Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books: "Antler Dust" by Mark Stevens

Recently I received an e-mail from Mark stating that the sequel to his very good first novel "Antler Dust" was ready and he was agent hunting. Unfortunately, his first publisher went under, which seems to be happening more and more to first time authors. Not only is that obviously a real shame for Mark it is also a real shame for readers.

All too often these days, there is a sort of cookie cutter mentality in publishing where if one book takes off, then within a few weeks or months, the look alike clones invade. While an obvious comparison here could be made to the work of C. J. Box, a favorite author of mine, this work is very different. Mark created a unique signature character and one that would quickly win fans far and wide, as has happened so far, if an agent and a publisher were smart enough to get on board.

Hopefully, they are.

So ,without further commentary from me, I offer this week's installment in Patti Abbott's long running series "Friday's Forgotten Books." The complete list for this week and others can be found at No, it doesn't fit her mandated topic this week on story collections. Oh, well. This very good book is on my mind and so it runs .......

Allison Coil came out to Colorado’s Flat Top wilderness to leave memories of death and destruction behind. Which is somewhat ironic since her new chosen profession was to be a hunting guide where she would routinely see death. The concept of death and what death means has become an almost constant companion while she seeks solace in the beautiful Colorado Mountains and in the local area known as Ripplecreek. Hunting guides aren’t a rarity in the mountains but being a woman she stands out and once again has to prove herself—especially to the good old boy network. Of course, if the protest group “Fighting Animal Torture Everywhere” otherwise known as “FATE” has its way, nobody will be hunting in the mountains anymore.

As a snowstorm descends on the area, Alison Coil hears a gunshot. Certainly not unusual but the actions of who she thinks is the shooter when she catches a glimpse through the swirling snow make her wonder. She watches him or her over on the next ridge dragging something and then the snow thickens and she loses sight of what was happening. Something didn’t look right and she thinks about it as she works to guide herself and her horse, Bear, safely off the mountain. Her suspicions are further encouraged when she learns that a local hunting guide is missing as is one of the protesters. She knows something funny is going on and after being shoved aside once too many times when she spoke up, begins to investigate in her own way.

In a novel that shifts point of view through numerous characters, Author Mark Stevens weaves a compelling tale of greed and murder with the majestic beauty of the Colorado Rockies as his backdrop. Allison Coil is a strong complex character who quickly comes to life despite some of the other characters who seem to be little more than stock stereotype figures. A first novel from the author, it shows most tellingly in that a significant portion of the character depth is reserved for Coil. However, it is also clear that at least two of the secondary characters have definite possibilities should this work become part of a series.

Where the author showcases real talent is in the weaving of the various storylines as well as bringing alive the beauty of the setting. A theme within the work is the fact that responsible hunting is a necessary part of wildlife management today. That theme coupled with the concept of what it means to be a female guide in an area dominated by men could have become a series of information dumps that would preach to readers. Instead, showing real skill, the information is occasionally presented in the course of doing other things and never becomes the reason for anything.

Add in the scenic beauty and the at times harsh elements, good old fashioned greed with a thoroughly modern twist, along with several plot surprises in the last fifty pages and the result is a very good book. Author Mark Stevens has created a very good read that quickly becomes a real page turner and one well worth your reading investment.

Antler Dust: A Novel
By Mark Stevens
Paandaa Entertainment
March, 2007
ISBN# 978-0-9774188-1-7
287 Pages

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Video Review: "Deadwood: Season One"

On one of the writing lists I am on, the subject of language has come up during the last few days. Not so much in the terms of cussing, but in whether or not it is appropriate anymore in fiction to use derogatory racist terms. Some responders felt very strongly that, no matter the time period the story was set in, modern day political correctness should take precedent and such language simply couldn’t and shouldn’t ever be used. Others seemed to feel that if the story was set in the distant past, such terms could be used though they went on to argue that if the story was set in the current time such terms could not be used to reflect a character’s beliefs.

