Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: Deadly Stillwater by Roger Stelljes

Some good, some bad, and (you guessed it) some in between

Deadly Stillwater is the story of Detective Mac McRyan and the rest of the St. Paul Police Chief’s ‘boys’ and their efforts to solve a double kidnapping.  Unfortunately, my review will be all over the map, as there are parts of this book that are extremely well done, parts that are mediocre, and parts that I simply did not care for. 

The good news first.  I found the suspense in this story to be outstanding.  In part, this is due to the heinous nature of the crime.  But even so, the author did an admirable job of keeping my stomach in a knot, as the finale approached relentlessly.  The pacing was excellent.  There are really no downtimes, although there is some seemingly unnecessary repetition of ideas.

In the so-so bucket, I would put character development.  Many of the characters were largely stereotypes, making them and some of the dialog feel stale in places.  But, the players were generally likable, if not all that real.  Parts of the plot were also a bit high on the unbelievability scale, such as a programmer hacking multiple secure databases and creating complex data correlations on the fly.  Consequently, I found myself thinking ‘yeah, right’ from time to time.  But overall, the level of exaggeration was acceptable as a spice that complements the stew, rather than overpowering it.

The bad news, in my mind, was the concept of a hand-picked set of detectives, “the chief’s boys” as they were known, who worked outside the law.  I’d like to say that this team of detectives was presented as antiheros, but the feel of the book was more in the vein of ‘the ends justify the means.’  While I have enjoyed some novels where the protagonist dispensed justice when he/she had no faith in the judicial system, the boys found the law too cumbersome during their investigations, i.e., do whatever’s necessary to find the bad guys.  I have a hard time seeing this idea as heroic and this distaste tended to taint the story for me.
So, overall, if you are OK with a vigilante style of criminal investigation, Deadly Stillwater weaves a tense, well-paced yarn with somewhat stereotypic characters.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: Game Changer by Douglas E. Richards

The new trite in technothrillers?

Game Changer is a near-future science thriller, as brilliant neuroscientist Rachel Howard and Secret Service agent Kevin Quinn rush to stop a madman intent on using a game-changing technology to his own evil ends.

The book is well-paced, filled with narrow escapes and numerous twists.  While the general theme – the good and bad of messing with people’s memory – comes through from the very beginning, Richards provides an early twist that caught me off-guard and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  If there is a downside on pacing and plot flow, it’s that these general reversals of position become a bit repetitious, i.e., the good guys think they have everything in hand until we find that the villain is still a step ahead, over and over.  One or two fewer reversals would have worked for me.

Douglas Richards is a master at blurring the line between cutting-edge scientific research and suspenseful fiction, which is always a winner with me.  Nothing increases the pucker factor like not knowing whether I need to be on guard now…or if I can sleep tonight.  But I was also reminded that this technique achieves its full impact only if the reader knows something of the relevant science, and in this case, I was not aware of some of the specific neuroscience developments he was building upon.  So, as strange as this may sound, I got an even greater appreciation for the book by reading the author’s note at the end and checking some of the references.  If you are a techno-geek like me, I recommend it.

Perhaps I am reading too much in this genre, however, as I am becoming somewhat tired of heroes who are so atypical as to be more unreal than the technology that is supposed to be at the center of the suspense.  Take neuroscientist Rachel Howard.  Being a neuroscientist is somewhat distinctive by itself.  Then take the fact that she is so brilliant that she is by all accounts years ahead of her peers – yes, years – but is still humble and personable.  I realize that no one wants to read about the exploits of their neighborhood tax accountant, but a story with a few characters that weren’t super-geniuses or beyond world-class athletes or super-secret spooks might be nice.  Six-sigma personalities have become the new trite of technothrillers.

Even taking into account these minor peeves, which are probably mostly unique to me, I still found Game Changer a completely fascinating read, making me wonder anew which of the many variants of this game-changing technology we will see in our future.  Because, it will be one of them.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Review: A Cup of Murder (A Roasted Love Cozy Mystery Book 1) by Cam Larson

A break from the gut-wrenching tales

Generally, I read books with a fair amount of tension – anything from murders to end-of-the-world kind of stuff.  But occasionally, I like to give my stomach a break from the constant stream of acid and read a cozy mystery.  A Cup of Murder is one such book.  It is the story of Laila Rook, the barista at Roasted Love coffeehouse, who investigates the murder of the owner of a rival shop when her boss, Jacob, becomes the prime suspect.

