale the mountain of traditional publishing. This is the year of the indie author. It's the year when electronic publishing, the hype dream of the last few decades, finally pushed its way to the front of the line, with more sales of e-books than p-books.

As a result, while the advice in the book is good, most of it no longer applies to me. Alas and alack. But if you're looking to get traditionally published, this book is definitely worth your time to read, no question.

June 30, 2011

The Art Of Detection & A Grave Talent

The Art of Detection, Laurie R. King, 2006

I couldn't finish it. This doesn't happen very often. Honest. And I'm a huge fan of Ms. King's Mary Russell series. I read The Beekeeper's Apprentice and have been waiting to read the rest until I have them all so there are no gaps in my enjoyment. But I thought I'd check out the Kate Martinelli series and what better place to start than with a Holmes-related story.

I just couldn't hang with it. For my taste, the setup took too long, with way too much detail about practically everything, which bogged down the pace. After 100 pages I set it aside to finish my Connelly project. When I came back to it, I read another 40 pages and gave up. My apologies to Ms. King. I really wanted to like it. If it's any consolation, I'm raring to go on the Mary Russell books.

So, a few months later I decided to give the Casey Martinelli series one more go, this time starting at the beginning with A Grave Talent. This moved at a much more satisfactory pace, but I didn't find myself itching to get back to it. In fact, I found myself doing other things to avoid reading it. When at page 140 out of 340 I thought I had figured out the big reveal, I skipped to the back and read a chapter or so to confirm it. I was half right. I'd figured out who the murderer was, just not who he was posing as. So, I figured no need to keep reading Martinelli. I'll stick with the Mary Russell series. Of course, YMMV.

June 23, 2011

Sanctified and Chicken Fried ***

*** The Portable Landsdale: Sanctified and Chicken Fried, Joe R. Lansdale, 2009

I'm only four books into his large body of work, but one thing is clear about Joe R. Lansdale. He's a brilliant writer. Vivid images, trenchant metaphors, visceral writing, penetrating characters, outrageous circumstances, sardonic humor.

I've read one title in the Hap and Leonard series, Mucho Mojo. It's well-paced, clever, touching, compelling. A Fine Dark Line is an excellent coming of age story.

Then there is Freezer Burn, where I documented some of his more clever constructions, and now Sanctified and Chicken Fried, a collection of shorter works.

All brilliantly written. So what's not to like?

The latter two books illustrate where Mr. Lansdale and I part ways. Perhaps my background, my childhood, sets me up to look for the better angels of our nature, to find hope or redemption. Whatever the case may be, stories that chronicle the depravity of man don't resonate with me. And in these last two books are impressively written stories that, for the most part, depict man at his worst, stories that seem say: This is what we are. This is what is.

I don't deny that such is the reality for some segments of the population. I have no way of knowing the percentages. Are there more like Joe or more like me? Don't know and it doesn't really matter. But I have to question how much time I want to spend dogpaddling in the muck, regardless of the brilliance.

I'll read the Lansdale books I have now and focus on the Hap and Leonard series and see where it takes me. Proceed at your own advisement. YMMV.

June 16, 2011

A Fine Dark Line ***

*** A Fine Dark Line, Joe R. Lansdale, 2003

The other Lansdale novels I've read have been a little wacky. This one was serious, a coming of age story, and very nicely done. Set in the late 50s in a small East Texas town. Lansdale has a way with a phrase, although this book as not as chockfull of the catchy little zingers as the others I've read.

This book pegged the Elliptical Test. I was usually surprised that the 40 minutes had passed and sat down with the book during my cool down to finish the chapter. That tells you something right there.

Lansdale has been writing for decades and has over 30 books out. And he's dang good. And he's a Texan. And I just heard about him last year. How does that happen?

June 9, 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin ***

*** We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver, 2003

Another book loaned by The Learned One. Good writing, good story, good ending, although I suspected the ending early, saw it coming for sure on page 225 out of 400 pages. The only question left about the ending at that point was not "what happens" but "how does it happen."

