Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Now, in addition to the Orwellian disappearing book act, a new concern has been raised about hundreds of gay and lesbian authors' books being de-ranked due to a "glitch" in the Amazon sales-ranking system. So this op-ed writer is troubled by both problems (though no further explanation is given of what the glitch was, whether Amazon could have prevented it, why it de-ranked gay/lesbian-written books, etc.).
So . . . e-books. They can disappear on you (bad news for readers) or be de-ranked due to a "glitch" (bad news for authors).
But wait . . . regarding the Orwell books, one guy (Paul Carr) says Bezos has nothing to apologize for. In fact, he applauds Amazon's actions. After all, Amazon wiped out the books due to copyright problems. The company didn't have the rights to publish them, making their distribution illegal. Carr presents his argument here.
As an author, I have to agree that Amazon was right to yank the books if it didn't have a license to distribute them electronically. As a reader, I'd hope Amazon might at least notify its customers first. Like an e-book recall? Give notice that there's a problem, then take the book down. Might make the whole thing a bit more palatable.
But then I don't have a Kindle--yet. And while I can see their benefits, here's another drawback to owning one.
Along with the limited number of e-book titles, consider this--when was the last time you had to upgrade your print books or change their batteries?
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Author, Walter Mosley
Have I ever mentioned that Walter Mosley is one of my very favorite authors (crime fiction and otherwise) in the whole world? So when THE LONG FALL came out, needless to say I felt compelled to try this first book in his new Leonid McGill series set in New York City, instead of the LA of Easy Rawlins and Paris Minton.
Among the many things I enjoyed about this book was meeting Leonid McGill, another one of Mosley's flawed, but likable, protagonists, haunted by terrible (as in criminal) things he's done in the past, but seeking redemption and something approaching a semi-normal life. Which is to say that, like a lot of Mosley protagonists, McGill just wants to be left alone to live his life and do his work without worrying that cops or thugs (interchangeable characters in his novels, at times) aren't breaking his door down.
That can't happen, of course. Because then there'd be no story to tell. So, it all starts when McGill is hired to find four men. He's been given their "street names"--now he has to hunt down the real people and tell his client, Ambrose Thurman, who and where they are. However, things get a bit weird when the four men start, um, being killed.
And Thurman isn't exactly who he seems to be, either.
Meanwhile, Mosley gets two other plot threads going. (He's good at that.) One involves finding A Mann (yeah, that's his name--A Mann) for a disreputable fellow from McGill's checkered past. The other involves a potentially tragic plan McGill's step-son has conceived.
Two of Mosley's favorite themes and plot devices come into play here. One is the racially-mixed--and, in this case, slightly dysfunctional--family. Katrina (interesting name choice) is McGill's Scandinavian wife. McGill is black, as Mosley's protags always are. She and McGill seem to have fallen out of love, but hang together nonetheless. Not entirely clear why. Inertia? Katrina's great cooking? (McGill brings up her cooking a lot.)
Anyway, there's a lot of stuff going on here. And a WHOLE lot of characters to keep track of. Each time I picked up the book, I'd find myself asking, "Okay, where is McGill now? Albany or New York? And who's the guy he's talking to? And what's going on?"
That brings me to the second Mosley trademark: the deadly sidekick. He makes an appearance in this book as the character Hush. Great name. Great character, too. Hush is to McGill as Mouse is to Easy Rawlins or Fearless is to Paris Minton. (You Mosley readers know what I'm saying.) He does what needs to be done, helping to resolve matters without McGill getting his hands terribly dirty in the process.
As usual, Mosley's writing is so good, I find myself almost green with envy at his word choices. For instance (totally random pick), at the beginning, McGill's in an office full of attractive young people, looking for one of the four men and makes the following observation:
"There was a chubby woman who sat in a far corner to the left, under an exit sign. She had bad skin and a utilitarian fashion sense. She was looking down, working hard. I immediately identified with her.
"I imagined sitting in that corner, hating everyone else in the room."
I love it! Tells you as much about McGill as it does about the woman. And it makes you like him, to boot. Mosley's a genius at this.
