NEW AND HOT — DOUBLE DIP, A DAVIS WAY MYSTERY

If you missed it first time around, here she is again!

Double Dip is the second mystery starring the intrepid Davis Way, written by intrepid author, Gretchen Archer. Even better than Double Whammy, it’s fast, funny, witty and complex.

Something is rotten at the Bellissimo casino where Davis Way works high level security. Employees are double dipping all over the place, including at the slot machines. It’s slot tournament season. How better to catch a cheater at slots that be part of the action? Davis Way’s has never seen, much less played in a slot-tournament, but duty calls … this time as a competitor in the tournament. Good news? She gets to wear really great clothing and stay in the finest accommodations Bellissimo has to offer.

double dip whammy gretchen

Bad news? She working day and night until further notice. Her personal life is going down the tubes. Even on the job, she’s in the deep end of the pool … and swimming isn’t her best sport.

Of course nothing is what it appears to be. Nothing is simple or straightforward. Work is driving her crazy. Her personal life is running off the rails and working all the time is not helping.

The boss’s wife’s personal assistant is missing after bullets are fired. A mousey elderly church lady appears to be the key to a suspicious series of slot machine wins. Meanwhile, after Davis faints dead away in the arms of Bellissimo’s hugely popular emcee, he seems to be gaga over her — not exactly what Davis needs while trying to track down where that slot-playing church lady came from — and what her real motives are.  And what does the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church have to do with all of this? Everything is linked to everything else and it’s going to take all Davis’s sleuthing skills to untangle this Gordian knot.

dbl dip cover

Where’s Bradley Cole during all of this? Working late with Mary Ha-Ha, that’s where. The class action suit on which Bradley is working is as suspicious as the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church … and maybe connected. What’s worse? Davis is pretty sure her persistent upset stomach is not the flu. If only their respective jobs left them some time to talk. If only her sleaze-bag ex-ex Eddie Crawford, would stop showing up where he is so unwanted!

acknowledgement

Complicated? It is indeed. Yet the author carries it off with aplomb, style and humor.

Plots within plots, entwined with subplots and back stories. Ms. Archer juggles all the complexities while keeping track of at least a dozen characters, then ties all those dangling threads into a beautiful bow. Nothing is left hanging by accident. At the end of the book, all that remains are tidbits designed to lure you into the next adventure.

All my favorite books make me laugh. There’s nothing I value more in an author than a good sense of humor and a sharp wit. Gretchen Archer has these in abundance. I admit I got more involved in this book than usual and had a small part in an early edit of the text … which changed enormously afterwards. I’m delighted to have taken part in the project and grateful to Gretchen for giving me more credit than I deserve.

Read Double Whammy and then read Double Dip. You will be very glad you did.

THE LATE VERY GREAT DOUGLAS ADAMS – MY TIME TWIN

I love Douglas Adams. Although he has been gone from our world for 13 years I miss him as I would miss a good friend. The good times we had together, listening to him read his own books. He was a mad man and such a delicious one.

douglas adams inspired "Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy" H2G2

I was looking for a short audiobook. I wanted something funny and witty, so of course I found “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” It’s just over three and a half hours — precisely the right length and correct degree of lunacy.

When I began listening, I googled Douglas Adams and realized Douglas Adams shares my birthday.

What an honor! I can’t imagine anyone with whom I could be happier to share a birthday. I’m delighted Maybe there a bit of his madness in me, too.Perhaps I have a tiny piece of his magic. Even a sprinkling of pixie dust would be fine.

The Dirk Gently series — just two books — never enjoyed the monumental success of the Hitchhiker books — but I’ve love them best. And this version is Douglas reading his own book and he’s an exceptional reader. There are a bunch of versions of all of Adams’ books on Audible.com. The few actually narrated by the author are the best.

For my life, forever hence forth, when I celebrate my birthday, I will also be celebrating for Douglas Adams. Happy Birthday,Douglas. No one has replaced you and never ever will.

Douglas Adams

Born: March 11, 1952, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Died: May 11, 2001, Santa Barbara, California

ABOUT TIME! THE UNDEAD POOL – KIM HARRISON

If, as I have, you’ve been following this series from the beginning, this book has been a long time coming. Rachel Morgan has traveled an enormous distance — professionally and personally — since she first decided to leave the I.S. and become an independent runner. She has transformed from witch to day-walking demon and repeatedly saved the world.

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Not that the world has been particularly grateful. She keeps pulling the world’s bacon out of the fire and the world continues to whack her over the head. A simple thank you would do!

Ivy has moved on to a genuine relationship — fragile but real — with Nina. Jenks has (apparently) finally recovered from the death of his wife, Matalina. Bis, the baby gargoyle, isn’t such a baby any longer. He’s coming into his own and may just live up to the name he bears amongst gargoyles — Worldbreaker.

Then there’s Trent. Rachel and Trent have been dancing around each other through a lot of pages. Approach, back off, sashay left and do-si-do. Finally all the waiting pays off and we get some long hoped-for romance.

This is a deeply satisfying book on many levels. Kim Harrison not only gives us what we’ve waited for, but she does it so deliciously. The characters — even background characters like Trent’s irritating fiancé Ellasbeth — are fully fleshed out. Great characters who have been MIA for a while, such as David and his were-pack, are back and ready to mix it up. Hail, hail! The gang is here!

Will Rachel save the world again? You bet.

