Saturday, December 26, 2009

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling


After my disappointment in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I decided to get the misery over and read the final installment of J. K. Rowling’s mostly excellent series. The first six novels followed Harry Potter and friends as they attend Hogwarts, a school for witches and wizards. Although exciting, the stories became formulaic and predictable.

Fortunately, Rowlinbg dispensed with the step-by-step routine in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The seventh and final novel is easily the best of the series and the most exciting.

Following the death of his beloved mentor, Professor Dumbledore at the hands of Severus Snape at the end of Half-Blood Prince, Harry sets of on the quest Dumbledor charged him with friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in tow. They have chosen not to return to Hogwarts for this final year, mainly because the school is watched closely by the Dark Lord Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters. His loyal disciple Severus Snape is now headmaster and the school has the feel of a concentration camp.
Potter and company stay on the move, changing their hiding places daily while desperately trying to complete Dumbledore’s quest which should destroy Voldemort for good. However, the Dark Lord always seems one step ahead, but the three teenagers are cunning enough and manage to elude his grasp.
Along the way, Potter and his friends argue, fight, break up and make up. There have always been disagrements among them but in Deathly Hallows, they are more impassioned and emotional to a point never approached in the previous six novels.

And this last novel is packed with more action than ever. The battle at Hogwarts is one of the most exciting scenes I’ve ever read. In my posting of Half-Blood Prince, I complained that Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood were all but ignored but now they are back and on the front lines. Rowling presents a good retrospective in Deathly Hallows of characters from the previous six novels in fierce battle. And it’s good to see professors fighting bravely and aggresively to save Hogwarts.

The novel’s seven-hundred and fifty-nine pages are a formidable length but the fast pace make it an easy read. It is certainly the crown jewel of the series.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling



Spoiler Alert!


Okay, I know I’m way behind in finishing the Harry Potter series since the movie version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is now out on DVD. Had I known what lay in store for me as I read it, I wouldn’t have been so eager.

Did J. K. Rowling give up on this one to focus on the last book? After three exciting installments of the series, this one was a big disappointment. I’d rank it on a par with the first one, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Half-Blood Prince seemed formulaic and didn’t contribute much to the series. At least not 650 pages worth. Consider the Harry Potter book formula:

1. At the beginning, Harry is enduring oppression under his aunt, uncle and cousin in the Dursley household until he is finally rescued. First, it was Hagrid, then its been the Weasleys. This time Dumbledore.

2. Then on the way to Hogwarts, Harry has a confrontation with Draco Malfoy.

3. Arriving at school, Harry is at once esteemed as some sort of celebrity because of some heroic deed that occurred at the end of the last novel (i.e. school year) and the resultant fall-out over the summer (always written in retrospect). Harry is unassuming and humbly tries hard to downplay his abilities and contributions.

4. Shortly after school starts, Harry realizes that something is not right. However strong his suspicions are, no one believes him. Haven’t they figured it out by now that Harry is ALWAYS right? First, it was the basilisk creeping around behind the walls of Hogwarts. Then it was the dementors. In Half-Blood Prince, he suspects Draco Malfoy is up to no good.

5. The school year passes quickly with Harry snooping around but not being able to convince anyone of his suspicions. He always has Severus Snape for a class and they hate each others’ guts. Snape always docks points from the Gryffindor house every time Harry, Ron or Hermione sneezes.

6. There are the Quidditch games, too. The other houses never play each other. It’s only Gryffindor against another house. Gryffindor may lose during the year but they ALWAYS win the championship game.

7. As the year comes to a close, things begin to happen at a rapid pace and soon everyone realizes that (gasp) Harry was right (again). They all apologize for not listening to him earlier and avoided all the death and destruction of You-Know-Who Lord He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named Voldemort.

The chain of events is exactly the same for the first 550 pages except for the particulars. However, in Prisoner of Azkhaban, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, Rowling finished with spectacular breath-taking battles of wizards and witches. Good versus evil. There is a battle at the end of Half-Blood Prince but nowhere near the level of excitement as the previous four novels. Maybe five. And there is no build-up to the final scene until the last 100 pages.

It seemed that this story was only an epilogue for Deathly Hallows. Half-Blood Prince was written only for shock value, since the only significant incident is the death of Albus Dumbledore at the hands of Severus Snape. Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood who played very important roles in Order of the Phoenix are relegated to cameo appearances as hangers-on.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the God Emperor of Dune of the Potter series. Just read it to move onto the next novel, but if you skip it, you won’t miss much.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Smoke In The Wind by Peter Tremayne


In my previous posting, I reviewed A Wicked Deed by Susanna Gregory, another historical mystery novelist. In it, I mentioned how Gregory taught the reader about fourteenth century monastic life, alchemical recipes and business transactions for universities. Peter Tremayne does the exact same thing in his Sister Fidelma series set in ancient Ireland, giving the reader interesting insights into that culture in the mid-seventh century. I’ve enjoyed this series ever since reading a Sister Fidelma short story years ago. Tremayne weaves sinister plots with vibrant characters in the beautiful backdrop of Ireland.

In Smoke In The Wind, Tremayne takes Sister Fidelma and her ever-present companion Brother Eadulf into the land of the Britons. The Britons and the Saxons have a very bloody history but have enjoyed an extended period of peace, however tenuous. But Brother Eadulf is uncomfortable because he is a Saxon, and although there is no war between the peoples, some still have axes to grind. Nevertheless, he ventures deeper into the country to follow Fidelma who has been asked by a provincial king to investigate the mysterious disappearance of twenty-seven brothers from a monastery in his realm. And Eadulf knows that she will not back down from a mystery.

On their way to the monastery, they accompany Brother Meurig who is the Briton equivalent to Fidelma’s rank of dalaigh. He has been charged by the same king to investigate the murder of a young woman in a nearby village. Accused of her murder is a young shepherd whose guilt seems to have been determined by the villagers’ opinions. It isn’t long before Fidelma suspects that the two incidents are somehow connected.

Tremayne ramps up the action in Smoke In The Wind. Fidelma and Eadulf have oftentimes found themselves on the wrong side of a bow and arrow, but this is the first time that she is nearly raped by a captor. Fortunately, the cunning Eadulf manages to prevent Fidelma from being taken, but not before an exciting, white-knuckle page-turning scene that keeps the reader on the edge of the seat.

There were a couple of aspects of the novel that diminished its enjoyability but only by a small amount. First, there were too many scenes where Eadulf is about to speak but Fidelma stops him with a look or a gesture. The poor brother is hen-pecked and they aren’t even married. It’s not the notion of her keeping him in mental submission because she is in control of the conversation, but the frequency in which it happens.

Second, in the pre-Gutenburg Press era, everyone in the novel except for the villagers seems to be well-educated and knowledgeable of events two hundred years prior to the time of the novel. Perhaps the clergy and royalty were more educated than I previously surmised from other historical whodunits, but they seemed politically savvy as well.

Nonetheless, Smoke In The Wind is an action-thriller/mystery/history book that is enjoyable and entertaining. Very difficult to put down.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Wicked Deed by Susanna Gregory


Susanna Gregory’s series featuring physician Matthew Bartholomew just keeps getting better and better. In the fifth book of the series, A Wicked Deed, Gregory makes some significant changes to the life at the university in Cambridge in the year 1353. As in her previous works, the specter of the plague looms in the background like a stalker hiding in the shadows ready to pounce on an already devastated Europe.

Matthew is part of an entourage that travels from Cambridge to the idyllic village of Grundisburgh, where a lord has promised a lucrative gift of the church to the university. On the way, they find a man hanging from a gibbet and he’s still alive. They cut him down but despite Matt’s valiant effort he dies. Then a wrong turn takes the group through Barchester, a small hamlet that has been abandoned after the Black Death claimed nearly all of its inhabitants. But the ghosts of the dead aren’t the only ones haunting the spooky village. A white dog prowls the woods and the locals in the surrounding communities are convinced that anyone who lays eyes on it will dies shortly after. Two villagers are already dead.

Once arriving at Grundisburgh, the benevolent lord Sir Thomas Tuddenham seems very eager that the deed turning the church over to Cambridge be completed as soon as possible. Almost immediately after arrival, the student-priest who is to become the church’s priest is found murdered.

All of a sudden, the beautiful peaceful serenity of Grundisburgh is surrounded by sinister forces and subterfuge, which are trying to delay the completion of the advowson. Cambridge Senior Proctor Richard Alcote does not appear to be in any rush to finish writing the document. Matt does not think that the greedy, opportunistic Alcote’s reasons are in the best interests of the University. More likely, he is trying to figure out how to line his own pockets.

Then a witness with a potential valuable clue to the murder is found with her throat cut. The primes suspect in both murders disappears. With one disaster after another, Matthew and his friar friend Michael are very eager to put as much distance between them and Grundisburgh as possible before they end up like Unwin, the murdered student-priest.

As with other historical writers, Gregory focuses on one or two interesting aspects of life during the time period of her work. It’s what helps keep the series fresh and from becoming monotonous or too similar. In A Wicked Deed, Matt meets de Stoate, a man with similar interests in medicine as he, and the landlord of the inn where the Cambridge entourage are staying. He is very proud of his own concoctions that he claims keeps the villagers healthy. Both men have very strong opinions about their abilities to heal people, formulate medicines and make scientific progress, much to Matthew’s horror. Gregory’s novel gives us a peek into the superstitions and alchemical environment and knowledge in the fourteenth century. Some of the recipes were described in disgustingly vivid details. Not only does Gregory bring the monastic living to life but also the gruesome reality of health care in the 1300’s. In the twenty-first century age of advanced medicine and sophisticated instrumentation, it’s a stark reminder of the difficulties the people of medieval times had to endure and the lengths they had to go through to try to warding off diseases and other maladies.

Gregory also spins a very complex plot that stymies Matt’s abilities, but he manages to unravel a twisted web of greed, lies and murder in the quaint village. It’s an intriguing story that’s difficult to put down.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chocolate Surprises available today at loveyoudivine.com!


My latest short story "Chocolate Surprises" is released today from loveyoudivine Alterotica! Check it out at www.loveyoudivine.com

Read the synopsis and exciting excerpt below:


Synopsis:

When Shane invites him over, Jason does not expect to find Shane covered entirely in chocolate. He is eager to lick it off and enjoy the sexy body underneath, but Shane has a challenge for him. Find all the tattoos hidden by the layer of chocolate before enjoying the spoils. The thought of running his tongue over Shane’s delicious body sends Jason’s libido into overdrive, but he has discover all of the tattoos first. Will he find them before the sugar rush hits? Jason is willing to take that risk.






Excerpt:





A big smile widened across Jason’s face as his eyes took in the vision standing before him. All he had imagined about Shane’s body came true as the evidence presented itself.
“Wow!” Jason breathed. “Screw the appetizers and main course. I’ll go straight to dessert. Is there a banana under there or are you just happy to see me?” He dropped to his knees, crawling forward but Shane stepped back, holding his hand out in front of him.
“Down, boy,” he warned with a grin. “No banana but you’ll find out soon enough.”
Jason remained on his knees, sitting back on his heels and looked up at him with a playful pout. “Do I at least get to peel it first?”
Shane laughed. “Remember I said I’d show you my tattoos?”
Jason nodded and licked his lips. His eyes rested on the bulge between Shane’s legs.
“I’m gonna let you see them but you have to find them first.”
“You mean like a scavenger hunt?” Jason rose to his feet.
“Exactly.” Shane winked and held up his forefinger. “Using only your tongue.”
Jason beamed. “If I start licking you, you’ll pop right out of here.” He reached for his crotch but Shane moved back again to avoid the touch.
“No, I won’t,” he laughed. “If you can find all of my tattoos before you get sick on chocolate, you’ll discover why.”
Jason circled Shane, running a finger very lightly along his exposed neck just above the chocolate. “What’s my first clue?”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Concubine's Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland


The first novel I read by Laura Joh Rowland was The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria and I was immediately struck by the author’s ability to make medieval Japan come to life. The Concubine’s Tattoo is earlier in the series featuring Sano Ichiro (but not the beginning) and every bit as vivid and brilliant.

Even though I enjoy reading a number of authors who set their mysteries in medieval or ancient Europe, I find the Asian setting of Rowland’s novels refreshing. It’s a glimpse into another culture which sets her works apart. European courts were full of conspiracies, schemes and intrigue but that all pales in comparison to the environment at the shogun’s palace in Edo in 1690.

The Concubine’s Tattoo opens with the death of one of the shogun’s many concubines Harume. Fearing she died of disease, the shogun calls in his honorable investigator Sano Ichiro to determine if the palace is at risk from contagion. Sano, whose wedding festivities were interrupted and postponed by Harume’s death throes and the ensuing panic, quickly ascertains that the concubine was poisoned. It’s well-known but not discussed openly that the shogun’s tastes run toward men rather than women. It comes as no surprise to Sano that Harume, a woman of youth and unparalleled beauty, had a lover, someone for whom she tattooed herself. He is shocked to learn that she was pregnant when she met her demise.

Sano finds that Harume may have had a number of admirers and wannabe suitors and not all of them were men. Who was jealous enough to murder her and the possible future shogun of Japan?

Confounding his efforts is his sworn enemy Chamberlain Yanagisawa, who is certain that Sano will not replace him as the shogun’s favorite. Also frustrating him is his new wife Reiko, fiercely independent and headstrong. For much of the book, they butt heads as she tries to convince him to let her help with his investigation. She is eager to prove that she is a good detective and worthy to aid him. Sano is horrified since he was expecting an obedient unassuming traditional Japanese wife.

