Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Reviewing: (Thuglit Presents) Hardcore Hardboiled

From the introduction written by Otto Penzler:

The contributors to this volume are mostly young (even conceding that nowadays everybody seems young to me), writing in a style as colorful as Elton John's laundry. It is mostly vulgar, nasty, obscene, violent, and sewer-mouthed. It is visceral, unadorned and crueler than a puppy juggler. Lines that you could quote to your mother are harder to find than Amelia Earhart.

And that pretty much sums up this book. The language is graphic, the action is graphic as well as often intense and very messy and the characters are, well, for want of a better term, graphic. They also are usually messy, obnoxious and would rather cuss you out and step over your body as you lay in a pile of vomit (your own or anyone else's) and no doubt would laugh if you hurt yourself accidentally and rather painfully. Most of the folks in this book you don't want knowing your family and you sure as heck don't want them knowing where anyone you care about lives. That is, unless you want somebody you care about or are still saddled with dead.

Simply put, you can't see the land of cozy style novels from here. If cozy style novels were one extreme, this book is as far as you can get away from there in the opposite direction. Cats don't solve crimes here. If any cats were involved, they would be fired off on catapults while still alive because a screaming target to shoot at is always more satisfying than some chunk of clay.

This dark and often twisted anthology of twenty-four stories written by twenty authors is a good one and features what Editor Todd Robinson aka "Big Daddy Thug" felt were the best from the year of Thuglit.Com. You'll recognize some names you know from elsewhere and most likely have no clue about a bunch of other names. If you check out the end of the book you will find a salute to those involved with thuglit which include those names that you know and others you don't that didn't make the print edition. Packed in this anthology are twenty-four powerful and dark stories so there are way too many to go into depth at all on them. Instead of trying to cover all of them, here are a few personal favorites of mine to give you some idea of what is in the paperback book.

It opens with "Ten Dimes" written by Mike Toomey. A customer in a bar is looking for a fence because he wants to move some merchandise. Not ordinary stuff by any measure. This legendary stuff and he wants a fence on the Vegas Strip bad.

"Johnny Cash Is Dead" according to Jordan Harper who weaves a tale of a man on a mission of justice. If he planned things right then the stairs will be the hardest part of the job.

Tim Wohlforth in his story "Juanita" tells a tale of dealing with the stinking mess the best she can. Sure, she is very glad that somebody got the bastard, but they could've cleaned up the mess for her too.

J. D. Smith in the story "False Alarm" points out how worthless car alarms these days because anything sets them off and nobody pays attention. Shooting the damn thing sounds like a good option if the story's narrator can't get any help.

It seems like addition to his excellent novels, stories written by Frank Zafiro are popping up in every anthology known to mankind. Frank is in this one as well with his story "Rescuing Isaac" which concerns a guy arrested in a theft and the fact that his bosses are a bit concerned he might not be able to keep his mouth shut.

Then there is "Counterfeit Love" penned by Jeffery Bankgkok where there is more then one way to deal with a step mom.

Stories by Ken Bruen, Sam Edwards, Ryan Oakley, Sean Chercover, Hana K. Lee, Mike MacLean, Donovan Arch Montierth, Victor Gischler, B. H. Stepherd, Vinnie Penn (who really
Seriously disturbed me with his story), Bill Fitzhugh, Vincent Kover, Duane Swierczynski, Patty Templeton, Stephen Allan, Bryon Quertermous, David Bareford and Charlie Stella all made the cut for this dark and often disturbing anthology. These are characters often past their breaking point and past caring about themselves let alone anyone else. They don't clean up well and are not interested in what you think unless some money might be involved one way or the other

Some characters are detailed with depth while others are scarcely described or explained at all. Some stories are subtle about the violence and others are intense and stomach turning graphic. Being male in this book often has a very bad outcome involving pain, loss of lots of blood and death. Some stories are intensely action based while others are more of a conversation between two people with the anger and the violence unseen but rippling below the surface. Therefore, it isn't simple to characterize author style or development because every tale is pretty different than the others in the anthology. It is hardboiled fiction from front to back of the book and one that will make you often cringe and almost never chuckle.

The common denominator beyond being hard-edged is that one really better watch what they wish for because it often comes in a very bad way.

Hardcore Hardboiled
Edited by Todd Robinson
Kensington Books
ISBN# 0-7582-2266-1
308 Pages

Review copy provided directly by Editor Todd Robinson at my request in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reviewing: "Texas StarWatch: The Essential Guide to Our Night Sky"

After an introduction by author Mike Lynch, "America's Master Stargazing Instructor, the book begins with "Quantitative Meditation" in Chapter One. This is the big picture chapter where facts and figures about the size of our sun, power of our sun, how it orbits a black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and will take over 225 million years to circle it once, and other interesting facts and figures. Depending on the light pollution in your area, on average, the distance you can see with the naked eye are stars 100 light years out.

Chapter 2 titled "What's A Star" explains what a star is and also awe inspiring pictures of newborn stars emerging in the Eagle Nebula, M16, in the constellation Sagittorius. How stars are formed and born, live and die are discussed as well as why stars are different colors, variable, doubled or even tripled and how distance to the star is measured.

"A Sky Full Of Constellations" is the heading for Chapter 3. This short chapter covers in detail how stars and constellations are named, how the brightness level is determined and other interesting information.

Chapter 4 "Stars On The Move" explains how the stars move around Polaris (the North Star) each night as well as the seasonal shifts due to the earth's revolution around the sun. The author explains the Celestial sphere, the seasonal motion of the stars, the ecliptic, and the zodiac in the same dry and somewhat technical way all of the information is presented.

"Using Star Maps" marks Chapter 5 which explains how to use the 12 Texas based maps found at the very back of the book and various items in the night sky to really look for when using the enclosed maps. The idea behind the "Messier Objects" is explained along with brief explanations of such things as various types of nebula, star clusters and galaxies along with numerous pictures of all items discussed.

Chapter 6 "Northern Constellations" covers the biggest and brightest such as "The Big Dipper, Ursa Major and Minor, Cassiopeia," and other items of nightly interest.

