Saturday, March 31, 2012

Just How I Roll

I do LOVE the spaghetti westerns he did. Even have an album of the music from the movies. Every now and then it gets cranked up to keep the kids and neighbors in line.

The March Mystery Reads

I don't normally take the time to summarize these sort of things, but since other folks do them, I thought I would go ahead and put the list together. For those that don't know me, I have been reviewing books since 1998 and have an ongoing column for the Texas version of the Senior News Newspaper.  Because of that column, you also will see cookbooks, travel books and other things that I review for the newspaper column. So, what you see below is just a fraction of the reviews and is only pertaining to mystery books.

I don't put stars, numbers, daggers, knives, candles, bloody foot prints, shell casings, etc.  on my reviews. When the reviews appear at Epinions, Amazon, etc they get appropriate designation for that site and only then. I personally hate the whole numbering/star deal because if the book sits in between most sites don't have a way of depicting that. Instead, one has to round up or down and that implies things that may or may not accurately reflect my opinion of the situation. I have also included the mystery reviews supplied by Barry Er gang as he contributes to the reviews for Friday's Forgotten Books (FFB) hosted by Patti Abbott as well as my other guest reviewers this month---Caroline Clemmons and Earl Staggs.

Anyway, here you are mystery wise and everything was good though for widely different reasons detailed in the reviews......

FFB REVIEW: "THE CLOCK STRIKES THIRTEEN" by Herbret Brean---Reviewed by Barry Ergang

"CUFFED: Stop, I’ll Shoot and Out on a Beam" by Bill Howe and Suzanne Rorhus


"Robert B. Parker’s Killing The Blues: A Jesse Stone Novel" by "Michael Brandman"

"Death Will Extend Your Vacation" by Elizabeth Zelvin---Scheduled Release Date: April 20, 2012

FFB REVIEW: "Death Will Get You Sober" by Elizabeth Zelvin (first in the series)


FFB Review: "Under A Raging Moon" by Frank Zafiro



FFB REVIEW: "FAT OLLIE'S BOOK" by Ed McBain---Reviewed by Barry Ergang

"THE DROP" by Michael Connelly

"WAIST DEEP:  A Stefan Kopriva Novel" by Frank Zafiro

"The Last Call: A Bill Travis Mystery" by George Wier

FFB Review: "HEROES OFTEN FAIL" by Frank Zafiro

My reviews also don't contain spoilers and are always sanitized for your protection. That means you can safely read them. :)))

Kevin (where it is 85 and sunny)

Friday, March 30, 2012

FFB Review: "Heroes Often Fail" by Frank Zafiro

It seemed only fitting after reviewing WAIST DEEP by Frank Zafiro that for this week’s FFB segment I again run my review of HEROES OFTEN FAIL. This novel sets a lot of the backstory for the Kopriva character and is the excellent second book of the series following, UNDER A RAGING MOON.

The parental nightmares begin, as the often do, under clear skies and the promise of a new day early in the morning. It is March 15, 1995 as six year old girls Kendra and Amy walk to school like they have before and will walk home that afternoon like they have countless times before. That is until the van comes and slides to a stop next to them. They both freeze as a man leaps out of the van. He grabs Amy and Kendra runs knowing the man could get her next. Instead, she gets away. The man in black didn't get her but as the hunt begins for Amy, Kendra is filled with guilt.

At the River City Police shooting range, Stefan Kopriva is filled with pain as well as guilt. Having barely survived a shootout at the Circle K six months ago, Kopriva remains on light desk duty. Despite being shot three times he survived and now wonders what more he could have done then and when his reputation will return to what it was before the robber known as Scarface rocked River City, Washington. The six months since have been painful. Not only as his body struggles to heal but in the misplaced admiration by some and the misplaced hostility from other members of the small police force who feel he, at best, failed them. Powerful pain medications and a growing romance are the only things keeping him going as he hates the mind numbing routine of desk duty. He wants his old life back and a symbol of that is getting off the restrictions and back on the streets.

He gets it but not the way he wants. As news of the possible kidnapping spreads through the department, it becomes a classic all hands on deck situation with every person pressed into service. Kopriva, as well as the other men and women of the River City police force desperately try to find Amy knowing that as the hours and days pass the idea that it is a simple kidnapping for ransom is more and more unlikely. For little Amy, kidnapping is quickly the least of Amy's worries.