Rowland depicts late seventeenth century life in Japan’s court with stark realism and transports the reader there. Her biggest strengths are the characters she develops. She’s almost feminist in The Concubine’s Tattoo since all the women are strong, independent and intelligent. Some of the men, those with a lot of power mainly, are rather hen-pecked. Even Sano must bow to the whims of his bride Reiko.

Another aspect of Rowland’s novel that sets her apart is the amount of eroticism. She unabashedly writes lively scenes of men and women coupling as well as same-sex partners. But she uses them to advance the plot as opposed to just spicing up the action.

Since her main character is a samurai, there is no shortage of exciting fight scenes. Here Rowland spices up the action with sword play and other Japanese weapons.

I found The Concubine’s Tattoo a very exciting and satisfying read. It gives us a rare insight into a world where few mystery writers take us.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jester Leaps In by Alan Gordon


Jester Leaps In is the second installment of Alan Gordon’s medieval series involving the mysterious Fool’s Guild. This concept of jesters and fools belonging to a secret organization that infiltrates and manipulates European politics in the early thirteen century is both ingenious and intriguing. The fools in Gordon’s world are very well-educated in different languages, know all manners of songs and physically adept for tumbling, juggling and many other acrobatic feats. They must maintain their abilities while subtly influencing the minds and opinions of the powers that be to keep the rules of Europe from assassinating each other or plunging the continent into war.

Feste is now married to the Duchess Viola, whose ducal responsibilities have ended. She is more than happy to be with him and learn the trade. Feste is recovering from the wound he received when an arrow pierced him through the thigh in Thirteenth Night, the previous and first novel in the series.

Feste and Viola are sent to Constantinople to investigate the disappearance of six fools, who haven’t been heard from in months. Political intrigue surrounds the Byzantine throne. The current Emperor has imprisoned and blinded his brother, the previous emperor. His nephew has escaped his clutches and fled to the protection of his sister in Germany.

Feste is reluctant to bring Viola into such potential danger, but she is adamant to stay with him. However as a safety precaution, Feste insists she disguise as a man and continue her training. Viola is not happy with those conditions but understands the needs for the ruse, since it allows her to do some prying while Feste entertains the masses.

Gordon’s choice of a fool for a sleuth/spy is interesting but it makes sense. As he portrays in this story, emperors and empresses enjoy the company of fools or jesters because of their entertainment. During these happy moments, rules let their guard down, voicing plans and opinions that otherwise would not be so freely given. A fool can influence decisions with jokes or quips, or hear about plots that others would pay dearly to learn.

The Guild in this series is intent upon keeping the peace and in Jester Leaps In, Feste and Viola prevent an assassination that could spark a vicious war for control of the Byzantine throne.

The plot is intriguing and very easy to follow with Gordon’s ability to help the reader visualize the environs of Constantinople in the year 1202.

Jester Leaps In has some good surprises if not many twists but it is an exciting page turner for all medieval mystery enthusiasts.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Sacrilege by John Maddox Roberts


In The Sacrilege, the third installment of John Maddox Roberts ancient Roman mysteries, everyone’s favorite beleaguered quaestor is back in Rome after a year of required military service but now, Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger is a Senator. With the small promotion comes substantially more trouble. His sworn enemy Clodius is stirring up problems and vows to kill him in the streets. The hated Pompey is outside the city walls pushing for a triumphant procession the likes Rome has never seen. His father is still distant but shows signs of mellowing in his old age.

Decius’s new duties allow him to do some networking, which he enjoys. At a dinner he attends, the man he has been sent to persuade and draw him into his relatives’ corner is struck down by an assassin. Decius himself barely escapes an attempt on his life at the same party.

The following night, a woman’s sacred rite is infiltrated by a man dressed as a female. Roman law detects that the man be put to death. But the impostor turns out to be none other than his arch-enemy Clodius, evil but well-connected. This complicates matters.

But what was he doing there?

Decius suspects that much more is going on than a simple prank to see what men are forbidden to see. Fortunately for him, he is in good graces with Milo, a common thug rising to power and controls an enormous street gang that comes to Decius’s rescue more than once.

As the saying goes: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Milo has no love for Clodius either. But unlike Decius, Milo has the manpower to keep Clodius away from his door and from taking over the city with his army of thugs.

Two more people are murdered after his investigation starts. One of the victims is the very young kinsman of Clodius who tried to poison him at the dinner. He begins to piece together a daring plot to cease all power of Rome.

During the course of investigation, Decius winds up playing cupid for his friend Milo and the beautiful Fausta. Later he meets, Julia, the lovely and intelligent niece of Julius Caesar. She persuades him to let her help him in his investigation. Decius agrees but mainly as an excuse to see Julia more often.

It’s interesting to see how Decius is moving up the political ladder as the SPQR series progresses. Also, John Maddox Roberts pumps up the action and excitement in this third novel.

In The King’s Gambit, the second novel, and The Sacrilege, Decius pokes fun at his own culture’s naming conventions that many members of a family have very similar names. It makes it difficult to keep up with one’s own family, let alone anyone else’s, Decius grumbles. But it seems to be less frustrating the third time out. Or maybe I’m getting used to the Rome that Roberts portratys in his mystery series. He interjects many terms that must be part of the ancient Roman vernacular. However, with the help of the glossary, the reader is not left behind.

One aspect that is consistent, if not improving as the series progresses, is the vivid description of ancient Rome. He brings the past to life in its open and often ugly glory.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a medieval mystery set in an Italian monastery, is a difficult read but rich in history. Eco fills his story with vivid and detailed descriptions of the culture, lifestyle and issues facing monks in the early thirteen hundreds. Eco even provides a map of the monastery, its grounds and a layout of the labyrinth of the library, which becomes central to the mystery.

Brother William of Baskerville, a Franciscan, arrives with his scribe and novice Adso at the very rich abbey just after a young monk has died from a tall from one of the towers. Was he pushed or did he jump?

Soon Brother William and Adso are confronted with two more murders. Instead of help from the resident, monks, William and Adso are hindered in their efforts by secretive scripts, underlying plots by disgruntled brothers and a library that is fiercely guarded by the librarian.

William and Adso manage to find their way into the forbidden library and promptly get lost in its labyrinthine corridors and rooms. Adso discovers one of the snares set by the librarian the hard way. Painstakingly, they map the layout, which reveals even more secrets kept from most of the brethren. The body count rises and they are faced with an impatient abbot, ready for them to leave.

