Thursday, December 31, 2009

One Year Ends...And Another Begins

Having spent nearly all of my two week break from the day job sick with some sort of sinus deal that has gone on to attack the rest of the family while refusing to get out of my head, I find that once again I didn’t accomplish much writing wise the last two weeks. Pretty much symptomatic of the year as well.

While the books keep coming and I continue to do reviews, I don’t seem to be able to turn it into something more than a black hole time eater. Voracious in appetite, reviewing takes up a considerable amount of time because I actually read the whole book. I have yet to find a way to at least bring in a few bucks from time to time for reviewing despite having done this for more than ten years now. The continuous cutbacks of review slots in a variety of markets this past year certainly didn’t help one get a foot in the door.

Fiction wise this past year was my worst since the mid 90’s when I first started out in terms of acceptances. Truth be told, it was also my lowest in terms of submissions. I simply didn’t get the work out there and circulating because I didn’t get the work done. Financial and health issues certainly have taken their toll and I find myself deep in the abyss these days which isn’t a good place for this guy to construct stories. Walk along the edge, peer over the side, that all works. Dropping into the abyss with lead shoes on does little to help the creative process.

The woods might be dark and deep but the abyss is much, much worse.

While I do still enjoy reading, I find I really don’t much care for the review process much anymore. Some of it is the usual crap that goes along with the idea of doing reviews and that goes with the territory. But, I also increasingly wonder if thoughtful reviews, dare I say it, the kind of reviews I do really matter in a sea of noise generated by those who write reviews of a sentence or two and think they have done something as well as those reviewers who love every book they ever write about. I’d like to think the reviews I do still matter, but increasingly, I feel like the moderator on some bad cable talk show where all the guests just scream at each other.

So many things have to change…….

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reviewing: "Gumbo Justice" by Holli Castillo

Crime is a family business for the Murphy family in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Assistant District Attorney Ryan Murphy is plenty busy in the courtroom and the local bars without having to walk crime scenes in the middle of the night. Thanks to it being an election year for the District Attorney, she has no choice but to go out and walk them in the middle of the night since it is her week to do so. Alerted by her brother, Sean, a NOPD Homicide Detective that he has sent another detective to pick her up, the only question she has for herself is whether or not to wear a bra since she doesn’t plan on dressing up and ruining another outfit or nice pair of shoes. She might worry a little about the fact that she can’t remember much about earlier in the evening, but, she doesn’t have time since the ride is supposed to be there in five minutes. Considering the fact that her over protective father, Kelly Murphy, Captain of the Sixth District in New Orleans will most likely be there she decides she better wear that bra and get going.

The latest murder victim in the housing project is a black male, approximately twenty years old, naked and was tied up and beaten before being shot in the head. He was L’Roid Smith, the Leader of the Soldiers, who was supposed to face trial later in the week for the murder of three rival gang members. Ryan had prosecuted him before on murder charges and had to dismiss the case after all of her witness disappeared. Now the streets have taken care of him.

For Ryan, it won’t be the first killing that has links to her. Links that become obvious to others and raise question as to her involvement in the killings at about the same time she starts realizing the implications personally and career wise. Against a back drop of politics, coveted powerful positions in the District Attorney’s office, and rampant crime, Ryan has to control her own personal demons long enough to deal with a psycho that has targeted her.

Ryan is the classic clichéd law enforcement figure albeit this time in female form. Haunted by nightmares, she drinks far in excess to the point of blackouts; looks for love in all the wrong places while amazingly oblivious to the man in her life who has a romantic interest, and lets her mouth get the better of her in the courtroom and out. She works hard, lives even harder, and one can see the chip on her shoulder from a mile away. Clichéd flaws that could work if used for introspection.

What introspection is here is limited and repetitive. One never gets the feeling of the character coming totally alive for the reader and thus the character exists more as a stereotype than anything. That is unfortunate as while the basic character flaws are clichéd, they are so because other authors have used them quite well to create introspection and empathy for the character.

That lack of character development depth leads to the core of the tale regarding action and investigation as the driving force of the novel. On that level, when Ryan is either actively working the courtroom or various cases, the novel works well and moves forward. At other times, especially in the chapters devoted to the viewpoint of the troubled psychopath, the novel nearly stalls.

“Gumbo Justice” is the debut novel of a planned series that does show considerable promise despite its rough edges. Despite its flaws, the overall read is worthwhile and one hopes that the second novel will improve on the basic foundation of the series.

Gumbo Justice
Holli Castillo
Oak Tree Press
June 2009
ISBN# 978-1-892343-51-2
Large Trade Paperback
237 Pages

Book provided directly by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reviewing: "Nuclear Winter Wonderland" by Joshua Corin

Uncle Dexter, who believed he was the exiled king of Mars, is dead. Mom wants Adam Weiss to come home for the funeral. Adam would rather stay in the fraternity house at the University of Michigan and play his Xbox, but mom wants him to come home to Rhode Island. Adam might have gotten his way if his twin sister, Anna, hadn’t suggested picking her up on the way and then playing the dad card.

Guilt is a powerful motivator and Adam can’t dodge his sister like he can his mother. The next day finds him driving his green Escort to Oberlin, Michigan where he picks up Anna before getting lunch at a local Denny’s. They eat and get back on the interstate for a while until the gastric effects of his meal take over and Adam desperately searches for a rest stop. He finds one and quickly discovers that lower intestine relief can have severe consequences.

Like his car stolen and his sister kidnapped.

Like the fact that the world will end on next Wednesday, Christmas Eve, when this maniac pulls the trigger on 12 nuclear weapons.

At least the bad guy left his own truck behind so Adam does have a vehicle to start chasing the bad guy and his sister.

What follows is a surreal tale that only works depending on the sense of humor level of the reader. Humor is a tricky thing for authors to get right. Chris Grabenstein does it well with the early books of his Ceepak series. Harlan Coben did it with the early books of the Bolitar series. In both cases, the author had the humor come about naturally under real life circumstances with believable characters and their interaction.

The humor here fails that test because the humor is forced and consists of eccentricity and absurdity. This isn’t the humor of Monty Python either which frequently bordered on the absurd. Even with Monty Python stuff, the humor came about because of character interaction built on the original premise that was absurd or otherwise. In most cases, it wasn’t scenarios where the absurd built upon the absurd and continued to build absurdity upon absurdity. Such is not the case here in this mess of a novel.

After a strong beginning, the novel quickly deteriorates into a quagmire of nonsense fueled by absurdity and eccentricity in the extreme. Every character of any stature, besides Adam and his missing sister, is eccentric to the extreme and totally absurd. Every scenario and or plot twist is over the top as well a case study of giving the book the barest grounding in crime, mystery genres or thriller genres. That grounding, evident in the early part of the book, is quickly thrown out along with any concept of logic or sense of plot. Instead, the read comes down to taking every story point and imagining the most absurd thing and then seeing if the author is going to be even more extreme. In most cases, the answer is an affirmative and the reader is left to wade through yet another ludicrous scenario that is supposedly funny and yet fails the humor test. Nothing is straight forward in this book that constantly screams at the reader just how funny the book is and how mad cap nearly everyone involved is while the fate of the world is at stake.

Fans of the absurd carried to extremes will appreciate this novel, while those readers that prefer a more straight forward crime/murder/thriller novel or a novel with a basic sense of plot will find it extremely tough going. According to the book jacket, “Nuclear Winter Wonderland” is going to “soon be a major motion picture” via the screenplay also written by the author. If the movie ever comes out, it will be interesting to see if a movie version of the work is much better than the original book. It certainly doesn’t seem possible that the movie could be worse than the book.

Nuclear Winter Wonderland
Joshua Corin
Kunati, Inc.
288 Pages

Book provided by Publicist PJ Nunn, owner of BreakThrough Promotions, in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Barnes and Nobles hosts various local writer/reader events

Pat Hauldren writes a column for the Fort Worth Examiner and her latest features local events for writers AND readers around the Dallas/Fort Worth area during the next several weeks. So, check it out at:

Hope to see you at one or more of these events.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Children's Book Review: "Wally The Walking Fish meets Madison And Cooper" by Gary Lamit

Written by Gary Lamit for his grand daughter, Madison, this charming little book tells the tale of Madison and the dog Cooper. Cooper, like all the creatures can talk and be understood by all. Madison catches Wally, the walking fish (a walking catfish) and releases him. They get to talking and over the next couple days, Madison and Cooper are introduced to all the local creatures at the lake.