Much of what happens regarding the child molestation in this well written but disturbing novel happens offstage. As such, scenes and images are created initially with a heavy emphasis on implied actions that are never described to the reader. As such, while not graphic or detailed, the implications and meanings of what is happening to Amy as well as what happens to another child in one of several secondary storylines are very clear and that material may disturb some readers.

With that being said, it should also be noted that this is a very good novel. Building on characters and events from the preceding novel Under A Raging Moon author Frank Zafiro has created a substantially more complex police procedural with multi layered characters, a rich setting, and plenty of action. It is clear that from a technical aspect this novel is superior in all aspects to his first novel which was very good in its own right. This novel is a step upwards and it is clear that Frank Zafiro is steadily improving his fictional game.

It is often said and assumed by many that an author's second book will be weaker than the first. While that often is true, it certainly is not the case here. What is also true is the fact that we have to wait far too long till the fall of 2008 for the third River City novel Beneath A Weeping Sky.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2007, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: "Gourmet Gifts: 100 Delicious Recipes For Every Occasion To Make Yourself & Wrap With Style" by Dinah Corley

Making a gift of food to others is nothing new. But, if you want to show you really care, you need to give the gift with style. That is where Gourmet Gifts: 100 Delicious Recipes For Every Occasion To Make Yourself & Wrap With Style comes in allowing you to make great food gifts and give them with style.

The book opens with an introduction section that among other information, lists the items that should be in “A Gourmet Gifts Pantry,” what you should have equipment wise in your kitchen, “Wrapping It Up The Right Way” among other topics. The 11 pages introduction gives you a good foundation to the book as well as getting you set up at home with what you need.

Everyone loves that small surprise gift that is totally unexpected and tied to nothing other than one person caring about another. “small tokens” begins on page 14 and features those kind of items whether it is the “simply marvelous macaroons” (pages 21-22) and “cool cucumber vodka” (pages 30-31) or the “mango and tomatillo salsa” (page 34-35) among many other choices. Each idea has the recipe for the items, tips on preparation and storage of the item and a detailed way of wrapping it up for a gift.  Occasionally included is a picture of the finished item in terms of the food as well as how it would be presented to another.

This same format continues in the next section titled “big batches” and throughout the book.  “big batches” starts on page 62 and is geared to mass producing the identical gift for large numbers of people as suggested by the title. Organization is vital here if you are making “100 cookies to pinch and press or sliced and bake” (pages 64-67).  If that does not appeal, you could try “ten country pates” (page 74-76) or the ultimate simple to make gift “vanilla sugar tubes” (pages 122-123) among other gifts.  Quantities of what the recipe can make very tremendously with many recipes open to multiplication.

Saving money is also important and the chapter “pennywise” is designed to help the reader take a modestly priced gift and make it very special. Starting on page 124 the projects detailed should cost less than $15 when are finished. Whether it is the “amaretti cookie clone” (pages 126-128) or the “faux escargot pastry swirls in a garden trowel” (pages 143-145) or the “black and white olives” (pages 160-161) something here should work with nearly anyone.

Of course, maybe you need and want to go the other way on the financial scale. You can do that so easily in the section title “pound foolish” that starts on page 184.  These gifts require considerable investment in time, money, and effort whether you can create the “caviar sampler with crème fraiche crumpets” (205-207) or the extravagant “the sweet life: three tiers of crème fraiche fudge” (pages 228-230).  If there are no budget constraints there are plenty of recipes and ideas in this section.

As we all know from direct personal experience sometimes things become overwhelming---whether it is a medical issue or something else. In “feel better” starting on page 236 the idea is to make things as simply as possible for the recipient who already has enough on his or her mind to deal with. Whether it is the “herbal tea sachets” on pages 238-240 or the “life should be a bowl of cherries” on pages 256-257 or the other choices, the idea is to bring a moment or two of happiness to a person during troubled times.

Sending a care package from home to a loved one is the idea of “special delivery.” Starting on page 268 this final section in the book is geared towards that idea. “blond biscotti” (pages 270-271), “baharat caravan bells” (pages 276-277) or “big and soft rum raisins cookies” (pages 278-279) are just some of the choices.

The book closes with seven pages of resources, a page of acknowledgements, a page of measurement equivalents and a seven page index. While servings are indicated there is no nutritional information with these recipes.

Gourmet Gifts: 100 Delicious Recipes For Every Occasion To Make Yourself & Wrap With Style by Dinah Corley is a well done book that gives you lots of ideas to make that food gift all the more special.  The projects in here vary tremendously in terms of amounts, complexity, and other factors so this book is not geared to any one particular group. Novice and advanced cooks will both find plenty to consider in this recently released book.