Mosley also makes each character so interesting and McGill's observations so trenchant that you can't help but read on.
There's a lot of action, tension, people dying, dangerous liaisons, ethical dilemmas, semi-requited love and an attempt on McGill's life. Meanwhile, McGill just keeps trying to maintain, keep going and figure out how to extricate himself from the situation (whatever it is) unscathed.
See, that's the thing--I never did quite understand precisely what was going on. I kept asking, "Why's the detective talking to him now? How is this rich family involved? Why does someone want to kill him? And who are all these people again?"
Since I believe strongly in only reading books I like and not slogging through ones I don't, it's really saying something about Mosley (or myself?) that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Maybe it's because Mosley sprinkled just enough bread crumbs of information throughout to allow me to (sort of) follow.
I hate to sound like I'm damning with faint praise. So, bottom line: would I recommend reading this? Yes, definitely. I like McGill, the story is intriguing (even if you need a scorecard or a flowchart to keep track of it), the writing is awesome and I think the book is a great start to another promising series.
This is so, even though when I reached the end, I felt like I'd woken up after partying hard the night before and said to myself, "I know I had a good time, but what happened?"
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
I picked this gem up from Work-in-Progress, Leslie Pietrzyk's great blog. She tells you all about this story (urging you to read it fast, lest the Web page be taken down) and includes a link to another one I love--"A Perfect Day for Bananafish."
Salinger fans--this one's for you. (And thanks, Leslie!)
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Review of THE ECHELON VENDETTA (Penguin Audio, unabridged ed. 2007)
By guest blogger Star Lawrence
Author, David Stone; read by Firdous Bamji
Micah Dalton is a "cleaner," one of those useful CIA guys who drops into a situation and tidies up the mess. Messes are usually caused by trigger or knife-happy enemies, though, not ticked-off shamans. And usually, the cleaner liaises with living people, you know, walking-around, everyone-can-see-them, living people.
So in pretty short order, we realize this title may sound like Jason Bourne will be hopping into a fast car or swinging on a rope, but this is a spy book with a difference. Supposedly "David Stone," the author, knows his way around the alphabet agencies. But he also seems to know his hallucinogens and other interesting things.
Micah starts out in Europe, investigating his best friend in the agency's murder, suicide, whaever—the man has clawed his own face off. Don't you hate it when someone talks you into that?
Then he sees a pattern among some other deaths and starts hacking around in the mountains of the far West, trying to fit the puzzle pieces, while more gruesome deaths occur.
All the while, his friend from Venice, Porter, pops in every so often to lend advice, even though his face is clawed off.
When I last heard Firdous Bamji, he had an Indian accent. Now he is handily voicing a number of American dialects. He is quite the talker.
Will there be more Micah Dalton stories? When last seen, he had dropped off the grid at the end of this book. But you know grids—people, living or the opposite, can pop back on them. Apparently, there are three of these already.
Star Lawrence owns a recession-coping site called Do the Hopey Copey at http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Author, Jenny Siler
As readers of this blog may know, I'm working my way through Jenny Siler's backlist (the books she wrote before she started writing spy novels under the name Alex Carr). I recently read ICED and found it to be everything I've come to expect from a Jenny Siler novel, a highly-readable combination of hardboiled mystery, a likable (if flawed) protagonist and (in this case) finely detailed description that will make you feel like you're right in Missoula, Montana in winter.
The protagonist, Meg Gardner, is a repo woman. She repossesses cars for GMAC. One night, when she comes to collect aviator Clay Bennett's Jeep, her task is made easier (or so she thinks) when the unfortunate Bennett is discovered dead from multiple stab wounds, left out on an island in the middle of a frozen river. So she nabs the Jeep and takes off. Job done, right? Of course not.
Naturally, there's something in the Jeep. A briefcase that people are trying to get their hands on. Mean people. People who would kill for it. Apparently, the same people who killed Bennett.