I found the complete cluelessness of the father incredible, and in the first 100 or so pages I got a little weary of some of the diatribes and the telling instead of showing, but it got better as things went on and I actually stayed up past 3 am to finish it, which tells you something about the intensity at the end.

Shriver paints a chilling portrait of the first 16 years of the life of a sociopathic genius as seen through the eyes of his ambitious and ambivalent mother.

Worth a read.

June 2, 2011

The Mystery of Children ***

*** The Mystery of Children, Mike Mason, 2001

Mike Mason does not disappoint, particularly with his non-fiction. There are moments when he recounted experiences raising his daughter that I thought, "Come on, Mike, who is in charge, here?" But for the most part he delivers the zingers for which one reads Mike Mason. One need not have children to benefit from this book.

May 26, 2011

Little Green Men **

** Little Green Men, Christopher Buckley, 1999

My Buckley source told me that Little Green Men was the best. I finally picked up a copy and found that I must respectfully disagree. Like other Buckley novels, it is zany and erudite, but I felt like I never got below the surface on any of the characters, not even the protagonist. A lot of the character reactions seemed contrived or obvious, as if Buckley was taking the easy way out, almost phoning it in.

Also, I found one mistake. A UFO convention is set in Austin and the protagonist looks down from his high-rise hotel across Lake Austin. The problem is that the portion of the Colorado River that runs through town was called Town Lake at the time. Now it's called Ladybird Lake. Lake Austin is further west.

May 20, 2011

Regarding experts

An excerpt from a Francis Chan video:

In Romans 9, God compares me to clay. He says, “You’re like a piece of clay and I’m the potter.”

I thought ,“Wow, that means I’m like a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay what the potter is like.”

Think about that for a second. It shows the silliness for any of us to think we’re an expert on God.

May 19, 2011

Blue Hotel ***

Blue Hotel, JT Conroe, 2011

Last year, after a three-year sojourn in the wilderness of screenwriting, I returned to my homeland, the novel. I've got three works in progress and plan to release the first one, Muffin Man, in early 2012. So, for all you Fred Book fans out there who have been wanting something new from the Whittington pen, your day is coming.

I said all that to get to the point of the fact that I've swapped my screenwriting critique group for a novel-writing critique group. It's been great fun, reading stuff and savaging it. Heh, heh. Last month one of the writers released Blue Hotel on Amazon as a Kindle book for the felicitous price of $2.99 and I snatched it up. (By the way, if you haven't already, drop by my post on e-book prices and give me your thoughts.)

Now you might be thinking, "I'll skip this review because I don't have a Kindle." And you would be wrong, because you can download a free Kindle viewer for your computer, so that matters not. And this is a book worth getting the viewer for, or even a Kindle, as you can get one for $114 these days.

I'll admit that I didn't have high hopes for Blue Hotel when I bought it. Nothing against the author, who is a great guy, but it's just the odds. I know a lot of great guys who are not very good writers, even some who are traditionally published. It's surprisingly hard to write a good novel, even if you're a reasonably good writer, and often even very good writers fail to pull it off. But I was willing to take a stab at it for a brother-in-arms.

By the time I was halfway into Chapter 1, it was no longer a labor of obligation. It moved like a freight train and I hung on for the ride. I read the first third of the book in once sitting and forced myself to stop because it was two a. m. and I figured it might be nice to get some sleep for the day job the next day. I read another third the next night, and finished it the next. And I'm still thinking about some of the scenes and characters a week later.

The novel is set in and around the location of a Stephen Crane short story, "The Blue Hotel." You don't have to read the short story to enjoy the book, but it is interesting to do so, anyway.

May 14, 2011

E-books vs. P-books

Two established authors have a long (two part) conversation on many aspects of e-books vs traditional publishing. If this is the kind of thing you like to read about, you'll like this one. Very informative. They discuss it from the perspective of established authors, mid-list authors, and unpublished authors. A good pricing discusison toward the end of the second part.

