For Police Chief Jesse Stone, the return of Wilson "Crow" Cromartie is a bit of a surprise. When last seen, he was fleeing Paradise, Massachusetts with a lot of cash and leaving wreckage, dead bodies and shaken hostages in his wake. While he wasn't responsible for all of it, he was there and he was involved. What they know he did and what they can prove he did are two different things and for Jesse Stone there is also that nasty little statute of limitations problem regarding what happened. Known to one and all as "Crow" he wants Jesse to know that he is in town on business and looking for someone. Once that person is found, Crow will report the news to his employer who may or may not have further instructions on the matter. When that happens they will have to go from there because Crow may or may not do his employer's bidding depending on the situation. In a weird way, Crow and Jesse have a lot in common and it could be argued that they are two sides of the same coin.
It isn't surprising that before long Crow and Jesse are actively working together to protect a young out of control teenager from her drunken mother and mobster father. To do so, Jesse has to enlist his ex-wife Jenn in the cause who is in town anyway to investigate and report on the alleged rising influx of Hispanic gangs. Last time Crow was involved a bridge was blown up. This time the causeway will be the scene of a violent showdown with just as explosive results.
The fact that little separates the characters of Spenser and Jesse as envisioned by Robert B. Parker has always been self evident. In this case, it goes a bit over the top with the addition of Crow who could also be known as the American Indian Hawk. Like Spencer's sidekick Hawk, Crow is the strong silent type who gets things done in mysterious ways that others can't prove and is irresistible to the ladies as well as the sameness in bird reference names. The only difference between the two of them is the fact that Crow is American Indian.
What has made this series more interesting than the Spenser series is the heavier psychological component of the main character. While Spenser has his dark moments, Jesse lives with darkness everyday and copes as best as he can often through self medication using alcohol. Beyond the obvious relationship issue which Susan and Spencer deal with and Jesse and Jenn deal with, there has been the issue of Jesse's drinking. Initially, Jesse's drinking caused him to come to Paradise and has been used by his work in therapy to consider other issues. Increasingly, the psychological reasons why events happen and people act they way they do has become a major storyline in the series from book to book. That is the case again here with references to the above stated issues as well as something else which drives one long running character to act in a way totally unexpected.
Author Robert B. Parker has penned another fast moving tale with plenty of action, occasional violence as well as retrospective moments, set in bucolic Paradise, Massachusetts. The folks that live there really need to think about changing the name of the place.
Stranger In Paradise: A Jesse Stone Novel
Robert B. Parker
Hardcover Large Print Edition
It's early April, 2003 and Major Jamie Richards (Chaplin) is driving a Humvee as part of a six vehicle convoy in Iraq. They are part of the Fifth (V) Corps and their mission is to support the troops with vital supplies such as water, ammunition and fuel as they battle towards Baghdad. Their little six vehicle convoy has become separated from the rest of their supply unit and will soon separate again as Janie's vehicle has broken down.
While undergoing repairs, a woman stumbles out of the dark Iraq desert towards the remaining two vehicles. It takes Chaplin Richards a few moments to place her as the sight is so out of the current context. It is the beautiful Adara Dunbar, who Chaplin Richards last saw back at Princeton Seminary when Chaplin Richards was working on her Masters in World Religions. Now, they are halfway around the world, in a war zone with a sandstorm attacking them. The badly hurt Adara has a message for Jamie that doesn't make a lot of sense. Not only is the rest of their convoy under attack, Adara has a mission for Chaplin Richards to perform since she can't do it herself.
Adara's mission demand and questions for her will have to wait while Chaplin Richards and what is left of their convoy race to help their fellow soldiers and they are quickly involved in the battle. Because they are distracted, they miss the assassin in their midst who is trying to kill Richards. Thwarted in his attempt, after making sure Richards is watching, he kills Adara and vanishes back into the dark Iraq desert leaving the body of her friend and the image of his eyes in her mind. That and the knowledge she has to honor her friend by doing what has been asked of her despite all the obstacles in her path.
At the same time that early April morning in 2003, the National Museum of Iraq is quietly robbed. Not with guns blazing but by men with plenty of cash. Cash has been delivered, there are no American soldiers anywhere around in the inexplicably quiet area, and before long, the carefully selected antiquities are gone. Antiquities that have great historical significance as well possibly the keys needed to finally find the location of Eden somewhere within Iraq.
