Category Archives: authors

Book Review: The Fungo Society by Jeff Stanger

What I Liked:
Stanger has a very easy writing style that calls to mind sitting with your best friend while they tell the most salacious tale they’d just had the pleasure of experiencing and can’t resist watching you react as they spin one shocking reveal after another. Very readable. He also knows how to wield humor. The dialogue is funny. The characters are funny. The situations are funny times three. That is a refreshing reward especially for readers who are looking for a good dose of humor. Quick is a likable main character. The Indiana Jones of sports memorabilia.
I appreciated the efficient writing style. You don’t get wasted wordy passages that cause you to want to skip or wonder what the writer was trying to accomplish. Stanger says what he means and means what he says. You are brought into the world of baseball with appropriate descriptions that move the story along, not an easy task. It’s one that causes more than a few authors to stumble, not Stanger.
What I didn’t like:

I confess that I am very much a baseball guy. So I can’t criticize the baseball and memorabilia laden story. My guess is that from an impartial or non baseball point of view you might not have any interest at all in the subject matter and therefore you wouldn’t enjoy the story. That is a guess. I could be wrong. If you are open to the idea, try a few chapters and see for yourself.
This is a wild story. The wilder it got, the less I liked it. Why? I found the baseball story interesting, the drug story not so much. I rarely read stories about drug crimes, and when I do it isn’t because of the subject. I did not think it added to the book so it didn’t seem necessary.
What you should know:

The Fungo Society is a group of retired Major League Baseball players. They have a relationship with a baseball memorabilia dealer named Jonathan Quick. Quick is a 30 something bachelor with a penchant for trysts with random women who gravitates towards dangerous encounters. This is a baseball story. Memorabilia is featured in detail throughout the story. There are good guys, bad guys, not so good guys and not so bad guys. Nobody takes themselves too seriously. Think of it as the jock’s version of cozy mystery.
Recommendation:  A Maybe Read

Book Review:  The Bride Wore Dead.  A Josie Tucker Mystery by EM Kaplan

 

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What I liked.

The writing is top notch.  An interesting story about interesting people told in a very interesting fashion.  What more could one ask for?  There are so many things to like about the main character Josie Tucker.  This is an important aspect for me in most novels.  It is paramount for me in the mystery genre.  I have to care about the people involved if I’m going to spend any time with them.  I need to care most about the protagonist if I’m going to identify with him or her.  So I was all in with Josie.

What I didn’t like.

To say that Josie treats herself in a less than healthy way is a major understatement.  This is a character flaw that defies the instinct of self preservation.  I’d describe her as practicing the virtue of self denial like a Tibetan monk.  She has the career planning of a  compulsive gambler in Vegas, and combines that with the health maintenance planning of Evel Knievel.  Let’s hope that her palm shows such a long lifeline that she’ll be around for many books to come.

What you should know.

The second book is available now if you like the first one, and you’ll like the first one.  Dim Sum Dead Some.  If you devour that morsel don’t dispair Dead Man on Campus arrives August 15th.

Recommendation.  A must read.

WRITEAHOUSE.ORG

Both sides of my family migrated to Detroit in the first half of the 20th Century.  Both of my parents were born there.  It is the place where our history, our culture, our collective memory, the proof of our existence to the physical world emanates from.  Some have left, many have died.  Others have remained to witness the horror, the transformation of a great community.

There are newcomers, such as Liana, who’s home is here because of Write A House. Here is her blog about her experience in Detroit.

 

I now do most of my writing from an upstairs room that overlooks most of my street. The room is stark, with freshly painted white walls (Thanks Write A House crew), a wooden desk and an aluminum folding chair. I’ve kept it bare to minimize distraction and maximize output. I am easily distracted. I lose focus. I am not one of those writers who can write comfortably anywhere, at any time. To get a place of pure, magical focus and creativity, I have to expend so much energy. But even a minimally decorated, quiet room has not stopped my mind from wandering elsewhere.

