Sunday, November 30, 2008

Children's Book Review: "The Tutu Ballet" by Sally O. Lee

This very short children's book tells the tale of Ms. Berry, the ballet teacher, and her four students. The four students are Belinda the Bear, Mirabel the Mouse, Harriet the Hare, and the Fillippo the Fox. Each student has a preferred dance move and they don't want to do anything else. So, after Ms. Berry tried hard to get them to work together and follow instructions, she decides to go with each student's favorite dance steps for their first recital. Each student will do their own thing and trigger the next student until the four have each done their own move. The resulting recital is a huge success. "The audience cheered and it was the best ballet ever." End of book.

According to the copyright page, the book is "a story about tolerance, patience, creativity, teamwork, and love." As a parent and education professional, I would say it is more a story of how everyone is considered a winner these days no matter what they do. This mentality has infected our school systems where every child gets a sticker of some thing regardless of ability or effort. Such is the case here. Instead of actual learning to follow instructions given by their teacher, Ms. Berry, the children do what they want from start to finish. It is the adult role model, the former prima ballerina, who ends up surrendering to their behavior and letting children do what they want to do. In fact, by coming up with the plan for the recital, the adult has encouraged the independent do what you will behavior to continue in the future. While the age group targeted may not pick upon that message the adults certainly will. Even for a children's book, these characters show no growth at all. The moral of the book seems to be let the kids do what they want and everyone will be happy.

Unfortunately, things don't work that way. Even if one can get by the moral theme, there are other issues with the book. For example, the illustrations are flat with everyone depicted as half smiling regardless of circumstances. There is a woodeness to the depictions that while the figures are colorful, they have no life to them. The poses may change, but there is no change to the characters and they remain uniformly the same throughout the book.

The biggest issue is the typeface. "This book is typeset in 'snowman' created by Sally O. Lee" according to the copyright page. The typeface itself seems to be nothing special and is rather small. The main issue is that the typeface is often set directly on top of the watercolor illustrations, making the unrythmic text virtually unreadable. This is somewhat depicted on the cover with the "story and illustrations by sally o. lee" blending into the illustration and there are stronger examples inside the book itself.

With a text that pushes the do anything and its great agenda, flat illustrations and unreadable typeface in many places throughout the book, I have to caution parents strongly to avoid this self published book. This one doesn't work on many levels and is a real disappointment.

The Tutu Ballet
Story/Illustrations by Sally O. Lee
Booksurge Publishing (self publishing unit of Amazon)
September 2008
36 Pages per publisher

I received this material on behalf of Blogger News Network in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Reviewing: "Chasing Darkness: An Elvis Cole Novel" by Robert Crias

It was the fire in Laurel Canyon and forced evacuations that led to discovery of the dead man in a house. One Mr. Jones who had a bad foot was found dead apparently from a self inflicted gunshot. Clearly, he had been dead for awhile and maybe the photo album at his feet was the cause. A photo album filled with pictures of seven women at the moment of their deaths at hands of a maniac.

The reclusive Mr. Jones to all his neighbors was actually Lionel Bryd. He had been brought to trial three years ago in the murder of a local prostitute. Hired by his defense attorney, Allan Levy, the World's Greatest Detective Elvis Cole proved that he was miles away at the time Yuonne Bennett died. He simply couldn't have done it.

Yet, her death picture is in his album. Along with six other brutally murdered women. The LAPD Task Force is convinced Bryd was their man all along. They are convinced that Elvis, by getting Bryd cleared, allowed him to kill again. The case is closed, finished and disappearing rapidly and they really don't want to talk to Elvis about any of it.

But, if Bryd did do it, how was he in two places at the same time? While that is the biggest question, there are several more. It just doesn't add up and Elvis isn't going to leave it alone just because members of the task force blame him and tell him to go away.