True to the cozy mystery genre, A Cup of Murder places the emphasis on untangling competing theories about a crime, while minimizing violence and sex.  And so, it’s a relaxing, easy afternoon or weekend read.  The characters are generally well developed, although not complex.  The pacing is good.  Laila moves from suspect to suspect, theory to theory at a rate that generally holds your interest.  There were a number of other reviews that mentioned grammatical errors, and while I am not oversensitive to this issue – and commit my fair share of these blunders – I was not distracted from the story by grammar, making me wonder if these comments were based on a previous edition.

With the emphasis on mystery, rather than visceral stimulation or gut-retching gore, a cozy mystery needs to weave believable conflicting theories, or a story like this one becomes just coffee with cronies while they play detective.  In this regard, I believe A Cup of Murder could have done more.  Putting Jacob in the role of the prime suspect seemed a bit of a forced fit from the start.  And several of the alternative suspects were a bit of a stretch as well, which left the actual murderer.  In general, it seemed somewhat predictable. 

So, if you are a fan of the cozy mystery genre and don’t necessarily want your own deductive skills challenged too much, you’ll find A Cup of Murder a nice, comfortable read.  And you can save your antacids for the next read.

Friday, December 2, 2016

NaNoWriMo – Final Thoughts

NaNoWriMo Objective:  Write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November

My Final Word Count:  56,647

As I mentioned before NaNoWriMo started, I knew nothing about it other than the acronym was a bit underwhelming and my son had done it.  So, to correct the latter discrepancy, now I have as well.

As it ended, I thought about whether I’d do it again, and I think…probably not.  Not because I didn’t like it, or anything like that.  I enjoyed it a lot.  But it’s really geared for writers who are looking for their voice.  I tend to have the opposite problem.  I tend to become so lost in a story during the first draft that I can’t get away from the keyboard. So, all the motivational emails, word wars, and write-ins were lost on me.  I needed NaNoWriMo to send me an email saying, ‘take a break.’

There’s also the month they selected – November.  It tends to be some of the best weather in St. Louis, surpassed only by the spring.  So even with my writing fixation, it was hard watching the leaves falling on rural trails and not be out there.  I’ll probably go back to drafting novels in January and February, when the only alternative is watching basketball on TV while trying to stay warm.  I’ve even been toying with the idea of shelving both novels I have in first-draft form to work on a third in January.  It’s such a great month for writing in the Midwest.  We’ll see.

And last of all, I didn’t know this, but NaNoWriMo is a charitable organization, helping people get a taste of writing.  So, next year, I’m expecting an audit from the IRS, saying my contribution to NaNoWriMo has to be bogus, because I’ve never given to any organization that’s not health, outdoor exercise, or science/engineering related.  Well IRS, now I have.  And it felt like a worthy cause.

Happy writing,

Saturday, November 26, 2016

NaNoWriMo – Day 26

NaNoWriMo Objective:  Write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November

My Word Count as of the End of the Writing Day, November 25:  48,434

I guess for a writer of suspense and mystery stories, I haven’t done too well in real life. 

Yes, I have less than a typical day’s worth of writing left toward the 50,000-word goal, and five days to complete it.  At this point, I could write ‘The End’ 783 times and be done…not that that’s the plan, but I could.  Actually, the plan is to finish the first draft, which I would guess will be around 55,000 words.

At this point, I can say this book has been fun to write.  They all have been, in different ways.  This one, in particular, was a chance to try my hand at a faster paced thriller, with a touch of humor and a bit of romance.  But that’s one of the nice things about writing; a book in a new genre is just a story concept away.

What now, you may ask?  Beta reads; reviewing, revising, and editing; and then to publishing.  It will still be a few months before this book is out on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.  But these much less interesting parts of the publishing process will get done.

I will have one more NaNoWriMo post, sometime after the end of the month, to give you the last word count and my final thoughts on the activity. 
Happy Writing,

Friday, November 18, 2016

NaNoWriMo – Day 18

NaNoWriMo Objective:  Write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November

My Word Count as of the End of the Writing Day, November 17:  31,960

My characters have been better behaved, since their digression on Day 9, and so, I’ve had no need to delete their meanderings.  Progress has been slightly above the minimum requirement and fairly consistent.  I’ve gotten a bit ahead and I’ve stayed there…so far.  But you know how books are – lots of twists at the end?  That’s not the plan, but who knows.