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Source: WRITEAHOUSE.ORG

REVIEW: FOREIGN AGENT

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Foreign Agent: A Thriller (Scot Harvath) by Brad Thor

What I liked:

The best of the genre is exemplified by a driving force of will.  There you experience a relentless pace of action, conflict, and contest.  The NBA Championship finals just concluded.  LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers over a potentially historic Golden State Warriors team in a Game 7 nail biter that wasn’t settled until a series of dramatic plays in the final moments.  What we sports fans relish about this only pure form of reality television is the back and forth cage match that brings out both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  Not much else compares.  What Foreign Agent does so well is reproduce like emotions in scripted form.  Kudos.

The adrenaline rush that runs constant throughout the story is a rare treat.  This is a modern war story.  Violent political conflict across the globe is a threat to American safety as the Untied States’ superpower influence becomes a pawn in the chess match that is power politics on steroids.  As is true about most great chess games, this one involves Russians.  Scot Harvath, as a deep cover operative, is the point man for the home team.  A tribute to the superlative quality of this book is in part owed to Harvath’s character.  He isn’t just cunning and highly competent.  He also demonstrates an intellect generally presumed to be possessed by more refined, less violent members of the male species.  So yes, readers get to have their beefcake and eat it too.

In a review of the preceding book in the series (see Code of Conduct), I criticized it’s lack of balance.  Where was the romance in Harvath’s life?  Is he little more than Batman redux?  Well shut my mouth, because Harvath has come home.  The dilemmas he faces, though serious, credible, and not simple to resolve, are none the less dealt with in satisfactory fashion.

What I didn’t like:

Did you ever witness one of the nagging complaints about professional boxing?  How champion fighters too often scheduled miss matches with less than capable opponents in order to pad their paychecks while protecting their posteriors.  I’m talking about patsies.  Well Russia appears to be playing patsy here.  Is Thor paying homage to the dozens of Russian heavy weights over the years who took the dive for the George Foremans, the Joe Fraziers, and the late Muhammad Ali?  As the story proceeds, Russia seems incapable of state of the art technical espionage or classic trade craft, that is until the plot calls for it.  But hey I’m being too picky.  You can’t have it both ways.  Or can you?

What you should know:

The rules of engagement include torture.  Enhanced interrogation techniques are used.  The warning sign reads:  Squeamish individuals will enter at their own risk.  I find that there are distinct messages in Thor prose.  One such message here is that the use of extreme measures are a necessary aspect of winning fights where the alternatives are not palatable.  Brad Thor may or may not be right.  What he does is force readers to consider the issues.  That is one quality I respect in an author.

Recommendation:

A real Good Read

Review: Code of Conduct

Code of conductCode of Conduct: A Thriller (Scot Harvath Book 14) by Brad Thor.  This is a NY Times best seller in the Paperback Mass-Market Fiction Category.  Brad Thor is a well known bestselling author of the Scot Harvath Thriller series.  His next book, entitled Foreign Agent, debuts June 14th.

What I liked.

The thriller genre is not as attractive to me as others I prefer to read more often.  So I tend to be more demanding.  I’ll often judge this type based on whether I feel compelled to skip ahead while reading (a bad sign).  However, some would argue that the death knell for similar stories is when you put the book down and awhile later discover you haven’t picked it back up.  Phrases like ‘page turner’ are key to separating the wheat from the chaff in this regard.  Needless to say, Thor definitely does pass muster with this book.  What need I say?  There is a broad, ambitious story, involving the fate of mankind.  Thor has mastered the art of maintaining tension and interest as characters navigate through conflicts that challenge their morality, their determination, and their intelligence.

Because of an epic scale that spans the globe, multiple groups of characters are introduced and reintroduced.  Thor weaves these stories at a pace that allows you to keep track of who’s who, without bogging down the action. And there is plenty of action.  As is typical of the genre, the violence ramps up towards the final climactic ending, and you will be ready when the time comes.

One perceived weakness of the genre is the balance of substance.  Here we’re found wanting if it appears to be ‘all action, no talk’.  Thor adds meat to the prose by interspersing political philosophy: it isn’t just good verses evil, but government bureaucracy verses individual liberty.  So the conflict between ideas is just as entertaining as the cage fight spectacle.

What I didn’t like.

A story of this scope and style often treads lightly on character development.  While there is enough there to like the good guys, and dislike the bad guys, I was still left wanting.  Scot Harvath is a very well developed protagonist and you’re left with no doubt about his reasons why or raison d’etre, s’il vous plait.  Not so much for the people around him.  They are more or less two dimensional.  For example the two prominent female characters are stereotypical archetypes.  But that probably won’t bother the target demographic.

I had a similar issue with the villain.  He had to be the nicest serial killer you ever met.  What’s up with that!  He leads a great life until he suffers a bad loss.  Then he reads a bad book?  So he goes crazy?  Thor has quite the cautionary tale about being careful with your bedside reading choices!

What you should know.

For thriller and suspense lovers, this is definitely the ticket.  With respect to the amount of violence, think early Schwarzenegger, if you want a movie comparison.  Warning:  know that these series can be highly addictive.  You may find yourself up late at night and suddenly sleep deprived (and neglecting significant others a la Harvath).  Take your time.  There are plenty more where this came from if you haven’t read any of his novels before.  If you have, don’t worry, you can buy a copy of Foreign Agent and get your fix this summer.

Recommendation:  Must Read

 

Foundations @ Write A House

My computer desktop image is of an old stone foundation overtaken by greenery, a former homestead of Washington Irving, which I hiked to a number of summers ago during a residency in the Catskills. The spot wasn’t terribly well marked, and I had to dig for it a bit, so I spent most of the morning seeking out what would have been a former house, next to a stream, before chancing upon the rock Rip Van Winkle was said to have napped on. (Superstitiously, I did not indulge the urge to test it.)

The discovery of the homestead felt somehow pivotal, and I knew when I snapped the image on my cameraphone that I would want to look at it every day: flat stone foundations are so sensical, aren’t they? Find yourself some level ground and nestle the rocks in a bit, build up a wall that way, then create a whole room, carefully manipulating the earth against your construction materials in anticipation of your future needs. I don’t know what it’s like for a doctor or an accountant or an urban planner, but for a writer those needs are ultimately quite simple: a space in which one can hear one’s own thoughts, not too distant from “the action,” but not central to it, either. The meaning of home solidified for me then, implying a state of activity as opposed to a static condition. Like being awake. Like love.

I’d never considered the concept of home so deeply before. At the time, I was traveling 200 days out of the year, and when I did my taxes, I occasionally discovered that I had conducted business in languages I could not later identify. I was working in Germany, Cambodia, the Republic of Georgia, and Finland, with only days between trips to rest in Chicago before a lecture in New York City or a conference in Vienna or a book event in Los Angeles or a “vacation” in some place I had selected because I had never been anywhere like it before and didn’t know what life there might be like. Washington Irving’s stone foundation became a talisman for me—a guidepost at first some great distance off, later more clearly outlined through the haze—a beacon to a single place I might wish to return to, some flat ground soft enough to nestle stones into. I loved my exciting life, do not get me wrong, and was having far too much fun to change it in anyway, but I did look around at least once during every one of those 200 days and wonder if the place I was in might eventually become my home. It never did, and after several years my computer desktop image was still the only thing I saw, consistently, every single day: the purely ephemeral digital nature of the pic belying a steadfastness I was coming to crave.

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Review:  Getaway

Getaway by Lisa a Brackmann.  This is the first novel of her new series. The next book, Go-Between comes out in July.

What I liked.

This is what Frantic should have been and possibly could have been with better writing.  There is serious realistic peril for a vacationer in Mexico.  My emphasis is on the word realistic.  I was willing to go down this rabbit hole only because it was so believable.  Having vacationed in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and visited numerous places in Mexico, I’m familiar with the territory.  It was enjoyable to see Vallarta from a literary point of view.  This trip was both fun and affordable!

The story. I have read and recommend all of the Ellie McEnroe novels which take place in China.  Getaway comes across as a completely different story.  The tone and pacing are so disparate I wouldn’t know it was the same author if her name wasn’t written on the cover.  I found the story enthralling.  I liken it to the classic idea of the American travelling abroad, unaware of the risks associated with living without the protections of the Bill of Rights and faith in the criminal justice system.  It isn’t an original concept. Yet in the hands of Brackmann the payoff is in how she unveils each episode.  The tension builds and with each passing hour fears are stoked, until the climactic conclusion.

What I didn’t like.

There are no tidy resolutions.  Kinda like real life.  It is messy. Perhaps readers won’t mind that though.  Add to it the chance the next book will tie up all those loose ends.  Something I look forward to.

What you should know.

If you like violent novels this is for you.  Smart, serious, suspense.

Recommendation: Must Read

 

Open Letter Signed by Writers on Trump

I petitions.com

Because, as writers, we are particularly aware of the many ways that language can be abused in the name of power;

Because we believe that any democracy worthy of the name rests on pluralism, welcomes principled disagreement, and achieves consensus through reasoned debate;

Because American history, despite periods of nativism and bigotry, has from the first been a grand experiment in bringing people of different backgrounds together, not pitting them against one another;

Because the history of dictatorship is the history of manipulation and division, demagoguery and lies;

Because the search for justice is predicated on a respect for the truth;

Because we believe that knowledge, experience, flexibility, and historical awareness are indispensable in a leader;

Because neither wealth nor celebrity qualifies anyone to speak for the United States, to lead its military, to maintain its alliances, or to represent its people;

Because the rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response;

For all these reasons, we, the undersigned, as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States.

Review: Blood Defense

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark.

This is the author’s first novel of a series involving a criminal defense attorney named Samantha Brinkman.  You can read her Rachel Knight prosecutor series here.

What I liked:

The protagonist.  Samantha’s not so law abiding approach to the world was so refreshing. I also appreciated her professional approach to her vocation, it wasn’t about money, it was about doing the right thing the right way.  This is also a no nonsense, courageous protagonist.  That is the way I prefer them to be when I see them as the ‘hero’.  The interesting aspect of Samantha is that her personal life is non-existent.  Under the circumstances her work absorbs all of her life.  The intriguing part is that this missing piece does not detract from the story.  I imagine later tomes will add that dimension.  She is unmarried, and as such the only personal interaction she has is with her parents, and those are priceless.

The plot twist.  I found the twist to be unique and compelling – no spoiler though, find out for yourself, it is worth it.  I will say this, the description of the emotional impact of the revelation pulls the reader into the story and holds you.  That’s a major reason why we read novels, and this one delivers.  Could you imagine yourself in that situation?  What would you think?  How would you react under the circumstances?

The mystery.  This, of course like many of the genre, is a who done it.  There is a very delicate balance every mystery author must maintain in order for the mystery to both drive the story and keep up a plausible enough level of suspense to engage readers. And this works only to the degree that there is an investment of interest made validating the notion that anyone cares what happens.  This is not an easy task.  It is in my opinion the element that separates the real mystery authors from the pretenders.  Clark demonstrates her chops in this regard.

What I didn’t like:

I am one of those nitpickers.  I confess!  So I’ll ask.  How does a violent crime victim who has never gotten justice become a criminal defense attorney?  Why?  So she can sandbag all her cases and get her clients convicted?  I think not.  I just cannot reconcile the contradiction.  There is more to be mined on this subject but that the author only skims the surface.  I say ‘no go’.  Why touch so lightly on something so worthy of proper focus?  Samantha has nightmares.  Well?  I don’t think it can be mentioned, as often as it is, without going into detail about the cause and effect.

What you should know:

Amateur psychologists will revel in this smorgasbord of mental disorders – narcissism, sociopaths, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while seeing them play out in the lives of the people who are forced to live with them.  The scene is Los Angeles, and pop culture is a main character.  Kudos to making reference to the current political upheaval involving the presidential election.

Recommendation:  Must Read