"Autumn Constellations" marks Chapter 7 and does the same thing. This time it is "Pegasus, Perseus, Aries" and numerous others. In each case, as was done in chapter 6, there is a wealth of statistical information on the constellation, a star map of the area, and other items in the intermediate area to look for.

Chapter 8 "Winter Constellations" does the same thing with "Canis Major and Minor, Orion the Hunter" and numerous others.

"Spring Constellations" are covered in Chapter 9 with sections on "Leo the Lion, Virgo the Virgin" and other stars and objects.

"Summer Constellations" is the title for Chapter 10. It looks at many including "Cygnus the Swan, Lyra the Lyre" and "Draco the Dragon" along with other points of interest for this time of year.

"The Marvelous But Mischievous Moon" is the title for Chapter 11 which is all about, you guessed it, the Moon. Beyond the obvious idea that the Moon is the enemy of stargazing when full, the author delves into concepts about where the Moon came from, what is the surface like, the orbit, the phases and why we see it the way we do from earth, among other topics. Also included in this chapter is information about solar and lunar eclipses (which always seem to happen when the skies are at best heavily cloudy here).

The planets finally make their appearance in Chapter 12 "Planets, Wanders Of The Sky." Movement and basic info on each planet is covered as well as depicted in pictures.

Chapter 13 "Celestial Extras" is devoted to such things as the Aurora Borealis (very rarely seen in Texas and primarily only in the Panhandle), comets, shooting stars, and meteor showers. Meteor shows are barely covered despite the fact that both the Leminds and Perseids are usually easily seen here even in the cities.

"You And Your Telescope" is the topic of chapter 14. Each chapter contains references to items you can see with the naked eye as well as with a telescope depending on its power level. This chapter goes into some depth on the various types of telescopes available as well as what are the equipment needed to be able to purse astrophotography. Learning to use your telescope requires patience as it is a skill that has to be developed to get the most out of it. That point is made clear here but is also somewhat minimized.

The book concludes with various appendices and an index. Appendix A is a "Planet Locater" chart for "Venus, Mars, Jupiter," and "Saturn" showing dates of opposition the next couple of years, best months for viewing the same time period and whether it is best seen in morning or evening.

Appendix B "Brightest Stars In Texas" lists various stars, what constellation they reside in, luminosity (brightness), size and other interesting info.

Appendix C is a resource guide regarding some Planetariums and Observatories, clubs, software, magazines, and websites. This leads into a two page index that seems very inadequate based on the material covered in the book.

Finally, Appendix D "Monthly Star Maps" contains 12 star maps, one for each month of the year. Prominent features are listed on each map so the maps are not overly complicated for those new to stargazing.

With a title of "Texas Star watch" one would expect detailed information from a Texas viewing perspective. Certainly with a back cover statement "You won't find a better guidebook to our night sky than Texas StarWatch!" one would expect a book that would be uniquely Texan and a good value for the money. Instead, the only thing that really works with this book is the spiral design inside of a hardback cover which allows the book to lay flat for easy reading. A good design idea with the cover does not make up for the stuff inside.

The book is a real disappointment and has very little to do with Texas based night sky viewing. It also isn't easy to use or understand despite what the author claims in the introduction. What is here is dry and often technical mainly consisting of facts and figures with zero inspiration behind them. Instead of inspiring folks to go out and look at the night sky this is the kind of book that makes it hard work and takes all the joy of it away. Space should be inspiring and the idea of what is out there should provoke thought, speculation, and appreciation of what we are as human and what the possibilities are out there. Instead, this book is as inspiring as a manual on how to wash dishes.

It is fairly clear that Mike Lynch, "America's Master Stargazing Instructor" (a claim with zero explanation of how that title came about and one that is NOT used on his website) has never spent time in Texas because if he had, he would know about how increasingly severe the light pollution around our major cities is these days, that Aurora Borealis is very rarely seen here, etc. The only real Texas based stuff in the book is the 12 maps located at the very back of this hardbound spiral book. It would appear that with a word choice change here and there and 12 new maps the same book could be released with a new title for any state in the union or any country in the world. Based on a little looking around at bookstores online, that might be what was done because the same cover was used on multiple state versions. The Texas part of this 160 some odd page book consists of a sum of 12 pages which is the same as slapping four American made tires on an import car and claiming the car was made in America.

The technical dry text is some what offset by the wonderful pictures. However these same pictures are the classic ones used over and over by every other author. These are not new or exciting for the most part and because they are so common, little to enhance the value of the book. Considering the wonderful photographs produced by the Hubble Space Telescope it is unfortunate some of them were not used instead of old classic pictures that have been in circulation for decades.

This disappointing book does little to attract new folks to the joy of stargazing and does nothing to interest anyone who has been stargazing for any length of time. With the ready availability of star maps on the internet from any location, the maps in this book don't do anything to really help the book either. The result is a book that doesn't really help its intended audience and isn't relevant for the topic.

Texas StarWatch: The Essential Guide to Our Night Sky
Mike Lynch
Voyageur Press
ISBN# 0-7603-2843-9
160 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Reviewing: "Design Ideas For Fireplaces"

Our family lives in a small apartment that features two fireplaces. One is located downstairs in the living room and the other is upstairs in the master bedroom. The master bedroom is where the computer is and as such the master bedroom is where I do the bulk of my writing much of the year. Nothing is better than having the fireplace roaring and the words flowing as a story takes shape. Both fireplaces get lots of use depending on how much money we have to spend on firewood and the weather. While the use is obvious during winter months, it isn't so clear during the warmer weather.

What to do to dress up the gaping holes is an issue every year. Some of our neighbors put fake plants in them which don't appeal to the wife or me. Others put elaborate trays of burning candles in them which wasn't something we were in favor of either. Once again this year the deal seemed to be to move a couch in front of the downstairs one and ignore the one upstairs. This was on my mind during a recent trip to the library where, as I was checking out, I spotted this book and from the title assumed it might be what I was looking for. I grabbed it without looking at it and figured I probably had things covered.

I was wrong.

