Friday, September 30, 2011

FFB Review: "Gods in Alabama" by Joshilyn Jackson

As always, for the complete lists of books and authors recommended by those of us participating in Friday’s Forgotten Books, surf over to Patti Abbott’s blog at  While there, check out her latest Flash Fiction Challenge and other offerings. Lots of good stuff.

For Arlene Fleet, it has been ten years and God has apparently decided their deal is off. She had promised God that she wouldn't fornicate with boys, she wouldn't tell another lie, and she would never go back home to her own fourth circle of personal hell, Possett, Alabama. She has managed to do that by staying in Chicago, teaching or taking classes ever summer, having a boyfriend who is willing to wait as long as she wants, and refusing all requests to come home by her family no matter what the occasion or reason. 

"At this point, I figured I had firmly established that I would not be coming home, even if all if Chicago was scheduled to be consumed by the holy flames of a vengeful Old Testament-style Lord. `Thanks for the invite, Mama,' I would say, `but I have plans to be burned up in a fire that weekend.' Mama, however, could wipe a conversation out of her mind an infinite number of times and come back to the topic fresh as a daisy the next time we spoke." (Page 2) 

In exchange, all God was supposed to do was to make sure that the body was never found. There are gods in Alabama and Arlene killed one ten years ago. Since God has allowed Rose Mae Lolley to show up on a therapist inspired quest to dig up the past at her door in Chicago, Arlene knows that the past has rear its ugly head once and fore all, and can no longer be denied. She has to find a way to stop her and the only option seems to be to go home and intercept Rose before she connects with the rest of the family. 

If that wasn't enough, Arlene's African American boyfriend has decided its time to meet the family. Not only does her hard as nails Aunt Florence want her to come home for Uncle Buster's retirement party, but Burr wants to meet the family. The thought terrifies Arlene. Not only from the fact that she will have to work mightily at keeping the secret safe and unknown, but she knows what her family is like and how they are. It may be the here and now, but cultural tendencies run deep and she knows that to bring her boyfriend, the man that she loves more than anything else and certainly more than she can consciously admit to herself, home is like trying to mix oil and water together. Burr thinks he knows what could be in store for him and does not care. For all intents and purposes his family has accepted her for what she is and it is long past time for her side to meet him. He needs them to meet him not just for her sake but also for his own as proof of their relationship. If she won't take him home to Alabama to meet the family, their relationship is over. 

Squeezed on all sides and desperate to keep the past hidden, Arlene gives into fate and heads home, Burr in tow. For Burr, it is a bit of a culture shock. For Arlene, it is about keeping the past, as she knows it, buried deep in the kudzu. 

An incredibly emotional book, author Joshilyn Jackson has managed to create a debut southern noir novel in the finest traditions of the genre. Open and accessible, unlike many classic novels in the genre, the work is a tale of pain and redemption. At times, humorous, at times dark and violent, all times engrossing, Arlene begins a long spiritual journey to reclaim her very identity and in some sense, become born again as befitting her being raised as a Southern Baptist. Told with flashbacks when necessary, this novel is steeped with rich characters that come alive for the reader. While it touches on typical southern themes of racism, bigotry and class struggle, the author blends in a murder mystery and details how the little things in a family can become so very important. 

It simply isn't possible to explain the rich tapestry of this book and the chord it strikes within, in the context of a simple book review. For those of us raised in the South, the book reflects our friends and family. We who were raised here know people who are these people to the very core of their being. As such, while they may go by a different name on the printed page, we know who they are as they live and breathe. Therefore, this book becomes a window, not just to the author's world, but to the world of all of us.

Gods in Alabama
Joshilyn Jackson
Warner Books (Hachette Book Group)
April 13, 2005
ISBN#  0446524190
275 Pages

Kevin R. Tipple  ©2005, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Short Story Review: "bleed american" by John Kenyon (Shotgun Honey Website)

I have always been seriously annoyed by folks who felt it was okay to hang the American flag behind the couch, thumb tack the flag to the dining room wall, etc. Apparently, no nonsense Foley feels the same way in “bleed american” published at Shotgun Honey yesterday. It isn’t just about the flag. Principal is very important and apparently Kyle does not get it in this short story written by John Kenyon. A quick and good read well worth your time.