Gourmet Gifts: 100 Delicious Recipes For Every Occasion To Make Yourself & Wrap With Style
Dinah Corley
Photographs by Alison Shaw
The Harvard Common Press
October 2011
ISBN# 978-1-55832-435-0
Soft cover Cookbook
312 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple ©2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Senior News Column---March 2012

For some time now I have been writing a monthly book review column for the Senior News newspaper. The Senior News is aimed to the 50 and over crowd with news relevant to seniors regarding various issues, humor pieces, and my review column among other things. The newspaper is a giveaway at doctor offices, stores, etc. and can be received by via a paid subscription. There are multiple editions across the state of Texas and therefore there is some fluctuation in content in each area.

My column every month focuses on books of interest to the Texas audience. Therefore books selected for the column, fiction or non-fiction, are written by Texas residents, feature Texans in some way, or would have some other connection to the Texas based readership. At least two books are covered each month in the short space I am given.

Below is/was my March 2012 column with the addition here of the relevant book covers……

The Last Call: A Bill Travis Mystery
Gorge Wier
Flagstone Books
Kindle E-Book

Bill Travis first saw the beautiful woman while he was driving in heavy traffic on the loop near downtown Austin. They flirted in the stop and go traffic before she vanished into the distance leaving the nearly 40 year old Bill Travis with only one option---head to work as if nothing had happened at all. That is until a short time later, as his first client of the day, she walks into his office. 

Julie Simmons may be beautiful but she isn’t smart. She crossed Archie Carpin, a North Texan Liquor Baron and legendary figure with a violent family lineage dating back to the 20’s in Texas.  Julie was desperate and took two million dollars and ran. Of course, Archie Carpin very much wants his money back and will kill to get it.

Bill Travis, a man that helps well off people with their money problems can’t help falling for her in every way possible.  On the run and trying to stay alive on a trail that takes them from Austin to North Texas and back again, Texas author George Wier crafts an intriguing tale full of twists and turns. Populated with complex main and secondary characters, plenty of clues, and plenty of action this recently released novel first in a planned series is a very good one. Even seasoned mystery readers will be surprised by some of the twists the complex case takes while imparting some legendary Texas history.

Chicks With Guns
Lindsey McCrum
The Vendome Press
ISBN: 978-0-86565-275-0
Hardback--Coffee Table Sized
168 Pages

Brilliantly photographed the book contains 78 color and black and white portraits of female gun owners in Texas as well as from across the country. Among the many variations are portraits with women posed in Old West style period costumes with antiques, others are in hunting garb, and still others are in law enforcement. Every picture makes it clear that these usually unsmiling women are clearly ready and able defend themselves against whatever man or beast walks the mean streets or crosses their land. These women are serious and depict the plain fact that approximately twenty million women from every race, creed, and walk in life and all ages own guns and know how to use them.

A visual treat that not only entertains the reader with the skill involved to take these powerful portraits, Chicks With Guns by Lindsay McCrum also provides a history lesson about firearms and their role in families and this country. This is a splendidly done book and well worthy of your consideration.  

Kevin R. Tipple © 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: "WAIST DEEP: A Stefan Kopriva Novel" by Frank Zafiro

It’s been over a decade since Stefan Kopriva was on the River City Washington Police Force.  The years have not dimmed the harsh memories of many inside or outside law enforcement regarding Kopriva. The years have not been kind to Kopriva either as he can’t forget the past any more than anyone else. He lived it and is acutely aware, even when his body isn’t hurting with every step, of what his actions cost him and others.

Brawling at the local hockey game hadn’t been the plan. But the brawl happened and because of that Kopriva runs into Matt Sinderling. Back long ago they both had been in high school doing their own things. They weren’t friends, didn’t hang out with each other, or have any real contact other than passing each other in the hall.

In the here and now, Matt has a 16 year old daughter who has run away. Matt can’t find her and wants Kopriva’s help. Matt figures a former cop will do better looking for Kris than those active on the River City Police Force. Kopriva knows full well how little the police will do on the case and also knows that he is no way the best option for Matt. But, Matt is heartbreakingly desperate and does not care that Kopriva isn’t licensed as a private investigator or anything else. All he wants is his little girl, who has grown up to be quite the seductive beauty, back home alive. Kopriva eventually agrees and begins a case that will test him physically and mentally on violence filled tour of the underbelly of River City.

