Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reviewing: "Doubleback" by Libby Fischer Hellmann

“DOUBLEBACK” marks the return of P. I. Georgia Davis as well as another very good book by Libby Fischer Hellman. It also unites Georgia and Ellie Foreman (An Eye For Murder and others) in a case that resonates for parents everywhere.

It is a morning like any other in June when Molly Messenger is kidnapped. The mother, Christine Messenger, calls a friend who in turn calls Ellie for help. The eight year old vanished from a day camp in the Chicago area. The kidnappers have threatened to kill Molly if law enforcement becomes involved and Mom is a shattered wreck. Ellie can’t help but respond to her and asks Georgia Davis to look into things. They go back and Georgia knows if Ellie’s asking for help it is a bad sign.

From the start, Georgia doesn’t want the case. The Police, The FBI, etc, should be involved but they aren’t. Christine Messenger is clearly hiding something and her various explanations don’t really explain things. In a matter of three days little Molly is back home and while the case isn’t solved, the parents ordeal is over. The police, who were working the case, have zero leads and zero reasons as to why Molly was kidnapped and with her return are moving on to more current matters. Just when all consider it over, Mom is killed in a freak accident leaving behind a motherless daughter, devastated ex-husband and some bizarre circumstances involving her job at a major bank. Wanting answers to everything, the ex-husband hires Georgia to investigate in a case that will lead her across state lines before finally coming home.

Much like “Easy Innocence” there are dark nebulous forces at work through out the novel. Slowly, author Libby Fisher Hellman reveals clues in a tale that has links to both national and local human interest stories. By using two different major series characters, the author provides an interesting and very different personality driven take on events through each of the characters. Ellie is, for the most part calm and controlled, while Georgia has a passion that drives her into dangerous and violent actions and situations. This device also turns into a drawback at different times in the novel as suspense with one character is pushed back for a chapter while the other major character is brought up to speed. The result, from a storytelling angle designed to build character nuance and complexity, does work. However, from a reader standpoint, the tactic became occasionally annoying and interrupted the natural flow of the novel.

Despite that flaw which will affect readers in different ways, the overall novel is a very good one where the author pulls you deep into her fictional world where everything becomes all too real. Billed and written as a sequel of sorts to the very good “Easy Innocence” it can easily be read as a stand alone.

Libby Fischer Hellmann
Bleak House Books
October 2009
ISBN# 978-1-60648-053-3
300 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2010

By the way, if you have not read "EASY INNOCENCE" you should.

It is a very good book, though the material is dark and disturbing at times. Most really good books are.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books and Patti Abbott

Back last November, I was asked by Patti Abbott if I wanted to be a part of her "Friday's Forgotten Books" blog postings. I said yes, without reservation, and the piece on Milton T. Burton and his excellent novel "The Sweet And The Dead" ran yesterday. With additional commentary from Patti Abbott on other authors/books and comments on my review it is at:

For those who would prefer to read the piece here, I have posted it below:

Milton T. Burton broke onto the crime scene a few years back with his powerful debut novel, “The Rogues’ Game.”

Set in an unnamed West Texas small town, the book tells the tale of an unnamed narrator who arrives in town to play cards and carry out an act of revenge. The con is the thing and the heavily atmospheric and complex book twists and turns all the way to the end. While I really enjoyed that book, I think his second novel, which came out in 2006 is a bit better.

Titled “The Sweet And The Dead” the book is set in the fall of 1970 in Mississippi where Manfred Eugene "Hog" Webern is deep undercover in Biloxi.

Hog is a retired Dallas County Deputy Sheriff, a good man, and a damn good cop despite the word on the street. It is coincidence and nothing more that he got into some money at approximately the same time his former partner was gunned down and a couple of other nasty things happened. The word on the street is that Hog is dirty which makes him a perfect candidate to investigate from the inside the group dubbed the "Dixie Mafia."