As always, opportunities for tweaks have appeared in the course of this first draft, and I’ve written to them.  And, for the most part, I’ve returned to earlier sections to make the required adjustments.  I find that much easier than keeping long lists of changes I need to make on previous sections, and infinitely better than assuming I’ll remember.  That’s because, I don’t remember, and I end up paging back and forth until I run it down.

I’m also posting the first draft of Chapter 2.  Where Chapter 1 was some action, Chapter 2 gets more into the background of one of the main characters, Jeremy, and starts to build some of the suspense.  As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.

Happy Writing,

Saturday, November 12, 2016

NaNoWriMo – Day 12

NaNoWriMo Objective:  Write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November

My Word Count as of the End of the Writing Day, November 11:  20,433

So far, so good.  I’m a bit ahead of schedule, but again, I expect that slack to disappear over Thanksgiving, when it’s unlikely that I’ll write anything for a day or two.

For those of you wondering about the lull around Day 9 – was it just a day off, perhaps?  No, actually, I produced negative words that day.  I’m not sure about anyone else, but writing is not necessarily a linear process for me.  My characters sometimes go off on a tangent, and I have to reel them back in.  That’s what happened on Day 9 – several things I had tried weren’t working and got cut.  Then, things picked up again on Days 10 and 11.

I also promised some excerpts from the first draft, and today, I’m posting the first chapter on the NaNoWriMo Daily Progress tab.  Comments are appreciated, because this is pretty much what one of my beta readers will see when this manuscript is complete.

Happy writing,

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

NaNoWriMo – Day 1

NaNoWriMo Objective:  Write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November

My NaNoWriMo Word Count to Date:  0
(hey, I'm hitting the keyboard as soon as this goes live!) 

Be sure to check out my NaNoWriMo tab for daily updates on words written, and later, portions of the novel in work - comments appreciated!

 And now, let the writing begin.

Picture by mpclemens from Pleasant Hill, United States (NaNoWriMo: the home front) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

In the Space of an Atom Cover Release

In the Space of an Atom is my working title for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month.  Writing starts in less than a week, but the cover is here now.

Working Synopsis:

Jeremy Reynolds had been listless for a while now.  First, his girlfriend dumped him after 4 years, and he was in a funk.  Then, he lost his job as an accountant.  Yes, Jeremy was doing little and caring less.  But recently, he has found something that energizes him, something that gives him direction.  It’s called…running for his life.

Just as Jeremy is finishing the last in a string of low-paying, temporary market research gigs, the study assistant pulls a gun on him and tries to kill him.  When Jeremy bungles his way to freedom, he realizes that the technology in this study is much more than it first appears.  It’s enough to kill for.  But he also knows he is in way over his head.  So, when the lab and the would-be assassin disappear, and the police close the case, Jeremy is desperate for help.  He finds it in the beautiful, young Diane Stapleton, MD.  Now, the two of them match wits with the killers, in chases that take them where no one has gone before…in the space of an atom.

Friday, October 21, 2016

NaNoWriMo – Week -1

Word Count:  0

Until a few weeks ago, I only knew 3 things about the National Novel Writing Month, or as it is known, NaNoWriMo. 
  1. Its objective is to write a 50,000-word novel in a month, November specifically.  That's what caught my attention.
  2. Whoever came up with the acronym, well, let's just say it's not what I would have chosen.  So, I poked some fun...I mean, I posted some serious suggestions on this blog.  They haven't adopted any of them yet.
  3. It's something my son has done that I have not.  And of course, what Dad wants that, at least any time before he's 90 and the son is going to run with the bulls at Pamplona.  So, starting November 1, 2016, I'm correcting this situation.
Consider this my Week -1 post on NaNoWriMo 2016.
I thought about posting my progress each day.  But then, having feeds to Amazon Author Central, Google+, and Goodreads, as well as emails that say:

Nov. 1:  1,231 words
Nov. 2:  2,046 words
Nov. 3:  163 words
It could get a little old.  So, I’m planning a (more or less) weekly progress post, which will be limited to date, words written, and maybe a few comments about my aching wrists or blurry vision.  It’ll be short and sweet; after all, I can’t waste some good verbiage on anything that doesn’t count toward my 50,000.  
But for those who cannot stand the stress of not knowing, I’ve also created a NaNoWriMo page that will have the daily count (page updates don’t go out to everyone, like posts).  I even plan to put portions of this hastily created masterpiece on that page as I go along.  That should be entertaining!  And before you ask – why am I claiming X words when the page has a lot fewer.  Let me just say, the prose needs a little time to breath…and I need to make sure I don’t want to double back and dump it all before I post it.

Happy NaNoWriting,

Picture by mpclemens from Pleasant Hill, United States (NaNoWriMo: the home front) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Review: Saturn Run by John Sanford and Ctein

A Bit of a Slower Starter, But with a Strong Finish

Set in 2066, Saturn Run is the story of the race between the United States and China to reach an alien space station and obtain the advanced technology that is expected to be there.
In general, the book starts a bit slow.  Much of the first part involves the description of the various people on the mission and in the government on the ground.  It provides the fodder for the rest of the story, in somewhat of a systematic and plodding way, and unfortunately, with some unnecessary repetition. After the introductions and when the alien spacecraft is sighted, the government team transitions quite quickly from the threat to humanity that the alien technology poses to the threat to dominance that getting to Saturn second poses.  At that point, I asked myself, would we really dash off to an alien space base without considering self-defense more fully?  I was surprised that the government did not want to know more about the aliens and their capabilities before they went on what might become essentially an interplanetary burglary mission.  But that race forms the basis for the story.
The authors’ synopsis loosely compares this book to The Martian.  I can see that.  Both are based in space and require solutions to nearly impossible engineering problems for the characters to survive.  The big difference to me was that the issues in The Martian are related to ones that everyone can identify with – having air, growing food, making water…  I have a much harder time relating to the problem of dissipating 600-degree Celsius heat, which was the central concern in Saturn Race; however, the solution seems reasonable and ingenuous, although the means to encapsulate the molten metal so it does not form drops (rather than sheets) seems a bit of smoke and mirrors.
But other than the solution to this central engineering problem, the technology of 2066 seemed to have changed little.  The viewing technology – vids and screens – seems almost unchanged from today.  We seem to have no Artificial Intelligences onboard or working issues groundside as far as I can tell.  Implants seem to be something like cochlear implants – they seem to be hearing pings and communications.  And so on.  I guess I expected to see more tech of the future based on current trends and less of what we have today.
While there was some suspense and tension in the first part of the book, it ramped up quite a bit for me in the last half, and I particularly liked the series of twists at the end.  Every time I thought the crew had covered every eventuality, something unexpected happened.  Additionally, the book hit one of my sweet spots – specifically, avoiding the use of totally made-up, non-science that is required to save the day in many science fiction stories.  Don’t get me wrong – total fabrications can be fun and entertaining.  And something beyond current state-of-the-art is needed in any story.  But for me, to move beyond fun and into being a really absorbing read, you can’t pull the world away from the brink of destruction solely on the weight of a completely unbelievable capability.  It’s too cheap, too easy.  The authors avoided that pitfall.
Overall, early on, I was not sure I was going to get into this book.  But some of the tech caught my interest, and then, the way the tension and suspense built, I ended up liking it a lot.  I believe other fans of science thrillers will as well.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Book Review: Raven’s Fall by Lincoln Cole

Extending the Mystery and Character Development in this Second of the Series

Raven’s Fall is the second in the World on Fire Series by Lincoln Cole. 

One question readers often ask about a series is, do I need to read the books in order.  In this case, I would highly recommend that you do.  This work extends our understanding of a couple of the main characters, Abigail and Haatim, as well as our feel for the Council.  The foundation in book 1 is important to these developments.  And besides, you only need to see the acclaim book 1, Raven’s Peak is achieving, to know that it’s the place to start.