What has always set the Frank Zafiro novels and short stories apart from many is his ability to pull you completely into his world. Not only does the author have an extensive background in police work, he brings the job alive to readers in ways not often seen in mystery fiction. Not just what happens at work but the repercussions at home.

Such is the case here where he has resurrected his tragic everyman figure Stefan Kopriva. First seen in Under a Raging Moon the Kopriva character has always been intense and complicated.  That carried forward into Heroes Often Fail  and continues here in Waist Deep:  A Stefan Kopriva Novel.  A novel that explores what the outcome of those two books had on various other characters in relation to Kopriva while adding yet more depth and nuance to the Kopriva character.

The result is another intense and very good read that borders on the noir designation. Frank Zafiro often writes of dark things and this is another case of that and therefore the book is not a light read in any sense. It is also yet another case of why Frank Zafiro is building an incredible career and deserves to be on your reading radar.

WAIST DEEP:  A Stefan Kopriva Novel
Frank Zafiro
CreateSpace (Amazon)
July 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1456590093
Paperback (also available on the Kindle and audio)
286 Pages

Material supplied by the author a very long time ago in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

In Case You Missed This---Timothy Hallinan

Author Timothy Hallinan has an excellent  guest post over at Poe's Deadly Daughters at

It has been a long time since I could think of "play" in terms of my writing. I think the concept of "play" went out the window about the same time when I started thinking about the money aspect of things and how I absolutely had to earn an income from my writing when my health went to crap. I have not been able to earn an income--let alone pay for anything around here including any of my now gone writing subscriptions. And that was before the turmoil of the last 9 months.

Anyway, it is an excellent piece and a reminder we all need a lot more "play" in our lives.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Evening---A Sandi Update

A quick update on Sandi this Sunday evening….she is doing okay.  This round of chemo, other than the bad Tuesday night she had, seems to have gone better than the previous rounds. At least at this stage, she is holding her own and hanging in despite what her body has been put through the last several months. Between the strokes last July, the knee surgery in October and then all this since November, I am rather amazed how well she has held up. One gets the sense that maybe, just maybe, she has turned a corner.

Though we have to wait for the PET Scan to be sure of much of anything. That won’t be till the second half of April so we have awhile to go on that.

In the meantime, Sandi has recently started her own blog. I found out about it after she had already done a couple of posts. She is talking about her cancer as well as her various craft projects.  If you go to you can see for yourself. 

Sandi's craft store is still at


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: THE DROP by Michael Connelly

“Everybody counts or nobody counts” has always been Detective Harry Bosch’s personal mantra. In THE DROP, the latest book in a series that began long ago with the excellent novel The Black Echo, Harry Bosch’s belief system and his trust in others are tested in new ways. Ways that will have him second guessing himself again and again before these two cases are over.

Bosch has 39 months to go before mandated retirement from the LAPD. He isn’t happy about forced retirement but understands the system and how things work. Partnered with Detective Chu, their latest case in the “Open-Unsolved Unit” is going to be a problem with potential wide ranging repercussions. DNA from a case dating back to 1989 has come in from the regional lab at Cal State. The DNA results are a match to a known sex offender by the name of Clayton S. Pell. Pell is a bad guy and has done a lot of various bad things over the years. The problem is that he was 8 years old when the murder case happened in 1989. If the lab received material contaminated by the “Open-Unsolved Unit, the cases involved are going to be tainted and careers at the very least will be over.

Why the DNA links to a sex offender who was 8 at the time of the murder is an urgent matter that gets the attention of Bosch and Chu. That is until the body of the son of city councilman Irvin Irving is found smashed into the ground outside a local hotel. Maybe it was suicide? Maybe it was homicide?  No one has any idea in the early hours of the investigation. The councilman, who has a long standing antagonistic history with Bosch and the LAPD, wants Bosch on the case. 48 Year old George Thomas Irving is dead and thanks to the order of the current police chief, daddy is going to get his way. Politics drives priorities in any job and it certainly does here making the case priority number one.

The politics at work have been a major backdrop to each novel in this series and are very much the theme at the center of this novel. Both cases have the potential to be extremely high profile. While Bosch rarely plays politics and would rather focus on taking care of his teenage daughter and solve cases, others are okay with a whatever ends justify the means type of philosophy. For some in “THE DROP” Bosch’s code of “everybody counts or nobody counts” is meaningless as they just don't get it  The result is an intensely good read as Bosch is forced again and again to not only reconsider the cases as events develop but to also consider those around him and their motives.