Bob Wallace is a Texas Ranger and a man that Hog has worked with before more than once and a man that Hog trusts without question. Wallace tells him that Curtis Blanchard, one of the chief felony investigators for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety wants Hog to come to Mississippi, hook up with Jasper Sparks, head of the aforementioned Dixie Mafia, and gather enough evidence to bring Jasper and as many others as possible down. Hog agrees for several reasons and before long finds himself deep undercover in a twisting case that seems to know no end.

In both of Milton’s books, the tales twist and turn on themselves and features a main character full of internal demons and unresolved guilt who is seeking his own form of justice. A dark hero who finds a brand of honor in the criminal element and one isn’t sure about the character’s motivations until the final word on the last page.

Books that I simply can’t say enough good things about or do justice to in reviews. The author, like his characters, goes quietly about his business and eschews the limelight and self promotion that so many routinely engage in on every forum possible. Milton T. Burton deserves considerably more acclaim than he is getting and his books deserve a place on your reading list.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Interesting Blog Reading Elsewhere

Just a couple of things I cam across this Saturday morning while playing catch-up on my e-mail.

First, a blog on reviewing and while it is aimed at poetry books it has mass appeal. AN ongoing series titled "10 Questions on Reviewing" can be found at:

Second, for some time now I have felt that the John Sandford books the last couple of years didn't read like earlier ones and from time to time noted that in my reviews. Peg Brantley mentioned the issue in connection with her reading "Dark Of The Moon" and John Sandford's son responded. The Blog, with comments can be found at:

While addressing the Virgil Flowers books issue is great, it doesn't explain why the other books have changed. Clearly, addressing that wasn't part of his response. I am just still wondering about that because it could be a variety of reasons.

Anyway, just a couple of interesting things I found this morning. I hope you find them as interesting as I did. For me, at least, it beats reading again my latest publisher royalty statement that details just how bad sales still are for the anthology. Downright depressing stuff.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reviewing: "Death Will help You Leave Him" by Elizabeth Zelvin

Having first appeared in “Death Will Get You Sober” Bruce Kohhler and the gang return in the sequel “Death Will Help You Leave Him.” A title that certainly fits the book very well despite the fact that this novel never comes close to the first book in terms of mystery, humor, or engaging story.

As the book opens, recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohhler is dragged out in the rain in New York in the middle of the night by his friend Barbara. Barbara works as an addictions counselor and is sponsoring a woman, Luz, in Al-Anon. Luz was being abused by her drug dealing boyfriend, Frankie, who was also a married man with kids. Luz came home to find him dead on her kitchen floor. At some point after finding the body, Luz made a semi hysterical call to Barbara telling her about the death and that the cops think she did it. So, Barbara is riding to the rescue and dragging her boyfriend, Jimmy, and Bruce along with her.

Frankie had a history of mentally abusing Luz and most likely physically abusing her which would clearly give Luz motive. Beyond the fact that the guy had the bad grace to die in Luz’s apartment, it also appears that Frankie knew his killer and let him or her in. Then there is the whole adultery angle that she was having sex with a man she knew to be married and wanted him to leave his wife. These points and numerous others make Luz the obvious suspect.

Before long, with the police focused on Luz, Barbara and Jimmy are wading to help investigate and dragging Bruce right along with them. As if Bruce doesn’t have enough to deal with concerning his own sobriety. His ex-wife, Laura, is in heavy contact with Bruce, seems to be deep in her own abusive relationship with another man in her life, and apparently off her meds for her bipolar disorder while making various plays for Bruce’s attention.

The second book in a series is frequently not as good as the first series and that certainly is the case here. While the first novel stayed away, for the most part, from jargon this one does not. It also moves far slower than the first novel. However, the biggest problem is the twin storylines of abuse.

Abuse and issues relating to abuse do not lend themselves to humor or enjoyable reading in a novel that ultimately concludes in a depressing and not at all unexpected ending. “Death Will Help You Leave Him” is a mystery that isn’t much of a mystery and therefore relies on the internal conflict Bruce has dealing with his ex-wife. This extremely slow moving sequel illustrates all too well the dangers with destructive relationships. It also clearly illustrates the long history of the experience the author has as a New York City Psychotherapist.

