Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews ****

Donna Andrews' latest mystery farce of rural life in the village of Caerphilly VA centers around a fair and, of course, the requisite murder … and heritage farm animals like Red Wattles, Tamworths, Russian Orloffs, Sumatrans, Red Polls, Dutch Belteds, Baltimore Albums, and Kubotas. The first two are pigs, then two chickens, two cows, and, just to keep you honest, a quilt and a tractor.

The Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews opens with the a dastardly crime spree at the fair, called Un-Fair, including the smashing of a prize pumpkin, and thefts of Russian Orloffs and a Baltimore Album. In a village where nothing is easy, the Un-Fair is situated on the county
line, with the midway in Clay County. Said county is the home of all sorts of back country stereotype adjectives such as ignorant, inbred, and corrupt.

The victim (Brett Riordan) has left his well-loved wife Molly, that is well-loved by everyone except himself, to run off with the hated Genette Sedgewick. Thus generating a surplus of suspects.

With this background Meg Langslow and all her assorted relatives must solve the murder of a cheating husband … if you want to know any more, I recommend you read this enjoyable romp at the fair.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Read giveaway on May 21, 2013. I received my copy on June 12, 2013.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages by Christine Pinheiro ***

The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages by Christine Pinheiro is now in its fourth edition, and this edition is a record breaker! Its has over twice as many entries as the previous edition. Whether you write a popular genre like paranormal romance (over 55 entries) or something obscure one like crochet (3 entries), you find book reviewers in this volume. With over 350 online book reviewers listed, you'll certainly want to use the index.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Isn't this just the kind of book that Google made superfluous? Why is this tome (a good old-fashion word for almost 800 pages, weighing over two pounds) published?"

Well the answer is simple. Google won't find your list of reviewers without wading through lots of links that are reviews of individual books, or listings, or just sites that aren't interested in your book. Each of the entries in the Yellow Pages lists contact information, specific information on what is reviewed, turn-around time, ... and my favorite: Do you accepts fees?

The book has a fixed set of questions that are answered for every entry. This kind of information is a big time saver if you're looking for blogs to review a specific book.

That said, I have some other reservations. First, the book seems to focus on blogs, especially blogspot, and to a lesser extent wordpress. What about podcasts? I listen to two excellent nonfiction science podcasts (Brain Science Podcast and Books and Ideas) that exclusively feature author interviews.

 Second, while the current 350 entries is a significant increase from the previous editions, what percentage of the available internet resources does this represent? Consider a small experiment with crochet - three entries in the Yellow Pages. A simple Google search turned seven more crochet blogs with book reviews, so maybe 350 isn't that many and maybe Google still has a place. Of course, each of these would require research to get the answers that are conveniently available in the Yellow Pages.

Third, the Yellow Pages has the subtitle: A Promotional Reference Guide for Authors and Small Publishers. This might have been my biggest surprise and disappointment. I expected some editorial material about promoting books. The Yellow Pages just listed book review blogs with no perspective, advice, or suggestion about how to best employ this data.

For example, the third edition included "Author and Publisher Etiquette," but even that seems to have been cut from the fourth edition. That section in the third edition included this, "Even if you get a negative review, you should accept it as valuable feedback."

In summary, this may be just the right resource, and certainly at the $20 price point (available for Amazon free shipping), it is a good investment as you begin your thoughts on book promotion.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Phoenix by Kimberly Packard ***

Amanda Martin is one of three indicted by the SEC in a financial fraud case. Though she is a minor player, she runs and ends up in Phoenix Texas as Mandy Jackson. Here she is stalked by a couple of extremely creepy men ... the kind that trap you and demand consensual sex --- certainly one of the top-ten creepy oxymorons of all time. She also investigates a 10-year-old murder that might have been committed by one of these creeps, or maybe someone else.

Thus, Phoenix by Kimberly Packard starts slow (think: SEC investigation), but picks up a blistering pace as Amanda/Mandy closes in the the murderer, and the creeps close in on her. By the end, I put my life on hold wanting to see how it ended.

Unfortunately, for me, the story ends in medias res. I was locked to the book eager for resolution not only for Mandy/Amanda, but also for many of the minor characters. I was invested. I was desperate. I would have been happy even for a one-year-later coda for a resolution. The story just stopped. This didn't work for me. I award the book, the "Lady or Tiger" Award in honor of the 1882 story that I blame for all such resolution-less tales ... some of which are critically acclaimed, but just not by me.

This is a very well-written narrative, though when the action was slow I found myself bounced out of the story by some flowery writing, such as
... his waistband cut into his stomach as Roland's words sliced through his hope.
The word hung over the table, like one of his clouds of smoke. Alex knew those words were as cancerous as the second-hand smoke ...
Note to my feminist readers: Mandy/Amanda is not a "strong female protagonist." This is another attribute that works for a great number of readers, but not for me.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Read giveaway on June 1, 2013. I received the book On June 11, 2013.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Pirate Named Molly by Randy Imwalle *****

G-rated limericks for the 4-14 set. There is something universal about the limerick, more structured the haiku and more accessible than the sonnet. The limerick is poetry for everyone.

A Pirate Named Molly by Randy Imwalleis 56 original limericks accompanied by primitive-style (no shading) illustrations. Topics include classic children's stories (Three Little Pigs), Holidays (Thanksgiving), and US History (Wright Brothers), but my favorites were the completely originals like:
A young witch lived close to the ocean
She searched for just the right potion
No newt eyes or frog toes
No bat wool or dog nose
What she needed was high SPF lotion.
For the youngest, this is a good book for parents to read, and for the older ones, there is a section at the back on how to write limericks for them to try their hand at this universal art.

