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


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'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.


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: