Book Review: A Dying Note by Ann Parker

A Dying Note
A Silver Rush Mystery #6
Ann Parker
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0979-6
Hardcover

This book finds former Leadville, Colorado, saloon owner Inez Stannert moved to San Francisco where she, with her ward, Antonia Gizzi, intend to start over and make a new life. Inez tows the mark, guarding her reputation as a widowed lady. But that is not true. She is a divorcee, which is almost a crime in 1881.

Inez, who plays piano with concert quality, is working her way to a partnership in a music store, where she keeps the books, makes sales, and teaches piano. The store’s owner concentrates on building his reputation as a musician, playing for the upper echelon of SF. A good many musicians gather the in the store, and there is talk of forming a union.

And then a young violinist is murdered down on the San Francisco docks.

Meanwhile, an old business friend from Leadville, high class bordello owner Frisco Flo Sweet shows up. She’s with another acquaintance from Colorado, who is looking for his son who seems to have jilted a fiancee and disappeared. Harry Gallagher wants Inez to find him, threatening her with exposure if she doesn’t come through.

To this end, Inez is forced to work with Wolter Roeland de Bruijn, but it becomes an unholy mess when it’s discovered the murdered violinist and Robert Gallagher are one and the same. Revealing the murderer puts all the searchers at risk, especially Inez and Antonia.

As always, author Ann Parker has written a tightly plotted mystery filled with excellent characters, and spiced the story with lots of history. Authors often describe women’s clothing of the period, but this time readers will be delighted to learn what gentlemen of the era were wearing in old San Francisco. Recommended.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Reviews: Sparrow by Sarah Moon and Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher

Sparrow
Sarah Moon
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-03258-1
Hardcover

I never imagined that anyone could capture, then convey the desperate isolation of an outsider-always-looking-in. Ms. Moon makes it so real that one evening while reading, my eyes were all leaky and my nose wouldn’t stop sniffling. My husband asked if it was the pollen or a really sad book. It was not the pollen.

Which is not to say that Sparrow is dreary or depressing. We just meet Sparrow at a tough time.

Accepting that she will never fit in with other students, staying under the radar of teachers and staff; Sparrow has developed her very own coping mechanism. It is a soul-soothing, secret escape. Private, because there’s no way anyone would ever understand. Or even believe.

So, when Sparrow was discovered on the roof of the school and all assumptions were grossly inaccurate, the wrong question being asked, it was no surprise. But it didn’t matter, she couldn’t answer anyway.

Sparrow’s mom is fiercely strong, capable and confident. And surprisingly willing to set aside her initial reservations about therapy. Even after meeting the not-as-pictured Dr. Katz and her interesting attire. In spite of the funky shoes, Sparrow could be cold and aloof towards Dr. Katz. It was much harder pretending to ignore the music that punctured the silence. Songs articulated her thoughts. Rough voices relayed her pain.

Sparrow felt her problems were solved, finding and embracing artists that understood. But listening to music was just the tip of the iceberg. With the enthusiastic support of her therapist, the determined, albeit a bit dubious, backing of her mother; Sparrow sets off for the Gertrude Nix Rock Camp for Girls.

Tackling a topic so commonly experienced, yet rarely addressed; Ms. Moon elicits empathy in an eloquent, engaging way.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

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Young Man With Camera
A Novel with Photographs
Emil Sher
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-54131-2
Hardcover

I want to say that Young Man With Camera packs a powerful punch because my heart is heavily bruised; but that cliché is actually inaccurate. Instead, it is like a snake bite. A shocking, searing-hot flash of pain first, followed by a false sense of ease, into the stinging sensation of venom in your veins.  And I mean this as an unequivocally enthusiastic endorsement.

T— is clearly strong, resilient and courageous…yet I immediately experience an inexplicable urge to protect him.  Deftly dealing with diverse people, in completely different ways, displays his early-onset maturity and a kindness that cannot be contained.  His sincere interest in Ruby, the quiet little girl with the chalk drawings, is as genuine and open as his affection towards the homeless woman with the witty signs.