Eco’s plot is borne of religious ideals and opinions of the time period. But the mystery is only a secondary story as Eco adds many additional stories that confuse and overwhelm the reader. He takes great lengths to illustrate both sides of the debate on what constitutes heresy. A good portion is given to Adso’s unexpected tryst with a beautiful peasant girl who delivers her body to the monks in exchange for food.. A meeting to reconcile certain religious differences between Pope John XXII and the Emperor last a good chunk of the book.

Eco impresses the reader with an extensive knowledge of medieval literature and the religious climate but if one is not on equal footing as the author, the story seems to ramble.

The Name of the Rose is well-written but definitely not a cozy read. Perhaps a good knowledge of medieval religious societies would make it more enjoyable for the reader. It certainly warrants a second look since the reader will not have to be reintroduced to the main characters and can focus more on the story.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown


Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, the next in the series after The DaVinci Code, is an exciting page-turner but gets bogged down with facts that oftentimes don’t add to the story. Brown has an amazing eye for research and details and he puts them all together in a fast-paced action-packed novel set in Washington, DC.

I’m sure no one would question Brown’s ability to spin great tales concerning the deciphering of codes, symbols and long-forgotten languages but how much of it is necessary for the novel. In more than one place, Brown takes a detour, albeit briefly, to insert an interesting fact that doesn’t add to the story. I wonder if Brown is trying to educate the reader on obscure historical facts or his showing off. Either way, the facts are interesting and give us a look of the little-known history of Washington, DC.

As with Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code, the entire book takes place over the span of just a few hours. Robert Langdon is called by a trusted mentor at the last minute to deliver a speech at a function when a scheduled speaker cancels suddenly. Upon arriving, he finds there is no function and his mentor has been kidnapped.

Langdon is caught between the demands of the kidnapper and the CIA. He becomes mired in Masonic secrets and their deep devotion to their brotherhood. Because of this he finds unexpected allies at every turn. The CIA seems less interested in locating Langdon’s mentor who is severely injured and more concerned with meeting the demands of the kidnapper. They tell Langdon it is a matter of national security, but Robert cannot figure out what his mentor would be involved in that would be so serious.

The antagonist in The Lost Symbol is reminiscent of the albino religious fanatic who kept Langdon busy across Europe in The DaVinci Code. But in The Lost Symbol, Brown gives the reader an interesting twist at the end.

After the exciting conclusion to the mystery, Brown continues with Masonic symbolism and history. At times, it becomes a bit overwhelming and anti-climatic.

Overall, The Lost Symbol is worth a look but it’s not as good as The DaVinci Code or Angels and Demons.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wipeout by Chip Hughes

SPOILER ALERT!

I recently reviewed Needled to Death, a knitting mystery by Maggie Sefton, where I mentioned that it may have a limited appeal to only those interested in the craft. Chip Hughes’ novel Wipeout is to surfing what Sefton is to knitting. Sometimes it seems that Hughes is more interested in spewing out facts about surf boards, surfers and the history of the sport rather than building suspense.

Kai Cooke is a private detective/surfer in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is approached by a very pregnant young woman who wants Kai to prove her husband is dead. He wiped out on Christmas Eve, over a month ago, and was never seen again. His widow is due any minute and the insurance company refuses to pay out his two-hundred thousand dollar life insurance policy until they have proof of his death. No body, no money.

At first, Kai’s task seems impossible since everyone on the island remembers Corky McDahl’s deadly wipeout vividly but no one knows anything beyond that. However unlikely, Kai starts finding clues that may lead to the missing man. In one seemingly implausible scene, Kai travels to Maui looking for a red-headed woman named Maya. Somehow with only those two clues to go on, he manages to find her. Is Maui that small and close-knit?

There was plenty more amiss with the novel. Readers like their sleuths to have the same flaws and human characteristics that we all have but Kai Cooke is a jerk. When his girlfriend Leimomi fears she may be pregnant, he avoids her, using the case of the missing surfer as an excuse. He tells himself he’s not ready to be a father. How did this happen, he asks. Really dumb question for a thirty-four year old. Shortly after, he is seduced by the beautiful Maya, fully cognizant of his girlfriend’s predicament and that Maya’s husband may just have been killed a few hours before.

During his conversation with colleagues, clients and girlfriends, Kai speaks proper English, but when speaking with his surfing buddies, he slips into a dialect that may be Hawaiian but reads like Cajun. There was no explanation why the abrupt change in his manner of speaking. I was reminded of Vanilla Ice or Barbara Billingsley’s role as a jive translator in “Airplane”.

When Kai finally tracks down the errant surfer, alive and well and surfing the same beach he disappeared from, there is no explanation how he faced his death in front of witnesses. Hughes also doesn’t give any reason why nobody on the beach recognizes Corky McDahl when they all recognized him immediately in the photographs Kai showed them just days before. And Corky’s a jerk, too.

The ending is wrapped up a little too quickly and convenient. The drug lord is captured and put away (scene not in the book) and Kai’s girlfriend isn’t pregnant. Not only that, but she’s leaving to spend time with her parents. Kai is freed from any parental responsibility or obligations and can resume his life of surfing.

There is also a lack of real suspense since the run-ins with the kingpin’s goons are limited to one and it wasn’t very exciting. The kingpin must be the benevolent and lenient criminal mastermind there is.

Wipeout, although well-written, is much more a cozy mystery than hard-boiled detective story. If you have an interest in surfing, you may enjoy the multiple references to surfers, techniques and waves. If you want an edge-of-your-seat action-packed whodunit, look elsewhere.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Prime Time by Hank Phillipi Ryan


I first met Hank Phillipi Ryan last year at Bouchercon in Baltimore when she was handing out bookmarks for the Jungle Red Writers, a group of women authors. I recognized the nail polish from the movie “The Women” right away. And only a woman would mention hot flashes in the very first sentence of her book. Thus begins Prime Time, a witty and entertaining read.

Ryan’s sleuth Charlotte ‘Charlie’ McNally is an investigative reporter for a television station in Boston. When suspected whistleblower Bradley Foreman dies in a one-car crash with no witnesses, Charlie has no reason to believe it’s anything beyond a tragic accident. That is until she discovers an email, disguised as spam, sent to her and two others from Foreman prior to his death. The grieving widow gives her a stack of files that her husband brought home from work before his untimely demise. In them, Charlie finds a number of similar emails with references to Shakespeare’s works and Bible verses. She also finds her heart, which had long been buried behind work schedules, overtime and the looming November sweeps week, and promptly loses it to Josh Gelston, handsome college professor and co-addressee on Foreman’s pre-crash email.

Shortly after, the third person the email was sent to dies in another one-car accident with no witnesses. Now Charlie suspects there is more to that email than just spam. When she attends the funeral of the second crash victim, she is threatened by an old woman to stop her investigation. As if. She also sees Josh there, unexpectedly. All of a sudden, she’s not so sure about him and his intentions anymore.

It’s apparent why Prime Time is an Agatha winner. Ryan’s writing style is clever, humorous and in some places, downright snarky. Charlotte McNally is a real character that the reader can relate to and sympathize with. She has the human failings we all have but won’t admit, like the scene where she’s checking out the good-looking detective while her producer and friend lies in a hospital bed beaten to a pulp.

Ryan also manages to keep the action brisk and face-paced without leaving the reader out of breath or confused. Very well-written, Prime Time is a great and fun read that’s sure to appeal to everyone.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton


A love of knitting and a love of cozy mysteries. These aren’t required to enjoy Needled to Death, Maggie Sefton’s second knitting novel featuring Kelly Flynn, but they are strongly recommended. If you’re looking for something edgier or more suspenseful, search elsewhere. Although a delightful read, Maggie Sefton’s writing style is homey, comfortable and even a little campy. And she knows how to spin a good yard (no pun intended).

Needled to Death is stuffed with knitters talking about stitches, size fifteen needles, fleeces and spinning. Curiously enough neither of the victims in the book was ‘needled’ to death as the title suggests.

The mystery centers upon an alpaca rancher, a friend of Kelly’s, who is found murdered. The Fort Connor, Colorado police round up the usual suspects: the estranged soon-to-be ex-husband, who has every motive in the world to off his wife; his offensive in-your-face new girlfriend; and the cousin who has some secrets of her own.

As the novel goes on, the plot doesn’t thicken beyond that. In fact, much of the story follows Kelly’s day-to-day routine as a CPA working out of her home for a corporation in Washington, DC. She plays on a local softball team, hangs out with fellow knitters and tries to figure out how to keep her golf ball-stealing rottweiler Carl in the yard. During the course of the story, Kelly finds out she is inheriting her aunt’s ranch in Wyoming, and a big chunk of the book focuses on her and her friends assessing the value of the ranch, lands, cattle, sheep and alpacas. The investigation into the rancher’s murder takes a back seat to Kelly’s life.

I mentioned that Needled to Death may have a limited appeal, but Sefton’s knitting mysteries do have a big following. I stood next to Maggie at Bouchercon 2009’s Book Bazaar last month. A number of fans expressed their enthusiasm for knitting and how her books got them interested in the craft. Her books contain a lot of information and details about dying (as in dyes for fleeces), techniques and equipment. She even includes a knitting pattern and a recipe for blueberry cobbler.

Simply put, Needled to Death is a great cozy mystery, but not for readers looking for a thrill ride. But I’m going to try that recipe anyway.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Author Spotlight - Jon Michaelsen



I was first introduced to Jon Michaelsen via cyberspace last year when he and I were writing short stories for loveyoudivine Alterotica's anthology "MEN", which includes Jon's story "Voyeur" and my "Safe Word". We were 'discovered' (so to speak) on writing.com's Erotica Harem. Both of us enjoy writing gay erotica so it thrilled us to have such an opportunity and we quickly became friends. After the release of "MEN", Jon arranged for a book-signing at OutWrite Books in Atlanta, Georgia, so I got to meet the man in person.


What a terrific guy and a sweetie!


Jon has been such a major supporter of my work that I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't featured his awesome work here before now.


I loved "Voyeur"!


I am loving "Pretty Boy Dead"!


And now he's got a new story "Prince of the Sea" coming soon to loveyoudivine Alterotica!


I asked Jon who his main inspiration has been for his writing:

The main inspiration for writing in the beginning was my beloved grandmother, who passed away one year ago. As a child, she encouraged my imagination and would often sit for hours listening to stories that I made up.

Who would you most like to be compared to?

That's a tough one, but I'd say a gay John Grisham. I love his writing; fast paced, thrilling and mysterious. I enjoying a little mystery and suspense in everything I write, regardless of genre. I prefer to write in many genres, not just mystery/suspense.


Who is your literary hero?


Actually, it would be the closeted gay homicide detective, Sergeant Kendall Parker, from my novel Pretty Boy Dead. He's definitely my alter-ego. Strong, tough, fearless, and yet compassionate, vulnerable and flawed.

Jon answered this on purpose. He knows that I'm in love with Sgt. Parker even though he's a fictional character. LOL

What is the latest on "Pretty Boy Dead"? I've enjoyed reading it and would like to see it become a series.


Okay - update on Pretty Boy Dead. I'm writing the final chapters and hope to submit for publishing in 2010. Yes, I am planning to fashion Sergeant Kendal Parker into a series. Pretty Boy Dead is the first that introducing the closeted gay Atlanta Homicide detective morning the loss of his lover while investigating the murder of a male stripper.

Yea!!


You said earlier that you write in many different genres, but if you were to step outside of your comfort zone, which genre would you most like to take a stab at?



I'd love to write a vampire or werewolf story.

No pun intended on the 'take a stab at'. Recently, you mentioned that you overcame a severe bout of writer's block. What happened that allowed your creative juices to start flowing again?



Writer's block is horrible! I don't recommend it for any writer! I guess I can trace the start back to late last year when my beloved grandmother - who practically raised me - passed away. She'd become very ill earlier in the ear and I spent a lot of time driving back and forth to Florida to visit her as much as possible. She died in late October of 2008, about the time I hit writer's block, which has lasted a year. Several serious setbacks happened in my life this past year, with things finally settling down, allowing me to again return to my true passion which is writing.

Personal setbacks are difficult to overcome though there are times they make great sources for stories. Tell us a little about your new work.


Here's a blurb for "Prince of the Sea"


Jonathan Lemke's ten-year partnership has hit the skids. In a last ditch effort to salvage their relationship, to rekindle the passion they once shared, he rents an old beach house on the southern Georgia coast, on a tiny island called Tybee. A vacation, he hoped, would provide two weeks of bliss away from their hectic daily lives. But, the romantic surprise backfires and he finds himself alone after his partner chose his career over him and jets off to Chicago to sign a high-profile client. Dulling his heartache with alcohol while sulking on the porch of the home facing the sea, Jonathan spots a man's head far out in the ocean. He appears in trouble, struggling to stay above the surface and caught in a strong riptide...


Jonathan races to the water’s edge, stripping off shirt, shoes, slacks and diving headlong into the churning waves. No sooner had he dove beneath the surface to offer aid, he too becomes caught up in the prevailing undertow. Battling to reach the surface, he soon tires and begins to lose consciousness, but not before something large and powerful slams into him from behind.


When he comes to, Jonathan is surrounded by frantic beachcombers pulling him back from the water's edge. How did he get to shore? What slammed into him from behind and caused the "whoosh" sensation he felt before blacking out? What happened to the man he saw struggling in the water…



Currently, your story "Voyeur" is available through loveyoudivine Alterotica. Give us a peek (pun intended this time! LOL)


Here is an excerpt from "Voyeur":


Kevin watched the man’s naked torso as he strode forward, his pumped out chest leading the way like a prized matador. The lines of his abdomen contracted and released with each step, forcing the top of his jeans to ride further below his hips. A dusting of dark fur dipped in a straight line below the navel to the treasure below. Tony’s frown gave way to a wide grin that played across his lips in humble vein.

