Sunday, September 30, 2007

Welcoming BARRY ERGANG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One of the things I know as a reviewer is that there are huge gaps in my knowledge base. There are areas within the mystery community that I know absolutely nothing about. Considering how huge my TBR pile is these days and my various commitments, as well as the fact of the sheer study and reading involved, I am very aware that such areas aren't going to be rectified anytime soon.

Over the last several years, I have had the pleasure of very occasionally reading Barry Ergang's reviews. Simple time constraints made me miss many of them when they originally appeared. However, after reading several of them again the last couple of days, I was keenly reminded of just how good Barry is at the subtle art of reviewing. He brings a depth of insight and observation that few reviewers match and delivers a quality review each and every time.

Because of that fact, I have asked Barry to join us here and provide his quality insights on a regular basis. Much to my delight, Barry has agreed and the first of his reviews will appear early this week. Barry often reads works different from my own which means you, the reader, benefit from having yet another viewpoint of the mystery scene here.

I'm very much looking forward to this. Please join me in welcoming Barry Ergang to these pages.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reviewing: "The Concrete Maze" by Steven Torres

Family is often a background element in mystery fiction. Beyond the obvious biological family, detectives often have an extended family of sorts that they rely on for assistance. That isn't the case here where Marc has a very involved biological family, a problem that won't be solved easily, and virtually zero outside assistance.

The Concrete Maze
By Steven Torres
Leisure Books
August 2007
ISBN # 978-0-8439-5969-7
Mass Market Paperback
284 Pages

The year is 1992 and the setting is New York City as this suspenseful novel opens. Luis (Tio) Ramos left Puerto Rico years ago when he was drafted by the Army and sent to Vietnam. He saw combat, much of which he does not talk about, was wounded as well and survived the war to ultimately settle in NYC and raise a family. Now his daughter, Jasmine, who recently turned thirteen and hit that horrible acting out phase all teenagers go through to some degree or another, is missing. Tio has searched a little and now has come to his nephew, Marc, a cynical young man, to help him look.

From the start this isn't something Marc wants to do but he really doesn't have a choice as he can't say no to Tio. They begin a search for Jasmine at the local indoor skating hangout known as "The Skate Key" counting on Marc's age as being a way to get other teens to talk. As they begin to look for her and ask questions they run into a wall of police indifference based on racism, kids that won't talk for a variety of reasons, and drug dealers that rule the streets. Tio Ramos is going to attack the problem the same way that he dealt with the Viet Cong in the jungles of Vietnam. He embarks on a search and destroy mission with one goal—to get his daughter Jasmine back and everyone else, including his nephew Marc is expendable.

While NYC isn't Vietnam, the enemy is just as tenacious and dug in with the concrete streets and alleyways serving as his jungle. The characters make frequent forays out into various areas of the city searching for information, fight skirmishes and battles, before returning to their homes for food and a few hours of sleep. That military aspect of the work where the concrete city is the urban jungle and just as deadly as the jungle in some far off war zone is clichéd and yet it works well as does the pain of a missing child, a parent's worst nightmare as the cliché goes, a universal truth that almost anyone can relate to. That certainly is true here and something that Author Steven Torres uses to full chilling effect.

As he does the cynical world weary young college age student, Marc. Tio's nephew, Marc often sounds far older than his years and routinely expresses a cynical view of life, the world, and his family's place in things. Well aware that nothing can be fixed or reversed, he seeks to get the hunt for Jasmine over as fast as possible. Not because Jasmine could very well be in serious danger, but because he finds it all a bit much as she certainly needs to learn a lesson and besides that he has things to do. That sets up quickly a conflict between Tio, who sees family as everything and a reason for being, and Marc, who sees family as a burden to be tolerated.

Of course that results in conflict about strategies to employ in the search for Jasmine as well as how to deal with the other characters inside and outside of the family. While that conflict, that attention to detail could overwhelm the main theme of the work which is the hunt for Jasmine, it doesn't. Instead, it adds a depth and richness to a read full of intriguing characters, plenty of action and a twisting case which ultimately results in an intense and suspenseful novel.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Helping Out The Kids

I don't normally pass these things on but Tony is trying to do a good thing for needy kids. I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the first volume last year and am pleased that he is doing this once again. I have not read this book. However, I know most of the names on the list and am very well aware of their work and they produce quality stories. Some are making repeat appearances. So, I fully expect this book to be another good one.


September 21, 2007 -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wolfmont to Publish Second Anthology of Holiday Crime Stories to Benefit Toys for Tots!

Wolfmont Publishing is proud to announce the upcoming release of its second annual anthology to benefit the Toys for Tots Foundation. Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters is a wonderfully entertaining anthology of winter holiday crime and mystery stories. The scheduled release date is October 1, 2007.

Editor and publisher Tony Burton says, “Last year’s anthology raised $1,365 for the Toys for Tots, and we hope to surpass that by a substantial amount this year. Keep your candy canes crossed that we do!”