A quick summary: Living vampires are rebelling. Their undead masters are asleep, apparently unable to waken. The world is being overwhelmed by wild Elven magic and Rachel is at the center of the maelström. There’s no question she has been chosen by the Goddess. Why? For what exactly? Where does Newt fit in?

Although not every question is answered in this next-to-last book in The Hollows series, it answers a great many of them. Things you’ve been waiting for through eleven books finally happen in this, the twelfth volume. It is about time and was absolutely worth waiting for.

dead pool 9

There’s a lot of exposition in the first half of the book. Action explodes in the second half. The momentum picks up to such an extent I found myself backtracking and rereading to make sure I didn’t miss a critical event or piece of information.

I have loved every book in this series and it was inevitable I would love this, too. Unlike many long running series, there’s nothing tired about this book. It’s as fresh, exciting and rich as it was in the beginning and in many ways, more so. I’m going to read it again. And probably, again after that.

Do not — please — read this if you haven’t read the rest of the series. You need the background of the characters not to mention a lot of development of relationships. And history. If you haven’t read the series, read it. It has been my favorite series for all the years I’ve been following it and has never disappointed me. It won’t disappoint you, either.

Marguerite Gavin is the narrator on the Audible download, as she has been for almost the entire series and does her usual perfect job.

This is, in my opinion, the best urban fantasy series. Period.

It’s available from Amazon (and other outlets) in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, CD and from Audible.com. 

THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY – JAMES ZERNDT – ENTER TO GET A FREE COPY!

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

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HORROR OF DEATH WITHOUT HOPE: COBWEB BRIDE – VERA NAZARIAN

COBWEB BRIDE by Vera Nazarian

Publication Date: July 15, 2013

CobwebBride-Mockup1

Death has lost his bride and must find her, the Cobweb Bride, before he will again take up his task of bringing a close to life.

Many books … uncountable books … focus on the horror of death, impending death, death by disease, war, accident, murder. This is the first one in my reading experience that focuses on the horror of life with no hope of death, a life where nothing dies. Not a plant, animal or human. No living thing can pass out of life, no matter how damaged, mutilated or ill. No amount of pain, age or readiness will change anything.

Persephone (Percy) can see death. It is her gift, if you’d like to call it that. It makes her unique and eventually, powerful and frightening. But first, she is the most unattractive daughter in a household of three daughters, unloved by her mother, barely tolerated by her sisters. Her father loves her, though effusive demonstrations of affection are hardly his style. Is she destined to be the bride of Death, the one for whom he searches the earth?

Claere is the Infanta, only child, daughter of the Emperor and Empress. Now, because Death will no longer take away those whose time on earth is ended, though she is dead, she is not dead. She walks, speaks, thinks and (sort of) feels. She believes she is the rightful bride of Death. How much more appropriate? She is high royalty and already dead, the perfect Cobweb Bride. Is she the one?

There are others, many others for the Emperor has decreed every family must offer up a daughter (if they have an eligible girl child) to Death. He will only take one, but no one knows who it will be, from which kingdom she will emerge. All that is known is Death demands his Cobweb Bride. Until he finds her, the world cannot be made right. Soon, food stores will run dry and the world will starve to death, yet no one will die and Earth will be entirely populated by the dead-who-are-not-dead.

COBWEB BRIDE is the first book in the Cobweb Bride Trilogy, a grim Grimm-style fairy tale in a mythical version of Europe in the 1700s, a history-flavored fantasy that is both romantic and dark, full of symbolism and shadows.

There are multiple sub-plots and intricate relationships that develop along the way. As the first book of a trilogy, the landscape is laid out for you. The cast of characters is presented and introduced with their histories, strengths, failures, hopes and fears … but without resolution. I usually avoid reading the first book of a trilogy unless at least the second book is already in print. This time, I didn’t have that choice, since I am reviewing the first volume before its release. I wish there was a next book to read.

Corpse Bride in Cobweb inspired dress

Photo credit: lora70

This is a goodie. It’s different. A little slow getting started, but once it does, the concept and characters are intriguing, the story sufficiently unique that I was hooked.

How dreadful a world-view the author paints where there is no relief from life, when eternity looms before everyone. How bleak and terrifying is the prospect of eternal life? I’ve always thought that the only thing more frightening than death is the prospect of living without possibility of death, the premise on which this book is built.

The premise and the story work, probably because of the richly drawn characters and plot. The players are different, strange, and alluring. The dead and the living interact, to no one’s particular pleasure.

The living dead have varying reactions to their unexpected change of circumstance. The power mad feel they’ve found the ultimate road to even more power. Others wish only for oblivion. What do you do when you are in love with the man who murdered you? When you have to choose whether to obey the insane directives of a dead-not-dead monarch? When does loyalty end in the face of a world that has changed beyond recognition?

In an alternate reality, somewhere in a mythical “pocket” of not-quite-Europe in the Kingdom of Lethe, the strangeness unfolds and everyone must walk a path no one has trod before.

* * *

Vera Nazarian is a two-time Nebula Award Nominee, award-winning artist, and member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a writer with a penchant for moral fables and stories of intense wonder, true love, and intricacy. She immigrated to the USA from the former USSR as a kid, sold her first story at the age of 17, and since then has published numerous works in anthologies and magazines, and has seen her fiction translated into eight languages.

She is the author of critically acclaimed novels Dreams of the Compass Rose and Lords of Rainbow, as well as the outrageous parodies Mansfield Park and Mummies and Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons, and most recently, Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret in her humorous and surprisingly romantic Supernatural Jane Austen Series.