Death Will Help You Leave Him
Elizabeth Zelvin
Thomas Dunne Books (Minotaur/St. Martin’s Publishing Group)
October 2009
ISBN# 978-0-312-58266-1
275 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book Signing Tonight--Robert Crais

Author Robert Crais will be signing his new book, FIRST RULE, at

10720 Preston Rd.
Suite 1018
Dallas, TX 75230

at 7pm. If you are familiar with his work, this is a novel that focuses on Joe Pike.

Synopsis (per Amazon)

The organized criminal gangs of the former Soviet Union are bound by what they call the thieves' code. The first rule is this: A thief must forsake his mother, father, brothers, and sisters. He must have no family-no wife, no children. We are his family. If any of the rules are broken, it is punishable by death.

Frank Meyer had the American dream-until the day a professional crew invaded his home and murdered everyone inside. The only thing out of the ordinary about Meyer was that- before the family and the business and the normal life-a younger Frank Meyer had worked as a professional mercenary, with a man named Joe Pike. The police think Meyer was hiding something very bad, but Pike does not. With the help of Cole, he sets out on a hunt of his own-an investigation that quickly entangles them both in a web of ancient grudges, blood ties, blackmail, vengeance, double crosses, and cutthroat criminal­ity, and at the heart of it, an act so terrible even Pike and Cole have no way to measure it. Sometimes, the past is never dead. It's not even past.

I haven't read it yet as I am pretty far back in the line of folks wanting it from the Plano Library System. That means I can't tell you what I think about the book. But, Robert Crais is a favorite of mine and I just might try to rearrange things to make the drive down tonight.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Event--Writer's Guild Of Texas Meeting: Monday, January 18, 2010

Standard Disclaimer-----I post this as a general service to my readers and receive no financial inducement to do so. Furthermore, I know nothing more about the event than what is posted here so if you have any questions, please contact those involved directly.


Please forward to all writers and writing groups

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

Monday, 18 January 2010
7-8:30 p.m.
Topic: Write Naked
Speaker: Wendy Lyn Watson

Richardson Public Library
900 Civic Center Dr.
Richardson TX 75080
Basement Room

We hear it all the time from editors and agents: “I love your voice,” or “I’m looking for a strong voice.” They rarely take the time, however, to explain what they mean by “voice.” A writer’s voice is a combination of style (the mechanics of writing like grammar, sentence structure, and word choice), tone (the mood you set with your writing), and theme (the broad issues you tend to address, like friendship or betrayal or destiny). Voice is not your story, it’s the way you tell it. The great thing about voice is that everyone has one (really!) and each one is unique. The trick is to define your voice, to develop it, and to make sure it shines through in your story. In this interactive workshop, we’ll use a variety of writing exercises to pin down the essence of our unique writing voice. You’ll also learn a number of exercises that will help you continue developing your voice after the workshop ends.

Wendy Lyn Watson writes deliciously funny cozy mysteries with a dollop of romance. Her Mysteries a la Mode (I Scream, You Scream (October 2009) and Scoop to Kill (September 2010)) feature amateur sleuth Tallulah Jones, who solves murders in between scooping sundaes. While she does not commit--or solve--murders in real life, Wendy can kill a pint of ice cream in nothing flat. She’s also passionately devoted to 80s music, Asian horror films, and reality TV. (


A MESSAGE FROM THE FRIENDS OF THE WRITERS' GUILD OF TEXAS: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.


Annual 2010 WGT dues of $20.00 can be paid at the January meeting.


All WGT events located at the Richardson Public Library are free and open to the public. For information on the sponsoring organization, visit

Monday, 15 February 2010. Regular meeting: Shirley Duke. Children's Author. Tips and Tools: Navigating the World of Children's Writing.

Monday, 15 March 2010. Regular meeting: Terry Burns, Hartline Literary Agency: Agent Q & A. Listed as number three on the Publisher's Marketplace list of agents helping debut authors to publish. More at

Saturday, 27 March 2010: Saturday workshop

Monday, 19 April 19: Regular meeting. TBA

Monday, 17 May 2010. Regular meeting: Rosemary Clement-Moore. Topic: TBA

Monday, 21 June 2010. Regular meeting. WGT All-Stars' Read In.

All Writers' Guild of Texas events held at the Richardson Public Library are free and open to the public. Visit WGT's website: ================================================================

Writers' Events Calendar (contact to have your conferences, meetings, or other writing-related event listed here--no individual book signings, please):

16 January and 23 January 2010. Saturdays. 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Denton County Writers Workshop. LaRee Bryant. The Creative Side of Writing (first Saturday); The Business Side of Writing (second Saturday). North Branch Library, Denton. Contact Carmen Grant,

19 January 2010. Tuesday. FW SPJ: Authors Night. 6 p.m. Mike Cochran, Carlton Stowers, Johnny Hughes. Joe T. Garcia's Mexican Restaurant, 2201 N. Commerce St., Fort Worth. $17 members, $25 non-members, $10 students, free if you join SPJ on the spot.

6 February 2010. Saturday. Dallas MWASW. 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dr. Jeffrey Barnard, Chief Medical Examiner, Dallas. Autopsy--the Real Deal. $20/cash only.

19-21 March 2010, North Texas Romance Writers of America. North Texas Two Step, A Writers Conference. Screenwriter Michael Hauge, plus agents and editors.

10-11 April 2010, DFW Writers' Conference 2010! Grapevine, Texas.

Second Saturday each month: North Texas Speculative Fiction Workshop.

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.If you don't wish to receive these announcements, please let me know.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

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Upcoming Writers Event--MARCH 2010

I post this as a general service to my readers and receive no financial inducement to do so. Furthermore, I know nothing more about the conference than what is posted here so if you have any questions, please follow the directions at the bottom of the posting and don't ask me.


North Texas Two Step

A Writing Conference

March 19-21, 2010

NTRWA presents

STORY MASTERY with Michael Hauge

Best-selling Author of Writing Screenplays That Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds:The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read.

During this special all-day seminar, Hollywood script and story consultant Michael Hauge, will present his unique approach to creating compelling fiction and to eliciting emotion in your readers. Using clips from recent blockbuster love stories and romantic comedies, along with hands on exercises, Michael will help you strengthen your story concepts, plot structure, love stories, character development and themes.

As an added bonus, on Sunday morning Michael will do an in-depth analysis of the film LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, illustrating the essential principles of story structure, character arc, love stories and romantic comedies.

Topics covered will include:

• The primary goal of all story
• The power of desire, need, longing and destiny
• The essential conflict all characters must face
• Turning plot structure from a complicated concept into a simple, powerful tool you can easily apply to every story
• The single key to creating character arc and theme
• Creating unique, believable and fulfilling love stories
• The unique rules of romantic comedy: fantasy, duality, deceit
• Adapting your novel to film

If you want to elevate your fiction writing to the highest possible level, this event is a must. Also attending:

Adam Wilson, Associate Editor, MIRA and Harlequin Teen
Holly Blanck, Assistant Editor, St. Martin's Press
Joy Azmitia, Agent, Russell and Volkening
Becca Stumpf, Agent, Prospect Agency

NT Members - 12/15/09 - 1/16/10 Cost: $95; 1/17/10 - 2/27/10 Cost: $155

Yellow Rose & DARA - 12/15/09 - 1/16/10 Cost: $125; 1/17/10 - 2/27/10 Cost: $155

General Registration - 12/15/09 - 1/16/10 Cost: $155; 1/17/10 - 2/27/10 Cost: $185

Late Registration - 2/28/10 - 3/20/10 Cost: $215 for everyone

For registration details please check the conference page on the website:_www.ntrwa.org_ (http://www.ntrwa. org) . For questions contact Marty Tidwell:_conference@ ntrwa.org_ (mailto:conference@ntrwa. org)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Do Your Part

Point to ponder---Remember, only you can prevent so called "reality stars" from making fools of themselves. Save them by reading a book this week.