I am not sure where I draw the line on the issue. It would be in one place as a reader, in another as a writer, and most likely in another if I was editing things again. I also believe the media platform has something to do with all this. I can see having a character say one thing in a book and having the same thing appear somewhat toned down online where those I work with and others can more easily find it and pass judgment. Many folks that aren’t creative don’t understand that just because we envision a character saying or doing something it does not mean that we personally are capable of saying or do something. It is called “Fiction” for a reason though many folks don’t seem to get that point.

Having recently watched “Deadwood: Season One” on DVD via my local library the online discussion was timely. What many would consider filthy language drives this series and can come as a bit of a shock at first to the viewer. Created by David Milch of NYPD fame, this is a series that never could have run on the over the air networks.

“A Hell Of A Place To Make Your Fortune” is the tagline as well as a very good description of the series and the camp known as Deadwood. Set in 1876 in South Dakota the land is harsh and so are the living conditions for nearly everyone. Men are men, women are usually prostitutes, and pigs do what they do best—get rid of the bodies.

Timothy Olyphant (starring these days in Justified on FX) is Seth Bullock. Once a lawman in Montana, he left and headed to Deadwood along with his friend and business partner, Sol Star (John Hawkes). Together they plan on leaving law enforcement behind in favor of running their own hardware store. Their primary customer will be the miners and others who are mining and panning for gold in the hills and streams outside the camp known as Deadwood.

In modern terms, Al Swearengen (played by Ian McShane) is basically the local crime boss and unofficial mayor of the camp. The camp exists on land owned by no one, controlled by no outside entity, a place where Al Swearengen is the lord and master of the manor and everyone else are his feudal servants. Al runs the local bar and brothel known as “The Gem” and suffers from the same problem Tony Soprano frequently went crazy over- competent help is so hard to find.

Further complications are added by Cy Tolliver coming to town bringing the game of craps, numerous prostitutes and an agenda of his own with the “Bella Union.” Not to mention an outbreak of smallpox, an elaborate con game involving the worth of a mining claim, the death of Wild Bill Hickok and numerous other secondary storylines and characters.

While some have commented quite favorably on the Calamity Jane character, I find her rather annoying and of little substance in the series. Instead Doc Cochran, played by Brad Douriff, intrigues me far more. There is a lot of understated acting in his role as well as complexity that, for this viewer at least, is far more interesting.

What makes this series work, among other things, is the fact that David Milch doesn’t allow clichés and stereotypes to rule the day. For example, Seth Bullock has always tried to do the right thing. After his brother was killed, he married his brother’s widow to take care of her and the son they had. In so doing, he has set himself up for incredible pain, when he begins to fall for, Alma Garret, who is quickly made a widow herself. Not to mention that his temper occasionally erupts when he has been pushed too far and in extremely violent ways. All that means that Seth is a flawed character at his core struggling to do the very best he can day in and day out with fate that ultimately he may be powerless to prevent much like a Greek tragedy.

I’ll leave it to others to address the historical accuracy of the series after pointing out that this is fiction and liberties are always taken. The cursing level in the series is extremely high along with frequent racial and gender slurs. The times weren’t politically correct and the series reflects that on a minute by minute basis. This is not a series for children and there are plenty of adults who will not be interested in watching it just because of the language.

I obtained my copy from the local library system. The complete first season set also contained a DVD of bonus material on the series discussing the making of the series, the language and other related items. Unfortunately there is not a blooper reel included. I would have very much like to have seen that as I expect there are some very funny outtakes. However, to have included that would be far different than the tone of the series which is usually somber and grim with very few wise cracks.

My wife and I first tried this a couple years ago and only made it about twenty minutes before giving up. Having been raised on westerns (both TV series and movies) I thought I knew what this series would be like going in. However, I didn’t and dumped it then instead of sticking with it despite her vehement objections.

Thanks to being home on medical leave and at my breaking point with day time television, at my request, my wife picked this up for me a few weeks ago with the understanding that she wouldn’t watch it. Since the point was to give me something to occupy my mind while everyone was gone each day, I gladly agreed. Once again, I noticed how slow things were to get going, but this time I resolved to watch at least the first several episodes to give it a real chance.