After many years in Los Angeles, Vera lives in a small town in Vermont, and uses her Armenian sense of humor and her Russian sense of suffering to bake conflicted pirozhki and make art.

Visit her official author’s website at http://www.veranazarian.com.

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The fascinating construction of a life. Book review of The 12-Foot Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong

Marilyn Armstrong:

A review of my book so wonderful I feel like blushing.

Originally posted on thismoonlesssky:

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Marilyn Armstrong is a widely read blogger on WordPress, and that’s how I became aware of her. I thought, ‘anyone who writes this well must have written at least one book.’ The 12-foot Teepee, in fact, is the name of the book and the basis of the blog’s URL, http://teepee12.com.

Tempus fugit, especially for daily bloggers. Marilyn tells me, in correspondence, that she’s no longer quite the same person as the one who wrote the book. As a former resident of Jerusalem, though, she says she once lived near a place where archaeologists found “a Canaanite temple, on top of which (pillar on pillar) stood a Greek temple. On top of which (pillar on pillar) was a Roman temple. On top of which was – you guessed it, pillar on pillar – a synagogue.” No doubt today’s Marilyn stands pillar on pillar on the one who wrote this…

View original 611 more words

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE – A REVIEW I DIDN’T WRITE MYSELF

Obviously I didn’t write this.I would be embarrassed to say this much nice stuff about me, but I have to admit I’m kind of delighted. In the midst of the craziness of my life, all of a sudden I’m getting wonderful reviews of the book I’d pretty much given up on. It never went anywhere. I’m not even sure I know how to find my publication website … or have any idea what my password is. Or anything.

If nothing else, it’s humbling that there can be such a huge disparity between my perception of the book I wrote and other people’s view of it. That I might not be the best judge of my work goes without saying … but to be 180 degrees out of alignment forces me to wonder what else I’m completely wrong about.

teepee book shelf

In any case, I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting the review here because I have no idea how one reblogs a review that isn’t on a blog. And this is on the Canadian Amazon site, making it even more inaccessible. The title of the book is also a live link to the source, so please visit that site too. The author deserves your support.

I’m beyond grateful for this review. I’m touched and encouraged. This is a difficult time for me, for obvious reasons. Having something so nice happen right now makes me feel (sorry about the pun) heartened.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE

5.0 out of 5 stars

The fascinating construction of a life Jan. 30 2014

By Jiibo Dyallo

Format: Kindle Edition | Amazon Verified Purchase

Marilyn Armstrong is a widely read blogger on WordPress, and that’s how I became aware of her. I thought, ‘anyone who writes this well must have written at least one book.’ The 12-foot Teepee, in fact, is the name of the book and the basis of the blog’s URL, teepee12 dot com.

Tempus fugit, especially for daily bloggers. Marilyn tells me, in correspondence, that she’s no longer quite the same person as the one who wrote the book. As a former resident of Jerusalem, though, she says she once lived near a place where archaeologists found “a Canaanite temple, on top of which (pillar on pillar) stood a Greek temple. On top of which (pillar on pillar) was a Roman temple. On top of which was – you guessed it, pillar on pillar – a synagogue.” No doubt today’s Marilyn stands pillar on pillar on the one who wrote this book, and I think that that keeps the book current. A life contains its own archaeology, and what is an autobiography (as I assume this is, in essence) if not a tell?

Protagonist ‘Maggie,’ as a child, was sexually abused by her father. That revelation is how the book begins. I worked for an LGBT newspaper in the 1980s and kept current on feminist and lesbian literature during the period when the magnitude of familial incest was first being disclosed to the world. I’ve read many dozens of accounts – brief, elongated, literary, plain, agonized, detached – by people who endured this experience. Also, I’ve read numerous complex bestsellers embedding the theme, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. I noticed right away that Marilyn was somehow overcoming the saturation factor and writing highly readable text. Perhaps it was her style of writing – plainspoken enough to be nodded at by Hemingway, yet subtly full of craft. Her approach was fresh, and witty at appropriate moments. Perhaps there was some engaging mystery, too, in the enigma of her father as an inconspicuously, but almost incomprehensibly, evil man. I’m not sure if I would even have credited Marilyn with restraining herself from exaggeration if I hadn’t read M. Scott Peck’s monograph on such folk, People of the Lie. I knew that such individuals really do exist. In any case, Marilyn’s way of telling the tale with judicious truth but without a show of anguish, and without the jargon that is now often used in such accounts, made the difficult events completely readable.

The book then progressed through subtly interwoven anecdotes to the unveiling of related tales: the construction of a knock-off Sioux-style teepee as a project for self-healing and for spending quality time with a lively granddaughter; the concurrent battle with spinal problems and surgeons of greater and lesser competence; and the challenges of new-found poverty for Massachusetts people caught up in the tech bust of the 1990s. This all sounds daunting, not to mention rather random and terribly personal, but Marilyn makes it as vivid and coherent a piece of writing as you will find anywhere. She wins your heart. The feeling that you want things to go well for her (I don’t know her personally at all apart from a couple of emails back and forth among fellow bloggers) turns out to be a waterslide of suspense that runs you right through the book from beginning to end. She also integrates a spiritual journey from secular Judaism into Christianity that is neither dwelt upon nor glossed over – it has its time and place in the story – and it also arouses interest – regardless, I should think, of the personal persuasion of the reader. The bottom line, though, is that Marilyn is a writer who can captivate you with a tale of how her son pieced together PVC pipe sections to make wobbly teepee poles. I can’t imagine what topic she couldn’t make interesting.

