Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Idea Has Sparked

After weeks, if not months of not having a new idea, a recent contest that I heard about has sparked an idea. A rough draft has been written today and is now saved in the computer. It still needs a lot of work but it was nice to be writing again.

And a scene for the novel has come to mind as well.

A good day.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mini Review: "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide"

Designed primarily for the newcomer to composting, this 320 page book including index teaches everything a gardener needs to know to be successful with composting. From getting started and picking a location, determining what to compost and what to avoid, knowing the different types of compost and picking the plants that interact best with compost along with a host of other related topics, this book has it all. The text is simple and straight forward while being very informative and the large color pictures, numerous detailed illustrations and various lists are a helpful asset. The result is a book that serves every level of gardener and is a definite winner for your gardening reference library.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide
Barbara Pleasant & Deborah L. Martin
Storey Publishing (Walsworth Publishing Company)
ISBN 978-1-58017-702-3

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reviewing: "New Concepts in Paper Quilling: Techniques for Cards & Gifts" by Marie Browning

Over 127 pages long this book tells readers as much as possible about the intricate art of quilling. Quilling is defined in the introduction as "…the art of rolling very thin strips of paper into scroll shapes and creating artistic designs with the various shapes, which are glued onto a base. Quilling is also known as paper filigree or paper scroll work." (Page 8) After a 2 page intro about the history of quilling, there is a seven page section on the "Basic Supplies, Tools," as well as "The Quilling Technique" and "Basic Quilled Shapes." Clearly, one needs steady hands and plenty of dexterity to purse this craft.

Page 18 begins the patterns with "Making Fringed Flowers." Along with a list of basic supplies needed and instructions are three pictures depicting three different types of flower. "Making Swirl Flowers" follows next along with "Shaping Paper" and "Husking."

Readers move on to "Card Art" which begins on page twenty eight. This is the main theme of the book and the chapter is over sixty pages long with numerous card projects for any occasion. Instructions for how to make the matching gift tags are included in many of these designs and plans. One would have to have the technique for the various elements or shapes down and be fairly confident in one's ability before pursuing any of these designs as they are complicated.

So to are the "Zinnia Containers" or "Wedding Tin" or the "Flower Place Markers" found in the next chapter titled "Home Décor & Gift Projects." Featuring nine projects over twenty six pages, the complexity and skill level remains high. The intricate designs are beautiful as depicted and the text is clear and informative. But, again, clearly one needs a lot of practice to make these fragile works of art.

An eight page final chapter covers various "Jewelry Projects" such as "The Fringed Flower Pendent" or "Heart Pendant." This is the shortest chapter with only five plans depicted. That chapter leads readers into a small metric conversion chart and index.

While colorful and a very informative book, Quilling is clearly not simple to do. This book is not, despite the introduction, designed with the novice in mind. Instead it is more for the advanced Quiller who has experience in developing the many different shapes. On that level, it is a very good book. For the novice, it won't be much help, if at all.

New Concepts in Paper Quilling: Techniques for Cards & Gifts
Marie Browning
Sterling Publishing CO.
ISBN# 1-4027-3510-3

This book was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Library System. According to budget projections recently reported in the local media, the library system is facing over a million dollars in cuts for the new fiscal year. These are tough times for libraries as those making the budgets often look to libraries to cut even though traffic is usually at record levels. Support your local library.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Reviewing: "Blood On the Dining Room Floor" by Gertrude Stein (2008 DOVER Edition with John Herbert Gill)

"They said nothing happens in the country but there are more changes in a family in the country in five years than in a family in the city and this is natural. If nothing changed in the country there could not be butter and eggs. There have to be changes in the country, there had to be breaking up of families and killing of dogs and spoiling of sons and losing of daughters and killing of mothers and banishing of fathers. Of course there must in the country. And so this makes in the country everything happening in the country. Nothing happens in the city. Everything happens in the country. The city just tells what has happened in the country, it has already happened in the country.
Lizzie do you understand." (Pages 42-43)

Written in 1933 this seventy-four page tale tells of various crimes, some mischievous, some sinister that happened one fateful summer. The tale, told in a stream of consciousness fashion, relates how phone lines were cut, automobiles were sabotaged, and at least one, if not more, nearby residents died. Events as well as numerous interconnected relationships are told from an unnamed narrator that allows every thought to spill out unguided. Situations, including possible murder, are not investigated and there is little clear meaning.