Surf over to Shotgun Honey, if you haven’t already, at  and read “bleed american.” It isn’t the only good short story there. Just the most recent.  


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Still Here--For Now

Been a hard week so I have not been online much. In addition to all the normal stuff that has been going on, my not falling streak ended about midday Monday. It was probably my worst fall since all this started back in March 2010. Nothing broken, but am still feeling it massively. Pretty much immobilized me though I am trying to do a little bit on a couple of things.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank folks for their support here and elsewhere online. You will never know how much it means to me and the family. Far more than I can say or explain.

Thank you.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: "The End Of Everything" by Megan Abbott

Before it happened it seemed to 13 year old Lizzie Hood that the Verner family next door was perfect in every way. Lizzie had been friends with Evie for what seemed like forever and spent almost every waking moment in her company. Evie’s mom is bland and unassuming. Evie’s sister, Dusty, rules home and school where nearly every guy wants her and yet none can have her. Unlike lizzie’s own father who has left the house and moved on with his life thanks to the divorce, Evie’s father, Mr. Verner, is not only constantly around, he might be the most perfect father and man on earth. All is right in the world as school winds down and the two girls have a summer to look forward to before starting High School.

Then, the unthinkable happens and Evie vanishes one afternoon. Evie and Lizzie were going to walk home but Lizzie’s mom picked her up instead so that they could go to the Mall. Evie was supposed to go on home but never made it there. Now Evie is missing and the perfect world next door is starting to crack in so many ways.

As the days pass with Evie missing, author Megan Abbott skillfully weaves in clues, backstory, and tension to show characters that are evolving and changing in many ways while the story itself becomes much more complex. The disappearance truly does bring about “The End of Everything” in so many ways as Lizzie comes to grips with the idea that things next door were not so perfect after all. While the Verver family fractures in ways that one would somewhat expect as well as ways one wouldn’t, Lizzie’s whole world changes. Perceptions of what was real and what was fantasy, before and after the abduction, change as does her understanding of her own motivations and feelings. In a way, there is a certain coming of age aspect to this complex novel as Lizzie is forced to confront things that were, in some form, always there but far beneath the surface.

From a reviewer standpoint, this is a difficult book to review without sharing far too much. It is also one that is hard to explain concisely as the complex book goes in many different ways at the same time raising far more questions than it answers. Adult, and sometimes disturbing, themes are very strong in this book and will produce strong reactions from some readers. Much is implied or hinted at though how seriously to take it as actual character feeling/motivation is up to the reader.

As reviews elsewhere make abundantly clear while also often telling far too much, this is one of those novels that how the reader reads between the lines will determine much more about what the book means or says to the reader than what the author actually wrote. Deceptively short at 246 pages of actual story this is a very good book. “The End Of Everything” by Megan Abbott is a book packed with complex characters, deep emotion, and a complex mystery that will keep you thinking long after you close the book.

The End of Everything: A Novel
Megan Abbott
A Reagan Arthur Book (Little, Brown And Company)
July 2011
ISBN# 978-0-09779-6
256 Pages

Material supplied by Patti Abbot via a contest on her blog several months ago with no expectation of any review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Test Results and Other News

We have heard back from the doctor and Sandi’s cardiac results were okay. She has been cleared to go ahead and have the long awaited knee surgery that had been postponed because of money issues and then her strokes at the end of July.  We don’t know yet when the surgery will take place but at least she has now been cleared to have it done.

My son found this picture and helped me get it onto my computer yesterday evening. This was taken in May 2010 at Texas Woman's University up in Denton, Texas at Sandi’s graduation. This was about six weeks after Sandi had been hospitalized after she collapsed during a student teaching deal up in Frisco having suffered a heart attack and four strokes in quick succession. Since April 2010 she has had twelve additional strokes, not to mention the two or three she had the last weekend of July that put her back in the hospital. All the strokes have caused permanent brain damage so the doctors believe and have finally told her that she most likely will never be able to pass the state tests to teach.

