Always Remember

Memorial Day is meant to remember
the men, women and canines who
have lost their lives while serving in
the armed forces. Today, we honor
them all for their sacrifices.



From inside the Virginia War Memorial



Arlington Cemetery


Back to Semi-Normal

The past 5 weeks have been a bit rough
but I’m back on track now, maybe almost
as good as this little furbaby says 😉

Book Review: Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry

Adnan’s Story
The Search for Truth and Justice After “Serial”
Rabia Chaudry
St. Martin’s Press, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-08710-2

I am so glad that I read this book, but at the same time, I almost long for my ignorance.  It is easier to be unaware of how disturbingly incompetent and unconcerned the very people paid to “serve and protect” behaved.  The outrage really sets in when it becomes glaringly obvious that the plethora of mistakes made was not unique in the police work, but poured into the trial.

To me, this kid never had a chance.  There is not one moment where I thought that someone in the judicial and/or legal system truly considered Adnan–the person.  Not one time was he treated as “innocent until proven guilty”.  To say that the circus that replaced his trial was riddled with errors, illegal manipulation along with flat-out suppression of pertinent information, would be remarkably generous.

If, like me, you know Adnan’s story from the “Serial” (and/or subsequent) podcast(s), you know this.  And maybe, like me, you are still consumed with a sickening, gut-wrenching wonder as to how so much could go so horribly wrong—unquestionably, indisputably wrong—without any repercussions or efforts to acknowledge, own and correct the mistakes, then perhaps you already have this in your To-Read stack.  Basically—if you’ve been at all touched by this tragic but all too true tale—I whole-heartedly believe you will be grateful for Ms. Chaudry’s work.  The author says it best: the story “Serial told” “…was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth, or the whole story” and if ever there was a whole story—with its entire truth—that begged to be told, it is Adnan’s.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

What’s the Sitch

Marc Vun Kannon, after surviving his teen age years, entered Hofstra University. Five years later, he exited with a BA in philosophy and a wife. He still has both, but the wife is more useful. Since then he almost accumulated a PhD in philosophy and has acquired a second BA in Computer Science. After dabbling in fulfilling pursuits such as stock boy and gas station attendant, he found his spiritual home as a software support engineer, for CAMP Systems International.

Marc puts his degrees in Philosophy and Computer Science to good use writing stories about strange things that happen to ordinary people. His wife and three children think it’s harmless enough, and it keeps him out of trouble. As a philosopher (his first novel demanded he write it while he was in Graduate School), his main interest is in the characters, and as a Computer geek his technique is to follow the character’s and story’s logic to ‘grow’ a story organically. His main rule when writing is to not do again what he’s already seen done before, resulting in books that are hard to describe.

There are those who will say, and have said, that a story is only as good as its villain, that a hero is only as interesting as the villain he opposes. The villain, in a sense, drives the plot, striving to work his nefarious will upon a hapless world, while the hero, strangely, is the guy who reacts to this attack, in defense of Mom and apple pie. The hero only gets center stage because the villain is hiding behind the cloak of mystery, until his fell designs are accomplished.

So how could there possibly be a story without a villain? I wish I could say that this question occurred to me beforehand, the way Joss Whedon said that his motivation to create the classic Buffy episode ‘Hush’ was the endless praise he received for his dialogue. He set out to create a story bereft of dialogue, but I did not set out to create a story without a bad guy.

Like most of my stories, Ghostkiller grew as I was writing it, starting from a very small seed, or two, or more, and becoming something I never imagined when I started out. (Did I mention that I’m a pantser?) One of those seeds was an idea I got from a movie, in which a man is hypnotized, but as he’s going under, the hypnotist has a heart attack, and no one thinks to bring the subject out of his trance. Being who I am (Offbeat-Stories-R-Us), I thought of a sorcerer conjuring up a demon, and dying as he did so, smudging the pentagram and leaving the evil spirit trapped in this world with no body to inhabit and no way to get back where it belonged.

That idea was at the base of Ghostkiller, the soil, the fertilizer, but the story-logic vine that grew from that soil was very different from its source material. While my main and only guiding principle as an author is “if you’ve seen it done once, don’t do it again”, and I certainly wouldn’t shrink away from the idea of writing a novel with a hellspawn as the hero (except that I’ve seen it done already), Ghostkiller did not start there. Aside from the first line, inspired by a Disney cartoon cross-pollinated with a zombie novel, I have no idea how the story of Ghostkiller got to be what it is:

“John Smith, killer of ghosts and savior of souls. Person of interest in a murder investigation, involuntary monster-hunter when the corpse gets up and walks away. When the body becomes a vessel for a spirit of unspeakable evil, John finds himself at ground zero of the end of the world. Not a question of if, or of when, just how.”

Instead, with the idea of the dead sorcerer buried at its base, Ghostkiller created for itself not a plot, but a story structure that I spent years trying to understand and that I’ve never seen anywhere else, a structure I call ‘Villain by Proxy’. The villain starts his evil machinations going and then somehow vanishes from the scene, leaving all the other characters stuck in a situation (‘the Sitch’, if you will) they aren’t even aware of, his evil proxy. Unlike another story structure I developed, which I called the Hero by Proxy, the Sitch acts in the world, performing whatever villainous acts its creator made it for. (As an illustration of this, imagine the story of the Lord of the Rings, only without Sauron, just the One Ring, endlessly waiting and corrupting all who hold it.)