Barb and Jenny on E-Publishing, Part 1

Barb and Jenny on E-Publishing, Part 2

May 12, 2011

Six books and the day job

I've done a bit of reading for the day job. You probably won't care for the topic, but I find it interesting and it pays the bills, so hey.

The All-New Real Estate Foreclosure Short-Selling Underwater Property Auction Positive Cash Flow Book, Chantal Howell Carey and Bill Carey, 2009

This is the print equvalent of the informercial about how to become a millionaire with no cash down. Some good information mixed in with sensational hooraw. They do work out the math for you on every example, which is nice if you get lost in the numbers. but they gloss over a lot of things, like, "The buyer defaults on the first and second mortgages. You foreclose on your second mortgage. No one outbids your opening credit bid at the foreclosure sale. You get the property back subject to the first mortgage." Yes, it's just that simple, folks!

Buying Real Estate Foreclosures, Melissa S. Kollen-Rice, 2003

Very thorough, with a lot of focus on property management and a gzillion types of loans. This a very good book with lots of checklists, forms, examples, etc. However, a book from 2003 on this topic is only half useful. Most of the preforeclosure advice (short sales, etc.) were examples where owners had equity. These days to negotiate a short sale, you have to convince the lender to take less than the due amount of the loan. I got suckered on this one. I saw there was a 2008 third edition, clicked on it, and saw it was paperback. I clicked the link for the Kindle Version and bought it without realizing it was for the 2003 version. I'd like to see what the 2008 version says, but I'm not interested in getting a paper version to find out.

How to Buy Foreclosed Real Estate for a Fraction of its Value, Theodore J. Dallow, Don Ayer and Dick Pas, 2008

Good opening chapters on how we got to the point we were in 2008. Level-headed information and advice. This is probably the best so far, but even a book only three years old is bordering on obsolete in our current circumstances. The mechanics of process and laws haven't changed significantly, but strategies have. The recent announcement that the Obama administration is looking to shut down or phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is a good example.

The Complete Guide to Locating, Negotiating, and Buying Real Estate Foreclosures, Frankie Orlando and Marsha Ford, 2007

This wins the award for the crappiest formatting on a Kindle book I've seen to date. The table of contents is a train wreck. There are even entries out of order, chapter 10 coming after chapter 14. Despite that, there is decent content, albeit with a heavy focus on the details of renovation. The strange thing is that when you read about the authors, neither have any experience in the real estate industry. Frankie is a freelance writer whose bio talks about her husband, daughters, cats, photo albums and Taie Kwon Do belt color. Her qualification is that she has spent the last ten years watching real estate prices double in her area. Marsha is a writer, editor, trainer and entrepreneur who has written a lot of non-fiction books and done a lot of training. Evidently neither one has ever bought anything on the courthouse steps, which is kind of an important detail if you're writing a book about how to buy foreclosures.

Foreclosure Investing for Dummies, Ralph R. Roberts with Joe Kraynak, 2007

Even better than the Dallow book in some ways. This is the only book that made no attempt to explain the real estate market, the bubble, the crash, or to analyze what happened and why and whose fault it was. In fact, it doesn't talk about the crash at all. It simply talks about foreclosure investing. Like a typical Dummies book, it uses very simple langauge and examples and lots of repetition, but does a great job of hitting all the high points and has lots of detail and anecdotes from Roberts' multi-decade career in property managment and real estate investing. Lots of checklists and sample documents. Big emphasis on building a career on integrity and genuinely trying to help people.

The Pre-Foreclosure Property Investor's Kit, Thomas J Lucier, 2005

This book focuses on one stage of foreclosure investing, preforeclosures. This is as opposed to auction investing and postforeclosure investing. It's a good book with tons of checklists and sample letters and forms, lots of online references for additional information. Of course, given its publication date, some of those links could be dead by now.

I found the organization a little funky. He starts off with a bunch of information outside of a framework of the investing process. Then 67 pages in he goes through his 14-step soup-to-nuts process for finding, acquiring, fixing and flipping properties. If you're interested in preforeclosure investing, it's a book worth getting, despite the date.