Category Archives: reviews

Joanne Simon Tailele – Accident

Great writing!  I finished Accident in one night. The author must have done a lot of research for this book – alcoholism, women’s prisons, legal issues…on and on. But more important to me, her characters are up close and personal – you get right into their heads. The book holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. I’m delighted that I bought it.

Alice Oldford – Recipes and Life

Good food for all seasons.

I’m not much of a cook, but I enjoyed this book. Some of the recipes brought back memories of my own. I could smell and taste the food as I read. The book has an interesting mix of recipes – from winter comfort food to summer salads, spring tonic to fall apple pie. The author even includes what to do with leftovers and gluten free goodies. (This is special to me being gluten free.)

Along with the food she gives us glimpses of her life, her family, her gardening, and her love of the outdoors – and life!

Juliann Garey – Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See

Juliann Garey wrote a dark novel into the mind of a manic-depressive, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See. The title is what made me pick it up and take it home. I kept reading because of my fascination with bipolar disorder. The main character in my novel, The Janus Code, is bipolar but not nearly as tormented as Greyson Todd in this novel. The novel takes us down the deteriorating cycle of an anguished mind. Don’t read this book if you are looking for “happy endings.” This is a first novel for Ms. Garey. I hope she writes more.

Settings and Cultures

I love a story with a good setting. One that pulls you in and makes you feel as if you are there. The three books I’ve read this week are in very diverse places, but all made me feel I was in the worlds the authors were describing.

Tamarack County by William Kent Krueger is set in Northern Minnesota in the winter. Even though I’m here in warm, sunny Florida I felt the cold and the snow. I was shivering in my warm bed while reading. Krueger also surrounds you with a local culture – a mixture of small town and the “Rez” as he calls it. Native American culture weaves in and out of the story.

The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home is set on the coast of Scotland. I could smell the salt air and feel the loneliness of a deserted village on a coastal island where fishing had failed and the families had relocated to the mainland.

Both of these books were good mysteries with complex plots and interesting characters. But what sticks with me is the setting and culture of each book.

The third book is entirely different – A True Novel (II) by Minae Mizumura. I picked this up by accident at the library, not realizing it was the second part of the story. (I’ll go back and find the first book.) The story is about a Japanese man who moves to New York and makes his fortune. Apparently the first book is set in New York, but the second book is all in Japan. I could picture it, feel it, (even though I’ve never been there) and sense the changes in the culture as time passes. This is not the type of novel I usually read. I think the setting is what kept me reading even more than the sad story.

Going back to some other books I’ve recently read and enjoyed, I believe setting is part of the attraction. Deborah Crombie’s The Sound of Broken Glass is apparently a book in a series. I haven’t read the previous books but had no problem jumping in at number fifteen. The setting is in South London’s Crystal Palace, a neighborhood of musicians, a village within the city. The Crystal Palace was a huge glass structure built for the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 in Hyde Park and rebuilt in an even larger version in an upscale neighborhood in South London in 1854. It burned to the ground in 1936, but the neighborhood still goes by that name. I was drawn into the neighborhood and the musical culture.

Lost by S. J. Bolton is more character driven, but the setting in the back streets of London captured me.

Colin Cotterill’s The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die is the latest of his stories set in Laos in the 1970’s. He brings you into this strange place on the other side of the world and he does it with humor.

Hilarious

Suspend your disbelief for the funniest of novels. I’ve seen reviews of these books that say these things could never happen. But some of them actually do happen. And to me that’s part of the humor. The authors can take a common event and turn it into an outrageous adventure. Even though many of these books base their stories on real events, the authors take you to a place where you can enjoy the humor of the situation. When I need a good laugh and a break from bleak reality, humorous books are the best prescription.

If you’ve read any of Tim Dorsey’s novels, you know that he writes sick, raucous humor. His protagonist, Serge Storms, is an insane killer who thinks up the weirdest ways to do away with anyone he thinks doesn’t deserve to live. He even killed a guy for littering in one of his books. Serge’s sidekick, Coleman, is always under the influence – alcohol and all kinds of drugs. Serge doesn’t indulge except occasionally when he decides to take his medication for his psychosis.