By the end of episode two I was hooked. If you can handle the often very harsh language and the occasional glimpse of female nudity, which may or may not be attractive depending on your own personal standards, I think you will quickly find yourselves hooked too.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reviewing: "Faces Of The Gone" by Brad Parks

Newark, New Jersey has seen senseless killings before. But, the latest is a new low and one made to order for media sensationalism. Four victims, each shot in the head, are left on public display in a vacant lot. The television media, always quick to go with visuals over story depth, quickly tag the victims as “The Ludlow Four.”

Carter Ross, an investigative reporter with the newspaper Newark Eagle-Examiner, is supposed to take a different tack to the story. Instead of profiling the victims like a couple of other reporters at his newspaper are doing, his editor wants him to take a look at why the killings happened. More of the societal angle with a focus on how society needs to change to prevent such a needless tragedy.

The police are putting out for public consumption that the four recently robbed a local bar and were killed as retaliation. Ross is able to slowly identify all four victims and realizes that they came from varied walks of walk, far different parts of the city, and gradually comes to the realization that the explanation generated by the Police doesn’t make sense. In digging into their backgrounds, Ross not only proves the bar theory wrong, he proves that a theory advanced by the feds doesn’t work either.

The search for the common link between the four murder victims and the truth drives the events of the novel. A novel that occasionally, as all crime/mystery books and a majority of thrillers seem to do these days, shifts into the point of view of the demented mastermind behind all the killings. Something that this reader is very tired of and yet, as long as all the writer advice out there seems to encourage the practice, the annoyance will continue.

Other than those weak moments which border on the clichéd (the name of the evil master mind is laughably named “The Director” for goodness sake) the novel rolls steadily along with a cast of somewhat over the top characters who are allowed to grow far from their stereotyped beginnings. That fact, along with an interesting central character in Carter Ross, plenty of humor and action make this a highly enjoyable debut mystery. The ending is a little too rushed and our hero is easily saved by outside forces and yet the overall read is good one.

Faces Of The Gone: A Mystery
Brad Parks
Thomas Dunne Books (Minotaur Books)
ISBN# 978-0-312-57477-2
330 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Author Radine Trees Nehring is back with "A Journey to Die For"

This novel marks the sixth installment of the “Something to Die For” mystery series as well a new publisher. Carrie and Henry King are an active retired couple who recently got married and occasionally help out small town police with peculiar cases. They have decided to celebrate their eight months of wedded bliss by taking a day trip to enjoy the historic excursion train from Springdale to Van Buren, Arkansas. They will spend the layover in Van Buren eating and shopping before they take the train ride back to Springdale.

They aren’t the only interesting people on the train. Among others are a reporter/anchor and cameraman for a travel program on public television in Arkansas. The fact that the media is onboard the train filming and interviewing the passengers seems to make the two gentlemen directly in front of Carrie and Henry nervous. Their occasionally suspicious behavior engages the attention of Carrie and Henry from time to time while the train travels to Van Buren.

It is only later, while looking at the sights in Van Buren, Carrie discovers the body of one of the two men from the train floating in the river. It wasn’t a simple accidental drowning as most people aren’t stabbed several times before falling into the Arkansas River. Using Henry’s background in law enforcement and Carrie’s natural curiosity, they manage to insert themselves into a murder case and a hunt for treasure from the Confederacy.

This well written cozy novel was the winner of the “2009 Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Unpublished Mystery Novel Competition” and is also a good read. Not only are Carrie and Henry interesting characters that quickly come to life for readers, there is plenty of interesting back story, action and romance and a recipe or three. Throw in crime, deceit, plenty of local history, and a nasty turn of events from time to time along with a hunt for treasure from the Confederacy, and one has a mighty good read. Such is the case here with this novel scheduled to be released next month from Wolfmont Press.

“A Journey to Die For: Something to Die For Mystery Series”
Radine Trees Nehring
Wolfmont Press
ISBN# 978-1-60364-020-6
May 15, 2010

Material supplied by Tony Burton, owner of Wolfmont Press and subsidiaries, in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reviewing: "A Handbook for Widows" by Corrine Jacobson and Rose M. Rubin

Having a spouse die unexpectedly is a shock and something that happens all too frequently. With no warning or planning, the widow or widower is left behind to deal with the aftermath as best they can. This small self published book offers guidance for widows as well as widowers on how to deal with all the things that have to be dealt with in the aftermath of the death of a spouse.

Broken into five sections, the book opens after the preface with a bullet point “The Immediate Things- A Quick Check List.” Those same items are covered in depth in the first section of the book titled “Section One: First Things First.” This is where the authors Corrine Jacobson (a resident of Fort Worth, Texas) and Rose M. Rubin go into more detail on what to do in the first minutes and hours after the death. From notifying friends and family, assigning someone to make sure the out of towners have a place to stay, involving family in what is important in the eulogy, to dealing with the funeral home, making sure someone is at your home during the funeral to keep it safe from thieves who read newspaper obituaries (a growing issue via online obituaries as well) to dealing with the actual funeral, each area and others are covered with compassion and clear directions. The resounding theme throughout this section is let friends and family help you while you do as much as you want to yourself.

At some point, after the immediacy of the funeral, everyone else will return to their normal lives leaving you behind to deal with things by yourself. That is the theme of the second section titled “Your Next Steps” which begins on page seventeen. The first night alone will be the hardest and some good advice as to how to deal with that leads off the section. After that first night, topics regarding cherishing memories and keepsakes, thinking positive and making sure you have positive people around you, focusing on what you are doing no matter how mundane the task, and staying in control through self discipline are some of the general ideas presented here.

“Section Three: Handling the Estate” follows and addresses items such as bank accounts, death certificates, how to deal with the spouse’s employer, social security and how dealing with the immediate financial situation is very important. You need to figure out what needs to be paid (mortgage, rent, utilities, etc) and what stocks, bonds, etc you own now. The main theme in this section is to educate yourself on the current situation and while you may seek advice, make sure that you retain all control over your financial situation. Basic estate terms such as probate, power of attorney, etc. are explained as well as the process needed to determine the value of the estate along with tips on Medicare and insurance claims of all types, dealing with Social Security and various other issues.

Beginning on page thirty-six, “Section Four: It’s Your Home” advocates staying where you are for at least a year. By doing so, you still have your support system as well as a familiar outdoor environment. Clearly, though it is your home it has fundamentally and massively changed. At some point, it will be time to deal with your spouse’s things and this chapter addresses how to deal with that, as well as dealing with the unneeded prescriptions, any medical alert system, and other items. Since this book is primarily aimed at widows, the chapter concludes with the idea that you may have to learn tasks that are unfamiliar to you such as changing the batteries in various remotes, changing the batteries in the smoke detectors, changing light bulbs, knowing where the fuse box is located, etc.

“Section Five: Your Own New Life” begins on page forty-one and urges the reader to think of the positives of being alone. Now you can control the thermostat without complaint, watch what you want, run fans or not, etc. Now is the time to embrace new projects and people, try things that for whatever reason you never tried before, decorate your home to recognize the season and/or holiday, take a trip, start exercising if you didn’t before (and if you did by all means keep going), bringing a pet home and numerous other ideas. The overall theme is to get back out there and live again in a new way as your life takes a new direction. Take care of yourself and your environment and have some fun along the way doing what you want to do. Make sure to repay in some small way all the people who have helped you in your time of need.

A list of references for the various sources that are quoted in the book, author bios, and a brief acknowledgements statement bring the fifty-six page book to a close.

This well written fifty-six page book is an excellent guide for both widows and widowers. While the book does not provide legal advice and the authors do not claim it does, it does provide excellent general advice on what to do at the time of death and in the immediate afterwards. Full of compassion, the book serves as both a guide as well as an excellent starting point on numerous issues for an incredibly painful time in life.

A Handbook for Widows
By Corrine Jacobson and Rose M. Rubin
C. A. Bond, Publisher
ISBN# 978-0-615-26424-0
56 Pages

Material supplied by author Corrine Jacobson in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2010

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books: "Dead Head" by Dr. Allen Wyler

Back early this year, Patti Abbott, asked me to submit a book review for her "Friday Forgotten Books" blog. I did and enjoyed doing it as well as the interest the review created. Since then, Patti has suggested I keep doing them, along with her regular contributors, every Friday.

