Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reviewing: "Many A River" by Elmer Kelton



1855 in the area of Texas around Weatherford frequently saw Indian attacks on travelers and settlers. The Barfield family is passing through the area having left Arkansas for hopefully a better life in Texas. Mr. Alexander Barfield is driven to find a better spot than the last spot they passed even though the rest of the family thinks they have passed several very good spots. He's ready to go again just as soon eight-year-old Jeffrey brings the family dog, Brownie, back to the wagon.

The fact that the dog ran away and had to be found saved Jeffery's young life.

Jeffery hides as his mom and dad are killed and his five year old brother Todd is taken away. Unable to defend them as he is weaponless, he is left to bury the dead and mourn. Soon, a posse chasing the Indian finds him and helps him finish the task which soon includes burying his brother. Then the posse will take him and help him start a new life somewhere else as the last member of his family.

While Jeffrey believes his brother is dead it was, in fact, another captive boy that was killed and buried in Todd's place. Todd is very much alive and in the custody of an Indian raiding party. Prisoner of the Commanaches, he might be indoctrinated into the tribe or more likely he will be traded to the Mexican traders, sometime soon for whatever they can get. Whatever his fate, life as he knew it is over and he faces a struggle just to survive.

Against the backdrop of the years preceding the coming Civil War to its furious beginnings, the boys on separate life paths survive amid the harsh realities. They will be reunited again but have many dusty miles to travel and many rivers to cross with much to overcome in a land where human life has little value.

Rich in Texas culture and history, author Elmer Kelton showcases again why he has won the "Spur Award" seven times. Though the jacket copy as well as this review gives away the fact the boys will be reunited, the getting there provides a very suspenseful journey. That along with complex characters, plenty of cultural descriptions and commentary as seen through the characters, and authentic story lines make this another very enjoyable read.

As does the history the book includes. Not only does it relate some of the history of the brutality of Union Major Chivington (who was a real piece of work), it also relates the brutal battle at Glorieta Pass in 1862. In this novel, as is often the case in real life, those going into the start of an armed conflict have a much different perspective of the future then when they come out. One thing that has always struck me is how many on both sides thought the Civil War would be brief and over quickly. How wrong they were has been proven by history then and many times with other wars since then. War comes alive for the reader in this novel in a way that few books achieve. So too do the years leading up to the war which found Texas and the surrounding areas an often brutally violent place where life, regardless of gender or ancestry, was very cheap.


Many A River
Elmer Kelton
Forge/Tom Doherty Associates
http://www.tor-forge.com
June 2008
ISBN# 0-7653-2050-9
Hardback (paperback is releasing March 31, 2009)
335 Pages
$27.95


This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano Texas Public Library System. The library system is faced with a proposed budgetary cutback of over 1 million dollars according to local news reports. Support your local library system!



Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Reviewing: "A Ghost Of A Chance" by Bill Crider



This tenth in the series opens with concerns by some that the Blacklin County Jail is haunted. Sheriff Rhodes doesn't believe it but, as the Dispatcher Hank Jensen points out, the guys back in the cells believe "and that's all that matters." (Page 1) Rhodes doesn't believe much in computers either though he does admit that occasionally they do help a little bit.

It's only fitting on a dark and stormy day and with talk of ghosts that Sheriff Rhodes gets called out to the cemetery. Clyde Ballinger has called in to report a dead man in one of the graves at the cemetery. The grave had been opened for Travis McCoy and the burial is planned for later in the day. But, the man in the open grave is Ty Berry who had been the President of the Clearview Sons and Daughters of Texas. The group was devoted to the preservation of the history of the city of Clearview and Blacklin County and frequently found itself at odds with the local citizenry on one issue or another. Preserving the past costs money and a lot of folks simply don't care about history or the past.

Recently somebody has been looting the twelve cemeteries in the county and Ty Berry was organizing volunteer patrols, pushing commissioners for security for the cemeteries, and lots of other things that annoyed some folks. Shot dead and dumped in the open grave, his murder is going to cause political repercussions for Rhodes. He is going to have to talk to people who aren't going to want to deal with the messy issue of murder because it is so beneath their station in life while others either hated the man or just didn't care and don't have the time or patience to be bothered.

Then there is the pesky problem that the motorcycles are back. People are reporting the rumbling of tail pipes which in all likelihood means one thing – Rapper is back.


Weaving these threads and others author Bill Crider creates another solid entry in the Sheriff Rhodes series. No character development or evolution of the main or secondary characters happens in this cozy style novel. And no forensics of the style they do on television in a splashy forty-five minutes. No, this book and the series as a whole is old fashioned police work where the guilty are usually caught by way of a web of lies.