Like in most of her other works, Gertrude Stein doesn't use dialogue tags or dialogue and rarely actually specifically names a character. Generic terms such as sister or gardener" or "servant" are used along with little reference to time or date. Any reference is done my trying to figure out who has left and who has arrived in the constantly shifting cast of vague characters.

Instead, any understanding of the work is to be gained by reading the accompanying work of the editor John Herbert Hill. In this 2008 Dover edition of literary criticism, he has composed a new introduction as well as published a previous afterword written for another edition and included two related short stories, "Is Dead" and "A Waterfall and A Piano."

Beyond the numerous self congratulatory references he chose to include about himself from various critics and experts on the field in the introduction, the eleven pages do provide some context to the work. Beyond explaining what the story is actually about, Mr. Hill provides context for the time period the author wrote the piece and some of the themes to look for in the work including her fascination with fratricide and her love/hate relationship with her home country. While he makes frequent mention of the obvious deaths in the work he makes no mention of the obvious death of spirit that numerous characters exhibit.

The afterword comes from the editor's 1982 edition published by Creative Arts Book Company and sheds further contextual light on the piece. Among other points, he notes stylistic choices the author made in the work such as the universal "we" by her use of "everybody," the jumbling of past and present, the lack of a detective, etc. He also, as he did in the introduction, makes references to the two short stories included in this book and argues that they were her attempts to continue to deal with these themes.

Those with a deep knowledge on the author and her work will be the readers who most appreciate this effort. Those that expect a story that is clear and coherent with an understandable time line, recognizable and identifiable characters and character relationships, or expect basic punctuation should most likely read elsewhere. While the book is well done for its target audience, is fairly incomprehensible to readers that don't have a deep background or interest in the subject matter.

This review previously appeared online last fall at the book review site, Afterthoughts, owned and operated by Jade Walker who provided this book for my objective review. With the closing of the site last month by Jade Walker, all rights to the review returned to me.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reviewing: "The Final Sacrifice" by Patricia Bray

As the third book in the series opens an uneasy truce exists between Ikaria and the Seddon Federation. Uneasy rests the crown upon Emperor Lucius of Ikaria who has much to deal with inside and outside the empire. Things are also uneasy for Lady Ysobel of the Seddon Federation because none of her plans have worked as intended making things increasingly difficult. Sure, she was able to negotiate a fragile truce between the warring countries. But, her network of spies and informers were mostly killed thanks to the recently quashed rebellion so she barely survives by listening to gossip and paying attention to everything.

This includes the behavior of Emperor Lucius who seems to be increasingly unstable both in mind and body. While part of the old blood by birthright, he has followed the policies of more recent rulers which has caused some consternation among the old blood nobility. That has been made worse by his recent behavior in public and his disappearances from time to time.

Emperor Lucius works very hard to hide a dark secret that is slowly killing him. He is inhabited by two souls, who are also currently in an uneasy truce brought about by the need to survive in a body that is dying around them. It never should have happened, but it did and it was either treachery or a sincere desire to help that caused this problem. A problem growing worse by the hour and a final desperate attempt at a cure will have to be sought far away in Xandropol. Even if the cure is found, the empire may be stolen by another because plots and treasonous acts are occurring inside and outside the Ikarian court.

Told primarily through Lucius and Lady Yosbel, this 357 page fantasy novel is full of numerous rich characters and plenty of intrigue. What could have easily been boring or stale, instead quickly comes alive as author Patricia Bray creates a world where duplicity is a way of life and honesty a rare prized commodity.

