Monthly Archives: November 2013

Too Many Cooks?

inheritInherit the Dead” is a serial crime fiction novel meaning it was written by a series of famous crime writers, each one contributing one chapter.  It was billed as “Twenty thrilling writers.  One chilling mystery.”  It is an interesting book, but not for the obvious reasons.  First, it is great that this group of highly successful and in-demand writers contributed their time and talents, because the proceeds of the book go to Safe Horizon (www.SafeHorizon.org) a victim assistance group.  Second, the book was a fascinating read from the technical standpoint.  As a reader, you can tell the very different style and voice of the various writers, even though they are working with the same characters, setting, and plot. Still, I could guess the female from the male writers before checking on their names based on the amount of emphasis on describing the luscious heroine.  Some were so different, you could tell by a glance, meaning a quick look at the chapter revealed a lot of short, snappy dialogue versus other writer’s long, descriptive prose paragraphs.  In fact, many of the writers I have never read before, but two or three stood out as such remarkable talents in just one chapter that I intend to check out some of their novels. Others, I did not care for at all, and noted their names as well.  Even though the main character was given to each writer in a general outline, everyone put their own stamp on him.  Sometimes, however, this made for some tedious reading as each writer in each chapter spent time just describing some bit of background about him or some other descriptive detail.  Since the writers were given an assignment for the their chapter and a description of the characters and setting, there was a good deal of repetition overall, but in a unique way.  Also, the plot for a murder mystery was a bit thin and the pace was slow, but that is to be forgiven considering the editor managed to somehow weave it all into some sort of comprehensive whole, without any major inconsistencies. Give it a read…better yet, buy the book, for a good cause.  The contributing authors included: Mark Billingham, Lawrence Block, C.J.Box, Ken Bruen, Alafair Burke, Stephen L. Carter, Lee Child, Marcia Clark, Mary Higgins Clark, Max Allan Collins, John Connolly, James Grady, Heather Graham, Bryan Gruley, Charlaine Harris, Val McDermid, S. J. Rozan, Jonathan Santlofer, Dana Stabenow, Lisa Unger, and Sarah Weinman,

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Santa Needs More Magic

SantacoverIt’s that time of year when I look forward to reading a good ole sappy Christmas story to get me in the mood.  This year I chose “The Autobiography of Santa Claus” by Jeff Guinn, based on its description as a fictionalized history of Saint Nicholas and how the various legends of Santa got their start.  It began with promise.  Santa, recounting his life in his own words, instructs the reader, “You’re right to believe in me.”  He goes on to describe the events of his life starting from a young boy around 280AD in Lycea, Turkey, when he first learns the joy of giving gifts to the poor.  The story continues as he becomes a Bishop, (donning the classic red with white trim gown), and spreads his mission of leaving anonymous gifts.  Along the way, Nicholas acquires some paranormal powers: he doesn’t age, and he can travel twice the speed of normal humans.  So, over the ages he meets with number of famous military leaders, artists, explorers, and writers in a sort of Forrest Gump-like fashion, and by inserting himself in some instances, changes the course of events.  We are treated to his encounters with Charlemagne, Marco Polo, Columbus, Leonardo di Vinci, Charles Dickens, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few.  Santa also collects an entourage of helpers to include some unlikely characters such as Attila the Hun and King Arthur.  Despite the travels and historical encounters, the story is flat.  Great portions of it merely tell  of historical events in Santa’s voice, and with barely disguised opinions about the outcomes.  These portions were so long and tedious that I nearly put the book down and gave up.  On a positive note, there are fun little Christmas facts interspersed about how traditions such as carols, the name Santa Claus, Teddy bears, and Christmas trees came into being.  And, he also gives writers a great deal of credit for the spread of the Santa legend.  Overall, I was very disappointed with the heavy-handed history lessons, which made me want to run back and re-read “Lies My Teacher Told Me” because I suspect much of the history was as legendary as Santa himself.  The story was a great concept that missed the mark.  It could have been clever and witty by having Santa inserted into all types of historical settings with a crazy cast of characters, and instead it was dull at best, preachy at its worst.  Looking for an uplifting Christmas story, the skip this one for sure.  ClassicSanta

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Reading the Future

LaceThe Lace Reader” by Brunonia Barry is tale of twins and magic, set in the unsettling town of Salem, Massachusetts, and  told by a self-confessed unreliable narrator.  The book, which holds a lot of promise in the beginning, sadly wanders off course.  The story is recounted in part by the first person narrative of Towner Whitney, a twin and daughter in Salem’s infamous Whitney family, known for its eccentric and magical women.  Towner has returned to Salem after having been gone a long time after an alluded to crisis which temporarily landed her in a mental hospital.  Upon the mysterious death of her beloved aunt, a woman who could read the future in lace, she reluctantly returns to the house on the edge of the sea where her past still haunts her.  The story slowly unravels of Towner’s relationship with her twin sister, who took her own life one summer.  It is a story of a love triangle, a story of spouse abuse, a story of incest, a story of mental illness, parental love, religious intolerance… That is the problem.  Too many stories. Barry had a great idea and tells a good story, but she has made it unnecessarily complex and entwined too much.  On the plus side of the ledger, the atmosphere of Salem and the island the Whitney family inhabits is beautifully drawn, capturing a New England sailing culture, steeped in the old trader culture and  dark history of the witch trials.  I would go so far as to say the town itself is one of the strongest characters in the story.  Barry also has a good voice.  She uses quick, sharp sentences and keeps the pace moving, even though at times I found the situations unrealistic.  Another potential problem is Barry’s handling of the multiple narrators and the shifting of time all over about a twenty year period.  Overall, a solid book, and was a great read for this Halloween time of year.

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The Amazon Wars

A friend of mine, self-published, approached a local small bookseller about carrying her book.  The bookseller thought it was a good fit for her store–a cozy mystery with local color.  She checked whether it was available on Ingrams, then frowned.  “Oh, dear.” She said.  “You published with Amazon.  We can’t carry it.”  More and more this has become the case with the large booksellers like Barnes and Noble as well as the small independent ones.  In an effort to combat Amazon’s ever growing monopoly of the market share, have banded together and decided not to carry books published through Amazon publishing–CreateSpace.  Now I have to ask, who ultimately looses in this publishing war?  Does Amazon even notice or care if their CreateSpace published books are not carried in small book stores?  I think not.  More sales for them if the book can’t be found elsewhere.  Do the book stores win?  Probably not, because they are going up against a giant.  And who really loses?  It is the Indy writer, who must make hard decisions about who to go with when publishing, and the reader, who may not find the desired book in stores.  I understand that the publishing world is going through a metamorphosis unlike anything since the advent of the printing press, but let’s not punish the Indy writer who is just trying to put a unique product out there, one that the commercially-minded traditional publishers won’t touch, and one that has a readership clamoring for it, because they want something new and daring.  I understand the booksellers, trying to survive again the tidal wave of Amazon, but I also understand that there is enough market share out there for a good story, more than enough to go around.  Don’t sacrifice the Indy writer on the altar of your business model bookstores!

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