This book has nothing at all to do with anything fireplace related during the off season. Instead this book is primarily aimed at those looking to install a fireplace or update/remodel an existing one. Neither of those categories applies to those of us who live in apartments where landlords get excited over nails used to hang pictures on the walls. Still, having checked it out and lugged the book home, I wasn't going to just toss it back in the bag for a quick return trip. I had to take a look at it in depth before I could send it back. Okay, so it is a compulsion but those who love books understand. Those that do not are something else entirely.

While it is not what I wanted or needed it is clearly a good book for the intended audience. After a dedication and a couple of pages of photographs of various fireplaces roaring away at various flame heights, the first chapter is titled "Design Considerations." With numerous pictures and a short text the chapter goes over different types and designs of fireplaces, locations of the new fireplace which should be on an interior wall to reduce drafts, consideration of installation of an air intake system for your fireplace should your home be new or remolded to be airtight and signs of problems in existing fireplaces among other tips.

Twenty-six pages later the second chapter opens with "What's New?" The twenty-four page chapter covers "masonry fireplaces, exterior chimney designs, factory–built fireplaces, EPA certified woodstoves (which are very briefly covered in the book), gas fireplaces, exterior fireplaces" and various design material questions involving each. Your choices are many and this chapter features, as does the entire book, page after page of colorful photographs depicting various types of fireplaces with assorted design elements including, but not limited to, mantles, seating arrangements, fabrics and textures, color choices, etc. Along the way in this chapter are tips on saving energy which is more important then ever before.

Chapter 3 consists of thirty pages on "Architectural Styles." This chapter is devoted to mantles and surrounding area of a fireplace. There are numerous choices such as brick, paneling of various types, cut stone, wood framing, etc. This chapter goes into great detail both in terms of text and photographs with an eye to finishing the area around the fireplace.

Chapter Four titled "Wood-Burning Devices" is as the title implies all about the wood. Types of wood, the fact that the wood needs to be stored and kept dry, how to buy the wood, etc are part of this chapter. The twenty-four pages also include tips on how to start a fire, what can be added to a fire and most importantly what should never be burned in a fireplace. Based on what several of my apartment neighbors have done over the years, some of this should be mandatory reading for anyone with a fireplace. Though it does not say so, I would also recommend not burning telephone books in a fireplace based on having neighbors who felt the need to do it and were allegedly not under the influence at the time.

Chapter 5 covers "Gas Fireplaces and Stoves" in twenty-four pages that detail the basics, more on types and locations, as well as various venting systems that can be used. Venting systems are the primary focus here with lots of consideration given to different types and use depending on location and need.

"Electric Fireplaces" which were briefly mentioned earlier are covered again in greater detail in Chapter 6. Over twenty-four pages (again the symmetry with the length of the chapters is something) the basics of an electric fireplace are covered as well as their advantages with no disadvantages noted in the chapter. Clearly there are advantages but just like with E-Books, my strong preference is for the traditional. They just aren't the same thing.

"Location, Location" is the title of Chapter 7 and a chapter that seems to be placed too late in the book. Some of this info is addressed briefly early on in the book. However, here the information is more in depth in that it covers the placement of fireplaces in various locations inside the home such as in bathrooms, kitchens, etc or outside on the deck. It would appear that this chapter should have been moved to the front of the book somewhere and certainly before Chapter 3 and the discussion on architectural styles. Clearly, the location of the fireplace will have some influence on the style.

Chapter 8 is the final chapter of this book and consists of a scant ten pages on "Safety Matters." The chapter takes a look at various issues, how far materials should be from a fireplace, size of hearth, sparks and how to prevent them, etc. and how to prevent various common problems.

The book concludes with a short resource guide to various manufacturers and related services, a glossary, an index and a list of photo credits. The resource guide, while not intended to just depict ones used in the book does have little explanation of each one to provide more information regarding the products the company produces.

Part of the "Creative Homeowner" series, this 208 page book is a comprehensive look at various types of fireplaces and options regarding them. The text is secondary to the more than 450 photographs that depict all types of fireplaces usually with extensive design elements around them. In fact, there is so much in the area surrounding most of the fireplaces my inner "clutter alarm" repeatedly triggered page after page. Many items seemed placed far too close which may in fact be the camera angle instead of a real issue. Then too there was a question regarding the fires themselves. Interestingly enough, most of the fires which of course are burning brightly looked amazingly the same in terms of wood, flame and color which made me wonder how that was realistically possible.

Obviously the title is a bit off as it gives the wrong impression of the material inside. The title should include a word such as "remodeling" or "construction" or something else that would make it clear that this is a book aimed for those who are adding a fireplace or remodeling their existing fireplace. Despite that quibble, there is no doubt that the book is done very well and does exactly what it was designed to do for the actual intended audience. While it isn't the book I needed, it is extremely well done and will easily help those who are looking to add a fireplace or remodel their fireplace situation.

Design Ideas For Fireplaces (Creative Homeowner Series)
Karen Stickels
Creative Homeowner
September, 2007
ISBN #978-1-58011-363-2
208 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Review: "Nothing To Lose" by Lee Child

Former Army MP Jack Reacher has metaphorically traveled the road from hope to despair many times. In Colorado, while on his way to San Diego, Reacher has the opportunity to do it in a physical sense as he has found both towns and the 12 miles of road that separate the two. It is a straight two lane road running between the two towns that serves to separate two locations that could not be further apart in terms of style, pleasantness of the population, or anything. Hope's part of the highway consists of thick dark asphalt rolled smooth. Despair used hot tar and dumped grey gravel on it. Reacher plans walking to Despair, having a cup of coffee and then will be back on his way either by foot or by catching a ride if he can get lucky.

He never intended to stay because he was just passing through and taking the shortest way between two points. Reacher would have left the folks of Despair alone if they had left him alone. They didn't. Four locals want him gone for no good reason that Reacher can understand. They make the mistake of messing with Reacher and suffer the painful consequences. Now they have given Reacher a reason to stick around and poke into their business until he finally exposes the secrets they have hidden for years.