The first book used a formula featuring action, supported by some good character development and a touch of humor.  Raven’s Fall, on the other hand, delves much more deeply into the mystery and suspense of our demon-plagued world.  Most of this tension is created through the storyline, as unfinished thoughts and events that don’t quite add up fuel our interest.  But there are also occasions where, for want of a better description, we’re told there’s a mystery.  It occurs in conversations of the ilk, ‘you wouldn’t be mad if you understood.  So tell me.  No, I can’t, it’s too dangerous.’  These more blatant proclamations that there’s more than meets the eye are somewhat overused for my tastes.  But most of the mystery is resolved by a strong, action filled finale.

I said ‘mostly resolved’ because the book does end with a cliff hanger.  For readers that prefer books of a series that are self-contained, please be forewarned.

From book 1, it is clear that Abigail is somewhat reckless and clearly not bound by rules not of her making, i.e., the laws of the Council.  In Raven’s Fall, we learn much more about how flawed she might be.  Haatim, on the other hand, continues to adhere to his principles…at least for now, and achieves his successes through a combination of blind luck and knee-jerk reactions when he has no time to think.  He also engages in a series of mental debates with himself, which is fine in principle.  But sometimes, he goes back and forth so much that ‘paralyzed by indecision’ seems to fit his personality better than analytic.  And some of the dialog also involves these protracted debates.  When this happens, the story can drag a bit, but it generally moves at a good pace. 

We also get a more complex view of the Council, which seemed largely stodgy and out of touch with reality in book 1.  But in Raven’s Fall, it’s clear that their members are both more in-tune and more flawed than we might have thought.  It almost gets to the point where picking the protagonist and antagonist from the cast of characters is impossible, they all have their pros and cons.  Well, I guess the demons are always bad, but the good guys?  Not so much.
Personally, I loved that fact.  There’s no one white knight, which in thrillers is often the young, handsome Navy Seal turned brilliant neuro-surgeon after running an orphanage for 5 years.  Raven’s Fall offers us a wonderful quagmire of personal strengths and weaknesses, abilities and flaws, good intentions, successes, and utter failures.
So, if you are a fan of stories of the occult and the battle between sometimes and in some ways good vs. always and utterly evil, you’ll love Raven’s Fall.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Happy First Indie Author's Day!

Saturday, October 8th is the first Indie Author's Day.  Many of my colleagues are considering it a milestone, a recognition of what we bring to literature – new blood, a willingness to experiment (not always successfully), and a whole lot of words.  For me, I’m not sure what IA Day is.  Online, it’s only described as a chance for a “Q&A with writers, agents and other industry leaders.”  Maybe they’re going to try to explain to us the error of our ways, suggest we all find a traditional publisher, and until then, sew a red “I” on all our clothes until we do…but I’m probably wrong.

In any case, I wanted to take the day as an opportunity to mention some of my co-wanderers in the still emerging, wonderful world of indie publishing.  When I started this journey, I thought I knew what it meant to be an indie author.  Come up with an idea, sit at your laptop pounding the keys for several months, format your manuscript, and drop it online with your favorite eBook publisher.  Voila, you’re an indie author!  But when I did so, and saw my rank on Amazon – number 1,900,000+ in book sales – I was faced with a question much similar to that of the proverbial tree falling in the woods.  If you write a book and no one buys it, are you really an author?

I thought about answering this question in the affirmative and start pounding on book 2…but then, if nothing else, I decided I’d be missing out on part of my initiation into authorship.  After all, what could be better to hone your craft that the sting of book reviews and publishers’ rejection letters.  And so, my journey beyond the keyboard began.

As an experienced consumer and pretty much a ‘numbers guy,’ I knew the value of reviews and ratings.  And so, one of my first challenges was figuring out just how you generate them for your latest masterpiece or miserable failure.  Enter Goodreads (www.goodreads.com), which provides the new keyboard pounder lots of options.  It was in the process of deciding which of those options to use that I made one of my first, online indie author acquaintances, Emma Jaye (www.goodreads.com/author/show/7083115.Emma_Jaye).  Emma runs the Goodreads Review Group, the largest of its kind on Goodreads.  And while Emma has a fascinating background (check out her author’s profile), what sold me on her group was a comment in the Ask the Author section that remains one of her most popular responses even today.  Evidently, someone had friended her, and then turned around and asked her to review his book.  Her response?  ‘No, and I don’t appreciate the request…’  When I’m about to embark on a process that by definition involves multiple people, different personalities, and vulnerable egos, there’s nothing better than someone who knows their business and tells it like it is.  And she does.  Emma seems to be online all the time, running her group and dispensing advice and feedback to naïve writers like me.  And she has even found time to pen 20 books with quite enviable ratings.  Thanks Emma, for all you do.

