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)