Michael Connelly
Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group)
November 2011
ISBN# 978-0-316-18923-1
537 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple © 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012


Barry Ergang's FFB Review: FAT OLLIE'S BOOK (2002) by Ed McBain

FAT OLLIE'S BOOK (2002) by Ed McBain

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

City councilman Lester Henderson and his staff are setting up in Martin Luther King Memorial Hall for a rally during which Henderson will announce that he's running for mayor. While Henderson is practicing a walk across the stage to a podium, multiple shots explode from somewhere in the building and he falls dead. Because the Hall is in the Eighty-Eighth Precinct, the foul-mouthed, obese, gluttonous bigot Oliver Wendell Weeks is the detective assigned to the case. Because the victim lived in the Eighty-Seventh Precinct, Ollie requests help from that quarter, and Detectives Steve Carella and Bert Kling are stuck with the task of working under his direction.

As excited as he is to be working his first high-profile case in a long time, Ollie is equally excited about his novel entitled Report to the Commissioner, which was written (on a typewriter) in the form of an official report. He has written it using the pseudonym Olivia Wesley Watts, who in her "report" is explaining to the Commissioner how she has come to be locked in a basement with over two million dollars' worth of diamonds. All but the last chapter has been revised, and Ollie has put the thirty-six pages of the preceding chapters into a dispatch case, intending to have it copied at a Kinko's. ("Less is more. That's an adage amongst us writers," he tells his sister when she questions whether he's really written a novel-length manuscript.)

When the dispatch case is stolen in a smash-and-grab from Ollie's car while he's inside King Memorial Hall, its recovery takes precedence over the Henderson murder, as far as he's personally concerned. Unbeknownst to him, the thief is one Emilio Herrera, a cross-dressing prostitute and drug addict who, upon reading the fiction, believes it to be a true but "coded" account, and who endeavors to break the code so as to get his hands on the diamonds.

Meanwhile, Detective Eileen Burke, who has just joined the Eighty-Seventh squad, is partnered with Andy Parker, a man whose attitude is as odious as Ollie's. One of Parker's informants tells them of a major drug deal that's going down in six days in the basement of a building somewhere in the city. What basement he doesn't know because the address keeps changing. He's only certain that the people involved aren't amateurs. He's somewhat wrong about that, however, as the reader learns soon afterward.

While Carella and Kling–and sometimes Ollie, when he's not trying to track down his manuscript–try to solve the Henderson murder, Burke and Parker's case becomes unwittingly entwined with Emilio's quest to locate the basement where Olivia Wesley Watts and the diamonds are held, resulting in some moments worthy of a good sitcom.   

The reader also gets to join Emilio in reading Ollie's book, sections of which are scattered throughout the broader narrative. These make for great comedy in themselves, loaded as they are with English usage uncertainties–e.g.:

"Because that's where Lock lost him because, you should pardon this, Commish–and this is just between you and I, or maybe even you and me–he had to relieve himself....So it was with considerably great expectations that I took the call from The Needle that morning. Hopefully, The Needle...

"Or perhaps I hoped The Needle...

"Or maybe I was even hopeful that The Needle...

Hopefully, The Needle would have some information on Grant or his missing wife Marie or his cousin Ambrose Fields."

I was fourteen when I first read an Eighty-Seventh Precinct novel, 'Til Death, and I've been a fan ever since. The fifty-second entry in the series, Fat Ollie's Book has at least as much verve as the earliest entries, and quite possibly more. Ed McBain's characters, including many of the minor ones, are three-dimensional figures. His narrative style is laced with wry humor. His ear for dialogue is and always has been impeccable and unerring. His pacing is flawless.

As is, or even like, nearly every Eighty-Seventh Precinct mystery, Fat Ollie's Book is superb entertainment.   

Barry Ergang © 2012

Fat Ollie's Book is among the many 87th Precinct novels Barry Ergang has for sale from his personal collection at He'll contribute 20% of the purchase price of the books to our fund, so please have a look at his lists, which have recently been added to in several categories. For links to material he's written that's available online, and fiction that's available for e-readers, see Barry’s webpages.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Jane Whitefield has been helping people escape almost certain death for a long time. Her marriage didn’t stop what she did though maybe she didn’t work as often as she used to because there was much more to risk. But, people still came to her asking for help and if she believed in their innocence, Jane Whitefield helped.