When repugnant Ryan and his herd of hooligans antagonize T—, he tends to tolerate it; but the minute they set their sights on someone else, T— is quick to defend.  Already “damaged”, his scars speak of suffering, while simultaneously showing survival. He has a best bud, Sean, who comes with a faithful and friendly pooch; but it was photography that saved T—.  The very pictures he shares are worth way more than a thousand of the wisest words.

Although it is absolutely appropriate for the Middle Grade reader, I will be passing this copy on to “my” High School seniors, where I believe it will appeal to both ends of the reading spectrum. Reluctant readers will appreciate the photography as well as the short-not-so-sweet writing style and avid readers will dig the “something different”.  T—’s tale takes you where you definitely do not want to go, and you can’t even cover your eyes along the way.  Creating conflict by making you fully understand the why, even when it is so clearly wrong, in a real, raw and absolutely riveting way.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

Book Reviews: Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley and Past Reason Hated by Peter Robinson

Charcoal Joe
An Easy Rawlins Mystery #14
Walter Mosley
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-3855-3920-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  Easy Rawlins has started a new detective agency with two trusted partners and has a diamond ring in his pocket for his longtime girlfriend Bonnie Shay. Finally, Easy’s life seems to be heading towards something that looks like normalcy, but, inevitably, a case gets in the way. Easy’s friend Mouse calls in a favor—he wants Easy to meet with Rufus Tyler, an aging convict whom everyone calls Charcoal Joe. Joe’s friend’s son, Seymour, has been charged with the murder of two white men. Joe is convinced the young man is innocent and wants Easy to prove it no matter what the cost. But seeing as how Seymour was found standing over the dead bodies, and considering the racially charged nature of the crime, that will surely prove to be a tall order.

One of his two partners, Tinsford “Whisper” Natly, is described as “a Negro from St. Louis who could find anyone, anywhere, given the time and resources.  Easy describes himself as a “poor black man from the deep South . . . lucky not to be dead and buried, much less a living, breathing independent businessman.”  Their receptionist, Niska Redman:  “Butter-skinned, biracial, and quite beautiful . . .  twenty-four and filled with dreams of a world in which all humans were happy and well fed.”  Easy says of himself “I had two great kids, a perfect island woman that I would soon propose to, a profession I was good at, friends that I liked, and access to powers that most people in Los Angeles (white and black) didn’t even know existed.”

Easy’s friend Mouse is a welcome presence in these pages.  Forty-seven, he still has never worked “an honest job” and is accused by Etta as having been an outlaw since he was five, which he cannot deny.  When Mouse asks Easy to help him out with Charcoal Joe, he cannot refuse. Fearless Jones (who Easy calls “the black Prince Charming”) also plays a big role in the tale.

Another wonderful entry in this series, and another one which is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2017.

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Past Reason Hated
An Inspector Banks Novel #5
Peter Robinson
William Morrow, March 2016
ISBN: 978-0-0624-3117-29-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  Chief Inspector Alan Banks knows that secrets can prove fatal, and secrets were the driving force behind Caroline Hartley’s life . . . and death.  She was brutally stabbed in her own home three days prior to Christmas. Leaving her past behind for a forbidden love affair, she mystified more than a few.  And now she is dead.  In this season of giving and forgiving, Banks is eager to absolve the innocent of their sins.  But that must wait until the dark circle of his investigation finally closes . . . and when a killer makes the next move.

Since she was the only member of the CID on duty that night, newly promoted Detective Constable Susan Gay, on only her second day on the job at the CID at Eastvale Regional Headquarters, finds the challenge quite exciting. A call had come in from a neighbor of the dead woman, who had gone rushing into the street screaming.  As the tale proceeds, there are references to the current public image of the force, tarnished by race riots, sex scandals and accusations of high-level corruption.  As the investigation unfolds, there are quite a number of suspects among the various friends, family and colleagues of the dead woman, which after a while made it a little difficult to differentiate among them.  Banks’ erudition in matters of classical music comes in very handy, as a piece of music, playing on an old-fashioned phonograph at the murder scene, becomes a disturbing clue that he feels is very significant as his investigation continues.  And then they realize that the dead woman was in a lesbian relationship.

