Category Archives: Editorial

Book Review: Heat by Stuart Woods

It Ain’t the Heat, it’s the Humidity

Reviewed by G G Collins     (Copyright 2015)

***** Stuart Woods, bestselling author of Santa Fe Rules and Foreign Affairs, proves once again he’s a great storyteller in Heat. Definitely a one-sitting read.

Available at Amazon

Available at Amazon

Jesse Warden is a convicted criminal biding his days in solitary confinement in the Atlanta Federal Prison. He is recruited by his former employer (DEA) to ferret out information in a small Idaho town. Two agents have already been killed in an attempt to infiltrate a dangerous cult called Aryan Universe. In exchange for this good deed—if he lives through it—he will receive a presidential pardon for a crime he didn’t commit.

With a new identity, Jesse drives to Idaho in a pickup truck equipped with hidden cellular phone and some hard cash. St. Clair, appears to be the perfect Disneyesque idea of small-town America. Every house is new paint clean with meticulous lawns and flower beds permanently held in a much earlier era. All is not right in this flawless community. Mysterious disappearances have occurred, but crime is rare due to swift and deadly punishment. The local police station is a high-tech marvel with all the bells and whistles money can buy.

The community’s children are taught at the First Church School where they are indoctrinated to hate people of other ethic groups. There are no excuses for absences and children are encouraged to tell on their parents if they speak against the teachings of the First Church.

Jesse is sent to the widow Jenny Weatherby who rents out one of her bedrooms. Jenny is far from the elderly widow-woman Jesse expected. He falls for her fast.

Another referral results in Jesse’s employment at Wood Products—the only business in town not owned by the cult. His ascent is swift at the plant and soon the sect invites him into their midst persuading him to give them financial information about the business so they can take control.

As Jesse passes one test after another he makes his way into the hierarchy of the treacherous Aryan Universe. On once such occasion he is brought into a vast underground armament. The bunker is extensive and fully stocked with food and water, huge amounts of ammunition and explosives, infirmaries and the latest equipment.

Jack Gene Coldwater, the Aryan Universe cult leader, fought until he ran out of wars and then proceeded to stockpile arms at a staggering rate preparing for his own hostilities which he teaches is inevitable. He dispenses death to his followers without blinking, tightening the ever shorter rope on those who remain.

Jesse doesn’t trust the DEA—a fellow agent set him up resulting in his incarceration. He fears for Jenny, her daughter, and his own daughter who was adopted after his conviction. In an interesting subplot Jesse obtains fraudulent passports as plan B, but the First Church foils his attempt at flight.

The climatic scene has all the explosive features of an action movie providing for a fun read. Woods reaches out and grabs one by the throat hauling the reader into a riveting adventure with an all too familiar and frightening theme.

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Book Review: “Liberty Falling” by Nevada Barr

Yearning to Breathe Free

Reviewed by G G Collins     (Copyright 2015)

***** Reports of ghostly sounds by the night Park Ranger on Ellis Island has Anna searching the historic landmark’s creepy abandoned buildings. But what has brought her to New York City is her sister’s illness. It’s a heart-wrenching time for Anna in what is one of Barr’s best stories.

Liberty Falling by Nevada Barr Berkley, Penguin Group

Liberty Falling
by Nevada Barr
Berkley, Penguin Group

In Liberty Falling Barr reached a comfortable place writing Anna, the park ranger who grapples with murder in every park she works. The nice thing about this series is that Anna is such an authentic person, er, character. We like her because she screws up. She battles alcoholism, she struggles to express her feelings and she knows who we are because she is us. It’s the perfect combination of human weakness quelled by the strength we all somehow muster in challenging times.

In this remarkable chapter in Anna’s life, she has come to New York because her sister, Molly, is gravely ill. Molly is a very important person in Anna’s life: part sister, part mother. The problem is that Molly, too, needs a confidant. While she is a successful therapist, she does everything wrong as far as her own health is concerned: smokes, drinks, no exercise. It has finally caught up with her and she lies in ICU at Columbia-Presbyterian where she underwent bypass surgery complicated by pneumonia.

Anna’s former lover Frederick Stanton is also standing vigil and as steadfast readers know, he is now smitten with Anna’s sister. His obvious love for her sister as he reads to the unconscious woman causes conflicted emotions for Anna, and the romantically inclined attentions of Molly’s doctor further confuse her. No longer on the wagon, Anna sips the deadly brew to fortify her sagging soul.

To be close to Molly, Anna’s staying at a friend’s house on Liberty Island. When a fourteen-year-old girl takes the express route down the Statue of Liberty—usually 354 claustrophobic steps and a hot two-hour climb—Anna’s attention is diverted from her sister. A visitor to the statue claims that a park employee pushed the dead girl. Anna likes the accused, in spite of knowing Hatch for only a short while, and can’t help doing a little investigating on her own even though she has no legal authority. When Hatch is found dead at the base of Lady Liberty some herald it as a guilt-induced suicide but Anna thinks it may be murder.

Missing the open spaces in her home park of Mesa Verde, Colorado, Anna goes exploring Ellis Island, part of Liberty State Park. One building has been painstakingly restored to its lavish 1920s design but the others remain sad ruins of another era. During its day, 10,000 of the masses passed through Ellis Island each day hoping for a new beginning. The building consisted of a huge immigration center and state-of-the-art (at the time) hospital including operating theaters and autopsy facility. Today, the same numbers visit the compound and wonder what it must have been like. You will too because Barr describes it well and you almost feel lost in time.

What she finds leads to a conspiracy of death and destruction if Anna can’t uncover who is behind it. In the final spellbinding pages Anna attempts to thwart a pernicious plot at Liberty’s feet in Barr’s shining homage to the best and worst of humankind.

Liberty Falling does not fall short of expectations and instills in the reader a new appreciation for those who came before—yearning to breathe free.

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Liberty Falling (Anna Pigeon Mysteries Book 7)
Berkley, Penguin Group ● 352 pp ● March 1999 ● Now available on Kindle

To read the full poem written by Emma Lazarus and learn about Liberty State Park go to http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm. Lazarus died four years after writing the poem at age 38. It is unclear if she ever saw Liberty standing.

 

Book Review: “Star Witness” by Lia Matera

The Truth is Out There

Reviewed by G G Collins     (Copyright 2015)

***** Willa Jansson was all set for a three-week no-brainer holiday when she made the mistake of answering the telephone. In a few moments, visions of idyllic beaches and languid hours vanished. Psychiatrist Fred Hershey called in a favor and Willa is hard-pressed to say no in this delightful romp through the strange.

Star Witness by Lia Matera Simon & Schuster

Star Witness
by Lia Matera
Simon & Schuster

For the past year Willa has been coasting along as a multimedia attorney—mostly because she thought it sounded cool and she’d been unemployed when the opportunity came along. Hershey wants her to defend a client accused of manslaughter in a hit and run accident with bizarre extenuating circumstances.

In this case of tabloid proportions, the accused, mushroom authority Allan Miller, maintains he can’t remember the accident happening. Under hypnosis he confessed to being kidnapped by aliens where he underwent gross experiments. Even he would rather he be guilty of the crime than admit to what his subconscious maintains happened during a period of missing time. (Cue eerie music.)

As Willa reluctantly investigates the earthly possibility that her client committed this crime, the other world of UFOs and alleged abductions comes to the forefront. A crop circle is found in a field by a local citizen who attracts believers to Santa Cruz from all over. Shades of Roswell! Even Willa experiences missing time and struggles with trying to explain it to herself.

It appears the provincial law has not done a compelling job of examining the evidence. Certainly tire tracks were not found in the Brussels sprout field. The car in question had to sail off the cliff adjacent the growing cruciferous veggies in order to land atop the car below. Willa is determined to look for terrestrial evidence to clear her client.

To offer a balanced defense she requests the least kooky UFO specialists she can find. Unfortunately they can’t agree among themselves just how to explain, let alone prove, UFO abductions.

Other witnesses are afraid to testify due to the financial and social ramifications. Willa is fired when the firm catches on to the shenanigans going on in Space People’s Court.

Further complications arise because of a well-known columnist who has been sitting in on the testimony. He exposes Miller’s long ago doctoral thesis which posed the theory that mushrooms may be an alien life-form, opening the prospect of Spore Wars. Well, you get the idea.

Willa’s fruitcake mother shows up ready to organize a demonstration. She has a long ago connection to one of the UFOlogists, but to avoid upsetting the trial her daughter scuttles her back home before she can cause anymore hullabaloo.

Matera doesn’t draw any conclusions regarding the legitimacy of UFO reports or abductions, but getting there is a hoot. As we all know, the truth is out there.

Star Witness (A Willa Jansson Mystery, Book #6)
Simon & Schuster ♦ 255 pp ● June 1997 ♦ Now available on Kindle

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Book Review: “Act of Betrayal” by Edna Buchanan

Britt Montero Never Takes “No” For An Answer

Reviewed by G G Collins     (Copyright 2015)

*****  Miami.  Bold, sizzling and dangerous. Police reporter Britt Montero is front and center when it comes to danger in this breathless slam-bam thriller from author Edna Buchanan.

Act of Betrayal Edna Buchanan Available at Amazon

Act of Betrayal
Edna Buchanan
Hyperion

It was no surprise when Alex Aguirre’s life was extinguished in a car bombing outside his employer, WTOP-TV. His outspoken commentaries put him in disfavor with Castro, Miami’s high-ranking politicians, The Miami News, the Mafia, CIA, even the U.S. President. Perhaps most menacing is Juan Carlos Reyes, a rich and powerful anti-Castro revolutionary.

A persistent parent grieving his missing son approaches Britt in the newsroom. She reluctantly agrees to do some checking when she remembers another missing boy of similar description. Missing people are nothing new, and rarely news. Most either turn up or don’t want to be found. But the age cluster these boys belong to is the most difficult to find. They are too young to be missed immediately by family or day care; not old enough to be easily tracked by Social Security number, driver’s license or credit cards.

As her investigation evolves, Britt learns that there are other missing boys, all fair-haired, blue-eyed and close in age. The police develop a task force—for political reasons. Parents of the missing boys, encouraged by her inquiries, form a support group. The families revive their hope that the children will be found unharmed.

Britt is exasperated when ordered to do a political interview with Juan Carlos Reyes, during one of her busiest seasons—late summer, the high season for violent crime.  Although of Cuban descent, she abhors Cuba and its politics preferring to concentrate on making a difference in the here and now. She blames her superior, an incompetent token-type, but then learns that Reyes specifically requested her.

Britt approaches Reyes with trepidation. His vehement outbursts against The Miami News are legendary. Surprisingly, he is quite charming and alludes to knowledge of her mother (a relationship?) and long-dead patriot father—assassinated by the Castro regime. He tells her of a diary her father allegedly kept until his death, hinting that he may be able to place it in her hands.

When Britt tells her mother about the interview with Reyes, mom promptly pulls a vanishing act leaving Britt alone in a restaurant. Britt’s calls remain unanswered along with her attempts at personal contact. Mom’s uncharacteristic behavior leaves Britt baffled.

Confusion becomes her constant companion when Jorge Bravo, another Cuban insurgent, protests her interview with Reyes claiming him to be a traitor. He scoffs at Reyes statements about her father’s journal. Bravo, a man nearly spent by his compulsion to liberate Cuba, does produce a photo of her father as a young man.

While Britt sorts through clues to the missing boys and tries to determine who she can trust regarding her father’s writings, a hurricane of gigantic proportions rages in from the Atlantic threatening to wipe out the city. When it rains, it pours!

The trail of lost sons reaches its apex during the worst hurricane to strike Miami in fifty years. With all emergency help cut off (“Miami, you’re on your own.”) Britt abandons her storm post to confront the man who knows the truth of her father’s execution. Putting her own life at risk, she exposes the work of a heinous killer.

In Act of Betrayal Britt Montero establishes that a woman alone is not helpless but can be a powerful force during life-altering events. Britt lives life with resourcefulness and grit, never taking no for an answer in her quest for a breaking story.

Act of Betrayal by Edna Buchanan (Britt Montero Series Book 4)
Hyperion ♦ 320 pp ♦ February 1996 ♦ Now available in Kindle format

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#Women #Authors in TSRA’s Hall of Fame (So Far…)

From Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Honored to be among the women on TSRA’s Authors Hall of Fame. Thank you Chris for supporting authors and writing in a BIG WAY!

 

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

FYI

Out of the 387 Authors in my

Authors Hall of Fame

239 are Women

and here they are

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Book Review: “Tombstone Courage” by J A Jance

Sheriff Joanna Brady is Every Woman

Reviewed by G G Collins     (Copyright 2015)

* * * * * When last we saw Joanna Brady in series premier, Desert Heat, her husband was murdered while running for sheriff of Cochise County, and she was under suspicion for drug trafficking.

Tombstone Courage J A Jance William Morrow & Company

Tombstone Courage
J A Jance
William Morrow & Company

After she was instrumental in solving the case, which included corruption in the sheriff’s office, her friends urged her to run for the office once held by her father.

Joanna Brady’s first day on the job as sheriff is a stressful one. Two bodies have been discovered in the county, her chief deputy openly campaigned for one of her opponents and thinks the sheriff’s office is no place for a woman, and the ditzy office receptionist makes no effort to hide her hostility. Her personal life is complicated by young daughter, Jenny, when she has ambivalent feelings about mom’s new job. What if she gets killed too?

Joanna struggles to reassure her child, gain respect at the office, all the while sorting hideous clues involving one of the dead men, his estranged daughter and a lawsuit.

Holly Patterson, once a rising star in Hollywood and now a has-been, has come home with therapist and lawyer in tow. As an alleged victim of repressed childhood sexual abuse she is suing her father for his entire ranch. If she wins, it would displace her sister Ivy who has worked the ranch side by side with her father for forty years.

Before Holly’s father, Harold Patterson, has a chance to set things right he is killed leaving more questions than answers. Did Burton Kimball, Patterson’s attorney and nephew commit the crime in a drunken stupor after a blowup with his uncle? Ivy Patterson hasn’t spoken with her father for sometime because she has come to believe her sister’s accusations. Could she have murdered her father? She did, after all, delay overnight before calling authorities after finding her father’s body. No one knows much about Russian immigrant, Yuri, who has suddenly become engaged to Ivy. Was he looking at a quick ticket to citizenship?

Tombstone Courage refers to one of the ten tragic errors made by law enforcement officers–failure to call for backup. Sheriff Brady for all her pluck has yet to learn this valuable lesson probably because life has taught her to handle things on her own.

Joanna Brady, first woman sheriff in Cochise County, is a great character. She deals head-on with resentment, sexism, and political shenanigans with aplomb and when warranted, force.  Yet she is vulnerable to her child and everyday irritations such as runs in her hose. She shows cagey inventiveness as she assembles a new life for herself and her child.

This book isn’t really about law enforcement–the mystery almost gets in the way–but the exploration of the American woman on the move, meeting daily challenges, and rising to the occasion.

Every woman in America is not a sheriff, but Joanna Brady is every woman.

Tombstone Courage by J A Jance  (Joanna Brady Mysteries Book 2) 
William Morrow & Company ♦ 304 pp ♦ June 1994 ♦ Now available in Kindle format

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The Art of the Book Review

Both Reviewers & Authors Can Benefit from Thoughtful, Kind Reviews

by G G Collins     (Copyright 2014)

There is a discussion on the Shelfari forums about the book review rating system and the best way to review a book. If you want to read or take part:

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/101046/discussions/486865/5-star-rating-system

Here are my thoughts on the art of book reviewing.

I’ve been on both sides of publishing; working at a book publisher and as a writer. I began writing jacket and PR copy, then book reviews, moved on to reporting and now I write books too.

Mystery Scene Ed Gorman BookNo one ever sits down to write a bad book. Ed Gorman who is an award-winning author and former editor-in-chief of “Mystery Scene Magazine” once said: “You have to give the writer something.” Not just because that author may someday become famous, or that word will get around about your reviews and publishers will avoid you, but because it is the kind thing to do.

Book reviews should never be emotional in an angry or punitive way. Think how that author looks forward to seeing those reviews–with great anticipation! Having someone enjoy your book is better than money. It validates your hard work–and writing a book can take months, even years. Even fiction involves research.Book AP Stylebook

That said, you should be kindly honest. If the punctuation is poor (and make sure you’ve checked the “Chicago Manual of Style” or the “The Associated Press Stylebook” or some other good reference), then say something. Keep in mind not every book is meant to be “literary,” but it also shouldn’t be illiterate. Some books are written to be fun or adventurous or even fluff. That’s okay. If it’s not your thing it’s alright to state that, but don’t down grade for that reason alone.

I’ve never given a book less than 2 stars (or chiles or martini glasses). If a book is very poorly written, I don’t review it. And even if I do (rarely) give only 2 stars I always find something good to say about it too. So here’s how I assign stars:

1 star   –  I never give them. When I’m asked why by the publisher or author, I explain kindly–but not publicly.
2 stars – I explain what needs work and find something wonderful to say too
3 stars – Enjoyable and why, criticism might be a lack of research
4 stars – Good with a small criticism, maybe a chapter or plot element lost its way
5 stars – Excellent and why, what was that extra something that made it 5 stars?

Authors need to know what they are doing right as well as areas for improvement. If an author knows that readers really like their characters, that’s helpful. She/he will know that’s a strength and flesh them out all the more. If readers comment on the location, great, the author will dig out more local color. Maybe the climatic scenes are especially compelling. Terrific, add more suspense.

Book Tombstone CourageAnd if you’re a reviewer here’s a tip for getting “blurbed” on jacket copy and promotional materials: Always write a short catchy line that encapsulates the story. This is one of mine and it was blurbed over and over: “Every woman in America is obviously not a sheriff, but Joanna Brady is every woman.” (From J A Jance’s Joanna Brady mystery series.)

Reviewers and authors need not be an adversarial relationship, but a nurturing and helpful one that both can enjoy and learn from.

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Does Adventure Die With Childhood?

Adventure Fantasy: Why I Write

When I began writing fiction I was certain that mysteries were what I wanted to write. I’d read all of Agatha Christie’s books as a child, but by contrast, I read a lot of Stephen King as well. I just swear too much to fit into the cozy genre. I know very little about guns which kind of places the police procedural or crime drama out of reach as well. But I can’t get enough of paranormal anything and everything so I went for a paranormal mystery. And yes, there is a mystery in “Reluctant Medium” in that Rachel’s father died mysterious. Was it an accident? Was it a murder?

Windsurfing Adventure Public Domain

Windsurfing Adventure
Public Domain

After publishing, I even placed the book in the mystery category, but as I wrote the next in the series, “Lemurian Medium,” things took an even stranger turn. It has to do with the lost continent of Lemuria (also called Mu). And Rachel has to learn to travel the astral plane—reluctantly of course—to get there. And she will have to ride a dragon to escape. Okay, so we’re definitely getting into new territory, unexplored parts.

My wonderful, supportive Florida friend, I’ll call her Cherie, is a voracious reader. She introduced me to some of her favorite authors: Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilton. Then I discovered Patricia Briggs, Debora Geary, Jim Butcher and Elizabeth Hunter. Oh my, yes, good company indeed.

I did some research—something I love to do—and discovered the genre of fantasy, which is actually a subgenre of science fiction. It has a paranormal sub-subgenre and I went for it.

And here’s what fantasy is all about. Somewhere around the time we say “I do,” we take on a mortgage, a lawn and begin painting our house as a hobby. All that adventure we thought we’d enjoy as an adult evaporated. Most of us will not see the world, visit the space station or explore the Amazon rain forest. We’ll be too busy paying bills, doing laundry and oh yeah, painting our house, to be that adventurous person who lives deep inside ourselves.

Hiking the Inca Trail Bridge, Wikipedia Commons

Hiking the Inca Trail Bridge, Wikipedia Commons

We yearn for that incredible discovery that long-distance hiking or third-world travel holds. And while we may not want to dive out of an airplane or bungee-jump off Victoria Falls that thirst for the incredible journey won’t go away.

Which leads me to why I write fantasy. When I write this kind of story I can explore continents that may never have existed—but what if they had? What if there were dragons and we just haven’t found their remains yet? What if there is an astral plane and we can travel it? Where else can I fight (through my character) an ancient MesoAmerican deity that snacks on humans?

Rachel Blackstone can certainly do cynical, sarcastic and funny. She can also swear with the best of them. And on occasion, she and her friend Chloe smoke a bit of pot. And after dispensing evil spirits, Dracs and self-important (and hungry) antique deities, with the help of her spirit wolf and dead shaman friend, Rachel goes home, curls up with her psychic cat and writes her latest assignment.

Space Station, NASA Wikipedia Commons

Space Station, NASA
Wikipedia Commons

The answer to our lack of adventure is fantasy. The truly wonderful part of this book-writing thing; I get to go along too! We take this adventure together.

I hope you’ll share this trip with me. “Lemurian Medium” is due out September 1, 2013. It’s a fun story with a bit of fact and a bit of mythology—at least we think it’s mythological. What if it’s not? Hmmm.

Copyright G G Collins Available at Amazon

Copyright G G Collins
Available at Amazon

Read the adventures of the Reluctant Medium from the beginning.

“Atomic Medium” is already in the works. It will include alternative history, time travel and a space alien or two. After that, well, I feel a vampire story coming on. Maybe I can research that at a blood bank—or maybe not. One thing is certain, it will be fun.

— G G Collins

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Crystals & Stones From People Who Care

Hypnotic Gems is Real Jewel

Tiger's Eye Crystals: Gold, Red, Blue. From Hypnotic Gems. Aren't they nice?

Tiger’s Eye Crystals: Gold, Red, Blue. From Hypnotic Gems. Aren’t they nice? Copyright G G Collins

 

In an era when the words “customer service” strike fear into our hearts and cause us to feel defeated before we’ve even complained, rises a business whose owner really does know the definition of customer service. This business is Hypnotic Gems.

When I opened a box containing crystals a couple of weeks ago, I was dismayed to find one Tiger’s Eye broken into pieces. The shipper was a third-party and sadly didn’t pack the box as carefully as needed. When I checked in with their Web site, I found that I could only return the order rather than get the broken stone replaced. All I felt I could do was complain–but explained it was the packing not the lovely stones that had disappointed me.

David, of Hypnotic Gems, read my complaint and immediately contacted me. He not only replaced the broken crystal–at his expense–but tucked in a couple of surprises as well. I’m delighted to find this service-oriented business.

If you’re looking for crystals or stones, check out Hypnotic Gems. They offer gorgeous, generously sized stones–and they understand the meaning of customer service.

— G G Collins

Link to Hypnotic Gems storefront:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/browse.html?ie=UTF8&marketplaceID=ATVPDKIKX0DER&me=AJ1BPR2MX6D61

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Connecticut Shooting Tragedy

Sandy Hook’s Women of Courage

Moved to new commentary blog:

http://paralleluniverseatlarge.wordpress.com

 

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