Jane thought she had everything planned out for her latest project--breaking convicted murder James Shelby out from the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. He is an innocent man who deserves to be free. He was framed for reasons unknown by someone who needs James Shelby to die. But, thanks to Jane Whitefield, Shelby has escaped and is long gone. The only thing working in the favor of the bad guys is they have captured a wounded Jane Whitefield. They have no idea that they really only have a tiger by the tale.

POISON FLOWER: A JANE WHITEFIELD NOVEL is the latest in the series and another good one even though it does not have the same style or flow of earlier books in the series.  Something often happens when an author takes a break from a series to write other books before coming back.  Once back in the series, the reads are never the same for whatever the reason and such is the case here.

Not to say the book isn’t a good one. It is as the book works its way across the county with Jane trying to stay alive, keep her runners safe, and dispense violent justice to those who deserve it.  Along the way much is made of her Indian history, her marriage, and how things have changed over the years.

While not nearly as good as earlier ones in the series, this latest book on its own is a good one.  There is also a certain melancholy feel to it as if this might be the final one in the series.  If so, it has been a good run.

Thomas Perry
The Mysterious Press (Imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.)
ISBN# 978-0-8021-2605-4
Hardback (also available in e-book/audio versions)
274 Pages

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

Kevin R. Tipple ©2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Event: SMU LITERARY FESTIVAL March 22-24, 2012

Actually begins tonight with student readings on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Degolyer Library as well as elsewhere on Campus.  The specific schedule of events is available online by going to


SMU Department of English Announces Literary Festival Lineup

Dallas, TX (December 9, 2011) — Today, the Southern Methodist University Department of English announced the speaker lineup for the 2012 SMU Literary Festival.

This annual three-day event is held on the SMU campus and will run from Thursday, March 22, 2012 through Saturday, March 24. The festival includes author readings, receptions, student conferences and book signings. All events are free and open to the public.

Since the 1980’s, SMU’s Literary Festival has featured notable writers that include John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Walker, Norman Mailer, Robert Pinsky, and Jill McCorkle. For 2012 the line-up, in alphabetical order, includes: 

  •  Dean Bakopoulos, an O, The Oprah Magazine #1 Title to Pick Up Now
  • Shannon Cain, 2011 Drue Heinz Literature Prize
  • Eduardo Corral, winner of both the 2011 Yale Series of Younger Poets and a 2011 Whiting Writer’s Awards
  • Amina Gautier, 2011 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction
  • Tyehimba Jess, poetry book of the year by Black Issues Book Review
  • Krys Lee, whose February 2012 story collection is receiving rave advanced reviews
  • Corey Marks, editor of American Literary Review
  • Martha Rhodes, Green Rose Prize 

“We are beyond pleased at the level of talent in our lineup this year,” said David Haynes, head of the SMU creative writing department. “This is an incredible opportunity for our students and the extended SMU community.”

SMU holds its Literary Festival on campus and free of charge, allowing students, faculty and the surrounding community an opportunity to interact with and hear the latest works from some of the best authors in the country. 

"Lit Fest has been a great way for me to learn more about writing as an art form and grow my craft," says Dylan Smith, SMU senior, "The Festival is a must-do for anyone who loves to read or write."

SMU’s Literary Festival brings together students and established writers while extending the sense of literary community to the Dallas community at large.

For more information, go to the SMU DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH WEBSITE at:  and click on the LITERARY FESTIVAL  button on the lower left.


Back home from the hospital where Sandi had her injection to finish round six this morning.  She had new symptoms with this round but we are told everything is okay. That was a relief as we were not sure what was going on--especially as she was in a lot of pain last night from her port in her chest.

The old things are back in vengeance as well--for one example---she can't see much of anything right now at distance or close up. Basically all she can see right now are the outlines of things. That normally happens a day or two later and yet it was how she woke up this morning. The flu like symptoms are raging as well already and normally the first round of that would not hit until late tomorrow.

So, she has gone to bed and is back asleep. Hopefully she will be better when she wakes up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Sandi had the first long part of round six of chemo today and we are now home. She has gone to bed like normal and is sleeping as I write this brief update. Tomorrow she goes back for the injection  to finish this round of chemo off. Then we wait for a month until the PET Scan which will determine where we go from here.

There are no pictures of her at chemo today. Right now Sandi appears much worse than she did after the fifth round of chemo and she didn't want to scare folks. So, she asked that I not take any pictures today.