“Here,” Kevin said, thrusting out the shirt. He moved to the kitchen counter with Tony at his heels. “I think this spot remover will do the trick.” Facing the sink, he soaked the stain on Tony’s shirt with the liquid, and lifted the handle of the water- spout. He rubbed the fabric between his fists, like his mother taught him years ago. Tony’s hands slid slowly across his hips and slipped into his front pockets.

Kevin caught his breath and tried to focus on the task of eliminating the stain, and not of his own hardness springing forth. He avoided speaking for fear the words wouldn’t make sense. He felt Tony move in closer, nudging, and placing his chin on his left shoulder. The smell of soap and musk blended in a most pleasing aroma that aroused his senses and awakened a desire he’d never experienced in all his years.

The day-old stubble of Tony’s chin caressed the side of his cheek. Tendrils of electricity shot through his body. He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath as the man’s large hands sank further into his pockets, the tips of his fingers coming together to probe the shaft of his yearning cock.

“Forget the shirt,” Tony whispered next to his ear.


Visit Jon at his website:

http://www.jonmichaelsen.net/

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Search For Justina Continues

My great-grandmother’s birthplace and therefore the identity of her parents and ancestors will remain shrouded in mystery for a while longer. After a second day spent searching through the documents at the National Archives in Washington, DC, I am no closer to determining when and where she entered the U.S.

Part of that is because her date of immigration is a moving target. I mentioned in my earlier post that the 1920 Census listed her year of immigration as 1889, two years prior to what we had originally thought.

The 1910 Census lists her as coming to the U.S. in 1886, three earlier than that. The archivist in the library of the Archives said this is not unusual at all and to go by the date on the earlier census, since it was closer to the actual date. I searched the 1900 Census data and here is where I ran into problems.

Since Oklahoma was not a state then, its census data is not as searchable on the ancestryintitution.com website. Therefore, delving into the microfilm is required, using the Soundex Coding System to locate surnames.

The system probably looked better on the cocktail napkin it was drafted on but that was before the census officials got drunk and spilled beer on it, thus rendering their notes illegible. The next morning they tried to recreate the system through hangover-addled minds and this is the convoluted process of indexing family names they devised.



To find your ancestors, you have to reduce their surname to a code. It starts with the first letter of the name and then reduces the rest to a three-digit number. For example, ‘Keil’ becomes K400, ‘Dick’ is D200, and ‘Goeringer’ is G652.

Which begs the question: What’s wrong with just alphabetizing them?

Apparently, the good ol’ alphabet which is more than sufficient for everyone else in the country was too much trouble for the census officials. The Soundex system is based on the say a surname sounds, so researchers can locate names that may have been recorded under a different spelling, like BROWN and BROWNE. According to this system, ‘Keil’ sounds like ‘Kelley’ or ‘Kimmel’, ‘Dick’ sounds like ‘Dukes’ and ‘Goeringer’ sounds like ‘Greenworth’. It does make it easier to find alternate spellings, but much more difficult to find the names with specific spelling.

(By the way, Jason, there were a lot of Kimmels in Oklahoma territory in 1900.)

But the code system is only part of the nightmare. Each family’s information is recorded on a separate file card with the code written in the upper left corner. Even here within a single code such as K400, the much more efficient alphabetic order is eschewed. There is no rhyme or reason to the order in which the cards were transferred to the microfilm. It’s as if the census bureau officials stacked the cards together and shuffled them before the feeding them through the microfilm recorder. Some names that don’t even come close to sounding like the others of the same code are mixed in.

(Marla, 81 year-old Jacob Swartz was living in Washita County in 1900.)

(FYI, Carol. Abraham Balzer and his young wife Agnes were also living in Washita County that year.)

And the nightmare continues. On some of the census bureau’s data lists, officials made notations (for whatever reasons) by scribbling numbers and symbols over the family surname! This practice essentially renders the entries illegible. It’s not as if there was plenty of room in the left margins next to the children’s names.

This ludicrous system may be why I could not locate any of my relatives that I know were living in Oklahoma in 1900. The 1910 data show George and Justina had two children over the age of 10 and lists their birthplace as Oklahoma. Peace Lutheran Church in Bessie was established in 1893 and its archives clearly list George Frederick Dick as a founding member as well as a number of Goeringers.



So why aren’t they on the 1900 Census? Washita County may have been very rural at that time but it was hardly overlooked with half a dozen enumerative districts established between the Cloud Chief and Union townships.

The day was not a total loss. I was able to ascertain that Justina did not enter the country by way of Baltimore, Boston, Canada, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia or San Francisco. It’s very likely that she arrived in Galveston but those records are incomplete. Don’t blame it on the hurricane though. She did her own brand of damage in 1900 so look to the sea captains with illegible handwriting and lax attitudes about record keeping. They are the reason there are very few records between 1871 and 1894, the time period Justina arrived.


(Since 'Keil' is close to 'Keim', Adam, I noticed quite a few of your ancestors coming to New York each year. They could've got together and booked the Queen Mary.)

There is another disturbing aspect that may not be the fault of the census bureau officials and their hatred of the ever-pesky alphabet. I cannot find Justina’s brother Conrad, his wife Sophie or their son Phillip in any of the U.S. Census from 1910 to 1930. It’s as if they never existed.



Family of George Frederick Dick

Back row (L-R) Amelia, Emil, Hanna, Herman
Front row (L-R) Hulda, Justina Keil Dick (wife), Mary (on lap), Friederich (father), Mary Elizabeth (mother), George Frederick, Sam, Freda
(Friederich and Mary Elizabeth are my great-great-grandparents!)



For now, great-grandmother Justina’s origins remain obscured and nearly all leads have dried up. I hope that something will turn up in the future that will allow me to continue my search.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Breathless" is now available at loveyoudivine Alterotica!


My first novel "Breathless" by my pseudonym Alex Morgan has been released by loveyoudivine Alterotica! It is the novella version of my short story "Safe Word" which was published last year.

Please check it out at http://www.loveyoudivine.com/


Synopsis:
The body of a man is found as Provincetown prepares for Mates weekend, a popular leather gathering. Corey thinks a BDSM scene went past its extreme limit. He tours the town's dark dungeons, looking for a murderer preying on young men. Can Corey find him before becoming a victim to the ultimnate BDSM fantasay of execution?

Excerpt:
“All of the victims were killed in the same manner, in cities where a major leather even was being held,” Corey said.


“And you think that this maniac is here in Provincetown?”

“You saw the body yourself, Chief.”

