Monday, September 29, 2008

Reviewing: "The History of Texas Music" by Gary Hartman

Written by Austin resident and founding director of the "Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University" Gary Hartman chronicles the background and history of what he defines as Texas music. He attempts to define what Texas music was and is today. That definition can basically be boiled down to being part of anything and everything out there in music. He then attempts to show how the nature of the sound has changed over time.

To do so, he looks at the history and culture of the American Southwest before looking at various ethnic groups such as Native American, Mexican American, and others that influenced Texas music. Each had a period of strong influence in the sound of Texas music before slipping back and being replaced by a different ethnic group that had risen to prominence. Those ethnic changes relate directly to the changing of culture and history in the Lone Star State and he argues that these changes make Texas music unique.

And while he may have a point, too often that idea is lost because of the heavy commentary full of dates, facts, too few anecdotes, and an immensely dry writing style. Musician as well as a historian, Gary Hartman uses this book to expand on an essay he originally wrote for "The Roots of Texas Music." As such, this book is first and foremost a history book. Clearly the author knows his subject matter from both a personal and a professional standpoint. Still, unfortunately, this book never really comes alive for the reader. Instead, it drones on and on for more than 226 pages with plenty of names, dates, and all the rest, but no human sense of who these people were. The occasional anecdote sheds some light but even then the background is told in a sterile academic style robbing the material of any human component that would relate to most readers.

The text that includes numerous pictures is followed by forty-one pages of notes. The notes, like any research project, are broken down into chapter references. There is also a bibliography of primary and secondary sources stretching twenty-two pages. That is followed by eleven page detailed index.

Despite the author's stated intention in the introduction that this is a book intended for the general public and not just academics, this is a very dry history book. It won't appeal to most readers in the "just the facts" style and tone that it is written in. Instead, this comprehensive book will primarily appeal to those who are mentioned in it, academics, and those who have a deep interest in the subject matter. For those selected groups, this 304 page book is excellent reference material both in text and pictures to further their studies.

The History of Texas Music
Gary Hartman
Texas A&M University Press
ISBN# 1-60344-002-X
304 Pages

Review copy provided by the staff of the Plano Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reviewing: "Point Surrender" by Anne Carter

On the run from a collapsed relationship, Amy Winslow, heads for her brother, Brian. They have always been close and right now she has no one else to turn to. He lives in San Francisco in a small apartment and works as a member of the Coast Guard. Amy has a lot of decisions to make about the future and needs someone to talk to. Those decisions won't be quick or easy. Brian has news of his own.

Nearby is the lighthouse known as Point Surrender. The Coast Guard is selling it and Brian is going to be the lucky new owner. Brian is enthusiastic even though the over 150 year old lighthouse needs extensive work. Amy would love to share her brothers' enthusiasm, but there is something about the old lighthouse that really unnerves her. She doesn't know why she feels both drawn to it and disturbed by it at the same time.

Amy Winslow isn't the only one with painful secrets and on the run. A vetenarian, Casey McKenna, is on the run as well but he is doing it by sea. He manages to hole his boat the "Fancy Dream" nearby and after some quick action limps into port at Newburg Harbor. The accident happened shortly after he saw a man fling himself off the bluff at the Point Surrender lighthouse. No body was found and the local police don't really believe him. With his boat needing repairs he will be forced to remain in the area and near the mysterious lighthouse.

A lighthouse with a painful legacy of its own. A lighthouse where ghosts seem to appear at different times and seem to draw certain personalities to it. A lighthouse where out of the cold ashes of the past, a new romance could be born. A lighthouse that will bring Casey and Amy together.

Utterly predictable from start to finish without a single surprise twist, this novel still works well as it tells a romantic cozy style mystery tale. Despite the utter predictability throughout the novel, what Anne Carter does very well is to make her characters human and alive for readers. Whether it is the lovely Amy Winslow with an uncertain future and betrayed painfully by her previous lover or the hard edged and handsome Casey McKenna (prefers "Case") who heals animals and is unable to heal himself, these characters and others become living breathing people for the reader.

The mystery contains some supernatural elements which are explained as expected by the end of the novel. Billed as "romantic suspense" by the publisher, the suspense angle is virtually non-existent for those who have read widely in either or both genres. The obviousness of events can't be discussed without ruining the book for readers and as such can't be explained in a review.

However, the romance part of the term "romantic suspense" works very well as the story charts the tumultuous courtship between Casey and Amy. Passion drives this book in terms of the mystery as well as the romance and passion fuels both characters in the way they love as well as the way they live life.

The result is an overall enjoyable novel and a pleasurable read.

Point Surrender
Anne Carter
Echelon Press Publishing
April 2007
ISBN # 1-59080-514-3
Large Trade Paperback
288 Pages

Review copy provided by P. J. Nunn of BreakThrough Promotions in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reviewing: "C'mon Over! Hassle-Free, Hustle Free Entertaining"

Who doesn't like having friends over to share some food, some laughs and some great conversation? If you watch a lot of the so called experts on television or read their books, you can feel a bit intimidated with all you are supposed to do to set the right style and tone. Worrying about somebody else's idea of "perfection" can ruin the fun. The Pillsbury editors created this book from the mindset that gatherings are supposed to be fun and not stressful.