This latest installment, number twelve in a series that began with the incredible good "Killing Floor" is not Lee Child's best work. This novel, much like Reacher who is constantly walking back and forth between the two towns when he isn't romancing a local cop just a little, is a plodding read that goes the distance but nowhere fast. The Reacher character was substantially fleshed out sometime ago and as such there isn't anything new to discover and report. If anything, after recent events this is a Reacher that, while he says the right things about helping others and doing the right things when needed has a thicker distance to him now that wasn't present earlier in the series.

Also apparent is a flatness to the writing. Part of that is due to the described starkness of the landscape as well as the constant and detailed plodding trips between the two towns. This novel has a certain apocalyptic feel to it as the world in general compresses down to this small area of Colorado where information is scarce and the threats are huge and come in many forms. Despair is a company town and as such exists for one reason only much like the towns in novels of the future where genetic, biological, chemical, nuclear, or some other horror have laid waste to everything and nearly all of humanity. The landscape is harsh, the people unfriendly, and deep dark secrets exist that grow worse short chapter after short chapter.

The flatness to the writing extends to the comments Reacher makes regarding the military and service. Even after Reacher lectures the reader on how the military knows in these times what the politicians are up to and believes that the politicians have broken the implied contract between the military and the people, there is a lack of passion in the arguments. Instead, this piece and several other commentaries along these lines in the latter pages of the novel are all without any passion or zest. These comments which don't have enough passion in them to be termed "rants" are completely out of character for Reacher and do not fit the actions of a character well known to readers. While cynicism in a character as he or she ages is nothing new, or in the author for that matter, one expects such situations to be explained and that is not done here. Instead, Reacher offers opinions flatly and with little emotion as if by saying these things it won't matter anyway because nothing will change. Implied is the question—why bother?

Something quite a few readers may well ask themselves at the end of this one. It is a very long way to go for the final seventy pages or so that pound forward as only a Reacher book can and provide an enjoyable and suspenseful finish to the book. This isn't the best in the series by a long shot and has fundamental flaws for this reader. It is by that series standard, set long ago, that this novel falls a bit short. In a lesser writer, the work would be thought better by comparison. A weak Jack Reacher novel is better by a long shot than a lot of other books out there these days.

Nothing To Lose: A Jack Reacher Novel
Lee Child
Delacorte Press
June 2008
ISBN# 978-0-385-34056-4
407 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

No Rain--Just Heat, Baby

Hurricane Dolly hit the Texas coast and then decided that she wanted to keep going West North West. That meant that while the desert country of the Big Bend got rain, we still didn't get a drop. While Marfa was a wet 67 degrees yesterday, we were clocking yet another blistering day of over 100 degrees. A normal year we have about 16 of those. Tomorrow should be number 16 and could easily break the record for the day of 106.

I hate the summer. I truly hate the heat. Now the local pools aren't safe because there is some nasty bug in the water. At least I can again eat the tomatoes--for now.

Anyway, I am inside reading, despite the gunfire coming from the latest game the kids got, though you have not seen much evidence of that here. Been working summer school, attending the mandatory orientation for next year which was much quicker this year than years past, and working on various other things here and there that have nothing at all to do with my own fiction writing.

I think I need a patron.


Sunday, July 20, 2008


Earl Staggs, friend and fellow writer in a local writer's group, penned the mystery novel "Memory of A Murder" featuring Adam Kingston.

From the synopsis:

After a near-fatal accident, Adam Kingston, a former FBI profiler, develops psychic powers that allow him to “see” things most people can’t. Now, twelve years later, this special sight opens the doorway to a mystery man who comes to Adam for help.

“I think I killed someone.”

Chip Weathers, a homeless man suffering from amnesia, believes he may be behind the murder of a woman found buried in the basement of the house his family once owned. A fateful Newsweek article leads Chip to Adam in the hopes he can reach through the fog of memory to determine the truth. But soon after Chip enlists Adam’s help, someone takes a shot at them. It seems as though someone has a lot to lose by Chip regaining his memory of the violent events of the past. Only Adam can “see” what really happened, but will his visions lead him to the killer or will his gift lead him to his death?

I had the pleasure of reading this book and reviewing it here as well as a few other places sometime back. Yes, Earl is my friend and in my local writer's group. So, yes, you could consider me biased. But, those who have read my many reviews here and elsewhere know that I tell it like I see it. I don't care about issues such as gender of the author, publisher of the author, whether the person is a friend, acquaintance or somebody who just found my work and thought to try me, etc. I just want a good book. It is a good book and now is once again available after the last publisher went belly up on Earl and a bunch of other folks.

Now you get a chance to hear Earl talk about his book and the perils of publishing these days. Surf over to

Take a listen to the podcast. It is worth it.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reviewing: "Blood Trail" by C. J. Box

Having tried "Blue Heaven" and quitting after fifty pages because I absolutely hated it despite the glowing praise from others, I was thrilled to have this one come in at my local library. I have been a big fan of the exploits of Game Warden Joe Pickett for some time despite events such as author C.J. Box killing off Pickett's foster daughter in one novel. Despite the fact that I was so upset by that novel that I nearly swore off reading anything written by C. J. Box ever again, I came crawling back and stayed with him. The latest one reminds me of that past in a small way but overall the read is another good one featuring Joe Pickett.

Things have changed over the series and as this novel opens, Joe and his family now live in the town of Saddlestring, Wyoming. Instead of the quiet of his old home where he saw deer cross the meadows surrounding his state owned home, or the ranch where his conniving mother–in–law lived where he saw cattle, he now sees his nosy neighbor, Ed Nedney. Ed has an opinion on everything Joe does or doesn't do and can't understand why Joe isn't more receptive to his help especially because property values affect the whole neighborhood. The call from the Governor while bringing the horrible news brings a temporary respite from Ed for Joe.

The Governor wants Joe Pickett on the case of a hunter found dead in the nearby mountains. It was not a hunting accident. The man was gutted and hung like one would do a game animal and the killer's calling card; a red poker chip was left behind on the ground near the body. A team of investigators including Joe, and his old nemis and former bureaucratic boss, Randy Pope and others are assembled. While this is the first case Joe has been told about there have been others. And unknown to them there will be more too because the killer has an agenda and wants the story told in the nationwide media.