The Sitch drives most of the actions of the plot, from both the protagonists and their opposites, a Jack the Giant-Killer scenario with no Jack. Even the bad guys are victims. The majority of the plot is them–all of them, any of them–figuring this out, and then doing something about it, no matter the price, and there will be a price. The Sitch is the state of the world itself. When the situation is the enemy, defeating the enemy means the end of the world.

For somebody.

Book Review: Kale to the Queen by Nell Hampton

Kale to the Queen
A Kensington Palace Chef Mystery #1
Nell Hampton
Crooked Lane Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68331-104-1

The basic plot of Kale to the Queen is this. The protagonist, Carrie Ann Cole, has an incredible bit of luck and meets the Duchess of Windsor in New York. Because of this meeting, Carrie Ann is offered the position of personal chef for the royal family in Kensington Palace. When Carrie Ann arrives jet lagged, late and soaking wet from a down pour, she finds that she is in charge of  food for a children’s party that very day. So Carrie Ann is off and running in her new career without having time to catch a breath let alone settle in. Not the greatest of beginnings. Things get considerably worse when she finds one of her assistants dead in the kitchen green house and is questioned by the police. Because Carrie Ann is the protagonist, of course she starts nosing around the investigation and finds out some things that others would like to remain hidden. In the end, things work out for Carrie Ann and presumably we’ll see more of her each Spring for the foreseeable future. This is is a good thing. For while the book and Carrie Ann fall into some of the traps of cozy type mysteries, for the most part this is a solid first book leaving at least this reader wanting more.

Kale to the Queen is the first mystery the author  has written. This is an important point because there are a lot more things that can go wrong in writing mysteries versus other types of fiction. For the most part, Hampton was up to the task. In a mystery the characters, even the minor ones, need to be fairly well developed to make them believable as witnesses and potential suspects. This was done quite well. The plot needs clues for the readers to follow. The author needs to “play fair” with the readers. This was done well. Going right along with that, the plot needs some unexpected twists to keep the readers on their toes and again, this was done, though this could be improved on. Also there were red herrings, but not really enough to camouflage the solution. This left the reader with a good puzzle but  maybe not a great one to solve. Hopefully, now that Carrie Ann and the supporting cast are established, there will be more details to the mystery in following books. The one truly troublesome aspect of this book is that Carrie Ann falls into the “cozy mystery trap” of telling too much to too many people. Not only could this have gotten her hurt or possibly killed, in the real world would probably have resulted in her being fired. As for the standard elements of cozies, yes there are recipes, but just three and at the end of the book, not sprinkled throughout the story. I personally MUCH prefer the recipes at the end. No, Carrie Ann does not have a pet. Yes, there is a potential love interest-both a boyfriend left behind in Chicago and some potentials in England.

I assume I will not be the only reader who from the first page of the book looks for comparisons to Julie Hyzy’s delightful White House Chef books with Ollie Paras as the protagonist. And indeed, there are some easy comparisons to make. Both chefs cook in very high profile positions and are surrounded by tight security measures. Both have some issues with fellow staff members feeling like the chef is not quite up to the position-in Ollie’s case because she is a woman, in Carrie Ann’s case because she is an American. Both protagonists have high demand jobs so much of the action takes place in and around their jobs unlike many cozies where the protagonists seem to be free to treat their jobs more like hobbies than  professions. Also, both protagonists tend to rush into things and share information that perhaps should be given only to the police. By the end of the book though, Carrie Ann has established herself and her series. I look forward to reading many more adventures of Carrie Ann Cole.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, March 2017.

Waiting On Wednesday (69)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Book Review: A Midsummer’s Equation by Keigo Higashino

A Midsummer’s Equation
A Detective Galileo Mystery #3
Keigo Higashino
Minotaur Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-2500-2792-4

In The Devotion of Suspect X, the author created not only a first-class, original crime novel, but a singular character: a physicist, Manabu Yukawa, dubbed Dr. Galileo, who turned out to be an excellent amateur detective.  In this sequel, he applies the same scientific logic in helping to solve a murder, although the police believed the death to be an accident.

The new novel is a twisted tale full of unexpected turns in the plot.  It begins with the visit of a fifth-grade young man to a seaside resort on the Japanese coast, to a dilapidated inn run by his uncle and aunt, where he befriends Yukawa, who takes him under his wing, teaching the boy about various scientific principles and helping him with his homework. At the same inn a retired Tokyo homicide detective checks in and is soon discovered dead, presumably after a fall onto rocks lining the coast.

The story is far from a simple murder mystery and has its roots in the past.  The plot is full of surprises.  As was its predecessor, A Midsummer’s Equation is distinguished not only by the scientific content as applied to the case, but the moralistic conclusions as well.  Once again Higashino has written a clever tale that is deep and satisfying, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.