Particularly effective are the scenes with Lucius and his attempts to deal with the two souls within him. One soul is his own with limited skills and certain expectations because of his noble birthright. The other trapped soul is of a monk named Josan, who was once a member of the Learned Brethren. A soul fluent in many languages and the only real hope Lucius has for survival because Josan is the only one who can research the cure.

Full of treachery, duplicity, and place intrigue this novel fitting ends the series and ties up many loose ends. Not only does it in entertain readers long familiar with the series, through skilled back story, the book embraces new readers by telling them what they need to know for this book. The result is a strong fantasy novel and a very good read.

This review previously appeared online at the book review site, Afterthoughts, owned and operated by Jade Walker who provided this book for my objective review. With the closing of the site last month by Jade Walker, all rights to the review returned to me.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reviewing: "Red, White & Blue Murder: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery" by Bill Crider

Drought is gripping Blacklin County, Texas right along with the usual brutal summer heat. It hasn't rained in the last couple of months in this part of East Texas and not much more than nothing the last several years. Stock tanks are drying up, the lake waters are receding exposing more and more of the shoreline, and the grass and trees are shriveling up and dying in a landscape coated with dust and grit. The result is a seared dry landscape that will turn into an inferno with a spark. In a wise move, the annual fireworks celebration for the fourth of July has been canceled though the stands selling fireworks can't be closed. Even if they should be.

If the summer heat wasn't enough the prisoners in the jail are complaining and threatening to sue. Then there is Jennifer Loam, the newest reporter at the town newspaper, the Clearview Herald. Fresh out of college, she is looking to make a name for herself and intends to use Sheriff Rhodes as part of a major story. Seems she has been told the good sheriff is corrupt and has bought what she has been told hook, line, and sinker.

She's wrong and Rhodes tries to set her straight.

Something he will be doing again and again over the next several days as he investigates a string of murders. A building will burn, people will die, and Rhodes will take a beating more then once as he tries again to stop the latest crime wave in Clearview and the surrounding area.

Once again, there are virtually zero character developments as the players, major and minor, have been pretty much fleshed out earlier in the series. This novel makes frequent references to earlier books and events in the series so, as in nearly any series, it is best to read them in order.

And while number twelve in the series in another good one; it is unfortunate that the good sheriff doesn't sometimes take proper precautions. While these are not police procedure novels and instead, nestle firmly in the cozy classification embrace, one does expect by this point some evolution in character sensibility. One doesn't turn away from a suspect when there is no backup anywhere around, for one example. Calling for back up is a good thing whether in a car or on foot and something Sheriff Rhodes fails to do on a routine basis. The good news is that once again Rhodes can be knocked unconscious, suffer blurry vision on gaining consciousness, and never have to be treated for a concussion or skull fracture and doesn't have to ever be seen by a doctor.

Despite those criticisins, one doesn't read this series for blow by blow procedural descriptions or incredible realism. It is cozy style fiction, after all, and an enjoyable read as they all are. One reads this series because the characters have become friends and one wants to know what has been going on lately.

That and where one can get Dr. Pepper in honest to god glass bottles.

Red, White & Blue Murder: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Minotaur)
ISBN# 0-312-27185-9
215 Pages

This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reviewing: "The Catch: A Joe Gunther Novel" by Archer Mayor

Recently Archer Mayor was a very informative guest on a Sunday night chat hosted at The Writer's Chatroom Along with learning that his previous publisher had put the first twelve Joe Gunther series books out of print so Mr. Mayor had to form his own publishing company to get them back out on the market, I learned that that I hadn't read this one when it came out last year. A number of other readers were on hold for it at the local library, so it took awhile before finally arriving. As always, it was worth wait.

Deputy Sheriff Brian Sleuter pulls over a speeding car on an isolated stretch of Vermont road cognizant of the always present danger from such a stop. Despite taking the usual precautions and following procedure, within minutes, he is gunned down while sitting inside his patrol car. Called into investigate the murder and apprehend the person or persons responsible, Joe Gunther and the fellow members of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation have a solid lead. Thanks to the dash camera footage, they can see the moments prior to the officer's shocking death.