A charming book for the K-8 crowd.

I received a nice paper copy as a winner of the Goodreads First Reads give away program. CORRECTION: I mistaken stated that Amazon only offers the eBook version.That was incorrect. Here is the link A Pirate Named Molly (on paper)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Snob Zones by Lisa Prevost ***

Someone said that if the United States had been settled west to east, no one would live in New England. If you need more reasons to avoid New England, Snob Zones by Lisa Provost provides them.

Brief geography lesson: New England consists of the six states in the far northeast. These are the ones that are attached together in United States puzzles, and usually the first ones lost.

Provst tells six stories, one from each state, about how communities (some rich, all white, mostly conservative) use zoning and questionable legal methods to exclude affordable housing and outsiders. Each example is well researched and elucidates a slightly different facet of exclusionary policies to restrict economic, cultural, and racial diversity.

Take the example of Darien Connecticut: when the town was originally settled deed restrictions were used to prohibit selling property to people of the "Hebrew race," among others. Today, such tactics are illegal, but the urge to live in exclusive enclaves still exists. Provost reports that Darien uses lawyers to delay development projects, thus making costs prohibitive. In one case, they simply overbid the developer for the development site and turned it into a field of wild flowers.

While this is a national issue and addressed by Federal legislation (e.g., Fair Housing Act, 1968),  Provst stays in New England. Therein lies the challenge for this book and supporters for affordable housing nationally. Even though the problem is replicated nationally in hundreds or thousands of jurisdictions, each case seems to be unique. As a reader in California, the book seems remote and not quite relevant.

I strongly recommend the book to anyone living in, or considering moving to, New England. To others, not so much.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Read giveaway on April 23, 2013. I received the book on June 11, 2013.

Friday, June 14, 2013

MIssion to Paris by Alan Furst ****

Paris 1938. Against the backdrop of the Munich Agreement and Kristallnacht, Mission to Paris by Alan Furst spins a tale of innocence, courage, and love about a movie star (Fredric Stahl) and a costume designer (Renate Steiner) caught up Nazi terror.

Even if you do not have familiarity with the history of this period, Furst provides enough context to appreciate the story and the history.

This story reminds us all that much is accomplished by individuals doing their best with their limited resources and understanding. Even as these people risk their lives, the author avoids any attempt to overplay their roles or preach about their impact. This is history as seen by minor actors as they pass their quotidian  lives just looking for a little happiness and a little safety.

As might be expected from bit players on the world stage, their contributions are minor, but the story is a happy one. I enjoyed the horrific history lesson in such a pleasant package.

 I received a free copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Trans Atlantic by Colum McCann **

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann is a beautifully written collection of novellas around the last two centuries of Irish history. McCann's crisp journalistic style and lyrical detail make this book a pleasure to read.

The collection includes predominantly historical selections: Fredrick Douglass's 18th century tour of Ireland during the potato famine, the first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland (1919), and Senator George Mitchell's role in the Northern Ireland peace process. The fictional selections follow four generations of Irish women from emigration during the potato famine to return immigration over a century later.

I was disappointed in my reading because I was expecting a more coherent story. The 150-plus year saga did not hold together like I'd come to expect from authors like Mitchner and Uris. In addition, the multiple threads did not come together at the end like a Dickens novel, or some many contemporary mysteries. These are two shores of the same ocean. On the American side, I felt the common story threads were too weak to combine the St Louis, Newfoundland, New York, ... in to a single continent. On the Irish side, the final scenes reflected too little light on all that came before.

It might be that history, especially Irish history, is like the Middle East, senseless disputes followed by random violence for ever and ever. If that is the point, ... I don't like to be reminded of this in my pleasure reading (fiction), but others might very well enjoy this excellently written book.

While many cups of tea were consumed during the narrative, the book's loose structure was not my cup of tea.

I received a free copy of this book via the Goodreads First Read program.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner *****

Science Non-Fiction at its best. The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner tells the story of the development of the cancer drug Gleevec. This book works on so many levels: science, business, people, but first of all it is an exciting story, a page-turner that can not be put down, especially parts 2 and 3 about the design and testing.

This book is readable by both the many people who work in the pharmaceutical industry and all the others who are just consumers of drugs, and know for sure that all of us are or will be such consumers.

While surgery (cutting people open) is an ancient practice, medicines that provide more than palliative or placebo relief are recent, maybe starting with penicillin less than 100 years ago. Modern drug discovery is where cures will come from and where improvements in the general well-being of humankind will derive in the 21st century. Contrast this is the 20th century where preventative measures lead the public health mission with the successes of clean water, some say the greatest life saver of all time, antiseptics, and vaccines.

The book gives a celebratory story of science, the fifty year quest from basic research to saving lives. While following a one of those rare success stories, the reader also getting hints of the many difficulties behind successful drug development --- from biological complexity to corporate and governmental bureaucracy.

Thirty years ago The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder told the exciting story of the development of a computer. (Full disclosure: I still have this book in my library.) This was another book for insiders and outsiders alike to revel in the brilliance, energy and determination of the many people working together to bring something complex and new into the world. Back in the day, it was a book I recommended to the many people interested in careers in the promising field of computers.

Now for the 21st century, the excitement of discovery has moved from computers to biotech and The Philadelphia Chromosome is the book that should be read by everyone.

 I received a free copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.