This is one of those epic style thrillers told through various points of view while delving deep into concepts such as the one true race, secret societies, the Aaryan Brotherhood, and others including the core idea that events at the societal as well as at the personal scale have been orchestrated for hundreds of years. Not only that this war was planned for this time to achieve a certain end goal but that everything in some lives has been orchestrated from before their birth so that he or she would be in the right place at the exact right time. Ideas such as these populate the thriller world and have been done by David Morrell, Robert Ludlum and others too numerous to name.
As such, there isn't anything new here for readers heavily versed in the thriller genre. The idea that every single thing has been orchestrated in advance is used repeatedly to explain every coincidence in the book. The idea that yet another secret society/group/organization, whatever is behind the previous lie one character tells another but this time he or she is telling the absolute truth is a constant story telling device throughout the book. And then there is the fact that like her television namesake from long ago, Chaplin Jamie Richards can go and go with very little sleep and even less emotion.
The result is a thriller that, while not boring, certainly doesn't thrill. This first novel in the series is enjoyable overall and certainly the frequent discussions between characters regarding religion, politics and history as well as media manipulation are interesting while working as thinly disguised information dumps. The twists and turns the adventure takes are also fairly entertaining once one accepts the amazing amount of coincidence early on the novel as well as the idea that everything has been orchestrated back through time.
While conspiracy theorists will soak all of this right up as proof of what they vehemently believe regarding various issues covered in the book including the current ongoing war in Iraq, general readers may find that this a novel that while good, isn't great and could have been so much more if the authors had truly written something different in the genre.
Having a patron die in your theater isn't a good thing especially if all you show are comedy films. It isn't like the movie scared the patron to death. Having a patron die because the popcorn was poisoned is worse. For Mr. Elliot Freed, the death of Mr. Vincent Ansella is a shock. After all, Mr. Ansella, who had occupied seat 18 of row S, is his first dead customer. He isn't quite sure how to react.
A fairly common malady in his life. Thanks to a novel that did okay and was successfully butchered into something that doesn't remotely resemble his book by Hollywood, Eliot Freed has a bit of money and no desire to ever write anything again. He has no marriage either though he does have a somewhat civil relationship with his ex, Sharon. They have lunch once a week. Then there are the monthly alimony checks he gets from her as well as the way he still feels when he looks at her.
While he doesn't have a car and instead rides a bike, he does have a struggling theater that has few customers. Freed owns the former "Rialto" with all its problems and has renamed it "Comedy Tonight." He shows a comedy double feature consisting of a one current film and an older title. Despite the efforts of "Young Frankenstein" and "Count Bubba, Down-Home Vampire," Mr. Ansella died and that isn't going to help ticket sales.
Neither is the fact that the local police have to close his theater because it is now a crime scene. Getting it back open on a steady basis isn't going to be helped by the fact that the police soon discover that he has a pirating operation going on out of the basement. It would be easy to blame his suddenly missing employee for everything that has happened and something the local police seem perfectly willing to do. Freed is sure that the employee, a film major at Rutgers, had nothing to do with any of it and sets out to prove his innocence and save his theater. Bumming a car when he needs one, Freed begins digging into the case despite being warned off by everyone involved.
It would be easy to compare this novel to the Aaron Tucker series and find it wanting. The humor of the parental dynamic as well as Tucker's often strange adventures drives that series and that sort of thing isn't present at all. Freed has no kids and doesn't have a dog. While Tucker gets involved in strange stuff or things go differently than expected, Freed is more of an everyday guy that just had something happen to him that has to be dealt as best as he can. Tucker is a writer and as such for those of us in the business at whatever level there is a resonance in his amusing tales of the world of publishing. Freed has walked away from writing and only briefly relates what happened to his novel and why he has given up writing. Not to mention the fact that the Aaron Tucker series often relies on the madcap in terms of humor and that certainly isn't the case here.
But, this book isn't an Aaron Tucker series novel and therefore should not be judged on that standard. This book has to be judged on its own merits as will the series to come. Comedically, while it does not have the explosive laughter moments for this reader, it does have a number of amusing chuckle type moments as Freed references cultural and movie items. Those that have a strong grounding in comedy films will get considerably more out of the novel than those who do not.