They drive around Florida, never staying long in one place. Something I find very interesting about these books is that they are loaded with Florida history. Serge loves Florida. He stops at any and every historical marker and museum. He finds places where no one else would bother. He loves the wildlife, the swamps, the amusement parks, the old buildings. He describes them all and the history behind them. And he does this without boring you. Lots of insane humor. If you check out any of the places they visit, well known or obscure, you will find they are real. Dorsey has to be a real Florida history buff.

Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite authors. He’s another one who writes his stories in Florida. He throws together groups of wild characters and weird events that could happen (and sometimes do happen) in Florida. He mocks Florida politics, land development, and environmental policies. One character who makes an appearance from time-to-time is an ex-governor eco-terrorist. Other characters show up in more than one book, but mostly we are meeting new and outlandish people in each novel.

Sadly, Elmore Leonard is no longer with us. He wrote in many diverse styles, including mystery, detective, westerns…even nonfiction. He also wrote some great crime humor, many set in Florida. He will be missed.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels made me fall out of my chair laughing when I started reading them. But after 19 or 20 books, Stephanie is getting a little old these days. (I don’t mean old in years because she never ages.) She doesn’t change or grow or make up her mind about her life and her two boyfriends. Some of the other characters in the Plum novels have changed and grown and are more interesting. I prefer reading some of Evanovich’s other novels, based on other characters, now that I’ve grown a bit tired of Stephanie. These books are set in New Jersey. You probably thought I thought all humor sprang from Florida.

The Three H’s

Usually when people refer to the three H’s they mean “Hands, Head, and Heart.”

 “He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi

For me the three H’s are head, heart, and humor. In my opinion, the best books, movies, fictional characters, and people in real life have all three. Writing the three H’s is all about knowing your characters. Some of my favorite authors skip the humor (it’s hard to write), but there is usually a scattering of humor in the most serious novels. They need head, heart, plus lots of good character, story, plot, and background detail to keep me interested without humor.

When I think about using your head, it includes logic, creativity, curiosity, planning, digging into your memory, feeding the desire to learn, and on and on and on… Some people are better at some aspects than others, but they all keep life interesting. If you keep your mind active, at least you won’t get bored.

Heart means reaching outside ourselves to others. We need interests in people, animals, the environment, or something that lessens our own problems. We need to pay attention to what’s happening to others. Nothing makes you feel better than working to improve a situation or a life. If we are too self-involved, too busy worrying about our own problems, we don’t have time to see what we can do for the people and world around us.

Humor to me is simple. If you can’t laugh at yourself, the world will get you down. You don’t need to be joking and laughing all the time, just be able to see the humor in everyday life. People said my mother didn’t have a sense of humor, but I thought she had a superior one. She may not have “gotten the joke” or understood what was funny about a silly movie or a TV sitcom, but she had a subtle sense of humor. She could laugh at life and she could induce that ‘roll on the floor out of control’ laughter in her children.

I googled the three H’s and found others. One site talked about creating music and listed honesty, humanity, and hooks. I guess that could apply to writing, too. There are other important ones, health, hope, and happiness. We can work at having good health, but we don’t always have a choice when it leaves us. I’ve known people with serious health problems who are still lively, interested, involved, connected to others, and living fuller lives than some who are perfectly healthy. Hope and happiness are positive attitudes that should follow if we use head, heart, and humor appropriately.

Colin Cotterill – Slash and Burn

I just read Slash and Burn by Colin Cotterill (along with a couple of other books.) A great read. He is an author I haven’t previously read, but the book is not a first novel for him. This is the eighth book in his Dr. Siri series.

The series is set in Laos in the late seventies. Dr. Siri is the official coroner for Laos. A job he never wanted. He’s pushing eighty and keeps trying to retire. I’ve never been to Laos, never wanted to go, and have no clue about the culture or the environment. Yet, I felt right at home there through Cotterill’s writing. He writes great descriptions of the place and of his crazy characters.