I think that this book deserves more attention than it’s had. Marilyn is not sure that it does – she says in her email that she has, to some extent, returned to religious skepticism in recent years. Life has gone on. The tell has mounded up further. Where a church once stood in her psyche, a big community teepee for comparative religion and degrees of religious belief now stands, pole on pillar. Its architecture is newer than the book.

If you have a sense of discovery, though, you still need to know how it got there, and this book is the only dig that’s been done.

AWAKENINGS: THE LOST SPIRITS – SHARLA SHULTS

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

Today is a quiet day…a co-o-o-old day so definitely a day to stay inside simply enjoying the warmth of hearth and home. Just finished reading The 12-ft Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong (featured below) and thought I would take some time to visit blogs I am following. How surprised I was upon coming across The Lost Spirits @A Misbehaved Woman.

What better topic to revisit than that of the American Indians?

Disturbing, however, is the fact this story is not totally past history…it is tied to history, yes, but it is also right here, right now, in America, in New York City.

Read the rest of the story on Awakenings!

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

So much good stuff to read in this post … including (blush) the best review I’ve ever gotten of my little book.

See on awakenings2012.blogspot.com

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BEWARE OF DERANGED BOOKWORMS

Daily Prompt: BYOB(ookworm)

Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination. Photographers, artists, poets: show us BOOKS.

I can do this. I have books. I wrote a book … and it has its own blurb! Wow! I can DO this, oh world! Just hold on, let me run and get the camera and I’ll take a few pictures. I’ll be right back. Don’t leave. I won’t be gone long …

(Time: 11:10 AM EST … tick tick tick …)

Okay, I’m back and it’s just 11:21 AM. I took pictures. A few more than I intended and gave the desperate canines another round of biscuits. I’d like to know which of you rotten little terriers peed on the kitchen floor! Too cold for your little paws? You know, that could affect your biscuit distribution if I ever catch you!

Now, please wait another few minutes while I take a look at the pictures and see which ones I want to use. Stay put. I’m just going to peek into Photoshop briefly … tick tick tick …

I’m nearly ready. Not quite, but pictures take time. It’s already 12:15 PM. I never seem to leave enough time to process photos. Anyway, I get hung up, frozen while trying to decide what to do with which pictures. I guess this is going to go up tomorrow, rather than right now, because it’s getting late and I’m not finished yet. Drat.

Tomorrow is another day. (Who said that?)(Just kidding. I know.)

You can tell a lot about people from the contents of their bookcases. I’m always shocked to go into a home and discover there are NO bookcases. I realize there are people who don’t read, but I still get upset. How can you not love books?

You can look at the pictures here and know a lot about both of us. We share many books … mysteries and histories … but branch off into specializations too. I’m into antiques, sci fi and fantasy. Garry is a film buff, a devotee of classic film — and baseball.

Between us, we never lack for something to talk about. Or, at least, I don’t!

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DAVIS WAY IS BACK — DOUBLE DIP, BY GRETCHEN ARCHER

Double Dip is the second mystery starring the intrepid Davis Way, written by intrepid author, Gretchen Archer. Even better than Double Whammy, it’s fast, funny, witty and complex.

double dip in bookcase

Something is rotten at the Bellissimo casino where Davis Way works high level security. Employees are double dipping all over the place, including at the slot machines. It’s slot tournament season. How better to catch a cheater at slots that be part of the action? Davis Way’s has never seen, much less played in a slot-tournament, but duty calls … this time as a competitor in the tournament. Good news? She gets to wear really great clothing and stay in the finest accommodations Bellissimo has to offer.

Bad news? She working day and night until further notice. Her personal life is going down the tubes. Even on the job, she’s in the deep end of the pool … and swimming isn’t her best sport.

Of course nothing is what it appears to be. Nothing is simple or straightforward. Work is driving her crazy. Her personal life is running off the rails and working all the time is not helping.

The boss’s wife’s personal assistant is missing after bullets are fired. A mousey elderly church lady appears to be the key to a suspicious series of slot machine wins. Meanwhile, after Davis faints dead away in the arms of Bellissimo’s hugely popular emcee, he seems to be gaga over her — not exactly what Davis needs while trying to track down where that slot-playing church lady came from — and what her real motives are.  And what does the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church have to do with all of this? Everything is linked to everything else and it’s going to take all Davis’s sleuthing skills to untangle this Gordian knot.

dbl dip cover

Where’s Bradley Cole during all of this? Working late with Mary Ha-Ha, that’s where. The class action suit on Bradley is working is as suspicious as the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church … and maybe connected. What’s worse? Davis is pretty sure her persistent upset stomach is not the flu. If only their respective jobs left them some time to talk. If only her sleaze-bag ex-ex Eddie Crawford, would stop showing up where he is so unwanted!

acknowledgement

Complicated? It is indeed. Yet the author carries it off with aplomb, style and humor.

Plots within plots, entwined with subplots and back stories. Ms. Archer juggles all the complexities while keeping track of at least a dozen characters, then ties all those dangling threads into a beautiful bow. Nothing is left hanging by accident. At the end of the book, all that remains are tidbits designed to lure you into the next adventure.