Left to right are Scott, Karl and me. I had thrown the cane to one side and was hanging on for dear life hoping not to fall. If I had to do it over these days, the cane would have gone nowhere as I have not been able to do such things for quite some time now.

Having been denied again for Social Security disability despite the fact that I can’t walk or work as without seeing me, they believe I can somehow work, I will be spending most of the weekend when I can sit up copying the file and all the paperwork for congressman Sam Johnson.  His staff is now aware of my problem and requested more information to assist with my case.

This won’t matter unless we find the money to pay the rent so we can stay here, but I am trying to keep the faith and hope despite what appears to be an increasingly dire situation. Things do not look good at all.

I do want to say thank you to those folks who have Chipped In again.  We all appreciate it very much.


Friday, September 23, 2011

FFB Review: "THE MAN WHO LIKED SLOW TOMATOES (1982) by K.C. Constantine" Reviewed by Barry Ergang

THE MAN WHO LIKED SLOW TOMATOES (1982) by K.C. Constantine
Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Mario Balzic, Serbo-Italian Chief of Police in the coal town of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, is a man beleaguered by bureaucrats. The police union's contract has expired, and for the past month, Balzic has been an unwilling participant in negotiation meetings that are going nowhere, largely because of city officials he can't stand. When the book opens, he has sneaked out of City Hall and sought refuge and relaxation in Muscotti's, a local tavern.  

It's only June, but Vinnie the bartender shows Balzic that he's got locally grown tomatoes, and that they were given to him by one Jimmy Romanelli who, as it turns out, is married to a woman Balzic knew when they were kids. Balzic was in his teens and Mary Frances Fiori was a child. Their fathers were both coal miners who often got together to discuss union and other business. Fiori was a widower, so Mario Balzic kept an eye on his young daughter while he and the elder Balzic talked. After his father died, Mario lost contact with Fiori, and is astonished to learn from Vinnie that the man is still alive: "...And he's a bull. Still works his garden every day, still walks five, six miles every day, cuts his own firewood, cooks, cleans house, takes care of himself." 

Balzic recognizes Jimmy Romanelli's name, remembering that a State Bureau of Drug Enforcement investigator once mentioned him as a person of interest. Vinnie doesn't believe it, telling Balzic that Romanelli's the kind of guy who always has to be right, who's a good guy when things are going his way, but who blames everyone but himself if things take a turn for the worse. And that they have because when the local mine shut down, he and many others were suddenly out of work. Others found jobs of different sorts or moved to other mining regions of the country. Romanelli did nothing but collect unemployment checks, and now those have run out.

Balzic's conversation with Vinnie is interrupted several times by phone calls from Mary Frances Romanelli. She's hysterical because Jimmy hasn't been home in more than twenty-four hours. Vinnie forces an unwilling Balzic to talk to her, but his own efforts to calm her are as ineffectual as Vinnie's were. When he finally returns to City Hall, he learns that she has been calling there repeatedly and berating whoever answers for not finding her missing husband. Balzic decides it's time to pay her a visit and talk to her in person.

I can't really say anything more about the story without giving everything away because the basic storyline is pretty thin. Despite being billed as "A Mario Balzic Detective Novel," this is not at all a conventional detective story. In fact, most experienced mystery readers will figure out what happened and who is responsible long before Balzic does. The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes is more than anything a novel of character, the author delineating and differentiating his cast of blue collar Americans through a heavy use of dialogue. 

Balzic, through whose third-person point-of-view events are filtered, is a generally likeable character—intelligent, intuitive, tough, stubborn, humorous, sensitive, and at times irascible. If I have one complaint about him, it's that a couple of times he uses the N-word. This is the fifth book in the series, but the first I've ever read, so I can't determine whether he's actually a racist, whether epithets of this sort are just part of the culture of Rocksburg, or if he's trying to persuade certain interlocutors that he's "one of them." 

As I said earlier, the story itself is not a complex, convoluted one, and for some readers will prove to be thoroughly predictable. Despite that, and because of strong characterizations achieved primarily through a masterly use of dialogue, The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes should appeal to the men and women who like fast compelling reads.  