While he doesn't care about the folks on the task force, he does care about the victims and the fact that he could have made a horrible mistake. If he did, he is responsible. And even if he didn't, he still is responsible. Not only does he hold himself responsible so do the brothers of the latest victim. Wracked with guilt and angst and yet sure he was right, Elvis along with his sidekick Joe Pike, begin to investigate not only the cases but the task force itself. There are connections between the victims and the power elite in both the LAPD and the city and Elvis isn't about to let the real killer get away.

At it's heart, this is an angst novel. The families of the victims are shattered in so many ways. Elvis feels tremendous guilt over his role in events. And while he feels it, demonstrates it and talks about it, it never really comes out and touches the reader.

While this is a perfectly decent novel, this latest novel in the series isn't epic or incredible. The old themes of corruption or at least the possibility of corruption at high levels is trotted out again. So too is the detective full of guilt and sorrow because he might have not only been used as a pawn, but helped a nut job go free. We have seen these themes done many times before with mixed results.

In the end, while not the best book ever in the series, it is a fairly good entry that does little to expand the character. It does however provide a solid vehicle for Elvis to gaze at the hills from his porch and think morose thoughts. That and tell a story that while predictable in many spots, does contain a few surprises, along the way in the hunt for yet another dark evil.

Chasing Darkness: An Elvis Cole Novel
Robert Crais
Simon & Schuster
July 2008
ISBN# 0-7432-8164-0
273 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008
"By The Light Of The Moon"
The Carpathian Shadows Volume 2

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reviewing: "Deerslayer: A Pete Brady Mystery"

This third novel in the series finds Pete Brady really out of his element. It was one thing to work a story back in the day in New Orleans along some bayou and watch for folks. It is another thing to sit in a deer stand as a light rainfalls and wait for some unsuspecting deer to wander by. Brady isn't a hunter, has no ambition to be one, but hunting is a major way of life in Troy, Louisiana.

To be part of the community, something that he has struggled with since taking over the local newspaper known as the "Troy Parish Express" he has to hunt. Pressured by Sheriff Matt Garitty to come hunting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, this will be his first hunt. As it will be for Matt's teenage son, Scotty. While both have taken the shooting course, Scotty has been taught from a young age the responsibility of gun use as well as he has been shooting at targets the last 3 years.

Then, the unthinkable happens.

Scotty shoots and is convinced he hit a deer that vanished into the underbrush. Instead of the expected downed deer, the three hunters find a dead man. Dwayne Elkins was shot in the face with the round exiting through his skull. All the evidence seems to indicate that Scotty shot and killed him. Something Matt can't believe. As his family rocks under the strain, Matt asks Pete to investigate what happened. Matt knows what his people in the department can do and he knows what Brady can do. Brady has a history of getting results. And for himself as well as his son, Matt has to know.

Released in 1991 this third novel in the Peter Brady series features a man still deeply conflicted with his past as well as his present. Brady is trying to accept that his life has changed and gotten better, but the recrimmation over his past as well as his own paranoia still drive many of his actions. What can be a blessing in some areas can also hinder one tremendously in others. While he is aware of this internal conflict and working on it as best he can, he still damages himself in ways that he seems almost powerless to stop.

Like the other books in the series, this book opens slowly allowing readers to get to know the characters before the crime happens. Once it happens, the case is worked slowly and methodically with little forensic help and lots of shoe leather. Those looking for high tech solutions where every thing is solved in 30 minutes or less won't be happy here.

Instead, this follows the other books in the series in being a character driven read containing a complex mystery. Action is limited as is the humor. Instead the focus is on the people of Troy, LA and their day to day lives. The result is another very good read and one worth searching for.

Deerslayer: A Pete Brady Mystery
M. S. Karl
St. Martin's Press
ISBN# 0-312-06336-9
210 Pages

My sincere thanks to the staff of the Wellesley Free Library in Wellesley, MA who sent this book to the Plano Public Library System to fill my Interlibrary Loan request.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reviewing: "Hard Trail To Follow" by Elmer Kelton

Andy Pickard loves Bethel and there is no doubt about that. In his late 20's, this former Texas Ranger understands why Bethel won't leave the family farm and her ill mother. He doesn't understand why Farley Brackett, his future brother-in-law hates him so much or why he won't help out. Or why he is constantly on Andy's back about his being held prisoner by the Comanches when he was a kid or all the other things he harasses him with considering all the free labor Andy is doing.