Rain, concrete, and a cane do not mix well. I'm really sick of falling--especially in public. Battered and bruised yet again but nothing seems to be broken. It has been a tough day so please excuse the shortness of this post.

On behalf of all of us, thank you for your thoughts, payers, and support.  It truly does mean the world to us.


Chemo Round Six--Update on Sandi

Pouring rain, lightening, and building shaking thunder all night long. Nothing severe fortunately as it continues tor rain hard this morning. Heading to the hospital with Sandi in a little while for round six of chemo. This is the long day when we won't get back home until dinnertime tonight or so. Not sure if she can take much more.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Blood Work Done---Update on Sandi

Back home from the hospital where they pulled yet more blood out of Sandi in preparation for chemo tomorrow. This will be round six of her chemo and we hope and pray her final round of it. We won't know that until she has the next PET Scan in late April.

If, by some miracle she comes back clear on that, I think the plan is for another scan about three months later. I'm really not sure what would happen as we have never all talked about it. It has been too much to hope for---especially when she started this process so gravely ill.

The more likely scenario is hopefully the cancer has retreated a little more which would be a sign the chemo is working. If that happens, then there would be another set of chemo sessions. The number and frequency to be determined based on where hse is as compared to the last scan.

In the meantime, assuming we emerge from this today's threat of severe weather unscathed, we have chemo in the morning and go from there.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reviews and Other Thoughts

I rarely plug my own fiction stuff, but that is precisely what I did yesterday. I know what it is like to want your own project to do well. While many copies were sent out (over thirty print copies paid out of my own pocket) reviews have been few and far between.  I learned a hard lesson that some folks --if they can’t love every single thing in a book---won’t say a word. Others had too much going on and the Carpathian Shadows 2 anthology got lost in the shuffle.  I certainly always understood that and even more so now. Since Sandi’s strokes last July, her knee surgery in October and rehab, the sudden multi-week hospitalization in November with the brutal diagnosis on Thanksgiving Day of her cancer, the days have been a blur. Not to mention  my own worsening health (speech to text software is a VERY frustrating process), the constant financial stress (begging again and again for help here and elsewhere), and a host of other issues and events that have been covered here the last few months, I very well understand why things get lost in the shuffle.

Still, when a review comes in, I am thrilled to get it. So, I thank authors Chester Campbell and Victor J. Banis for following through and doing exactly what they said they would. Both reviewed the book--despite the fact it was not their kind of thing--- and I am very grateful.

“I had some qualms about it when this book was given me to review. I'm not a fan of the paranormal or the fantasy story. It requires too much suspension of disbelief to enjoy the antics of vampires and werewolves and zombies. But I had accepted the book, so I read it. All of the stories are based around the premise of vacationers visiting an old castle in the Transylvania area of Romania (Dracula country). One or more of the characters in each story gets caught up in some kind of mysterious action involving ghosts and other-wordly creatures. I found the stories mostly well written and suspenseful. The characters were fully developed and quite believable until they slipped into the realm of the paranormal. I enjoyed the stories that didn't get too far out. A few got into areas that were more than I could take, but if you're a fan of this genre, you'd probably love `em. It isn't a large book but would provide an evening of exciting reading. Don't read it by yourself in a dark room, however.” Chester Campbell

“First, let me say up front, this bills itself as Volume 2. Having not read Volume 1, I can state with certainty that this book works as a stand alone, in case anyone worries about that.

This is a theme-anthology, horror stories with a bit of a twist. The visitors to the Cornifu Hotel, deep in the Carpathians Mountains of Transylvania, are individually invited for a free one day bus excursion to nearby Erdely Castle, said to be haunted. Each story is about a different group of travelers to visit the castle. And with that setting and that common theme, one can rightly expect vampires and ghosts and werewolves--just about all those things that go bump in the night show up here.

As in any anthology of stories by different writers, the quality of the writing varies--and, of course, readers' tastes are different, which is to say what one likes, another may not. I did not find any real clunkers here, but I did find some that I preferred over others.

To my tastes, one of the standouts in the book would have to be The Scholar by author Seana Graham. Most of the tales here are focused on the supernatural, as is to be expected, but this is really a well written story of a mismatched marriage and "the other man," with the scary stuff more of the frosting on the cake. It's a bit less fanciful than some and not particularly horrific (though not without a creepy moment or two), but it compensates with well sketched characters and believable interactions.