While the book is somewhat predictable with a large part of the resolution foreshadowed early on, there are enough twists and a couple of nice surprises to keep readers highly entertained. The book moves at a pretty good pace though it does stop occasionally for Freed to summarize in depth what has gone on and that seemed a bit redundant and excessive. Still, that is a minor quibble and did not really have a negative impact on the book as it falls under more of a personal preference category. Overall, the book is a pleasant read and a nice start to an interesting character and new series. Next up in the series is "It Happened One Knife" and is currently scheduled to be released in July.
Targeted at the three to eight year old reader this charming children's book tells the tale of Clarence. Clarence lives in a beautiful town in the mountains and always wears a black mask covering his face. He lives in a gray house with a purple door. He has a cat named Evelyn. He is also a loaner and doesn't talk to folks in town.
He is also the cake thief.
He likes to steal cakes of all kinds. One morning he finds, instead of the cake he was going to steal, a note inviting him to a party. The requirement is that he bring a cake which means he is actually going to have to make a cake. Clarence has no idea how to make a cake and is scared of the concept. He learns to do so, attends the party and also learns he doesn't have to steal from others which allows him to no longer feel the need to hide behind his mask.
Written and beautifully illustrated by the author, this children's book is guaranteed to please both kids and the adults in their lives. The book tells the story in simple error free text that never talks down to the reader while providing an entertaining tale based in morality. The book has garnered some criticism here and elsewhere over the word choice the author has used citing the word "fret" as one example. From the text:
But Clarence did not know how to bake a cake or make frosting or turn on the oven. So he went home and began to fret. He fretted in the bedroom. He fretted in the living room. He fretted in the dining room, and finally he fretted in the kitchen.
For the age group targeted, the word could be a problem for the bottom end of the range. However, from my own experience in classrooms, I am aware that often the word "fret" is part of the basic vocabulary list in the lower grades and therefore works fine with the upper age group. If it is a problem in the lower age range, most likely the child reader would be working with an adult who would assist and as a result create a teachable moment.
In addition to the flowing text that works very well, there are the illustrations which are clear, non-threatening, and vibrant in support of the text. These colorful illustrations not only support the text but make a turning point very clear to young readers later in the story when the mask disappears. Most children are very quick to pick up on such techniques and it works well in this case.
The result is a wonderful read guaranteed to provide many pleasant experiences.
The Cake Thief Written and Illustrated by Sally O. Lee BookSurge Publishing http://www.booksurge.com 2008 Paperback 34 Pages
For those that don't know, Keith Olbermann hosts a very well done news show on MNSBC known as Countdown. During the hour long show, he along with a bevy of reporters, commentators, political pundits, etc. take a look at what he has determined has been the top five news stories of the day. He lightens the mood with several different fluff type segments during the show and one of those is his worst person of the world pieces.
In the segment, he pokes fun at the three individuals who he considers being the worst persons in the world on a given day. While many with little or no evidence accuse Keith Olberman of being "left wing", "liberal" or less polite terms, in the segments he manages to hit every political position equally. While he hits everyone, Bill O' Reilly and other fixtures at Fox News are often winners and there seems to be a definite personal dislike by both sides directed at the other. There are numerous other targets such as Ann Coulter, Robert Novak, Tom Cruise, Kevin Federline and many other notable names as well as plenty of folks you may never have heard of before.
Hence the premise of the book. Much like Jack Cafferty's book, "It's Getting Ugly Out There" if you are familiar with the show or original product, there is absolutely no real reason to read this book. At least in that case, Mr. Cafferty provided a little background into his own life and offered a few general thoughts regarding the country and the future. That isn't the case here.
After explaining how the segment came to be on his show, Mr. Olberman recites many of the segments that have run from July 2005 to June 2006. No context regarding any of the entries beyond what was said on air at the time is provided nor is there any update on the more obscure nominees. As in his show, special venom in the book is reserved for Bill O. Reilly as he is taken to task in both the prologue and the epilogue.
For those of us familiar with Countdown and the worst person's segments, there isn't anything new here. However, some of the pieces that ran quite some time ago are still very funny while at the same time pointing out how little some things have changed. Those unfamiliar with the concept won't have the signature music that goes with the deal but will be enlightened and entertained in their first exposure to the items and the concept.