Siler displays substantial writer chops, by taking this simple premise and turning it into more than just another whodunit/thriller. Meg is a complex character with a past that haunts her. She's done time in prison and her parents--well, let's just say they have their issues. Meg has a boyfriend (named Kristof) who she stubbornly refuses to acknowledge as such. Yet, she takes great comfort in being with him. And when she's threatened by people seeking what's in the briefcase, she wants to run to Kristof, even as she tries to avoid him (in order to protect him).
For my own part, I love a tough gal protagonist. Meg Gardner would have to qualify as being among the toughest ones I've ever loved. She rejects all middle-class values and is cussedly independent. To give you an example, at one point, she says, "Missoula has always been the kind of town where neighbors wave and people stroll the streets on summer nights eating ice cream. This good cheer can bring a person down. Luckily there's enough sleaze under Missoula's veneer to make the place tolerable." (I LOVE that!)
Though sometimes you see her yearning (ever so slightly) for a quieter, more "normal" life, she rejects such yearnings as poppycock (though that's not the word Meg would use). In point of fact, Meg seems to suffer from overwhelming self-loathing. She denies herself any chance at a so-called normal life by consistently derailing her prospects for one, since she figures she doesn't deserve it.
I did say she was complex, right?
Along with Kristof, Meg has an odd and interesting assortment of other friends. A black transvestite who performs drag shows at Amvets. A cop who tried to take her under his wing and keep her on the straight and narrow (truly a lost cause). A Russian mobster who feels indebted to her for something she did for his son.
I won't go into the plot except to say that it requires Meg to face some issues from her past and involves much larger issues from the past as well--and you can see Siler's early leanings toward international and political intrigue expressed in it. I could pick a few nits about two characters suspected of Bennett's killing--American Indians who dragged him out to the island--and ask why they did this. I never really quite got that and suspected the characters were placed there primarily as a way of exploring certain aspects of Meg's past. And while the plot seems to meander a bit at times, the book's characters and vivid depiction of Montana more than make up for this.
This seems to be a book that explores extremes--not only is Montana an extreme place--both geographically and in terms of weather (you can feel the wind blowing and frostbite in your fingers as you read Siler's prose)--but the protagonist can also be rather extreme herself (and cold as the weather, at times). But you have to love her, anyway. Because she's so upfront about exactly who and what she is.
And toward the end of the book, there's a scene where Meg beats up one of the baddies. The scene was so terse and vivid (in interesting contrast to Siler's often poetic prose), I could feel my pulse rise as I read it. Meg is no sissy. She's no girlie-girl. She kicked the crap out of a person who clearly deserved it. And I loved every minute of that scene. After reading it, I almost wanted to stand up and cheer. Not only for Meg, but also for Siler who did what some people (even by today's standards) assume isn't possible--created a truly hardboiled, two-fisted female protagonist. As hardboiled as they come.
To which I say, "Brava! Bravissima!"
Smashwords is offering a big promotion this month. My mystery novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, is available as a free download until July 31. Just click on this link and follow instructions to get the discount.
In IDENTITY CRISIS, a simple domestic abuse case turns deadly when the alleged abuser is killed and Stephanie Ann “Sam” McRae’s client disappears. When a friend asks Sam to find Melanie Hayes, the Maryland attorney is drawn into a complex case of murder and identity theft that has her running from the Mob, breaking into a strip club and forming a shaky alliance with a private investigator to discover the truth.
The book has received some great Amazon reader reviews.
So, check it out while you can–hey, it’s free, right?
Turns out, if print books are your thing, Lulu is having a July promotion. If you buy my book, IDENTITY CRISIS, before the month’s end at http://www.lulu.com/content/3923913, just enter the code ‘JULYCONTEST10’ at checkout. You’ll get 10% off your purchase.
So, if you’re looking for a good summer read, consider buying IDENTITY CRISIS. It’s fast-paced, entertaining and reasonably priced at 10 percent off, no less.
But act fast--these specials only last until July 31.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Well, as I've announced (on one or more of my other blogs, at this point), my novel IDENTITY CRISIS is finally back in print. You can order it through Lulu.com and, eventually, through Amazon and other online retailers.
