Monday, October 27, 2008

Attack of the Theatre People by Marc Acito

In an earlier review of a work by Robert Rodi, I stated plainly why I did not read gay literature. I’m pleased to say that Acito’s novel, Attack of the Theatre People, contains little of the stereotypes, narcissism and sex that other gay-themed stories are awash with. Theatre People is also on of the funniest stories I have read.

During the mid-80’s, Edward Zanni, a young gay man, is kicked out of Julliard for being “too jazz hands” for the prestigious school. He lands a job as a ‘party motivator’ performing at bar mitzvahs as the hottest VJ from Britain’s MTV, and also posing as a ‘stealth guest’ at corporate functions, schmoozing up to business men. Through the latter, Eddie gets involved in an insider trading scheme with the handsome broker Chad.

Soon his life spirals out of control, hilariously. He’s wanted by the Securities Exchange Commission for his role in the insider trading sandal, stalked by a teenage Jewish girl and terrorized by his ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ ex-stepmother who seems to haunt his every step.

The only way Eddie can clear his name is to implicate Chad to the SEC. Easier said than done since the gorgeous broker is slippery as an eel.

His theatre friends, an eclectic and eccentric group, come to his rescue by devising one hare-brained scheme after another to trap Chad.

The final showdown, involving a Bruce Springsteen impersonator, a dump truck costume from Starlight Express and a fake Shah of Iran, ends hysterically in a slapstick scene reminiscent of the climax in “What’s Up, Doc?” including everyone being arrested and hauled down to the police station.

Rife with theatre and literary references and snarky comments, Theatre People had me laughing out loud. Acito’s writing style is easy-going and a joy to read. Anyone who loves theatre and lots of good laughs will enjoy this book.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bouchercon 2008 - Charmed to Death (and loved it!)

Driving though some seedy areas adjacent to downtown Baltimore, I wondered if this mystery writers’ conference would be worth it. After all, these were published authors with books out in the market place. Some (most) of them had more than one! I had a short story published in an anthology and not even a book I could call my own. As I entered the Sheraton, the host hotel of the conference, I did not have to ask where Bouchercon was because of the cacophony of fifteen hundred writers, publishers, agents and fans all talking at once. Bouchercom seemed to be more of a homecoming than business conference.

I soon found it to be a warm and inviting community instead of a cliquish fraternity. After an overwhelming and exhausting first day, my luck changed the second when I bumped into Scott Sherman, author of First You Fall. He introduced me to other writers and publishers including Richard Stevenson, author of the Donald Strachey mystery series.

Author Scott Sherman and me

I also met some of my favorite historical mystery writers such as Alan Gordon, Kathy Lynn Emerson, John Maddox Roberts and Priscilla Royal as I got their autographs. Everyone was so approachable and easy-going, I was amazed. All of them sat on at least one discussion panel, so I got to hear them talk about heir works and why they are interested in the time periods of which they write.

Kathy Lynn Emerson, author of the Face Down series featuring Lady Susanna Appleton

I heard discussions on religion in mysteries, animals and doing research. I realized I had more in common with these authors than I originally thought during the second panel on the first day: Does Sex Sell More Books? Lori Armstrong, David Corbett, Mary Burton and the hilarious Meg Chittenden kept the discussion lively under the moderation of a just-as-funny Ted Hertel. (Just FYI, the conclusion was ‘Yes’ and it was reached during Hertel’s opening remarks).

In the supernatural panel, Heather Graham surprised me by stating that no one can tell you what a vampire can or cannot do. One of the reasons I tended to eschew vampires was because of all the rules that surrounded them, such as they couldn’t enter your house without first being invited in by the head of the household, etc. I doubt I’ll start including creatures of the night in my writing but it’s nice to know that I don’t have to stick to the rules.

Graham, Wendy Roberts, Elena Santangelo and Alex Sokoloff pen wonderful mysteries involving the supernatural and the paranormal. I fell lucky that I got to hear them since the paranormal is my favorite field of fiction. They also gave some great advice on where to research haunted history and take ghost tours.

Bouchercon offered many great discussions and there were some that I didn’t get to attend since the schedule was full. It also provided a great opportunity for networking. But overall it was a fantastic experience. As Mark Billingham stated during the opening ceremonies Thursday night, reading crime fiction is better than sex.*

*This is according to a survey of British housewives that found out they enjoy reading crime fiction more than shopping, eating or sex.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day One at Bouchercon 2008

Bouchercon opened today in Baltimore with 1500 mystery writers, fans and booksellers in attendance. This is my first conference and I found it a bit overwhelming at first. When I entered the Sheraton Hotel, the host for the event, I was taken aback by the cacophony of everyone seeming to talk at once and nobody listening. I soon realized that this is such a welcoming and friendly community, that the conference is more of a homecoming for many attendees rather than a business meeting.

I attended a panel discussing if sex really does sell books. The conclusion reached within the first ten seconds of the panel was a resounding "Yes!", but the panelists finished the time allotment and kept the discussion lively.