All my favorite books make me laugh. There’s nothing I value more in an author than a good sense of humor and a sharp wit. Gretchen Archer has these in abundance. I admit I got more involved in this book than usual and had a small part in an early edit of the text … which changed enormously afterwards. I’m delighted to have taken part in the project and grateful to Gretchen for giving me more credit than I deserve.

Read Double Whammy and then read Double Dip. You will absolutely be glad you did.

BEYOND THE MOON: ENCOUNTER WITH TIBER, ALDRIN AND BARNES

Encounter with Tiber, by Buzz AldrinJohn Barnes

Originally published in July 1996, Encounter With Tiber was released on Kindle on May 28, 2013. I’m a lifelong fan of science fiction and space exploration. I watched the moon landing in 1969 — the glory days of NASA — and dreamed I’d see space flight become accessible to everyone, even me.

I jumped into reading this with enthusiasm. Buzz Aldrin’s fingerprints are all over the first section of the book. Not only does it give you an up-close and highly personal look at the inner workings of NASA, but it gives you an uncomfortably intimate view of the politics of America’s space program. From this, I gleaned an enormous amount of information about what happened to the U.S. space program.

How it is that more than 40 years after landing men on the moon, our space program is moribund, hobbled by in insufficient budget. Our human dreams of venturing into space are dead on the launch pad. The 16-years since the publication of the book have dealt unkindly with NASA. It’s hard to see what would revive the program.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag on Mare Tran...

This first part of the book is a beautiful presentation of our space technology, why it worked, why it stopped working. For the first time, I understand the workings — and failures — of our technology.  Aldrin uses diagrams to explain all kinds of stuff that I had heard about and never understood. I know it is supposed to be fiction, but it felt real.

Then the book switches authors. Rarely in a co-authored book has it been so obvious when one author stopped writing and the other picked up. The style goes from scientific and precise, to … something else. Aldrin writes like a scientist, which he is. Barnes writes like a novelist for whom details are optional.

Aldrin poses on the Moon, allowing Armstrong t...

The change in “voice” is abrupt and somewhat jarring.

Both authors write well but very differently. This is an ambitious book which covers the development and fizzling of our space program then takes off into the stars with a crew composed of different sentient species leaving from other planets in yet another star system. The stories tie together by sharing a common theory of the life and death of stars and planets.

I was a bit put off by the sudden switch from Aldrin’s precision to Barnes lack thereof. Aldrin explains everything and can’t go 10 pages without a diagram. When he’s writing, you don’t spend a lot of time saying “huh?” Barnes, on the other hand, doesn’t bother to define any terms at all. Vague and belated attempts to rectify the initial omissions are more annoying than satisfying. Eventually, I just rearranged my brain and moved on.

The characters — human and otherwise — are interesting, though the aliens weren’t sufficiently alien for me to feel their alienness. More like humans in wookie costumes.

English: Footprint of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

It’s worth reading just for the first half obviously written by Buzz Aldrin. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to our space program and why, this book will make it all clear as a freshly washed window. As science fiction, it’s a long and complicated book — 596 pages. And it’s really two books, the one Aldrin wrote and the one Barnes wrote.

The theory it postulates is troubling. If you accept the book’s premise, the failure of our space program will ultimately doom us to extinction. All of us. Not tomorrow, but eventually. The foundation principle of the plot is in the end, that everything dies.

Planets and stars have a life span. Worlds get old. Stars wink out. If a sentient species has no way to escape its dying planet, it will die with the planet. It’s enough to give one pause. If you never thought about it before, Encounter With Tiber will get you thinking in new directions, perhaps worrying in new directions.

Think of this as two separate book fused together, related, but not the same. It will make more sense and be easier to read. Essentially, that’s what it is. Two books. Two authors. Related, but not the same. Everything you never wanted to know about NASA and then a trip through the stars in an alien ship looking for a new planet to call home.

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THE ULTIMATE DARWINIAN CHALLENGE — JOHN DIXON’S PHOENIX ISLAND

Phoenix Island by John Dixon

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Publication Date – January 21, 2014

The story that inspired CBS TV’s Intelligence. Phoenix Island was supposed to be a boot camp for troubled children. Carl Freeman, at 16, is a boxing champion. He’s also about to be sentenced by a judge … prison? It’s not his first time in front of the bench. He isn’t even sure how many times he’s been here before, but always for the same thing — defending someone from bullies. It gets him in trouble every time, but this time, it’s worse. No slap on the wrist. He’s going to a “terminal facility,” the toughest boot camp of them all: Phoenix Island. It’s a two-year sentence — or a life sentence. Sometimes, there’s a thin line between the two. When Carl realized Phoenix Island is actually a mercenary training camp designed to change orphans — kids with no attachments to the “outside world” — into deadly, conscienceless super soldiers, he decides to do whatever it takes to save the people he loves even at the cost of his own life.

PhoenixIsland

The popular TV show Intelligence is based on this book. Since I’d never heard of or seen the show, I wasn’t swayed one way or the other. This is not the kind of book I usually read. Too much violence, too much intensity. Life is intense and I prefer my reading relaxing. But, I was intrigued and decided to give this one a go and I’m glad I did — mostly.

The book is much better than I expected. It just kept getting better from the beginning to the end, picking up speed and adding layers to the characters and the story. There are a lot of deaths and plenty of violence leading up to said deaths. And it’s not just  physical violence. There is systematic torture, emotional and psychological abuse, starvation and bullying of the most horrible kind. You name it, it’s here. The audience for this book is supposed to young adults. Is this what we are giving our kids to read? Yikes.