It hasn't happened because I normally am at work when I suddenly realize that it is Friday and again I forgot to post an appropriate review. Currently, I am still home on medical leave which made it work today.

I offer for your friday consideration "Dead Head" by Dr. Allen Wyler. Having read his first novel "Deadly Errors" and this one, it is a tossup which one is better though the premise here is certainly a bit creepier. The review was originally published in 2007 and the book still is relevant today.


Following up on his novel “Deadly Errors” the author has crafted yet another superb and at times very disturbing medical thriller. For neurosurgeon Russell Lawton, the conference where he has presented his paper on connecting a robotic hand to the neurons in a monkey’s brain by way of on interface between the two has been routine though the material isn’t. If it works, some day paralyzed humans might be able to move their limbs by way of thinking it to happen. What has been a concept deep in the realm of science fiction is gradually becoming modern reality.

Stopped after his speech by a beautiful woman masquerading as a reporter, he agrees to be interviewed and follows her willingly outside of the Moscone Convention Center. That will be the last willing thing he does as he is soon grabbed and removed from the street by Islamic terrorists. Before long, he is in the air in a private jet on his way back to his laboratory at the National Institutes of Health.

With his young daughter a hostage and faced with death, Dr. Russell Lawton has no choice but to cooperate. The terrorists are demanding his help and they are proposing something so unthinkable at every level that Dr. Russell Lawton is revolted to the very core of his being. Beyond the incredible medical challenges, the very idea they insist will be done raises huge moral and ethical challenges. And yet, Dr. Lawton has no choice if he wishes to save his life, his daughter’s as well as other potential victims.

What follows is an incredible read that propels the reader on an emotional roller coaster. Dr. Allen Wyler again uses his extensive medical background to bring forth insight into a complex medical problem. Those very detailed bits of medical information are skillfully woven into the story and do nothing to slow it down.

At the same time, unlike most thrillers, the main characters in this book soon to be released are rich and detailed. Dr. Lawton’s emotional agony both in terms of his daughter as well as what he has been asked to do come alive for the reader. This is also true of other characters unwittingly drawn in such as FBI Special Agent Sandra Phillips who is part of the secondary and independent storyline of the kidnapping of Lawton’s daughter.

The result is an excellent fast paced read full of medical information and surgical procedures, action, and deep moral questions. This thriller with a currently scheduled release date of February 6, 2007 written by Dr. Allen Wyler is not easy to put down once finished and sure to leave the reader with a lot of imagery and questions about the possible medical break through and its meaning.

By Allen Wyler
ISBN #0-765-35596-5

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007, 2010

Monday, April 05, 2010

Reviewing: "Mystery, Suspense, Film Noir And Detective Movies on DVD: A Guide To The Best In Cinema Thrills"

Written by John Howard Reid and self published through Lulu Books last year, this cinematic guide doesn’t waste time with an introduction, preface, or table of contents. It opens with the 1937 file “Accidents Will Happen.” According to the synopsis, the film is about “an insurance adjuster (Reagan) is hounded by his shrewish wife (Shelia Brornley) and a corrupt claims investigator (Lawler.)” Along with a detailed cast list and a production list is basic copyright and technical info on the film and a comment about the movie. The comment is a multi sentence mini review of the film and the Mr. Reid’s reaction to it.

This same format is followed throughout the first more than three hundred pages and ends with the 1933 film “Zoo in Budapest.” In between are many films including ones such as “a Bullet for Joey” staring Edward L. Robinson, “a Kiss Before Dying” staring Robert Wayner and over 180 other films. Ones listed are primarily from the 1930s to the 1950s and features a black and white still picture from the movie.