Over in Maine, Alan Brudey is the son of a Maine Lobsterman who has no desire to follow in dear old Dad's footsteps. Having just killed Mathew Mroz in a plan to take control of the local drug flow he has no intention of working the water chasing the dwindling supply of lobsters. He plans to work the people instead who need drugs and supply them and build a business in the time honored way of all small businessmen. The product is different, but the business process is the same and he has plans for exponential growth.

Before long both storylines merge as Joe Gunther's hunt for the killer and his accomplice take the team to Maine. In a story that constantly shifts back and forth between storylines, there is little time for character development and instead is all about the chase of the suspects. This deep in the series, one doesn't expect any character development and one doesn't get any. One does expect more complexity in terms of plot and character interaction in an Archer mayor novel and unfortunately that also is not contained here.

This is a straight up fast moving mystery where you know Joe Gunther and his group will catch the bad guys. The only question is how and where. The result, while certainly not his best ever in the series, is another strong one. While it dims in comparison to many of his other novels, it certainly is much better than a lot of books out there by other authors who get much more of the media attention.

The Catch: A Joe Gunther Novel
Archer Mayor
St. Martin's Minotaur
October 2008
ISBN# 0-312-38191-3
275 Pages

This material was provided to me by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reviewing: "Leather Maiden" by Joe R. Lansdale

Cason Statler has returned home to find home, at least on the surface, is pretty much the same while he is not. The East Texas town of Camp Rapture is his last stop on what has been a downward spiral lately. Cynical, trying desperately not to drink himself to oblivion, the former Iraq veteran and Pulitzer nominee has come home in an attempt to get his life back together. Step one is to get hired at the local newspaper called the Camp Rapture Report.

Step two is to deliver the column several times a week, stay sober (or as close to sober as possible) and maybe win the former girlfriend, Gabby, back once and for all. Step two has a lot riding on it on many levels and is much harder to accomplish.

The plan gets off to a rocky start. He does get the job despite the rocky interview with the crusty editor, Mrs. Timpson. Of course, it didn't help that he had really tied one on the night before. Though with his personality and a penchant for pointing out flaws in others directly to them, the fact that he was massively hung over might have helped the interview a little.

What is clear is that Gabby isn't remotely interested in getting back together. She wants absolutely no part of him. While Cason is convinced that he can ultimately get her back, his very successful brother Jimmy insists that she is done with him. Jimmy, the all so perfect brother, has always been a bit of soul crushing envy for Cason. These days, Jimmy is a successful professor at the local college, married with kids, and still thinks he is better than everyone else. That sibling rivalry takes a bizarre turn when Cason realizes his older brother was involved with the beautiful women that went missing months earlier. ..

Beneath the tranquilly of East Texas, award winning author and Texan Joe R. Lansdale crafts a darkly disturbing tale of pure evil and racism. Racism is not an uncommon theme in Texas as recent news stories have illuminated for the rest of the nation. And while the racism depicted in this book has little originality from those news stories, the evil depicted here is abhorrently new. Evil that was grown, nurtured and flourished in beautiful and not so beautiful ways. And while Cason Statler does fit a stereotype initially, before long he and all the other players in this noir style novel become very real to the reader and easily slip the bounds of stereotypes. Nothing is as it seems for anyone in this book whether it be Cason, Jimmy (the perfect brother), Booger (the deranged veteran and Cason's friend), Gabby (the former love interest) or Caroline (the missing woman).

It should be noted that the novel is frequently graphic in terms of language and descriptions of violence and the state of various bodies. Joe R. Lansdale is well known for using all types of language as well as populating his works with dark images and plenty of black humor. That certainly is in the case here in a powerful read that isn't over until the last word has been read.