What follows is a complex tale in the Wyoming Mountains featuring violence, retribution and justice. Like many of the novels in this series, there is a certain old west feel to the book and the issues as well as the characters, despite the modern conveniences of pickup trucks, two-way radios, infrared equipment and all the rest of it. When it comes down to it this book, as are so many in this series, are a sequence of events that mark continuing escalations between Joe and his inner self as well as outside forces and these confrontations are only briefly settled in the Wyoming high country at the close of the novel.

After so many novels there really isn't any character development work here regarding the Joe Pickett character. Or, for that matter, any of the other returning characters in this series. A minor plot line of Sheridan, now 16 and dealing with high school issues, does little to advance the work and instead is used primarily to illustrate again how Joe and his wife Marybeth have raised their children in the real world they live in and how out of touch folks from the East Coast are to the way of life in Wyoming. Otherwise, the reader learns a couple of new things about the recurring characters that shed further insight upon their behavior, but there really isn't any character development.

At its heart, this novel is another part mystery, part adventure read, full of recurring characters and a new killer that walks among them with impunity. As always, the author's deep appreciation for the natural beauty of Wyoming landscape come through as he tell yet another very completed and very good tale

Blood Trail: A Joe Pickett Novel
C.J. Box
G. P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin Group)
ISBN# 978-0-399-15488-1
301 Pages

Review copy provided by the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reviewing: "The Moonpool" by P. T. Deutermann

Allie Gardner had been with them since the beginning of Hide And Seek Investigations. Her specialty, and something that she went after with a certain fury, was cheating spouses. Her latest assignment was a simple case in Wilmington, North Carolina. It should not have gotten her killed.

But, it did.

For retired Lieutenant Cam Richter the news is a shock and a personal blow. After driving down and making the formal id of the body Cam wants answers. He isn't the only one. The state autopsy facility would like to know why her body is highly radioactive. She had to ingest something and the question is where did whatever it was come from? How did she get it? Who gave it to her? The search for answers for these questions and many others will take Cam up against the staff of a local nuclear power plant, the federal government, and other forces, as he begins to search for the truth as to what happened to Allie Lardner.

Building on "The Cat Dancers" and "Spider Mountain" this third novel in the series is another strong read through it does start very slowly. Character development is at a nill here as the recurring characters, especially Cam Richter, were fully established in the first two novels. The team is once again brought together to help Cam and there are also multiple appearances by Mary Ellen and discussion of their shared past as well as other events in the series. Therefore, readers are cautioned that the previous books in the series should be read before embarking on this novel.

A novel that is full of misdirection and deceit and political intrigue with frequent character commentary on the role of the FBI and homeland security criticism of both and a theme that many other authors seem to be mining in their fiction these days. The political commentary, though it may annoy some readers, does not take over the book. Instead, it is a piece of the book as are many other pieces that serve to entertain as well as confuse the reader.

The read as a whole is a novel featuring a complex tale full of nuance and innuendo, dark secrets and plenty of action. This is one of those books that it is not wise to start late in the evening or take to the beach because you will lose track of time and the real world.

The Moonpool
P. T. Deutermann
St. Martin's Press
June 2008
ISBN# 0-312-37159-4
292 Pages

Review copy provided by the Plano, Texas Public Library System

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Reviewing: "Resort to Murder: Thirteen More Tales by Minnesota's Premier Writers" Compiled and Edited by the Minnesota Crime Wave

Awhile back, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the anthology The Silence of the Loons. Put out by the "Minnesota Crime Wave" (Ellen Hart, Carl Brookins and William Kent Krueger) the anthology was a good one and I enjoyed it immensely. So, Carl Brookins sent me a review copy of their latest anthology quite some time ago. I was thrilled and added it to mount TBR which promptly surrounded it, burped in satisfaction, and continued to grow. I'm officially over 300 books now at last count and woefully behind in my reading. Fortunately, Texas is a long away from Minnesota so I should be relatively safe.

After a brief introduction by Lorna Landvik on why Minnesota produces so many good mystery writers, the book delves into the tales. There are 13 tales by 13 writers which include the three of the "Minnesota Crime Wave" and many more authors. Each tale is set at a fictional resort in Minnesota and each one is complex and enjoyable with no depictions of graphic violence, gore or sex. Some of the tales can be described more fully than others simply because to comment on some of them would blow the read. Having read many reviews that told way too much, I always lean towards being very cautious in my reviews so the tales will be explained as much as possible or not as the case may be.

William Kent Krueger kicks off the killing in his "Hills Like White Rabbits." Cooper knew they planned to kill him. Exactly how was the part that was still a mystery." (Page 2)

"The Locked Fish–cleaning House Mystery" by Jess Lourey is next. While the title may not be inspired, this tale about an elderly woman determined to party and solve a murder at the same time is.

Followed by "14-A" written by Ellen Hart that takes a look at the pain of love and how relationships evolve or de-evolve over time. The little things begin to burrow under the skin and an outside threat can make everything explode.

The age old theme of cheating comes to light in the tale of "Miss Behavin'" by David Housewright. A favorite author of mine whose most recent novel is "Dead Boyfriends" creates here a story a story full of misdirection and complications.

"Out of the Jacuzzi, Into the Sauna" by Scott Pearson marks the author's first published mystery story despite a long and impressive publishing history in various areas. Kate and Bill, a married couple, have known things at Great Lakes Lodges were wrong from the moment they called to confirm their check in. They didn't know that while they could check in, they easily might never check out.

Pat Dennis follows with a tale titled "Mother's Day." Carl has had enough of dear old mom and he has a plan.

If you haven't read Carl Brookins before you have really missed out. "Bloody Halls" was/is an excellent book as is the often laugh out loud "The Case of the Greedy Lawyers" featuring private investigator Sean no middle initial Sean always present in his red sneakers. Sean also makes an appearance here in the tale titled "Fish Story." Sean isn't much happy to be in a vacation resort in northern Minnesota. He had a more exotic climate in mind for vacation and if that isn't enough, he certainly didn't want to be dragged in to a local murder case.