Barry Ergang (c) 2011


Formerly the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007 Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages. Remember, too, that he has books from his personal collection for sale at He'll contribute 20% of the purchase price of the books to our fund, so please have a look at his lists, one of which includes The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes

For the complete list of Friday's Forgotten Books go to

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PLEASE---We Still Need Your Help

I am begging for your help again so that we don’t have to go to a homeless shelter in Downtown Dallas. I'm terrified of being homeless.

Late yesterday, after Sandi had her second round of cardiac tests (we won’t know results for a few days), we were approved for food stamps. The caseworker processed our case as an emergency and that means later today we can go buy some food. Not that we were starving but basics were getting pretty low. I guess it helped that Sandi was doing the tests because with the stress and effort with that, we have not been eating much of anything at all. Just too upset.

We were denied for Medicaid because, according to the very nice caseworker who really worked with us, we have over $200 in assets because we have furniture, clothes, etc. and that disqualifies us under Texas Medicaid rules. We “might” qualify once we were in a homeless shelter but I really don’t want to find out if that is true. Sandi is still on unpaid medical leave and has not been terminated yet, so she still has her insurance as long as we pay the $120 bucks a month for her premium. The lack of Medicaid does not help my deal at all.

So, that is where we stand at this point. That is also why I am asking for your help.

Please know that I am asking for the bare minimum…not to get our car fixed or anything like that. This is just for the rent, keep the local phone service on so I have access to the internet, and pay for Sandi’s meds, etc. Most of the sixteen drugs she is on are generic and that helps, but between her drugs, my drugs, the many medications the boys are on because they both are special needs, it all adds up.

I know some folks hate Amazon and will not buy from them in favor of independent bookstores. I’m not asking you to change or do things differently. But, please, if, you are going to buy from Amazon anyway, please consider going through me as I get a referral fee of a few pennies on each purchase. It takes about three months after the end of the month for it to appear in my account and does not cost you a thing.

Sand is still having various mental issues, but she is able to once again make some things again. This has been strongly encouraged by her doctors and me as it can help her recovery. She has been making things for years and it is nice to see her able to do things again as there were serious questions she would be able to do so. Sandi has some of her stuff at she has holiday as well as everyday items like quilts, baby blankets, stuffed animals, etc.

Last fall our son, Karl, set up a couple of deals for selling things under his online moniker of THUNDERCATSNYY. Karl is still doing this. One is at Amazon where he has had decent success moving video games, movies, my old books¸ and other items. His store on Amazon is at: and changes almost daily because he adds things to replace stuff he has sold. He also set up a deal on iOffer to help move some of his Mom’s stuff and other items such as comic books he can’t sell/list at Amazon via

By the way, my good friend and occasional reviewer here, Barry Ergang has quite a few neat books over at his deal located at He sells a few and adds a few a couple of times a week so even if you looked before and did not find anything that strikes your fancy, surf over and take a look.

Barry is also now up with some of his older published stuff available on Smashwords. You can search under his name or go directly to his stuff by clicking

 So, there you have it. A shameless plug for folks you know and their families. We are good people who happen to be having one very bad time of it. Please know that we are doing our best and are not just asking for help we don’t need. We truly do need your help desperately.

On behalf of Barry and my own family, I thank you.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Update

Sandi got through the test deal and nothing obvious red flagged during the test. It will be a few days before we know the results.

Late this afternoon we have been approved for food stamps. We were denied for Medicaid as we have more than 200 dollars in assets as we have clothes, furniture, etc because we aren't in the homeless shelter yet.


In addition to the food stamp interview this afternoon, Sandi has the second and harder round of cardiac tests this morning. This is the nuclear stuff where they shoot chemicals in to stress the heart as if one was exercising (something she can't do with her wrecked knee) and then take pictures. Yesterday did a number on her so how this will go, I have no idea.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Today was very hard on both of us. Her test took an extra hour as there were problems with the first set of pictures. Her BP as well as mine is way up tonight so she has taken her meds and gone to bed. Once I think things are okay and we won't have to go to ER tonight--something still in question---I will take mine and try to sleep myself.