Leather Maiden: A Novel
Joe R. Lansdale
Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)
ISBN# 978-0-375-414527
287 Pages

This material was received from the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Reviewing: "Born To Run" by James Grippando

"Born to Run" marks the return of Miami criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck in a case as crooked as they come and one that means he never steps foot into a courtroom for the entire novel. Jack is still dating FBI agent Andie Henning who just might be the best thing that ever happened to him. It would be a close tie between her and winning the case for Theo Knight that saved his life and made a name for Jack Swyteck. Finally he is going to have a new car after his last Mustang was destroyed by angry Colombians. The purchase of a fully restored 1968 Mustang GT-390 Fastback is going to be expensive but one celebrates turning forty the best they can.

Even things with his father, Harry Swyteck, are looking up. The former governor of Florida is now retired and the political differences that often found them at odds in private and in public, have cooled considerably. That was until the sitting Vice President died in the Florida swamps and the president wanted Harry to be the next V. P.

Harry wants Jack to be his lawyer for the confirmation hearings. That is until Jack starts finding out that something sinister is going on and that his own father just might have had a role in recent events. Cover ups are always messy, complicated and can get people killed. They can also cause innocent bystanders to be pulled into messes that stretch to the White House and around the world.

As they always do in any thriller. That certainly happens here as character development, deep plot development, etc are shoved to the side in a breakneck pace to reach the end of the book in the most violent clichéd way possible using a cast of stereotypes liberally throughout the work. That is done here with gusto as author James Grippando drops the idea of subtly and nuance and apparently hasn't read other authors to realize that the core idea, despite his subtle variation to reflect recent events, has been done to death. One expects it to be noted somewhere on the cover "inspired by true events" or "ripped from the headlines" as well as "soon to be a major motion picture."

This novel has no subtly or nuance at any level and instead is all about violent intensity. The conflict between Harry and his utterly cool son Jack (who constantly thinks about turning 40 and what that could mean) has no depth to it. At least they respect each other in the morning at the end of this mindless and fast moving read. So too do Andie and Jack, who at first is very concerned about their future relationship if Harry is V.P and then decides twenty pages or so later that everything is fine and none of that really matters. There are other examples but to go through them would give away too much of this very shallow read that goes through the motions and hits all the targets.

Born To Run
James Grippando
ISBN# 978-0-06-155611-1
328 Pages

This book was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Reviewing: "Somebody Owes Me Money" by Donald E. Westlake

All Chet Conway wanted was his money. Money he won through his local NYC bookie after he placed a bet on a horse. Conway drives a cab and is always getting advice from passengers. Most times he ignores what he is told and moves on to the next fare. This time his fare figured out he played the horses and gave a tip on a horse. The 20 to 1 horse ran down in Florida shortly after he placed the bet and wins. Once he collects from his bookie, Tommy McKay, he can pay off his gambling debts.

One little problem with the plan though.

Just a couple of hours after confirming that Conway won, Tommy McKay is very dead on his living room floor. Dropping by on his way home after work, Conway finds the body and is drawn into the investigation by the local police who don’t buy his story. Especially Detective Goldman who is sure Conway knows more than he is telling. He certainly does but that wouldn't help the case any. But, Goldman isn't the only one who knows Chet Conway knows more then he is telling. Two separate gangs also believe Conway knows more as does his sister, in from Vegas, who plans on dealing justice to those responsible.

Originally published in 1969, this June 2008 release from author Donald E. Westlake features a cynical every man just trying to make a buck and survive. He knows he is never going to be filthy rich but he also knows that, even if his bookie is dead, the bookie had to have a boss to pay the claims. With occasional flashes of bitter humor and plenty of cynicism he deals with thugs all around, a beautiful woman who is a shark in many ways, and a cop whose motives aren't obvious. Packed in 253 pages the read is full of character development, lots of action, and a strange mystery case involving Tommy McKay. The same Tommy McKay who "looked like he'd been shot in the chest with antiaircraft guns." (P.16)

Try getting that image out of your head.

Somebody Owes Me Money
Donald E. Westlake
Hard Case Crime
June 2008
ISBN# 0-8439-5962-2
253 Pages

I am a member of the Hard Case Crime Book Club and received this material as my automatic monthly selection.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reviewing: "A Romantic Way To Die" by Bill Crider

Death at a writer's conference as a theme is something that every author does at some point in a series. It also is a frequent theme for websites where entrants may even win a trip to the sponsoring writer's conference. It is so overdone it is clichéd. Yet, it is done because as a thematic plot setting, the idea does work and brings in a new cast of characters, albeit temporary, into a series.

