Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Walking for Words – Crater Lake, Oregon

Authors don’t live by writing and caffeine alone.  For me, I also crave a bit of hiking, and so, from time to time, I add a “Walking for Words” post … just for a change of pace (pun intended).  This time, it’s Crater Lake, Oregon.

Crater Lake is known for its deep blue color and clarity, which I only partially captured since the day was overcast (as if my phone could really capture the beauty).  At a depth of 1,949 feet, it’s the deepest lake in the United States, formed when the volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted some 7,700 years ago.  The resulting caldera was then filled by the heavy snowfall and rainfall of the area, the snow averaging over 500 inches a year.

The second day I was there (May 24), visitors were treated to a gorgeous sunrise, with the streaks of clouds in the sky matched by the fingers of fog over the lake.  Truly spectacular.

And finally, the obligatory picture of me, this time on the Rim Trail around the lake.  Most of it was still under snow, but with the road closed but passable, there was always a way to continue.  And speaking of continuing, time to get back to the latest manuscript if I’m going to have it out this year as planned.

Happy reading…and hiking, BmP 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Book Review: Doctor Perry by Kirsten McKenzie

Can an Improbable Cast of Characters Stop Dr. Perry?

Doctor Perry, a new release by New Zealand-based author Kirsten McKenzie derives its suspense from the question, can the improbable cast of characters she has assembled stop the nefarious Dr. Perry?  That Dr. Perry is evil is never in doubt – even the cover asks, ‘can you trust your doctor?’  But hanging in a delicate balance is whether the downtrodden and forgotten of the world can stop him?  Can Elijah Cone, a once famous but now forgotten football coach nearly bed-ridden with arthritis put up a fight?  Might Doctor Perry's totally subservient wife rebel?  Could the gregarious, plus-sized Indian woman, Sulia Patel, make any difference, even if she is one of the few willing to resist?  And the police?  If they are to make any difference, they’ll need to overcome their incredulity and do more than arrive at Dr. Perry’s location…soon after he has left.  Whether this motley crew will succeed is definitely in question to the very end, to the author’s credit.

The pacing of the book was good, with a range of people coming and going.  Many of them were grist for Dr. Perry’s malicious scheme, some were potential liberators, while still others seemed distractors added simply to build tension.  Or perhaps they provide groundwork for a sequel.  In any case, they did little to further the plot.  Some of the characters were well-developed, Elijah Cone and to a degree, Sulia Patel, being in that category.  But overall, the characters tended toward extreme stereotypes.  If you think of a bottom-line-driven, totally heartless retirement home administrator, you have Tracey Chappell.  Retirement home workers who looked the other way to keep their paycheck were in abundance.  The drug addict who never met a pill he didn’t want to snort or smoke was also there.  And several of these characterizations became well-worn by the end.

There was a small disconnect between the language of the author and the setting.  The latter was Florida, while the former was non-American, with words like ‘mould’ for ‘mold,’ and phrases that would be unfamiliar to the U.S. reader.  But the dissonance is slight.  More significant is the lack of a troubling technology at the heart of this book’s plot.  Masters of the medical thriller use examples that seem so real, readers wonder if they missed an announcement in the news.  The horror Dr. Perry wrought was a bit far-fetched, the suspense suffering as a result.

Overall, Doctor Perry is an entertaining book, although it requires some imagination to achieve thriller status.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Book Review: You Don’t Know Me by Aza Clave

An International Crime Mystery with Prevalent Erotic Elements

You Don’t Know Me is the debut novel by Aza Clave, the first book in the Hannah Hauptmann series, and a best seller in Germany.  Set in Berlin and Stockholm, it provides a look into the dark and heartless world of those caught in the European Refugee Crisis, circa 2015.  Anders Anderson leads the investigation into a series of grisly murders of immigrants to Sweden, as the hatred of the right wing of that country reaches the boiling point.  Hannah, on the other hand, is trying to rebuild her life after leaving her husband and accidentally bumping into Anderson, her long-lost love.

I had some difficulty getting into the book, the first third introducing numerous characters and being slanted toward erotica; some of the scenes are rather graphic (potential reader be forewarned).  From that point forward, sex shared the stage with the mystery more equally, but even at the end, the erotic element seemed overplayed.  It wasn’t ‘spice’ for one or two characters or a means to clarify someone’s personality, but rather, it was nearly a universal trait among the book’s figures, both good and bad.  As such, it did little to further the plot; at most, it helped explain the nature of some of the violence.

As for the mystery itself, it was generally well done.  The action and suspense build through twists and revelations at a good pace.  Tension would have been greater had the procedural elements been better done.  At one point, for example, law enforcement personnel were ‘tossing’ a sim card box between them, yet later, they found one of the killer’s prints on it.  No smudges?  And despite the brutal nature of the crimes – torture, rape, mutilation involving multiple suspects – the police had no physical evidence beyond those prints for most of the book.

English is not the author’s native tongue and in places, it showed.  For example, after finding a comfortable place to stay, Hannah “…glared at the striking maisonette.”   Glared?  Point of view was also an issue on occasion.  Sometimes it changed in the middle of a paragraph; other times, it was not clear for long stretches of text.  But overall, the story is well written, with the author’s descriptions of settings – the sights, sounds, and smells of them – being a strength.

Overall, You Don’t Know Me is an unflinching look at fictionalized atrocities occurring during the European Refugee Crisis of 2015.  With those strong roots, the book would have been better served with less focus on sex, which did little to progress the story, and more on procedural realism.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: Letters to the Pianist by S.D. Mayes

Letters to the Pianist Runs the Gamut of Emotions

There are scenes of hope and happiness in Letters to the Pianist, almost seeming like a fairytale when seen through the eyes of fourteen-year-old Ruth and her younger siblings Gabi and Hannah.  But soon the realities of war and its aftermath intervene and sadness descends as a life is lost or dreams are shattered.  There are also characters to loathe, individuals cruel and heartless almost beyond words.  Romance and love also find their way into the story, passionate in places but never graphic in its portrayal.  And finally, tension abounds, clearly the dominant emotion as the father, Joe, and Ruth find themselves embroiled in situations fraught with peril, literally fighting for their lives in the finale.  With finely crafted prose, author S.D. Mayes elicits the full gamut of emotions.  I have read books that have produced stronger feelings of anxiety or hope or affection, but I’m not sure I’ve read any that have elicited such range of feelings in the span of 400 pages.  Kudos to the author.

The pacing was excellent, as the author keeps you a bit off balance, always wondering what’s next.  Character development was also good, with Joe and Ruth in particular coming to life.  As with many books of this genre, I enjoyed the interplay of history and fiction.  Admittedly, I’m not that well versed on Britain during World War II and the players, although some are nearly universally known.  One of my few unmet hopes in this book was that the author had described some of her research in a note at the end.  However, I did fill in a few holes myself with online searches, again attesting to how gripping I found the tale.  Other than that, the finale at the Douglas-Scott estate was the only other issue, as it seemed a bit convenient, but it was an extremely minor concern given the strength of the story.

Overall, Letters to the Pianist is an excellent book, a truly griping story that will push your emotions to their bounds.

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Another Winning Opportunity

Enter for a Chance to Win 1 of 5 $75 Amazon Gift Cards

And you don’t even have to tell Mom it was free if you win…just why it’s two days late.  #giveaway #Amazon

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Book Review: A Harvest of Stars by Cecily Wolfe

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

There is little mystery to A Harvest of Stars.  In the synopsis, the author tells us that Locklyn (Lock) Gaines lives with a drunken, abusive stepfather, Bobby Wyatt.  Her mother is too sick to help.  The townspeople turn a blind eye. There are only so many ways that story can end.  Then, there’s the boy obsessed with her, Isiah Parker.  That storyline too has limited options.  But even with much of the mystery gone, the author keeps us immersed, running our emotions from despair, to hope, to hate … as we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Before getting into characters and plot, it’s worth mentioning to the potentially interested reader that the genre for this book is misleading.  At the time of this writing, it was listed as a children’s book on dysfunctional relationships and abuse.  To me, this book is adult reading, or at a minimum, advanced teens.  The violence is not graphic, but it’s tense and suggestive, especially toward the end.

The author uses a theme – child abuse – that’s virtually guaranteed to elicit our emotions.  Lock is in a desperate situation.  But for us to fully feel her pain, to despise those that want to hurt her or who look away, the writing needs to be crisp, the characters real, and the plot believable.  There are places where the author meets these goals quite well.  I liked, for example, the way Lock had romanticized her mother and father’s relationship, when objectively, it seemed little more than a one-night stand.  She had little hope beyond her dreams.

But while parts were good, the author could have done more.  The writing was a bit muddled, often repetitive, and very slow developing.  Many of the sentences were run-on.  The characterization of both Lock and Isiah was lacking.  Lock, for example, seems almost fatalistic in the final scenes, trusting to the same defensive ploys that had failed her in the past.  Isiah, on the other hand, seems the quiet, overly polite friend, until suddenly in the second half of the book, he develops a temper and fighting skills.  It seemed a very convenient shift in personality to support the plot.  And finally, it’s never clear how Lock’s dire situation is perpetuated, why the townspeople never help.  The great grandmother’s haughtiness is blamed, but would anyone really care after so many years?  Then, her mother’s poor life choices are questioned, but why does that reflect on Lock?  And through it all, everyone knows that Bobby is a vile, brutal drunk, but they still ignore injuries even Isiah as a child noticed.  It doesn’t add up.

Overall, the theme – child abuse – is bound to elicit our emotions.  But the possibility of making us really ‘live’ Lock’s pain wasn’t fully realized, weakened by some muddled prose, inconsistent characters, and implausible obstacles.

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

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