Farley is a hard man and unappreciative. After a brief physical skirmish that neither man won, Andy decides to hit the trail and leave it all behind. Bethel isn't leaving and Andy can't put up with Farley anymore. If he stays, there might be another fight and somebody could get seriously killed or hurt. Andy isn't going to put Bethel through that and since she isn't going to leave, all he can do is head out with an unspecified need to do something else with his life. That decision sends him before lone into a confrontation with bank robbers, the death of a friend, and his putting on the badge of the legendary Texas Rangers once more.

It also sets him on the trail of an escaped outlaw across Southeastern and South Central Texas. Times are changing with the Indians on the reservations for years now, land and pastures fenced, and the telegraph spreading the latest news far and wide. Posses still ride and a fugitive can still make good on the escape but the telegraph spreads the news of the manhunt faster than the fugitive can travel. For both any Pickard as well as the fugitive known as Cordell, the chase is a long one full of twists and turns as well as a journey of self awareness as much as anything.

Author Elmer Kelton is considered by many to be the premier writer of western literature. Known for his authentic settings, realistic characters and concise prose he is a winner of Seven Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America as well as many others. The native Texan, who has authored more then fifty novel, is a legend and an author known to work the shades of gray. His characters wear neither black or white hats, but gray ones of varying shades as they go about their hard struggles in novels that don't romanticize the way it was for most people.

Such is the case here where the lawman and the outlaw could easily be nearly the same man. As the chase wears on, the reader shifts back and forth between both characters as well as a few others, in ways that not only bring the novel to life but illustrate truths that still very much hold true today. Portrayed by many as simpler times, they weren't. They were just different, but contained many of the same struggles that most face today. Author Elmer Kelton illustrates that point along with a few others worth reading in this engaging western.

Hard Trail To Follow
Elmer Kelton
Tom Doherty Associates/ A Forge Book
287 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

"By The Light Of The Moon"The Carpathian Shadows Volume 2

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reviewing: "Booked for a Hanging: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery" by Bill Crider

As this sixth book in the series opens, the merry month of March has come to Blacklin County, Texas. Computers have come as well as Hack finally has one. Dispatcher for the small department, Hack has been pushing for a computer and all that one can do for years. Getting sued does have at least one advantage as the County Commissioners have increased the budget of the sheriff's department.

The computer is one of several items that the County Commissioners finally allowed to be purchased. While Hack is absolutely giddy over it, Rhodes isn't impressed. Rhodes doesn't think much of computers as he prefers to investigate the old fashioned way by asking a lot of questions. He gets his chance when a man stumbles into the office out of the dark and windy night. The man is Hal Brame, a book dealer out of Houston. He says he was out in Obert to meet with Simon Graham. He couldn't find Graham, but something weird was going on out there at the abandoned college.

Years ago, Simon bought the land and buildings with great plans for restoration. Unfortunately, he hasn't done much since and lives pretty much by himself out there though there are a couple of neighbors nearby. Brame convinces Sheriff Rhodes to drive out and take a look around. While Sheriff Rhodes doesn't find any sign of what Brame says he saw, he does find a very dead Simon Graham hanging from a rafter on the third floor of one of the buildings. What initially appears to be a suicide is soon determined to be a murder with quite a cast of suspects.

Showing the same down home folksy style as other novels in the series, this book released in 1992 does not disappoint. While Susan, Sheriff Rhodes daughter who is a school teacher in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, does not appear and isn't mentioned, almost all of the other usual recurring characters make another appearance. Rather surprisingly, the recent marriage of Ivy and Dan is hardly referred to at all and Ivy only makes a couple of appearances as a sounding board to discuss the various cases. One hopes this is not a trend in the series as Ivy brings an interesting angle to things by her presence.