"A Romantic Way To Die" the eleventh book in the series featuring Sheriff Dan Rhodes uses such a device. Local author Vernell Lindsey whose recent published romance novel "Wild Texas Wind" has taken off much to the chagrin of several local folks. After a book signing at the local Wal-mart she soon will be hosting a writer's conference nearby in Obert at the former college campus. The buildings which have been the setting for a couple of novels earlier in the series are finally restored. They will be the site for the writer's conference featuring local as well as non-local authors, a famous local guy turned male model used on numerous romance covers, and a big time New York agent.

Sheriff Dan Rhodes doesn't much care and thinks the whole idea of a writer's conference consisting of a bunch of authors talking about writing books is pretty much silly. That is, until the deaths start happening. Then the angst driven world of writing becomes very important as he tries to stop the killing and write his own justice filled ending.

This novel in the series plows no real new ground character wise as it enjoyably works its way to a satisfying end. Rhodes still wanders around frequently without backup and at least once gets knocked silly for his efforts. He still investigates primarily by asking questions and catching folks in lies. The problem is that writers lie all the time and he has to figure out which lies lead to the truth.

Much like other characters that don't seem to learn from previous episodes (not just the well known Stephanie Plum) Rhodes still goes about thing his own way. That isn't going to change. While it may make readers cringe from time to time, it can't be denied that as a plot device it works in yet another good read in the series.

A Romantic Way To Die: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press)
November 2001
ISBN# 0-312-20907-X
231 Pages

This book came to me by way of the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Reviewing: "Dead or ALive" by Michael McGarrity

It begins in the Bernalillo County Detention Center in New Mexico where a mistake is made and inmate Craig Larson is accidentally picked to go to a minimum security prison outside Springer, New Mexico. He's killed before and gotten away with it. He got caught because he stayed too long in one place and now faces time for his original embezzlement charge and unlawful flight. He should be sent to the super-max prison outside of Santa Fe. Instead, he is loaded into a van as the only prisoner with the lone guard who will also serve as his driver.

The second mistake is made by the driving guard who cuffs him in front for the several hour trip. He then makes another mistake, suffers the brutal consequences and Craig Larson is once again a fugitive from justice. This time, he is going to make sure he never goes back to jail. Envisioning himself as some sort of modern day western outlaw, he goes on a violent rampage across New Mexico and Western Texas with retired Santa Fe Police Chief Kevin Kerney and his son Lieutenant Clayton Istee in pursuit.

What could have been an interesting novel quickly turns into a simplistic action filled violent joy ride. Stereotypes abound through out a novel that has virtually zero character development. While both Kerney and Istee express repeatedly how they have bonded and have so much respect for the man each is, often from the back of a horse, neither character ever has that deep internal monologue moment that would create such an event. Istee's heritage is yet again barely given a passing nod as are Kerney and his family's experiences in London now that Sarah is stationed there on a three year stint as part of her military career.

While it isn't surprising that Craig Larson is a clichéd stereotype which we as readers have to be treated to experiencing every few pages just like any other novel, it is disappointing to see Kerney and Istee reduced to little more than cardboard cutouts. Opportunities for real dialogue between father and son are frequent, especially during the last third of the novel and are wasted on snappy throw away lines. Taken in another direction, this is a novel that could have had real depth to it.

Instead, it is a violence filled simplistic clichéd read of an outlaw terrorizing and killing women and men and of the two valiant lawmen , modern day cowboys , who must chase this scum deep into the mountains before delivering gun barrel justice frontier style.

The movie version will no doubt be great. After all, that must be what it was written for because it wasn't written for readers.

Dead or Alive
Michael McGarrity
Dutton (Penguin Group USA, Inc)
January 2009
287 Pages

This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009