“But none of the others.”

“You will very shortly.”

“What do you mean?” Chief Stewart said in surprise.

“The files from those cases are being emailed to all communities involved to each other,” Corey answered. “You’ll be able to make your own conclusions. Please ask Agent Seger to forward anything she finds back to them.”

Chief Stewart began to grasp the scope of the crime. “Any connections between the victims?”

“So far, none that we can tell,” Corey sighed. “They were all young men from around the country, just visiting leather events.”

“San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC are all huge compared to Provincetown. They always have hundreds of events going on all the time. Can they say for certain that those guys were in those cities for those events?”

“In a couple of the cases, surviving relatives knew what their kin were up to, attending a leather gathering. Unfortunately some of the men were closeted, it seems, and the families had no idea where their family members went. It was only after the death that the relations realized there was a part of him they had never expected. In the two cases where the victim has not been identified, not counting ours, it’s theorized that he was so far in the closet, he gave his family and friends no clue to where he was going, so they have no idea where to start looking for him.”

“Or,” Chief Stewart held up a finger. “The family knows where he went but so disapproved of their man’s lifestyle that they don’t care if he’s missing. It doesn’t matter to them if he’s dead, as long as he’s not bugging them anymore.”

Corey nodded throughout the chief’s hypothesis. “Sad but very possibly true.”

U.S. Botanic Gardens - Washington, DC

I came across the U.S. Botanic Gardens yesterday quite by accident yesterday and decided to take a look. It's hard to believe this is across the street from our nation's capitol building. It is a peaceful oasis in a city that is anything but.



"Show me your garden...and I will tell you what you are like."
Alfred Austin - English Poet Laureate (1835-1913)

According to Alfred, we are green, leafy and have lots of purple orchids.












A tea tree.



Bird of Paradise








Lovely chrymathesums



Old Man Cactus



Barrel Cactus



Monday, October 19, 2009

A Chat with Maggie Sefton


Imagine having a walk-on part in a movie and then being invited to sign autographs with the rest of the cast. And you find yourself sitting between Angela Lansbury and Bono from U2. People smile and give you that “bless your heart” look but don’t ask for your autograph because they’re too busy clamoring to talk to the real stars.

Maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration but it does describe how I felt at the Book Bazaar Sunday morning at Boucheron. To my right sat Stephen Jay Schwarz who is a roguishly good-looking version of the lead singer of U2. He gave away fifty books in thirty minutes. Beyond him was Tom Schreck who finished his fifty in forty-five minutes.

On my left was Maggie Sefton. I had seen her mysteries in stores but since I was unfamiliar with her work, I hadn’t ventured to buy one. I still don’t know her as an author but Maggie Sefton the person is wonderful! Between chatting with readers and autographing her books, she gave me volumes of advice and words of wisdom.

First, she told me that readers make you a best-seller, not the publishers. The mystery genre is one where an author gains an audience by word of mouth, something I heard more than once throughout the conference. One person reads your book and recommends it to another. That person passes it on and so on. She termed authors that started with a small readership and worked steadily gaining a large following ‘organic’. This term has so many different meanings but in Maggie’s context, it makes sense. They grew from the bottom up. Not from the top down like many do when publishers and marketers are driving the sales, not readers. She said that publishers and marketers can help put an author to the top of the lists but if the readers aren’t there, the author’s next book doesn’t do so well.

She also gave me an assignment: read “Think and Grow Rich”. Since this is certainly not the first time I’ve heard this, there must be something to it. She said to read it then contact her afterwards. Guess what is number one on my to-do list now.

It’s all metaphysical, she said. You take a step in the direction you want to go and the universe responds. I certainly hope so.

Ms. Sefton may be metaphysical but she can talk sports with the best of them. She loves the Denver Broncos and Colorado State. However, she has some strong opinions about an unfortunate bygone era in the University of Colorado’s checkered past. Apparently the Big 10 players back in the day were a lot more upstanding students and model citizens than those of the Big 8. I grew up in Oklahoma so this wasn’t exactly shocking news.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, copies of my debut novel “Breathless” did not reach me in Indianapolis. So between Schwarz’s and Sefton’s stacks of colorful books, I had a single black and white printer copy of my book cover. Although it has a picture of a sexy, muscular man, it didn’t attract the attention of more than three people. Even the promise of a free copy without having to use one of their free book coupons wasn’t enough.

Still, it was a very successful Bouchercon for me, with my chat with Maggie Sefton as being the pinnacle of the entire conference. I met and made new contacts and strengthened the ones I made last year.

I took a step in the direction I want to go. Universe, your move.

Scenes from Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis


The lovely Kathy Lynn Emerson, author of the Face Down series featuring sleuth Lady Susanna Appleton.



The very sweet and gracious Dr. Camille Minichino, author of the Periodic Table murder series featuring Dr. Gloria Lamerino.




Greg Herren, author of the Chanse MacLeod series set in New Orleans.



Neil Plakcy, author of the Kimo Kanapa'aka series set in Hawai'i




Dashing Anthony Bidulka, author of the Russell Quant mysteries set in Saskatchewan, Canada.




Mark Richard Zubro, author of the Tom and Scott mysteries.




Ellen Hart, author of the Jane Lawless mysteries.




Sharan Newman, author of the Catherine LeVendeur mysteries set in twelfth century France.




John Maddox Roberts, author of the SPQR mysteries featuring Senator Decius Caecilius Metellus set in ancient Rome.



Alan Gordon, author of mystery series featuring Feste from "Twelfth Night" set in thirteenth century Italy.



The lovely Heather Graham, prolific paranormal author.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deadly Harvest by Heather Graham


Wow! I love a good ghost story and Heather Graham delivers a great one in Deadly Harvest, the second installment in her Flynn brothers trilogy. Aidan, Jeremy and Zach Flynn inherited a mansion outside of New Orleans from a great-aunt whom they have never heard of before her death. Aidan, the oldest of the brothers, and his now-wife Kendall deal with their own ghosts that haunt the mansion in Deadly Night.

Deadly Harvest opens in New Orleans just before Halloween as Jeremy Flynn is involved in a series of debates with Rowenna Cavanaugh on the use of paranormal abilities in detective work. Rowenna is open to the possibilities but Jeremy is adamantly closed-minded. Still the debates are a great money-raiser for Aidan and Kendall Children’s House charities.

Jeremy and Rowenna, for different reasons and different ways, are caught up in the same mystery back in Rowenna’s hometown of Salem, Massachusetts. The wife of Jeremy’s ex-partner vanishes in thin air from a cemetery on Halloween in the middle of town when Salem is packed with tourists.

The detective on the case is the father of the man Rowenna was to marry until her fiancé was killed in Iraq. She remains as close to him as if actually was her father-in-law by marriage. Joe does not like private investigators like Jeremy Flynn, but through her, they forge an uneasy alliance.