Self published through BookSurge, the book features numerous colorful illustrations along with brief definitions and descriptions set in small boxes below the prose text. The text in the copy I was provided does not include many dialogue tags or other identifiers which may make it hard for small children and their caregivers to follow the actual speaker. According to posted comments made by the author when this issue was raised by other reviewers, the problem has subsequently been addressed by insertion of character names and color coding them at the beginning of each line.

The pages are not numbered nor are there any references to the rest of Madison’s family who are presumably at the lake with her. Naturally inquisitive children can be expected to ask why they aren’t around. It is unfortunate that something regarding why the family members are never seen was explained in the book.

Despite those issues, the book does feature an interesting easy reader tale while providing lots of information. The result is a good read that works when guided by an adult.

Wally The Walking Fish Meets Madison and Cooper
Gary Lamit
Booksurge (part of Amazon)
May 2009
ISBN# 9781439225417
28 Pages

Material provided by the author in exchange for objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reviewing: "Treasure Hunt: A Book of Clues for Parties" by Nacy Kruse

“Why just sit a person down and hand then their gifts when you can have so much more fun making them find their gifts with clues.” (Introduction, page 1)

If that sounds like something you and your potential guest would like, this is the book for you. Specifically building off the idea of Easter egg hunts and Scavenger hunts, this book tells you how to do the same type of thing regardless of party setting. Self published through Book Locker, this fun book showcases a different way of hosting parties from the normal party.

After the introduction, the book moves on to planning your party. The key idea is that the first clue should easily lead to the second, which should easily lead to the third, etc. The clues should be ones that are good for the seeker as well as the fellow party guests. “Know your seeker well and select clues accordingly.” (Page 3)

Within a couple more pages, it is on to the clues. In each case, a short setup is created for you to get into the spirit of things and then you add your clue to the bottom of the setup. From “Beginning Clues” to “Action Clues” through the various room clues (such as living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.) as well as “Outside Clues” before closing with the self evident “Ending Clues” there is something to fit nearly any setting. With over 100 clue suggestions, this 108 page book is a quick and easy reference guide to get you started hosting a different kind of party. The book gives you the ideas- now all you have to do is get inspired.

Treasure Hunt: A Book of Clues for Parties
Nancy Kruse
Large Trade Paperback
108 Pages

Material provided to me by Publicist Penny C. Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. in exchange for an objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Children's Book Review: "The Lake That Stole Children: A Fable" by Douglas Glenn Clark

Part fantasy tale, part mystery tale, this short book tells the tale of what can happen when a person is locked into sadness. The fisherman, Cal, is a stern father of two young children, a daughter and son. While the daughter, much like his wife, dutifully listens to him and does not disobey, his son is a bit of a wild child yearning for adventure.

The son gets that and more when he is pulled into the river that ultimately leads into Flat Horn Lake and a magical creature. The son isn’t the only child to disappear in this way over the years. Soon the fisherman is forced to confront his own behavior while he attempts to rescue his own son and the other children.

A quick read at 40 pages, this self published book is designed to appeal to “young and adult readers.” Though it will clearly work best for the middle school reader as older readers may find the author’s heavy use of excessively flowery prose a turn off.

“Soon the boy began to cry. His sobbing was so loud the forest began to heave in sympathy. Berries and nuts dove from bushes, leaves flew from their branches, and the sky drooped against the soaring pines.” (Page 9)

The basic point that Mr. Clark is making regarding some parents are too harsh and strict with children in an attempt to protect them from everything comes through clearly to the reader. However, there is alack of nuance to the point which harms the overall message. The fisherman is portrayed as an overly strict father because he is stern while the mother and daughter are portrayed as meek and bordering on being mentally abused. Though the father is raising his voice in dangerous situations trying to protect his son from vanishing into the river it comes across as he somehow is doing something wrong. His wife routinely does nothing when the boy misbehaves and the good daughter is seen as good simply because she does exactly what she is told to do just like the wife. Once the boy goes missing after sneaking out of the house, it is the entire fault of the fisherman and he is blamed by both the daughter and the mother. Love is withheld by the wife at a critical time when it is needed the most by her husband. The overall character image depicted is of a father who somehow didn’t care about things until his son vanished, then takes steps to rescue not only the child but his family as well.

The actual tale embedded in “the Lake That Stole Children” is a pretty good one despite the frequently overwrought prose. The magical creature is what seasoned readers would expect and yet fits well into the story while proving both good symbolism and a foil for the fisherman.

With above issues noted, the result is a good read primarily suitable for the middle school crowd that will occasionally appeal to members of a wider audience. While always important with any book, clearly with the way certain issues are depicted in this self published novel, parents and educators that use this book with children should also have discussions about the material with them.

The Lake That Stole Children: A Fable
Douglas Glenn Clark
CreateSpace (part of Amazon)
August 15, 2008
ISBN# 978-1438243580
40 Pages

Material provided directly by the author in exchange for objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reviewing: "Starvation Lake: A Mystery" by Bryan Gruley

The plan was to leave Starvation Lake, Michigan and never come back. But 1998 finds Augustus Carpenter, known to all as “Gus” back home after his successful newspaper career exploded on him in Detroit. Both he and the town are still haunted by the goal he let in close to the end of the state championship game and both have never been the same.

Now at thirty four, Gus is backing home, once again working for the local paper, Pilot. He lives in a small apartment above the storefront news room and across the street from the local bar where his teammates frequently congregate. The same issues that faced them as boys are now part of the power struggles and conflict they have as men.

Simmering disagreements are fueled by the fire of the past when parts of a damaged snowmobile wash up on the shore at the lake. While the snowmobile seems to be the same one Coach Blackburn was driving years ago before both disappeared through a hole in the ice, it can’t possibly have made it here since that accident happened miles away. No body was ever recovered, but the assumption was that Blackburn was dead. While he probably is dead, the fact that the recovered snowmobile shows evidence of foul play ignites a local firestorm that finally explodes in a tale of deceit, treachery and unspeakable pain.

A debut novel that packs a punch, “Starvation Lake” by Bryan Gruley develops slowly through a variety of emotionally scarred and complex characters. Billed with the totally unnecessary subtitle “a mystery” the book operates on several levels with multiple mysteries and complex multiple storylines featuring heavily flawed characters. To delve into any of this at any level would seriously impact reader enjoyment by giving away far too much information.

Suffice it to say, if you are looking for a thriller or a simplistic mystery full of lightweight characters and violent action, this is not the novel for you. However if you are looking for a meaty novel where the characters are very human and occasionally vile, where there is plenty of back story and long descriptive scenes leading to powerful dialogue and emotional impact for the characters and readers, along with multiple mysteries, this is the book for you.

Starvation Lake: A Mystery
Bryan Gruley
Touchstone (Simon and Schuster)
March 2009
ISBN# 1-4165-6362-8
Large Trade Paperback
370 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Reviewing: "Mind Scrambler" by Chris Grabenstein

The fifth installment of the series finds Sea Haven, New Jersey police officers John Ceepak and Danny Boyle in Atlantic City. They are there to depose a con artist named Gary Burdick in connection with an Ohio homicide case involving John’s father, Joseph Ceepak. Burdick and Joseph Ceepak shared a drunk tank one night years ago and supposedly Joseph Ceepak detailed how he had gotten away with murder. The trip to Atlantic City allows Danny to bump into his old flame, Katie Landy, who is working as a nanny for a couple of magicians.

It also means Boyle and Ceepak are around when Katie is found dead hours later in a room at the Xandau Hotel and Casino. Quickly cleared as a suspect, Boyle is soon forced to confront the twin ideas that Katie might not have been as innocent as she seemed and their relationship might have not been what he thought it was. Allowed to assist in the murder investigation, nothing is as it appears with magicians, and this case won’t be easy to solve.

What started as a series that featured plenty of humor has evolved into a grim fictional reality. What humor is here is the grim bitter kind of humor that before the last two books was pretty much nonexistent. This shift in the series clearly could be due to the subject matter as Iraq and the murder of Katie aren’t laughing matters. It could also be due to the that Danny Boyle is steadily maturing and seeing more and more of what folks will do to each other. The sprit of melancholy that appeared in the previous book blooms into a full flower here and creates a backdrop of Boyle questioning the past while trying to cope in the present.

“Mind Scrambler: A John Ceepak Mystery” is a good read that tells another strong Ceepak tale featuring plenty of action, interesting characters, and misdirection. But, it sadly lacks funny humor and what little humor present is a bitter sweet laughing with tears variety. The result is a good book that misses a vital element critical to the series.

Mind Scrambler: A John Ceepak Mystery
Chris Grabenstein
Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Publishing Group)
June 2009
ISBN# 0-312-38231-6
342 Pages

Review copy provided directly by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Reviewing: "Killer Career" by Morgan Mandel

Attending the Love To Murder Mystery Conference in Chicago pushes Julie McGuire to make a latent dream become a reality. A lawyer in a growing practice with old friend, Dade Donovan, she longs to become a writer. She is also enthralled by the enigmatic mystery author, Tyler Jensen, the conference keynote speaker.

He seems just as enthralled with her and begins to pursue her in a variety of ways. As she looks to gracefully end her career in the law and her partnership with Dade, it becomes clear that Dade isn’t totally supportive of her future plans. Getting strange vibes from both men, Julie isn’t sure what is going on or who is behind a series of increasingly strange and dangerous events.

Despite an interesting if a bit clichéd premise (the famous mystery writer loses himself during the writing process in dreams of murder that may or not be real) the novel doesn’t reach its full potential. This is primarily because the pacing off the novel is consistently off. Scenes that should move faster drag on far longer than they should. Opportunities to slow down events to further develop characters are frequently rushed. That fact, along with heavy foreshadowing with certain plot points hit so often seasoned mystery readers laugh out loud, do not invoke the rising tension the author is trying desperately to create.

Unlike many who choose to self publish, author Morgan Mandell did obtain editing services and credits those individuals in her dedication. It is telling that the editing situation also led to some of the back of the cover blurbs and the occasional review from the same individuals. With such a small core group involved, it isn’t surprising that some issues were not dealt with as effectively as they could have been with more outside objective input. While the novel is classified as “romantic suspense” the suspense angle is very much lacking for seasoned mystery readers. The romance is the classic triangle where both the possible bad boy and the obvious good guy both seek the attentions of the fair damsel who may be in distress from outside forces or forces from within the triangle relationship.

At the same time, at the core, there is a very good tale here. Plenty of action, intrigue and mystery, romantic elements and a heroine that readers can identify with and care about. Through the execution of the story is flawed at times for seasoned mystery readers, there are enough good things about the novel to make the overall read worth it.

Killer Career
Morgan Mandel
Choice One Publishing Co.
ISBN# 978-0-9819916-0-3
298 Pages
Large Trade Paperback

Material provided by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Home Internet Is Out and

has been out for 24 hours now and verizon customer service is difficult to contact and actually get help. So, if you are trying to reach me via e-mail, please understand it could be awhile.

Or, it could suddenly start working again like it did late Wednesday.

(the annoyed customer)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Reviewing: "Mind Scrambler: A John Ceepak Mystery" by Chris Grabenstein

The fifth installment of the series finds Sea Haven, New Jersey police officers John Ceepak and Danny Boyle in Atlantic City. They are there to depose a con artist named Gary Burdick in connection with an Ohio homicide case involving John’s father, Joseph Ceepak. Burdick and Joseph Ceepak shared a drunk tank one night years ago and supposedly Joseph Ceepak detailed how he had gotten away with murder. The trip to Atlantic City allows Danny to bump into his old flame, Katie Landy, who is working as a nanny for a couple of magicians.

It also means Boyle and Ceepak are around when Katie is found dead hours later in a room at the Xandau Hotel and Casino. Quickly cleared as a suspect, Boyle is soon forced to confront the twin ideas that Katie might not have been as innocent as she seemed and their relationship might have not been what he thought it was. Allowed to assist in the murder investigation, nothing is as it appears with magicians, and this case won’t be easy to solve.

What started as a series that featured plenty of humor has evolved into a grim fictional reality. What humor is here is the grim bitter kind of humor that before the last two books was pretty much nonexistent. This shift in the series clearly could be due to the subject matter as Iraq and the murder of Katie aren’t laughing matters. It could also be due to the that Danny Boyle is steadily maturing and seeing more and more of what folks will do to each other. The sprit of melancholy that appeared in the previous book blooms into a full flower here and creates a backdrop of Boyle questioning the past while trying to cope in the present.

“Mind Scrambler: A John Ceepak Mystery” is a good read that tells another strong Ceepak tale featuring plenty of action, interesting characters, and misdirection. But, it sadly lacks funny humor and what little humor present is a bitter sweet laughing with tears variety. The result is a good book that misses a vital element critical to the series.

Mind Scrambler: A John Ceepak Mystery
Chris Grabenstein
Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Publishing Group)
June 2009
ISBN# 0-312-38231-6
342 Pages

Review copy provided directly by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reviewing: "Rough Country" by John Sandford

In just days Erica McDill was supposed to finally takeover the advertising agency Ruff-Harcourt-McDill in Minneapolis. With Ruff having died sometime back and Harcourt retired and finally willing to sell his stock to McDill the agency was almost in her grasp. Once he sold his shares, she would have seventy-five percent of the outstanding shares under her control and she would finally be able to get rid of the dead weight and move the agency forward. She was going to terminate employees at work and was thinking about terminating her relationship with her longtime lover, Ruth. The takeover of the agency would change everything and McDill had big plans. That was until a bullet tore through her head, ending her life, while she sat in a canoe-kayak hybrid on Stone Lake.

The bullet that ended McDill’s life ended Virgil Flowers’ vacation as well. Both Virgil and Johnson, his fishing buddy, were fishing in a tournament on Vermillion Lake in far northern Minnesota. With a fifteen year old girl, Little Linda Pelli, missing and resources tied up with that thanks to heavy media coverage, Lucas Davenport has no choice but to send Virgil to take a look. Not only is the local Sheriff, Bob Sanders, asking for help, McDill was a big Democrat and the Governor wants answers. Virgil has no choice and leaves the tournament to conduct the investigation.

Beyond the fact that the killer made a very good shot to kill McDill, actual clues at the scene are few. The investigation isn’t completely dead as there are links to a local band and its lead singer, a local lodge known to be frequented by lesbians, and various residents of the area. Because of the lesbian lifestyle practiced by many of the characters and other factors, Virgil is constantly blatantly lied to and misdirected as he conducts an investigation that for most of the book goes nowhere fast.

In between taking shots at Fox News and Liberals (an interesting combination, obviously created to hide author’s feelings), Virgil spends much of the novel in pursuit of not only the case, but a certain married woman whose husband has temporarily left her. While the language isn’t as crude as it has been in several of the most recent Lucas Davenport novels, there are nearly constant references to lesbianism in this book which is certain to offend some readers. All the references to the lesbianism of many of the characters as well as his pursuit of the married woman slows down the small amount of action in the novel considerably while at the same time padding word counts and page lengths.

Clearly it is an effort to put Virgil in a bit of a bind. A notorious womanizer, Virgil has no chance of conquest with many of the female characters due to their lesbianism. In case the reader isn’t able to figure that fact out on his or her own, there are constant references to the situation and how difficult it must be for Virgil not to have a chance. Heterosexuality stands out in this novel and, of course, Virgil finds himself heavily attracted to the one character with an absent husband. The feeling is mutual because Virgil Flowers has that effect on all women—regardless of their sexual preference.

The Flowers series has never had the intensity of the “Prey” series books and that isn’t changed here. Virgil Flowers spends much of his time insulting various folks while conducting his investigation and chasing after the married woman when he isn’t investigating the crime. “Rough Country” is weaker than the previous Flowers series novels (Dark of the Moon” and “Heat Lightening”), and one wishes that John Sandford would get back to the hard hitting suspense of the early “Prey” novels. This one not only doesn’t do that trick, it doesn’t rise to the level of a mediocre Lucas Davenport novel. If, as some have said, the various series are now being written by his son, it is unfortunate for the authors as well as readers.