In that sense it is a good book as it exposes a new audience to his work.
It is also such an amazingly easy way to write a book and make a buck.
The Worst Person In The World and 202 Strong Contenders By Keith Olberman John Wiley & Sons http://wiley.com/ 2006 ISBN #0-470-04495-0 Hardcover 267 Pages
The Little Candy Breathing Dragons Written by Gloria Clark Illustrated by Bobbi Switzer Outskirts Press http://www.outskirtspress.com February, 2008 ISBN# 978-1-4327-1510-6 36 Pages $12.95
This childrens book tells the tale of two little candy dragons who live in the land of snow and ice known as Buffalo. Unlike normal run of the mill dragons, these two candy dragons who simply are the cutest of their kind blow out the scent of a scrumptious candy cane instead of fire. Nay-Nay is the quiet, shy one with her red and white mane. Nay-Nay is very different from her sister Maj who loves to talk, makes friends with anyone, and has a beautiful mane of her own.
One day they go off exploring and have an adventure by meeting various animals in distress. There is the puppy dog with no feet known as Tootie Slim. There is the lost bear known as Munchkin. There is the old blind cat named Mrs. Pookie who has also lost her tail. Then, there is the deer, Butchie, who has fallen down a well and can't get out. There are numerous other animals in distress and in each case the candy dragons are able to help in one way or another. They continue on until they find themselves in a sort of paradise where they are met by the wise old owl known as Uncle Dee. He counsels them on the way to get home and tells them that in addition to all the good deeds they have done, one has to be obedient, kind, and loving as there is no other way. Before long, the dragons are back home in the land of snow and ice safe and sound and enriched by their experiences.
Clearly this is a work of love by the author who has created this book in the memory of her late son and plans to dedicate future books to him. The names of the dragons are for her young granddaughters and it is clear that this is a work grounded in family and the author's faith.
However, there are serious issues with the book. The first and most obvious to readers is the heavy handedness of the religious theme. While no mention is made of the religious theme on the publisher website, this book is centered heavily into the idea that Christianity is the one and only way to God. The concept is pushed with zero subtly throughout the book. References to God, the Christian way of doing things, having a blessed day, etc are frequently stated on every page. After each animal is rescued either the young dragons refer directly to God and helping people or the animal does before the parties go their separate ways.
Then there are situations such as the woman who takes the blind cat in as being referred to her directly as Mrs. Pookie's savior, the land of sunshine, flowers, etc near the end is directly referred to as being paradise and is ruled in harmony by a wise old owl/god, etc. This constant religious drumbeat centered around one and only religion being the way to God will disturb some readers. One would expect such heavy handedness from a faith based publisher regarding the theme and would know that going in, but, in this case, customers are not aware of this situation on any level based on the synopsis at the subsidy/self publisher or elsewhere.
Beyond the page after page of religious preaching, there are problems with the way the text and book is constructed. The illustrations by Bobbi Switzer on the cover and each right hand page are a nice touch and are entertaining on their own. The text is placed on the left side with no paragraphs or line spacing. Because of this, the text frequently doesn't line up correctly with the illustrations being used. This, in addition to frequent incorrect punctuation within the rhyming text often makes sentences start incorrectly or end at the wrong place. Such problems make this book at times a difficult read for its intended audience of children as well as adults.
Ultimately, this is a book that is difficult to recommend to any audience. Even if one ignores the peachiness of the work on page after page and nearly every line, one can't ignore the flaws regarding the text. With two dragons named after the author's granddaughters and the book dedicated to her late son, it is unfortunate that the author didn't make some editorial changes before proceeding with publication. Hopefully, future books planned in this series will address some of these issues.
Astro Socks: A Novel By Leigh M. Le Creux iUniverse, Inc. http://www.iuniverse.com/ 2008 ISBN #978-0-595-46375-6 75 Pages $9.95
Chris is a normal ten year old boy in the fifth grade. He wants to be an inventor when he grows up. In the meantime, life is a bit different these days since his baby sister arrived. Now, his mom has to stay home nearly all the time to take care of the baby and Chris isn't happy about that. They don't get to spend time together like they used to or go anywhere together. Now he has to ride the school bus or get dad to take him and mom isn't around his school during the day like she used to be. Still, all in all, Rachel is cute and he likes to play with her and he is adjusting to the new family dynamic. The real issue these days is that she keeps losing a sock and according to mom it is becoming a real problem.