It was in one of Emma Jaye’s review groups that I met the second indie author I’d like to mention, Laurel Heidtman (www.goodreads.com/author/show/8281100.Laurel_Heidtman).  One of my first memories of Laurel is…well, confusion.  That’s because she also writes under the name, Lolli Powell.  OK, I’m not such a rank amateur that I don’t know what a pen name is, but still, when you’re expecting a review from someone named Lolli and you start getting messages from Laurel…you get the picture.  But when the comments started coming back, my confusion disappeared.  Not only did Laurel/Lolli write a thoughtful review, but she also provided detailed feedback via Goodreads messages on some of my grammatical faux pas (hey, Laurel, is faux pas plural?).  You see, Laurel is a great source on grammar questions, and while I’ve offered to return the favor by providing some of my statistical expertise for one of her books…well, I guess she hasn’t found the right story yet.  Laurel also amazes me with her gung ho marketing approach.  I pretty much despise marketing my books – time wasted when I could be having fun writing pounding the keyboard.  But Laurel is always sending me links to marketing opportunities she’s found, information on the latest conference she’s attending, or offering to “blast” info on my latest promotions.  Maybe someday, I’ll start enjoying this marketing thing…but don’t hold your breath.

Last, but certainly not least, is Lincoln Cole (www.goodreads.com/author/show/7796821.Lincoln_Cole).  Of the three, I have known Lincoln the shortest length of time by far; I met him only about 3 months ago when I ran across the opportunity to review one of his latest books, Raven’s Peak.  I say, ‘one of his books’ because with Lincoln, you turn away for a moment, and he’ll be releasing another novel.  In fact, when I sent him a draft of this post on September 21, he said the second book in this series, Raven’s Fall, was already on Amazon.  I’m sure he’ll be rolling in the 5-star ratings on it too.  And what’s more surprising to me – writing’s a ‘spare time’ activity for him.  Go figure.  But even with writing and work demands, Lincoln’s always quick with a word of advice or a link to helpful information.  Case in point – when I was planning this post, I wanted to contact each of these authors, make sure they were OK with the idea, would not take offense at my off-beat sense of humor…or at least wouldn’t sue me.  By the time I finished sending all three messages, I already had a response from Lincoln thanking me!

Well, it’s not much of a tribute to Indie Author Day, but it’s mine.  It’s my way of saying thanks to a group that says, ‘we’re all in this together’ and means it!

Happy Writing…and Happy Indie Author Day,

Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review: Blackout by David Rosenfelt

A Quick Read with Some Suspense…but a Bit Trite

Blackout is the story of New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock, who in the course of an unauthorized investigation into notorious criminal Nicholas Bennett, is shot, falls from a balcony hitting his head, and goes into a coma.  When he awakens, he has amnesia, and so, he must relearn whatever made him such an irresistible target…while hopefully, saving the day before getting shot again.

Gun battles.  Dangerous knowledge about notorious criminals.  And yes, even some romance.  Blackout has a lot going on, so you won’t be reading long without encountering another challenge to be met and conquered.  And consequently, it seemed that the pages flew by; a couple of nights, and this one was back to the library.  Blackout also has a nice touch of humor, with a series of ‘lost my memory’ quips: ‘This is the best sandwich I’ve ever had.  Of course, I don’t remember having any sandwiches before yesterday.’  If there was any downfall in the humor, it was that Rosenfelt might have stuck with this basic formula a bit too long.  It was somewhat stale by the end…at least as long as you don’t get amnesia half-way through the book and get to enjoy it anew.