Banks, now 39 years old, had only been promoted to Detective Superintendent only a few weeks ago, is still “learning the ropes,” and is always a fascinating protagonist who has come to trust his instincts, as has the reader.

Susan has also been tasked with looking into a series of vandalisms that have taken place in the area, and the author switches p.o.v. from Banks to that of Susan from time to time, making for some very interesting reading.  But that’s something we have come to expect from Mr. Robinson; this book is as beautifully written as his numerous prior novels.  This is the fifth of what is now 22 entries in the series.  Although I must admit that I found it a slow read in the early going as the case plods along, the pace soon picks up.  I must add that the many wonderfully descriptive sections of the wintry weather that prevails and its effects on driving and walking had me going to my closet for a warm sweater!

The book concludes with an excerpt from the next book in the series to follow this one, When the Music’s Over, and I have no doubt that that entry, as is this one, will be highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2017.

Book Review: The City by Dean Koontz—and a Giveaway

The CityThe City
Dean Koontz
Bantam Books, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-345-54593-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s not where we live, it’s the people we live for.

The city changed my life and showed me that the world is deeply mysterious. I need to tell you about her and some terrible things and wonderful things and amazing things that happened . . . and how I am still haunted by them. Including one night when I died and woke and lived again.

Here is the riveting, soul-stirring story of Jonah Kirk, son of an exceptional singer, grandson of a formidable “piano man,” a musical prodigy beginning to explore his own gifts when he crosses a group of extremely dangerous people, with shattering consequences. Set in a more innocent time not so long ago, The City encompasses a lifetime but unfolds over three extraordinary, heart-racing years of tribulation and triumph, in which Jonah first grasps the electrifying power of music and art, of enduring friendship, of everyday heroes.

The unforgettable saga of a young man coming of age within a remarkable family, and a shimmering portrait of the world that shaped him, The City is a novel that speaks to everyone, a dazzling realization of the evergreen dreams we all share. Brilliantly illumined by magic dark and light, it’s a place where enchantment and malice entwine, courage and honor are found in the most unexpected quarters, and the way forward lies buried deep inside the heart.

Those of us who are longtime fans of Dean Koontz are almost rabid about it and we can barely stand to wait for each book to come out. Whether it’s a series or a standalone or even a long-unfinished trilogy doesn’t really matter; we just need our Koontz fix and we know it’s going to be a good one every time. Having said that, I must say The City stands out in the crowd.

When we first meet Jonah, he’s an older man beginning to recount his life from the age of eight and, as we grow along with him, we find that it’s a life of wonder and tragedy, much like the life we all experience…but perhaps with a bit more drama. It’s also the story of a musical prodigy and what that enormous talent means to Jonah. It’s a story about the most important relationships in a child’s world and as he ages. It’s the tale of a young African American growing up in a time of great discomfort and unrest but with hope in the face of adversity. It’s a journey along roads that may or may not be good choices. Most of all, it’s a story of magic and danger and heroes and of dreams.

Are there flaws in this book? Yes, as there nearly always are in a Koontz novel but the trip is well worth the occasional potholes and I recommend The City to current fans and those who are new to the Dean Koontz universe.

 

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

Acclaim for Dean Koontz:

 

“A rarity among bestselling writers, Koontz continues to pursue new
ways of telling stories, never content with repeating himself.” -Chicago Sun-Times

 

“Tumbling, hallucinogenic prose. ‘Serious’ writers . . . might do well
to examine his technique.” -The New York Times Book Review

 

“[Koontz] has always had near-Dickensian powers of
description, and an ability to yank us from one page to the next
that few novelists can match.” -Los Angeles Times

 

“Koontz is a superb plotter and wordsmith. He chronicles the hopes
and fears of our time in broad strokes and fine detail, using popular
fiction to explore the human condition.” -USA Today

 

“Characters and the search for meaning, exquisitely crafted,
are the soul of [Koontz’s] work. . . . One of the master storytellers
of this or any age.” -The Tampa Tribune

 

“A literary juggler.” -The Times (London)

 

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Giveaway

One lucky reader will win signed copies of The City
for their ENTIRE book club (maximum 20 copies),
and Dean will give the winning book club a Facebook
shout out to his 1.4 million Facebook fans!