Chris, intrigued by the problem gets to thinking on it as he tries to invent a solution. Despite numerous setbacks and his own tempter tantrum that mom helps him deal with; he finally comes up with an idea. An idea that leads him to e-mail correspondence with a very important person at NuPont, an issue aboard the space station, and a way to prove mom's point that anything is possible when one puts his or her mind to it.
Several years ago when my youngest was still in elementary school, the students were required to do a mandatory book creation project each spring. Each student was required to write and illustrate a story that would be bound in hardcover by some company and sent back to the family for posterity. While the first book was free, friends and family were encouraged to order extras to celebrate the achievement of seeing the child's work in print in a hardback book.
This book reminds one of those projects. After an acknowledgement written by the author thanking mom for being a spiritual agent as well as designing the cover, dad for his glowing reviews, husband for his support, daughter for hers, son for his, his fifth grade class and teacher Mrs. Monroe who provided illustrations and the back cover blurb quote as to how utterly fantastic the book is respectively, the author writes a forward as well as an introduction about the creative process and inspiration. The back of the book features more of the same from pages 69 to the end using quotes from child readers and a plug for other projects being developed by the author.
In between is the actual text of the story. A story that will annoy many adults because beyond the occasional typo and frequent punctuation errors, the premise itself is fatally flawed. Beyond the sheer unbelievably of the tale that a child asks a question via e-mail to the Lead Project Engineer that solves an engineering problem for a company trying to help astronauts aboard the space station or the fact that the plant gears up mass production for testing within hours of the signing of the contract between the family and the company among many other issues, the patent process doesn't remotely work the way described by the author. What would take months, if not years, is time compressed into a matter of a few days in this regard as well in nearly every other issue. The book, for adult readers, fails the plausibility test and will drive those of us who have engineers in the family crazy.
However, this book was designed and created for children and not adult readers. For the age group targeted, elementary school age children, this book tells an inspiring story at a fast pace. Because of their lack of sophistication they won't notice the flaws and instead will be captivated by the tale and illustrations. For that age group, the book succeeds in its mission even while making adults cringe.
We believe our complex was hit by a small tornado this morning. Our car port is damaged but the cars are okay--just covered in mud and leaves. We have roof damage, some, and lost several windows. Damage across the complex is much more severe with sections of roofs missing, car ports flattened on top of cars, trees down and spiked into buildings, most of the fencing is down, etc. We got off lucky.
Channel 4 was here live this morning in the complex with DAN GODWYN (sp?) interviewing folks. I'm not putting my fat butt on TV.
Haven't slept since it hit just after 4. So much for following doctor's order's to relax and rest.
Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck returns as does just about everyone he knows in this latest offering centered around his best friend, Theo Knight. Years ago, Theo and his brother Tatum were riding around in a restored 1964 Chevy Impala that was decked out in the latest gang imagery and had been stolen from a Latino gang leader that didn't have the fire power to stop the theft. The current year is 1986 and Theo wants to be a part of the gang called the "Grove Lords" which is led by Isaac Reems. With Isaac driving the car and Theo's brother Tatum who is already a full member of the gang sitting next to him the night is supposed to be about what Theo has to do to make it into the "Grove Lords." Instead of randomly killing someone that night as planned, Theo found the body of his mom as she lay dead on a neighborhood street with numerous residents and others trying to see up her hooker skirt.
That was twenty years ago and a lot has happened since then such as Theo being sent to death row and ultimately freed by Jack Swyteck who proved Theo's innocence of that crime. While he was innocent of that crime, Theo did a lot of very bad things in his former life and knows much of his own mom's dark history. What he has never known was the identity of her killer.
Thanks to the prison escape of Isaac Reems, the whole mess sis coming up again. Isaac is out, on the run, and expects Theo to help him because of their previous history in the "Grove Lords." If that isn't good enough, maybe the identity of who killed Theo's mom will be enough to get Theo to help. And then there is always blackmail.
