Category Archives: Reviews
Not What We’ve Come to Expect
By G G Collins (Copyright 2016)
If you’re expecting a real spiritual journey like MacLaine’s exceptional books Out on a Limb or The Camino; Above the Line: My Wild Oats Adventure will be a disappointment. But if you’re interested in the behind the scenes on a film set, it might be appealing. Sadly, the back-biting, broken promises and how special actors are wasn’t what I was interested in.
I bought it with the promise of insight into Atlantis and an exploration of the Canary Islands. Neither really happened. In fairness, MacLaine is in her 80s and probably isn’t the fearless explorer she once was. No shame in that. We’re all lucky if we make it to the Third Age. Had this book been represented honestly by the publisher as a memoir from a movie set—I would have passed.
What I really wanted was more connection to Atlantis on the Canary Islands. Some believe that Atlantis existed where the Greek island of Santorini is now, so perhaps it was just the wrong location for the wisdom I was looking for.
If only the last portion about her injury and subsequent treatment had been left out: Thud! What did it have to do with the movie shoot? It’s a whole other story. And memories of life on Atlantis are suddenly pouring forth? I would have enjoyed reading these intermixed with revelations on the Canary Islands.
MacLaine has a lot to offer and I hope her next book is more astute and less aggrandizing.
Atria Books, 2016
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.
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.
Atomic Medium Free One Day Only
“We’re three women from two different centuries, trying to save the world from oblivion. I don’t know about you, but that’s way above my pay grade.”
New release, Atomic Medium, will be a free Kindle download Saturday June 20, 2015. One day only! It is Book 3 in the Rachel Blackstone Paranormal Mystery series. You don’t need to read them in order. The stories are all separate adventures for new psychic, reporter Rachel Blackstone. But reading them in order does show Rachel’s growth as a Reluctant Medium and how she became one.
Rachel and friend Chloe are drawn into a paranormal mystery that leads them straight into a historic year, 1945, WWII and the Trinity Test. It is a world of subterfuge, secrets and danger. If they can’t stop the men intent on sabotage, history will be changed. For Rachel and Chloe, it’s no small task: just save the world.
In Atomic Medium we learn how Kiyiya became Rachel’s spirit animal and there is a surprise about Chloe–one I didn’t see coming either. Mari-Lynn is back as the pot dispensing crystal expert, a boy helps out much to Rachel’s chagrin and the two friends may move on from misdemeanors to higher crimes.
It’s all adventure with a few laughs along the way. Thank you for trying Atomic Medium.
— G G Collins
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
A Little Bit of Heaven on an Autumn Day
By G G Collins (Copyright 2014)
As I walked up the steps to the huge courtyard at Museum Hill, southwestern music floated across the breeze to greet me. I could almost pluck the notes from thin air. Although the open space is large between the museums, the courtyard feels intimate with beautiful desert landscaping, en plein air sculpture garden and dedicated spaces. With the Sangre de Cristos as backdrop and storm clouds adding drama but no rain, it was a perfect Santa Fe fall day.
On this excursion I wasn’t covering the museums, but please don’t let that stop you. The “Hill” is composed of the Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Wheelright Museum of the American Indian, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Laboratory of Anthropology. You can stay the entire day and see them all. For a time-out, the Museum Hill Cafe provides food, drink, music and a place to rest tired feet.
Two things dominate the courtyard (also known as Milner Plaza), the Mountain Spirit Dancer by Craig Dan Goseyun. The massive bronze sculpture appears to be moving. Look at the fringe on his costume, the feathers caught up in his movement, the lightness of his feet. Throughout the courtyard the art runs from howling coyotes to mother and child. There is a performance circle included here for a cozy outdoor experience with the arts. But at the other end of the court is a labyrinth. Santa Fe is known for its many public labyrinths. This one is contemporary in style and is constructed using stones in the southwest colors of turquoise and coral. Set aside a few minutes and take a contemplative walk. Who knows what you’ll discover about yourself. There is another blog post about labyrinths at https://reluctantmediumatlarge.wordpress.com/?s=walking+meditation
I crossed the parking lot to the new-ish Santa Fe Botanical Garden. Phase 1, the
Orchard Gardens opened in July 2013. Phase 2, Ojos Y Manos: Eyes and Hands, is scheduled to debut in 2015. While wandering the grounds, notice the red bridge. Phase 2 will be beyond Kearny’s Gap Bridge.
While there, I enjoyed “Origami in the Garden” a series of metal fashioned through lost wax casting and fabrication techniques, by artist Kevin Box. Both whimsy and beauty are found in his work. From the his Rock, Paper, Scissors to Painted Ponies, they are all inspired creations with their origins in a sheet of blank paper. For more about his work: http://www.langorigami.com/art/gallery/gallery.php?tag=kevin-box
Coming up next is the GLOW, the winter lights event. It opens December 4, 2014 and runs through January 3, 2015. Along with the beautiful lights will be Santa Claus, music and hot toddies every Saturday evening. Tickets are $7 to $8 (non-members) with children 12 and under, free. To buy tickets: http://www.santafebotanicalgarden.org/events/glow/
There are many opportunities for education and community service. For more information: http://www.santafebotanicalgarden.org/about/
To reach Museum Hill and the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, take Old Santa Fe Trail southeast from the Plaza to Camino Lejo (there are Museum Hill signs along the way). Public transit is available. Please see for directions: http://indianartsandculture.org/directions
Whatever the season, Santa Fe’s Museum Hill and Botanical Garden is a little bit of desert paradise for all the senses.
Liza Marklund’s Journalist Character Makes Headlines
By G G Collins (Copyright 2014)
***** Many characters solve mysteries, but reporter protagonists can make their own headlines.
One I’ve come across lately is Swedish writer Liza Marklund who created Annika Bengtzon. Bengtzon works for the Stockholm publication Kvällspressen where she covers the crime beat.
Bengtzon, who is haunted by her past, is only comfortable as she unremittingly pursues her assignments, often risking her own life to get the story. At home where she is the mother of two young children and the wife of an impatient husband, she is much less confident. It is this juxtaposition that makes this series so interesting. She obviously loves her children, but doesn’t seem quite sure how to fulfill two full-time jobs; that of parent and reporter. Annika can’t seem to please her husband regardless. Her job is just too consuming for him.
At work, although the editor in chief Anders Schyman can be gruff, Annika is in her element. The work, however grim, nourishes her fragile ego. The reasons for this unfold as the series continues. But her pursuit of a story is engrossing. There is another question around every bend in the plot and questions are the best tool of a reporter. Unfortunately, sometimes the answers are dangerous, even deadly.
Liza Marklund is a journalist turned author and goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Her books have been translated into some 30 languages. It is reported that ABC-TV in the States will debut a series based on her novels starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead of A Good Day to Die Hard . But until then check out the excellent movies starring Malin Crépin as Annika. They are available at Amazon, in Swedish with English subtitles.
Marklund is a deft writer who tells a taut entertaining story with believable characters. She divides her time between Stockholm and Marbella, Spain. The first book in the series is Studio 69 (Studio Sex in the US).
Bohemian, X Person, Cultural Creative, Creative Class?
By G G Collins (Copyright 2014)
Test Yourself: Are you fond of the color black and wear it often? Do you cut your hair with full bangs? Do you share your life with a cat, ferret or duck? Has the dust on your furniture achieved new heights? Is noon an early call for you? Have you written across lines, rather than between them? Can you find lavender oil on your shelves? Do you pursue creative work?
If you answered affirmatively to several of these questions, you are quite possibly a Bohemian.
In Laren Stover’s Bohemian Manifesto: A field Guide to Living on the Edge, she suggests that there are five distinct Bohemians: Nouveau (they are the only Bohemians with money), Gypsy, Beat, Zen and the Dandy. This is a fun book to read even if you’re not the slightest bit “X.” If you recognize yourself, you can’t wait to turn the page. The illustrations by IZAK are a delight.
An archetypal book on the American class system is Paul Fussell’s Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. Go straight to Chapter IX, “The X Way Out,” and then read the rest. Fussell pokes fun at everyone and you can’t help but enjoy it—although the occasional stab can hurt a little. Learn how to tell what class a person is by how he pronounces words, what she drinks or wears, even the knickknacks found in their house (never home). Although a little dated, this book is a hoot!
Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class, is a thought-provoking read about the revolution in the workplace and the importance of place (first, second & third). Often considered a business book, it nevertheless belongs on the shelf. For a more collegiate read try The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World by Paul H. Ray, Ph.D. and Sherry Ruth Anderson, Ph.D. It defines the cultural creative and takes an in-depth look at the serious side of this renaissance, from ecology to corporate greed. See if you agree with them from the luxury of hindsight.
Throughout contemporary history there have been people who challenge the norm: the Impressionist artists, the Flappers, Beatniks, Hippies. Today’s young adults are invigorating downtowns in cities left empty by the White Flight of the 1960s. Once again our American downtowns are becoming vibrant and yes, creative.
Going against the tide takes courage. Stover had this to say: “Bohemians have the courage to reject mainstream society; to follow an ideal and forsake praise and security; to alienate family; to be, as Jack Kerouac put it, ‘yourself at whatever cost.’” Does that describe you? If so, you just might be a Bohemian.
Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge by Laren Stover, Bulfinch Press, 2004.
Class: A Guide Through the American Status System by Paul Fussell, A Touchstone Book by Simon & Schuster, 1983.
The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2002.
The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World by Paul H. Ray, Ph.D. and Sherry Ruth Anderson, Ph.D., Harmony Books, 2000.