After a couple of pages of introductory notes that highlight what the point that having fun by letting others help by bringing food, using paper plates (that you don't have to make from scratch) and the basic items you should always have in the "party pantry" (most you'll have already have for day to day living) the book launches into the four seasonal sections. Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring are on tap with each one devoted to making the most of the season.

Summer starts off with plan for various events and recipes. Whether it is "Friday Night with Friends," or a "Backyard Burger Bash" or the "Candelight Deck Party" the themes are simple, feature common sense, and are ones that are relatively easy to orchestrate. The same is true with the recipes. Recipes such as "Peachy Keen Slush, Roasted Potato Garlic Dip, Fajita Tortilla Pizzas" and "New York White Chocolate Cheese Cake" or many others that all entice you to the kitchen. Along with the usually full color picture of each dish or drink, there are notes on the number of servings it makes and what is in it from a calorie, fat, salt, cholesterol, etc., standpoint. Such detailed information is extremely helpful for those with medical concerns. Lots of cook books have some dietary info but usually ignore the figures on salt which is a major concern of cardiac and other patients. Here it is included which is a very good thing.

The Fall section signals move of the parties indoors as it begins on page 72. Here again various themes are suggested such as the ones that open the chapter oriented around Labor Day and back to school. "Taco Pizzas" is the first recipe followed numerous ones including "Santa Fe Nectarine Salad, Beef and Green Chile Enchiladas, German Potato and Sausage Casserole, Roasted Vegetables with Spicy Aioli Dip" and many others. The same format is used with large color pictures of the item, ingredient lists, prep time, total time, servings count, caloric info and straight forward directions.

Winter begins on page 114 with the fantastic idea of keeping it simple and low stress during the holiday season. Various party theme ideas such as "Winter Fiesta" and "Sweetheart Supper" among others are included along with recipes for "Frozen Strawberry-Pistachio Dessert, Overnight Cranberry-Orange French Toast, Lime and Mango Coleslaw, Slow Cooker Burritos" among others. The same format regarding pictures and other information continues here.

Page 162 finds the final section "Spring" with the themes flexible for inside and outside such as "Welcome Spring!" and the "Pasta Party" among others. Recipes are plentiful and include "Crab Broccoli and Roasted Red Pepper Quiche" as well as "Cheesy Bean Dip, Cashew–Fudge-Caramel Ice Cream Pie" and many more. Following the same detailed format the recipes are laid out the same way as they have been in the preceding sections.

The book concludes with a short section on the nutrition info that went into the book and basic cooking info, a metric conversion guide and six page indexes.

The result is a simple to use and fun cookbook geared toward making party memories and having a good time. The recipes range from simple to average as far as complexity goes and feature basic items easily available. The color pictures along with the text are easy to see. The dietary information is detailed and extensive and I personally was very pleased to see the salt intake numbers. The book is spiral format inside a hard cover making the book easy to layout on a surface.

All of the above makes this a book well worth owning and one that you will get plenty of use over the next weeks and months.

C'mon Over! Hassle-Free, Hustle Free Entertaining
The Pillsbury Editors
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN# 978-0-471-75311-7
Hardcover/Spiral Bound
208 Pages

Review copy provided by the staff of the Plano Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reviewing: "Death On The Move" by Bill Crider

Clyde Ballinger is upset and that is not at all normal. Even when the limbs were found and had to be dealt with awhile back, Ballinger was pretty calm about the deal. Maybe because he reads a lot and what has happened in Blacklin County, Texas often reminds him of something he has read before in a crime novel. The quiet funeral director normally spends his time on Sunday mornings hitting the area garage sales looking for old paperback books. Ballinger loves crime novels and is a huge fan of the 87th precinct series. Usually, before Sheriff Rhodes has done much work on a real case, Ballinger has a fictional case to reference it to, a working theory and a suggestion or two on how the fictional detectives would solve the case. This time though, the crime has hit his business and he is very rattled.

Beyond rattled are Jack and Elva Storm. They are very upset and justifiably so. Jack and Elva Storm came to Ballinger's funeral home to see the body of Jack's sister, Jane Storm, before she was to be buried later in the day. Jewelry, specifically a gold ring with diamond solitaire is missing as are a pair of gold earrings with diamonds and a necklace of pearls. Jane was to be buried with these items and it seems that someone has removed them from the body. The items are gone and the Storms are threatening to sue. Sheriff Rhodes is sure Ballinger didn't take the stuff. Clyde is convinced that his partner Tom Skelly didn't steal the stuff either. Clyde is upset, the Storms are very upset and Sheriff Rhodes knows that the only thing that can be done is to delay the burial in hopes the thief gets caught and the items are recovered.

While he is dealing with that, old lady McGee out at the Clearview Lake called in to report some odd activity. She wanted to report some prowlers. She lives in a back area of the lake that most folks don't know about and find it hard to get to. Seems she has been seen a moving van around back there on the roads and with hardly anyone living back in there on a daily basis she thinks that somebody is stealing stuff.