The seventh novel in the Jack Swyteck series breaks no new ground and while a pleasant enough read, it is also an average read. Building on a run of the mill plot premise to work on back-story for the most part already covered in the series, this novel just adds some detail to those events. It also serves as a teaching event for Jack who is struggling to determine which of the women in his life he truly loves enough to try and change. The independent FBI agent who questioned his faith in his friend and lost her place in his life or the Doctor who works in Africa and just makes it into town for a few days now and then to see him.
Beyond the romance angle which is a constant theme throughout the book, the story itself is the typical revenge story more suitable for a movie of the week. Theo knows what his mom was and gradually discovers the why of her life and death as well as the identity of her killer while taking enormous risks that could ultimately cost him his life. Meanwhile, Jack tries to counsel his friend and help where he can but ultimately this is Theo's book and Jack is reduced to the role of a bit player except for his romance story line. Average, utterly predictable in nearly every way, the book rolls merrily along and serves as a diversion for the few hours it is read before being easily forgotten.
It's Getting Ugly Out There By Jack Cafferty John Wiley & Sons, Inc. http://www.wiley.com/ 2007 ISBN# 978-0-470-14479-4 Hardback 269 Pages
With a subtitle of "The Frauds, Bunglers, Liars, and Losers Who Are Hurting America" author Jack Cafferty is not in the mood to take prisoners. In the same style familiar to viewers of his often acerbic segments known as the "Cafferty File" on CNN'S The Situation Room, Jack Cafferty opens fire with both barrels on our government and its repeated failures during the Bush administration. Whether Katrina and New Orleans, Illegal Immigration, the burgeoning debt, the Patriot Act and other follies, or many other issues, Cafferty tells readers, often profanely, exactly and without ambiguity what he thinks. He also shares numerous comments he has received in response to his segments the last several years.
In between he weaves his own personal back story of a dysfunctional home, his own alcoholism and other issues the past sixty years of his life. On occasion, when he isn't considering his upbringing or the way things are these days, he waxes poetic regarding the spirit of the American people and how we can fix things going forward starting with the 2008 Presidential election.
The result, while interesting overall, is largely a rehash of what you see every afternoon on his program. In fact, in some areas, most notably regarding the economy and the candidates, the information is already seriously dated. Unfortunately, despite all his criticism of what led to this point in our nation's history, Jack Cafferty has no actual suggestions for the future and breaks no new ground in this book.
Jason Palmer found his reason for being by being a soldier. Then, one mistake later, he was ultimately out and on his way back home to Chicago. There he finds plenty of booze and one night stands with women in a determined effort, if not to kill himself, to at least keep the demon within under some semblance of control. That is until his brother Michael is murdered and the bar he owned destroyed to cover the crime as well as to serve as a warning to others.
But, the killers made two mistakes. They didn't kill Jason Palmer when they had the chance before he was aware that anything was wrong. They also failed to kill Billy, Michael's son, who at ten years old is amazingly smart and together and can easily identify the killers. The vulnerability of a child is almost always a reason for somebody to turn his or her life around and it certainly is here as Billy gives Jason a reason to put down the bottle and begin to fight back against the enemy within as well as the real enemies arrayed against his family and friends. It's easy to go to war in Iraq or at home in Chicago when you don't care about living or dying. It is another thing entirely when a child is counting on you to survive.
What sounds like a typical revenge/retaliation story is much, much more in the talented hands and mind of Marcus Sakey who also wrote the powerful novel, "The Blade Itself." Taking classic traditional elements of former gang members trying to do good in the old neighborhood, crooked cops, politicians on the take, and all the rest of it, Marcus Sakey creates a novel that while full of graphic violence is also full of subtle nuance about the human condition. Sakey once again brings his hometown alive whether it is the posh mansions or the ghetto areas and shows readers that the people who live in each have much more in common than most would expect or acknowledge.
The result is a novel that no review will begin to fully explain just how good this book truly is. So, go read it already and if you haven't read "The Blade Itself" read that as well. You won't be disappointed with either stand alone read.
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Supporting The Blog
In my wife's memory and honoring a promise I made to Sandi, the blog continues...at least for now. If you would like to make a donation of support, you can do so at the links below. Most of the donated funds go to the purchase of medical supplies for me. Some of it goes to the purchase of various short story anthologies and collections which eventually are read and reviewed here.