The interactions between the locals and a group of Americans on an MIA mission are thoroughly entertaining. The story has a wild plot and lots of good humor.

I always enjoy discovering a good author. Please forgive me if I don’t talk about books I don’t like. I couldn’t do any of them justice since I usually don’t read past the first few chapters. I do almost all of my reading at night for an hour or two or three when I go to bed. I finished Slash and Burn in two late nights.

Charactors

I see blogs where the writers just list their favorite books or authors but they don’t say why. I’m a fan of good fiction; love to lose myself in a story. Most of my favorite writers are good character writers. I want to get into the protagonist’s head.

I just finished one of Barry Eisler’s books about John Rain, the assassin. Who would think you would want to get into an assassin’s head? But John Rain is a fascinating, complex character. He is a misfit, a killer-for-hire, a tortured soul. Yet he has such strong morals that when he thinks he has been led or tricked into breaking his own rules, it stays with him – disturbing his ongoing thoughts, his dreams, his physical being. He usually ends up eliminating the problems that he caused when stepping over his own boundaries, plus the person who led him down the wrong path.

Norman Green gets into the heads of multiple characters with each book. Sometimes he works with a single protagonist and sometimes with a group, but he uses multiple points of view. (His book, Dead Cat Bounce, features the same group of people as his first novel, Shooting Dr. Jack. His two latest novels (2010), The Last Gig and Sick Like That, both feature a tough female P.I., Allessanda ‘Al’ Martillo.) All of his characters, not just the protagonist(s) are many-layered. Each character is different. Green has extraordinary insight. My favorite of his characters is probably the thief in Way Past Legal who kidnapped his own son and took him to Maine to start a new life. He was cold and hardened by life and by prison, but he was tender and loving, too. He was even a bird watcher! So out of character! But Green made it fit.

Lee Child writes about Jack Reacher, who, unlike Eisler’s John Rain, appears to be quite comfortable in his own skin. He is a loner who wanders the country. He started life as an Army brat and became an officer in the Military Police, so he never stayed in one place for long. Now, out of the Army on his own, he wants no ties or permanence in his life. He has no possessions, carries nothing with him on the road. Of course, he finds trouble wherever he goes – terrible people, criminal activity. He always cleans up the problem, at times saving whole towns from evil. Jack Reacher is not a killer-for-hire, he’s a killer for John Reacher, a vigilante. He is also a complex character.

I don’t like just the dark novels; I also love good humor. Carl Hiaasen’s character’s antics are outrageously funny – laugh-out-loud funny. Janet Evanovich writes about Stephanie Plum, a New Jersey bounty hunter (and others) who can make me laugh so hard I almost fall out of my chair.

I also love a good plot. I don’t want to figure out “who done it” half way through the book. I’ve been known to put down many a book before finishing. But, even if the plot is a little sloppy, I’ll stick with it if I’m enjoying the characters. Attention to detail in the setting can also keep me hooked. Barry Eisler’s Tokyo in Rain Fall was so real I felt like I’d lived there.

Other novels fascinate me. The Room by Emma Donoghue would probably be classed as a literary novel. A very unusual story narrated by a five-year-old boy who escapes from a room where he has spent his entire life. Again, it’s character driven. I don’t know how the author did such a good job of getting into a child’s head. This is not a children’s book.

David Levithan – The Lover’s Dictionary

I just finished a very strange novel – The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. The first thing about it that is strange is the name, since in his book he says he hates the word lover. To quote Levithan, lover has “…the tint and taint of illicit, illegitimate affections.”

The format of the book is like a dictionary. It’s difficult at first to think of it as a novel, but it tells a story. He takes words from A to Z, most are not words we would normally associate with love, and tells what they mean to him in vignettes – one line, a few words, two or three paragraphs, or even some very short stories. These are not in the order that they happen, but plucked from within the relationship at various points. Yet the reader (at least this one) can see a distinct picture of the teller’s life with the woman he loves.

The author has a delightful way with words. You can feel the love – the connections, the disconnections, the joys, the frustrations, the uncertainties, and the certainties of love. The book is very difficult to describe, but very easy to read. Thumbs up!