Blacklin County, Texas has thieves of all types in this fourth installment of the sheriff Rhodes series. These story lines as well as others continue forward in a series that reminds one heavily of J.W. Jackson in Philip R. Craig's Martha's Vineyard stories. The settings are totally different, but the same type of folks, style of story telling with characters that feel like family are present along with plenty of amusing moments.

Character development is at a nil since these characters were pretty much developed in the first book. Instead, nuance is provided by the slowly ongoing and building romance between Ivy and Rhodes. That, along with his dealing regarding the eccentricies of his staff not only provide moments of comic relief, but, they also serve to illustrate that Rhodes, while he does make a lot of mistakes as a lawman, is a man with a good heart and a determined attitude.

The result is another good story.

Death On the Move
Bill Crider
Ivy Books
ISBN # 0-8041-0425-5
184 Pages

My thanks to the staff of Plano Public Library System as well as the staff of The University Of Texas At Austin Library System who graciously provided my review copy through the interlibrary loan program.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008


*** Forwarded with permission ***


October 4th Workshop Speakers: Suzanne Frank
Legacy Books Representative

Suzanne Frank is the author of four best selling time travel novels. As Chloe Green she has written mysteries set behind the scenes of the fashion world. She has taught in the SMU Continuing Studies Creative Writing Program since 1998, and became director of the program in 2004.

Legacy Books—a representative from Legacy Books, Plano, will inform us about the new store and their plans for promoting local authors.

Meetings First Saturday of each month
9:30-11:30 AM
Texas Land & Cattle
812 South Central Expressway
Richardson, TX 75080

You do not need to be a member of MWA to attend.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

YA Book Review: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

In distant or even not so distant future, the United States of America no longer exists. Instead, after some sort of ecological disaster, civilization collapsed and out of the chaos and the battle for survival, rose the nation of Panem, with a Capital and thirteen encircling districts. There was a time of peace and prosperity and then came the "Dark Days" of rebellion. The rebellion was crushed and the 13th District as well as its residents was obliterated. In the aftermath, thanks to the "Treaty of Treason" the remaining twelve districts agreed, through a lottery style drawing to surrender a male and a female child between the ages of twelve and eighteen to compete in the annual Hunger Games. A televised spectacle used to punish and remind those who live in the districts their place in the nation of Panem where everything exists to serve and entertain those in the Capital. The 24 contestants, known "Tributes" are placed in an outdoor arena capable of sustaining any environment those in charge want, while they battle to the death in order to be the sole survivor.

Katniss "Catnip" Everdeen lives in District 12 with her mom and younger sister, Prim. Despite the fact Prim only had one chance to be selected for the annual Hunger Games, she was. That isn't going to work so Katniss volunteers herself in her sister's place. This is an act almost unheard of and guaranteed to draw a high degree of media attention to her. Soon the male, Peeta Mellark, son of a local baker is chosen as her companion representative. After a few heartfelt goodbyes with family and others, 16 year old Katniss and Peeta are traveling on a high speed train from their home somewhere in Appalachia to the distant Capital somewhere in the Rockies to compete. That train trip begins to heavily illustrate the novel's main idea of two societies where desperate want and a daily battle for survival is a fact of life in the districts and opulence and excess is a fact of life for those of the Capital.

Post apocalypse novels are nothing new and this one certainly isn't. The 374 page book is a sort of odd combination of the television show "Survivor" and "Lord of The Flies" as it touches on themes and concepts handled many times before with better results using far more complex characters. While the author tells a decently engaging story in this first of the series, the work isn't nearly as good as the hype in many reviews. The science fiction angle is very weak and stereotypical as are the characters, the character development, and the plot, not to mention the telegraphed and obviously open ended outcome of the book. Utterly predictable throughout with no subtlety or nuance, this simplistic novel doesn't even have any clever lines that mean one thing to adults and another to teenagers as author Rick Riordan does in his excellent " Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series.

And that is the rub here. For adults, especially those of us who have read quite a lot over the years in the sci-fi genre and elsewhere and have seen all sorts of forms of this in movies and television, this book simply doesn't work at all for all the reasons cited. However, for the audience it is intended for, young adults who may not be interested in or ready for these types of themes handled in complex ways by authors such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Robert C. Clark, Harlan Ellison and many others, the book with its fast pace and plenty of action will work. For the audience it is intended for, who hasn't had the in-depth exposure that many adult readers have had, this novel could work as written. Engaging teenagers in reading is important and this book, while a failure for widely read adults, should work for the actual intended audience.

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press
October 2008
ISBN # 0-439-02348-3
374 Pages

As a member of the Amazon Vine Program, this novel was sent to me in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reviewing: "Less Dead" by Laura Elvebak

Houston's Tranquility Park is anything but tranquil as the sun moves across the downtown Houston skyline. For Jessica Keeling it has been a very hard last several months since her father vanished. But, this much worse as this is the first time she has woken up next to a dead man. A man that she just might have killed. Drugged the night before, she has no memory and as such has no idea what happened.