There’s no sex at all, nor any rough language, but there is sufficient graphic violence for a dozen books. If I had read this when I was 16 , it would have given me nightmares for years. Parents and teachers might want to consider whether or not every kid is emotionally equipped to process graphic violence before recommending this book. I wouldn’t let my kid watch Pop-Eye cartoons because they were ugly and violent.

For those who can handle the imagery and still get a night’s sleep, it’s a gripping story. And a surprising one. Just when you think you know what is going to happen next, don’t stop reading. Something else will happen, something you probably didn’t see coming.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book — maybe its best part — is the presentation of evil as not entirely black versus white, but many shades of gray. That a person having the same character and personality might be worthy of kingship in one generation, but be incarcerated as a criminal in the next. That the same talents can be applied for good or evil, depending on circumstance, timing and luck. Good and evil are not absolutes, but are born (at least in part) from the popular attitudes of society at a given time and place.

If the general cruelty, ugliness and brutality of the story doesn’t bother you, you’re in for a good read. Taut and tense, the book starts off a bit slow and gathers momentum. Meet the giant spiders, the vicious pigs (human and four-legged), the bullies, the torturer, the power-mad-evil-genius, the baby assassins and don’t forget the hammerhead sharks. You may find your stomach heaving, but you won’t be bored.

The book is available in Kindle, hardcover and as an Audible.com download beginning tomorrow, January 21, 2014

DOUBLE WHAMMY – A DAVIS WAY MYSTERY, GRETCHEN ARCHER

Dble Whammy-NK-03

Double Dip, the second Davis Way mystery by Gretchen Archer is due for publication in January 28, 2014. Today seems a perfect time to take another look at Double Whammy.

Davis Way used to be a cop in Pine Apple, Alabama. Her name sounds like a road and the name of the town looks misspelled, but really, that’s her name and Pine Apple is indeed the town from which she hails. She used to be married. To Eddie. Twice. It didn’t work out the first time and it’s hard to figure why she married him a second time.

doubleWhammy

In the course of the second divorce from her first-and-second husband — she refers to him as her ex-ex — Davis and Eddie behaved badly. Badly enough to get her fired from the force by her father and for 2-way retraining orders to get slapped on Davis and her ex-ex. The juicy details of what happened are never given. I rather hope future books will flush out that piece of history.

After a very long search for some kind of job, she is hired by a Biloxi casino, purportedly to discover how someone(s) is beating the machines to collect the jackpot on their Double Whammy Poker slot machines. The terms of her employment are murky. From the get-go, Davis is sure that there’s something seriously awry with the entire setup but she needs the job. She needs the paycheck.

It’s hard to do your job when you aren’t sure what your job is. Harder still when nobody is who or what they appear, including Davis herself. Davis gets in deeper and deeper until she is about to be swallowed by the crime she is investigating. Eventually, with help from unexpected parties, she extracts herself from the quagmire that threatens to keep her in prison for a very long time. And she finds love. Her own double whammy.

The book is funny, fast-paced, witty and ironic. The biggest problems for me were occasional narrative leaps and missing transitions. I found myself backing up and rereading to make sure I hadn’t missed something. But that’s quibbling.

Davis comes from a small town, but she’s no hick. She has degrees in Computer Science and Criminology. There’s not a dumb bone in her body. She has the makings of a strong female character and that’s rare enough in the world of mystery writing. I like Davis Way. She’s bright, observant, creative, dedicated and brave. She has a lot of heart. The book is a bit uneven but Gretchen Archer has a fresh voice and I hope to hear it many more times.

As a first novel, Double Whammy is ambitious and well-realized. She has created a strong main character and a story with plenty of action. She handles a complex plot, a lot of characters, a love story plus back stories. The author manages to keep track of the plots and sub plots and tie up the ends. That’s an amazing accomplishment for a new author. I’m convinced as Ms. Archer gains skill at her craft, her characters will grow and mature too.

It’s a good book — fast-paced, lively and charming. It leaves plenty of room for character development and future stories. When there are more books in the series, I will read them. I’m expecting great things from Gretchen Archer.

She has been compared to Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum). There are similarities in their writing styles, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Davis Way is potentially a strong character. She isn’t just funny. She has depth. Computer expert and criminologist, she’s been brought up by a police chief father. She knows how to handle weapons and has the instincts of a real detective. I hope the author develops these qualities.

Davis will be a terrific sleuth.

About the audio version from Audible.com – This is about as bad an audiobook as I’ve ever heard. The narrator is all wrong. She can’t do a southern accent, even a bad one. Her voice is wrong for Davis. She manages to suck all the humor out of the book. This is about as poor a selection of narrator as I’ve ever encountered. Just awful. Did anyone at Audible actually listen to this before releasing it? Even for free, don’t bother. I got halfway through it and I’m not going to finish it. It’s that bad.

Double Whammy is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. At a $2.99 introductory price on Kindle, it’s priced to sell. It’s more than worth the price. It is also available from Audible.com but I strongly recommend you NOT buy it.

Double Dip Teaser

Double Dip is even better than Double Whammy. It’s great! Fast, funny, witty and complex, it continues the Davis Way story.Too early to review it, but It’s scheduled for release January 28th, so you’ll see my review January 27th.

acknowledgement

This is the first time I’ll be reviewing a book in which I participated. I’ve loved it from the first look I got at the manuscript. It has come a long way since then. The final version, the one you lucky devils get to buy, is delicious. You might want to read Double Whammy first. Become acquainted with Davis Way … and get ready for the next adventure.

I’m tickled pink … perhaps tickled rainbow? … to have been a part of the project, even in a small way. I got my very first ever acknowledgement in a book and it feels great. I simply had to show it off.

About the Author

Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son and a Yorkie named Bently. Double Whammy is her first Davis Way mystery and her first novel. The next, Double Dip, will be available beginning January 25, 2014.

OPPOSING IDEAS CREATE A NATION – JEFFERSON AND HAMILTON

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation

John Ferling

Publication date: October 1, 2013

coverJeffHam-medium

One of my professors in college was Broadus Mitchell. He was the foremost Hamiltonian scholar of his day, author of multiple biographies of Hamilton and associates. Not surprisingly, my freshman year at Hofstra’s New College with Broadus Mitchell was an intensive study of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America. The textbook was (surprise!) one of the several biographies of Hamilton authored by Broadus Mitchell.

When I was given the opportunity to review this book, I was intrigued. I wondered what the author could tell me I hadn’t read elsewhere and if he could tell the story better or differently, perhaps offer some fresh insights.

I have patience with history books. I don’t expect it to read like fiction. Much to my delight, John Ferling’s opening chapters in which he compares and examines the youth, upbringing and psychological makeup of both men is beautifully written — entertaining and lively. Perceptive. Astute. What drove them, what inspired them to become the men who built America.

All was going swimmingly well for me until the war began. The Revolutionary War.

I am not a war buff. I was not expecting a play-by-play of the revolution. But there it was. Battle by battle, troop movement by troop movement. I could feel my brain switch to off. I’m not sure why the full details of the war are included. Aside from showcasing Hamilton’s military career (doable in a few paragraphs), it adds little to my understanding of either man. As far as I’m concerned, it mainly adds hundreds of pages where a page or two of summary would have sufficed.

If you are a military history buff, you will want to read it. I’ve read other accounts of the military side of the Revolution and this is as good or better than any other book I’ve read on the subject. Perhaps that’s the reason I didn’t want to read it here. It’s your choice. You can choose to skim sections. It’s a long book and there’s plenty of excellent material to engage you. When Ferling is writing about the character and personality of his two extraordinary subjects, he’s brilliant. It makes everything else worthwhile.

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were two of the most influential men in American history. The author said it well when he commented (sorry, this isn’t a quote … I’m paraphrasing) that there are lots of statues dedicated to Jefferson, but we live in Hamilton’s world. True enough. Hamilton was the consummate advocate of a strong central government with economic control through a central bank. Jefferson advocated extreme individual freedom, leaving most government to local authorities.

It amuses me that Hamilton is the darling of the conservatives while Jefferson is a liberal ideal. Given Hamilton’s belief in strong central government and Jefferson’s preference for isolationism, individualism and decentralization — well, it pretty much defines our nation’s problem with cognitive dissonance.

If you’re a serious history buff, there is much to like, even if not every part of the book is equally gripping .

It is said that “Both men were visionaries, but their visions of the United States were diametrically opposed.” That may have been true in 1780, but it has long ceased to have any relevance. The strands of their initially opposing philosophies have twisted into a single ball. Both strands are necessary to our American dream.

Jefferson and Hamilton is the story of the struggle — public and ultimately personal — between two major figures in our country’s history. It ended when Alexander Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s vice president.

Worth reading for sure, but it’s not light entertainment. This is history buff material. Fortunately, there are still a few of us around.

Of all the reviews I’ve written, I’ve gotten the most feedback on this one (especially on Amazon), both pro and con. I didn’t expect that kind of response and it’s a pleasant surprise. Apparently there are still people out there interested in history, interested enough to argue about it. I find that very encouraging. Maybe there’s hope for our future after all!

About the author:

John Ferling is professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia. He is the author of many books on American Revolutionary history, including The Ascent of George Washington; Almost a Miracle, an acclaimed military history of the War of Independence; and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark. He and his wife, Carol, live near Atlanta, Georgia.

WHAT A GUY! DAN BROWN’S INFERNO

Dan Brown’s Inferno is a page turner. The author has created a highly successful formula for his best sellers. They are entertaining, fast-paced. Inferno is no exception. In this adventure sent in Italy and loosely following stuff drawn from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, he offers readers a sense of inclusion, as if we are all reading something that contains Truth and Meaning, but without requiring we perform any real mental exercise.

It’s a formula that works. Inferno – all 560 pages — whisks you along while feeding you tantalizing tidbits of apparently arcane knowledge. You feel you’ve been let into an exclusive club and taught the secret handshake.

Cover of "The Inferno (Barnes & Noble Cla...

As with all of Brown’s novels, Robert Langdon — my pick for The Most Interesting Man in the World – is hired (hijacked?) to unravel a mystery wrapped in an enigma, to follow a trail, find and stop a catastrophe on which the fate of humankind hinges. Which is what he does in every book in which he appears. There is (of course) a beautiful woman of mystery. In this case, two. There are dangerous men of questionable loyalties, dreams and visions of death and plague. There is the inevitable evil genius who has constructed a terrible mechanism of ultimate destruction (or is it?) and the clock is ticking.

Only Robert Langdon, of all the professors in all the universities in all the world could possibly unravel the knot. This is made more difficult because, for much of the book, Dr. Langdon is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t remember several critical days and events. Not that this will stop the intrepid professor.