While many of the stories are told from the viewpoint of the guests, Joel Arnold took a different angle. In "Leave No Wake" he weaves a tale told from the view point of one of the elderly owners of a resort who soon has a dead body to deal with along with a business to run. Along the way, Mr. Varney is reminded just how quickly time passes under business pressure. This very good story does feature a character with a penchant for graphic language that is out of tone with the rest of the anthology.

"The Moose Whisperer" by Deborah Woodworth features characters who aren't sleeping as well as they should be or need to. Police Chief Jens Johansson is one of the nocturnal wanderers and he saw something odd in the middle of the night while on vacation at Glass Lake. Something that he will need to follow on and something that is just a small piece of a bigger deal.

Barbara DaCosta is next with her disturbing story "Cabin 6". This is her first story and it is a good one. A story that really can't be explained at all without ruining it for other readers. So, I won't.

Like the "Bird of Prey" the human known as the "Falcon" goes after his next kill. In this tale written by Michael Allan Mallory, some things are obvious while many others are not.

"The Body at Dust Bowl Lake" is exactly that and much more. History plays the main role in this interesting tale written by Moira F. Harris.

Judith Yates-Borger concludes the anthology well with her tale "Hunter's Lodge." The past is a huge part of the tale as well and in this case the past must be honored and it will be. Like others in this anthology, this also marks her first foray into the field of mystery writing after an extensive and award winning journalist career.

Unlike many anthologies that place the interesting author biographical information at the back of the book, this anthology does the right thing and places it at the beginning of each tale. Also, pictures of the authors are included. Therefore, the book is well designed and places the picture of the author and bio on the left page with the tale written by the author on the right. By such format, one gets a feel for the author before delving into the tale.

Like the anthology The Silence of the Loons the tales in this book feature intriguing characters from a variety of viewpoints and walks of life. Some have seen this collection as darker in tone, but, I would not agree. Graphic descriptions are not present here with the focus being on the characters and the tales they tell. Each tale, well told, often is filled with misdirection while touching on some of the age old concepts of deceit, family honor, envy and others that ultimately lead to murder. Murder, well told and another good read compiled and edited by the members of the "Minnesota Crime Wave."

Resort to Murder: Thirteen More Tales of Mystery by Minnesota's Premier Writers
Compiled and Edited by the Minnesota Crime Wave
Nodin Press
ISBN# 1-932472-47-9
184 Pages

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Barry's Reviews: "Ten Second Staircase"

by Christopher Fowler

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

John May and Arthur Bryant are the (aptly designated, since they’re not young men) Senior Detectives for the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit, a unit that “was founded, along with a handful of other specialist departments, soon after the outbreak of World War II, as part of a government initiative to ease the burden on London’s overstretched Metropolitan Police Force, by tackling high-profile cases which had the capacity to compound social problems in urban areas.”

The case confronting them in this particular instance involves a series of murders, all of which are rather bizarre in nature, some of which are seemingly impossible. The victims are people who have achieved celebrity, however dubious, in various fields of endeavor. The perpetrator, according to a schoolboy witness, is a man dressed like a highwayman of old, right down to a cape and a tricorn hat. The boy claims he saw the Highwayman ride into a museum room on a black stallion, lift the first victim, a controversial artist, and dump her into the tank that’s part of her own exhibit. The problems? The Highwayman would have to be extraordinarily tall and strong to have done so, given the height of the tank. He’d also have to be capable of invisibility, since nobody else in the museum saw or heard him or his horse enter or leave.

But the Highwayman, Bryant and May discover, is leaving behind clues. To taunt them? Because he wants to be found out?

To compound matters, he begins to make appearances around the city, vanishing before anyone can capture him, and acquires a romantic, rock-star-like aura thanks to the media and the public’s unfavorable perception of his victims. “Highwayman-mania” soon grips London.

During the course of their investigation, Bryant and May notice similarities to an old case they’ve never been able to close: one concerning the so-called Leicester Square Vampire. It has a deeply personal resonance for them because May daughter was one of the Vampire’s victims.

Each sets out to solve the Highwayman case using his own preferred approach. May is the pragmatist and logician, Bryant the radical unhesitant about contacting psychics, self-styled mystics, or anyone else who might be useful. Besides dealing with the case, they have to contend with departmental politics. The Home Office wants to shut down the PCU on the grounds of obsolescence and recent fecklessness.

Bryant and May eventually solve both cases, of course, but not before May’s granddaughter is imperiled as her mother was years before.

Ten Second Staircase was a disappointment, but I have only myself to blame for it being so because I had wants and expectations going into it that were unmet. When I first heard about the Bryant and May novels, I had the impression they all involved impossible crimes of some sort, that like the works of Paul Halter they were modern adjuncts to the works of John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson, Hake Talbot, and other masters of the miraculous, that they‘d be puzzlers oozing atmosphere. (In fact, there’s a reviewer’s blurb on Ten Second Staircase that suggests it’s a locked-room mystery.) What I got was a police procedural about outré crimes complete with social, psychological, and philosophical observations over 464 pages, which is overlong for a mystery.

Apart from its length, the book contains more than a few abstract conversations that are often hard to follow. The characters, despite their quirks, are mostly flat, mere names instead of people who get up off the page and strut their stuff. For all that, Fowler’s style is literate and presumes an intelligent reader. It’s this quality that may eventually prompt me to read another—coupled with the assurance of someone I trust that there’s at least one legitimate locked-room whodunit/howdunit in the series. I can’t resist ’em!

Barry Ergang © 2008

Barry Ergang, former Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, has had fiction, poetry and non-fiction in numerous publications, print and electronic. His latest story, "Gunfight at the So-So Corral," one of the groaners for which he's become infamous, appears in the latest issue of Mysterical-E.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Reviewing: "The Front" by Patricia Cornwell

The murder happened in 1962. On April fourth of that year in Watertown, Massachusetts, Janie Brolin was killed. Janie was blind and spending a year in the United States away from her home in Great Britain. It was never solved and District Attorney Monique Lamont has decided Massachusetts State Police Investigator Win Gerano is going to solve it. He should want to. After all, she believes that the case was the first murder committed by the notorious Boston strangler.