Enter the Rafflecopter drawing here.

Book Review: Otherborn by Anna Silver—and a Giveaway

Otherborn Tour Banner

Otherborn  by Anna Silver 
Series: Otherborn, #1 
Publication: April 4th 2013
by Sapphire Star Publishing 
Genre: YA Dystopian
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Purchase Links:
Amazon               Barnes & Noble

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OtherbornOtherborn
Anna Silver
Sapphire Star Publishing, April 2013
ISBN 978-1-938404-42-9
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

London and her teenage friends live in a reprocessed world.

Confined within Capital City’s concrete walls, London has done the impossible and the illegal. She’s created something New-a song. But her mentor, club owner Pauly, is not impressed. Since the historic Energy Crisis forced everyone behind walls generations ago, the Tycoons have ensured there is truly nothing new allowed under the sun. Pauly warns London to keep her song to herself, if she knows what’s good for her.

What he doesn’t know is that London is keeping an even bigger secret: she dreams. And she’s not alone. London’s band-mates and friends have begun dreaming as well, seeing themselves in “night pictures” as beings from another world. As Otherborn, they must piece together the story of their astral avatars, the Others, in order to save their world from a dreamless, hopeless future.

When Pauly is murdered and an Otherborn goes missing, London realizes someone is hunting them down. Escaping along the Outroads, they brave the deserted Houselands with only their dreams to guide them. Can they find their friend before the assassin finds them? Will being Otherborn save their lives, or destroy them?

At a time when young adult fiction is overrun with dystopian themes that are often only mediocre at best, Otherborn is kind of remarkable, especially for a debut author. I’m a big fan of dystopian works and can say I even enjoy some of the less-than-stellar attempts but this one introduces some really fresh concepts.

Imagine a world in which dreaming is a thing of the past. Actually, you probably wouldn’t be able to imagine it if such a world existed because, after all, imagination and dreams are interwoven with each other, aren’t they? Most people live in poverty, barely managing to survive through whatever means possible while the ruling class thrives, and creating anything new is an invitation to disaster . Then a girl named London and her friends begin to dream and they discover that things are not at all as they seem—or as they’ve been led to believe.

London is a character with many facets, at turns strong and childish, thoughtful and selfish, intelligent and obtuse, driven and obsessed. In other words, she’s a teenager with signs of maturity as well as self-absorption and all of that makes her very appealing but, at the same time, frequently annoying. Other characters did not make much of an impression on me but I didn’t dislike them.

When it comes to worldbuilding, Ms. Silver has some good ideas but we don’t learn enough in this first of a series to become comfortable with the setting and too many variables come into play. I found myself often pulled out of the story while I tried to really understand what was going on and, while that can be a forceful encouragement to keep reading, I actually found it distracting at times. The creation of an imaginary world is, to my way of thinking, critical to the success of any dystopian story and the author that can bring the reader into that world without answering all possible questions is a very talented writer. I don’t want to know everything in the first book of a series but this one left me a little too puzzled.

Otherborn offers a lot of promise and delivers on much of it despite its shortcomings. Anna Silver is an author I’m glad to have “discovered” and I’ll want to hear more from  her, especially about London and her life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2013.

Giveaway

To enter the drawing for one of 5 ebook copies of Otherborn by Anna Silver,

just check out this Rafflecopter link. This drawing is open internationally.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Anna SilverAnna Silver is an artist and writer living in the greater Houston area with her family, pets, and overactive imagination. Her art, which includes oil paintings, assemblage sculptures, and fairy houses, has been featured in the Houston gallery Las Manos Magicas. She studied English Writing & Rhetoric at St. Edward’s University in Austin. She has written web copy for private clients and freelanced for the Hill Country Current in Texas. Her write-up on a past-life regression experience was chosen to be featured in best-selling author Brian Weiss’ new book. She is a member of the Writer’s League of Texas. OTHERBORN is her first published novel.

Author Links:
Website: http://www.annasilverauthor.com
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6862122.Anna_Silver
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorannasilver?skip_nax_wizard=true
Twitter: https://twitter.com/saysannasilver

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