It’s almost as good as a trip to Italy, without the expense and stress of physical travel. Whatever Dan Brown may lack as an author, he has a remarkable gift for description. He brings his locations alive. You see them through his eyes in all their glory and it is, in my opinion, what raises his books above the ordinary and makes them memorable. You probably only remember the outline of the plots, but you remember the places because he describes them so vividly.

It’s something of a scavenger hunt. Langdon and his companion(s) follow the bread crumbs (clues) to the ultimate destination. Will he get there in time? Can he stop it from doing the evil thing the madman who set it in motion planned?

Titans and other giants are imprisoned in Hell...

There’s a bit of a surprise ending to the book. A few extra plot twists leave the story wide open for a sequel. Inferno is a much better story than The Lost Symbol (probably because Florence trumps Washington DC) though he has not topped The DaVinci Code. As far as stories, got, Angels and Demons (the book, not the movie) was almost as silly as Harrison Ford surviving a nuclear explosion by locking himself in an old refrigerator. Nothing will ever top the nuke vs. the refrigerator for the “surely you don’t expect me to believe that” medal … but Langdon’s parachute jump using his jacket comes pretty close. He didn’t even sprain an ankle. What a guy!

If you examine it closely, you will notice more than a few parts don’t make sense, but it’s fiction. Do not take it seriously. If you read it just for fun and don’t think too hard, you’ll enjoy it. Not only is Dan Brown the master of non sequitur, but his hero, Robert Langdon makes leaps of logic that go far beyond impressive, They are absolutely psychic. The cherry on top is Langdon does most of this while suffering from amnesia! Again all I can say is, what a guy!

It’s not great literature — maybe not even good literature — but it is great recreation. It’s all action, sexy without anyone having sex, no small achievement. And, if there’s a trip to Florence in your future, it’s a must-read. It’s better than any guide-book.

Inferno is available in bookstores everywhere and of course on Audible.com and Kindle. I listened to it as an audiobook and it was excellent, so if you prefer listening, this is a good one.

CELEBRITY LAUGHS AND A FEW TEARS – HAM: SLICES OF LIFE, SAM HARRIS

Ham: Slices of Life, Essays and Stories by Sam Harris

From the publisher: With a wry style that evokes comparisons to Carrie Fisher, David Rakoff, and Steve Martin, Sam Harris proves that he is a natural humorist. Even The New York Times, in a review of one of his musical performances, called his stories “New Yorker-worthy.”

Ham slices of a life coverUntil I read this book, I’d never heard of Sam Harris. Not merely had I never heard of him, I’d never heard him sing or seen him perform. Not even as a guest on Leno or some other show. How out of touch am I? Well, about 25 years, give or take a decade. I more or less stopped listening to new music sometime in the late 1970s except for the occasional score from a show or movie. I would declare it to be “my bad” except that I don’t feel the least bit apologetic. I’m content with the music I know and love and a great deal of classical music that, to put it in new-speak, never gets old.

When this book came up for review, I took it not because it was a celebrity autobiography but because it promised to be funny and I am always up for a dose of funny.

I am pleased to say the book delivers everything it promises and perhaps a bit more. It is, in many places, laugh out loud, giggly guffaw funny. In those sections which are not funny, the subjects are well-handled, thoughtful and occasionally brought tears to my eyes. Having recently read two celebrity autobiographies that disappointed me because I expected a lot and got little, this was exactly opposite. I expected nothing but got a great deal.

Sam Harris — who I have still never heard sing — is an intelligent, literate guy. His recounting of the celebrity wedding of his pal Liza Minnelli to “the man whose name shall go unmentioned” is hilarious. The 16 essays cover Harris’s life from childhood to performing on Oprah’s first show after 9/11, a recounting that caused me to choke up with painful memories. His disappointing opening for Aretha Franklin during a blizzard — sometimes, the legend is better than reality.

Though poignant in places, the book is more often funny. Which is good because I really like funny.

I am reading Ham on my brand new Kindle Paperwhite. I’m laughing so hard I feel my husband staring at me, wondering what in the world is going on. After ascertaining I am not having a seizure, I tell him it’s a celebrity autobiography … and I think he should read it too because … well … it’s funny. I ask. Turns out, he has never heard of Sam Harris either. We are united in our out-of-touchness.

Growing up a gay kid in Oklahoma had to be rough, but he doesn’t seem to feel sorry for himself. He gives credit to his parents for supporting him even though they didn’t necessarily understand him. He avoids the dreary trough of “kiss and tell” into which so many autobiographies fall. He does manage to include a reasonable amount of self-promotion — it wouldn’t be a celebrity autobiography without it — he doesn’t  wallow in it, either. For a celebrity, he’s almost modest.

But most important, the book is well written. Funny, sad, cogent, literate … it avoids being mawkish or snarky. Yes, there’s gossip, but it isn’t just (or all) gossip. The most revealing information is the author about himself. He is candid about his failings and failures. His alcoholism and recovery. His stubborn refusal to face reality until it bangs him painfully over the head. The problems he has relating to his adopted son and the credit he gives to his partner as a human being and a parent.

It offers enough tidbits about the great and near-great to titillate those of us who enjoy a little titillation … and enough wisdom to make me feel I didn’t waste my time. I can recommend this book with a whole heart and a clear conscience. It’s good. I think you’ll enjoy it. If you are a Hollywood gossip enthusiast, you’ll probably like it even more.

Available starting today on Kindle, from Audible.com, in hardcover and no doubt paperback in short order.