The authors include (in order of appearance) Sue Ann Jaffarian, Earl Staggs, Thomas H. Cook, Gail Farrelly, Nick Andreychuk, Herschel Cozine, Frank Zafiro, Chris Grabenstein, Deborah Elliott-Upton, Jan Christensen, Austin S. Camacho, Tony Burton, Gay T. Kinman, Margaret Fenton and Peggy Jaegly. All of these authors crafted captivating stories of crime, mystery and mayhem set in the winter holiday season and donated their work to support this very worthwhile cause, the Toys for Tots.

Praise for Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters

“A deliciously wicked book unlike any other you’re likely to see on the Christmas aisles this year... You’ll find yourself surrounded this Christmas by thieves, thugs, murderers, and adulterers - and loving every minute of it! This is definitely the book to give to those friends and family who love to be frightened by that unexpected "bump in the night!” -- pm terrell, author of RICOCHET, THE CHINA CONSPIRACY and KICKBACK

“A fantastic lineup of stories—from short to long, from lighthearted to gritty, these holiday tales will keep you awake until long after Santa shows up. If your Christmas list includes a mystery reader, this book makes a great gift!” -- John M. Floyd, award-winning author of RAINBOW’S END

“A wide range of holiday treats to enjoy year-round. From Chris Grabenstein's decoration-obsessed Dad, reminiscent of the best of Jean Shepherd, to Margaret Fenton's anti-Christmas thief, this is a delightful collection for all types of mystery fans.” -- Mary Saums, author of THISTLE AND TWIGG

The retail price of Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters is $11.95, and it will be available from the publisher or through your local bookstore. Distributed through Ingram and Baker & Taylor, or you may order directly from the publisher. ISBN 978-1-60364-002-2.

Contact Info:
Wolfmont Publishing
Tony Burton, Editor
PO Box 205
Ranger, GA 30734


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Clancy? Not Even Close.

Sometimes a book arrives and after it is read, I am left shaking my head as it could have been so much more. Such a read becomes disappointing and hard to review. The scope is grand, the idea is grand, and the read isn't. Sad to say that is what happened here.

Flames In The Jungle
By John Cunyus
Large Trade Paperback
ISBN# 0-595-40800-1
131 Pages

Misdirection has long been a theme of thrillers where cross and double cross are the rule and not the exception. That is certainly true here in a novel that shows just how easy it is to cause economic havoc and military action.

Miguel Escalante, who has a family history of hating the guerrilla movement in Columbia, has become a dedicated intense soldier in the Columbian Army. He sees his future with one goal in mind – "to utterly destroy Columbia's insurgent enemies." (Page 10) Ana Restrepo has the same feelings as the beautiful reporter for a weekly Columbian News Magazine. With Miguel being lauded as a hero, she is assigned to interview him. Soon, the mutual attraction both feel blossoms into romance at the same time forces are unleashed that will rock their world.

Far to the north, a plan is hatched to attack Love Field Airport located in Dallas. Hostages will be taken in a brutal attack before the Captain is forced to fly the 737 from the airport. With a flight plan to Columbia and a load of false clues for the government the hostages soon become a focal group for numerous groups seeking world wide attention.

While the basic premise of the book is intriguing, the execution of the work is not close to the grandeur of the idea. At 131 pages, the book falls far short of the space needed to tell a tale so grand in scope or one that requires a cast of characters list at the beginning of the book. Additionally, the first 35 pages or so are used to set up the detailed back story regarding numerous characters including their political belief systems created by their various childhoods as well as the romance between Miguel and Ana. Billed as an action /adventure read the novel is exceedly slow to get off the mark.

For the most part character development is shallow and stereotypical. Of course Miguel is handsome and distinguished. Of course Ana is stunningly beautiful and she could be the most beautiful woman in all of Latin America if not the world. One expects such depictions but they extend to other characters, major or minor. Career diplomat and the new American Vice-Counsel stationed in Cartagena, Don Evans, of course hates Columbia, is an idiot, and somehow manages to keep failing upwards as even the President doesn't realize he is an idiot. Then, there is the hardworking Jabreel Danies, married with kids, who lives in an apartment on Jim Miller Road in Dallas and is a TSA screener. He often joked about being gunned down at the airport in an attack and it is no surprise when he dies a few pages later. There are other examples of unexploited character development as this novel rushes toward conclusion in the Columbian jungle.

Billed on the back cover as "'the Latin American Tom Clancy'" with no attribution to reference the quote, the work has nothing in connection with Tom Clancy in regards to details. Beyond the obvious comparison in page counts, the military hardware is not detailed at all. What detail is used is in regards to the back story and a half dozen characters at the beginning of the novel.