Known by the street name of "Jade" to one and all, Jessica has only a couple of people she can count on. One is a street tough guy known as "Rube." The other is "Niki Alexander" a counselor for a local runaway shelter known as "Open Palms." Before she can get to either of them, she makes a mistake and disappears.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Luis Perez is looking for a teenager last seen fleeing the area of Tranquility Park. A teenager somewhat fitting Jade's description was seen running from the area right before the dead man was discovered. It could have been Jade. It could have been another homeless teenage girl as the vague description fits so many runaways. What is clear is that along with a murder mystery, there is another problem as teen girls are going missing on the streets. Previously partnered with Niki before she left the force, he knows nobody else knows the street kids like Niki does and he needs her help

As this occasionally very graphic novel in terms of language and the descriptive imagery of abuse and dead bodies unfolds, author Laura Elvebak casts an unflinching look at the teen homeless problem. Set in Houston before Hurricane Ike, the novel considers those that are truly are "Less Dead" and left to fend for themselves by any means necessary. In so doing, she also considers those who would prey upon such children as well as the many types of people who make up the street scene.

Along the way she tells a twisting story of murder and abuse primarily through Niki and Jade. While both characters come from different walks of life both are just trying to survive day to day in their different economic situations. For the street teenager Jade, the hope that she might be reunited with her father keeps the spirit alive inside of her. For the counselor Niki, she seeks redemption for the past and a chance to get put a tragedy for which she feels no end of guilt behind her. While the physical threats and internal emotional demons are different, they are no less real, and it becomes questionable whether either character will survive body and soul. Despite the fact that virtually every character in this novel has classic clichéd and stereotypical ingredients, author Laura Elvebak makes the ingredients work and creates characters that readers come to care about.

Less Dead
Laura Elvebak
L & L Dreamspell
ISBN# 978-1-60318-040-5
September 2008
Trade Paperback
273 Pages

Review copy provided by P. J. Nunn, owner of BreakThrough Promotions, in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Reviewing: "Cursed To Death: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery" by Bill Crider

Winter is closing on Blacklin County, Texas and Christmas isn't far away. Things have been odd at times lately, but, for Sheriff Dan Rhodes this is a first. One of the local dentists, Dr. Samuel Martin, has a complaint and he is sure that there has to be a law.

Dr. Martin simply can't have people barging in while he is with a patient and placing a curse on him. The curse placed on Dr. Martin was along the lines that he should get sick, lose all his money, and have all his teeth fall out. Kind of creative and amusing and as Rhodes digs deeper, he soon finds out there is a lot of heated back story involved. Betsy Higgins, who claims to be a witch, had justification for her actions at least somewhat. After all, Dr. Martin swiped the new stereo console TV from Betsy Higgins and her boyfriend because they hadn't paid the rent.

While Dr. Martin might be a very good dentist, he isn't very good at being a landlord. Things aren't always fixed like they should be and when folks get behind he either lets it slide or becomes verbally abusive and threatening towards them. With his owning several rental properties, word has gotten around the small town of Clearview as well as the county just what kind of landlord he is. Being cursed made him give up the stereo console television mighty quick, but he still is very annoyed and wants something done about it.

Rhodes negotiates a bit between the dentist/landlord and the tenants and thinks he has things solved. Shortly thereafter Dr. Martin vanishes, there is an uprising at the local nursing home by the elderly residents, and Rhodes still has to figure out what his unofficial engagement means. With all that going on and other stuff, it is supposed to be understandable why he occasionally investigates situations without backup and frequently loses his grip on situations as well as his pistol.

That flaw becomes a bit mildly annoying at times as Rhodes frequently walks alone into situations that he should, just based on what has happened in the series, let alone his long law enforcement career, should know better. Yes, it is a small police force and yes, others in his small department are frequently engaged in other duties. Still, the reader knows that when he walks into these situations, he is going to lose his weapon before he gets a chance to use it, take another good old fashioned beating, and probably lose consciousness again in the process.

Third in the series, this novel continues in the same comfortable folksy style of the earlier novels. There is no real additional character depth developed here. Sheriff Rhodes is still trying to figure out the meaning of his engagement to Ivy and at the same time, is trying to figure out what to buy her for Christmas. Those storylines are secondary but also easily feed into the main focus of this novel. The main focus being a tale about folks living their lives the best they can day to day, dealing with issues and problems we all deal with, while a murder lurks in their midsts. Another comfortable read that provides another healthy dose of enjoyment where the bodies will fall but it takes a little time.

Cursed To Death: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
Walker and Company
ISBN# 0-8027-5698-0
193 Pages

Review copy provided by the staff of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chris Roerden Workshop

Tony Burton of Crime and Suspense e-zine and Wolfmont Publishing posted the below on one of the many lists I am on. With his permission, I am posting the news here.

If you are a writer...And live in North Georgia or Tennessee, you could do much worse than to arrange to be in Calhoun, Georgia on September 29 from 6:00 to 9:00 PM.