She sees the case as a "drama" to be played out in the media and ultimately solved because she made it happen. Not only will solving the case be a huge media public relations event for her, it will be a slap in the face of local law enforcement in the area that has formed an organization called "Front." The acronym stands for "Friends, Resources, Officers, Networking Together" and currently has sixty departments sharing resources, man power, etc in an effort to bypass the state police for funding, equipment, technical expertise, etc. It is politics pure and simple and D.A Monique Lamont is shoving Win down the local cop's throats whether or not they like it and the case is going to be solved. Period.

This novel is a sequel to the novel "At Risk" which first introduced the characters involved. While the events that happened in that novel could have easily caused this sequel to have depth, author Patrica Cornwell has continued to make the series as lean and as shallow as possible. Therefore, what could have led to deep character development instead is given short shrift because readers are often told about character emotions, needs and wants, but the characters never come alive for the reader. Multiple secondary storylines are given the barest of detail, discarded quickly, only to be left hanging, or quickly concluded at the of the novel depriving the reader of a meaningful read.

The reader is left with a short book at 180 pages driven relentlessly forward by the twin themes of political rage and an old murder case. Like the issue of character development, both themes could have been developed significantly and weren't. The result is a read that while interesting and fast moving so that the reader continues to turn pages, it disappointingly has zero depth and isn't worthy of much attention.

The Front
Patricia Cornwell
G. P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin Group)
ISBN# 978-0-399-15418-8
180 Pages

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

Reviewing: "Phantom Prey"

Lucas Davenport of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension isn't slowing down at all. Despite being wounded frequently and despite the fact that he long ago should have been sitting behind a desk when he isn't home with his family, Lucas pushes cases hard. That fact is what makes him so good at what he does and also alleviates his frequent bouts of depression. He may grumble and groan when the case begins but before long the scent is in his noses and he is off on another one.

Sitting on a stakeout across the street from the wife of a cocaine dealer isn't doing much for him. It is boring. Sure, Heather Toms is naked a lot and is seemingly oblivious to the fact her blinds are open while she prances around her apartment, but Lucas doesn't much care. Sigitas Toms, aka Ziggy is on the run and Lucas and Del are occasionally keeping watch hoping he will come back. It's been eight months and still no sign of Ziggy. If they get lucky Ziggy's brother, Antsy, who was left behind and clearly the dumber brother of the two and who also recently beat the heck out of two St. Paul cops just might show up.

Lucas knows Ziggy will return at some point, but not exactly when. He can feel it though and isn't about to pull the plug on things like everyone else has. In the meantime, it is March, the paper work is endless, the skies are dreary and Lucas is slipping in to one of his dark moods. His wife, Weather asks Lucas to talk to Alyssa Austin. Alyssa is a friend of Weather and Allyssa's daughter, Frances has been missing for months. Blood was found in the seams of the flooring tiles in Alyssa's home and the other clues that seem to indicate Frances is dead. But, with no body, Alyssa refuses to give up hope and the vigil is tearing her apart. Frances was part of the Goth scene and a bartender she knew who is also part of that scene has now been found brutally murdered. Lucas doesn't think much of Alyssa because she is into astrology, planes of existence, and all that mumbo jumbo. Alyssa knows she is a suspect because they can't come up with a real suspect and have stopped looking. Weather wants him to help and reluctantly he agrees. Before long, Lucas is riding hard on a case that seems to have no end, a young Goth that appears and disappears at will, and an ever increasing body count.

Unfortunately for the reader much of this novel meanders around in the land of funhouse mirrors with ghosts and the like. Shifting in points of view from Lucas to Alyssa to imagery characters that may or may not be really real the novel drifts and flounders for more than half the book. The second half of the book is more of an anti climax than any thing because so much is telegraphed by the mid point all that is left is to tick off the checklist as the pages pass.

It would be easy to assign blame for this weak effort due to the fact hat John Sandford's wife died of cancer during the writing of this book. An event that must have been devastating for him and something I would have no idea how to handle – let alone manage to continue to write. I have no idea if that is behind the problem here or not. .

What I do know is that, for me, this novel is not the Lucas Davenport written by John Sanford I know and love. This is a poor imitator featuring weak writing, a convoluted main case and a much better secondary case that is much more interesting. John Sandford, when he is on a roll, is a damn good author .This isn't one of those times. One can only hope he will be back at that level soon.

Phantom Prey
John Sandford
Thorndike Press
ISBN# 1-4104-0535-4
Large Print
535 Pages

Review copy provided by the Plano, Texas Public Library system. For more information on the library system, visit

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Reviewing: "Little Big bend: Common, Uncommon, and Rare Plants of Big bend National Park"

Devoted to the plants of Big Bend National Park this book also captures the stark beauty of the park. After brief sections on the preface, acknowledgement and design of the book, the book opens by explaining the environment in the short chapter headed, "Big Bend, The Land of Extremes." Along with rainfall rate, temperature extremes, elevation changes of thousands of feet, and other facts of interest the author also writes of the ecological diversity and the human influence on the park from the earliest hunters to modern time as well as the history of park itself.

That is followed by a brief section on how plants are named and a section on plants helpfully organized under the various family names. Page numbers are also noted for the family plant names making it easier for readers to find the pages grouped together for a certain family plant name.

Page 35 begins the actual heart if the book with a plant name, a close up color photograph and an easy to read and understand text on the plant. The text for each plant covers a description of the plant, where it is found, and some interesting history on the plant such as its reputation for inflicting damage on people and car tires (Lechuguilla), what the Aztecs used it for (Havard Agave) and other interesting information.

More than 250 pages later after a color picture of a beautiful Spanish dagger, the appendices begin. Appendix A is devoted to the status of the plants and how endangered they are in Texas. Appendix B is devoted to selected locations in the park such as Boot Canyon, Casa Grande, Panther Pass, and many others and the names of plants found at each location. Appendix C is devoted to the author's suggestions concerning photographing plants and necessary equipment. All of the pictures in the book were taken by the author and he explains how to achieve the quality photographs he does. Appendix D is a brief two page explanation of what sources were used for the names of the plants and why.