But my more general concern about the story was that, despite the continuous flow of events and characters, it felt somewhat trite.  The loose cannon detective with a death wish.  The trusty partner, faithful to a fault.  The jilted lover that our hero only wants after she is gone.  And even the twists – one was foreshadowed, one was predictable, and a third seemed like the end of about 20% of every TV police show.  I guess in bringing together so much well-worn territory, perhaps Rosenfelt created something unique.  But the tension was never fully there for me, because in its parts, it seemed to move to an inevitable conclusion.
Overall, the predictability of the story was mostly offset by the pace, making Blackout worth a couple of your reading nights.  Just don't expect to be laughing all the way through.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: The Simple Truth by David Balducci

The Simple Truth is anything but simple – in the telling anyway

The Simple Truth is the story of Rufus Harms, who recovers his memory 25 years after being convicted of killing a young girl.  That memory, however, proves his innocence, touching off a series of events involving smuggled documents and clandestine meetings, chases and gun battles, tense emotional drama, and yes, more murder.
Balducci does a good job, keeping the tension and suspense high.  While those seeking to aid Harms in clearing his name are known, only gradually do we learn of the forces united against him…often at considerable cost to the heroes.  Character development is good, as Rufus Harms comes to life.  The characters of John Fiske, a former cop and current lawyer, and Sara Evans, US Supreme Court clerk, however, are a bit murkier, as their love story, in particular, seems strained in the context of the ongoing action.  And the pacing is excellent, as the story flows from family arguments to murder to courtroom debates seamlessly and relentlessly.

To me, however, the most thought-provoking aspect of the novel was Balducci’s characterization of the US Supreme Court.  Who knows how accurate it might be, but it rings of truth, where relatively young clerks yield considerable power, justices horse-trade for votes for their favored causes, and justice for the case takes a back seat to setting enduring precedent.  The action kept me tense enough; this additional layer was gravy.

So, for fans of legal thrillers and murder mysteries, The Simple Truth will keep you on the edge of your seat to the final page…and maybe long after.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Walking for Words, Annual Report

This is my third installment under the title of “Walking for Words.”  The premise for posting about hiking in a writing blog is that much of what goes into my books comes to me during my daily walks and periodic hikes.

And so, now it’s time for my ‘annual report.’ 
It’s not exactly like I started jogging/hiking/walking on Sept. 8th in some past year.  I grew up hunting, hiking, camping, and fishing.  But my annual ‘ambulatory year’ ends on Sept. 8th, because that is the day (three years ago) when I stopped taxing my memory with the requirement that I record and reset my pedometer each evening and replaced these actions with, as you probably guessed, technology.  My approach happens to be a Fitbit, but just about any wearable device that automatically records daily steps (at a minimum) and syncs with your phone and/or computer would work.
So, how was my 2016 ambulatory year?  Not bad.  Over the three years of Fitbit recording, I’ve totaled 13,762,557 steps, which is an estimated 7,990.73 miles.  In 2016, I logged 4,490,729 of those steps. 
Now that’s not all hiking, unfortunately.  It includes everything from some fairly strenuous mountain hikes to wandering over to the frig to forage for a snack.  And my morning strolls in search of caffeine probably account for something like 1.6 million of those steps each year – 7,000 or more steps a cup, several hundred days a year.  It adds up.
A few of the highlights for 2016.

Several hikes in Sedona, AZ.  When you’re staying in a cabin practically in the shadows of Cathedral Rock, you have lots of opportunities. 

Some hikes in Washington state, including one of our all-time favorites – Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge and a round trip between the National Park Inn near the entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and Paradise Inn some six miles away and 2700 feet higher.  Lunch at the half-way point never tasted so good.

And a hike in the Mount Denali State Park, Alaska.  It wasn’t up Mt. Denali – I didn’t list mountain climbing as one of the activities that added to my steps for a reason!  It was on the Little Coal Creek trail, which gave us great views.  And since the locals were saying they had hardly seen the mountain in two months, due to rain and cloud cover, we were lucky indeed.
Well, with all that – the great scenery, wildlife, and yes, sore muscles – I should have memories to cover another book or two.  Of course, I’ll need to keep going, just to work out the details.
Happy Writing,

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Book Review: The Scorpion by John A. Autero

Where Your Politics May Influence Your Reaction

The Scorpion is the story of a government cover-up and the efforts of three friends to reveal the truth about it to the public.

The book has good pacing and action.  Right from the first chapter, the reader is placed into a suspenseful and rapidly evolving situation.  Character development is good, as you get a solid feel for the traits and dispositions of each of the friends, both through the story and by way of anecdotes from their past.  The latter form of familiarization, however, continued well into the novel and after a while, it seemed somewhat distracting to the main plot.  Similarly, noting that the main figure drove with his hands at 10 and 2 to illustrate, I assume, his careful nature, became somewhat redundant by the end of the book.  But overall, the characters seemed realistic and quite believable.  And as is often a plus for me, the author dips his literary toe into some advanced technologies, including two that are primarily extensions of current research and a third that is more futuristic, substantially adding to my enjoyment of the yarn.