Instead of what was expected given the recent nuptials, this novel is primarily all about Sheriff Rhodes and how he works cases. Those who prefer by the book police procedurals my become annoyed as Rhodes frequently still goes into situations without backup and neglects to report his locations via the radio. Inadvertently, by doing so, astute readers who have been paying attention through the series can easily predict when mayhem involving the Sheriff will happen.

Despite that fact, author Bill Crider still manages to put a couple of twists in this story that are guaranteed to surprise a lot of readers. Along the way he tells another engaging tale of the people and life in Blacklin County, Texas. So, put your feet up and sit a spell because this to is a good one.

Booked for a Hanging: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press
ISBN# 0-312-08149-9
202 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano Public Library System in Plano, Texas.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reviewing: "Conspiracy of Silence" by Martha Powers

Clare Prentice has had quite a rough time for the last couple of years. In the aftermath of her Mother's death, she soon is in the Doctor's office nervously awaiting the results of a needle biopsy and other tests. Her mother, Rose, died of breast cancer and Clare is terrified that she has it as well. Clare can't move forward with her engagement until she knows her health status. The fact she is cancer free is a relief. Then the Doctor drops a bombshell.

Her mother was not her biological mother.

Within weeks, Clare learns there are no records of her adoption and that everything she has always believed was a lie. Her only clue leads her to the idyllic town of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. For the folks there, she is in town to interview a very reclusive local author. For Clare, she is on the hunt to find out her own family history. A history tied into a sensational murder case. And for a murderer, Clare back home is a problem to be dealt with as quickly as possible.

What follows is a complex and deeply layered tale that captivates the reader. Clare is both incredibly determined to find out her past no matter where the trail leads and incredibly vulnerable to the pain of such knowledge. She soon bonds with the reader in a unique way that makes the book come totally alive in every sense of the word.

The main storyline involves the murder and the family legacy. At the same time, two secondary storylines are interwoven into the main one. One involves Clare and her interview assignment. The other, the beginnings of a romance between Clare and one other character. Therefore, the novel contains both a fascinating decades old mystery and her search for the truth involving the crime as well as the beginnings of a romance.

Much like the legendary Phoenix who arose again from the charred ashes, Clare has been badly charred and yet flies again. Her flight is weak at first, but, as she slowly moves on from the burning lies of her past and fits the pieces of various puzzles together, she comes to find out that she can succeed.

This is, simply put, one of the best books I have read this year. It wouldn't have been something I ordinarily would have picked up. It also isn't being done the justice it deserves by this review. All I can say is … Read it. You won't regret it.

Conspiracy of Silence
Martha Powers
Oceanview Publishing
ISBN# 978-1-933515-18-2
325 Pages

Review copy provided by publicist Maryglenn McCombs in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Reviewing: "Lie Down With The Devil" by Linda Barnes

The latest in the series finds Carolotta estranged from nearly everyone and not by her choice. Sam Gianelli is on the run somewhere overseas and can't come home because of federal trouble in Vegas. He is refusing all help or contact and with things involving the feds, she isn't going to get much help from those she remains in contact with the Boston, PD.

Then there is the matter of Paolina. Like Carolotta who is dealing with flashbacks, Paolina is not dealing well with her recent kidnapping and forced travel to Cartagena, Columbia. A blood bath ensued and in the chaos, Paolina saw her father die. She came home and shortly there after began harming herself. Placed in treatment, she is refusing to see Carlotta.

Alcohol isn't helping Carlotta so Roz, her tenant assistant and just about everything else, decides it is time for Carolotta to work a case. Carolotta wasn't ready but her private investigator business is in shambles. At least working a case will keep her somewhat occupied and give her some sense of normalcy.

Jessica Franklin wants to know if her fiancé is stepping out on her. Instead of just asking him she wants to do things differently. All she wants is for Carlotta to follow the guy and see where he goes and who he meets if anyone. She doesn't want him investigated, just followed. Jessica is supposed to get married in less then 2 weeks and is clearly feeling the pressure. But, according to the note that says he will be cheating on her while she is gone the next night, she could have a good reason to be worried.