Another round of pictures tomorrow with chemicals in the morning and then the food stamps interview tomorrow afternoon. It is going to be a very long and hard day. Even if we get approved, it does not solve the rent, meds, etc. issue.


Later today starts part one of a two day cardiac test for Sandi. Part two is tomorrow.

So, please keep a good thought, prayer, etc in mind for her. 

Thank you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review: "Texas Noir: Volume 1" by Milton T. Burton

Following up on three very good books, the most recent  being Nights of the Red Moon Texas author Milton T. Burton has brought forth an intriguing collection of short stories. These noir stories, seventeen in all, can provide pleasurable reading for those who enjoy noir as well as those who enjoy tales of mystery and science fiction.

The book opens appropriately enough with “A Good Beginning.”  The narrator’s trophy wife has become a bit of a problem.

“What I wanted was to get laid about twice a week and be left alone the rest of the time.  Mistakes are made, you know.”

Another trip to Texas gives him an idea and equipment to take back to his home in New York.  His home is an 18th century manor style place located in the Hudson Valley. He has work to do and the money to make it all happen.

Galveston is home of one of the “Adjusters” in “Fine Tuning.”  Adjusters work hard to keep the parallel worlds in the past where they belong. If folks would just cooperate things would be settled. The job can be messy but the narrator loves saving the world in this time traveling story.

“Cherry Coke” is the title of the next story as well as the nickname of a gambler who won big one night while playing poker at Matty’s Truck Stop in Kilgore, Texas.  Sam MacCord was there that night and wondered how somebody who claimed to have never played before could walk away the big winner. While Cherry keeps playing the next months and winning on a regular basis, Sam starts looking for answers.

Vampires don’t usually try to pick up women in trendy bars on lower Greenville Avenue in Dallas. Biology major Liddy is a vampire’s target for damn near anything in “Fangs.”  Whether she has it in her to resist is the question.

Seemingly every Texas author has to write a story connected to the Kennedy assassination. It seems hard wired into the DNA of many Texas writers. Such is the case here with “Grassy Knoll.”  The second shooter theory is alive and well and explained in this short story.

The problem with hitchhiking is you have to pretty much go with the ride you are offered.  In “Hobby” Sam MacCord isn’t impressed with the two specimens of humanity in the van in front of him.  Despite having the appearance of a harmless hitchhiker out in the middle of nowhere, Sam MacCord is none of that.  He is a man on a mission to get back what slipped through his fingers years ago well as clean up the planet one person at a time.

Sheriff Bo Handel makes an appearance in “Old Ira’s Still.”  The ATF is in Caddo County looking to bust Ira Blevins’ still and they expect Sheriff Handel’s full cooperation.  It may be illegal, but Blevin is 76 and not making enough moonshine to matter to anyone except for two hot shot ATF agents. The ATF folks aren’t the only ones poking around as the DEA is back with their own agenda. Sheriff Handel has a plan to deal with all of it in order to send the assorted feds back where they come from.

The old Texas cattleman has made his first trip to New York because he wanted to see his only granddaughter.  But, he got more than he bargained for when he saw a mob boss lose his head over at the next table in “The Collector.”  Not that it bothered him since he saw much worse things in the war. He can also identify the suspect who is rolling a few more heads that night.

It’s back to Texas, Lubbock in particular, in “Quicklube: A Fable.”  Some things don’t change and you take what you can get for services in this short and twisted tale.

It was a good thing that Father Cozart was at the theater that right. It was also a good thing the space alien showed up in “The Grays.”  Also good that the alien was wearing cowboy boots, a colt frontier 45, as well as an authentic western hat.  Also good that there is a witness to the frontier justice in the alley.

In what has to be one of the funniest stories I ever read anywhere, a shopper deals with a problem in “The Watchers.” This story can’t be explained without ruining it. It can only be read and enjoyed.

It is 1927 in Smith County in “Vessel unto Honor.”  Reverend Booker T. Olmstead has gone to considerable trouble to get to a phone and the Sheriff takes the urgent request for help seriously. But, sometimes you just have to let folks help themselves when the law can’t.

Author Milton T. Burton takes readers further back in time in the next story, “Thrice Hanged Throckett.”  1878 is the year and Gabble, Texas is the place. Everyone knows how things work in Gabble, Texas.  Even the governor.  At least the biscuits down in the café are good.  If the first hanging had worked, things would have been so much simpler.

A dream has significance in “The Day of the Hornet.”  So too does the 1951 Hudson Hornet in the dream. The car is black, has the number D3 painted on its side, and is driven by a living skeleton. Years later the narrator sees the car and driver again and this time it is no dream.

The book follows with “The Gipper in Purgatory.”  Or, at last, a story built around Ronald Reagan trying to explain a few things.

Breakfast once a month down at the old fashioned café on Elm Street was one of the high points of his life. Sam MacCord didn’t need it ruined by the whining fool at the next table that Friday morning in “The Apprentice.” So he joins the young man and his companion and offers to help.

The book ends with “The Question.”  Answering the question may not change anything.

Skipping across time and around the country these tales tend to the dark with a hint of humor thrown in. They often feature characters that are mistaken for fools because of where they live and their folksy ways. The tales often twist back on the reader in unexpected ways and almost always feature a lesson on applying justice to those who deserve it.  Every single story is good one and well worth your time.

Texas Noir: Volume 1
Milton T. Burton
July 10, 2011
Kindle E-Book

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

FFB Review: "The Texas Rodeo Murder" by George Wilhite

There is an old adage in writing fiction. No, not the beat to death and should be buried under a mountain of lime one about “show, don’t tell.” That one never made much sense to me especially when one considers what makes the bestseller list. Not that I believe in the bestseller list much either. For me it ranks right up there with political polling – it just does not have much reliability.

The writing adage I’m referring to is the one about “write what you know.” Sure, there are those that argue against it (personally, I’m not going to kill folks just so I can write about murder) but when you read it as a reader, without knowing a word about the author’s background bio, you know it. There is that certain ring of truth that comes through when the author is writing about a subject that the author knows completely. That is certainly true in George Wilhite’s case and the result is his very enjoyable novel, The Texas Rodeo Murder.


For English Department Professor Ira Carter, it begins with a phone call from his old friend Jake, publisher and owner of the Texas Rodeo Magazine that is disconnected seconds after Ira hears something that sounds like trouble. Concerned, Ira goes off and finds his friend near death from a shotgun blast to the stomach. He survives just long enough to get to the hospital and tell Ira to find J. D.

J. D. was John Davis who had ridden in the rodeo circuit years before along with Ira and a few other good friends. Ira had eventually cut back to just taking pictures at the rodeos and occasionally doing clown performances as his regular job became teaching English at the rural campus of Hill County College. Around the same time, J. D. had crashed his truck into a lake in western Oklahoma and though his body was never found, was presumed dead. His family, a wife and two boys, had moved back to live with her family on a reservation in New Mexico.

With Jake's dying plea in his ears to find J. D. and an address in New Mexico in hand, Ira begins to hunt for J. D. The trail will cross into New Mexico before returning to the rodeo circuit in Central Texas. Along the way the 34-year-old Ira will have to deal with the fact that others with dark intent are looking for J. D., that clowning at the rodeos isn’t as easy as it used to be, and that the sport he loves is changing and not necessarily for the better. All that and the fact that romance can be more difficult than any bull in the ring.

George Wilhite uses his thirteen years of bare back riding, eight years of bull riding, and numerous other years experience in and around rodeos, to create an enjoyable and heavily atmospheric read. By the time he is through, the world of the rodeo comes alive for the reader in every sense. Along the way he also delivers a good mystery, a few twists and turns, some romance, and characters to care about. The result is a good read, guaranteed to entertain, and a great introduction to a sport that one does not hear nearly enough about. This is good stuff and well worth the read.

The Texas Rodeo Murder
By George Wilhite
Sunbelt/Eakin Press
ISBN # 1-57168-779-3
Large Trade Paperback
178 Pages

Kevin R. Tipple © 2005, 2011