Progress may have come to the East Texas County in the form of Wal-Mart and downtown Clearview might be dying because of it, but the police work is old school investigation led by Sheriff Rhodes. Rhodes digs into the case by frequently asking questions of characters we have seen many times before in other books in the series, poking around crime scenes and elsewhere, and knowing folks. Some live, some die, and progress continues to whittle away at the Clearview of Rhodes youth and yet he continues on dealing with just the things he can control and trying not to worry about the things he can't. There is a lesson in all that along with another good story in a series that is steadily good book after book.


A Ghost Of A Chance: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
http://www.billcrider.com/
Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Minotaur)
http://www.minotaurbooks.com/
July 2000
ISBN# 0-312-20889-8
Hardback
263 Pages


This material was obtained through the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

"By The Light Of The Moon"
The Carpathian Shadows Volume 2
Print or E-book

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reviewing: "Hawai'i: The Big Island" (Lonely Planet Travel Guide)

You may have heard that the Left Coast Crime Convention next month is in Hawaii. Going is out of the question for me, as much as I would like to do so, unless the Texas Lottery folks manage to select my numbers very soon. They have resisted all my efforts for years so I don't have much hope of that happening. In the meantime, all I can do is dream and look at the occasional travel book such as this one released by "Lonely Planet."



Like their other books, this one opens with a short chapter that is basically a "best of" whatever the location is chapter. For this book, it is the "Best Big Island Experiences." Suggestions for things such as the best scenic drive "Kohala Mountain Road" and the best multipurpose beach "Hapuna Beach" along with the best short hike "Pololu Valley" and numerous other best things and best places are listed. In each case there is a color photo, a very short description and a page number that will take readers to the longer listing and explanation found elsewhere in the book.

"Island Itineraries" begins on page eighteen with suggestions for various mileage lengths or days available for exploration of the big island. Color maps are included and there are references to the additional itineraries at the start of each regional section that are in more depth.

The third chapter is on "Outdoor Activities & Adventures." It covers where you can do what in alphabetical format. From "at sea" to "yoga" the book has got you covered with locations, types of activities, plenty of information and as always plenty of color photographs.

This leads to a ten page chapter on "Green Big Island." Environmental issues are important on the islands and this is where readers learn about steps being taken, options available, and what can be done by tourists and others to protect the fragile environment of the islands.

Beginning with page fifty-one, the book is divided into regional sections. "Kailua-Kona" begins this part of the guide book with a brief history on the culture, some maps, and suggested tours and things to do. This same format is used throughout the regional parts which are labeled as "Kona Coast" (page 79), "Kohala & Waimea" (page 103), Mauna Kea & Saddle Road" (page 137) "Hamakua Coast" (page 151) "Puna" (page 191), Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park" (page 205) and Ka'u (page 229). I am very interested in parks and the section in this book is detailed text wise but could have really used more pictures. The pictures used are often rather small and hard to see detail wise.

Short chapters on the "Big Island Myths and Legends" (which was very weak) "History & Culture" of the area, foods, "Festivals & Events" and planning your trip are near the end of the book. A directory of resources and general information along with an eight page index close out the travel guide.

Comprehensive and flashy, this book certainly creates the impression that it is outlining all the usual places and things and not covering real hidden gems that many tourists don't know about. Additionally, as in other "Lonely Planet" travel guides the type face is extremely small and as such is very hard to read. Both could be addressed simply by expanding the book somewhat. That won't solve the language issues some reviewers have with these books (a concern I don't share), but it would make them easier to read.

Despite those points, this is a good book. Written by Luci Yamamoto and Conner Gorry, this travel guide is a colorful and highly informative book sure to help you plan and enjoy your trip. It may not be the only book you want for the trip but it certainly is a strong start.

Hawai'i: The Big Island
by Luci Yamamoto and Conner Gorry
Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
September 2008
ISBN# 9781741047158
Paperback
304 Pages
$19.99


As a member of the Amazon Vine Program this material was provided to me in exchange for my objective review.


Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reviewing: "A Ghost Of A Chance: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery" by Bill Crider



This tenth in the series opens with concerns by some that the Blacklin County Jail is haunted. Sheriff Rhodes doesn't believe it but, as the Dispatcher Hank Jensen points out, the guys back in the cells believe "and that's all that matters." (Page 1) Rhodes doesn't believe much in computers either though he does admit that occasionally they do help a little bit.

It's only fitting on a dark and stormy day and with talk of ghosts that Sheriff Rhodes gets called out to the cemetery. Clyde Ballinger has called in to report a dead man in one of the graves at the cemetery. The grave had been opened for Travis McCoy and the burial is planned for later in the day. But, the man in the open grave is Ty Berry who had been the President of the Clearview Sons and Daughters of Texas. The group was devoted to the preservation of the history of the city of Clearview and Blacklin County and frequently found itself at odds with the local citizenry on one issue or another. Preserving the past costs money and a lot of folks simply don't care about history or the past.

Recently somebody has been looting the twelve cemeteries in the county and Ty Berry was organizing volunteer patrols, pushing commissioners for security for the cemeteries, and lots of other things that annoyed some folks. Shot dead and dumped in the open grave, his murder is going to cause political repercussions for Rhodes. He is going to have to talk to people who aren't going to want to deal with the messy issue of murder because it is so beneath their station in life while others either hated the man or just didn't care and don't have the time or patience to be bothered.

Then there is the pesky problem that the motorcycles are back. People are reporting the rumbling of tail pipes which in all likelihood means one thing – Rapper is back.


Weaving these threads and others author Bill Crider creates another solid entry in the Sheriff Rhodes series. No character development or evolution of the main or secondary characters happens in this cozy style novel. And no forensics of the style they do on television in a splashy forty-five minutes. No, this book and the series as a whole is old fashioned police work where the guilty are usually caught by way of a web of lies.

Progress may have come to the East Texas County in the form of Wal-Mart and downtown Clearview might be dying because of it, but the police work is old school investigation led by Sheriff Rhodes. Rhodes digs into the case by frequently asking questions of characters we have seen many times before in other books in the series, poking around crime scenes and elsewhere, and knowing folks. Some live, some die, and progress continues to whittle away at the Clearview of Rhodes youth and yet he continues on dealing with just the things he can control and trying not to worry about the things he can't. There is a lesson in all that along with another good story in a series that is steadily good book after book.


A Ghost Of A Chance: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
http://www.billcrider.com/
Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Minotaur)
http://www.minotaurbooks.com/
July 2000
ISBN# 0-312-20889-8
Hardback
263 Pages


This material was obtained through the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

"By The Light Of The Moon"
The Carpathian Shadows Volume 2
Print or E-book

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reviewing: "Death By Accident" by Bill Crider

Clearview and the surrounding Blacklin County, Texas have seen their share of weird events and murders over the years. Sheriff Dan Rhodes has dealt with both over the years. In every case a rational explanation has eventually surfaced.

It's November and repercussions of events in Winning Can Be Murder are still felt by many including Rhodes. So too is his age because more and more the county is changing and not for the better. Back when Rhodes was a heck of a lot younger, he swam in the swimming pools on the Old Settler's Grounds. Fed by the river the pools had been a great place to cool off. As the years past, the pools fell into disrepair and nobody is supposed to be swimming in them any more. Technically, the man floating in one of the pools isn't swimming, as he is dead.

It looks like a freak accident and nothing more thanks to the rope and the busted limb from the tree adjoining the pool. It certainly appears that the man, no doubt drunk, was swinging on the rope over the pool when the limb snapped. The limb hit the man in the head and either knocked him out so that he drowned in the water or outright killed him. The dead man, Peter Yeldell, has been in trouble of one type or another for years and alcohol was usually involved. So the whole deal makes sense in a weird way.

But, Yeldell's death would be the second freak accident in two weeks. The first was John West. He literally exploded on a country road of Clearview around 2 in the morning in a bizarre accident.

That death was bugging Rhodes and now he has this accidental death. In typical Rhodes fashion, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Rhodes starts asking questions and poking around. Before long he finds more questions than answers and manages to get himself in trouble yet again.

Ninth in the series, this novel sheds no new light on the character or those around him. His daughter Susan is still a no show character having vanished early on, Rhodes still doesn't trust computers, loves Dr. Pepper and is tolerant despite grumbling of his wife's attempts to make him eat healthier. And he still doesn't call for back up and walks into situations that clearly by now he should have learned it would be a good idea at the very least to unholster his weapon.

Despite those quirks that some readers will question, Rhodes maintains a steady hand and comfortable feeling for the reader. Bill Crider's focus is always the latest fiasco in the county as well as the latest crime/murder and spends most of his story telling energy in that direction. Therefore, readers who want to see major character development and bloodbath every few pages or novels may wish to look elsewhere. Those who must wallow in the mind of the evil serial killer every other chapter should go elsewhere as well because Crider doesn't do clich├ęd. What he does and does very well is create interesting characters in real life you would be happy to know and call friends while telling a tale focused on the mystery and not the forensics. This is another solid good book in the series that hasn't produced a bad one yet.

Death By Accident
Bill Crider
http://www.billcrider.com/
Wheeler Publishing (Gale/Thorndike)
http://www.gale.cengage.com/thorndike/
1998
ISBN# 1-56895-663-0
233 Pages
Large Print Version


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


Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

(Reviews coming soon-- A Ghost Of A Chance by Bill Crider, Somebody Owes Me Money by Donald Westlake, and more)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Hulk VS. Wolverine/Thor"



"HULK VS." is a 2-disc special edition featuring "Hulk vs. Wolverine" and "Hulk vs. Thor" animated movies. Released from Lionsgate there are numerous previews, various audio commentaries, and of course the actual movies.

Disc 1 contains "Hulk vs. Wolverine" (PG-13) and is 37 minutes long. Hulk is tearing up the Canadian country side and Wolverine is sent to stop him. The movie opens with Hulk and Wolverine battling. After the title and credit sequence the movie goes back to four hour earlier when Wolverine was brought in by helicopter to the small town of Elkford that was destroyed by Hulk. The Canadian military wants Wolverine to stop Hulk. If he can't be stopped then Wolverine is to kill him before he harms another town or city. The chase is on with Wolverine finding a lot more than expected including other foes in the Canadian wildness.

Disc 1 also contains audio commentaries with Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Frank Paur, Kevin Altieri and Butch Lukic. There is also a first look at "Wolverine And The X-Men" coming in April along with a making of "Hulk vs. Wolverine" feature. There is also a feature about the "Hulk vs. Wolverine" world premiere at the San Diego Comic Con last year and a question and answer deal there at the convention.

The 45 minute Disc 2 features "Hulk vs. Thor" (PG-13) and is the story of Loki trying to destroy his stepbrother, Thor. The movie opens with another colorful credit sequence before taking us to the realm of the eternal: Asgard. Long ruled and protected by Odin all is well and the cycle continues. Every winter Odin must sleep and leaves things unprotected for seven days and that is when the wicked come. Thor leads the defense against the siege of darkness. Dr. Banner is spirited in by Loki so that he can be forced to become the Hulk and used to finally destroy, Thor. But, Hulk is not a weapon that can be controlled for long and the repercussions for all will be epic.

This disc also features audio commentary with Craig Kyle, Chris Yost, Frank Paur, Sam Liu and James Peters. Like the much bloodier and brutal "Hulk vs. Wolverine" disc, this disc also has a making of the feature and a first look feature at the next movie in the series. This one is on "Thor: Tales of Asgard" coming out on DVD this fall. There is also a feature on Jack Kirby and his artwork with Thor.

The result is two very different movies that continue the legendary Marvel characters while providing plenty of back story. The animation is detailed as are the complicated story lines creating a viewing experience sure to please old and young alike.

HULK VS. (Two Disc Special Edition)
DVD
Marvel and Lionsgate
January, 2009
82 minutes total (plus features)


This material was provided to me by a publicist via BNN in exchange for my objective review. While I did not review the Blu-Ray version, there is one:




Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

DVD Review: "Louis C. K. CHEWED UP"

"Louis C.K. Chewed Up" was filmed at the Berkley Performance Center in Boston, Massachusetts last March and eventually released by Image Entertainment. Instead of opening with the obligatory salute to the location and the audience, the show opens up with how he misses the word "faggot" and how he used it as a kid and later. As he sees it, it never meant "gay" but how somebody acted. This leads into his observations on how he respects so much those males who can willingly perform a certain act on a man.

That leads into language and what words mean and how he doesn't see the negative connotations of certain words. Reminiscent of George Carlin's seven dirty words, Louis C.K. continues the theme in more graphic but unoriginal terms. This leads the 40 year old balding comic into various observations on daily life, family, and children, marriage etc.

Humor is subjective and based on the laugh track the audience thought he was absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately, I don't share that opinion. The humor seemed to consist primarily of obscenities and graphic commentary on bodily functions and simply just wasn't funny. Billed as a comedic talent who will "…create an atmosphere of fearless honesty on stage…" and a say anything style, I kept thinking how so many other comics had hit the same ideas and done them so much better. His work doesn't seem original and instead comes across as derivative and that the coarser the language the funnier the joke is. From the laugh track, it seemed that a number of folks approved. If I had been there, I would have been asking for a refund soon after the show started. I kept watching hoping I would get to the funny parts but I never did.

Dedicated to George Carlin, the show runs slightly longer than an hour though it seemed considerably longer. The only other feature on the disc is an interview with the comedian himself where he self interviews and answers questions that hade been provided to him. Almost as long as the show, the interview runs approximately 37 minutes and he explains how he got his start in Boston, the creation and evolution of this show which features totally different material than his 2007 show "Shameless," the fact that his comedy is mostly autobiographical, how he develops material and other topics. During the interview, he reiterates the point that his use of coarseness in language is the only way he knows how to be true to who he is.

If you are already a fan of his, then you will love this show and interview. If he is totally new to you, as he was to me, it will be an obscenity filled and graphic experience that may or may not work depending on your own sensibilities.


Louis C. K. Chewed Up
DVD
Image Entertainment
December, 2008
60 minutes (plus interview)


This material was provided to me by a publicist via BNN in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Barry's Reviews: "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner

AS I LAY DYING (1930) by William Faulkner

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Mystery/suspense has been for most of my life the predominant ingredient in my reading diet, but recently I realized that I was—temporarily, I’m sure—satiated with that sort of tale. Thus, I took a break to read some mainstream and literary fiction.

William Faulkner has been a literary hero of mine since I first discovered his work when I was in my late teens, more years ago than I like to think about. It occurred to me that I hadn’t read a Faulkner novel in over thirty years. I’ve had a copy of As I Lay Dying languishing on my bookshelf for longer than that. It was time to read it.

Consisting of very short chapters and told in the first person by multiple narrators, it tells the story of the Bundren family, the kind of quirky brood—to put it charitably—common in Faulkner’s work. The matriarch, Addie, is dying, and has exacted a promise from her shiftless, self-seeking husband Anse to bury her at her family’s plot in Jefferson, Mississippi.


There are five Bundren children, four boys and one girl. Cash is the serene, acceptant, industrious one. Darl has the greatest clarity about the world which his siblings may never achieve, but that very clarity is what eventually drives him over the edge. Jewel is intense, angry, ready to lash out at almost anyone, but probably not certain why. Vardaman is the youngest, a child incapable of fully understanding death and unable to confront it rationally. The daughter, Dewey Dell, old enough for sexual activity but fearful of its consequences, is more concerned about finding an abortifacient than in mourning her mother.

The trip from the Bundren homestead to Jefferson is not a short one, and it’s complicated by torrential rains that cause rivers to overflow and bridges to collapse—bridges the Bundrens must cross to reach their ultimate destination.

Most of Faulkner’s work was somber and grave, but he could be very funny when he wanted to be. As I Lay Dying is tonally very dark, as befits its characters and their situations. But though related with grim seriousness, some of its incidents will strike readers as comical because they’re absurd or verge on the absurd. (In different hands they might well have been described in a slapstick manner.) Some readers may not see the humor in the events while they’re experiencing them; they’ll realize them retrospectively. Ultimately, they’ll come to understand that in this novel, Faulkner melded thematic sobriety with dark comedy.

Considered among Faulkner’s finest novels, As I Lay Dying is—typical of this author—a demanding read, most notably in the chapters narrated by Darl and Vardaman, but also in chapters related by others, who sound as if they were speaking directly and intimately to readers who’d immediately comprehend what they’re describing, whether it’s an event, a sensation, or a reaction. It is not, however, as difficult a read as The Sound and the Fury


(my personal candidate for the great American novel of the 20th Century) or Absalom, Absalom!


(which years ago I read a little more than half of before deciding it was turgid melodrama I didn’t care about and gave up on). I first discovered Faulkner in the short story “Dry September,” the style of which captivated me—blew me away, actually, and got me hooked on the author. (It’s a brilliant, classic short story I urge you to seek out and read if you haven’t done so.) Although Faulkner wrote several more straightforward novels, As I Lay Dying might very well be the most accessible of his acknowledged great but less straightforward ones. If you’re new to Faulkner, this is the novel to start with.

Barry Ergang © 2009

Formerly the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007 Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Anthology Winners

The contest is over and I want to thank each and every person for entering. Because we had so many entries, Rob Preece, publisher/owner of Booksforabuck.com authorized me to award two winners the e-books. The winners are:


TISA. A.

And

LYDIA O.


I was also contacted by four reviewers who entered the contest in order to win a review copy. Those four individuals, who know who they are, were removed from the contest and are being sent print copies by the publisher.

Again, thanks to everyone for entering and congrats to our winners!

Kevin


Kevin R. Tipple

"By The Light Of The Moon"
The Carpathian Shadows Volume 2
Print or E-book
http://www.booksforabuck.com/sfpages/sf_08/carpathian_shadows2.html