And all I can say is--yippee!!!!!
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I will refrain from commenting on the Bush reference in her sign, except to say that perhaps Barnes & Noble and Amazon may have contributed more to her bookstore going under than the recession. Unless it's her inability to find work that she's blaming Bush for. That part's a bit ambiguous, actually. But like I said--I'll refrain from commenting (commenting further, that is--this may be the longest non-comment I've ever written).
Anyway, I'm sorry to see another small bookstore go out of business, let alone see its former owner begging for change outside the place where she once sold books.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Author, Georges Simenon
Although he is most famous for creating the character Inspector Maigret, Georges Simenon dabbled in a particularly dark form of fiction called romans durs. (I would have just called it noir, but what do I know?) According to Anita Brookner's introduction to RED LIGHTS, Simenon's romans durs followed a simple formula: "A life will go wrong, usually because of an element in the protagonist's make-up which impels him to self-destruct, to willfully seek disgrace, exclusion, ruin in his search for a fulfillment and a fatal freedom which take on an aura of destiny."
Pretty highfalutin words, huh? (Still sounds like noir to me.) Well, let me tell you about the story and put it in more concrete terms. It all starts when Steve Hogan and his wife, Nancy, head out from New York City to Maine to pick up their children from summer camp. Steve has a few to drink before he hits the road (much to Nancy's dismay), then has a few more on the way. The more Steve drinks, the more pissed Nancy gets. And the more pissed Nancy gets, the more Steve tries to assert himself--by drinking (what else?).
At some point, Steve does something he calls "going into the tunnel"--sort of like heading down a dark road that you know is the wrong way, but you can't turn back.
Eventually, Nancy gets so angry when Steve stops to drink, she just leaves while he's in the bar. Walks off into the night to catch a bus to Maine--or so Steve thinks.
Things get a bit more complicated for Steve, when he finds an escaped convict hiding in his car. Sid Halligan seems to represent something admirable to Steve--a complete disrespect for authority and ordinary living that Steve aspires to (at least, while he's drunk).
I don't have to tell you that this misplaced admiration doesn't make Steve's life any easier, do I? In fact, his alliance with Halligan has consequences--dire ones and not just for Steve.
Simenon wrote with great attention to detail, exploring Steve's psychology right from the get-go. He perfectly captures Steve's self-delusion and self-justification for drinking, even as he describes his increasingly intoxicated state.
He also explores nuances of character, as expressed in a look or vocal intonation--or Steve's perception of it, anyway. And as Steve blunders through his perilous journey, Simenon throws in various observations--some wry, some wretched, some funny--sometimes a combination. When you catch yourself laughing at something that's kind of sad, you know you're reading an interesting book.
Further, Steve is infused with a kind of existential angst. (Hey, Simenon was French. What did you expect?) He's plagued by lots of "meaning of life" and identity questions. But these matters make for anything but dry reading. Simenon had a natural way of insinuating those themes in his writing--maybe because they were so much a part of his own life. (I'm taking some cues from Brookner's intro here.)
The book also reflects the mentality of its time (originally, the mid-1950s) in more ways than one, and particularly about a certain subject that I can't discuss, because that would be telling. Even so, it stands up to the test of time due in great part to its remarkably intelligent and entertaining prose.
The story builds up to a tension-filled climax--a kind of psychological showdown--that brings things to an odd sort of closure. For a noir story, it ends on an unusual note of hope and that in itself sets this book apart from other noir tales. It's the hope that people can change, that they can learn from experience, keep to the "straight and narrow" and not be led astray again--back "into the tunnel."
All those concepts--straight and narrow, normality, conformity--Steve's struggle against them and ultimate desire to embrace them, seem quintessentially existential and the bleakness of the tale is decidedly noirish. But that ray of hope--okay, so maybe the book is something other than noir.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
And how surprising is it that Dan Brown didn't start out as a writer? Let's face it, THE DA VINCI CODE isn't exactly WAR AND PEACE, is it?