Clearly the author has a grasp of the cultural climate in the area and has attempted to convey that the readers. On that level he did succeed. His book depicts how too easy it is in the wake of a terrorist attack for this nation to go off in a search and destroy mission that could lead away from the proper targets. While the novel attempts to do things on a grander scale than it is able to do, it still provides an interesting read that keeps the readers attention.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Social Networking Sites

I'm not a big fan of them. But, I have just joined INKED-IN which is done by the Burry Man's Writer Center. The link for my page is so come take a look as I brave this new frontier. And while there, surf around and see who else is around.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Reviewing: "Stuff To Die For" by Don Bruns

Simply put, there are just too many books out there that I want to read. Too many authors I have heard good things about over the years that I can't possibly read them all. I have been hearing and reading good things about Don Bruns for years and just never had the time to go hunting his books down. When offered the chance to have his latest novel by his publicist, Maryglenn McCombs of “MM Book Publishing” out of New York, I agreed. After reading the new novel I am very glad I did.

Stuff To Die For
By Don Bruns
Oceanview Publishing
September 2007
ISBN #978-1-933515-10-6
283 Pages

James Lessor and Skip Moore have been friends since childhood. James has always been scheming on ways for the two to make a fortune in business and Skip has followed along into each venture. Some schemes had gotten them into trouble, some hadn’t, but none of them had really worked. The latest plan James has hatched has them going into the moving business. “Have Truck Will Haul” says their new business card and according to James, who has purchased the Chevy one ton box truck by using the monies he recently inherited, this idea will lead to a financial hauling empire. Not only should he have used the monies to pay on his student loans, Skip also thinks that James should have noticed the fact that the truck drinks oil like it is water. James is obvious secure in his belief that the only way to make real money is to spend the money he has and this time, he is going to spend it on his hauling stuff business idea.

Skip’s girlfriend, Emily isn’t thrilled with James or how he manages to lure her mid twenties boyfriend into one dream after another as Skip sort of drifts through life. Sure, he sells a security system now and then on commission, but he really isn’t going anywhere and she believes he could do so much more. One possibility is that Skip could go work for her Dad’s construction firm but Skip knows, for a number of reasons that all aren’t under his control, why that idea would never work.

As it soon happens Emily leads the guys to their first client, Jackie Fuentes. A wealthy and sexy woman living behind the gates of a nearby exclusive community, she needs some stuff hauled away as quickly as possible and is willing to pay well. Her husband Rick has taken off with a far younger woman and she wants his things out of her house.

It should be a simple job for a few hours of work. It would have been a simple job if James, while backing up the truck at the storage facility, hadn’t hit the building. If, the load which includes mail for Rick, hadn't shifted and spilled. If they hadn’t noticed the fact that one of the envelopes was leaking. Or, if having noticed it was leaking, tossed it back with the rest of the mail and had never opened it.

But, they did notice and did decide to open the envelope. From there, things go from bad to worse at breakneck speed. James and Skip find themselves getting deeper in a mess with every move they make while agents of the CIA, Cubans bent on arms smuggling, and a host of other shady characters with multiple motivations, keep among other things, shooting at them. All that and Emily really needs to talk to James about the future of their relationship.

Part humor, part mystery, part thriller and definitely all suspenseful, this novel takes off and just keeps going barely letting the reader catch a breath on the way. Author Don Bruns brings all the characters vividly to life and yanks readers directly into the maelstrom that is their chaotic world. What could easily have gone the way of caricature and been the typical buddy style novel instead is a very good tension filled read packed with twists and turns guaranteed to keep readers guessing to the very end. The result is excellent stuff on every level and hopes that this just might be the start of a new series.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

September is here!

The calendar has turned and football for real is finally happening again. September is here with the promise of cooler weather sometime soon. It also means that the September edition of Senior News featuring my reviews of "Jasmine's Fate" by Randy Rawls and "Crosshairs" by Harry Hunsicker is now scattered across the great state of Texas. Until you can pick up the new edition, enjoy this look back at the August 2007 edition of the newspaper for those of you who missed it.

The Worst Hard time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl
By Timothy Egan
Houghton Mifflin Company
ISBN# 0-618-34697-X

Drought is a well know commodity in the plains and the west and it has happened before. The most famous, of course, is the Dust Bowl of the 30's. In his book, Mr. Egan follows a number of families through the Dust Bowl years as well as looking at the conditions that made it all inevitable. Most of the 340 page book follows events and people in Texas and details how those involved weren't always the best stewards of the land. By going deep into the lives of those he covers, he brings them alive in the way no text book on the subject could. The result is an excellent read that also should serve as a lesson as to what so could easily happen again.

“Michener’s The Name”
By Robert Vavra
The University Press of Colorado
ISBN # 0870818562

Chronicling the behind the scenes of the legendary author’s writing career from 1961-1996 through pictures, the author showcases the private side of the man. Through black and white photographs, readers see the research with the bulls in Spain, Michener walking in areas of the South Pacific, the legendary Orson Wells, and many others. Along with public images are private moments such as relaxing on his bed in a t-shirt and briefs reading the paper. Not only are there small meaningful comments with the almost always striking photographs, there is the text that fills the back half of the book composed of letters written by James Michener as well as more anecdotes written by the author. At 208 pages this excellent coffee table style book chronicles a legend and is clearly a work of love and friendship.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007