I'm doing my part by currently reading "Doubleback" by Libby Fischer Hellman. I am enjoying it very much.

I'm about eighty pages from the end in an ARC recently provided by owner PJ Nunn of BreakThrough Promotions. The book has been out awhile, but if it wasn't for PJ Nunn, I probably wouldn't be reading this sequel to the very good "Easy Innocence"

because BLEAK HOUSE, the publisher, has decided to no longer provide print copies of their ARCs.

Yes, I am serious. Like all bad ideas, this one is probably highly contagious, causes all orifices to weep, drool and dribble, creates projectile vomiting with low back pain, and the infection spreads easily from business to business. Unfortunately, there is no shot to inoculate anyone from business stupidity.

(There are federal bailouts, but, that is another rant.)

If you want to read a book via a PDF, they will gladly provide an ARC review copy. But, if you are a reviewer like me who wants and NEEDS the print copy, the new policy is worthless and makes their books impossible to review in advance of publication.

A stunningly stupid decision as far as I am concerned and one that I think long term they will regret. Seems to me, considering the sad state state of publishing today, the folks in charge at Bleak House would want to do everything possible to get their books out to reviewers so that they can be reviewed. I made this argument in a letter back to them awhile back and never heard another word.

It is too bad as they were always a publisher I could count on to deliver quality books that appealed to me. With the ongoing cutbacks at my local library system, getting their books once I know about them will be increasingly difficult. Hopefully, they will change their minds one of these days.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Review: Hostile Takeovers: A Leal And Hart Novel by Michael A. Black

In this sequel to Random Victim Sergeant Francisco Leal is more than a little annoyed that his partner, Olivia (Ollie) Hart isn’t back working with him. Instead, when she isn’t working for her upcoming competition as a female body builder, she is stuck on some sort of special detail over in Robertsville, Illinois. Years of corruption have caused the local police force to be dismissed, and for now until the first class graduates from the academy, Cook County Sheriff’s Police are pulling patrol duty in Robertsville.

That leaves Leal running a major surveillance operation involving a snitch without help that he can really count on. The snitch, known as the “Lip” is supposed to make a controlled buy in front of Leal and his team. With the snitch being closely connected to a powerful and very successful drug dealer there is potential of rolling up quite an operation. Unfortunately for Leal and the snitch, the snitch’s cover is blown and he is killed. This sparks retaliation and despite numerous characters and many storylines, eventually Leal and Hart begin to deal with the escalating turf war.

A police officer himself, Michal Black clearly knows his subject well and uses every detail and nuance possible in the novel. An extremely slow moving police procedural, the read spends considerable time off on various secondary storylines where readers are subjected to often actions and characters that have little or nothing to do with the main storyline of the execution murder of the snitch, politics and the drug war. Such sideways trips far from the main storyline have the capacity to bore the reader considerably who should be forgiven for frequently muttering “get on with it.”

When Author Michael A. Black focuses on the main storyline in “Hostile Takeovers” he delivers a solid tale which somewhat salvages the book despite being devoid of human emotion. Even the health scare of Olivia which is a classic cliché and should bring out some realistic character emotion for the reader comes across entirely flat. In this case and others throughout the meandering novel, the characters spend considerable amounts of time telling readers how they feel with little time actually showing readers real human emotion. There is a distant flat quality of writing throughout the 353 novel that reminds one of the sterility of reading a law document.

Despite the theoretically complimentary comparison to Joseph Wambaugh in some reviews, the only thing these two authors actually in common is that they both use their law enforcement backgrounds to write police procedurals. Regarding character development, use of plotlines and emotions, as well as style of writing and a myriad of other issues, these two authors are as opposite as they possibly could be. Such a contrived positive comparison does a huge disservice to both authors with readers hurt by making buying and reading decisions based on such faulty comparisons.

Hostile Takeovers: A Leal And Hart Novel
Michael A. Black
Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc)
ISBN# 0-8439-6272-0
Mass Market Paperback (eBook available)
353 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009