Although she denies having a ‘gift’ or any psychic abilities, Rowenna ‘sees’ things and can sometimes put herself into a victim’s place to solve crimes. This ability leads her to the body of a young woman who has been strangled and hung up like a scarecrow. Since it isn’t Jeremy’s friend, the chilling realization that a serial killer is loose soaks into the close-knit community.

Jeremy stays close-minded but is haunted by the ghost of a young boy Billy who drowned several years before. Jeremy was a forensic diver back then and was unable to save Billy. He continues to torture himself for not being there two minutes earlier that he might have saved him. But as with Deadly Night, Deadly Harvest has a benevolent ghost and in this case, it’s young Billy. The reader gets the notion that Billy is not vengeful long before Jeremy does.

Unlike the first book though, Deadly Harvest contains many disturbing references to demonism, since the murderer in the story is trying to become the Prince of Darkness in the flesh and must sacrifice young women to achieve his goal.

Though not as many ghosts as the first, Deadly Harvest moves at an exciting, pulse-pounding pace and is very difficult to put down. I read the nearly four-hundred page book in one day. It’s that good.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Flight of Aquavit by Anthony Bidulka


I met Anthony Bidulka quite unexpectedly during a business trip to Toronto earlier this year. While perusing a bookstore, I found out that he had a book signing later that day just a few blocks away. I had seen Mr. Bidulka’s works in many places but this was the first chance to meet him. I purchased Flight of Aquavit, the follow-up to his debut novel, Amuse Bouche and enjoyed it very much.

His sleuth Russell Quant, like the author, lives in Saskatoon in Saskatchewan. The novel opens with Quant nearly being killed in an ambush in an attempt to scare him off of a case that he hasn’t even been contacted for. Intrigued rather than frightened, Quant is soon after hired by a local business who is being blackmailed by an anonymous ‘Loverboy’. His client is convinced that Loverboy is a one-night stand from his recent past. To find the blackmailer, Quant searches on-line dating sites, does some late night bar-hopping and makes a trip to the New York City gay scene. For a thirty-two year old, ex-cop, out, single private investigator, Quant seems a little naïve about some aspects of twenty-first century gay life and lacks the street-smarts that should’ve sent up alarms in his head to prevent him from walking directly into his own kidnapping scheme.

Written in first person, Flight of Aquavit is told through the viewpoint of Quant but some of the secondary characters that make up his circle of family and friends often threaten to hijack the story. His Ukranian mother, who faces every crisis by cooking huge amounts of food, drops by to spend Christmas with him. His neighbor Sereena Smith travels with him to New York City and he begins to suspect a secret side of her, based on the fawning reaction of people around her.

Mr. Bidulka keeps his sleuth busy during the course of events form the opening ambush to the final climax, but the pace of the book never overwhelms the reader. There are enough twists and turns in the plot that the book is difficult to put down. Just how I like it. The ending may be a bit predictable but it is a satisfying solution if not particularly happy.

Although the action kept the story moving at an exciting pace, another feature of Bidulka’s writing made reading Flight of Aquavit enjoyable. Quant’s narrative is laced with snarky side comments, parenthetical phrases and pop culture references that make the reader laugh out loud.

The title refers to a drink Flight of Aquavit that Quant’s friend Sereena introduces him to during their brief trip to New York City. The only other mention of it during the novel is the final page, so it’s unclear what the connection was between drink and mystery.

Even though I started with the second novel in the Quant mysteries, I didn’t feel as if I was out of the loop or needed to have read the first to get to know the characters or setting. I plant to read his debut novel because I want to.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Helium Murder by Camille Minichino


After reading her debut novel, The Hydrogen Murder, I predicted that Dr. Camille Minichino would hone her craft and her follow-up would be an improvement. I was right. The Helium Murder, second in the series, is a fun read and a great story.

Minichino’s sleuth, Dr. Gloria Lamerino is enjoying her retirement in Revere, a northern suburb of Boston, after thirty years of teaching physics in California. She’s also enjoying the attentions of homicide detective Matt Gennaro, whom she helps by being a scientific consultant on cases. When a congresswoman is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Gloria’s assistance is required since the victim carried an important vote in the House of Representatives that affected the future of the helium, industry and the preservation of the nation’s quickly-depleting helium reserves. Gloria finds herself between a greedy businessman, a jilted fiancé and a bitter brother. With all that going on, she must deal with the ghost of her long-deceased overbearing mother and the thirty-year old mystery surrounding her own fiancé’s death.

There is no shortage of colorful characters in Lamerino’s Revere, Massachusetts. Minichino has a great knack for creating people that you think you know or wish you knew. Her bff Rose is constantly concerned about Gloria’s perpetual unmarried status and the teacher whom she helps with special interest projects for his class, keeps asking her for a date. All are very endearing to the reader.

Minichino’s writing style is refreshing and peppered with quips, snarky comments and enough literature and pop culture references that the mystery sometimes takes a back seat to the humor.

There are also occasions when Minichino sounds a bit like an encyclopedia when citing facts about the elements at the center of the mystery. But it is difficult to educate a reader on unexciting subjects without a data dump.

The Helium Murder is a great second outing for Dr. Gloria Lamerino. Fortunately, there are plenty of elements in the Periodic Table for fun like this.

Reclamation by Sarah Zettel


One of the first things I noticed about Sarah Zettel’s debut novel Reclamation was how it was written: exciting action, great science fiction, outstanding prose. The next thing I noticed was her inspiration from Frank Herbert, whom she emulated by writing a few lines of lore from her universe at the beginning of each chapter. But with all this going for her, why did I not know what was happening throughout most of the book? I kept thinking that Reclamation was the follow-up to a previous novel. It felt as if I was missing a significant portion of the backstory.

Zettel created a wonderful universe with many amazing beings and worlds but without introductions, explanations or definitions of its plethora of aspects, the reader must piece together the plot alone and is not always successful.

The second half is a more enjoyable read but mainly because by that time, the chain of events makes a little more sense.

Zettel leaves gaps which confuse the plot lines even more. For example: Why was Kiv and some of his offspring killed? Who were the two Vitae with the children? Who are the Aunorante Sangh? For this last question, many of the characters accused each other of being a part of this group but their identity was never disclosed.

I did find the characters in her story to be fascinating. Eric Born, the main character, is a power-gifted human with telekinesis. Although the story alludes to other such beings, very few actually appear in the story. One other is a woman named Arlas, who is among the lowest class of humans, the Notouch. Together they wage a resistance war against the Vitae, who have proclaimed themselves masters of the Quarter Galaxy.

Reclamation moves a long at a great clip and there is no shortage of action and adventure. Perhaps a second read of the novel is warranted since I know who the characters are now, especially since there are so many, the plot takes a back seat to them.