Starting on page 313 with an essay on the topic of “Noir, Crime and Mystery” various topics are considered in detail with additional movies covered and included. After discussing the topic in considerable depth for over 100 pages through examples and cinematic details, the author moves on to consider “The Best Sherlock Holmes” starting on page 419. This leads into an essay discussion on “The Thin Man Series” (Page 426), “Raymond Chandler on DVD” (Page 440), a two page essay on the 1984 Paramount Production “The Big Clock” (Page 447), and a five page essay considering the ultimate movie tough guys” Boggart Versus Ladd” (page 449) The book concludes with a short list of lesser known retailers that might carry these films, a list of the top thirty-six noir films according to the author and a eleven page index arranged alphabetically by movie title.

This no nonsense guide is a comprehensive and very detailed look at a period of cinematic history. Published by Lulu Books, the book is well worth the investment in both time and money for the reader seriously interested in the subject matter. Details and facts abound in the well written book. For serious movie lovers of the classics, this book is a fantastic resource and a welcome addition to the reference library.

Mystery, Suspense, Film Noir And Detective Movies on DVD: A Guide To The Best In Cinema Thrills
John Howard Reid
LuLu Books
467 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2010

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Barry's Books

Barry Ergang has asked me to pass on the info that he has sold a number of books and has put up even more for sale. That means the items for sale found at:


has changed. So, surf on over and check out what Barry is selling. Good stuff on both sites. I am sure you will find something you want.


Friday, April 02, 2010

Reviewing: "The Bricklayer" by Noah Boyd

Once again another book is shamelessly marketed as the new Jack Reacher. Once again the book is a pretender to the throne and the author is done a disservice by the comparison created by the sales department of the publisher. Once again the marketing hype is misleading at best. If one wants to read Jack Reacher, one reaches for the latest book in the series by Lee Child. There have been many pretenders to come along to claim the Jack Reacher throne and Steve Vail penned by Noah Boyd is just the latest.

Which is not to say it is a bad book. It is pretty good as long as you take it for what it is--sheer escapist reading. It isn't Reacher and it shows. As long as you don't take it seriously or expect too much, the book works.

Steve Vail used to be an FBI agent. A very good agent who had a reputation of getting the job done no matter what and in so doing annoying the bosses. A reputation of not caring about the political repercussions and not respecting authority—especially incompetent authority. His reputation is hard to understand by those with political aspirations in the bureau as is his current occupation as a brick layer.

His unwillingness to conform is exactly what the FBI needs right now. A group known as the “Rubaco Pentad” is killing public figures that could be construed as enemies of the FBI. At the same time, “Rubaco Pentad” is blaming the FBI for the killings and extorting increasing amounts of money from the FBI who is desperate to pay the money, stop the killings, and prevent the news of either getting out via the media. The FBI needs Vail to come back and one more time to find the bad guys and put an end to the madness.

This debut novel of a planned series is fairly good. It suffers, as do many thrillers, from an over inflated sense of the grand epic. A number of characters are introduced and readers watch the events through their point of view for a chapter or two before they are discarded for one reason or another. This issue is primarily in the first third of the book and creates situations where the reader just knows the character will die—just not how.

Like many books in the thriller and mystery genres these days there is the obligatory romance between the two central characters. In this case it is between Vail and newly promoted Deputy Assistant Director Kate Bannon. Guess what? She’s hot. Smart too and is willing to risk her career to get the bad guys. Years ago Steve and Kate sort of worked together and now, thrust together under the pressures of the case, the stress, a romance begins despite the baggage they both posses. This romance, along with several other plot points, brings a very formulaic paint by the numbers feel to the book that will be screamingly obvious to seasoned mystery and thriller readers.

While the book doesn’t break new ground in the genre, it does provide solid entertainment and escapist reading. Character development is very limited as just about everyone in here are two dimensional at best. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed in future books. For now take “The Bricklayer” for what it is—sheer escapist reading using a tried and true formula where the bosses are idiots, the bad guys are clever whack jobs, and the hero is a man of honor who just might get the hot babe in the end. On those points, author Noah Boyd, a pseudonym for Paul Lindsay, a former FBI agent, delivers fully on all aspects.

The Bricklayer
Noah Boyd
William Morrow (Harper Collins Publishers)
February 2010
ISBN# 978-0-06-182701-3
390 Pages

Material provided at my request through the Amazon Vine Program.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2010