Agatha Award-winner Chris Roerden will be presenting a workshop for writers at the Harris Arts Center, "The Role of the Writer's Voice In Getting Published."

I think a lot of people here on this list already know Chris, but she has been in the editing and writing business for over 44 years, and has a great grasp of the realities of what it takes to get a book past the snarling dogs that guard the publisher's front gates.

Chris will be enlightening all and sundry who attend, as well as signing both her previous book, "Don't Murder Your Mystery!" and her latest, "Don't Sabotage Your Submission!"

The cost of this? VERY, very low: only $20! You would usually pay much more than this to hear Chris give one of her workshops, but this workshop is being sponsored to reduce the cost. PLUS! There will be free pizza! How can you miss?

Contact the Harris Arts Center at 706-629-2599 to pre-register.

Tony Burton
Chair, Literary Arts Guild
Calhoun-Gordon Arts Council

While I don't know anything further than what Tony posted about this workshop, I can say that if you are in the area you really should attend. I have had the pleasure of having heard Chris speak at a recent Hardboiled Heroes and Cozy Cats conference in Dallas. I found the presentation to be very helpful and informative.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Earl Staggs--Speaking and Signing in Richardson, Texas

I'm pleased to pass along news of what my friend, Earl Staggs is doing Monday night....

If you're anywhere near Richardson, Texas, a great town on the northeast corner of Dallas, you might enjoy attending a meeting of the Writers' Guild of Texas. They're a friendly group of writers and readers in all genres, including Mystery, of course, and have programs and speakers at each monthly meeting. More information here:

The good news is, the meeting are open to the public and are free.

The bad news? If you attend the meeting next Monday evening, September 15, you'll have to listen to me.

Monday, 15 September 2008
7-8:30 p.m.
Topic: BACKSTORY – The Good, the Bad, and the Boring
Speaker: Earl Staggs

Richardson Public Library
900 Civic Center Dr.
Richardson TX 75080
Basement Room

It’s hard to write without backstory. If past events have a bearing on the current story, we have to tell the reader about it. If something in a character’s history is important to how that character deals with events in the current story, we have to give that history to the reader. Yet, if we bore our readers with a long retelling of the past, they may toss our book and move on to someone else’s. And let’s face it. Some readers will skip over long passages of backstory to get to the good parts – action and dialogue – and miss important information.

How can we blend the past and present into a story without boring readers or driving them away? Award winning author Earl Staggs will discuss and give examples of the Good, the Bad, and the Boring methods of writing the dreaded backstory.

Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. His mystery novel MEMORY OF A MURDER received nine Five Star reviews on and is available at most bookstores or online at, Amazon and B&N. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

So, come on out and see my buddy, Earl!


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Reviewing: "Fuzzy Navel" by J. A. Konrath

Summer is home to the blockbuster movie. Movies that feature old favorite characters trotted out for another adventure in a tale often much weaker than the original good one. Movies that feature stereotypical characters, the occasional all to clever dialogue line, and plenty of violence filled action and mayhem so that the viewer doesn't notice the story is shallow and has no depth. It happens in books as well though it usually isn't so obvious.

Kork is back and on a violence filled vengeance spree. She begins by grabbing Lt.Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels' elderly mother and holding her hostage. The plan is simple and cruel. Kork will force Mom to get Jack to come home and then use Jack to get everyone Kork owes payback to come over. Once everybody is there the torture and killings will begin with Jack having to witness the death of everyone she ever cared about or loved. Once that happens and is finished, Jack will die and the mad psycho woman will live happily ever after. A classic setup. There is one little problem.

Jack is at work and really busy. She is working a sniper shooting scene. The sniper took out a victim at one crime scene. But, the sniper wasn't working solo. Other snipers have dropped two more victims elsewhere and instead of following the plan are also wounding and killing cops. The snipers aren't through as they embark on their own carnage filled vengeance joy ride.

A series that began so well and with such promise in "Dirty Martni" has steadily devolved in each novel to this cartoonish freak show of violence in the fifth installment. It isn't just the fact that the book has a hideous open ending promising more of the same drivel in the next book. It isn't the fact that Kork, who should have been delegated to the dustbin heap of over used characters long ago, returns yet again. It is all that and the amazing amount of gratuitous violence in this clichéd book filled with zero character development or plot.

Violence is the thing on page after page, short chapter after short chapter. The story, such as it is, is told through all three of the snipers, Kork, Jack, Jack's police partner Herb, Jack's Mom and all of the other hostages. Chapters consist of at most 4 or 5 pages, and usually just a page, as readers head hop through various characters that are contemplating violence, doing violence, or suffering from violence they unleashed or was unleashed upon them. In short, this is what an action movie on paper looks like. A really bad, unfunny, stupid action movie with a cheap ending that isn't one, tacked on before the movie goes straight to video and the 99 cents bin.