A glossary of terms, a list of sources for more information on the park, reference materials and an index brings this beautiful and easy to use book to a close. Designed for people who want to know what they are looking at in the park, this book is superbly done in text and photographs and is easy to understand. Not only does it depict many of the plants within the park, numerous photographs also capture the surrounding countryside and the beauty of the park. This is a must have book for your next trip to the park.

Little Big Bend: Common, Uncommon, and Rare Plants of Big Bend National Park
(Part of the "Grover E. Murray Studies In The American Southwest" Series)
Roy Morey
Texas Tech University Press
Flexbound with Flaps (Large Field Guide Style)
329 Pages

My thanks to the staff of the library system of Texas Tech University who provided a copy of this book through the Interlibrary Loan system.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Book Review: "Rare Plants of Texas"

Recently released by Texas A&M University Press this reference guide is a comprehensive and detailed look at the rare plants of Texas. While useful for the layman, the book is primarily of interest for botanists and others deeply immersed in the subject matter. As such, the book is highly technical in nature and written in a dry academic tone.

After a brief preface and an acknowledgment section, there is a multi page section on the various natural regions of Texas. Filled with facts and figures and a single solitary map of the state that contains no reference points, this section goes into detail about the land mass and various types of plants typically found in the 11 regions. It is noted here and elsewhere in this book that rare species are still being found today in Texas as much of the state has not been surveyed in the manner required to note and document everything.

Sections on the history of planet conservation as well as a section on the law and terms being used as well as another section on the threats to rare plants which are primarily human related follow the natural regions section. This is followed by sections on "Management and Restoration of Rare Plants" and "Nomenclature and Species Selection." Quickly followed by instructions for and a copy of the official "Wildlife Diversity Reporting Form" issued by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to report a rare plant, animal or habitat that will be verified before being added to the wildlife diversity database.

This leads readers to the heart of the book "Species Treatments" which begins on page 55. Each plant is depicted in a drawing, a color picture, and located on the country map of Texas. Each plant has listed various facts such as scientific name, common name, family name, endangered status date, where it lives, and a detailed description of the plant, habitat of the plant, and comments and references on the plant. Listed in alphabetical order each plant is detailed across two pages with many plants depicted in multiple color photographs and ink drawings.

Beginning on page 521 there is a short section on what was excluded from this book and why. That leads to a very detailed glossary of terms and a seventy-nine page reference section. This field guide type book concludes with an extensive index of thirteen pages.

This is a comprehensive book and is a well done reference guide that should be of interest to the professional as well as the general layman interested in the field. Certainly it isn't of interest for everyone and it was not designed to be as it is highly technical in nature. Therefore, those with a deep interest in the topic will appreciate it the most. For that readership it was designed for, it works well and provides a glimpse of the many rare plants found across the great state of Texas.

Rare Plants Of Texas
By Jackie M. Poole, William R. Carr, Dana M. Price and Jason R. Singhurst.
Texas A&M University Press
December 2007
Flexbound with Flaps (Field Guide Style)
ISBN# 1-58544-557-6
640 Pages

My thanks to the staff of the University of Houston Library System who provided a copy of this title in response to my long standing request through the Interlibrary Loan program.

Kevin R Tipple © 2008

Friday, July 04, 2008

Publishing News

My story, "Burning Questions" which was a Honorable Mention winner last fall in the Mysterical-e SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET contest is now appearing in the summer issue of the same. The link is and another sign that occasionally my weirdness gets published.

A big thank you to Joe DeMarco for publishing my effort.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Book Review: "Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Weeknight"

As I noted in a recent review of another title in this series, the last thing I want to do when I come home from teaching and working with kids all day is to stand in the kitchen and work on making dinner. I primarily work with special needs students which are often physically demanding and by the end of the day I am worn out. I don't find it therapeutic to chop and slice stuff for dinner after getting the first load of laundry going and the dishwasher started. While the Slow Cooker installment of this series had been a real disappointment, I had high hopes for this one once it finally made the way to me through the local library system.

Broken down mainly into three sections titled, "30 Minutes Start To Finish," "20 Minutes Start To Finish," and "Make More To Store" this cookbook like others in the series is designed to make food preparation a fast activity while delighting people with the results. There is a wide range in dishes from "steaks with herb butter," to "farfalle with salsa cruda" (no, that really isn't a typo) to polenta with vegetable ragout," or "Greek lamb kebabs" and "chicken couscous with dried fruit." Like other books in the series, while providing detailed sections on food storage, pantry suggestions, what to buy at the store, weekly meal planning and other very helpful tips not one word is devoted to fat counts, calories levels, salt counts, etc. With so many people needing to watch what they eat because of dietary issues for a variety of reasons it is rather surprising that such important information is left out of these cookbooks.

What is here is another strong entry in the series and one that didn't work for me despite the promising opening of "steaks with herb butter." My family are rather picky scavengers and it quickly became clear with recipes noted above and others such as "lemongrass chicken and asparagus," "lime shrimp with coconut rice, or" pappardelle with beef ragu" that this book isn't going to work for us. Not just because these and many other recipes in this book feature ingredients that the scavengers won't eat. Many recipes lost me from the point that they said to prepare the grill or broiler and then do something. Most of the recipes in this book are rather complicated and exceed my modest abilities in the kitchen. Not only that but while the dishes are beautifully photographed as they always are in this series, most of the dishes just don't look good to me. Like other books in this series, each recipe gives a portion number but it is impossible to tell how realistic the portion sizes are.

While a beautifully done book, as are all of the books in the series I have seen, this book just won't work for me and my family. Most of the recipes are either way to complicated for this cook at this time or feature item such as "peas" or "asparagus" which my family absolutely won't eat for any reason. Not that I blame them as I don't like to eat them either. This book goes back to the library quickly and the hunt continues.

Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Weeknight
Recipes by Melanie Barnard
General Editor Chuck Williams
Oxmoor House
October, 2006
ISBN# 0-84873137-9

Reviewed book provided by the Plano, Texas Public Library system

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008