I had a great time in the panel discussing supernatural and paranormal elements into mysteries. I'm racking up a number of authors that I need to read now! LOL

It was a long day but a good day. I'm looking forward to going back tomorrow. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Damn, that's a big dam! - Itaipu Dam

A visit to a hydroelectric dam doesn’t sound like an exciting tour, but when it’s the largest of its kind in the world, there is a whole new perspective on it. And after getting up at 3am and riding across the country in a mini-van with a Fred Flintstone-style suspension system, the Itaipu Dam did not disappoint. The dam is named after a small island that was covered by water when the dam was built. In the Guarani language, Itaipu means ‘singing stone’ or literally ‘island that sings’. The reason the Guaranies considered it to be a singing island is unknown.

We approached the dam through Itaipu Binacional, the Paraguayan/Brazilian company that operates and controls the hydroelectric monstrosity. Here we had to show our passports, as if we were entering a different country, to take a bus tour of the facility.

The only stop on the tour was a large pavilion on the west bank overlooking the ParaƄa River, which forms the border between Paraguay and Brazil. From this vantage point, the spillways sprawled out before us like enormous water slides, dry but stained with years of use.

Across the river, buses carrying tourists appeared the size of ants crawling along the banks that were carved out of the landscape for the diversion channels, which were used to alter the course of the river so the dam could be built.

Huge conduits from that distance looked like household PVC pipe that can be bought from Home Depot. However, their diameter was larger than the length of the tour buses.

I found it amazing when our tour guide told us that Itaipu Dam produced twenty-five percent of Brazil’s energy needs. That’s significant considering the size and population of Brazil. Paraguay, on the other hand, receives more power than it needs. In fact, it sells the energy it doesn’t need back to Brazil.

My overall impression of Itaipu Dam was very impressed. The entire spectacle and feat of engineering overwhelmed the senses and baffled the mind.

To read more about my travels in Paraguay and Brazil, go to

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tyrant of the Mind by Priscilla Royal

The title of Priscilla Royal's second novel featuring Prioress Eleanor of Wynethorpe, Tyrant of the Mind, comes form a seventeenth century play by John Dryden. It is stated in a line from Act 3, Scene 1, "Song of Jealousy". It's very appropriate to this novel where murder nearly takes a back seat to the green-eyed monster.

Prioress Eleanor is recalled to her home, Wynthethorpe Castle when her young nephew is taken ill. Sister Anne, whose care and healing abilities bring the boy back from the brink of death, and Brother Thomas accompany her on her sojourn. While the nephew Richard is on the mend, Eleanor's father Baron Adam is in negotiations with his close and dear friend, Sir Geoffrey for the marriage between Eleanor's brother Robert and Geoffrey's daughter Julianna. Although the baron's children and the knight's were childhood friends, they are no longer youngsters. After the death of his wife, Sir Geoffrey married his ward, Isabella, who was expected to marry his son, Henry and has opened a wide rift between the two men.

As the knight and his retinue arrive at Wynethorpe Castle for the continuation of negotiations, the chasm separating father and son is widened even more as Sir Geoffrey loudly accuses Henry of recklessness which resulted in the death of a retainer. Later, Henry is stabbed to death and Eleanor's brother Robert is found standing over the body holding a bloodied knife.

Even though it looks bad for Robert, no one, not even Sir Geoffrey, believes he could carry out such a heinous act, against his childhood friend. But it's not up to them to decide. As law dictates, Baron Adam locks up his son in a very comfortable cell. Eleanor is grateful that a snowstorm has delayed any message getting through to the sheriff. She, Sister Anne and Brother Thomas struggle to make sense of the mystery and find out who killed Henry before the roads become passable.

Then the castle priest Father Anselm nearly dies after being pushed down a staircase. Pressing with her investigation, Eleanor learns a hideous truth behind Julianna's marriage to Sir Geoffrey.
In a race against time, the trio from Tyndal Priory uncovers jealousy, humiliation and lies in abundance. Royal adds more intrigue into this story and the plot becomes more complex. Prioress Eleanor finds herself increasingly in a struggle between loyalty to her family and her faith. Royal's portrayal of her is more meaningful in Tyrant of the Mind, more so than Wine of Violence. In the first we see her struggle against the nuns at Tyndal, who are angered at such a young woman being appointed their prioress. She wins over them with grim determination. In Tyrant, she has the same stubbornness but she must deal with her father, the only man who can match her hard-headedness and wit. Her usual straight-forward thinking is confounded as she realizes that her childhood friends have long lost their innocence and are now almost strangers. She must face ugly truths about her own family.

Eleanor is reminiscent of Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma, a nun/sleuth in seventh century Ireland. They have many of the same qualities and temperament, making one wonder if a good number of nuns of yore were so quick of wit and intelligent.

Royal's second novel is a wonderful read and can probably satisfy the discriminating tastes of readers who don't like mysteries. The depiction of thirteenth century England brings the past alive and vivid even in gray, snowy weather. Tyrant of the Mind will please any reader no matter what the weather.