Fuzzy Navel: A Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels Mystery
J. A. Konrath
Hyperion Books
ISBN# 978-1-4013-0280-1
271 Pages

Review copy provided by the staff of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Monday, September 08, 2008

Reviewing: "Hunting The American Terrorist: The FBI's War On Homegrown Terror"

Written by Terry D. Turchie and Dr. Kathleen M. Puckett this book chronicles the hunt for several American terrorists. Unlike traditional terrorists who operate in cells and therefore by sheer numbers could make mistakes leading to their capture, the American terrorist proceeds as a "lone wolf." Folks like Theodore Kaczynski better known as the "Unabomber" and Eric Rudolph, the bomber of several abortion clinics and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics are two examples of this different kind of terrorist. While these individuals may share ideological beliefs with various organizations, they never fit in with those organizations primarily because of their personalities. As such, ostracized and alone, they carry a one person war against their targets.

Being one person as opposed to a group makes them harder to catch assuming they don't make mistakes. This means that psychological profiles are of huge importance and must change as the suspect and the case evolves. That is where the work of co-author Dr. Kathleen M. Puckett and others involved in profiling or behavioral sciences becomes so important.

While the Unabomber began in 1978, the person still wasn't caught when Terry D. Turchie took over the case in 1994. It had been a little over a year since the latest violent attacks and the task force was no closer to solving the case. The book chronicles the next seven years of the hunt as Mr. Turchie leads the task force. Seven years that were fraught with some success, bureaucratic power struggles, and inaccurate profiling until Special Agent and Behavioral Expert, Dr. Puckett was added to the task force among other issues. As the Unabomber Task Force evolves to hunt this new type of criminal, it makes waves inside the FBI and outside making the bureaucracy almost a bigger problem than the Unabomber.

While Mr. Turchie chronicles the bureaucratic side of things, in the second half of the book Special Agent Dr. Kathleen M. Puckett shares her thoughts from the behavioral analyst point of view. One of the things made clear is that the analysis must change as the events happen. The original profile offered by analysts at Quantico regarding the Unabomber was fundamentally wrong from the very start. Sixteen years later, the profile hadn't changed when Mr. Turchie took over the task force and that grossly incorrect profile had failed the case for years. Through her section, Dr. Puckett chronicles the case and how she looked at things differently than others did over the years.

Also covered in smaller pieces are the hunts for Eric Rudolph and Timonthy Mcveigh. Also covered and discussed is the study Dr. Puckett provided for the Counter Terrorism division, regarding the profile of the lone terrorist. A phenomenon that could create an international lone terrorist just as easily as an American lone terrorist. The implications of that are chilling.

This 294 page book including index provides an interesting look into some of the most notorious cases in American history. While there is a tone of self congratulatory praise running through the work, the book through text and photographs explains well how two high level insiders considered the cases and the events and people surrounding them. It is not a totally objective view of events nor is it intended to be as accounts by insiders are always biased towards the authors. The book recounts in interesting detail the author's perspectives on these cases and serves as an example of how such these types of investigations will most likely be conducted in the future when another one strikes.

Hunting The American Terrorist: The FBI'S War On Homegrown Terror
Terry D. Turchie & Kathleen M. Puckett, Ph.D.
History Publishing Company
ISBN# 978-1-933909-34-9
294 Pages (including index)

Review copy provided directly by the History Publishing Company in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Reviewing: "Swan Peak" by James Lee Burke

For those of us who write stories and are occasionally published, we are constantly told to never open a fiction piece with either a dream or the weather. The reasoning being, according to agents and writing experts, that such an opening is either clichéd or weak and makes the submission worthy of the instant rejection. That and the stigma of having ignored the current expectations of the publishing coasts and by doing so, showing that the writer is oblivious to doing things correctly. Ironic then, that James Lee Burke opens the latest novel in the Dave Robicheaux series doing both and it works well.

Two years after Katrina ripped apart New Orleans, Clete and Dave and his family are spending the summer in Montana. The "Bobbsey Twins from Homicide" are far older these days physically and mentally and both are in deep mourning. Not only in regards to their lives and the choices they have made or had forced on them from time to time, but they also still deeply mourn the city that exists no more. Unlike heroic and flawed gunfighters of old, they haven't literally run off a cliff, but emotionally they have and are still in free fall with no landing in sight. The current plan is to heal body and spirit as they stay on a friend's ranch and to ignore the rest of the world around them. If only it was that simple and with Clete Purrel nothing is simple.

Clete literally lost his way the night before and end up camping on what he thought was vacant land but wasn't. Instead, he has spent the night on the Wellstone ranch and has drawn the interest of two of his security goons. Goons that used to work for a very bad mob guy who died a few years back in a plane crash. The goons are bad news and should have been splattered all over the hillside years ago where the mob guy died.

Instead, they are working for a shady and very rich man, Mr. Wellstone, who happens to own the property virtually next door to their friend, Albert Hollister. That may or may not have something to do with the fact that within hours of Clete being asked to leave his campsite, two brutally murdered college kids are found nearby. Knowing they are in the area and have knowledge and experience that could help, the local sheriff asks Dave to advise him.