Rough Country
John Sandford
Center Point Publishing
Large Print Hardback
447 Pages

Large print version provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System. Reviewed copy is set in 16-point Times New Roman type.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reviewing: "The Night Monster: A Novel Of Suspense" by James Swain

Eighteen years ago, as a patrol officer, Jack Carpenter responded to an assault call at the Sunny Isle apartment complex. He made several mistakes that fateful day in 1992 and didn’t stop the abduction of Naomi Dunn. That event haunted and shaped his career with the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.

These days he is divorced, his daughter plays for the Lady Seminoles of Florida State Basketball team, and he has been booted off the police force leaving him free to run a business investigating missing persons. After single handily solving the latest child disappearance for his old unit (all members that he picked and trained and are frequently overwhelmed and call for his help despite the fact that he isn’t wanted around the department) his daughter asks for his help with a stalker problem. A creep is hanging around the team taking pictures and she is a bit rattled. That request leads to abduction and a chance to redeem himself regarding Naomi Dunn.

This latest in the Jack Carpenter series (“Midnight Rambler” and “Midnight Stalker”) features two brief appearances by the author’s signature and far more complex character Tony Valentine. Those brief appearances do little to help this book and come across more as author self indulgence more than anything. Despite the secondary title label of “a novel of suspense” there is very little suspense since it is clear from early on who the bad guys are. The read reminds one of a John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series novels of recent years in that the character depth is non-existent, the bad guys are known virtually from the start, and the whole point is action, followed by more action, and still more action in hopes the reader doesn’t notice how weak the plot is. While Davenport has his team and Jack Carpenter is a one man band, both characters thrive off of coincidence, making routine mistakes that shouldn’t happen, and continuing the chase far longer than it should have needed to go on.

That being said, while it isn’t a Tony Valentine novel, it does provide cotton candy escapist reading for however long it takes you to finish the book. Considering the state of the world and publishing these days that might be the new normal standard.

The Night Monster: A Novel of Suspense
James Swain
Ballantine Books (Random House Publishing Group)
September, 2009
ISBN# 978-0-345-51546-9
336 Pages

ARC for review was provided by the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reviewing: "Hell Hole: A John Ceepak Mystery" by Chris Grabenstein

It is another summer in Sea Haven and police officer Danny Boyle and John Ceepak soon are involved in another case. While the tourism industry in Sea Haven seems safe this time around, little else is including their own lives. It begins at a party at a local rental house with a disturbance call.

Ceepak is off duty and Boyle is out on patrol with part time summer cop Samantha Starky. At the house are five very drunk soldiers on leave from Iraq. It would have been six. But, Corporal Smith is dead up at the Exit 52 of the Garden State Parkway in the rest area restroom due to what appears to be a self inflicted gunshot to the head.

Something doesn’t sit right with Boyle at the scene so he takes a couple of pictures using his cell phone camera. After all, it is out of his jurisdiction and he doesn’t have a way of involving himself in the case. Ceepak takes a look at the cell phone pictures and quickly sees what was subconsciously bothering Boyle. Not only does he see what is wrong with the scene, he also sees a way to involve Boyle and Ceepak in the investigation. An investigation that quickly leads into the fog of war and the differences between Ceepak and other men who call themselves patriotic Americans.

Missing a lot of humor present early in the series, this is a harder edged novel in tone and subject natter. It plays off of recent news headlines from the last couple of years in disturbingly familiar ways for readers. Unlike earlier books in the series, this isn’t escapist reading. Instead, especially in the last stages of the book, there is a certain preaching tone of work that conflicts with earlier books in the series.
At the same time, some of this isn’t surprising because Danny Boyle has grown up quickly. He had seen more then a couple of dead bodies, been shot at, had the woman he loved leave town, along with a few other things. Besides that, he is partnered with John Ceepak who will never be confused with a class clown. So, it was some what inevitable there would be at least some tone shift in the series as Danny Boyle matured.

Fourth in the series, this installment written by Anthony Award winner Chris Graberstein is another good read. Different then earlier books, many of the same elements are still there, and the character growth continues at a steady pace. The result is a read that will keep you involved right to the end.

Hell Hole
Chris Grabenstein
Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Publishing Group)
June 2009
ISBN# 0-312-56561-5
290 Pages

Material provided directly by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: "Breathing Water" by Timothy Hallinan

The card game wasn’t supposed to be high stakes enough to attract the “Big Guy” but it did. A simple poker game undercover operation designed to net lower level casino cheats has drawn “Khun Pan” one of the richest men in Thailand. Offended, he isn’t one to just let things go. A deal is struck and Raffery gets Pan’s permission to write his autobiography. He wants to do it without interference from Pan. That is because, as the French writer Balzac pointed out long ago, behind every great fortune lays a great crime.

For Raffety interference in the form of increasingly violent threats toward himself and his family is all he gets. While Pan seems to be going along with the book project by giving him some controlled access to his life, others clearly are violently opposed to the idea. With his wife, Rose, and his adopted daughter, Miaow at stake along with his close friend police officer, Arthit feeling the pressure, Poke Rafferty walks a tight rope between opposing forces while he attempts to find the leverage to set everyone free.

Against a backdrop of race and economic conflict in Bangkok in particular and Thailand in general, Timothy Hallinan weaves a tale where the motives of the players seen and unseen aren’t very clear.

Third in the Poke Rafferty series, the novel brings the region to life in the way that only those who live there, as the author does, can do. The political and economic elements in the story are always present and quickly become a major character in the story.

That fact, coupled with plenty of action, intrigue and mystery creates a fast paced read. While it is third in the series and does cover a little of the back story familiar to series readers in the second half of the novel, it can be read as a stand alone if so desired. For once the promotional blurbs on the back of the book can be believed as this is a very good book.

Breathing Water
Timothy Hallinan
William Morrow (Harper Collins Publishers)
ISBN# 978-0-06-167223-1
Hardback (also available in paperback, audio, and e-book versions)
346 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

.: Harlequin - bad idea or good idea?

I rarely do this, but the fact that Harlequin is doing this shocked me. Ed Gorman offers .: Harlequin - bad idea or good idea?

Something writers, as well as readers, need to read. Be sure to take the time to read the comments as well.

I know what I think. What do you think?


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reviewing: "The Professional: A Spenser Novel" by Robert B. Parker

It begins, as many in this series do, in the classic way of a new client visiting the office of the private investigator. This October morning finds attorney Elizabeth Shaw at Spenser’s office. Referred to him by a mutual friend, Rita Fiore, she seeks Spenser’s help on behalf of a group of women who are being blackmailed.

It seems that a number of women have all been having an affair with a man by the mane of Gary Eisenhower. Things go well for varying periods of time and then he decides its time to cash in. He tells each one that he has proof of the adultery and will expose it unless they pay up. The women can’t afford to have it exposed publicly, or for their husbands to know, but can’t pay because their husband’s control the money needed to satisfy Eisenhower’s demands. What they want is for him to go quietly away and for Spenser to make it happen.

With limitations on what he will do and won’t do Spenser takes the case. Gary Eisenhower quickly proves to be an interesting man intent on keeping what is, for him at least, a good thing going. As the weeks pass and the sordid mess gets worse, Eisenhower begins to learn that there really can be too much of a good thing.

Formulaic and predictable, this is the usual Spenser type novel. Driven forward by dialogue and minimalistic descriptions, the case drags for months as things slowly deteriorate for the parties involved. Robert B. Parker ploughs no new ground for any of the major characters and that isn’t surprising. Much like Stuart Woods with his Stone Barrington character, Parker’s Spenser went two dimensional some time ago and that isn’t going to change. The same process seems to have attacked all of his characters as everyone in this book, good or bad, is a two dimensional and often stereotypical character.

That being said, this fast read will give the legions of Robert B. Parker fans exactly what they want and demand. There is no mistaking the fact that the author consistently delivers what a certain segment of the mystery reading community wants and from a business stand point that makes sense. Apparently there are legions of rabid readers who want light weight mystery fluff and they will surely love this latest effort. Those of us who like more substance to a read will be disappointed. The bottom line is that “The Professional” should be read by you for what it is. Expect nothing more and you too can be mindlessly happy.

The Professional: A Spenser Novel
Robert B. Parker
Thorndike Press
ISBN# 1-4104-1740-9
Large Print Hardback
331 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reviewing: "The Silent Hour: A Lincoln Perry Mystery" by Michael Kortya

“The Silent Hour: A Lincoln Perry Mystery” opens with Private Investigator Lincoln Perry working solo while his partner Joe Pritchard mends in Florida. Perry is receiving letters from Parker Harrison, convicted murder, who is seeking his help. When the letter campaign doesn’t work, Harrison comes in person. Simplifying greatly, Harrison wants Perry to find the woman who owned the home “Whisper Ridge” where Parker Harrison first stayed on his release from prison. The home was unique as were its owners, Alexandra and Joshua Cantrell. She disappeared along with her husband, twelve years ago, and Harrison wants her found for a variety of reasons.

Harrison wants an ending to the story. He says he wants to know what happened to her. He claims there wasn’t a romantic interest and yet, it comes across to Perry that something was going on between the two. Along with being able to get under Perry’s skin and push his buttons, Harrison has the ability not to tell all while saying he is telling all. He manages to pull Perry into the case, one agonizing step at a time, and once he is in, not let go for anything.

While the book jacket states that, “… Michal Koryta has crafted an intricate, lightning paced thriller, ratcheting up the tension as he explores just how dangerous the offer of a second chance can be.” I would disagree. Intricate---it certainly is. Thriller -- it isn’t. Nor would I agree with the idea that the book has a lightning pace. Instead, this slow moving mystery novel is primarily a psychological character study of Lincoln Perry. As befitting fitting a fourth book of a series, usually a major turning point for the primary character, Perry is at a major crossroads. Guilt and fear have rightfully so become increasing burdens and Perry spends much of this book in contemplation regarding the human costs of his actions. Such mental gymnastics heightens the tension considerably and strengthens the complexity while also making it very important for readers to have read this series in order starting with the Edgar nominated first novel, “Tonight I Said Goodbye.”

Such mental contemplation of the past does noting to make the novel either a thriller or lightning paced. The fact that the jacket copy is so obviously incorrect does nothing to disprove the notion that this is a very good book. As long time readers know, Michal Kortya writes complex novels full of deep storylines, action, and intricate plots that create storylines that carry over from book to book. “the Silent Hour: A Lincoln Perry Mystery” is yet more proof that if you aren’t reading this author, you are missing one of the big names these days and for some time to come.

The Silent Hour: A Lincoln Perry Mystery
Michael Kortya
Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Publishing Group)
August 2009
ISBN# 0-312-36157-0
311 Pages

Material received from the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sylvia Dickey Smith interviews John Floyd TODAY!

Today, November 16, at 6:PM central time, I will be interviewing John Floyd, editor of Wolfmont Publishing's annual Toys for Tots anthology, A GIFT OF MURDER. I invite you to listen in at:

And if you haven't gotten your copy in support of a worthy project, and a collection of great Christmas mystery stories, get yours now. John will tell you how to order yours tomorrow on the program.

Sylvia Dickey Smith Author
Sidra Smart mystery series

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Event: WGT Meeting 11-16-2009

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

Monday, 16 November 2009 7-8:30 p.m. Topic: Revision Hell in 14 Days Speaker: Candace "Candy" HavensRichardson Public Library900 Civic Center Dr.Richardson TX 75080Basement Room

Revisions can be hell at times, but there is a way to get through them. Candace will lead us through several steps, and provide ideas of things to look for as you revise and clean up your manuscript. In less than two weeks you could have a polished manuscript ready to send to agents and editors.

Candace "Candy" Havens is a best selling and award-winning author. Her novels include /Charmed & Dangerous/, /Charmed & Ready/, /Charmed & Deadly/, /Like A Charm,/ and /The Demon King and I/. She is known for writing strong female characters who save the world, but aren't exactly perfect. She is a two-time RITA, Write Touch Reader, and Holt Medallion finalist. She is also the winner of the Barbara Wilson award.
Candy is a nationally syndicated entertainment columnist for FYI Television. A veteran journalist, she has interviewed just about everyone in Hollywood from George Clooney and Orlando Bloom to Nicole Kidman and Kate Beckinsale. You can hear Candy weekly on 96.3 KSCS in the Dallas Fort Worth Area. Her popular online Writer's Workshop has more than 1000 students and provides free classes to professional and aspiring writers. Check out


The Guilded Pen

a social network developed for writers, offers an open forum that welcomes writers of all levels and writing mediums. Come join the fun. Create, develop, and promote your work. Get support and inspiration and share in an open, non-threatening environment. Be a resource for those looking for collaborators for joint works. Friends of the Writers’ Guild of Texas.

Kat Smith, Membership Chair, is developing a membership directory to help members find members with similar interests, etc. to partner for critique or support. The membership form will provide a clear picture of each member's profile. Take the opportunity to talk to her at the next meeting.


Pay annual 2010 WGT dues of $20.00 (not prorated) on 1 November 2009 or later so you can be a voting member by December 2009. This also makes you eligible to be a reader at the December Read-In.

All WGT events are free and open to the public. For information on the sponsoring organization, visit

* *_Monday, 21 December 2009_. Regular meeting: Annual WGT All-Stars Read-In* *and Election of WGT Board members. All are welcome; only paid-up members may read and vote.*
* *_Monday, 18 January 2010_. Regular meeting: TBA *

Writers' Events Calendar (contact to have your conferences, meetings, or other writing-related event listed here--no individual book signings, please): *
10-11 April 2010_, DFW Writers' Conference 2010! Grapevine, Texas.

Second Saturday each month: North Texas Speculative Fiction Workshop. http://www.ntsfw.com_

Visit for up-to-date information on Writer's League of Texas workshops held in Austin TX. Visit for guidelines to participate in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

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.

Permission to forward this email is not only granted, but encouraged. Let's get the word out to as many in the writing community as possible.

Carol Woods, Communications Writers' Guild of Texas


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Reviewing: "Killers" edited by Colin Harvey

Mysteries come in many forms. Sometimes they are straight forward and easy to figure out as the author hits all the expected points one by one. Like dominoes, each plot or storyline point is hit in turn and they fall in a story by the numbers precision. Other times, not at all because the author weaves complexity and misdirection into the tale in such a way to keep the readers guessing all the way to the end.

Then there are those books that don’t fit easily into categories while clearly containing some crime and mystery elements. Novels and stories that might be classified more in the horror, supernatural, fantasy, etc genres and yet also contain a few elements of crime and mystery. Tales and books that don’t easily fit into the classifications created by libraries and book stores because the stories cross genres. Such is the case here with this intriguing and often disturbing anthology edited by Colin Harvey. If the stories in the “Killers” anthology share anything beyond the basic genre elements, they also frequently feature characters questioning their own sanity. Or not, as the book opens.

The very disturbing story titled “Doctor Nine” written by the multi Bram Stoker award winning author Jonathan Maberry begins the eleven story anthology. A very hard to describe story that features a child responding to a telepathic call to commit murder. This story powerfully sets the tone of what most will follow in the book.

“Dead Wood” by Sarah Singleton, also a winner of awards including the 2005 Children of the Night Award, comes next. Long ago someone once wrote of the woods being dark and deep. Chris has his own issues with sleep and these woods will slowly give up their secrets one by one.

Philip J. Lees heads to the virtual world for his story “Virtual Analysis.” Listed last month as an honorable mention finalist for the Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Anthology, his tale tells of a plan to study the thought processes of a serial killer while he kills in a virtual world. Of course, things will go disastrously wrong- at least for some of the study participants. But why?

Multi award winning Bruce Holland Rogers contributes next with “Pushover.” Beware those that appear meek and naïve as not only can appearances be deceiving, they also have jobs to do.

“Beautiful Summer” by Eugie Foster works on the angle that the fashion world is always looking for a fresh new face. Nominated for numerous awards, her story is haunting as well as highly entertaining.

Editor Colin Harvey steps into the author shoes with his own story titled “Just Another Day.” Set in Iceland, this story has a feel of being ripped from the head lines type of read to it. More straight forward than most in the collection, it features a police officer trying to figure out who killed the woman he loved set against the backdrop of genetics and cloning research.

“Losing Paradise” by G. C. Veazey follows next in a tale set in a hospital ward. Virginia may work among the patients and staff, but she isn’t really one of them.