Carolotta takes the case and soon discovers everything she believed, both professional and personal, is nothing more than a lie.

The latest is the series is a complex mystery as well as a novel where the emotional psyche of the characters is of huge importance. The deep inner feelings and things that drive us to do certain acts, self destructive or otherwise, fuel this novel. Whether it is alcoholism and other acts in Carlotta's case, cutting done by Paolina, or Sam's notorious sexual escapades, the psyche and why these things happen are huge factors in the book.

So too is a case where Carolotta, who certainly isn't on her game initially, is constantly manipulated by everyone. Nothing is as it seems and friendships are strained and stressed in ways readers have not seen before.

At 292 pages this latest book in an overall very good series is a really good novel. From a reader's stand point, stressed characters always make for good reading and there are a lot of very stressed characters in this novel full of twists and double dealing right to the last page. Simply put, this is one of her best books in years and one you should definitely read.

Lie Down With the Devil: A Carlotta Carlyle Novel
Linda Barnes
St. Martin's Minotaur
August 2008
292 Pages

Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano Public Library System in Plano, Texas.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

EVENT: Writers' Guild of Texas: November Meeting

Please forward to all writers and writing groups--

Mark the third Monday of every month for the Writers' Guild of Texas meeting.

Monday, 17 November 2008
7-8:30 p.m.
Topic: Ever Dream of Giving Up Your Day Job and Becoming a Novelist?
Speaker: Rachel Caine

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

How many times have you heard (or even said!), "Someday, I'll quit my job and write a novel." Well ... it's not quite that simple, unless you've inherited a Mack truck full of cash from your Aunt Tillie. Come learn how to:

Stop waiting for the world to "give you time to write,"

Organize your writing, and your life, to support your goals,

Be realistic about what writing will do for your checkbook,

And maybe, eventually, live the dream and support yourself on your writing!

Rachel Caine, author of more than 25 books, has been there, done that, and is doing it every day. Come hear how a successful professional lives and works. She will also tell us all about her day job as a real-life corporate executive.

Early Bird calendar: All WGT events are free and open to the public. For more information on the sponsoring organization, go to

Monday, 15 December 2008, regular meeting: Christmas Party and Read In. WGT All Stars are at it again!

Monday, 19 January 2009, regular meeting: DeAnn Holcomb, journalist/published author

Monday, 16 February 2009, regular meeting: Karen Harrington, Plano author. A Year in the Life of a Debut Author

Monday, 16 March 2009 , regular meeting: Barry Shlachter. Savory House Press, Great Texas Line Press

Saturday, 28 March 2009, Workshop: Tony Eldridge. Guerilla Marketing

Monday, 20 April 2009, regular meeting: Neal McAfee, Author, Poet, Speaker (will talk on book signings)

Remember, Writers' Guild of Texas events are free and open to the public. Also, check out WGT's website: The Writers' Guild of Texas is a nonprofit professional organization whose primary purpose is to provide a forum for information, support and sharing among writers, to help members improve and market their writing skills, and to promote the interests of writers and the writing community.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Reviewing: "Dying In a Winter Wonderland" Compiled and Edited by Tony Burton

In the interests of full disclosure, in addition to providing the occasional exclusive book review to Tony Burton for his CrimeandSuspense zine, I also submitted to this anthology. Again this year, one of my darkly twisted stories didn't make the cut. What did are cozy style stories that thematically often involve helping children and the less fortunate have a brighter holiday season.

Austin S. Camacho and his signature character "Hannibal" kick off the anthology with "A Mom for Christmas." Margarita is a little girl who only wants her mom to come home but the bad men at the club she works at won't let her. She sent her daughter to Hannibal to ask for help.

"The Alternate Plan" by Allan Ansorge involves two crooks who plan on taking the pot from a sidewalk Santa. Recently released early from prision and with nothing else to do but watch their target they soon realize that others are looking to score as well.