Something that probably would have happened anyway because neither Clete nor Dave can leave things alone when there are degenerates in the neighborhood. And there are a lot of them in this 402 page long winding navel gazing novel. While much better than the slit your throat depressing ode to New Orleans also known as "the Tin Roof Blowdown" this novel is another book that spends an inordinate amount of time going nowhere.

Along with the contemplation of the wrath of Katrina made worse by political incompetence and the concept of aging as what you knew ceases to be now, the old theme of evil that has been a constant spine of James Lee Burke's work is considered again. It is considered constantly because Burke, through his characters, attempts to determine if people are born into dark evil or instead through fate, exposure to others such as family, war, friendship, etc descend into evil. Is one made evil at birth or born into evil and corrupted? While not a religious novel in that sense, there is a certain religious pondering that runs through the novel as the topic is considered. It is no mistake that at least one character is saved by the love of a flawed woman and in essence, reborn and able to change his ways and find peace.

That consideration of evil and the beginnings of evil can go on for pages at a time and further slows down a slow work. A work made slow by far too many characters who are described in detail and used in story lines to stand as testimony to salvation and rebirth through the love of a flawed woman.

It would be easy to deeply analyze this book on religious grounds and write a college level paper for some English or psychology class regarding all the deeper level of meaning in the book. On that level, the book succeeds as it slowly works through several different themes and concepts. Read as a mystery tale, it doesn't hit the mark as too many characters have little relevance to the primary story line in a read that hardly goes anywhere for more than 300 of its 400 pages.

Swan Peak: A Dave Robicheaux Novel
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster
ISBN# 1-4165-4852-1
402 Pages

Review copy provided by the staff of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Reviewing: "Shotgun Saturday Night" by Bill Crider

"Sheriff Dan Rhodes knew it was going to be a bad day when Bert Ramsey brought in the arm and laid it on the desk." (Page1)

It gets worse. Bert has another neatly wrapped and packaged arm and two more legs out is his truck. Bert was clearing brush out on the old Caster place and found these parts inside a corrugated cardboard box. He also found a couple more boxes out there that probably contain something. Bert opened one box and after seeing what was inside decided it wasn't a good idea to open anymore boxes or move them. Which means Sheriff Rhodes is going to have go out there and see for himself the scene as well as open the boxes. Something he doesn't want to do either.

For Blacklin County, Texas this is something that might happen in the city but, not out here. Nobody is missing and as far as Sheriff Rhodes knows, the county doesn't have several people missing or enough missing folks to supply limbs to fill the first box. Those parts don't appear to be related to each other in any way. Rhodes figures that somebody came off the nearby interstate and dumped the boxes and then went back on their way through the East Texas countryside.

While how the parts came to be dumped in the field is soon easily solved, disposal of those parts becomes an issue. An issue that becomes an annoyance quickly and something that takes his attention away from a murder that soon happens and isn't easily solved.

Second in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series this novel picks up just a little after the events depicted in "Too Late to Die." Readers are again treated to life in Blacklin County in East Texas and the usually unflappable Sheriff Rhodes and the cast of characters in his life and county. Crime and even murder he can handle as well as the occasional violent altercation with suspects. Romance is another thing.

The growing romance between him and Ivy Daniel is the primary way for further deepening character development in this novel. The character of Sheriff Rhodes as well as numerous other characters was pretty much established in the first book. Rhodes is on his own these days as his daughter, Kathy took the teaching job in Richardson. Which leaves him alone to navigate the tossing waters of romance and he is a having a hard go of it. Things have changed quite a lot since he was courting Claire and he has to learn how to do so again. As a widower he hasn't been trying to date anyone for a long time and the ritual seems as difficult as a foreign language. Having to search for a murder doesn't really assist in the dating process either.

Released in 1987, this enjoyable novel picks up seamlessly from "Too Late to Die" as it evolves characters and entertains readers with quite a few twists along the way. At 185 pages in hardback form, it is also a fast read that is just plain good and that features good old detective work with no fancy high tech gadgets or gratuitous nonsense.

Shotgun Saturday Night: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
Walker and Company
ISBN# 0-8027-5684-0
185 pages

My sincere thanks to the staff of the "Harris County Public Library" located in Houston, Texas who graciously provided my review copy through the interlibrary loan system.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

Another Market Closes

BJ Borg posted this earlier today.....

My parish took a beating from Hurricane Gustav and there is a lot to do before we get back to normal. I was already behind with MFOB because of my two jobs, and this will just put things out of reach for me, so I'm forced to close MFOB indefinitely. If things settle down at some point in the far away future, I may go back to publishing it, but, as for now, I have no choice but to shut it down.

The stories that have already been published will remain archived for at least two years (unless writers request to have their stories or poems removed), because that's how far in advance I'd purchased the hosting.

To all the authors whose stories were accepted but did not make it to publication, I'm sincerely sorry. I'm an author, not an editor, and I know what it feels like to have a story accepted, but then never make it to publication. I cannot put into words how terrible I feel about doing that to all of you.