Mental health also plays a role in “Visibility Less Than Zero” by Paul Meloy. Mr. Meloy is a mental health nurse in Bury St. Edmunds and one gets the feeling that he is writing well of what he knows. A tale that shifts in points of view and explores the idea of whether anyone really knows if he or she is sane.

Charlie Allery uses computers and hackers in her very good story “Hunter-Killer.” While Philip J. Lees went one way with some of the same elements, Charlie Alley went a different way in her own cyber murder tale. Each is equally good in its own right and either vision or both could easily come true.

“Index Of An Enigma” by Gary Fry tells the tale of a professor making a lecture appearance a symposium. The problem is that he is haunted by what is real and what might not be real.

Bram Stoker Award winning author Lee Thomas closes out the anthology with “The Good and Gone.” A hospital is again the setting in this tale of a patient dealing with pain in a rather unique way.

Published by Swimming Kangaroo Books of Arlington, Texas, this 233 page anthology features stories that share a very wide brush stroke link of murder and crime. After that, they have little in common as they showcase different genre elements in tales that feature widely divergent writing styles and tastes, and reader accessibility. Difficult to review or categorize, the “Killers” anthology features no easy tales that are quick reads and forgettable. Instead, each very good tale manages to hint at far more than it explains and makes you think long after you close the book.

Edited By Colin Harvey
Swimming Kangaroo Books
September 2008
ISBN# 978-1-934041-66-6
233 Pages

Material provided by the publisher in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Barry's Reviews: "Lost Stories" by Dashiel Hammett (edited by Vince Emery)

LOST STORIES (2005) by Dashiell Hammett

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

This book is clearly a labor of love. Its editor, Vince Emery, is also the publisher, and he obviously took great pains to be sure the book was carefully designed and constructed.

It contains twenty-one stories—though in a handful of cases calling them stories rather than vignettes is stretching the point—not all of which are mystery/crime tales, the type of story for which Dashiell Hammett is most famous. Some display Hammett’s more “literary” side, harbingers of those aspects of his later work that readers and critics have seized upon to justify his “legitimacy” as a writer of substance and significance—as if any justification were needed! Some—e.g., “Laughing Masks”—are wonderful examples of pulp action/suspense stories. Many have not been seen since they first appeared in print. Others have been reprinted, but in abridged or extended versions, depending on the whims of presumptuous editors. Fred Dannay is mentioned more than once as being notorious for “editing”—which is to say trimming—the works of established authors he reprinted in Mystery League and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Perhaps the most intriguing point Emery makes is that Hammett became a writer from necessity rather than from compulsion. There was absolutely nothing in his past to indicate even the slightest literary inclination. That he was never a hack but rather a conscious craftsman who took pride in his work (as his fictional sleuths took pride in theirs) is further testament to his achievements. Despite Carroll John Daly’s preceding him into the pages of Black Mask by a matter of weeks, it is Hammett who genuinely deserves to be called the father of the hardboiled mystery* story, perhaps even of the truly American mystery story. Three-Gun Terry Mack and, subsequently, Race Williams, in Daly’s clumsy prose, brought a fanciful wild-west sensibility to urban settings, whereas Hammett’s carefully-wrought plots and prose rendered them more real and more believable.

Hammett’s importance as an influential Twentieth Century writer, as Emery points out, is undeniable. (A debate has apparently raged for years about who influenced whom, Hammett or Hemingway. I’ve long felt that in The Glass Key, which I consider his greatest novel, Hammett outdid Hemingway at his own game. According to the evidence Emery provides, Hammett published quite a number of short stories before Hemingway arrived on the scene.) Like Raymond Chandler, whom I’d also nominate as a major influence on many of his contemporaries and successors—originators and imitators alike—both in and out of the mystery field, Hammett’s style and vision has had a profound effect on writers in America and around the world.

Lost Stories is highly recommended.

*I use the term mystery here in its broadest sense, since not all of Hammett’s crime tales contained fairly-clued puzzles.

Barry Ergang © 2009

Former Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and current First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, Barry Ergang's work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. He was a 2007 Derringer Award winner.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

to all who are into Halloween and being scared.

I'm not.

Fear is something I deal with a lot. As part of that, fear regarding my own writing is a major issue. So, submitting something to my local writer's group always makes me a nervous wreck before and after our meeting. With considerable unease, I submitted another somewhat weird story of mine for today's meeting.

General consensus of the folks that were able to attend was that the story worked. Needs a little work primarily in the area of dialogue and conflict between the two major characters. But, overall the piece has a good nucleus and hangs together well.

I also got an idea from them on how to bridge the vast middle on the novel project.

So, all in all, it was a pretty good meeting though I wasn't able to offer much advice their way on their projects. And so it goes......

Sunday, October 25, 2009

News and Notes for October 25, 2009

Interesting reading seen elsewhere:

1) E-books and libraries

2) A lack of respect for sci-fi authors

Just stuff I found interesting and informative.

On a separate note—finished my latest story effort about an hour ago and sent it off to my local writer’s group. Will found out next Saturday how it went over as if dealing with Halloween isn’t enough.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: "The Gift of Murder" Compiled and Edited by John M. Floyd

For the fourth consecutive year, Wolfmont Press has released an anthology designed to raise money for the “Toys for Tots” program. Edited by John M. Floyd, this year’s anthology is made up of many familiar names to anyone who reads short mystery fiction and novels. Austin Camacho Bill Crider, Earl Staggs, Randy Rawls, Deborah Elliot-Upton and the other usual suspects are also familiar to readers who participate in the various online writing groups. Just reading the author names involved should tell you that the content of the book is going to be good.

The anthology opens with “The Seven Dollar Clue” by J.F. Benedetto. Private Eye Mark Sauer doesn’t want to be a murder victim the week before Christmas. But, when Madame Zhu Li, head of the Jade Dragon Criminal Triad in New York’s Chinatown, wants to see him and won’t take no for an answer, he worries this could be his final dinner.

“Red Christmas” by Stefanie Lazer follows next in a tale about just how far a parent has to go to get the right toys for Christmas.

Written from the perspective of a child, the story, “The Christmas Caper” by Stephen D. Rogers tells what a child will do to get the toy he must have at nearly all costs.

“Twas The Night” by Anita Page brings the ongoing economic crisis into focus for a recent layoff victim. Having retreated to his cabin after his job and his marriage crashed, the narrator becomes involved in a local disappearance.

If you haven’t read the Ace Edwards, Dallas Private Investigator series by Randy Rawls you are really missing out. For this anthology, there is a prequel of sorts to the series via the tale “Jingle Bell, S. I.” Beyond explaining a little early history, the tale is silly and light hearted and reflects the occasional mood of the series.

“Caught On Christmas Eve” by Earl Staggs has more than a couple of twists in this shoplifting tale. I had the pleasure of reading this story in advance a few months ago since Earl and I are both in the same local writer’s group and I knew then it was a winner.

“The Gift Of The Margi” by Peg Herring proves that, in the end, during the holiday season sometimes family is all you can count on.

Deborah Elliott-Upton crafted a rather disturbing story with her “An Unexpected Gift.” Impossible to describe without ruining it for readers, I can safely say this one surprised me. It also proved to be a harbinger of several darker in tone stories in this anthology.

Known primarily for his excellent Sheriff Dan Rhodes series, Bill Crider is writing of werewolves again in “The Werewolf’s Christmas.” Imagine the holidays with a full moon and you are a werewolf. A guarantee of trouble on the home front.

“Yule Be Sorry” by Carolyn J. Rose shows just how mad a woman can be when she thinks her husband is cheating on her.

In a nod to her excellent novel “Death Will Get You Sober” released last year author Elizabeth Zelvin brings back Bruce, Jimmy and Barbara in a quick little holiday tale. Recovering alcoholic Bruce manages to help with a murder case and still make a quick run to the store in “Death Will Trim Your Tree.”

Everyone has relatives they don’t care for. Gwen seems to have more than her share in “The Worst Noel” written by Barb Goffman. Enough is enough and she finally does something about the issue in this disturbing tale.

The Hannibal Jones series of novels written by Austin S. Camacho are quite good. It isn’t any surprise that the tale “No Place To Spend Christmas” involves Hannibal and his latest case.

The media constantly warns folks to beware of strangers trying to help you during the holiday season. Elmer finds out why in “One Good Turn” by Steve Shrott.

I’m not sure what the folks at Amazon will think if they read “The Kindle Did It” by Gail Farrelly. I am pretty sure I don’t want a Kindle anymore.

For a police detective the late night phone call, especially during the holiday season, can mean only one thing. Ben Barker isn’t thrilled when he is summoned in “An Inconvenient Killing” written by Herschel Cozine and isn’t going to like what he finds in this disturbing tale.

Detective Julie Garcia of Cottonwood, Arizona finally gets a chance to deliver the ultimate Christmas gift in “The Gift Of Christmas past” by Kris Neri.

The final story is the “Sprit of Spadena Street” by Marian Allen. When a neighbor is mugged during the holidays, it is time for the other residents to rally around and find the perpetrators.

268 pages including author bios, the anthology features a variety of writing styles and tones along with a variety of crimes during the holiday season. From the lighthearted type of stories typically seen in these anthologies in years past to the dark and disturbing ones included this year there is something for nearly every reader. John M. Floyd is to be commended for expanding the scope of the anthology this year to stories that probably would not have made the cut in past years. Unlike past anthologies, silly cleverness and puns regarding the crimes and events during the holiday season were kept to a bare minimum. Readers who prefer syrupy silliness might be disappointed, but those who prefer a harder edge, even during the holiday season, won’t be disappointed with this good anthology.

As in past years, sale proceeds after publishing costs will be donated by Wolfmont Press owner and publisher Tony Burton to the “Toys for Tots” campaign.

The Gift of Murder: An Anthology of Holiday Crime Stories to Benefit Toys for Tots
Compiled and Edited by John M. Floyd
Wolfmont Press
October 2009
ISBN# 978-1-60364-010-7
Paperback (also available in e-book form)
268 Pages (including 4 pages of author bios)

Material provided by Tony Burton in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reviewing: "Quick-Stitch Crochet" Edited by Judy Crow

Designed for speed, this 2008 release is aimed for folks who want time saving designs. As editor Judy Crow notes in her welcome on page three, “With societies busy schedules, today crafters are looking for fast, simple projects with great end results. The designs in this book are ideal for the crafter on the go!”

The book is broken into five sections with the first titled “Around the House” and features sixteen various designs for different unique items. Whether it is the “Hot Pot Mates” on page 8, or the “TV Time Accessories” (found on page 26) to hold your various remotes, or the “Candle Mat Doily” on page 38, each design is simple and features plenty of directions, list of materials needed, finished measurements and photographs of the finished item.

The second section is aimed at the kids with the title “Little Ones.” Beginning on page 46 with “Bootie Bouquet” to make a very unique baby shower gift and culminating on page 68 with the “Baby Shells Afghan” the focus is on babies. In between, there are ten other patterns for baby items sure to please both baby and mom.

“Gifts to Share” is the third section and has something for almost anyone. How many crochet books, for example, feature designs for “Oxygen tank covers.” This book does beginning on page 90. The various “bookmarks” starting on page 108 are pretty neat too. This section features another twelve designs meaning there should be something to make and give that personal touch for any friend or member of the family this holiday season.

With cooler weather moving in, there is still time to create some “Afghan Beauty.” This fourth section of the book of the book begins on page 120 and is all about blankets. Find the pattern, pick your colors and get to work using any one of the twelve patterns included. Make sure to look at the beautiful “sand and sea” on page 131.

By now you have accessorized your home, made something for others, and a blanket so it is time for some personal fashion flair. “Fashionable Accessories” begins on page 148 with “Easy Tie Wrap” before moving on to the “Winter Royal Set” on page 156 (matching gloves, hat, and scarf) and “Slippers For The Family “on page 166 with nine other possible choices of things to make to set the style this fall and winter.

The book ends with a very short two pages on general instructions regarding symbols and techniques and a one page “special thanks” to various artists and designers. No matter what design you are looking at in this book, each one is simple and comes with plenty of detailed directions, list of materials needed, the finished measurements of the project and pictures of the finished item so that you can evaluate what you have made very step of the way. Filled with over sixty colorful patterns, this 176 page book would make a great gift to yourself or the crocheter you know.

Quick-Stitch Crochet
Edited by Judy Crow
DRG Books
ISBN# 978-1-57367-295-5
176 Pages

Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reviewing: "Whack A Mole: A John Ceepak Mystery" by Chris Grabenstein

It is summer again on Sea Haven, NJ and things start innocently enough. Danny Boyle is now a full time police officer and remains partnered with John Ceepak. As Ceepak finds romance, Danny’s babe, Kate has left and moved to California. With Katie gone, Danny is coping as best he can, often finding just something to do to occupy himself. Such is the idea to go with Ceepak on their day off to return a ring that Ceepak found in the sand while using his metal detector.

The ring at some time belonged to a Brian Kladko who graduated from P. J. Johnson High School in Edison back in 1983. Danny and Ceepak meet the owner of the ring who says he gave it to a Lisa Franco who was his girlfriend at the time. She disappeared back in the summer of 1983 and Brian Kladko never got a chance to ask for it back. He may have moved on with a wife and kids, but it becomes clear very quickly that Lisa might have died that summer.

Quickly, like some demented game of whack a mole, clues begin to pop up all over the island, primarily in the sand. As the town leadership tries desperately to keep the media ignorant, Ceepak and Boyle attempt to stop a madman from killing again.

Third in the mystery series after “Tilt A Whirl” and “Mad Mouse” this book continues the slow shift for Danny from wide eyed kid playing cop to a compete police officer. As he shifts, so too does Ceepak who is becoming less isolated as a romantic relationship begins blossom. Fortunately, while the characters may evolve some, rock steady is Ceepak's code and Danny’s faith in Ceepak.

As in the early novels of the series, “Whack A Mole” is set in the present tense. It features plenty of action, humor and clues to keep the seasoned mystery reader entertained and guessing right to the end. There is a reason author Chris Grabenstein has won the Anthony award and others-- good mystery stories.

Whack A Mole: A John Ceepak Mystery
Chris Grabenstein
Carol & Graf (Avalon Publishing Group, Inc.)
ISBN# 0-7867-1818-8
310 Pages

Material provided directly by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reviewing: "Fire And Ice: A Beaumont And Brady Novel" by J. A. Jance

For J. P. Beaumont of the Washington State Attorney General’s Special Homicide Investigation Team, the latest body might be the break in the case they have needed. Up until now the charred remains of several young Hispanic women have been missing their teeth making identification impossible. The latest body found in the melting snow near Ellensburg matches the other cases except for the fact that this body has her teeth. The fact that she still has them gives J. P. Beaumont and the team a way of identifying her and working the case.

Sheriff Joanna Brady of Cochise County, Arizona has a puzzling case of her own at a local all terrain vehicle campground. The caretaker is dead in what at first appears to have been an accident, but was actually murder. With his dog as the only witness and nearly worthless surveillance equipment, the case isn’t going to go any where fast. That is until J. P. Beaumont comes back to Cochise County pursing leads in his case, the DEA gets involved, and human nature in the form of vengeance rears its ugly head, among other things.

Shifting in viewpoint between J. P. Beaumont, Joanna Brady, and others, the novel works its way to a satisfying conclusion. While that works, what doesn’t work so well for the reader is the fact that frequently the povs of Sheriff Brady and Investigator Beaumont are placed together in the same chapter with little used to mark the differences between them. Gone are the days found in the early Beaumont books of his very own distinctive style. As the read makes clear, these days the main style or voice is with the Brady character with Beaumont coming across more and more like Brady.

Despite the quibble, overall the read is a good one. J. A. Jance seems to be following the herd of highly successful authors who have forced two of their signature characters together in the same novel. Ostensibly, it is a marketing ploy that is used to introduce readers to characters they nay not have read before. The results are often mixed from a reader perspective but in this case it seems to have worked fairly well.

Fire And Ice: A Beaumont And Brady Novel
J. A. Jance
William Morrow (Harper Collins Publishers)
338 Pages

Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

As seen in the new GILA QUEEN

If you aren't reading the Gila Queen to stay up to date with the markets, you are making a big mistake. Kathy put out a call looking for somebody to take a free ad and I got very lucky. Below is the ad running in the new issue:


Carpathian Shadows Volume 2

Deep in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, in Transylvania, lays a castle once home to a nobleman who warred with the church, bound his servants with a curse of silence, and ruled his lands with a grip of iron. Lord John Erdely has been dead for centuries and his castle is now a haven for tourists. Or so, at least, is the claim. Under the editorial direction of Lea Schizas, six authors tell what happens to these tourists.

$3.99 and available in HTML, Adobe Acrobat PDF, Mobipocket, eReader, ePub, Sony Reader LRF, and Microsoft Reader (zipped) formats.

It is also available through Amazon for the Kindle.

Available at Amazon in paperback as well, it can also be purchased directly from Kevin R. Tipple in paperback form for the very low price of $10, which includes media rate shipping. Buyers can contact Kevin through his Web site: .

Now, how cool is that?


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reviewing: "Treasure of Eden" by S. L. Linnea

In late March, 1954, two cousins found a cave in the Judean desert, west of the Dead Sea. Bedouins, the teen boys, believed the cave to be full of treasure. The boys knew of a promise made by the sheikh that whoever brought back home treasures of antiquity would get to go with the sheikh on the next Hajj. The cave wasn’t full of treasure, but it did contain one small box that is priceless.

The box and the situation of the discovery ultimately created a scenario where one cousin lived and one died. That box has given the survivor both power and heartbreak. Held by the cousin for years as he ascended to power, he finally sees no other option but to sell it in late January, 2007. Of course, in the age of the Internet, the only way to sell it is obviously to put it up for auction on eBay where it quickly comes to the attention of various parties around the globe. However, the cousin soon has a big problem as the item is no longer in his possession and losing it could have dire consequences.

Among others, that box is vital to the operatives of Eden which includes United States Military Chaplin Jamie Richards. Back in Iraq and still working as an Army Chaplin, she has powerful friends and allies both in the real world and the hidden “Eden” world. She also has powerful enemies that also want the ancient box. An ancient box that may hold the actual written details of what Jesus said would be best in terms of society, markets and other issues.

This final installment of the trilogy brings the series to a close and satisfactorily wraps up a number of over arching story threads. Once again there are an excessive number of characters as the authors emulate epic thriller novels while not grasping the concept that secondary characters must have an impact on the overall storyline to have a purpose other that padding word counts. There remains the annoying tendency to bury the small parts of good stuff in a noise of unnecessary fluff. The authors, Sharon Linnea and B. K. Sterer, who together are writing under the name of S. L. Linnea, still refuse to understand that that there is a fine line between providing a rich read and preaching to the readers whether it is religious theory, economic theory, or some other social point. When the tale stops dead for page after page to make some sort of societal point, the authors lose their audience. A book purported to be a thriller should never bore the reader and this one frequently does, despite the raves by some and the promotional copy hype.

Still, for those fans of the series and there are many, this final installment will give them exactly what they want as the ongoing characters have not evolved at all over the several years of the series. Book three follows the same tried and true formula of the invincible Jamie Richards, compassionate, smart and so incredibly talented as she battles against forces of evil and misguided zealots to save the planet from the latest problem. The perfect comic book heroine, she can survive anything and find love along the way.

For those new to the series, this might be the best book to read as it rehashes concisely the first two books and tells a story slightly better than them.

Seasoned readers may wish to take a pass on this book as many of us have seen the same ideas done by many others in so many better ways.

Treasure of Eden
S. L. Linnea
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
ISBN# 0-312-94216-8
October 2008
Paperback ARC

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

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Milton Burton's Latest Story

If you haven’t read Milton Burton before you are really missing out. Not only has he written two excellent novels,

“The Rogues' Game” and

“The Sweet And The Dead,” he has written quite a few short stories. He has some of them up on his blog found at The latest one is more of a time traveling piece, but he has a number of Texas based mysteries on there.

Take a look and if you like them, I am pretty sure you will like the novels as well. I highly recommend them.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reviewing: "The Dark Horse: A Walt Longmire Mystery" by Craig Johnson

Having won the 2009 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for the preceding novel in the series, “Another Man’s moccasins,” Craig Johnson makes the fifth installment another interesting read. Wade Basard, a wealthy rancher in Campbell County, Wyoming approximately ten days ago as the novel opens. Mid October finds Mary Basard being brought to Sheriff Longmire for holding until her murder trial back in Gillette in Campbell County in three weeks. Holding prisoners for overcrowd jails is a way for Sheriff Longmire to help his budget in Absaroka County and to use the often vacant space.

In this case, it also gives him something to do since his daughter Cady went back to Philadelphia just after Labor Day. Already feeling depressed over that, the with drawn Mary Basard brings out the father in him. Accused of shooting her husband six times in the head as he lay on the bed and then setting the house on fire , she has confessed and refuses to say much or eat. But, Walt Longmire thinks she is covering for the real killer and before long goes undercover in Campbell County to find out what actually happened.

This novel is told through twin storylines. One storyline concerns the present day undercover investigation. The second storyline features events of ten days earlier and up until the current storyline. Both storylines are present in each chapter and separated by time and date stamps to clarify what is happening when. Both storylines are present from the beginning of the book until the flashback storyline is dropped for the last sixty pages.

The result of that creates a somewhat chaotic read as the novel jerks back and forth in time upsetting the flow of the story. Despite that issue which will vary in severity depending on reader preference, the latest novel features another entertaining read. This is somewhat of a crossroads novel for Sheriff Longmire whose daughter Cady is about to possibly embark on a major life change , his interest in deputy Vic remains, and he faces reelection against strong opposition from Da Kyle Straub and his slogan “ a man to make a difference.”

If you haven’t read Craig Johnson’s stuff before, start in the beginning with “The Cold Dish.” Sure, you can start with “The Dark Horse” but the characters in his books evolve over the course of several novels. They come to life , grow and change, which along with good stories, humor, and plenty of action , make this series not only award winning but worth reading.

The Dark Horse: A Walt Longmire Mystery
Craig Johnson
Viking (Penguin Group USA, Inc.)
ISBN# 978-0-670-02087-4
318 Pages

Book provided by the author in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reviewing: "Blood Lines: A Novel" by Kathryn Casey

It has been nearly a year since the events depicted in “Singularity” and only now is Lieutenant Sarah Armstrong somewhat ready to return to work as a criminal profiler for the legendary law enforcement organization Texas Rangers. Her time at the ranch outside of Houston, Texas with her Mom, her daughter Maggie and the horses has helped her a lot and she is ready to work again if Mom and Maggie are okay with it.

She certainly is needed at work. Not only is there a case of a suicide that is just too perfect, teenage pop star Cassidy Collins is coming to Texas to do some shows. Coming with her and very much unwanted is the stalker who is terrorizing her and threatening to kill her. Known as “Argus” he seems to always know what she is doing on stage and off and has inserted himself into her life at every turn. He seems determined to end the harassment by killing her and appears unstoppable as he has, among other things, taken over her communications systems at concerts.

Fortunately for Cassidy, Sarah is back on the job and has help from FBI agent David Garrity. A former romantic love interest, he provides a compelling back story as does life on the ranch in another storyline with a medical crisis for one of their beloved horses.

“Blood Lines: A Mystery” is a much stronger second novel than the first book. Author Kathryn Casey made family and characters alive in the first novel and builds on those in this second book. In this series, people change and grow over time unlike the characters in some other series. In that way, the novel mirrors real life and the continuing characters easily come alive for the reader.

Believability regarding Sarah being a Texas Ranger was an issue with the first book which failed to deliver real behind the scenes details or sense that Sarah was an actual Texas Ranger. Billed as a “police procedural” by some reviewers, it really wasn’t and it never rang authentic in that area. While the Texas Rangers and law enforcement in general remains a key theme in the book, which some reviewers are also insisting it is a police procedural when it clearly isn’t, that area is secondary to the relationships between characters and understanding why folks act the way they do. Character development and interaction is clearly the author’s forte and when she focuses on that the novel rolls forward at a steady enjoyable pace.

Despite being predictable in a couple of spots for seasoned mystery readers, overall, the read is a good book with two compelling mystery cases that provide plenty of action, investigation and drama. While it can be read as a stand alone, reading the first novel will allow readers to experience both the growth of the characters as well as the fiction skills of the author.

Blood Lines: A Mystery
Kathryn Casey
Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Publishing Group)
ISBN# 0-312-37951-X
294 Pages

Material provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library system. I also recieved the first novel through the library system.

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009