New Year's visits to the home of Gerritt van Wiesal and his wife are customary in "A Merry Slay Ride" by M. E. Kemp. But, normally a sleigh doesn't arrive with a dead body in it.

The traditions of Hanukah form the background of several stories in this anthology and are present here in "On the Sixth Night of Hanukah" by Helen Schwartz. Just after Christmas, a local police officer is helping provide security at a local temple. Open to the homeless, the temple has been vandalized by graphetti and the culprit could be anyone.

"Something Extra for Christmas" by Radine Trees Nehring recounts a simple trip to the mall that soon becomes a climatic life changing experience for all involved.

Frequent contributor Garry R. Hoffman's story "Gracie's Gift from the East" follows. In this story, a stranded woman is befriended by three men to the ultimate benefit of many more.

Turning the tables on people is also a part of the storyline in "Happy Holiday's Times Three" by Peg Merring. Executing the plan is the key to this crime caper.

Editor Tony Burton makes his appearance through the story "Taking Her Medicine." An unrepentant drunk driver keeps trying to be the life of the party and there are consequences for that act.

Marley is definitely dead in "A Christmas Carole" by Janice Alonso. Who did it and why are the questions.

Terrie Farley Moran works on the "Nick" angle in her story, "Just Call Me Nick" as do several other authors in this anthology. Santa pulls up at a local gas station driving a very old car. With reports of an evil Santa robbing gas stations, this Santa is not a reassuring sight.

"The Longest Night" by S. M. Harding provides New Mexico as a setting and the family is gathering. The family maybe in New Mexico but the traditions of the homeland of Scotland continue strong.

First you take the money then you roll the body downhill in "In the Nick of Time" by Gayle Bartos-Pool. Then you try to get away with the crime.

Concluding the anthology is "Team Player" by Marian Allen. Sometimes bringing in the well paid mercenary is not the best thing to do to pump up sales.

Contributor bios in alphabetical order fill the last pages showcasing where the involved author's work has appeared elsewhere. This year's forward is written by Stevenne Averback aka "Dr.Toy" and briefly mentions the history of the program. As in past years, the authors have donated their stories to this effort. After production costs and expenses, proceeds from the sale of this anthology will be donated to the United States Marine Corps Reserve "Toys for Tots" program.

Thirteen stories that are cozy in nature with the occasional twist make up this year's collection. All the tales are interesting and safe to read for nearly any age group because there is nothing here that pushes boundaries in any way. That makes the book a wonderful and entertaining gift for young and old alike and one you can feel comfortable giving to any reader.

Dying In a Winter Wonderland: An Anthology of Winter Holiday Crime Stories to Benefit the Toys for Tots
Compiled and Edited by Tony Burton
Wolfmont Press
ISBN# 978-1-60364-005-3

Review copy provided by Tony Burton in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Carpathian Shadows, Volume 2 Is Now Out!

As Publisher Rob Preece of BOOKSFORABUCK noted in the comments here yesterday, the anthology Carpathian Shadows, Volume 2 is now out. The book features stories from Donna Amato, Christina Barber, Carol A. Cole, Seanna Graham, Kristin Johnson, and myself. Like Volume 1 also available from this publisher, all the stories work from the same basic idea.

Deep in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, in Transylvania, lies a castle. This castle was once home to a nobleman who, it is claimed, warred with the church, bound his servants with a curse of silence, and ruled his lands with a grip of iron. Fortunately for modern-day visitors, Lord John Erdely has been dead for centuries and his castle now a haven for tourists. Or so, at least, is the claim.

Each visitor to a local hotel receives a fancy invitation--they're invited on a free tour and paranormal investigation. When a freak storm hits, forcing the visitors to overnight in Lord Erdely's castle, the tourists learn that Erdely's power is not limited merely to ancient fairy tales.

How each author twists the idea is where the various tales come in. I hope you take a look at
and order your copy today. The intro price is $1.00 and will increase to the still very affordable regular price of $3.99 on November 30th.

The book will also soon be available in print as well.