Kristin Johnson's vampire story, Divine Curse, seemed a bit murky to me, but that in itself is not altogether inappropriate to the genre. A bit of ambiguity can be an asset in spooky fiction. This is, after all, a genre that dispenses with conventional reality. And, this tale stands out for its gay elements, not usually found in horror collections. So, I give it a passing grade, but not without some reservations.

Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil by Donna Amato is likewise ambiguous, particularly in its ending, and the cast of characters occasionally seems to be tripping over one another, but the writer manages to make the implausible reasonably plausible, which is as much as one can fairly ask of horror fiction. Let's face it, parts of Dean Koontz's books make no sense at all. The real question is whether the writer can carry the reader along, and Ms. Amato does that admirably.

A Visitor From the Past by Carol A. Cole is somewhat of a time travel, or maybe, more correctly, dimensional-travel. Anna has been short-tempered with her husband, Rob, since returning from a trip to Germany months earlier, and this trip is intended to rekindle their relationship, but the results are not what Rob expected. Many of these stories have downer endings. This one is more bitter sweet. I found that it lingered with me after I had finished reading.

The other standout, for me, is Kevin Tipple's By the Light of the Moon. While most of the stories in the book follow a quickly familiar plot line--the busload of tourists comes to the castle, a storm strands them there, and mysterious events follow--this one distinguishes itself by going its own way. To be sure, there is the bus, and tourists at the castle and eerie doings, but Tipple sets his story elsewhere and afterward, and we hear about the events at the castle in flashback narratives. It's a tricky sort of structure but he pulls it off neatly.

In short, this is not great literature--it surely wasn't intended to be--but if horror is your cup of tea, I can heartily recommend this for a couple of hours of goose-bump reading.” Victor J. Banis

I have always said my story “By The Light Of The Moon” was not horror though it may have a creepy crawly element or two to it. I think of my story as a fantasy piece with mystery. It is very different than the normal kind of thing and as a result almost didn’t make the book. I am very glad it did. Nothing of mine has made it anywhere since.

Not that I have submitted that much.  Beyond the physical issues with writing, the idea vault is bare. I literally have nothing at all on anything. The novel has been stopped dead for over two years now, a half dozen short stories are locked down as well, and there simply is nothing happening from a writing angle other than the reviewers. So it isn’t surprising that somebody on one of the lists I am on recently said he had no idea I had ever written anything that was ever published anywhere.  He thought of me solely as a reviewer--not as a writer.

Ironic as I had originally gotten into doing reviews back in 1998 as a way of getting my name out there a bit in order to help with my fiction efforts.  More than two decades later, there are well over 1000 reviews and a whopping twelve or so published fiction pieces.

Sandi is pushing strongly, as she has for over a month now, that I need to get back to working on my own stuff. To put out in e-book form the stuff that went to this magazine or that --all dead deals now--so that my stories that have not seen the light of day in a very long time would be back out there again.  To get back to work on a mystery novel that she thinks has potential as do folks in my local writing group. To get back to work on creating new stuff, to submit pieces to markets, and to again put a high priority on my own writing.

Considering everything here, I really don’t see how I can….and I don’t know that I even want to try.

Earl Staggs Reviews: "A VILLAGE SHATTERED" by Jean Henry Mead

Available as FREE Ebook March 18 and 19 at:

By Jean Henry Mead

Reviewed by Earl Staggs

This novel has everything amateur sleuth mystery readers want.  First of all, there’s no dilly-dallying around waiting for a crime to happen.  A murder victim is discovered on the first page.  When Dana and Sarah, two fifty-nine-year-old widows, arrive at their friend’s house for a meeting of the Sew and So club in the Valley Retirement Village, the friend is dead. Real mystery readers also want protagonists they’d like to tag along with in the search for the killer.  Dana and Sarah are like old friends of yours from the first chapter and you’ll feel you’re right there with them as they discover more Village victims, follow clues, and bicker as only bonded pals can do.  You’ll enjoy following the killer’s trail hip to hip with them through each surprising twist and turn of this well-developed and smoothly written story.

Jean Henry Mead is one of those accomplished writers who can blend it all together – mystery, suspense, a compelling plot, real people, real situations, natural humor – in a story that will keep you guessing at the edge of your seat until the last page. . .and then leave you hoping there will be more books with Dana and Sarah.

Earl Staggs © 2012

Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned a long list of Five Star reviews.He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre. He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups.  Email:  Website: