Photography and Writing—And A Giveaway!

A.M. Dellamonica‘s first novel, urban fantasy Indigo Springs, won the 2010 Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic; a sequel, Blue Magic, was released by Tor in 2012. She has published short fiction in “Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine”, “Strange Horizons”, TOR.COM and over thirty other magazines and anthologies. (Her most recent short is “Among the Silvering Herd”.) A resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Dellamonica teaches writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Leave a comment below to enter the drawing for a copy of Blue Magic.

Anyone who has a cursory glance at my blog will be well aware that I take a shocking number of pictures. On a recent trip to Sicily, I came away with 1600 keepers–images I put on Flickr, in other words–out of about 4000 frames shot. In any given week in my home stomping grounds of Vancouver, I’ll usually take 30-80 photos. This despite the fact that I feel, at times, as though I’ve shot every square inch of the city!

It is a terrific exercise to continue going out to look at the supposedly unchanged world one lives in. I keep seeing new things within the familiar terrain of home, and even in places I’ve been to dozens upon dozens of times, I can easily take several hundred shots if I get good light conditions or the right subject turns up.

How does this tie into my fiction writing?

In one sense, it doesn’t. Writing’s my profession and photography my principal hobby. I work hard to become ever better at the one and the other I try to just enjoy. I’ve improved as a photographer over the years–take that many pictures and it’s a hard trick not to get better–but it’s something I do for pleasure and I don’t let myself get angsty over it. Taking photographs is something I do to get out of the house, catch sunlight and fresh air, to refill the creative well, catch glimpses of cool birds (I’m insanely fond of birds) and–no small thing, this last–to spend time with my mother, who’s similarly inclined.

But I also strive not to compartmentalize my life unnecessarily, so all of my hobbies do bleed back into my fiction: how could they not? Just as I’ve written about students of aikido and knitters and singers, I have a fair number of stories about photography and photographers. The heroine of my next trilogy is a professional wildlife videographer: she goes on science expeditions and shoots video of narwals and nesting eagles and all manner of cool wildlife.

(The benefits here are that the research for this particular angle in my series is done for me. I know in my bones what it’s like to shoot pictures of wild animals. This character also allows me to indulge in a fantasy life where the part of me that hasn’t travelled much gets to shoot beautiful wildlife footage with a super-expensive camera, and the part of me that doesn’t particularly care for camping, rock-climbing, cold, wet or other extreme pursuits gets to stay home by her fire.)

Before I got a digital camera in 2005, I kept a Polaroid for memory-jogging purposes. I could take a picture with it and immediately write down what had struck me about the subject of the photo. It was inefficient and not always very effective, but I kept trying, because my visual memory is quite poor. I have trouble recalling how people look or the appearance of places I’ve seen… unless I’ve had multiple repeat exposures. I do much better if I go home with the image on a chip and browse them again later.

I am also newly in love with how social photography has become. It’s a second honeymoon. I had been getting a bit of camera fatigue before technology evolved better-for-me options for photo editing (through the iPad and its App store) and the social networking possibilities of Instagram. Now I am snapping every square inch of my home city yet again, so I can post the images in a new forum. In the process, I’m seeing it all anew one more time.

P.J. Rey and Nathan Jurgenson talk about documentary vision in this blog post (http://pjrey.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/ambient-documentation-to-be-is-to-see-and-to-see-is-to-be/), describing it as a tendency “whereby we increasingly experience the world as a potential social media document.” The stuff of daily life, in other words, is more and more becoming something we automatically consider not only recording but posting publicly. Would this coffee make a good Tweet? Why not? Should I tell the whole world I’m in line to see “The Avengers”? Sure!

I see this tendency in myself, but I have a counterbalancing example that I always set against it. When I was on a trip to Greece in 2001, I saw people walking through incredible museums and historical sites, passing innumerable treasures… and a few of them had their video cameras pasted to their faces. I’m talking about tourists who’d come Deity knows how far, and who never looked at what they were there to see: they just recorded it.

I vowed to never become that person, and no matter how in love with capturing the image I get, no matter how much I may want to post every single espresso and star magnolia blossom and Stellar’s Jay I come across, I make a point of taking the shot, lowering the camera and looking at the subject with the naked eye and my full attention. Because obvious though it may sound, it’s important to experience the world directly.
Especially if you want to write about it later.

LINKS, LINKS, KABILLIONS OF LINKS
My Official Site: http://alyxdellamonica.com

Social Networking
LJ: http://planetalyx.livejournal.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AlyxDellamonica
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/AlyxDellamonica
G+: https://plus.google.com/106086459950640246872/posts

Photography
Tumbler (mostly Instagram Photos): http://alyxdellamonica.tumblr.com/
Gramfeed: http://www.gramfeed.com/alyxdellamonica
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14036428@N00/

Teaching
The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program: https://www.uclaextension.edu/

Tor Stuff
All my TOR articles:  http://www.tor.com/Alyx%20Dellamonica#filter
TOR Stories: “The Cage” – http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/07/the-cage
“Among the Silvering Herd” –  http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/02/among-the-silvering-herd
“Wild Things” (coming)
First chapter of Indigo Springs – http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/11/indigo-springs
First Chapter of Blue Magic – http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/03/blue-magic-excerpt

News, fiction, articles: http://alyxdellamonica.com

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You might win a print copy of Blue Magic by A.M. Dellamonica!

Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in the

drawing. There will be two winners and the names

will be drawn Saturday evening and announced on Sunday.

This drawing is open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Book Review: The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

The Way We FallThe Way We Fall
Megan Crewe
Disney Hyperion, January 2012
ISBN 978-1-4231-5322-1
Ebook
Also available in hardcover

From the publisher—

When a deadly virus begins to sweep through sixteen-year-old Kaelyn’s community, the government quarantines her island—no one can leave, and no one can come back.

Those still healthy must fight for dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of friends and family, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save the people she holds dearest.

Because how will she go on if there isn’t?

Islands have frequently been a favorite setting for fiction involving some sort of disaster, natural or otherwise, and the reason is simple—the reader knows there is a likelihood there will be no rescue from the outside and the islanders must fend for themselves in the best way possible. That distinctly ratchets up the anxiety level for the characters and the reader. Such is the case with The Way We Fall and the author has created a really good story with moments of both frustration and suspense that builds as tension increases. [Note: this book is frequently categorized as a thriller but that is really not accurate as the pacing is, at times, rather slow.]

The idea that teens would be the ones to develop a foraging and distribution system for food, medications and other necessities is certainly not new but I think it works better in this novel than in some others. In the event of an epidemic, it would be very natural for the adults with expertise, education and certain skills to concentrate their attention on the most pressing details which, in this case, is the unidentified virus and its extremely high death rate. This scenario also works because the island is initially well-provisioned with food and other needed items and it’s not until the electricity fails that the adults become more cognizant of the world outside the hospital doors.

As you might expect, there are islanders who take advantage of the situation but this was one area in which I felt something of a void. I really would expect some of the miscreants to be adults and that there would be far more looting and violence. In a way, although some readers might see this as a means of making the story more appropriate for younger readers, I just felt it showed an unrealistic mildness, with an almost  dumbing-down effect.

Kaelyn is a well-rounded character and we see her compassion, intelligence, strength and self-reliance, as well as some indications of very natural fear and a longing for a grown-up to take charge. Tessa also is an appealing character, as is Gav, but I definitely felt a desire to know them better and I hope Ms. Crewe will offer more in the next book. Other characters were less developed and, as a result, didn’t generate much empathy on my part with the possible exception of Kae’s brother, Drew. I must say, though, that it was very refreshing to find a central character who is biracial and another who is homosexual but the author does a nice job of showing how a person who is different is regarded without hitting the reader with a two-by-four.

The one character that I felt was decidedly lacking was Kaelyn’s father. I just don’t believe that, even though his expertise made him crucial to the work of identifying and treating the virus, he would be so neglectful of his own family. It was as though he took the “needs of the many” much too far, with dire effects.

Overall, The Way We Fall is an entertaining story and, although it certainly has some slow passages, it still manages to be a quick read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy, The Lives We Lost, due out next February.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2012.

Book Review: Darkness All Around by Doug Magee

Darkness All Around
Doug Magee
Touchstone Books, October 2011
ISBN 9781439154021
Hardcover

Memories are tricky. Sometimes they can be wonderful but sometimes they can reveal awful truths. When you’ve lost your memory, you could be in real trouble. Especially if pieces of the past start filtering through the blockage. When enough of the past seeps through, what’s revealed could be devastating.

Sean Collins left Braden, Pennsylvania at a bad time in his life. He was an alcoholic, his marriage was falling apart, and one of his friends, Carol, had been brutally murdered. Ten years later, he has recovered from an accident that nearly took his life. He’s also remembering pieces of his past and those pieces are telling him he may have killed Carol. Returning to Braden, he finds his former wife, Risa, married to a high school friend, Alan Benson. Benson is in the middle of a hot campaign for Congress. The lives of Alan, Sean, and Risa are about to change when more of the truth is revealed.

A good soap opera type mystery. Magee keeps the tension tight as his characters plunge into turmoil. Who can be believed? What’s the truth? Who can be trusted? The book mainly bounces between Risa and Sean. Risa must deal with an ego driven, power hungry husband and a potentially violent teenage son while Sean struggles to survive and reconcile with his faulty memory. There’s also a reporter looking for the truth and being hounded by his editor. This story contains a lot of good character interaction with an obligatory surprise at the end.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

There. Now I Feel Better.

Karen PullenKaren Pullen’s award-winning short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler, Every Day Fiction, Crime Scene Scotland, and the anthology Fish Tales. She earned an MFA in Popular Fiction from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. She runs a bed & breakfast in Pittsboro, North Carolina, where she teaches memoir writing and fiction workshops. Her first novel, Cold Feet, will be published by Five Star in January 2013. Updates on Karen and her writing may be seen at www.karenpullen.com.

I am a mystery writer who also owns a bed & breakfast.  As soon as anyone hears of this professional conjunction, he or she will say, “You should write a mystery set in a B&B!”

Well, yes.  And I have, sort of.  Cold Feet has scenes that take place in a B&B.  But I wouldn’t call it a “B&B mystery” because most of the action takes place elsewhere, and my sleuth is a cop, not an innkeeper.

But in one respect, running a B&B has fed my writing.

In the 12 years since I opened Rosemary House, approximately 10,000 people have slept in my beds. To be honest, I don’t remember most of them: pleasant, well-behaved, sociable guests don’t make enough of a long-lasting impression in the bit of time that I spend with them.  I enjoy talking with them, I hope that they enjoyed their stay, and I ask them to come back soon. Then I get to work posting expenses or making muffins or responding to new reservations, and the memory of those particular guests fades as the weeks go by.

However, I do remember the few awful guests (very few, but memorable).  Awful guests are painful because the customer is always. . . you know. I Karen Pullen Clever Hostesshave to apologize and try to make things right (which usually isn’t possible). They make us feel bad and we can’t retaliate!

But I’m a writer, he he.  I can put them in a story and make them suffer!  Three examples:

1. A man from a never-to-be-named country was determined to be miserable; he hated the room, he hated the breakfast, he hated his wife and her relatives, he hated my B&B. Every look he shot me was filled with loathing, and I had no idea why. He seemed to have a huge chip on his shoulder about the USA.  Ugh. Poor wife. This man is now an unsympathetic  character who comes to a bad end in Cold Feet, my mystery to be published in January 2013 by Five Star.

2. A woman asked for my help planning her small wedding, to be held on the B&B patio. I lined up a minister, a cake, flowers, and a caterer.  Many emails flew back and forth as she had lots of decisions to make.  But she never sent me any deposits.  Two weeks before the wedding date, she canceled, saying she’d found a better location.  Fish TalesAll my work for naught.  I got even: she meets an untimely end through poison in “SASE,” my story in Fish Tales, an anthology.

3. A third guest, a man, was rude and arrogant and insulting.  Now my B&B staff are two sweet women, soft-spoken, charming, and eager to please. This guy treated them like inferiors. So what did I do with him? In “Years of the Wicked,” a short story published by Spinetingler, a single punch does him in. Sweet dreams, Roman!

If you’re a writer, have you ever inserted a real person into your story, just to get even? Why does it feel so good?  I think it’s because in real life I have no control over these people. I have to smile and apologize and just submit to their bad behavior.  But when I make them into characters, I have total control. Their unfortunate destiny is MINE.

So the two professions have synergy.  Be a good guest, or I’ll kill you off in my book!

Book Reviews: County Line by Bill Cameron, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey, Camouflage by Bill Pronzini, Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell, and Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson

County Line
Bill Cameron
Tyrus Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-935562-52-8
Trade Paperback

Before even attempting to evaluate this novel, it must be pointed out that at the beginning and end of the book as well as in between segments there are QR barcodes, purportedly featuring bonus material and extras.  To do so, of course, one must own a smartphone and download an app to view the material.  Since I have no need or desire to own such an instrument (what’s wrong, am I anti-American?), I don’t know how much, if anything, I am missing, especially what the barcode at the end of and within the novel provides.   Since I had a feeling of incompleteness after finishing the book, I wonder.  And if that is information I need to judge the novel, then it not only is a disservice to the reader who chooses not to utilize it, but a poor gimmick to sell smartphones and cellular service.  As it is, I found it only a distraction, as well as questioning whether it was necessary for a full appreciation of the book.

As far as the novel is concerned, it is incisively written, with good character development.  It begins when go-getter Ruby Jane Whittaker, founder and owner of a three-store chain of coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, goes off on what is to be a two-week trip.  When she doesn’t return, two of her boyfriends take heed, and undertake to find her. The effort takes them to San Francisco to see her brother (who becomes a hit-and-run victim before their eyes), then to a small Ohio town where Ruby Jane grew up and then back to Oregon.  The effort raises more questions than it does answers.

Another section of the novel retraces Ruby Jane’s earlier life in Ohio, and provides some background to the mystery, which is finally brought to a violent finish, albeit leaving this reader wondering whether or not that really is the conclusion, or just laying the groundwork for the next book in this series.  If you own a smartphone, OK, you can take this as a recommendation.  If not – – well, the choice is yours.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
Marcus Sakey
Dutton, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95211-4
Hardcover

Daniel Hayes wakes up on a beach in Maine, half drowned and with a loss of memory.  This sets the stage for a slow, dramatic tale as he attempts to reconstruct his life.  He finds a car nearby which is apparently owned by someone named Daniel Hayes from Malibu, CA.  Is that him?

Then he decides to cross the country in an effort to find out who he is, after fleeing a cop attempting to arrest him in Maine. Dan is a scriptwriter, and his efforts are like episodes on a TV show.  When he gets to Malibu, he sneaks in to what turns out is his home.  So he has a name.  And a home.  Then he finds out a female character on a television show is his wife who apparently was killed when her car went over a cliff.  While he searches for answers, the plot thickens.

And quite a plot it is.  Interspersed with fairly crisp prose are simulated scripts, sometimes fantasy, others integral to the story line.  The reader is kept off-balance with the question of whether Dan fled to Maine because he killed his wife.  And when that question is answered, a whole new mystery arises to keep one turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Camouflage
Bill Pronzini
Forge, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2564-8
Hardcover

The Nameless Detective in this long-running series is supposed to have semi-retired.  It just isn’t so.  He’s still working four or five days a week, and it’s a good thing, because it makes for good reading.  In the first of two cases described in this novel, he takes on a new client with what at first appears to be a simple ‘trace’ case.  The oft-married client asks Nameless to locate his ex-wife so he can get her to sign a Catholic Church form to pave the way for an annulment, so he can marry the next, an apparently well-to-do prospect.  Tamara, who is now running the agency in wake of Nameless’ “semi-retirement,” locates the ex-wiife, and after she refuses to sign the papers the client visits her, after which he storms into the office saying that it’s the wrong person.  This leads to the ensuing mystery to be solved.

The second plot line involves Jake Runyon, Nameless’ partner, who has finally developed a relationship with a woman, Bryn, who has a nine-year-old son who is in her ex-husband’s custody.  It appears that the boy is being abused, but by whom?  The father, or his fiancée, who is living with him and the child?  The complication of the girl’s murder and the subsequent admission by Bryn of having committed the deed lays the groundwork for some detective work by Jake to find the real culprit.

As in the previous more than two score books in the series, the tightly written novel, accompanied by terse dialogue and seamless transitions, take the reader forward effortlessly.  The author’s eye for detail is penetrating, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tigerlily’s Orchids
Ruth Rendell
Scribner, June 2011
ISBN: 978-4391-5034-4
Hardcover

Ruth Rendell novels are a study in human relationships, and this book is no exception.  It takes a look at an assortment of tenants living in an apartment house block in London, particularly one building, but also a couple of homes across the way.

An inordinate amount of space is devoted to one tenant, a young, handsome youth, Stuart Font, who recently inherited some money and bought his apartment.  He decides to have a housewarming and invite all the other tenants.  His married lover forces him to invite her, setting the stage for her husband to invade the apartment and harm Stuart, who is later found murdered in a nearby park.

The mystery, of course, is who the murderer is.  But it is almost superfluous since the interaction of the various characters is the prime focus of the novel:  One woman who is determined to drink herself to death; three young girls, students of a sort, one of whom falls in love with Stuart, who in turn is obsessed with a beautiful young Asian in the house across the street after discarding his married lover; an elderly couple who once had a one-night stand in their youth and find each other again; the caretaker couple, the husband of which enjoys spying on young girls and watching pornography on his computer.  Among others.

The author’s eye for detail is sharp, and the personality descriptions vivid.  For a crime novel, the mystery is virtually irrelevant, but certainly the character studies are vital.  For that reason alone, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hell Is Empty
Craig Johnson
Viking, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02277-9
Hardcover

This, the seventh novel in the Walt Longmire series, is perhaps the most harrowing.  It starts out simply enough, with Walt, the Sheriff of a Wyoming county, and his deputies transporting three murderers to a rendezvous with two other local Sheriffs and Federal officials.  One of the felons, a psychopath who says he hears supernatural voices, has indicated he killed a young Indian boy years before, and offers to locate the bones for the officials.  There is a rumor, also, that he has secreted $1.4 million, perhaps in the grave.

This sets the stage for a harrowing experience for Walt, as the convicts escape, killing FBI agents and taking two hostages with them as they climbed Bighorn Mountain.  A determined Walt follows under blizzard conditions, which almost kills him.

As in previous entries in the series, the geographical and environmental descriptions are awesome.  The reader can feel the cold and ice as they penetrate Walt’s body and inundate the mountain peak in glasslike cover and snow-filled mounds.  Another excellent book, full of Indian lore and supernatural phenomena.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

Book Reviews: County Line by Bill Cameron, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey, Camouflage by Bill Pronzini, Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell, and Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson

County Line
Bill Cameron
Tyrus Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-935562-52-8
Trade Paperback

Before even attempting to evaluate this novel, it must be pointed out that at the beginning and end of the book as well as in between segments there are QR barcodes, purportedly featuring bonus material and extras.  To do so, of course, one must own a smartphone and download an app to view the material.  Since I have no need or desire to own such an instrument (what’s wrong, am I anti-American?), I don’t know how much, if anything, I am missing, especially what the barcode at the end of and within the novel provides.   Since I had a feeling of incompleteness after finishing the book, I wonder.  And if that is information I need to judge the novel, then it not only is a disservice to the reader who chooses not to utilize it, but a poor gimmick to sell smartphones and cellular service.  As it is, I found it only a distraction, as well as questioning whether it was necessary for a full appreciation of the book.

As far as the novel is concerned, it is incisively written, with good character development.  It begins when go-getter Ruby Jane Whittaker, founder and owner of a three-store chain of coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, goes off on what is to be a two-week trip.  When she doesn’t return, two of her boyfriends take heed, and undertake to find her. The effort takes them to San Francisco to see her brother (who becomes a hit-and-run victim before their eyes), then to a small Ohio town where Ruby Jane grew up and then back to Oregon.  The effort raises more questions than it does answers.

Another section of the novel retraces Ruby Jane’s earlier life in Ohio, and provides some background to the mystery, which is finally brought to a violent finish, albeit leaving this reader wondering whether or not that really is the conclusion, or just laying the groundwork for the next book in this series.  If you own a smartphone, OK, you can take this as a recommendation.  If not – – well, the choice is yours.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
Marcus Sakey
Dutton, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95211-4
Hardcover

Daniel Hayes wakes up on a beach in Maine, half drowned and with a loss of memory.  This sets the stage for a slow, dramatic tale as he attempts to reconstruct his life.  He finds a car nearby which is apparently owned by someone named Daniel Hayes from Malibu, CA.  Is that him?

Then he decides to cross the country in an effort to find out who he is, after fleeing a cop attempting to arrest him in Maine. Dan is a scriptwriter, and his efforts are like episodes on a TV show.  When he gets to Malibu, he sneaks in to what turns out is his home.  So he has a name.  And a home.  Then he finds out a female character on a television show is his wife who apparently was killed when her car went over a cliff.  While he searches for answers, the plot thickens.

And quite a plot it is.  Interspersed with fairly crisp prose are simulated scripts, sometimes fantasy, others integral to the story line.  The reader is kept off-balance with the question of whether Dan fled to Maine because he killed his wife.  And when that question is answered, a whole new mystery arises to keep one turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Camouflage
Bill Pronzini
Forge, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2564-8
Hardcover

The Nameless Detective in this long-running series is supposed to have semi-retired.  It just isn’t so.  He’s still working four or five days a week, and it’s a good thing, because it makes for good reading.  In the first of two cases described in this novel, he takes on a new client with what at first appears to be a simple ‘trace’ case.  The oft-married client asks Nameless to locate his ex-wife so he can get her to sign a Catholic Church form to pave the way for an annulment, so he can marry the next, an apparently well-to-do prospect.  Tamara, who is now running the agency in wake of Nameless’ “semi-retirement,” locates the ex-wiife, and after she refuses to sign the papers the client visits her, after which he storms into the office saying that it’s the wrong person.  This leads to the ensuing mystery to be solved.

The second plot line involves Jake Runyon, Nameless’ partner, who has finally developed a relationship with a woman, Bryn, who has a nine-year-old son who is in her ex-husband’s custody.  It appears that the boy is being abused, but by whom?  The father, or his fiancée, who is living with him and the child?  The complication of the girl’s murder and the subsequent admission by Bryn of having committed the deed lays the groundwork for some detective work by Jake to find the real culprit.

As in the previous more than two score books in the series, the tightly written novel, accompanied by terse dialogue and seamless transitions, take the reader forward effortlessly.  The author’s eye for detail is penetrating, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tigerlily’s Orchids
Ruth Rendell
Scribner, June 2011
ISBN: 978-4391-5034-4
Hardcover

Ruth Rendell novels are a study in human relationships, and this book is no exception.  It takes a look at an assortment of tenants living in an apartment house block in London, particularly one building, but also a couple of homes across the way.

An inordinate amount of space is devoted to one tenant, a young, handsome youth, Stuart Font, who recently inherited some money and bought his apartment.  He decides to have a housewarming and invite all the other tenants.  His married lover forces him to invite her, setting the stage for her husband to invade the apartment and harm Stuart, who is later found murdered in a nearby park.

The mystery, of course, is who the murderer is.  But it is almost superfluous since the interaction of the various characters is the prime focus of the novel:  One woman who is determined to drink herself to death; three young girls, students of a sort, one of whom falls in love with Stuart, who in turn is obsessed with a beautiful young Asian in the house across the street after discarding his married lover; an elderly couple who once had a one-night stand in their youth and find each other again; the caretaker couple, the husband of which enjoys spying on young girls and watching pornography on his computer.  Among others.

The author’s eye for detail is sharp, and the personality descriptions vivid.  For a crime novel, the mystery is virtually irrelevant, but certainly the character studies are vital.  For that reason alone, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hell Is Empty
Craig Johnson
Viking, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02277-9
Hardcover

This, the seventh novel in the Walt Longmire series, is perhaps the most harrowing.  It starts out simply enough, with Walt, the Sheriff of a Wyoming county, and his deputies transporting three murderers to a rendezvous with two other local Sheriffs and Federal officials.  One of the felons, a psychopath who says he hears supernatural voices, has indicated he killed a young Indian boy years before, and offers to locate the bones for the officials.  There is a rumor, also, that he has secreted $1.4 million, perhaps in the grave.

This sets the stage for a harrowing experience for Walt, as the convicts escape, killing FBI agents and taking two hostages with them as they climbed Bighorn Mountain.  A determined Walt follows under blizzard conditions, which almost kills him.

As in previous entries in the series, the geographical and environmental descriptions are awesome.  The reader can feel the cold and ice as they penetrate Walt’s body and inundate the mountain peak in glasslike cover and snow-filled mounds.  Another excellent book, full of Indian lore and supernatural phenomena.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

Book Review: Blue Magic by A. M. Dellamonica—And a Giveaway!

Blue Magic
A. M. Dellamonica
Tor Books, April 2012
ISBN 9780765319487
Trade Paperback

From the author’s website—

The sequel to Indigo Springs opens with the U.S. government preparing to try Sahara Knax for treason, while Astrid Lethewood and a growing number of volunteers try to find ways to safely maintain the spread of magic into the real world. Law and order breaks down in the U.S. as several factions vie for control over enchantment. Witch-burners square off against the Alchemite cult, hundreds of soldiers caught in the crossfire go missing, and police struggle with the fallout from power outages and storms–even murders!–triggered by the use of mystical objects.

In Indigo Springs, Astrid promised the residents of a realm called the unreal that she would restore the mystical balance: freeing them and returning magic to the real world. But making a promise is easier than keeping it. The raw vitagua has been cursed, turned by an ancient cult into a contaminant that turns people to animals, animals to monsters. If Astrid cannot reverse that ancient spell, the continued spread of magic can only be catastrophic.

There are many things that can be said in a book review and many aspects of the book that can be covered. For me, the most relevant are the quality of the writing, the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s character and plot developments, and, most of all, whether I liked the book and why or why not. In the end, my “job” is to give an honest opinion that will help other readers decide if the book in question is one they’re likely to want to read for their own reasons. Blue Magic has thrown me up against a problem I haven’t really encountered before—I don’t know what I think of this book, at least, not clearly.

First, I was asked to review this book but it was already on my list of titles I wanted to take a look at so there’s no undue influence at work here. Second, I like the dark  fantasy subgenre so I’m predisposed to like this one but, at the same time, I’ve read enough of this category that I might be too critical if I’m not careful and I do try to be careful.

Ms. Dellamonica has created a world full of possibilities and consequences and one can’t help but be interested in what her characters might do with the new-found ability to use magic. At the same time, Will has a very natural and overwhelming desire to find his children and that desire takes precedence over everything else. Perhaps a benevolent use of magic can help him but he’s up against a cult atmosphere that is driven by a fanatical worship of its leader and just may make it impossible for him to get his kids back. In the meantime, Astrid, who found the river of magic, must find a way to prevent the world-wide damage her former friend, Sahara, may have set in motion in her quest for power.

The author has crafted a story that is different and appealing to the apocalyptic or dark fantasy fan who is always looking for something refreshing and there is no doubt that she is a gifted writer. So, why don’t I have a distinct opinion about Blue Magic? I could say I felt there were too many characters (I got a little lost among them all in Astrid’s compound) or that I think the book is a bit too long but those are just minor points.

No, the difficulty I had with this book is mine alone and no fault of the author’s. Normally, I can happily read a series out of order—I have no problem reading #16 first and then I may or may not want to go back to catch up on earlier books. This one, though, has sort of thrown a monkey wrench in my usual modus operandi and, well, maybe it actually is Ms. Dellamonica‘s fault. The truth is, I want to know these characters better and understand more about what has happened to their world with the discovery of the underground stream of blue magic. To do that, I’m just going to have to read Indigo Springs and then I’ll have a better feel for Blue Magic. Why is this the author’s fault? Plainly speaking, she has made me want to start at the beginning because the second book is so intriguing and I have to satisfy my need to know more.

Yes, it’s definitely her fault.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2012.

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You might win a print copy of Blue Magic by A.M. Dellamonica!

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drawing. Leave a second comment on this coming

Friday’s post for two chances. Two winning names

will be drawn Saturday evening and announced on Sunday.

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