My primary concern about the book involved what seemed to be an internal disconnect in the plot.  Specifically, the cover-up described in the book involved a project that had consumed ‘trillions of tax dollars,’ implying a long-term, manpower intensive project.  It also involved technology that would be easily discoverable by the public at large.  And yet, it was secret, attesting to the measures the government must have taken to keep it hidden during development and deployment.  The friends, however, learned of the situation when computer equipment from that project was discarded and was being sold on eBay or dumped in public landfills…without being erased.  It was this disparity between portraying the government as both extremely efficacious most of the time and as incompetent as the Keystone Cops in this specific case that troubled.  I suppose it’s possible…but it would be unusual.

Finally, a word to the potentially interested reader.  Depending on your political leanings, you may characterize the primary protagonist as a patriot, bringing governmental corruption to light, or an anarchist, undermining solid public policy.  In the case of the cover-up in this specific story, the governmental corruption being revealed was clearly one of self-centered and morally bankrupt behavior.  But in the main protagonist’s musings about what to do, much more controversial topics are mentioned, e.g., the government’s right to require people to wear seat belts.  Depending on your leanings, you may or may not have difficulty getting behind the main character as a folk hero.

So, for readers who enjoy tales of governmental conspiracies, laced with high tech undertones, and the efforts of others to bring these excesses to light, you will find a good story in The Scorpion.
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Laurel Heidtman’s Countdown to Indie Author Day

One of my good virtual friends and author, Laurel Heidtman, is doing a countdown to commemorate the inaugural Indie Author Day, October 8, 2016.  She is featuring one Indie Author each day…and today, September 2nd, is my 15 minutes of fame (http://www.ridgewriter.com/92---bruce-perrin.html).

Why do we support each other like this?  Well, it’s not like one story or writing style fits every reader.  And besides, who else is going to sympathize with our struggles?  Misery loves company…

Drop by her website and virtually meet a new Indie Author every day.  Celebrate the diversity we introduce into the reading ‘gene pool’ and maybe discover the next great American author.

Happy writing,

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Review: Personal by Lee Child

Maybe A Challenge Too Far?

Personal is one of the Jack Reacher series, for those readers of Lee Child who might be reading this review.  And as such, the main protagonist, Reacher, takes on nearly impossible odds, using his considerable analytic and street-fighting skills to…well, if I tell you the outcome, you won’t need to read the book, right?

In the first third or so of the book, I thought this might end up being my favorite Reacher story of all time, and I have read a lot of them.  But by the end, I can say it was OK, but certainly not top of my list.  As always, I enjoyed the action.  The way Reacher analyzes each brawl, punch by counter-punch, is always interesting.  And as always, I greatly enjoyed the way he dissected the situation, finding patterns and conclusions where I might have seen half of them (giving myself the benefit of the doubt).  And as is often the case, Child left a final twist that I had pretty much overlooked…until Reacher laid it out.  It was a typical Reacher story, well done…for the most part.

My quibbles are small, but concerning.  First, the initial text, and the dialog in particular, was terse.  He kept mentioning the ‘Socratic Method’ in these quick-hitting, back-and-forth exchanges.  Initially, it seemed OK, but as the plot unfolded, it seemed to be more meandering, less pithy, and as a result, the story became a bit tedious.  Later, as the tension built, it seemed that Child transitioned to longer, more complex prose and dialog.  I am not sure if this is a specific technique to show or produce a feeling of urgency, but it seemed to help some.

Second, Reacher always faces long odds.  It’s part of his appeal – to pull off victories in the face on nearly insurmountable obstacles.  But in this case, the opposition seemed so broad, varied, and capable – well, it stretched the bounds of credibility just a bit too much.  Obviously, this is a fine line, but one that Child seemed to cross in the case of this story.
So, if you're a Reacher fan, or a fan of action thrillers where analytic skills and street smarts are pitted against Herculean challenges, you'll get enjoyment from Personal.