I still owe money to some of the writers whose stories I've already published and reimbursements to some subscribers of the print publication. While I can't give a definite time frame, I can assure all of you that you will be paid.

I'm sorry this is brief, but I'm on dial-up on a laptop and in the middle of getting the roof on my house rainproof. I just wanted everyone to know what was going on with MFOB as soon as I knew.

All the best to everyone,

BJ Bourg

Monday, September 01, 2008

Reviewing: "Fearless Fourteen: A Stephanie Plum Novel"

It begins as many of these do with Stephanie Plum out on a bond recovery. This time it is Loretta, suicidal, and in her pajamas in her kitchen while Stephanie tries to convince her everything is going to be okay. Loretta wanted a Tom Collins as she was thirsty so she held up a liquor store. She made bail and missed her court appearance and now has to leave her home and go back to jail. They negotiate and finally she surrenders and goes semi-willingly to jail. Now, Stephanie has to take care of her teenage son, Mario.

Mario looks way too much like Joe Morelli for Stephanie and just about everyone involved. Sure, Loretta, her brother, Dom, and Joe are all cousins so that could explain it. Or, it could be the fact that according to Dom, Joe years ago got way too close to Loretta and fathered Mario. Dom hates Joe for many reasons and being the father of Mario is just one of them. He wants Joe Morelli dead. Of course, things just get more complicated from there. Stephanie ends up doing body guard work for Ranger while Joe tries to figure out where the money is from a long ago bank robbery that Dom was a part of and Joe Morelli has made the money hunt more complicated without trying to do so. And Lulu is working an agenda all her own with her usual results.

So, there are some good ideas here. But, this latest novel is a rather dull read even by the standards of the last several novels in this series. Something is missing and it is not easy to explain what exactly is missing from the book. It could be the fact that the rest of Stephanie's family is accounted for, but missing in action for almost the entire novel. There is only one dinner scene with the family in this novel and dinner scenes always provided a lot of humor earlier in the series. It could be that while her car is graffiti painted, Stephanie's car doesn't suffer a fiery death as we all expect in book after book. It could be that the spark between Ranger and Stephanie is dim in this one and the spark between Joe and Stephanie seems to have been snuffed out. Not that there are romantic comments and flirtatious teasing, but there is little passion involved among any of the parties.

It could be a host of things. I don't know what it is. I do know that for this reader there were only a couple of amusing moments and one laugh out loud one. The rest of the time the pages turned, the story flowed, but, it never came alive or moved me one way or another. Instead, it seemed lifeless and just a book used to crank out another notch on the series hamster wheel.

While die hard fans may love it, those new to the series are advised to skip this one.

Fearless Fourteen: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Janet Evanovich
St. Martin's Press
ISBN# 0-312-34951-3
310 Pages

Review copy provided by the staff of the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Reviewing: "No House Limit" by Steve Fisher

Vegas in the late fifties, the setting for this novel, was a different place. Mega corporations weren't involved back then and it certainly wasn't a place for families. Instead, Vegas was a city run by the "syndicate" with all that implies and the occasional independent. The occasional independent like, Joe Martin, owner of the "Rainbow's End Hotel and Casino" who doesn't bow down to anyone, including the syndicate, even though he does run his business by syndicate rules.

Now somebody, or a group of people, has decided they want him shut down. It could be the syndicate or it could be others. Who it is doesn't really matter because for Joe and his staff they are under siege. To shut him down, a number of things have been put into play with some very obvious and others much more subtle. The most obvious one was when Bello made his first appearance and picked up a pair of dice. Bello is a professional gambler and somebody who, if he rolls the dice right and really gets going, could bankrupt the casino. His plan is to win 10 million dollars and if he does it, the casino is finished and Joe Martin will be making his own long walk out in the desert. The next 74 hours will be critical, but, Bello isn't the only one playing a game.

Through the main plot line and several secondary story lines, prolific author Steve Fisher weaves a tale of Vegas from fifty years ago. A tale that is stiff, flat and dated while also filled with numerous lectures on various aspects of Vegas and gambling. Those lectures, instead of raising the suspense level, bring the story to a dead stop.

A story that already has little action to it and instead relies on the suspense angle as well as character development to entice readers. Unfortunately, both fail to work for readers with experice in mysteries or noir. Stereotypes abound in this book with every character a caricature of what one expects in a genuine character. Then there is the issue of the extensive dialogue that doesn't ring true at least for current time ears with it coming across as unnaturally stiff and formal while saying very little. Characters in this novel talk around issues and never really say with clarity what they mean. Then there is the fact that the entire novel and therefore nearly all the various outcomes are utterly predictable with no twists much like the stereotypical cover art.

This flat read was the July section for the Hard Case Crime Book Club. Unlike many of their releases, this read is painfully dated, flat, completely predictable and thoroughly disappointing for readers with a background in the genre. What may have read well fifty years ago doesn't work at all now.

No House Limit
Steve Fisher
Hard Case Crime
July 2008
ISBN# 0-8439-5963-0
224 Pages

Review copy came courtesy of my paid membership in the Hard Case Crime Book Club

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008